Phone: (480) 234-9225

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Phoenix Area Market Trends through Feb. 2011

Phoenix 1955 from So. Mountain.  
The lastest market stats are out reporting real estate sales activity through February, 2011.  Matt Canady at First American Title put this worksheet together:

Bank owned and short sales continue to be the trend - the ARMLS STAT report makes this trend loud and clear:
Taken from AZ Regional MLS Feb. 2011 STAT report

Photo of 1955 Phoenix from Flickr courtesy of jczart.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Balancing Price with Interest Rates

Are you on the fence waiting for homes prices to go lower? Sarah Moran with Equity Title Agency shared some very interesting information about the potential consequences of waiting to buy when interest rates are at an all time low right now. 

Lower interest rate or lower price - What makes more sense in the long run?  Sarah's chart makes a pretty convincing story:

Photo credit goes to cdsessums via Flickr.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Comparing Home Warranty Companies

Selecting a home warranty company is not as easy as you may think!   You’ve got to be very careful and make sure you understand the fine print – although you may see that an item is covered, dig deeper ‘cause you may be in for a surprise.

And, your leaky roof may be covered with one plan but not with another.

What was thought to have been a fairly simple blog post has turned into an incredibly overwhelming task – I can see the confusion a homeowner is faced with when it’s time to select a home warranty company.  If you thought you could just quickly peruse the marketing brochure, think again.  You’re gonna need to go out and get some stronger readers and by the time you’ve gone through all the literature, you’re ready to check into a retirement home.

In an attempt to uncover the good, bad and the ugly of home warranty plans, I concentrated on a handful of companies – the ones that often come up in conversation around the realtor water cooler:  American Home Shield (AHS), Buyers Protection Group (BPG), Fidelity National Home Warranty, Old Republic Home Warranty and ServiceOne Home Warranties. 

Here’s what I discovered: All home warranty plans are not the same – not even close!  And, what’s important for one homeowner may be a different priority for another.  One thing is for certain, ask around and see what other homeowners have to say, talk with trade providers who actually do the work and deal with the home warranty company on the back side, and of course understand the plan you end up selecting.

The coverage is one thing – how it is handled is another and one that could give you heartburn.  Like with all service businesses, customer service is key.  Sometimes bigger isn’t better as corporate bureaucracies may get in the way.

So, let’s look at these companies and try to make sense out of their products.

American Home Shield (AHS) offers 2 basic plans

Core Coverage:                      $345                Condo
$385                Single Family Home

Coverage Plus:                       $385                Condo
                                                $425                Single Family Home

Trade service call fee:             $60

Going through the literature, there are add-ons you will likely want to consider.  Additional charges apply for washer, dryer, refrigerator with ice maker and dispenser, swimming pool and/or spa equipment, water softener, well pump and septic system pumping and sewage ejector pump.

AHS prides themselves as an industry leader.  When asked to comment, they said, “American Home Shield has a respected reputation and a reliable nationwide network of approved and independently insured service contractors.  AHS has a proven record of 40 years of service to over 1.4 million homeowners that trust AHS to help protect their homes.”

Let’s explore an example: Our garage door doesn’t open properly – so we call the home warranty company.  AHS will it is not cover any problem with our garage door under the basic plan.  Under the Coverage Plus, you’ll pay the trade service fee of $60 and the wiring, motor, switches, receiver unit, rail/trolley assembly, hinges, springs and remote transmitters are covered.  The door and door track assembly is not covered.  You’ll need to research whether or not removal of old equipment is included as it may be extra.

Standard                     $350 SFH
                                    $300 Condo
Preferred                     $400 SFH
                                    $350 condo

Trade service fee:       $30 - $60

The customer can choose a $30 trade service fee option for an additional $60 to the plan price.  This is an interesting option and from what I can tell, a first in the industry.  This could be very appealing to the buyer who is having the seller pay for the home warranty plan on his behalf at close of escrow.

So what about our garage door?  The opener is covered under basic plan.  Doors, springs, remote transmitters, keep pads, lights and hinges are covered under the Preferred Plan.

I asked Jeff Swanson, BPG’s local sales manager about his products.  He reiterated the necessity to read the brochures and “fine print.”  He said the “’Limits of Liability’ section will tell you to what extent the plan performs.  For instance, this area will often tell you that a particular Home Warranty plan will cover homes up to 5000 square feet.  Anything larger than this size, please call for a quote.  This area will tell a contract holder that it is their responsibility to provide access for a contractor to make a repair.  For example:  Air Handlers (part of an Air Conditioning system) in the attic.  Often, builders will have this equipment installed and finish building the house around it.  If the Air Handler needs to be replaced, the crawl space that is usually found in a closet or a garage is too small for the unit to be removed, so a contractor will often have to cut a hole in the side of the house in order to remove it.  The cost of providing access for such a repair is beyond the scope of the warranty and will be a homeowner cost.

