Archive for March, 2010

Green City Index

By: Courtney James

An article in the Triangle Business Journal last week highlighted a recent study ranking 43 cities on a “Green City Index”.  The index takes into account 20 indicators of a city’s “greenness”.  Some examples of criteria reviewed are travel delays, commuters who drive alone, adoption of green technologies, water and air quality, and suburban sprawl.  Durham was not ranked in this study, but the Raleigh-Cary MSA was included.  Overall, Raleigh-Cary ranked 25th on the Green City Index, with Portland being the most “green” at #1 and Greensboro-High Point MSA being the biggest offender at #43 (although the study noted that there was some information that was unavailable for Greensboro).  Of the 20 indicators, Raleigh ranked worst in water quality, lack of public transportation, and sprawl.   In fact, in regards to sprawl they were ranked almost dead last (41 out of 43), behind cities like Atlanta and Washington D.C.

As a real estate broker, it continues to amaze me how the city of Durham can be so close to Raleigh and Cary from a physical proximity, but yet so distant from the two in terms of city vibe.  There have been a few times in my career when I succumbed to pressure to show homes in both Raleigh and Cary.  I distinctly remember feeling completely overwhelmed at the sheer number of subdivisions that stretched from one into the other.  Needless to say, I quickly made the decision that I would rather pass that business to others that are more knowledgeable about those areas.  It is challenging when homebuyers moving here from out of town want to see homes in the each of the various cities of the Triangle.  Often times, it takes one trip to the distinct corners of the area for the buyer to make an adamant decision on where they want to be.  It is infrequent for a person to struggle between a home in Durham and a home in Cary.  They either want to be in Durham or they want to be in Cary – but typically not both.

In any case, Durham has its share of new suburbs, and, as evidenced by what’s going on in East Durham, is also gaining foot in the sprawl department.  But I am quite pleased with our relatively small and dense city.  In my opinion, the values that are at the core of this city are very much in line with what made Portland, Oregon a top ranking “Green City”.  According to the Durham Convention and Visitor’s Center, these values include being collaborative, community-spirited, creative and innovative, engaging, entrepreneurial, environmentally conscious, open and welcoming, unpretentious, and well-educated.  While I feel we are on the right track, we still have a lot more work to do.  As a city, we need to continue to provide incentives for high-density developments, public transportation, water and air quality protection, and other environmentally-friendly policies.

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Creek Week 2010

Eno River, Durham, NC

Eno River, Durham, NC

By Bill Dandridge

While this blog relates primarily to real estate matters, today I am going to diverge from shop talk to offer two reasons why living in the city of Durham is so desirable.

First of all, today is World Water Day (Hooray H2O!). Here in Durham we are already in the third day of Creek Week 2010, which lasts from March 20th to the 27th. Visit keepdurhambeautiful.com to view the numerous events planned for this week sponsored by Durham City and County, the Eno River Association, North Carolina State Parks, the Haw River Assembly, the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, the Northeast Creek Streamwatch, the New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee, and Keep Durham Beautiful, Inc. While some of us might want to live closer to the beach, we can all help to make our local streams and riparian areas cleaner and more habitable.

Second of all, Barbara Corcoran, the real estate contributor on the Today Show, recently listed Durham as the fourth most affordable city to live in in the United States. While we residents already appreciate the value that living in Durham adds to our lives, it is still nice to receive national recognition! The study was based not only on the availability of affordable real estate but on other quality of life metrics as well. One of those is the proximity of greenspace and recreation areas, and we can all help keep our city’s greenways more attractive by joining in the fun of Durham’s 2010 Creek Week.

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What Could Be Better?

By:  Mary Rae Hunter


What are you waiting for?  Do you know what you could be missing? The Homebuyer Tax Credit is about to expire.  There are now just 46 days until you have missed your chance to get in on this historic opportunity.  The Homebuyer Tax Credit was extended for first time home buyers who sign a binding contract by April 30, 2010 and close on the purchase of that home by June 30, 2010.  This tax credit also applies to current homeowners who would like to purchase a new primary residence.  Under these new terms, a “current” homeowner must have used the home they sale as their primary residence consecutively for five of the past eight years.  The new home must not exceed a cost of $800,000.  With this credit for purchasing a new home, the current home owner would receive a tax credit of $6500, or $3250 if they are married and filing separately.

These tax credits are only available for a short time, and are most likely not going to be offered again in the near future.  Not only do first time home buyers have the advantage of the tax credits, they also have the option of an FHA loan that may allow them to put down a smaller amount than would normally be required with a conventional loan.  The other advantage to purchasing a home at this point in time, is the great opportunity to get in on very low interest rates.  I remember when we purchased our first home, and interest rates were 12%.  I never would have imagined that it would have been possible to have interest rates drop below 5%.  I also know that there are many wonderful homes on the market that are selling below their tax values.  It is truly a buyers market, and one that will not last forever.

What are you waiting for seems to be the talk in the office. Let us know if we can help you take advantage of the tax credits, the low interest rates, the great inventory of available houses, and the best company, Urban Durham Realty, to help you find your dream home.

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This Spring Brings Spirited Events to Durham!

