Archive for December, 2009

The Biggest Bang For The Buck

By: Linda Shropshire Grissom

During these uncertain economic times, many homeowners are deciding to make do with their current homes and stay put. Doing so leads many homeowners to make changes to their existing home. With so many home projects to choose from, the question becomes  –  Which projects will reap the largest returns when the time is right to sell? Below are a few projects that garnered the biggest bang for the the buck in 2009, according to real estate and remodeling experts.

1) Kitchen Renovations–  Kitchen projects are always a safe bet as long as the renovations are tempered. Keep in mind that mid-range renovations will reap a bigger return on investment than will an upscale re-do. According to Remodeling magazine, kitchens with mid-range upgrades recouped returns of an average  72.1 percent while upscale upgrades only brought in 63.2 percent.

2) Bathroom Renovations – Same rules of restraints apply to baths. Stick with upgrades that are in the mid-range and your investment will pay off by a greater percent.  The average returns with mid-range bathroom project were 71 percent and upscale projects almost a full 10 percent less with 61.6 percent.

3) Front Entry Door Replacement – Don’t forget first impressions. In 2009 the biggest return on a small invest among the top home projects was front entry door replacement. A national average survey conducted by REALTOR magazine showed the average return on this low cost investment was 128.9 percent.

4) Deck Addition – More and more people are looking for ways to increase the livability of their homes on the outside as well as the inside. Decks are hugely popular and are valued as living space. Nationally the average deck will cost approximately $10,000, but its average return on investment was 80.6 percent. 

5) Attic to Bedroom Conversion –  Buyers are increasing looking for more room for their buck. Taking an unused space and creating a bedroom optimizes  the living space for families. Although costly, this project will recover huge returns. The national average return was 83.1 percent.

6) Vinyl Window Replacement – This project heaps huge benefits that are noticed greatly by todays environmentally conscience buyers. A vinyl window replacement proved to have average returns of 76.5, not to mention the utility savings year after year.

7) Fiber Cement Replacement – Of all the upscale projects surveyed, fiber cement replacement was squarely at the top of the list. With an average fiber cement project costing more than $13,000, the average return was 83.6.

With so many projects to choose from, it is important to choose materials and contractors carefully. Also consider the price range of the homes in your neighborhood. It is important that renovations don’t out price the home beyond the recent sells.

Before you endeavor to make a big change, contact an Urban Durham REALTOR for a complete comparative market analysis.


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So, how is the real estate market?

By: Courtney James

It’s that time of year when you feel as though you are bouncing from one holiday event to another.  Almost without fail, at each event, I am confronted with the question, “So, how is the real estate market?”  Fortunately, I enjoy talking about real estate so I never tire of the question.  I am well aware that real estate is something that translates well – almost everyone has some experience in buying and selling homes.  I feel fortunate that I happen to work in a field that is of interest to many.  Not everyone receives the same level of curiosity.  My husband, for example, is hardly ever asked, “What’s new with cerebral hemorrhage mouse models?”

In any case, this year, people have seemed a bit surprised when I answer that the market is great.  Truthfully, I think we are very fortunate to be living in Durham because we have been relatively protected from the housing slump.  Sure we are not quite at the level we were in 2007, but we have not slid as far back as some of our neighboring communities.  In Durham, we are at 65% of 2007 sales, while Raleigh is at 59% and Cary is at 42%.

From my personal experience, there are several things that I have noticed are different in this market.   These are largely intuitive observations and are probably of no great surprise.

First, new construction homes are not nearly as “in-demand” as they were a few years ago.  I remember accompanying several clients to new-home neighborhoods pre-2008.  If the buyer was interested in a home, they typically paid exactly what the builder asked.  Now it seems that builders all over the Triangle (and across the country) are offering very attractive incentives worth thousands of dollars to lure buyers.

Second, fewer people seem interested in “fixer-uppers”.  This is probably due to two factors: increased challenges in obtaining construction financing and the sharp decline in people attempting to “flip” houses (not just because of financing challenges but also because of a decrease in market appreciation).  If the house needs updating, chances are it will sit on the market longer than in years past.

Third, there are fewer luxury homes selling and those that are selling have done so after a longer stretch on the market.  In 2007 there were 114 homes over $500k that sold in Durham as opposed to 76 in 2009 (as of December 20th).  The average days on the market for this price range was 212 days in 2007 and 226 days in 2009.

In reviewing the statistics for some of Durham’s more common zip codes (27701, 27705, 27707, and 27713), one surprising statistic is that although there were fewer homes sold in 2009 than in 2007 (1717 in 2009 and 2557 in 2007), there were more showings.  In 2009, there were 24 showings for each home sold, compared to 11 showings for each home sold in 2007.  This may reflect the possibility that buyers feel they need to do their due diligence by seeing more homes before they decide on one.

So I stand by my answer to the predictable question, I think the real estate market here is great.  Against the advice of many, it turns out to have been a really good year to open up a real estate company.  I feel positive about the outlook for 2010 and am thrilled that the tax credit was extended and expanded (see past blog post for more details). So Happy Holidays from all of us here at Urban Durham, and here’s to an excellent New Year in 2010!

Should old acquaintance be forgot and ne’er brought to mind, should old acquaintance be forgot in days of auld lang syne….

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Holiday Home Safety

By:  Mary Hunter

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season upon us, cold thoughts about crime or home safety are likely last on our mind. While no one really wants to think about a holiday mishap, or that a vandal lurks around the corner, the possibility of both is certainly out there.  By taking a moment to recall a few simple suggestions, we can lessen or even eliminate the occasion of an accident or for a crime.  We already know most of these “good ole” common sense measures.  Here’s a quick list of things that I keep in mind and try to do.  Perhaps you can add to the list with some prevention ideas that I have missed!


