Review Category : Real Estate

Beware the real estate scammer

By Will McCullough

While the modern real estate industry uses a wide range of “checks and balances” to protect individuals from fraud, the common utilization of digital marketing in today’s world has opened the door to creative scammers, con-men and all around scumbags. While I personally have seen only a few blatant attempts at real estate related “scams” over the years locally, those few could have been utterly catastrophic to the unsuspecting potential victims. I was motivated to choose this topic for today’s column because my most recent related experience took place just last week and, as this specific scumbag initiated a scam I’d never seen or heard of before, I felt it important to share.  But, before I share the details, please allow me to reintroduce you to a few catchy sayings you may have heard before:

1. Believe but verify.

2. There’s a sucker born every minute.

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

4. Don’t take any wooden nickels.

5. Ask no questions, hear no lies.

All that being said, here’s what happened: I had a client who was looking for a rental property to reside in on Lady’s Island.  Deena and I normally don’t handle rentals but wanted to help this person.  Anyways, we were contacted by the client last week and they, apparently, had found the “perfect rental” on Lady’s Island via Trulia.com and asked if we could investigate it for them before they sent the owner their deposit.  Upon a little standard research, we found the home offered for sale in our MLS by a reputable local agent but not offered for rent. We thought that was odd so we then located the rental listing our client had found posted on Trulia.com. The contact number for the rental listing was a Chicago area code.  This sent up a “red flag”, I know the listing agent personally and he’s not from Chicago. We then tried to contact the listing agent but were unable to reach him. As it’s not totally unheard of for a person to attempt to rent a property themselves while simultaneously listing it for sale via an agent, we went ahead and called the number on Trulia.  I mean, come on, it’s Trulia right?

And then it got weird …

When we called the number, an individual answered who allegedly spoke little English. They also had a really bad phone connection. There was enough clarity to eventually exchange email addresses and cell phone numbers for texting. I realized later that, despite my best efforts, he apparently thought I was a potential renter and not an agent.  Or he didn’t care. In hindsight, who knows? In any event, below please find an extremely condensed version of our two days of text/email conversations:

Me: I have a client interest in renting your home. I will contact your agent directly.

Scumbag: I am renting myself due to bad experience with Realtor and tenant.

Scumbag: Renting myself. You don’t have to contact agent anymore.

Me: How can we gain access to view the home?

Scumbag: Drive by tonight and look through windows.

Me: How do we get the key to see inside?

Scumbag: OK, sounds good. Send the $1000 deposit and I will send you keys.

Me: My clients will not send a deposit until they have seen inside and have an executed lease.

Scumbag: OK, understand we need to trust but other people want my house too.

Scumbag: OK, my wife says we will take half deposit then send keys.

Me: No, we will not send funds until we have viewed inside and verified ownership, etc.

Scumbag: We are a God fearing family and treat others this way. Send half deposit and we send keys.

The above communication examples continued to repeat, varied slightly, in a frustrating circle, via email, text and garbled phone calls, for some time. I then finally received a response from the listing agent whom I’d contacted earlier. As it turned out, the property was not being offered for rent, only for sale. As a matter of fact, the owner had yet to even move out and was still living in the home.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell. This individual found the legitimate “for sale” listing of the property in question online.  He then created a bogus (and tantalizingly below market) “for rent” listing for the same property on Trulia.com utilizing the real “for sale” listing’s online pictures and details and was attempting to convince potential local renters to send a deposit to his Chicago mailing address after instructing them to simply drive by and “look through the windows”. He made this seem plausible and realistic by expressing his love of “Christian values” while simultaneously feigning a lack of mastery for the English language.

It’s OK though. All was reported to the appropriate folks. What’s the moral of the story?  Always remember to apply the appropriate “protect your fiscal backside” saying of your choice listed earlier before sending anyone money for any reason.  As a bonus, we may have at least helped initiate a catchy new saying: Think twice before you post your home mailing address to someone you are trying to scam.