The above situation serves as a good example of making the point that a Home Warranty plan covers “everything.”  It doesn’t; no plan does.  Home Warranty plans certainly do what they say they will do, but by no means do they cover “everything.”  If they did, these plans would not be affordable to the general public for which they are designed to serve.

Standard                                 $325 SFH
                                                $305 condo
Comprehensive Plus              $380 SFH
                                                $360 condo

Trade service fee                    $55

Basic plan includes general plumbing system, heating/AC/ductwork, electrical, central vacuum, garage door opener, ceiling fans, trash compactors. Upgraded plan includes mismatched systems coverage, improper installation repairs and/or modifications, removal of defective equipment, permits, code violation corrections and more.

So, using our garage door problem from above –we call the home warranty company.  Here’s what Fidelity National will cover after we pay our $55 service call fee:  Wiring, motor, switches, receiver unit and track drive assembly are included under the basic plan.  Hinges, springs and remote transmitters are included with the expanded coverage.  Again, check into it further as there may be a haul-away fee.

Fidelity National prides themselves with delivering exceptional customer service at a great value.  Their brochure touts “more coverage with fewer exclusions.”

Standard Coverage:                $335 SFH
                                                 $305 Condo
Ultimate Protection:                 $400
Platinum Plus                          $475

Trade service fee:                   $55

Ceiling fans, trash compactors, instant hot/cold water dispensers, jetted bath tub motor and pump, garage door opener, central vacuum are all included in the basic plan.  Limited Roof Leak Repair on one of the options is available as an additional add-on.  Their upgraded plan includes haul away/disposal if needed (when that water heater blows up) and even includes construction costs to have a new item re-fitted (for when the old oven dies and the new one doesn’t fit within the cabinetry).

What about our garage door?  With Old Republic, all components of the opener unit including motor, logic board, gear assembly, capacitor and rail assembly are included in the basic plan.  Hinges, springs, remote transmitters and key pads are included under the Ultimate plan.

Stacey Gross, account executive for Old Republic Home Warranty highlights these benefits:

«        The Platinum Plus program with unprecedented coverage in the industry covering roots, modifications, crane and permit fees to name a few.
«        Cover 38 additional items on our Ultimate Plan including improper install.
«        No footage limit on stoppage cleared with cable.
«        Undetectable Pre-existing Conditions.*
«        Replace equipment with like quality based on features, capacity and efficiency.*
«        Cover multiple systems at no additional charge.*
«        No age restrictions, obsolete clause or rust and corrosion exclusion.* We don’t remove coverage at time of Renewal.
«        Cover items that fail due to the lack of general maintenance.

ServiceOne offers 2 basic plans:
Sentinel:                                  $349 Single Family Home or condo
Guardian:                                $489 Single Family Home or condo

Trade service call fee:            $55

ServiceOne is a local company and their plans are designed specifically for Arizona homes.  There are nimble and have a great reputation for unsurpassed customer service and claim to have the most comprehensive plans available.

The offer optional add-ons for an ENERGY STAR® upgrade, washer/dryer/kitchen refrigerator with ice maker and dispenser (included with Guardian plan), pool/spa equipment, salt water equipment, extended main line plumbing, water softener and guest house. 

Several items to note: ServiceOne offers no fault coverage, free security alarm system and system coverage with a monthly monitoring contract, re-key of up to 6 keyholes, termite treatment coverage, pest control service, garage door opener, sprinkler, drip and timer system.

They cover (unknown) pre-existing conditions, promote a “no Band-Aid repair” in that if it can’t be fixed, it’s replaced, and is an Arizona based local home warranty company.

Take our garage door issue:  With ServiceOne, wiring, receiver, switches, capacitor, motor, rail/trolley assembly, push arm and carriage are covered under the basic plan.  The doors, springs, hinges, remote transmitters and track assembly are not covered under any option.

Remember our garage door that died?  Here’s a recap:

As for me, I think a home warranty plan is an important investment.  I always encourage my buyers to take a plan – and I suggest the upgraded plan in all instances.

