Saturday, November 29, 2008

Searching for homes online

The internet is a vast space. These days, we can find almost anything we want online if we just search hard enough.

Almost anything.

If you are in the market to buy a home, you have probably discovered the wonderful array of options available to search for houses all by yourself from the comfort of your home. Surfing around almost any real estate site or any Realtor's site (ours included) will usually give buyers or sellers a link to search for homes in the extended area. On the home page of our website, we provide two links - Featured Listings and Search IDX MLS. Featured Listings take you to the pages for the homes we have listed ourselves. That second link is the topic of this blog entry.

The MLS is a concept most people are familiar with nowadays. Standing for Multiple Listing Service, it is a compilation of all member office listings. There are some misconceptions about what the MLS is, though. It only features the listings of member offices. Membership in the MLS is not required for real estate brokerages, so there are some homes that are not featured by default. Also, sellers have the option of opting out of featuring a property on the MLS, so the information on these properties can only be obtained from the listing real estate office.

In the new age of internet marketing, there are some further limitations of the MLS that are not understood by the general public. When you are searching a database of homes or properties online, you are not searching the full MLS. You are only searching the properties of sellers that have decided to allow their homes to be submitted to an Internet Data Exchange (IDX for short). Depending on marketing strategies, not all member agents or all sellers want their properties disbursed over the internet as a whole. These properties can then be found only on the sites where the Realtor has made the choice to feature them or by working with a Realtor yourself. Your Realtor can search the full MLS to find all of the featured properties that might fit your needs.

Sellers also have the option of allowing IDX for their property, but refusing to give address or location information. This is why some homes that come up in your IDX MLS searches have photos, pricing and descriptions, not nothing about the address.

IDX MLS is a wonderful option for buyers who are starting the home buying process or sellers who want to know about the competition, but please be aware of what you are actually searching when you search an IDX MLS database. The only way for the public to fully search the MLS is to work with a qualified Realtor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Things to Do around Monroe, WI

Winter activities are starting in full force, and with them come the annual holiday events. There is a lot to do in and around Monroe in the upcoming weeks!

~ The annual Christkindlemarkt is happening this weekend, November 28 and 29, at Turner Hall in Monroe. The Christkindlmarkt is a German tradition dating back to the 14th century. Ours features unique items from hand-selected quality vendors for your holiday gift-giving. A European cafe and Swiss baked goods round out this special shopping experience.

~ Rainbow Fleece Farm in New Glarus is having their annual holiday Open House on November 29 and 30. Call for directions or more information. 608-527-5311

~ A new art exhibit is opening in Frehner Gallery at the Monroe Arts Center. " Delight the Eye and Stir the Senses" by J. Eric Anderson is an exhibit of watercolor landscapes from rural Wisconsin and Illinois. The opening reception with the artist is on December 4 from 5 until 7 pm. The exhibit will run until December 27.

~ The annual Holiday Lighted Parade in Monroe is slated for Friday, December 5 at 6 pm. Watch the floats and other parade entrants circle Monroe's Downtown Square, pop in to some of the Downtown merchants to get a good start on your holiday shopping, take the kids to visit Santa at Wisconsin Community Bank, visit one of the cafes for a hot drink and finish off your evening at Turner Hall for their Alpine Carol Sing and Tree Lighting event.

~ Monroe Theatre Guild is presenting their annual production of A Christmas Carol. Last year's show was a stunning success, and this year is shaping up to be just as good. The show is playing at the Monroe Arts Center on December 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7:30 pm and on December 7, 13 and 14th at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children under twelve. MAC and MTG member save $3 on each adult ticket. Tickets are available now at MAC. Purchase in person, order via phone at (608) 325-5700 or visit their website.

~ The annual Festival of Trees is back this year! The fund raising event helps out area non-profits like Green Haven Family Advocates, Green County Humane Society and more. It starts at 6 pm on December 6 at Ludlow Mansion. A silent and live auction will be running through the evening, and the decorated trees will be auctioned near the end. Re/Max Towne Square Realty is donating a tree to benefit Green Haven Family Advocates. Pamela Lakowske, the broker/owner of Re/Max Towne Square, did a fantastic job decorating the tree with a crimson and gold theme. It is on display now in the front window of our office on Monroe's Downtown Square. Tickets are available through the Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday Decorating for Home Sellers

The winter holidays are coming quickly. A quick glance in the window displays downtown and at the yards in town are enough to let us know even without a calendar.