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Attorneys, lenders and cool shades

By Will McCullough
I only buy cheap sunglasses. I mean really cheap. We’re talking single digits. The reason I only purchase the most inexpensive shades possible is because I have a track record, which spans decades, of quickly breaking them. As a matter of fact, when I broke my last pair a few months ago, I swore I wouldn’t buy any more unless I could find a seemingly unbreakable pair for under $20.
The reason I share the above information with you is because, about three weeks ago, Deena and I were walking along the shores of the Beaufort sandbar together, and she found a pair of beat up old sunglasses buried in the surf. Broken and covered in scratches, they looked like they’d been bouncing along the bottom of the river for months. With the exception of our boat, the sandbar was completely empty and, had it not been for the friends we had with us, the sunglasses in question would have quickly found their way into our trash.
“Those are Costa Del Mar sunglasses!” our friend exclaimed. For the record, this meant nothing to me. The only time I honestly get excited about fashion is when Marvel Comics releases a new superhero T-shirt. However, the catch here was that, while I’d personally never heard of “Costa Del Whatever,” my friend had. And, not only had he heard of these fancy high dollar shades, he knew that they came with a lifetime warranty for replacement against breakage. In a nutshell, he had detailed knowledge, based on personal interest and experience, about a topic that just might prove valuable to me.
In the world of real estate, we agents often find ourselves in a comparable situation. We’ll work with a buyer who has finally found the property of their dreams, made an offer, received a contract and then asked us the inevitable questions. What closing attorney should I use? What lender should I use?  What inspectors should I use?
Unfortunately, despite the fact that we local agents work with a wide range of supporting entities and definitely have personal opinions on who is best equipped to help you, the truth of the matter is that recommending a specific lender, attorney or inspector would be a violation of our ethics standards. We simply are not permitted to recommend, or attempt to sway you, in the direction of any secondary provider of real estate related services. In short, even though I know for a fact that the real estate lender, attorney or inspector equivalent of “Costa Del Mar” rocks, I can’t recommend them to you above the real estate equivalent of “Sunglasses-R-Us.”
What I can do, however, is give you a list of the general criteria I find important in selecting supporting entities for my own personal real estate transactions.
Within arms reach: For my personal transactions, I prefer to utilize an entity where I have a specific individual, with whom I have established a trusted personal relationship, as my point of contact. In short, I want to be able to walk into their office and speak to them face to face when I have a question or problem related to their facet of a transaction. While email may be a convenient form of communication, so is a “choke-slam.” I recommend keeping your ability and options to directly communicate open.
Experienced: I’m not just talking about overall years of experience as in the case of an entity that serves at a national level; I’m talking about someone who has served successfully in the hyper-local market as well.  Do they know the Beaufort market like the back of their hand as it relates to their aspect of real estate transactions? Are they respected in the community? Do they have past local clients who would recommend them? Don’t be afraid to ask.
Reachable: This one is easy. Your transaction is important to you. It should be equally important to those who guide you through a closing. If your initial calls or emails are not returned in a timely manner, you may want to shop around.  The last few years have been tough on agents, lenders, attorneys and inspectors alike.  Don’t settle for someone who does not display their appreciation for your business via timely responses.
Frankness: Despite misguided popular opinion otherwise, the customer is not always right. Sometimes they’re dead wrong and I personally want to utilize an attorney, lender or inspector who can, in a tactful manner, explain to me that my preconceptions are incorrect or unrealistic when that’s the case. A good supporting entity exists to serve your best interests in a transaction, even in the rare cases when their opinion of “your best interests” is hard to hear.
In closing, while your agent will likely give you a list of several lenders, attorneys and inspectors to choose from, it’s your responsibility to find the entity that fits your scenario the best.
And speaking of “fit,” as it turns out, Costa Del Mar sunglasses not only fit well, but coincidentally, only cost about $19 shipping and handling to be replaced/repaired by the factory!

Will and Deena McCullough of Lowcountry Real Estate can be reached directly at 843-441-8286 or via email at RealEstate@BeaufortSC.net.

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Free: Beachfront lot with incredible views

