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WHAT EVERY HOME BUYER SHOULD KNOW

Home: It’s still the largest single investment most people will ever make, whether they build or buy. Home buyers who decide to build start from the ground, up and must locate land, a builder, and select a floor plan, among hundreds of other details. Those who purchase an existing home spend countless hours shopping for a reputable real estate agent, visiting open houses, and touring neighborhoods to find the just the right home.
By JENNIFER SANDER |

Whether the choice is to build or buy, every home buyer must be armed with knowledge and confidence to sucessfully get them from home selection to move-in day.

“In this competitive market where good properties are not lasting long, buyers need to be organized and well-educated as to what the market is,” says Dave Perry-Miller, a multi-million dollar producer with Adleta & Poston Realtors in Dallas. “Buyers need to get the nuances of a block or neighborhood, or even the street they want to live on, so they feel confident in making a good, strong offer.”

To give buyers the confidence to aggressively move on a property, Perry-Miller provides his clients with a research package that gives them all of the specifics of the neighborhood and homes in the area in which they want to buy. With this powerful negotiating tool in their hands, buyers have the information they need to make a sound and solid offer on a home.

“Prices are going to vary from location to location,” says David Waldrep, who recently purchased a home with his wife, Dr. Kathryn Waldrep, in the exclusive Preston Hollow area. “It is nice to have someone let you know about the neighborhoods you are considering because some will always be hotter than others at the time you’re looking. Get a feel for the lay of the land so you know if you’re stretching yourself or if you could buy up.”

Buyers who decide to build can prepare early by shopping around for a good volume or custom builder. The National Association of Home Builders suggests home buyers visit neighborhoods that use builders they are considering to study the types of homes they build, as well as their prices. Another resource for finding a list of qualified builders is the Home & Apartment Builders Association of Metropolitan Dallas, as well as asking friends for references. The next step is to visit homes the selected builder has constructed and talk with owners about their satisfaction with their builder, home, and neighborhood.

To learn the basics of home buying, the Home & Apartment Builders Association of Metropolitan Dallas hosts a regular Home Buyers’ School. During the free public sessions, industry experts provide advice on the advantages of new vs. pre-owned homes, financing, the building process, warranty information, choosing a builder, and more. Bob Morris, chief executive officer of the Dallas HAB, says new home buyers must first understand what it means to be a home owner before they venture into the purchasing process.

“Unlike renting a house or apartment, when you are a home owner, no longer will you be able to call the superintendent to fix a clogged sink,” Morris says. “Home owners carry a lot more responsibility in many different areas.”

One of these responsibilities is for home owners to understand the potential changes of the neighborhood or community where their home is purchased. Morris says new home owners in Dallas need to be willing to accept the urbanization of the area. Those who crave the wide open spaces of a rural area may have to live as far as Sherman to get the country atmosphere they want.

“Look at Piano now as opposed to six years ago,” Morris says. “At least 25,000 units have gone up in the last seven or eight years. The city has grown at a rapid rate, so home owners need to be prepared to accept potential growth. Go out and get a sense of where you want to live first. Consider schools, commutes, and the community.”

The key to being educated about home ownership is research. Dallas is full of top real estate agents, mortgage and title companies, and home builders to guide new home buyers through the necessary steps to home ownership.

THE ADVANTAGES OF USING A RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE AGENT

Buying or selling a home is an emotional process. Experiencing the excitement of moving into a new home, the regret of leaving a favorite house, or the frustration from searching for the perfect home, are only some of the highs and lows on the emotional roller coaster of home buying and selling. Both transactions can be tough tasks to handle. The help of a professional residential real estate agent gives buyers and sellers an advantage-not only financially, but also emotionally.

“Agents take the headaches associated with buying or selling a home away from the customer,” says Eleanor Mowery-Sheets, a multi-million dollar producer at Coldwell Banker. “So much emotion and hassle can be involved. We handle the little details. Without an agent, you’re on your own.”

And being on your own can be a scary process for the uneducated home buyer or seller. Without an agent, a home owner only has a few ways to market his property: placing a newspaper advertisment or putting a sign in the front yard. Through networking and extensive resources, agents can market a home to a broad range of prospective buyers. They are in contact with each other to match buyers and sellers on a daily basis. Agents constantly research the market and often know about properties before they are listed. The experienced, knowledgeable agent can also determine if a buyer is qualified so the property is only shown to those who can afford it.

“If you put a “For Sale By Owner’ sign in your yard, the only people who will be exposed to it are those driving down your street,” says Lynn Gardner, a multi-million dollar producer with Ellen Terry, Realtors. “An agent is valuable in that they can actively market a home and be present at all the showings, freeing their client’s time.”