Home warranty plans have saved my hide a number of times on my personal homes and they give me great peace of mind on my investment properties.  Just know, there’s going to be hiccups along the way – you may have to wait, use a vendor you otherwise would not have selected, may have a haul-away or refitting expense, etc. 

If you need late night reading material, I can share the marketing brochures with you.  None are fun to go through and I’d suspect if you’re a graphic artist, you could have some serious job security by working on revamping their materials.  I’ve tried to be accurate with the above, but undoubtedly I’ve probably made a few mistakes, so do your own due diligence. 

Photo taken from patersor on Flickr

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Home Warranty Plans

Making sense (and cents) out of home warranty protection plans can be daunting.  Many people often struggle with the question, “Are home warranty plans worth it?”  Or, “Aren’t they all about the same?”  It was suggested that I address this issue and I readily agreed.  What started out as a simple blog post has undoubtedly become Part 1 in a series.

I was at the gym the other day and ran into a friend. He mentioned his water heater had exploded that morning, but he wasn’t concerned.  He had a home warranty protection plan from Old Republic.  He called them and within 24 hours he had a new water heater.  His cost?  Just the standard trade service fee.  Not bad for a new water heater.  He said he’d never own a home without a home warranty, and in fact, one plan bought him a new air conditioning unit.  Not a bad investment.  If only all of our experiences were as positive.

I’m often asked about how to select the best plan.  The answer isn’t nearly as simple.  All home warranty plans are not created equal.  Most offer several tiered levels of coverage with some items being covered and others not at all.  What may be included with one company may not be covered with another.  Some companies include the kitchen refrigerator and ice maker.  Others make that an add-on for an additional fee.  Depending on what is not working, some companies will try to fix it, while others will get it replaced.  Trying to figure out what’s included and what is not is next to impossible. 

It’s important to read the fine print, ask other homeowners for their thoughts and recommendations.  Another great resource is the trade provider – ask a plumber, electrician, HVAC company what their experiences are with home warranty companies. You’ll get the real low down and some great advice. 

And, it goes without saying, but one integral piece to selecting the right plan is obviously the service and follow up provided when you need them most.  Like anything else, we all have our favorites, but it was interesting to really delve into the plans of a variety of companies and make some general comparisons. 

Like my friend at the gym, I had to call my home warranty company recently on both my ice maker and my dishwasher.  Getting the ice maker up and running was a complete night mare that included a number of phone calls from service technicians the home warranty company contracted with that finally said they didn’t work on my brand of appliance, visits from plumbers (two trips) and electrician, countless emails and calls to my home warranty area service rep, scheduling drywall repair people, personal time off work and repainting my dining room (at my expense).  Hey, but I got ice, right?

My dishwasher, which may be the very first one ever made – ever - was not getting the glasses cleaned and I had to wash the dishes before I placed them in the rack.  The home warranty plan contacted a great appliance repair shop I’ve come to really like and recommend to others – Frost Appliance.  They ended up having to order a plethora of parts to get it to work properly.  My repair guy told me that because of my home warranty, they had to try to fix the appliance rather than recommend a new one even though Maytag is no longer in business and the cost of parts had escalated significantly more expensive - and the home warranty company had to approve any repair.  So, once again, the repair man left and it was a waiting game.  A week or so later, and another personal day off to meet the repair people, I’m back up and running.  I just had to think that a new dishwasher was properly a better investment over time, but I’m just the homeowner.  I still scratch my head and wonder at what point do you just bite the bullet and replace the darn thing with something that works, won’t break and is more efficient?  

Guess that’s what some home warranty plans are counting on – They're hoping you go out and get a new one yourself!

Watch for future posts on home warranty companies – I’ll do some basic comparing of a handful and point out some differences that will surprise you.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Zillow Zestimates

Inevitably, when I’m on a listing appointment and sitting in the living room or around the kitchen table of a potential seller, Zillow comes up in the conversation – the apparent bible and undisputed resource for local home values. 

Sellers are no dummies and they do their homework.  I applaud that - they should.  After all, it's one of the most important investments they will ever make.  Sellers have an idea of what they feel their property is worth because they’ve done their research.  Unfortunately, the tools they have access to may not be entirely accurate and has a margin of error – and that margin of error can be significant.
In some markets, Zillow has better accuracy than others when it comes to being up-to-date and incorporating the latest sold data.  Zillow is a great tool for a lot of things, but, like any thing else, it’s important you read the fine print – and know what your looking at.

When you’re on Zillow, at the bottom of the page in a very faint font, you will see “About Zestimates.”  That’s actually a clickable link that takes you to a page where the accuracy is revealed and explained.