By Will McCullough
As someone who supports his family solely via the selling of property in the Beaufort area, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone this time in order to focus on a local piece of real estate that, while exceptionally beautiful and offering a location that puts most others to shame, is not available for purchase. This one-of-a-kind deepwater parcel offers a sandy beach and breathtaking 360 degree views of the waterways surrounding downtown Beaufort, Lady’s Island, Port Royal and Parris Island. Under normal circumstances, one would expect only a few to be able to afford unrestricted access to such an incredible property. But, here in the Lowcountry, we can all come and go as we please. Well, as long as you have a boat.  Or, maybe better yet, a friend with a boat. Oh, it also needs to be around low tide.
By now, most local readers already knew the parcel of real estate I was referring to, but, for those of you visiting the area for the Water Festival, please allow me to introduce you to the Beaufort Sandbar. The Beaufort Sandbar is an island that appears just offshore from the Waterfront Park in the Beaufort River when the tide is low. Many visitors to the area are surprised to learn that the local deviations between our high and low tides can vary as much as 9 feet. This significant drop in water level can reveal sandbars, or little islands, that make excellent locations for waterfront fun, socializing and relaxation.
While there are many popular sandbar “hang outs” in the area, each with their own merits, the Beaufort (or “downtown”) Sandbar is unquestionably the most popular and iconic. Finding it is quite easy if you are in the downtown area. Simply walk out to where the swings front the river at the Waterfront Park and look out a few hundred yards in the rough direction of 2 o’clock. If it’s within a few hours of either “side” of low tide, you’ll see a collection of boats encircling a sandy little island in the middle of the river.  Yep, that’s it.
One of my personal favorite aspects of the Beaufort Sandbar is, as I alluded to earlier, its utter lack of exclusivity. Beaufortonians of all ages, backgrounds, income and occupation arrive on its temporary shore via paddle boards, kayaks and boats of all size and shape. This eclectic mix of folks enjoy a relaxed sense of freedom seldom found on public beaches, with both dogs and kids running freely while grills are fired up, horseshoes are tossed and footballs are caught.
I’ve lived in the Beaufort area since I moved here in 1993 to serve as a Drill Instructor at Parris Island and I’ve always considered the Sandbar to be one of my favorite places.  For me, it has always induced a pleasant and surreal feeling of being surrounded by “all things Beaufort” while seeming a world away.
Best of all, this year, the Beaufort Sandbar has finally been given its Water Festival recognition, being immortalized by local artist William Rhett III as the festival’s 2012 official logo appearing in print, online and across the back of scores of T-shirts. It’s a beautiful piece and, if you’re lucky, you might be able to pick up a print at his gallery located at 901 Bay St.
In closing, if you are visiting and considering a potential move to the area, feel free to swing by a local real estate office and pick up some information on what’s available. Just know in advance that one of the nicest examples of local real estate is not available for sale. But you’re welcome to visit it at any time.

Will and Deena McCullough of Lowcountry Real Estate can be reached directly at 843-441-8286 or via email at RealEstate@BeaufortSC.net.

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The (extra) cost of doing business

By Will McCullough
Have you ever planned to contribute to the local economy by purchasing something you really wanted only to be surprised by extra, seemingly unexplainable, expenses? No, I’m not talking about feeding the parking meters while shopping along Bay Street; I’m talking about the closing costs associated with purchasing a property in the area. While experienced real estate buyers are stereotypically fully aware of exactly what closing costs consist of, most first time buyers are not.  So if you’re a potential first time buyer of real estate in the Lowcountry, please read on.  On the other hand, if you’ve already “been there, done that,” I’ll understand if you choose to stop reading now and skip forward to Terry Sweeney’s “Happy Winos” column. (For the record, I’m still waiting for him to review one of my favorite wines but he’s apparently prejudiced against the whole “volume meets cardboard box” packaging concept.)
Now that we’re left with just the first time buyers, please allow me to explain, in general, what closing costs are. In short, closing costs are not a single individual fee paid to some nameless entity when you buy a home. Instead, the term refers to the combined accumulation of multiple fees due to multiple sources for services rendered on your behalf during the transaction.  In other words, instead of one big charge, it’s a whole bunch of smaller charges added together. The following are a few examples of some of the individual items that, when combined together, make up some of what we refer to as closing costs.
Home Inspection: While a buyer is not normally required to have a home inspection before a purchase, it is my strong recommendation that you do so. A good home inspector can discover a wide range of “latent defects” or “problems nobody knew existed” before a sale is finalized. As the saying goes — “An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.” The cost of the inspection depends on many factors but, in a nutshell, one can expect to pay an average of between $250 to $400. This charge is often paid at the closing as opposed to when the actual inspection is conducted and, thus, becomes one of the fees that make up part of the closing costs.
CL100 Inspection: Normally required by lenders and commonly referred to as the “termite inspection”, the CL100 inspection checks for just about anything that would degrade the stability of a wooden structure.  While this obviously includes termites and other timber destroying insects, it also includes excessive rot, moisture in the wood and certain fungi. Like the home inspection above, payment for the CL100 is normally deferred until closing.
Appraisal: If, as opposed to paying cash, you are getting a loan on the property, an appraisal will likely be required by your lender. Basically, the appraisal’s purpose is to ensure that the sales price agreed upon does not exceed the actual current market value of the property. This protects both the buyer (from over paying) and the lender (in case you default and they have to foreclose and re-sell).
Attorney Fees: If you are purchasing a property in the state of South Carolina, you will be having an attorney represent you in the transaction. In short, the job of your real estate attorney is to ensure that all the contractual “T’s” are crossed and “I’s” are dotted, that you are receiving a clear and marketable title free of liens and that you fully understand the wide range of documents, fees, etc., associated with the closing.
Lender Related Fees: This is a topic that warrants a detailed column of its own but, in general, there may well be fees or up front costs associated with the type of loan you have secured for the property and, if so, these costs will become closing costs as well.
While the above list represents some of the services that, when combined and paid for at closing, make up what we call “closing costs,” it is by no means complete. Actual costs will vary from transaction to transaction, so I highly recommended that you discuss the topic in detail with your agent before you make your first offer.
Oh, and try out the boxed wines too. I’ll take the convenience of that little plastic spout over those annoying corks every time.