By Luci Pestana

In my usual vein of highlighting the “real” in real estate, I’d like to announce some truly inspired and festive events that have caught our attention.  We’re very excited to be participating, and want to spread the word about these worthy causes in our own backyards!

APRIL 16, 2010: UDR has signed on to sponsor the first annual Bull City Blowout.  This will be a raucous, public field day event for creative Durham agencies.  Participants will compete and connect while raising money for SeeSaw Studios, a free after-school enrichment program for teens ready to develop and hone their creative design skills. We don’t want to give away the juicy details, but lets just say we “own” what promises to be a perfectly juvenile and attention-grabbing piece of the pie, and it may just involve some distinguished members of the Durham community doing their best Jimi Hendrix impression…

EARLY MAY, 2010:  We’ve become involved with Durham Public Schools’ BookMark! initiative, which seeks to place books in the hands of elementary students in our district.  Though it seems like a basic need, many students find themselves at a loss for good quality reading sources at home, especially during the summer. DPS has reached out to the community in an effort to make these resources available to all kids.  Our office is a drop-off site for the project, but we’re also in planning mode to hold an event sponsoring this great cause.  In early May we’ll have a soiree that brings some of our favorite local vendors to Foster Street, in honor of BookMark. We’d like to collect an absolute ton of books, while sharing some culinary and musical treats with our neighbors.  The date and time are TBA, but this will be a fun event, with lots of promise for elementary students in our area.  All are invited, so stay tuned for details!

MAY 29, 2010: Without a doubt, the most foolish of all our upcoming endeavors is the Doughman race!  Here’s where we’re pretty sure we’ve lost sight of our limits.  This is an (in)famous quadrathlon, which combines competitive eating and a triathlon. Yes, although it’s my first time, I have to assume it’s a tummy-churning event!  It does, however, have it’s perks.  Local restaurants that have demonstrated their commitment to the slow (and delicious) foods movement provide the grub, and then we swim, bike, and run our pants off.  Actually, we’re holding highly confidential meetings to plan wardrobe, but I’m fairly certain we’ll be more creative than plain old pants!  Regardless, all this scarfing and sweating is for a great cause: they’re supporting the Durham Inner-city Gardener’s program at SEEDS, as well as SeeSaw Studios (sound familiar?) SEEDS is an awesome youth leadership program that very literally digs in to provide education on environmental and social sustainability. The DIG branch of the program empowers motivated teens, who receive a stipend for cultivating and selling the fruits of their labor.  Even if you had the sense not to sign up for this event yourself, maybe you’d like to show up proudly sporting your UDR t-shirt and cheer us on?

Visit Bull City Blowout – Arts Fundraiser – Durham, North Carolina for event details, and please come out to support the teams that will swallow their pride  to spread the entrepreneurial spirit!

To read more about DPS’ BookMark initiative, or to get involved, visit Leave Your Mark—BookMark! — Durham Public Schools

For more info on the Doughman, see Eat, Bike, Run, Swim, and Make Durham Greener! | DOUGHMAN Also, check out the SEEDS program: home page

We can’t wait for these excuses to let our inner elementary-schoolers out to play! Hopefully we’ll be seeing many of you at one or all of these events.  For sure, though, we can all be proud that Durham makes it so enticing do a good thing.

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Rehabilitating an Historic House (and the Tax Credits that can help!)

By: Susan Griswold Herst

When rehabilitating an historic home, you never know what you will find behind drywall that has been erected by previous owners…. if you are lucky, you may find the original fixtures like back staircases, moldings, and butler’s pantries!  Many of the older homes in Durham qualify for State and Federal Historic Rehabilitation tax credits.  Think of them as gift certificates for your income taxes.  Here is some general information you may find helpful when considering rehabilitating non-income producing historic structures:

  • The present historic preservation tax credit measures provide a 30% state tax credit for qualifying rehabilitations of owner-occupied personal residences.
  • There are 18 National Register historic districts in Durham.  Think of them as a way of “protecting property value” in a neighborhood.
  • Please consult with the State Historic Preservation Office before beginning a rehabilitation to resolve design or rehabilitation problems that could result in denial of the credits.  (Only costs incurred upon or within a historic structure will qualify.  In general the front and main public rooms of the house should not be altered).
  • Only certified historic structures will qualify for the credits, i.e. a structure that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as a contributing building in a National Register or local historic district certified by the Department of Interior.
  • Owners are strongly urged to secure National Register listing of their property prior to beginning a certified renovation.
  • The rehabilitation must exceed $25,000 within a 24-month period, sometime during the project.
  • The credits cannot be claimed against the cost of acquisition, enlargement of an existing building (additions), site work, or personal property.
  • The application processing fee is @$250 and the application process can take 4-6 weeks.

There are many historic residences in Durham.  At Urban Durham Realty, we value the rich historical roots of our community which these tax credits promote.

For more information, please consult David Christenbury, Preservation Architect, or Ann Swallow, National Register Coordinator of the N.C. Division of Historical Resources, www.hpo.dcr.state.nc.us.  Thanks go to Heather Wagner of hmw Preservation and Sara Davis Lachenman of Four Over One for their insights.

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