Here’s what it looks like for Arizona:

When I first looked at this chart, the “99%” immediately caught my eye.  The “99%” reminded me of an email I got several years ago – I’ve included it below to remind us if 99% is good enough, we should run for the hills.  Then, I glanced to the far right column and looked at the median error: In Maricopa County, the error is nearly 15% - YIKES.

Think what 15% really means when it comes to the value of your home.  That’s $ 30,000 on a property valued at $200,000.  To me, that’s SIGNIFICANT!

Don’t get me wrong, Zillow offers some great information and resources for both buyers and sellers.  My point is just remember what you’re looking at and consult with a knowledgeable real estate expert in the area who is familiar with the local market, conditions and factors, not one 1,500 miles away in a glass tower over looking the San Francisco Bay. 

Here’s the jest of that e-mail I was talking about earlier that addressed accuracy:
- 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily.
- 268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year.
- 103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
- 811,000 faulty rolls of 35mm film will be loaded this year.
- 14,208 defective personal computers will be shipped this year.
- 2,488,200 books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
- Two plane landings daily at O' Hare International Airport in Chicago will be unsafe.
- 3,056 copies of tomorrow's Wall Street Journal will be missing one of the three sections.
- 18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
- 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
- 880,000 credit cards in circulation will turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strip.
- $761,900 will be spent in the next 12 months on tapes and CDs that will not play.
- 55 malfunctioning automatic teller machines will be installed in the next 12 months.
- 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
- 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
- 107 incorrect medical procedures will be performed by the end of the day today.
- 315 entries in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language will be misspelled.
- $9,690 will be spent every day on defective, often unsafe sporting equipment.
- 2,000,000 documents will be lost by the IRS this year.
- 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next 60 minutes.
- Homes would be without electricity, heat, water, and telephone service for 15 minutes every day.
- Every page of the telephone directory would contain four wrong number.

                  Source: (1991) InSight, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Communications Division in a post by snooze button   (, November 22, 1999

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Real Estate Agent Reviews

We’ve long made our buying decisions based on a products ranking or how well it is rated or perceived by others.  Real estate agent reviews are also becoming a key factor in the selection of a real estate agent.
How does your agent measure up?

Ratings, reviews and ranking’s help us all in picking a product or service.  We’ve selected hotels and restaurants for their “stars,” movies for their “thumbs up,” even the wines we serve for dinner are often selected based on their numerical rating.  We go to Yelp to see comments from people who’ve actually been there/done that.  Often times, these first-hand testimonials help us decide whether or not we select a product or service and define our expectations. 
As the real estate climate continues to evolve and with technology becoming a much greater influence on how the business of real estate is conducted, more and more people go on-line to begin their property searches – and now, much like Yelp, people are evaluating potential real estate agents based on their on-line reviews.
 Unfortunately, there is no one single place for real estate agent reviews and a number of sites are implementing a rating system.  When you search on-line, a number of sites pop up which can make it difficult.  But, two of the biggest and most searched real estate agent review sites are INCREDIBLE AGENTS and ZILLOW’s agent review.   
I googled agent review sites and took some time scanning the list of agents.  Not many agents have reviews posted yet, but I promise, as time goes by, we’ll start to see more and more testimonials populate the world wide web.  Those that do have reviews, come to the top first – and let me tell you – are most impressive! 
See for yourself - The most popular review sites seem to be:
And, there are plenty of other sites, too. 
Check ‘em out.  I think you’ll agree real estate agent reviews are a very helpful tool for the public when they face one of the most important decisions of their life.  After all, they’re not buying or selling underwear.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fair Housing

If you're like me, you want to make sure and obey the law - Fair Housing laws are essential to follow when practicing real estate, whether you're working with  buyers, sellers or renters. 

But, I do have to ask.....are "sleep walkers" a protected class?

Because, that first step could be a real wake-up call!

So, here's the real scoop on Fair Housing - I know, its a topic that was keeping you up at night.

The Fair Housing Act began in 1964 and prohibited the discrimination against any one in a real estate transaction based on race, color and national origin.  Then, it has been modified several times and now also protects against religion, sex, familial status and disability. 

Just had to share this photo - one to put in the WTF file, for sure!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tips to Get Your Home Sold Fast

Looking for that magic bullet to get your home sold fast?

Here are some easy, concise and sure-to-sell strategies, as long as you price it right, too -

REALTOR® Magazine-Daily News-4 Ways to Get a Home in Show-Selling Shape