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Protect the clumsy and hide the secrets

By Will McCullough
A few days ago, I was previewing a home with another agent. (I won’t give her name.  I’ll just say that she’s one of the two people in the picture that accompanies this column and, chivalrously, leave it at that.) It had rained the night before and, as she stepped out onto the property’s dock, she slipped and fell on the wet wood leaving her with a head to toe series of bruises. In fairness, I should mention that the unnamed person in question could likely find a way to fall during a laying down contest, but the fact remains that the entrance to this dock was at a very steep angle and it would be easy for anyone, not just a gravity-challenged person, to fall and get hurt. A little “no-skid” in an area that obviously needed it could be the difference between selling a home and getting sued.
Here’s my point: We live in a litigious society and, if you’re inviting complete strangers to come in and tour your home, it is in you best interest to take a good look at it in advance from a safety perspective. In addition, it may be wise to take a few minutes and ensure that items of an overly personal nature disappear during showings. So, based on personal experiences, below please find some home staging advice that goes beyond all the standard “put out fresh flowers”, “hide family pictures” and “get a new welcome mat” guidance.
Some people are accident prone: It’s also a fact that some of those clumsy folks are going to eventually tour your home. Before you put your home on the market, take some time to tour your property constantly asking yourself the question “How would a clumsy person injure/kill themselves here?” Fix those loose steps and railings, cover those open outlets and lay down a bit of no-skid.
Some people bring kids:  As agents, we all do our best to watch over our buyer’s kids while showing a home.  The parents, obviously, do the same. But accidents can and do happen and it may be a good idea to consider stowing poisons, knives and scissors if you are opening up your home for others to tour in your absence.
Some people are stupid: OK, in this case I’m referencing the sellers. Let me start by saying I personally have no problem with guns. I grew up hunting, was a Marine for 10 years and I’m completely comfortable stating that Deena and I both have concealed carry permits. So here’s the little bit of staging advice I would have believed unnecessary earlier in my real estate career.  If you own a gun, do not leave it loaded and laying around during a scheduled showing. Three times in my career, I’ve come across a loaded gun in plain sight during a showing. One on a bed stand, one leaned against a wall and one, yes believe it or not, lying in the middle of a kitchen island. Trust me, I’m all for the Second Amendment, but if you’re inviting strangers to come in and tour your home, make it disappear behind lock and key.
Some people are thieves:  As individual agents, we often show property to groups of people. The happy potential buying couple is often accompanied by their parents and friends. We all honestly try our absolute best to keep everyone with us as we focus on showing your home but it is often inevitable that individuals will linger and split off in different directions. If it’s valuable to you, it’s probably valuable to someone else.  Make it vanish in advance before you discover, months later, that it’s vanished permanently. This also includes prescription drugs.
Some pets eat people: OK, that’s probably not true but some people think it is. Potential buyers want to see every inch of your property if they are seriously considering it and many will not tour the back yard or garage despite your advance assurances that your dog is “friendly.” I love pets too, but if at all possible, make them go before you show.  Keep in mind that you want them to write an offer and I have had buyers refuse to get out of the car for fear that “Cujo” was going to pin them down by the jugular the moment we got out.
Some people have secrets:  And you might be one of them. So before you allow your home to be shown, please ensure that your collection of porn and/or illegal drugs disappears. Buyers want to look in closets to determine if their stuff will fit and your alphabetized collection of freaky DVDs will be in plain sight when they open the door (true story). Buyers will also want to tour every inch of your 5 acre parcel to ensure that you are not growing cannabis on the grounds when they find your baggies on the vanity filled with it but they may be hesitant to do so because you are also “breeding pit bulls” on the property (yep, another true story).
So in closing, if you’re looking to sell your home in a competitive market, be sure to focus on the curb appeal and hide pictures and clutter. Oh, and the porn, drugs, valuables, rabid critters and dangerous stuff too.