This time of year is both harder and easier to sell a house. Traditionally, fewer people are looking to move in the next five to six weeks, so there are likely to be fewer showings. However, the buyers coming through your home between now and January are not tire kickers. These people are usually serious about buying a home. When sellers get a showing request during this time, they need to be sure that their home is in tip-top shape.

This is the time where a little extra effort can pay off big. Do something to set yourself ahead of the competition.

Many people like to do a little holiday decorating, and this is an area where some sellers slip up. Remember that you are hoping to move. This is not the year to set up a lights display that rivals the local landing strip. Start transitioning to your new home already.

Maybe you always have a yard full of decorations and your house draped in garland. Break that tradition this year in preparation for your move. Begin the mental process of moving.

As a general rule, less is more with holiday decorating and home selling. Take a minimalist approach. One arrangement on the dining room table. One holiday tree. A tasteful wreath on the door. Buyers do expect to see some holiday decorating. Do not forgo decorating completely, but do not over do it. A simple set of holiday towels can add a nice accent to a bathroom. The towels, a mini tree, scented pinecones and a holiday bathmat is overdone.

Ask your Realtor for frank and honest feedback on your holiday decorating plans, and follow his or her suggestions. You are paying for the Realtor's expertise, so use it.

Keep it neutral. Avoid highly personalized decorations like the handmade stockings with all the children's names embroidered on them. The point it to help the buyers see themselves living in your home. Also, ours is a multi-cultural society. While many do celebrate winter holidays, it may not be the same holiday as you. Bring out the creche or menorah for your celebrations, but not during showings.

Buyers can be sensitive to scents and noises, so choose yours with care. During the holidays, sellers may have strongly scented potpourris or spice scented air freshners out that are competing with the tree, the cookies they baked the day before and more. Keep scents soft and neutral. The same goes for music. Holiday music can be easily overdone and many get their fill from stores, elevators and more. Go neutral and non-holiday with your musical selection.

Once the holidays are finished, remove the decorations promptly. Those decorations can seem stale to buyers looking in January, so be sure to pack them away instead of putting it off.

May all of our home sellers receive the best holiday gift of all - an accepted offer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Realtors who work

As a seller or a buyer, most people want to be sure they are getting the best service possible.

Experienced, hard working, motivated, knowledgeable. Those are the attributes many use to describe the realtor they want working on their side during the home buying or selling process.

During the real estate boom years, many people obtained their real estate sales licenses. The business was there to support people who did not have the knowledge or will to go out and find it for themselves. Times are leaner now, and the ranks of realtors are starting to thin out a little.

Perusing the recent statistics for the South Central Wisconsin MLS board (the board the covers our geographic area) recently was an eye opening experience. In the SCWMLS, 71% of realtors have successfully closed zero transactions to date in 2008. Zero.

A little further probing revealed that Luis is in the top 6.7% of realtors in the local MLS board for transaction closed in 2008, and Brenda is in the top 15.5%.

Which type of realtor do you want working for you as you start the process of selling or buying a home?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Putting the 3 Rs into practice

Reading, Writing and 'Rithmatic? No. I mean the 3 new Rs.

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.

The Monroe Clinic has an expansion project underway, and they are doing a stellar job implementing the new 3 Rs into their construction plans.

A few existing homes were acquired by the Clinic and had to be removed in order to accommodate the expansion project. Before razing the homes, all of the cabinetry, appliances, light fixtures, radiators, windows and other reusable parts were removed. The Clinic donated them to Habitat for Humanity of Green County. The donations will help the new Habitat homeowners have better quality fixtures than they might normally be able to afford while reducing the mortgage cost at the same time.

Other parts of the homes will find interesting lives after recycling. Bricks and foundation materials were saved to be used for things such as the garden border in a Habitat home. They will also live on as the base for the new parking lot for the Clinic and a fire pit that a local Boy Scout troop is constructing.

During the construction process, the Monroe Clinic is also working to reduce waste. As anyone who has worked in the trades knows, construction sites can be very wasteful places. The Clinic is utilizing practices to divert at least 50% of construction waste to other uses in order to prevent them from ending up in landfills. In the work done to date, they have been surpassed their goals and have been able to divert 65% of the construction waste to other uses.

