Blog :: 06-2007

Don't Delay Your House Hunt!

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6/28/2007 - Don't Delay Your House Hunt!
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From watching on a regular basis, I've learned two things. First, there is no perfect home regardless of how much money you have to spend. Second, most people who buy homes do it because their lives are changing, not because they are looking to time the market and make a quick profit. So this week I'm going to give you five good reasons not to delay your house hunt.

As I mentioned in a recent column, there are more homes on the market in Asheville then there have been historically. What that means for you is a greater range of choices in your price range. This does not mean that you can get a bargain basement price on a house. Some houses in desirable neighborhoods are still receiving asking price or better. But in general, having more inventory helps improve your negotiating position with respect to price and/or seller contributions to closing costs. Not having a home of your own to sell will definitely prove advantageous in this market.

Interest rates are still favorable. Although they have been rising over the past month or so they are still well below the double digit rates that those of us of a certain age remember. Despite what you may have been reading in the press, there are still a variety of loan programs to meet borrowers' needs. Now more than ever it is important for you to share your information with a reputable lender and get preapproved for a mortgage. That way you will know exactly how much over budget you can go when you find the "almost" perfect home. You can also explore asking for a seller contribution to closing costs should you wish to buy down your interest rate.

You buy a house to accommodate your life. Hopefully, over time it will turn out to be a good investment. In the gold-rush mentality that has pervaded the real estate market over the last five years, some people lost sight of the fact that we buy houses because we need a place to live. We graduate, get married, have children, retire and all manner of situations in between. Evaluate potential homes in terms of how you think they will fit your current and future life plans, not in terms of how fast you can turn it over and make a profit.

It is almost impossible to time the market. We know people who sat on the fence anticipating that interest rates would go down by 0.125 percent only to find rates moving in the opposite direction. We know people who are waiting for prices to drop. Remember that all real estate is local and that supply and demand sets prices. Asheville is still a very desirable place to live. If you're looking for a cheap foreclosure, head to Michigan or Indiana.

It's never too soon to stop renting. I understand that taking on a 30-year obligation is a scary proposition. But every month when you write that rent check, you are making a mortgage payment - your landlord's. And your landlord (not you) is benefiting from the interest and property tax write-offs. That's one of the reasons people buy investor property.

If you can articulate what you are looking for in a new home, and understand your comfort level of payment, then what are you doing lying in that hammock? Get moving and start shopping!

This is the opinion of Beth Burdick of Ashford Mortgage Advisors in Asheville. She can be reached at 350-8886 or at www.ashevillehomeloans.com.

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Town and Mountain forms Eco Partnership

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6/28/2007 - Town and Mountain forms Eco Partnership
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ASHEVILLE - Town and Mountain Realty is holding an anniversary dinner Friday with an environmental twist.

"Just because we sell houses doesn't mean we're not very concerned about what happens to our mountains and farmlands," said agency owner Mike Miller.

The event from 6 to 9 p.m. at 12 Bones Smokehouse will celebrate Town and Mountain's fifth anniversary and its partnership with local conservation organization Blue Ridge Forever, Miller said

All of Town and Mountain's agents have signed an agreement with Blue Ridge Forever saying each time they close a deal with a client for the next five years, they'll give them a membership with their local land trust.

Blue Ridge Forever is a coalition of 13 conversation organizations across WNC hoping to protect 50,000 acres from development by 2010, said its campaign director, Phyllis Stiles.

"Town and Mountain is kicking off something that will go all across the region," Stiles said. "This event serves as a statement that real estate agents do care about conservation."

Stiles contacted Miller and his wife and co-owner, Joy Lovoy, who agreed to buy clients land trust memberships and approached their agents about making the same commitment.

"We are a very eco-conscious group. There wasn't one agent that wasn't 100 percent for it," Miller said.

About 20 other real estate firms across WNC have followed Town and Mountain's lead, and made similar commitments to Blue Ridge Forever and its partner organizations.

"We are very aware that Asheville is a desirable place to live, and there has to be enough housing," Miller said. "But ... if there is anything we can do to conserve the beautiful land in WNC, the more we can do the better. It makes a better place for all of us to live."

by Stirling Grodner, SGRODNER@CITIZEN-TIMES.COM

published June 28, 2007 12:15 am

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Haywood Park complex sold for $18.5 million

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6/27/2007 - Haywood Park complex sold for $18.5 million
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ASHEVILLE - The owner of Westgate shopping center has purchased downtown's Haywood Park complex for $18.5 million and is eyeing changes to the property.