Time was a very important factor to Larry North, owner of Larry North Fitness, when he was in the market to buy and sell a home. Recently, North and his wife were actively searching by themselves for a home in Highland Park. They frequently drove around the community looking for just the right house. When they came in contact with their agent, Patricia Massey, a multi-million dollar producer with Ellen Terry, Realtors, the couple was just one day from giving up their search.

“1 can’t imagine someone doing this on their own,” North says. “Searching for a home is a remarkable, time-consuming experience. Every second I had to spend thinking about it, was time taken away from me to concentrate on my business. She was available to handle the small details. Selling my house was the biggest thing I’ve ever sold, and buying the new house was the biggest purchase I’ve ever made, so it was real imortant to me to have an experienced professional helping us.”

North says using an agent allowed his family to find their home-in the right neighborhood and at the right price-the day it came on the market. They also sold their home in the M Streets using the same agent, due to her ability to give their home maximum exposure in the upper-end market.

For a home to get proper exposure, it must be correctly priced. Homeowners who do their own pricing tend to be too ambitious. After all, it is their home. A reputable and experienced agent knows the market and can accurately price a home. In turn, experienced agents know when a home is listed at the right price and will send only the buyers who qualify to see the listing, thus eliminating non-productive showings. Gardner says the key for getting the most for a home is to have a high number of parties interested at the same time so it quickly leaves the market. The right price generates interest, which often means a fast sale.

“In the Dallas market, there is a really low supply and a very high demand,” Gardner says. ’The move on a good property today is pretty fast-paced. If a buyer isn’t working with an agent, they can miss out on a great property. If they have a good agent, they’ll hear about it. An experienced agent will know about a listing long before it is exposed to the masses.”

When people put their property on the market, they should go through it as if they will be entertaining highly critical house guests, says Dave Perry-Miller, a multi-million dollar producer with Adleta & Poston Realtors. “People don’t want to be bothered doing the things necessary to get the house in shape,” he says. “But there is a dividend to this. The more inviting, attractive, and better condition your house is in, the shorter time the highly critical house guests will be there.”

In other words, the more attractive the property is, the more accepting of it buyers will be. It will sell quickly.

Getting a house into proper showing condition puts sellers in a strong negotiating position- Mowery-Sheets goes through a home before il is shown and makes a list of everything that needs to be repaired, decorated, or cleaned. “My job is to help them get the most for their property,” Mowery-Sheets says. “We want a seamless transition.”

Besides acting as an adviser on pricing, marketing, and relocation, real estate agents often take on the role of interior decorators, moving companies, and cleaning or repair services. In order to get top dollar for a home, much more than a fresh coat paint is needed to attract a buyer. Agents agree that people live in their home differently from how they should sell it. Typically, a longtime owner of a home doesn’t recognize the pet odors, paint peels, or stuck windows that blend in with day-to-day living. Agents can point out these details to sellers so they get the most for their home and emphasize these improvments to prospective buyers so they recognize the home’s value.

Mowery-Sheets provides her clients with two free hours of an interior decorator’s service to make sure a home is appealing as soon as a prospective buyer walks in the front door. Keeping the entry and front walk or porch free of clutter and nicely decorated is important, since these areas will influence a first impression. “People buy what they see,” Mowery-Sheets says.

Preston Hollow resident Pamela Casey knows first-hand the importance of getting a home into top showing condition. In the past few years, her family has sold two upper-end residences in Dallas’ exclusive Preston Hollow area. Each of these million-dollar-plus residences had been on the market for more than six months when the Caseys purchased them. They didn”t want to meet the same fate when the time came for them to sell.

The Caseys got their wish. Each home sold in under a week. Pamela Casey attributes the success to Perry-Miller hiring an interior decorator to get the house in superior showing condition to catch buyers’ eyes. “He pointed out things to us we never even thought about,” she says.

Some of these unnoticed details can include hefty exterior or appliance repairs, recarpeting, or even light remodeling. These jobs may carry a steep price tag, but taking care of them is more than worth it since buyers typically discount the price of a home three times of what it would cost to cure the problem.

“Preparing a home for show is like going on a job interview,” Perry-Miller says. “You want to put your best foot forward each time a buyer walks through the door. If you don’t have time to clean, have a maid service come in three days a week to take the burden off of yourself. If people keep rejecting a home based on its condition, it will remain on the market.”