Will and Deena McCullough of Lowcountry Real Estate can be reached directly at 843-441-8286 or via email at RealEstate@BeaufortSC.net.

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If not you, who?

By Will McCullough
When considering putting your property on the market, I think it’s very important that you interview at least two or three potential listing agents. In the Beaufort area, there are literally hundreds of licensed real estate agents and finding the right Realtor to represent you can make a huge difference in seeing your property sell in a timely manner and for as much as possible.
In complete honestly, it isn’t always a matter of just who’s “better,” it’s often more a matter of “who’s a better fit” for you and your specific needs. That being said, I wanted to share what I’ve always considered the best question I’ve ever personally been asked by a potential client during a listing interview. The question was simple: “If you couldn’t recommend yourself or even an agent from your company, who are a few other local agents you’d recommend to list our home?”
Please allow me to be completely up front, as a local agent myself, I’m obviously biased. However, truth be told, there are many incredibly good agents in the Beaufort area and I thought it would be a fun topic to publicly answer the above “who else?” question. Please know that while, yes, I personally hold the following agents in high regard, this is by no means a complete list. So, without further delay, here are just a few of the many local agents, from multiple companies, who quickly come to mind when personally answering the above question.
Christi Trumps, Tideland Realty:  I’ve interacted with Christi on multiple occasions over the years while working through various showings, offers and contracts. Her wealth of experience and genuine pleasant demeanor always appear to serve her clients well and, I can say from personal experience, allow for very smooth communication when working as an agent opposite her in a transaction.
Mike Ray, Coldwell Banker: Having represented clients opposite of Mike on several occasions, I can honestly say I really respect how he works. And “how he works” is hard. From what I’ve seen, when Mike is looking for an answer for his clients, he’ll dig until he finds it. He returns calls and emails quickly and doesn’t hesitate, at all, to initiate his own when the need arises.
Kim Carswell, Ballenger Realty: Kim is a true professional who appears to represent her listing clients exceptionally well. I am a personal fan of having a strong marketing message and quality promotional materials for listings and, as a competitive observer, have to say that I honestly respect the heck out of her work.
Bryan Gates, ERA: Bryan’s a very nice guy.  The real thing too, not just an act. While I haven’t done a large amount of transactions personally with Bryan, I can’t help but think that his high degree of genuine care for people in general would have to pass on to his clients and I think that, coupled with his years of experience, likely make for an awesome agent.
Pat Harvey-Palmer, Hometown Realty: I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of professional interactions with Pat over the years and I can say, without question, that her volume of experience puts most of us in the local industry to shame. Whatever your problem, she’s likely already “been there, done that” … and “done that” well.
Gary Glasser, Lowcountry Real Estate: In the interest of fairness, I’ve done my best to highlight quality agents from other companies and abstain from listing any of my co-workers at Lowcountry Real Estate. Gary, however, rates an exception. Reason? My impressions of Gary were formed when I myself was with another company. Gary’s straight-talking style, depth of knowledge and prior-USMC life experiences have always seemed to guide his clients well.  I have no doubt that will continue to be the case for many years to come.
When it comes down to it, what matters most is finding a local agent, from a reputable company, whom you feel will both market your property aggressively and relate best to you personally. While Deena and I would welcome the opportunity to potentially serve you, we also can’t deny the fact that the above list represents only a few of the many excellent local agents available to choose from.
Bottom line, take your time and interview a few agents before you sign on the dotted line. An extra day or two spent making comparisons can end up, unquestionably, being time well invested!

Will and Deena McCullough of Lowcountry Real Estate can be reached directly at 843-441-8286 or via email at RealEstate@BeaufortSC.net.