The complex includes the 33-room Haywood Park Hotel, the Flying Frog Café, adjoining office, several retail locations and about 125 parking spaces. The purchase is one of the largest downtown in recent memory.

The buyer, a company owned by Tony Fraga, whose FIRC Group also owns Westgate, announced plans in March for a mixed-use project to be called Main Street at Biltmore Lake in Enka. The company also has substantial real estate interests in south Florida.

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Fraga said it is too early to say what he might do with the property, which covers roughly 2 acres. It might make sense, he said, to expand the 33-room hotel or bring residential space to the complex but he said there are no concrete plans.

Sellers in the deal that closed Monday were Joe Kimmel's Kimmel Development Group and Haywood Street Redevelopment Corp. Kimmel heads Kimmel & Associates, an executive search firm serving the construction industry that is based in a nearby building at 25 Page Ave. He received attention in 2005 for large donations to UNC Asheville and Western Carolina University.

Kimmel had bought most of the property, which has about 200,000 square feet of leasable office and retail space, in 2005. He said he originally planned to renovate the property, possibly in partnership with others, but ultimately decided Fraga had the experience to handle such a large project.

"I felt maybe I was the one to do something with these wonderful properties but I have found that I am not," Kimmel said at a press conference Tuesday.

The beginnings

The first renovation of a former department store building to become Haywood Park Hotel and adjoining properties for office and retail use, completed in 1985, was one of the first major redevelopment projects in downtown's rebirth.

When developer Robert Armstrong bought the properties, "Nothing was going on" downtown, recalled John Rogers, architect for the original project.

Rogers said a major market for the hotel was initially attorneys with business in U.S. District Court a couple of blocks away, but downtown's renewed popularity means there are plenty of tourists seeking rooms as well.

Kimmel said that, after buying a controlling interest in the properties, he had been discussing plans for changes with Armstrong but his efforts received a blow when Armstrong died unexpectedly.

He ultimately decided the property needed an owner with more development experience and said Tuesday he liked Fraga's "vision" for the property.

Fraga, who also announced this year plans to renovate Westgate and add residential and retail space there, said the Haywood Park deal is "the best acquisition of my lifetime and the biggest."

He said he intends "to develop this with respect and harmony (with) the surroundings."

Rogers said the interiors of the buildings are "pretty flexible" and could be converted to other uses and that a surface parking lot on Page Avenue is "a pregnant spot" ripe for development.

Fraga and Rogers said a larger hotel would create economies of scale.

Rogers said he hopes changes won't involve changes to the façade of the Haywood Park and buildings along Haywood Street.

"It's a significant downtown property. ... What happens there will be critical for what happens to that part of downtown," he said.

by Mark Barrett, MBARRETT@CITIZEN-TIMES.COM

published June 27, 2007 12:15 am

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Asheville's Economy Update

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6/22/2007 - Asheville's Economy Update
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ASHEVILLE - Asheville could weather any national recession well, with moderate job growth and continued high appreciation in home values, economic experts said Wednesday.

In the eighth annual Asheville Metro Economy Outlook, Tom Tveidt, director of the Asheville Metro Business Research Center of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, presented his yearly report card on the economy.

This year, James F. Smith, the new chief economist for Parsec Financial and a noted national forecaster, joined the program at the Diana Wortham Theatre, offering his take on the national and international economies.

Bucking the conventional wisdom of other forecasters, Smith continues to predict a short recession, which may have already started this month. He also predicts a roaring comeback for the economy starting in the fall, with 4.5 percent growth next year.

Smith sees little job loss compared with the 2001 recession, predicting the national unemployment rate will perhaps hit 5.4 percent.

At about 3.4 percent this month, Asheville unemployment remains well below state and national averages, Tveidt said. "We see a real tight market for skilled labor."

Manufacturers and even health care providers are having trouble finding enough skilled workers.

The surprise this year is the turnaround in manufacturing, which has been hemorrhaging about 1,000 jobs a year for the past decade.

Local factories in 2006 added about 50 new jobs, part of the 2,700 new jobs added across the metro economy, Tveidt said.

The Asheville metropolitan area includes Buncombe, Madison, Haywood and Henderson counties with total employment of about 174,000 workers, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The professional and business sector added about 1,000 new jobs in 2006, especially in high-paying positions in engineering and computer design, Tveidt said.

Asheville ranks 12th in the nation among metropolitan areas for home appreciation, Smith said.

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