The Monroe Clinic is also showing forward thinking in the new addition itself. The project was developed using LEED principles. It will include such things as green space, limited use of asphalt, heat reducing roofing and more.

Kudos to the Clinic for setting an example for the community and showing how easily green building concepts can be incorporated into local building projects!

Property of the Week

This week's featured property is a two bedroom Cape Cod in Monroe.

This 3 bedroom Cape Cod has charm and character. There is original woodwork throughout the home, including oak columns at the entrance of your formal dining room and original trim on the door frames and staircases.

A great home to start raising a family in. There is a full fenced in backyard and beautiful deck. There are two bedrooms upstairs, and downstairs the office/family room could make a wonderful sunny playroom or third bedroom.

Many updates have been done already including a new roof and furnace plus electrical updates. This one is ready to move in to. A home warranty included for your peace of mind.

Contact Luis or Brenda Carus at 608-214-5796 for more information or to set up a private showing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lending a helping hand

Like most rural communities, Monroe has a very strong community of people who are willing to lend a helping hand when needed. There are many service groups in our area - Kiwanis, Jaycees, Knights of Columbus, Optimists. You can find a listing of the many groups in our area via our website.

We have thrown our membership hat into the Optimists ring. The Optimists have the motto of "Bringing Out the Best in Kids." Through various fundraisers, the local Optimists clubs raise thousands of dollars every year to support many local groups, give scholarships to local students and help the families of children with cancer.

The Optimists rally around local families who have a child diagnosed with cancer. Usually our groups help pass support on to families in other communities, but this fall they are coming together to help a local family who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

This week, they are doing a food drive to help make sure the family has this basic need met. With so many of the family's resources going elsewhere right now, food is needed. Please consider dropping off what you can to help. A collection box will be at the Swiss Alps restaurant through Thursday, November 20. If you can, please stop in to donate.

If you are not a member of the Optimists, consider attending their meeting this week and bring your donation then. The morning club meets from 6:30 to 7:30 am every Thursday morning at Swiss Alps. Come for breakfast, listen to the weekly speaker, talk with the members and start your day in a different way. Breakfast is only $5, and guests attending their first meeting get it for free.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New on the Square - Kookaburra's

Monroe's Downtown Square welcomed a new business last month. Kookaburra's joined the line up on the north side.

Located between Town and Country Styles and Merle Norman, Kookaburra's features culinary goods from stoneware to spices, from Le Creuset to Bob's Red Mill.

Pull the wooden spoon door handle and walk in. You will be greeted by Laura, a cheery woman in a retro apron. She may be packing up spices on the large center island or cooking up something tasty on the stove in the middle of the store. She will encourage you to try some of the samples distributed around the store. Take her suggestion! She encouraged me to try the Hot Pepper Jelly, and it is fantastic. Laura suggested using it as a dip for egg rolls, which would be perfect, but is not something I ever would have thought of.

Walk around and browse her selection of culinary tools and treats. She carries Le Creuset pots, stoneware and silicone goods. The demi-teapots are adorable, and like all Le Creuset, our grandchildren will probably be using them long after we are gone. There is also a large selection of Stonewall Kitchen mixes, jams, stoneware and utensils. The toaster tongs have been a huge hit in our family.

As you walk toward the back of the store, you will find a collection of dried spices and other culinary basics. There are bags of spices and a handy collection of tinned spices. All are high quality, aromatic spices. It was great to be able to pick up a packet of cayenne pepper, paprika and bay leaves without having to run all the way to the grocery store. Laura mentioned plans to add other high end tidbits like vanilla beans and espresso powder, neither of which can be found anywhere in Monroe, forcing serious cooks to shop out of town before Kookaburra's.

There is a large collection of Bob's Red Mill stone milled flours and gluten-free mixes as well as children's cooking items such as aprons and cookie kits. Fido will appreciate the handcrafted gourmet dog treats. Just be sure to warn the kids that the cute little hamburgers and faux royal icing topped cookies are for the dog or they will surely want to nibble.