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Buying local foreclosures

By Will McCullough
Approximately 15 years ago, I found myself standing on a ladder leaned against our first ever “investment property” — a foreclosed brick home in the Burton area. I was absolutely exhausted, having spent the entire day scrubbing every inch of the home’s exterior by hand with a bleach/water mixture to remove the “green stuff” that covered it.
“Why didn’t you just power wash it?” the smirking neighbor standing below me asked. I made up a face-saving answer revolving around how “I wanted to make sure no spots were missed” but the truth was that I’d honestly never heard of power washing. After burying the neighbor’s body in the backyard, Deena and I continued stumbling blindly forward into the world of “learning the hard way” as it related to the local foreclosure market.
That market has changed a bit over the last 15 years, and, for those who are interested (or just extremely bored), what follows are some personal opinions on the topic of purchasing Beaufort area foreclosures as it relates to May 2012.
Good ones go very fast: This is not “Realtor-spin,” this is fact. Many banks are now painting, replacing flooring and making repairs before they list their foreclosed properties for sale in an attempt to make them more sellable. In addition, they are often pricing them very aggressively. Please know that it’s not unusual for us to see well-priced foreclosed properties currently going under contract within a day or two of being listed.
Learn fast. Tour faster: If you are learning about the availability of foreclosed properties via online “third party” sources, you should know that these sites can take a few days to post new listings. I highly recommend that you instead ask a good local Realtor to set up direct notification for you from the MLS. Using this system, you can be automatically notified the minute a new foreclosure that meets your criteria hits the market. If you like what you see, call your agent to schedule a tour ASAP.
Get a pre-qualification in advance: Most banks now require buyers to include proof of their ability to purchase with an initial offer on a foreclosure. Having a pre-qualification letter from your lender on hand (or proof of funds if paying cash) allows you to be ready to move when that “right” property suddenly appears.
Protect yourself: Banks stereotypically offer their foreclosures in “as is” condition and will not normally make repairs on behalf of the buyer. You’ll want to have a period of time to conduct various inspections and, if the results of those inspections are not to your satisfaction, be allowed to “walk away” from the transaction. This topic warrants a detailed column of its own, so please consult with your agent on the best way to ensure this ability when making an offer!
Highest and best: It is currently not unusual in the local market for a bank to receive multiple offers within the same time period for an aggressively priced foreclosure listing. When this happens, the bank will normally notify the various agents that they have received more than one offer and that all buyers need to submit their “highest and best” offer. No, they are probably not lying; they actually have more than one offer. No, they won’t tell us what others have offered. If you find yourself in this situation, consider the highest amount you are comfortable paying and offer exactly that. No more. No less.
Extra paperwork: Don’t be surprised if, a few days after making your initial offer, you receive additional paperwork to sign. Many banks have their own contracts and addendums for a potential foreclosure buyer to execute before an offer will be accepted. Be forewarned that every bank is different and their extra documentation can sometimes negate clauses written in your original offer. I highly recommend that you consider asking a real estate attorney to review bank-provided documents before you execute if it appears to conflict with your original offer’s wording.
Foreclosures offer first time home buyers and seasoned investors alike the opportunity to purchase local property at potentially discounted prices. Please just be sure to do as much homework as possible in advance. If you seek the guidance of a good agent and are patient yet still also ready to move quickly on the right property, it’s a process that can be navigated successfully. And if you ever come across an old brick home in Burton with a lump in the back yard, please disregard it. It’s probably just the septic tank. Good luck!

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It never hurts to ask

By Will McCullough
Deena and I have two kids, a daughter named Keara and a son named Cooper. Being kids, they’ll often ask for something that catches their mom and me a bit off guard. For example, one of the above recently asked if they could walk downtown with their friend from our house. As we live on Lady’s Island, the answer was “heck no.” The catch was, by even asking, the kiddo in question got something pretty close. We agreed to drive them downtown, drop them off, and pick them back up an hour later. The morale of the story is that it never hurts to ask and, in real estate, we call this making an offer. There’s a reason it’s called an “offer” as opposed to a “demand.” A potential buyer can ask anything they wish and should know that a seller’s agent is obligated to present all offers regardless of whether they personally feel the offer is good or bad. Obviously, the price you wish to purchase the property for is part of the offer, but potential buyers of local property should know in advance that there are other components of an offer as well. A few examples of these components can be found below.