Finding a successful residential real estate agent is as simple is surfing the web, driving through residential neighborhoods to see who is running the market, or just asking around. Another search tactic is interviews. More home buyers and sellers are conducting an intense interview process to find an agent with proven skills and one they can easily work with and trust. During the interview, home buyers should keep in mind that an agent’s fee should be solely based on experience, quality of service, and a successful record.

Dallas’ top agents suggest choosing a real estate agent who not only is knowl-edeable and experienced, but who also has a network of strong resources and the abil -ity to advertise locally and nationally. In addition to an extensive knowledge of contracts and the real estate market, agents should be familiar with the residential areas in which they sell and act as an adviser on neighborhoods, the city, and school districts. Massey suggests Dallas newcomers or first-time home buyers choose an agent who is from the area and knows the entire city and its surrounding areas, rather than hire an agent who specializes in only one community.

“Agents should show a buyer all of the areas and know them well so the buyer doesn’t feel like he missed out on anything,” Massey says. “Good agents are well-connected to network a home and are involved in activities within the community.”

Dedicated agents often provide extras beyond their traditional services that make the buying or selling process even easier and more pleasant. Mowery-Sheets leaves a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator for new owners and provides clients with professional house cleaning or repair services and even a moving van. Gardner gives her clients who list properties at $500,000 and above additional exposure by putting their listing on the Internet for a virtual reality tour.

“When choosing an agent, the added touch is important,” Mowery-Sheets says. “An agent’s basic job is to follow through on property leads, preview them, assess their value, and find the best mortgage companies with the best rates. But this is also a people business. An agent and client should have a comfortable, business relationship, Service is the key.”

OUTDOOR LIVING: ADDING TO A HOME’S VALUE

A different type of room is being incorporated into homes across Dallas. This is a room where young couples host dinner parties and where families gather for a special evening meal or retreat to for a relaxing time-out after work. This tranquil room is the heart of the home-and it’s outside.

Some homeowners select a garden as their outdoor living space; others, maybe a deck. Outdoor living areas are increasingly becoming part of the home, and they are much more sophisticated than a concrete patio with a few geraniums scattered about.

Trickling water walls, deep stone firepits, exquisite custom statuaries and sculptures, tall columns, stone fountains, and ornate patio furniture furnish the finest outdoor living areas. Large yards aren’t necessary. Urban dwellings with empty rooftops, apartment balconies, and zero lot yards can all accommodate a garden retreat. All that is needed is a solid plan and a little creativity.

Outdoor living areas are an extension of the home, says Rod Ides, owner of Dallas’ Gardens of Rod Russell-Ides. “It’s like another room; a way to add extra square footage to your home,” Ides says. “I consider everything, from the back wall of the home and out territory for an outdoor living area. Create it with as much attention as you would give the inside of your home.”

Ides says incorporating an outdoor living space may increase a home’s value, but more importantly, it adds to a homeowner’s value of life.

“If quality of life is important to you, then what you get in return monetarily shouldn’t matter,” Ides says. “Enjoying the way you live is priceless, Your outdoor living space is where you come to ever)’ day to nurture your soul.”

Obviously, Dallas enjoys the outdoors. Very few restaurants here are opened without outdoor patios since many diners request a seat outside. The relaxed, casual atmosphere of outdoor dining is being copied at home. People are buying comfortable and beautful patio furniture that lasts, such as the more expensive weather-resistant wood groupings or cast-aluminum styles. Dallas has a passion for being outdoors, says Bob Jackson, owner of Jackson Nursery and Pottery in Dallas.

“We start barbecuing very early here.,” Jackson says. “People who don’t have the time for a vacation can just stay at home to fix up their outdoor living space and make spending time there a vacation.”

A variety of outdoor living spaces are possible, from a small patio area to a lush back yard with a series of gardens or an outdoor cabana with a fireplace. Depending on the area’s size and the available budget, any idea can become a reality. A big difference exists between simple landscaping and creating an outdoor living space, however. The usual foundation of flower beds and necessary shade trees don’t define an outdoor living space. Creating an entire area full of greenery, color, lounging and dining areas, water features, and statuaries, does. Steve Taber, manager of Southwest Landscape, suggests home buyers first bring a plot plan to a professional landscaper who can advise proper placement of plants, furniture, and decorative accessories.

Sunlight, soil, and drainage dictate where items should be placed. People tend to stick all of their patio furniture and plants right on their back porch in front of a sliding glass door or window, which blocks the view of the back yard from the inside of the house, says Scott Moneta, manager of Leisure Pools in Dallas. “A good idea is to get a professional to make the best use of space, like placing lounge chairs where you get the most sun and putting tables in the shade, “Rather than separate a deck or garden from a pool, we can make it one entire leisure area.”