Kookaburra's is open daily, and on Wednesdays, they are open until 7 pm. Stop in today or tomorrow (November 15 and 16) for their Open House celebration. Laura will surely be cooking up something on the store's stove, and it is guaranteed to be tasty. Pick up an entry form for Kookaburra's Cookie Contest while you are there. The contest will be on December 6, but entry forms are due by November 29. There is a $2 entry fee, and the winner will receive a Kookabura's gift card.

On second thought, don't pick up that entry form. I am entering and I want that gift card!

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Being an EcoBroker®

That little planet in a nest graphic that I have on our website and blog actually has a meaning. I have earned the right to use it by becoming a Certified EcoBroker®.

EcoBroker® is an education and designation program for real estate professionals who care about the environment and want to promote energy-efficient and "green" features in homes and buildings. Since environmental issues are near and dear to me, becoming an EcoBroker® was a natural step on my real estate eduction.

That little logo, the EcoBroker® logo, is the symbol of environmentally responsible and sustainable practices in the real estate industry. Certified EcoBrokers® help our clients and the planet get the most when buying or selling a home.

As an EcoBroker®, I can help you find homes that are healthy, comfortable, and cost-effective.
  • Save Money: EcoBrokers® know energy-efficiency and the monthly cost-savings you can realize with insulation, windows, appliances, and heating and cooling systems.
  • Find Homes with "Green" Features Easily: With interest in energy-efficient, healthy, and safe home features, EcoBrokers® make it easy to either find homes with these attributes or to help you make improvements.
  • Live Comfortably: EcoBrokers® help you improve your home environment by addressing indoor air quality, ventilation, use of low VOC paints, radon testing, and reliable water testing.

Anyone can price your home. It takes marketing to really sell It. Promoting green features sets you apart from the competition.
  • Sell for More: EcoBrokers® understand the benefits of green features in your home and are able to effectively promote them, selling your home's value and increasing your sales price.
  • Distinguish Your Home from the Competition: Many home owners do not promote the energy efficiency and environmental attributes of their homes, missing a large market.
  • Attract More Buyers: Over 90% of buyers identify energy savings and home environment as key factors when deciding to buy a home.

Being an EcoBroker® is about more than just talking PV panels and geothermal heating. It also means I have received additional education about issues many people do not consider environmental, things like asbestos, radon, indoor air quality and more.

Whether you are a full out greenie driving an EV and looking for a vegetarian lunch in this rural community or a mainstream buyer who still forgets to recycle sometimes, an EcoBroker® has specialized knowledge that can help you in the home buying or selling process.

And if you want that vegetarian lunch, try visiting Cafe Claudeen in Monroe. They have great coffee and teas, superb desserts and usually have a veggie option or two on the rotating lunch menu.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Children's Miracle Network

Re/Max and Children's Miracle Network have long teamed up for a good cause. Many Re/Max agents give a portion of each commission to Children's Miracle Network. In our office, every single agent follows this practice, making a a Miracle Office. Luis and I give generously. We give the donation in the name of our home buyer or home seller instead of giving the standard floral arrangement or bottle of wine closing gift.

This holiday season, we are also helping out Children's Miracle Network by supporting their Miracle Festival of Trees. Please consider sponsoring a tree or help to decorate one.

In our area, Children's Miracle Network helps fund programs at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Milwaukee. Please consider making in a donation yourself or in someone else's name as a holiday gift this year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Property of the Week

This week's featured property is a ranch in Monroe.

This one has everything you need! Spacious ranch, corner lot, close to schools, finished basement, two car attached garage - what more could you ask for? This three bedroom ranch home has some newer windows, newer carpet, and a fantastic basement rec room complete with a huge bar for entertaining.

Asking price is only $119,900, and the seller's are motivated. Come take a look at this one today!

Call or text Brenda at 608-214-5796 or drop us a line via email for more information or to set up a private showing.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Celebrando Story Time

Miss Kris and the Monroe Public Library will be presenting Celebrando story time once again this fall and winter.

Celebrando story time is an evening presentation of stories in both Spanish and English. Songs or flannel board games may be presented, and a craft and snack follows the stories. Children do not need to be bilingual in order to attend as everything will be presented in both languages.

This story time event happens the second Tuesday evening of the month and starts at 6:30 pm.