Closing Date: In addition to price, local offers also normally contain the date the potential buyer wishes to “close,” or make final, the actual sale of the property. Sellers stereotypically will consider a slightly lower offer with regard to price if they are offered a contract with a closing date that is sooner as opposed to later.

Method of Payment: Another component of a standard offer locally is informing the seller if the buyer intends to purchase via cash or financing.  If the property is to be purchased via financing, some details of the hypothetical loan are also normally provided. For example, it’s normal to share in an offer if a loan is to be conventional, VA, FHA, etc. Regardless of how a buyer intends to purchase, it can greatly increase a buyer’s chances for an offer being accepted if they include proof of their ability to buy with the offer. This can be via a pre-qualification letter from a lender if home is to be financed or documented proof of funds if a cash purchase is intended.

Closing Costs: In a nutshell, closing costs are the accumulation of many smaller fees considered normal during a transaction for both the buyer and the seller.  These include, but are not limited to, attorney’s fees, processing fees and inspection costs.  These fees are normally paid “out of pocket” (outside of financing the acquisition cost of the property) and, especially for first time homebuyers, asking the seller to pay the buyer’s portion of these costs can be a crucial aspect of a transaction.
Inspections: There are several types of inspections that a buyer should consider having before they close on the sale of a property.  These include, but are not limited to, a home inspection, a survey, an appraisal, a termite inspection and more. Part of the initial offer not only contains notifying the seller, in advance, what inspections you intend to have but also what will happen if something negative is discovered during the course of a given inspection. While these inspections do cost money, it is unquestionably money well spent. Ask your agent for specific guidance but, as a general rule, always have your inspections.

Contingencies/Addendum: Think of these as “extras” not covered in the standard contract wording. Need to sell your current home before you buy but really want to try and secure the new home of your dreams? Want to ask the seller if they’d be willing to include that nice Pioneer boat with the sale of the home? Curious if the seller would replace the carpet? Want to live in the home as a rental while waiting for the closing date? All of those items and more can be asked in an offer and this section of the document is the place to do it.
When it comes down to it, everything in real estate is negotiable. While a good buyer’s agent will help guide you through the options to consider when making an offer, the bottom line is that you can offer, or ask for, just about anything. That does not necessarily mean that you’ll get it but you may get something close to it. Once again, don’t be afraid to ask.

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Believe, but verify

By Will McCullough
I was enjoying a little down time at the beach with Deena and the kids the other day when I watched a small group of children, walking a bit ahead of their father, discover a partially submerged animal in the surf. One child suddenly shouted, “It’s a stingray!” and they all began taking turns gently poking it with their toes (having obviously never heard of Steve Irwin).
“Guys, that’s not a stingray, it’s a turtle,” dad stated as he approached. Hearing the trusted voice of authority’s ruling was all they needed and the kids took up the chant of “it’s a turtle, it’s a turtle” as they left the creature behind and continued on their way. That was about a week ago and, by now, I’m sure those kids are home from their great Beaufort vacation and happily telling their friends how they even saw a sea turtle at the beach. I think it’s amazing that we live in a place where that can happen but, in this case, it actually didn’t. The critter in question was neither a stingray nor a turtle. It was a dead horseshoe crab.
It isn’t unusual in life to discover that something initially stated as a fact by an authority on the subject turns out to be incorrect. When this happens in real estate, the results can range from “slightly disappointing” to “fiscally disastrous.” When purchasing a local property, it’s wise to keep in mind that much of the information shared with you has been provided to your agent by third party sources and there are many topics that you should consider having independently verified. Luckily, real estate transactions contain many checks and balances that allow a buyer to do exactly that.  Below please find a few of the scenarios where it might be prudent to “believe but verify.”
Property lines: While your agent can likely give you a good general idea where the borders of a property are, I highly recommend that you consider having your own independent survey done before a closing. Keep in mind that your agent is relying upon information from the listing agent that they in turn got from the seller that they may have gotten from the seller before them. Sometimes, especially in newer subdivisions, there may be a current survey on file but, when in doubt, have a professional stake it out.
Covenants, rules and restrictions: If you are purchasing in a neighborhood with covenants, rules and restrictions, make sure you carefully read and understand them before you close. Many buyers have discovered that they could not park their boat in their driveway, use Christmas lights other than white, that privacy fences were not allowed, etc., until it was too late.  A good understanding of your future neighborhood’s covenants can bring to light issues that you may not have even considered issues before reading.
Permits: Many move to the Beaufort area dreaming of having a private dock on their property. However, building a dock requires a permit and any given property may either be allowed or not allowed a dock permit based on a wide range of criteria. Conversely, while I’ve never known anyone who dreamed of owning a septic tank, I have known of a few who found out that not being able to get a permit for one was a nightmare. As a general rule, insist on seeing current copies of applicable permits or that your contract being contingent on your ability to get them before you close.
Repairs: If you are buying a local home, you’ll likely be having both a home inspection and a CL100 (termite) inspection. There’s a good chance that these inspections will uncover a few items that need repaired and the seller will probably agree to make some repairs. A buyer should ensure that the seller provide them with paperwork from licensed professionals documenting that the repairs were made.  In addition, most local home inspectors offer a free re-inspection and a buyer should always consider requesting that their inspector return to the property to ensure that issues were addressed correctly.
In local real estate transactions, buyers will often find themselves in a position where they are given a large amount of information believed to be fact from well-meaning sellers, agents, contractors, inspectors and even neighbors. The key to remember is that most parties in a transaction are relying on third parties for this information and, occasionally, it can be incorrect. Making sure you take the time to have important facts verified by independent specialists prior to closing is highly recommended and, if ever in doubt on a given topic, don’t hesitate to consult with your closing attorney’s office on items you may not fully understand.