Moneta is fond of outdoor cabanas, which can lead to a pool and include everything from an outdoor fireplace and oversized commercial grill to a bar area and television set. He suggests building he cabana when the home is built so they have the same exterior material. This way, the cabana looks like a part of the home, rather than an afterthought.

Fire and water are two often-requested elements in outdoor living spaces. Chimineas, which are free-standing, portable fireplaces made in Mexico, are a top choice here. “Chimineas burn pinon wood which brings the aroma of Santa Fe straight to Dallas,” Jackson says.

Firepits. which are circular ground pits made of stone, are common near pools or on deck areas to provide a gathering spot. “More people will sit around a firepit than a Jacuzzi,” Ides says.

“Firepits are more convenient, and they are just as relaxing.”

Water features bring a sense of serenity to any outdoor living area. Obvious selections are fountains and ponds, but they tend to get dirty from blowing trash and leaves. Water walls, which add a soothing and attractive focal point to any porch or deck, are a less messy option. Most water walls are made of multi-color stone and have water pumping from below. The water falls over the top of the stone in sheets, providing a soft, trickling sound. “All of the plumbing is hidden underneath, and you don’t see a pool of water,” Ides says. “Water features can be a hassle, but this is maintenance-free.”

The secret to making an outdoor living space work, Ides says, is to create what he calls focal moments.

“Anybody can plant some flowers and call it a garden, but how you set up focal moments is what makes it your own,” he says. “A beautiful view from the inside of the home that makes you either physically or mentally get up and go there is required. Details and focal moments are the secret to great garden design.”

Ides suggests creating focal moments with outdoor living decorative accessories, such as fountains, pottery, statuaries, arches, and gazebos. Italian, German, Chinese, and Vietnamese pottery are popular choices at Jackson’s Nursery and Pottery, as are gazebos made of hand-carved stone from the mountains of Italy. These are all pieces that become more attractive over time, as more flowers, greenery, and outdoor furnishings are added around them to create a focal area.

Ides, who is also a sculptor, often studies a client’s books and artwork to get a feel for their personality before selecting an outdoor sculpture. Statuaries in gardens should reflect the homeowner’s lifestyle and tastes just as their artwok does, Ides says, so their outdoor living area also feels like home.

Lighting and flooring are other important elements of an outdoor living space. Picture a deck or walkway with faux brick stenciled in eye-catching patterns such as circles, shells, cobblestone, or fish scales with torches or lanterns radiating a soft glow from citronella candles.

Linda Bracken, owner of Nicholson-Hardie in Dallas, says these smallest of decorative items in a garden are what make it unique. A current hit in Dallas are gazing balls, which are large, hand-blown glass balls that sit on a decorative stand to provide a nice reflection of the surrounding garden. Rustic planting urns and fountains with an aged, mossy look lend a soothing sense of timelessness. One way to have the classic look of a fountain, without the mess, is to use a fountain as a planter with various greenery hanging from it and a burst of color planted in the middle.

Luckily, Dallas experiences at least some of all four seasons, so there is no reason to not have color all year. Everyone wants to see flowers when they look outside, and there are a lot of varieties that work well in Dallas, says Steve Taber, manager of Southwest Landscape. “I’m seeing a lot of planters with different colors of flowers mixed together,” he says. “There is no one color scheme.”

Outdoor areas with plenty of sunlight offer the most options. Savannah hollies and foster hollies are tree-form plants that can be potted to create height in a particular area. Tall potted plants can also be arranged in a row, creating a shrub effect to eliminate an unattractive view. Using this technique with plants such as cherry laurels or large leaf hollies, are good for rooftop gardens which may be surrounded by unsightly walls or smoke stacks.

Decks or garden areas with a lot of shade can also accommodate larger plants to create this tree effect, but the choices are limited. Japenese Yen, a three-to-five-foot tree that grows well in shade, can be potted and lined together to create a shield. Use oversized pots of flowers with a variety of colors to accent the backdrop of greenery the trees provide.

For a garden to grow and flourish in Dallas, the soil must be prepped. have proper drainage, and a sophisticated irrigation system should be installed. For ease in upkeep, when installing a yard sprinkler system, connect it to potted plants as well so they never need watering by hand. For rooftop or patio gardens, install specialized irrigation systems in each pot for low maintenance.

“Your outdoor living area should be a place to enjoy; not a place where you have to slave away just to keep it,” Ides says.

Beginning the perfect garden, deck, or patio cannot be done in a clay or even a long weekend. The most incredible outdoor living spaces take several years to complete. It is a place that evolves. The key to turning a basic yard into the home’s outdoor room is to remember the little details and create an experience, rather than a landscape.