It is estimated that burglars will spend approximately sixty seconds trying to break into a house.  If our home is secured with good dead bolt locks, it may deter a forced entry since dead bolts take time to get through.  The burglar typically tries to choose a home that appears to have the least amount of resistance to enter.

After the presents have been opened, we can break down the boxes and take them to a neighborhood recycle station.  This takes time (and fuel), but it might be better than piling up boxes on the curb to advertise the gifts that have been opened.

When we leave to visit family or friends over the holiday, asking a few trusted neighbors to keep an eye on things can help.  It is also important for us to remember to stop newspaper and mail delivery, or, again, to ask neighbors to collect them for us.


When leaving for that fun party or shopping, it is sometimes hard to remember to check or use the dead bolt locks. Sometimes in-house alarms become a pain in the neck to arm (especially if we are less than adept at these systems).  In addition to alarms, however, simple things like leaving some lights on or activating light timers will give the appearance that someone is home.

Even leaving a radio or TV turned on (especially if there is no dog on the premises) can make our home look and sound like someone is there.

In our neighborhood, we have had friends return after being out,  and it looked like something happened in their home.  Instead of entering the home they have called the police and waited until they were given the “all clear” sign.  It seems safe and smart for us not to enter our homes but rather to quickly call the police from a cell phone or from a neighbor’s home.


We all know that our Christmas tree needs water to stay fresh, and that they only last so long once taken out of the ground and put in a stand.  One way to make sure they do not become fire hazards is to put a fresh cut in the trunk of the tree when it stops needing as much water.  It is easy to leave off checking the water level daily once the tree stops drinking as much.  Add to that the possibility that our tree lights might have some unnoticed loose wires or connections, our dessicating tree can become a fire hazard.  Lights are always tricky (besides taking a long time to put up).  Apparently tree fires have started by stringing more than three strands of miniature lights together. Such little things whose safety we assume in tact or take for granted can become potential electrical fire hazards.

I have to admit, we have not (well, my husband has not) always been careful with burning candles.  (He nearly burned his office up one year.)  I am fanatical about making sure they are not left unattended when leaving not just the home, but any room in which they are located.  It is hard enough to place the candles in a location free of materials that may catch on fire.

We have always burned Christmas wrapping paper in our outdoor fireplace.  I just learned, however, that gift wrap may emit dangerous sparks.  It also produces a chemical buildup that has the potential of causing an explosion in the fireplace.  No more weenie roasts courtesy of Holiday wrapping paper for my husband!

Speaking of weenies, we have a dachshund (called, in fact, “Wienie” after Oswald the Octopus’ dog).  She can be a turbo charged vacuum.  We try to be careful about leaving food or drink around or letting it stay on, if dropped onto, the floor for but a second since we know that chocolate, onions, raisins, and alcohol can be fatal to a dog.  Wienie has never been tempted by items under a tree, but apparently some dogs have suffered or died from food or drink wrapped and left under the Christmas tree.

One of our family’s friends originated perhaps the most famous and beautiful Christmas flower, Poinsettias.  While they are lovely and really contribute a mood of happiness to our homes, they are quite toxic if ingested.  Watching out for and warning our little children or animals (they like to chew almost anything at least once!) about the plants becomes an imperative.

Hard to see how this list makes for Holiday Cheer.  Thankfully, however, we have all grown up with a sense of precaution and protection.  So learning another strategy here and there does not overwhelm us, and we can genuinely enjoy the Season.  So please share with us any of your tips or experiences!

Here’s wishing everyone a warm, safe, and joyous time with family and friends.


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UDR gives back

By Luci Pestana

As one of the latest additions to the Urban Durham family, I’m more entitled than most to brag about the firm’s practices and general fabulousness.  After all, most of the company policies were in place before I even crossed the threshold, and therefore I can’t be accused of trying to take personal credit!  It also makes sense that, as the only non-realtor in the group, my contributions would be less real estate-minded and more… well… human-minded.  It is in that spirit that I’d like to vocalize what the individuals at UDR have been, from what I’ve observed, refreshingly quiet about thus far.

Urban Durham Realty is a small firm, comprised of a close-knit, dynamic group of top-notch realtors.  It is also a firm just as uniquely-minded as the individuals that represent it.  UDR has invented itself as a business that takes the needs of the community to heart, and uses it’s position to make a difference.  It’s a defining factor for the firm, and a simple yet powerful concept:

Each time a UDR broker earns a commission, a percentage of the earnings go directly to the local charity of their choice.  Often times, a client will express a preference as to the recipient.  If not, the brokers have personal favorites that routinely benefit.

Since it’s inception, UDR has raised over $4000 for a variety of local charities.  Listed below are the organizations putting UDR dollars toward their cause.

Animal Protection Society of Durham

Agape Corner

Arc of Durham

Duke Forest

Durham Cares

Habitat for Humanity


Genesis Home

Full Frame

Nativity School

Reality Ministries

Ronal McDonald House

Student U

Partners for Youth



Urban Ministries


Durham Farmer’s Market

El Centro Hispanico

Center for Child and Family Health

UDR is also very involved in a more hands-on capacity in a specific project with Reality Ministries.  They’re financially and physically assisting the outfitting of a library for the Reality Center, a building being developed by the organization to better serve at-risk youth in Durham.  It’s an effort to support worthy causes on multiple levels and “stages of the game,” and I think it speaks volumes.

It’s in these regular, every single time transactions that UDR transcends doing business in our community, and actually becomes our community.  When they, as realtors, claim to really love Durham, I’m buying it.

Urban Durham Realty \\

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