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Price adjustment: A tough choice

By Will McCullough
There’s been a common theme in my conversations with other local real estate agents lately. I won’t bore you with numerous quotes but, in general, the theme goes something like this: “I haven’t been this busy since 2006.” For the first time in years, many local agents are once again finding themselves absolutely swamped by a steady stream of potential buyers. For local sellers, this is obviously good news because not only does it seem as if overall buyer interest has picked up significantly, it’s doing so in advance of what we traditionally consider the “busy season.” However, while buyers are once again out there buying, they are, for the most part, buying properties that are priced competitively and “passing” on the rest. If your property is currently on the market, now might be a very good time to take a hard look at your asking price and determine if you may need to adjust it.  One of the toughest decisions a seller may ever have to face is “should I lower my asking price?” In order to answer that question, you may find it helpful to ask yourself a few additional questions.

Is my home being marketed well?
The first step in determining if a price reduction may be in order is to analyze the current marketing for the property. Your agent will almost certainly be happy to review his or her marketing efforts with you. While this topic alone could fill many columns, the bottom line for the moment is to make sure you are satisfied with the marketing and, if not, to work with your agent at making the changes needed to obtain that satisfaction.

Does my home show well?
This is another topic that many columns could be dedicated to but, in short, before considering a price reduction, you may wish to assess how well the home actually shows to a hypothetical buyer. This is a topic to discuss in detail with your agent but, in general, ensure that it is clean, free of clutter and the landscaping is fresh and attractive. You may wish to also seek the service of a professional home stager. While their service comes at a cost, it can often pay dividends. Most importantly, verify that you have addressed any negative trends that may have arisen during past showings and open houses.

Am I not having many showings?
If you have determined that you are satisfied with the level of marketing for your home but are experiencing very few showings, my opinion would be that you should have a serious discussion with your agent about the potential need for a price reduction. In general, buyers are out there buying and, hopefully, that trend will increase as we head further into spring. If those buyers aren’t touring your property, there’s a very good chance that the market is trying to tell you something. While the market may not always be kind, it’s also very rarely wrong.

Am I having a lot of showings but no offers?
In my opinion, this is the surest sign that a property is in need of an immediate price reduction.  Here’s the deal, if you are not receiving offers even though it’s showing regularly (without any real trends in negative feedback), you are almost certainly overpriced. You’re probably close though, just at the higher end of the spectrum when compared to the competition. I personally feel strongly that, once this situation is recognized, you should lower immediately. Reason? If you wait for someone to finally make an offer, enough time may pass that you’ll only get a “lowball” offer because “it’s been on the market so long,” effectively netting you less than if you’d just adjusted earlier in the process when interest was at its peak.
Lowering an asking price is never an easy decision and should not be taken lightly. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that your property is initially offered at a price that reflects what comparable properties have actually recently sold for. However, I hope that you find the above thoughts helpful should you find yourself in a situation where a price adjustment becomes a potential consideration.

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