“The more attention you give your garden, the more peaceful it can be,” says Cindy Slegel, gift buyer at Nicholson-Hardic. “When you get home at the end of a busy day. it’s time to relax and let the senses, feel, see. and hear. The garden is the perfect spot for this.”

HOUSE-HUNTING GOES HIGH-TECH

Combing the streets in search of “For Sale” signs, making countless appointments to view houses, and scanning newspapers for the latest listings aren’t the only ways to shop for a home. With the help of technology, house-hunting can now be accomplished at work during a lunch break.

Virtual reality tours by way of CD Rom or interactive maps have made shopping for a home a simple, convenient-and even enjoyable-process. Just take a few minutes at the computer and point and click to tour the home of your choice.

CityHomes in Dallas offers this virtual tour technology in its new sales pavillion. Located on the southwest corner of Cole and Fitzhugh in uptown Dallas, the sales pavillion is a state-of-the-art facility that allows visitors to experience the environment of a CityHome without actually touring one. The 4,000-square-foot pavillion’s centerpiece is its high-tech virtual map. Here, with the use of a computer mouse or by touch-screen, visitors can take a virtual reality tour of a City Home and the surrounding uptown area on a computerized map displayed on a 6’ x 8’screen.

Near the virtual map is a colorful lifestyle area with eye-catching imagery that depicts the unique lifestyle of uptown Dallas. Visitors can enjoy oversized photographs of everything uptown has to offer from shopping and dining to recreation. Free-standing, computerized kiosks throughout the pavillion offer views of CityHomes’ baths and kitchens.

The entire sales pavillion reflects the clean-lined, urban architecture found in all City Homes. In addition to a cappuccino bar, the sales pavillion is equipped with a kitchen that could come in handy for community or charitable organizations who want to use the facility for meetings or social gatherings.

“The sales pavillion wraps you in the environment of what we build,” says CityHome’s vice-president and director of sales and marketing, Al Coker. “It has the feeling of a very big house, I want people to feel a home when they visit.”

The high-tech sales pavillion helps kick off CityHome’s plan to build approximately 200 luxury townhomes a year in the Turtle Creek, uptown and Knox Park neighborhoods of central Dallas. Currently, there are about 30 townhomes available, with more than 90 under construction. Each subdivision will differ in exterior architecture and reflect a modem, urban look. Buyers can choose from several models in each cluster of townhomes.

Each City Home offers an array of modern amenities and conveniences, such as large windows. skylights, soaring 10-foot ceilings, glass block walls, hardwood flooring, built-in computer work stations, custom cabinetry, granite countertops, whirlpool tubs, top-of-the-line appliances, rooftop decks, multi-level plans, private patios, advanced alarm systems, and high-tech wiring.

The convenient uptown location of all City Homes allows residents a close location to historic Knox St., McKinney Ave.. Highland Park, The Kaly Trail, Turtle Creek Park, downtown Dallas, and Love Field. Townhome prices range from $200,000 to $600,000.

“CityHomes is becoming a focal point of the Travis-Walk area,” Coker says. “The neighborhood is improving and expanding al a rapid rate. We are locating the national headquarters here not only to provide buyers with a sales pavillion for reference, but also to let them know they we aren’t going anywhere. This is a sales pavillion for the entire community.”

CityHomes’ can also bring a virtual reality tour of their product to off-site presentations by using a CD Rom and laptop computer. Virtual reality home lours by way of CD Rom are quickly becoming a preferred way to shop for homes in the upper-end market to save time for buyers and residential real estate agents, Bryan Harris, president of ROXX Publications, Inc., developed Visions, an interactive multimedia CD Rom magazine, to take home buyers on a virtual reality tour of luxury homes right on their own computer screen. If a buyer can point and click with a mouse, they can tour some of the most exclusive residences offered here without leaving their home or office.

Targeted for the luxury home buyer. Visions is a fully-interactive, multimedia magazine featuring high-end estate homes in Dallas-Fort Worth. The technology of Visions is made possible by photographing a home’s rooms with a digital camera and “stitching” them together with special software. Video and audio introductions by premier real estate agents invite users to tour the exclusive estates they offer and provide a brief overview of the property, as well as their company’s credentials. The virtual reality tour allows users to see everything in a home from plat floorplans to amenities. The details of a room are so precise, the user can see even the tiniest details in crown molding or flooring.

“Taking the tour is truly the next best thing to being there,” Harris says. “Visions allows buyers to see the entire house before they make an appointment to actually tour it. This saves everyone time.”