The first of this season's series will be on November 11. The stories will be Ana Cultiva Manzanas (Apple Farmer Annie), Nuestro Autobus (The Bus For Us), and Gracias, Día de Acción de Gracias (Thank You, Thanksgiving). There will be flannel board games about colors and a craft featuring making turkeys. Miss Kris will be reading the English versions of the stories, and I (Brenda) will be the reader for the Spanish stories.

Please bring your family to enjoy the evening and say hello!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Property of the Week

This week's featured property is a two bedroom home in Monroe.
You will be snug as a bug in this updated two bedroom home!

Entertain all summer long with the large deck and back yard. Come winter, you are sure to appreciate the fact that there are some newer, high efficiency windows. The furnace was new in '05, water heater in '06 and there is newer 100 amp service.

Whether you are buying your first home or downsizing, this one is priced right at only $58,000. It could also make a great investment property.

Call Brenda Carus at 214-5796 for more information.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Meet me at the YMCA

The Green County YMCA has long been a popular place for Monroe area residents. The facility has done a great job with keeping up with our community's needs. Their latest project was another renovation.

Started mid-summer, the project is now complete.

Members have often questioned why the main entrance was not the doors by the parking lot, and the YMCA has listened. With this renovation, the front and back spaces have been flipped. Members and guests now use a bright and airy entrance that is right next to the main parking lot. The offices are here, along with a large window into the gymnastics room. Parents can sit on the comfortable sofas while while waiting for children in gymnastics instead of making due with spots on the floor at the edges of the room.

The youth center and childcare rooms have been moved to the former front of the YMCA. The babysitting room is in the same place, but now the childcare room is right next door, a much more logical set-up. The youth center is called the Y Lounge, and it now occupies the entire space once devoted to the front entry and offices. This expanded space has air hockey, foosball, games for youth, a Wii, Net Nanny protected internet access, a homework area, and sofas to lounge on. The doors to the gym are still there, which is a great idea given the way that many teens utilize both spaces.

This remodel has made the Green County YMCA a much more intuitive space and more user-friendly for those of us living and working in the Monroe area. All the great Y programs for children and adults are still in place, including partnerships with many of our local employers and health insurance companies.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mum's the word

Fall is here, and this season showcases the beauty of the mums and the sedums. It seems winter is overtaking fall later each year. While we know these sunny and warm falls days are numbered, we are still able to get out, crunch in the leaves and enjoy the fall flowers and foliage in the area.

The peak time to see the fall colors in the Green County area has probably already passed by, but still I thought I would take a moment to share a couple of glimpses of this year's fall display. My apologies for not having full trees to share; I was not able to find one that seemed just right for photographing that day.

The green tree right behind this golden one is one of the few in the area that have not fully turned yet. It must be confused by the unseasonably warm weather we have been having. Still, most of the trees are gorgeous shades of gold, yellow and crimson.

If you are thinking of sneaking in a few final fall hikes, the leaves are superbly crunchable right now. Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area, New Glarus Woods State Park and Yellowstone Lake State Park all have hiking trails for any ability.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Go Green Team, Part 3

If a property has green options that increase the energy effiency of the home, the buyer might consider looking into the option of energy efficient financing. Also, if buyer is putting into place systems that will further increase the efficiency of the property, it is possible to include the cost of these upgrades in the mortgage without increasing their down payment.

Many buyers are unaware of the existence of energy efficient financing options. There are a number of banks and private mortgage lenders that offer these options. Locally, there are banks that have policies in place for energy efficient mortgages. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA also offer energy efficient mortgage options. Energy Star has a special mortgage option, and you can see a list of partner banks on their website.

FHA's energy efficient mortgage program has historically been the most widely used. It allows homeowners to roll the cost of energy efficient upgrades into their mortgage. The total cost of these upgrades cannot exceed 5% of the total loan value and they must be between $4000 and $8000.

Energy efficient mortgages can offer other benefits for buyers as well. If a home already has energy efficient systems in place, it can result in a lender offering a different interest rate, lower closing costs, or a different debt to income ratio requirement. The rationale behind this is that buyers will be spending less than the average amount on utility costs, freeing additional income for the mortgage payment. This type of financing will require the home to be certified in some manner (please see Go Green Team Part 2 for information on green home certifications).

Improving energy efficiency is not only good for the environment, but it can benefit the pocketbook as well.