PLANNED COMMUNITIES: THE ADVANTAGE 13 CHOICE

As the Dallas area expands in all directions, the demand for housing is beginning to outweigh the supply. Apartments are going up at a rapid rate, and new subdivisions are opening on a regular basis. Urban living is experiencing phenomenal growth with loft apartments and high-rise living becoming an increasingly popular choice. Another form of residential construction that is a favorite option among growing families, as well as empty-nesters, is master-planned communities.

“In a planned community, you know what is going to happen in your neighborhood every step of the way,” says Marcus Smith, president of Properties of the Southwest in Dallas. “The developer of that community maintains the area so the value of your property should always hold up. Planned communities typically allow buyers to choose their own custom builder, and developers usually dictate a set price for homes. So if you build a half-million dollar house, you don’t need to worry that your neighbor will build a $100,000 home and decrease your property’s value.”

What makes most planned communities different from other residential areas is the array of amenities available, the option to choose your own builder, spacious home sites, the ability to build a high-end custom home near like houses, and the scenic surroundings the community provides.

Developers suggest home buyers consider master-planned communities thai are near major highways, good school districts, shopping, and entertainment. “Convenience to the city, privacy gates, and a location near lakes, trees, water, hills, parks, and golf courses are all pail of the new and successful planned community,” Smith says. *The best new developments all offer a lifestyle.”

Some of the most popular planned communities developed by Properties of the Southwest with these sought-after amenities are Lake Ridge in Cedar Hill, Gunter’s Hidden Lakes Ranch, Bent Water in Granbury. and The Ranch ai Lake Ray Roberts in Mountain Springs near Gainesville.

Frisco’s prestigious Starwood is another top master-planned community. Now borne to more than 200 families. Starwood provides its residents with large Custom home sites and incredible scenery. Huge Spanish Oak trees shade most of Starwood, and a natural creek runs throughout the community. The topography complements the trees and creek with rolling hills found in many residents’ back yards. “You can stand on the highest point and see the towers of Texas Woman’s University in Denton,” says Starwood’s sales and marketing director, Dena Compton.

A development of Blue Star Land, LP, Starwood features a master-planned community’s most requested amenities, such as a family environment, home owner’s association, hike and bike trails, work out room, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pools, and privacy. Residents there participate in TGIF parties for newcomers, book clubs, ladies clubs, social projects, playgroups, basketball and tennis teams, and other recreational activities.

“1 think more people are moving to planned communities because of the family environment they provide.” Compton says. “Planned communities are a place where families can enjoy recreation activities with each other. They don’t have to go to various places to join gyms or clubs. Everything is here for them to enjoy together.”

Other top-selling planned communities in Dallas-Forth Worth are The Estates of Russell Creek in Piano and Park Glen in Fort Worth, both developments of Hill wood Residential, a division of Hillwood Development Corporation. Fred Balda, president of Hillwood Residential, admits planned communties aren’t for everyone. Some home buyers may not appreciate a planned community’s guidelines on home architecture and landscaping which are put in place by the community’s home owner’s association or owners to maintain the area’s appearance and value throughout the years.

However, those looking for amenities on a grand scale and property that will continually hold its value won’t mind coming home to master-planned community each day. “Planned communities are more than a neighborhood,” Balda says. “They are complete packages.”

Once new home buyers choose a planned community, the next step is finding a buildable home site. The most desired planned communities offer different home sites that meet a variety of needs and tastes. “If you are dealing with a reputable developer, they are only going to provide quality homes sites with quality restrictions on the property to promote the value of whatever you build,” Smith says.

Nancy Hardwick, sales manager for Lake Ridge in Cedar Hill recommends home buyers consider the landscape they eventually want when choosing their home site. Some buyers desire views of the golf course or lake, while others may want hills in their backyard or abundance of trees. Site size is also important. To keep from having a residence too close to neighboring homes, choose a spacious home site anywhere from a half-acre to over an acre. “A good home site is one that has whatever the buyer’s needs and wants are,” Hardwick says.

In planned communities that feature the construction of custom residences, home buyers have an advantage because they will work closely with their builder and be involved in the construction process from concept to completion. Developers suggest buyers find out how long a builder has been in business and to check his experience in building the size and style of home desired. Smith recommends requesting referrals from previous customers and calling the Better Business Bureau to investigate complaints filed against the builder.

Comfort and flexibility are other important factors to consider when selecting a builder. Home buyers work very closely with their builder for months, so a friendly business relationship is essential. Buyers should feel completely at ease calling their builder at any time with questions and to make suggestions and changes.

“When you live in a community where you have to use the development’s volume builders, you really only deal with the builder to pick out colors and to make minor changes,” Smith says. “With a custom builder, there will be a lot of changes and decisions to make along the way. They are building the home to your specifications, so you need to choose a builder you respect and can work with.”

After the construction or purchase of a home in a master-planned community is complete, developers say the next step is to sit back and enjoy everything the community has to offer. Balda. who is also a resident of a master-planned community, says he has noticed a planned community’s biggest attraction actually comes from basic human nature–the need to socialize and feel a part of something.

“Planned communities foster a community atmosphere so many home owners seek,” Balda says. “The only way a master-planned community works is by its residents gelling involved and enhancing that community atmosphere.”



FINANCING A HOME

You’ve spent days, months-maybe even years-searching for the perfect home. You’ve tirelessly toured various home styles in different neighborhoods and intensively compared several communities’ amenities, activities, and school districts. And you finally found it-your dream home. Only one detail is left unexamined: how to pay for it. The time has come to schedule the all-important appointment with a mortgage company to discuss financing options.

Even though this process sounds all loo familiar, it is actually a backward process, according to area mortgage companies. Before home buyers waste their own time as well as that of a real estate agent’s looking for a house, the first step they should take is determining their financial situation. More than likely, home buyers who look too early haven’t been shopping in their price range and are not sure what they can afford.

“Always go to a mortgage professional first who can advise you on the best financing program for you to use,” says Ed Bratton, regional vice president of Chase Manhattan Mortgage in Dallas. “A mortgage lender can assess your needs and your financial situation not only to match you with the right program, but also to find the best interest rate.’”

Many new home buyers avoid tackling the money issue first because they fear their poor credit histories will keep them from owning a home. This is a legitimate fear, says Murdock Richard, chief executive officer of Park Cities Mortgage in Dallas. He says home buyers-no matter what their income level- should be aware of how imponant credit reports have become.

“You can make $500,000 a year, but thai won’t matter if your credit scores are bad,” Richard says. “You will have fewer options to finance your home.”

A poor credit history won’t prohibit someone from owning a home, but they will have to pay a much higher interest rate until their blemished financial situation becomes more favorable. Even though home buyers with the highest credit scores receive the best interest rates and financing choices, a variety of options are available to accommodate different financial situations. “No longer is there a one-size-fits-all plan.” Bratton says.

One such opportunity is for home buyers with an excellent credit rating to finance 100 percent of their home. Ninety-seven percent of the purchase price of their home can be financed, and the three percent required downpayment can also be borrowed. “This is a good option for first-time home buyers or anyone coming out of a divorce-basically anyone whose liquid assets are depleted,” Bratton says.

More lenders are also recommending home buyers not solely shop interest rates. Surprisingly, the lowest interest rate isn’t always the best rate. Some lenders offer a very low interest rate, but the hefty fees at the closing table far outweigh the quoted rate. Dollars add up even faster this way since fees associated with closing costs are not tax deductible, while interest rates are. Some lenders provide general interest rales over the phone that aren’t available for certain types of loans, so the responsibility lies with the buyer to make sure they receive correct information before they start the purchase process.

“Don’t simply limit your evaluation of lenders to interest rates only,” Richard says. “Take time to visit with your lender and have them evaluate your complete financial profile in combination with your long-term goals. An in-depth knowledge of the interrleationships of your credit, income, and the best mortgage option all go hand-in-hand.”

Home buyers shopping in the upper-end market often deal with more complex financing options. Many home owners of high-end residences are self-employed from owning 25 percent or more of a company, which means they don’t have a regular salary to report since most of their income comes from bonuses or commissions. Earning income in this manner changes they way they report their income tax, thus changing how they qualify for a loan since home buyers typically use tax returns for loan qualification. In the upper-end market, mortgage companies must heavily consider assets and credit in addition to income.

Dr. Ronald Schachar, president and chief executive officer of Presby Corp. in Dallas, recently purchased a home on the prestigious Strait Lane in Dallas. He admits he quickly learned mortgage companies consider home buyers in the high-end market more of a risk because if a large loan isn’t repaid, a heavier burden is placed on the lender.

“Those shopping in the upper-end market usually have to put more down on a home, simply to lessen the mortgage,” Dr. Schachar says. “This lessens the risk on the mortgage company. At first, I was surprised mortgage companies wouldn’t want to take on a larger loan, but a larger loan means risk. Buyers in the high-end market should choose a mortgage lender who is experienced in their market and can find the best program for them.”

David and Dr. Kathryn Waldrep of Dallas recently were in the process of buying and selling four high-end properties in Dallas’ Preston Hollow and Lake Highlands. Obviously, this called for the aid of a mortgage company to keep the financing details organized. David Waldrep, a lawyer, has experience in home finance, but still needed someone to handle the actual legwork for him.

“1 felt much more comfortable having a professional do the options, comparison analysis, find rates and programs, and do pay-outs,” David Waldrep says. “I think when you are in the upper-end market, you have a much higher negotiating position with an experienced resource.”

Waldrep also recommends visiting a mortgage company first before buying a home, especially in the upper-end market. “I think people shopping for more expensive homes usually pre-qualify and know somewhat what they can afford, but a knowledgeable mortgage professional can be candid with you and let you know if you’re even in the right ballpark.” he says. To save time and money, home buyers should set up a pre-purchase consultation with a loan officer before they ever make an appointment with a real estate agent to tour homes. Mortgage companies can not only pre-qualify-but also pre-approve- home buyers for a loan before they ever house-hunt to know what they can afford.

Another way to do some behind-the-scenes research is to surf the Internet for mortgage lenders. While online, home buyers can calculate how much they can afford, determine pre-quali-fication, learn about mortgage rates and options, and research different mortgage companies.

When shopping for a mortgage lender or bank, Bratton suggests home buyers check interest rates and closing fees, as well as the company’s reputation, history, credentials, and references. A good mortgage lender or bank will have a variety of creative financing options from which to choose and will assess a buyer’s financial situation through income, credit, and assets before suggesting mortgage options.

“Become aware of your options because so many are available today,” Richard says. “Call around to more than one mortgage company to find one that offers the right program for your needs. Do some research to make an informed decision.”



MASTERS OF RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE

Marketing million-dollar-plus properties is a demanding and time-consuming activity for any real estate agent. Buyers and sellers of these luxury homes need a highly skilled, educated, and experienced agent to represent them since listing or purchasing an estate home can be more complicated in the areas of contracts, financing, inspections, and legal issues.

Fortunately, for many agents in this high-end market, the Masters of Residential Real Estate Network is in place to provide them with tremendous networking opportunities that result in maximum benefits for their clients. Members of this networking team are Dallas real estate professionals who specialize in the highly unique, demanding, and knowledge-sensitive niche of the mil-lion-dollar-plus market. They are extremely familiar with the exclusive neighborhoods that contain these prestigious residences, such as Highland Park. University Park, Preston Hollow, and Piano, among others.

About 30 real estate agents, all with 10-plus years of experience in the multi-million dollar market in Dallas* most exclusive residential areas, belong to the Masters’ network. Members meet regularly to trade information to match buyers and sellers in the high-end market.

Members of The Masters of Residential Real Estate Network understand the dynamics of the highly specialized upper-end real estate market and typically know about the most exclusive listings before they ever go on the market. Through many years of experience, these real estate agents have learned to use their insticts and intuition to determine a client’s needs and wants. Because Masters’ agents are quite familiar with the residential areas in which they specialize, their clients’ own research time for homes and neighborhoods is dramatically lessened. Masters’ agents have toured hundreds of luxury estate homes and are experts in pricing and marketing them, as well as showing them to qualified buyers. Masters’ agents work for a variety of top local real estate companies including Ellen Terry, Realtors; Abio & Associates; Briggs-Freeman; Ebby Halliday. Realtors; Allie Beth Altaian; Adleta & Poston Realtors; The Prudential; and Coldwell Banker.

HOME BUYERS’ SCHOOL

To learn the basics of home buying, the Home & Apartment Builders Association of Metropolitan Dallas hosts a regular Home Buyers’ School. During the free public sessions, industry experts provide advice on the advantages of new vs. pre-owned homes, financing, the building process, warranty information, choosing a builder, and more. Bob Morris, chief executive officer of the Dallas HAB, says new home buyers must first understand what It means to be a home owner before they venture Into the purchasing process.

HOME BUYING TIPS

Top 10 things to remember:

Visit a mortgage lender before shopping for a home to determine what you can afford.

Visit home shows or open houses sponsored by builders or real estate agents to to find the home style or neighborhood you desire.

Interview several real estate agents or builders to find one that suits your needs.

Look at the quality of the construction features, especially In cabinetry, carpeting, trimwork, and paint.

Always keep value in mind when shopping. Consider the appreciation potential of any home and the possible future influences of that location, housing supply and demand, and other market factors will have on the value of your new home.

When considering a home, determine whether It will suit your lifestyle needs now and in the future. Is there enough living space, bedrooms, bathrooms, and storage space?

Think about the upkeep required both indoors and out.

Consider the location of the home. Is it near schools, shopping, transportation, or other places of interest to you?

Find out what kind of service you can expect after the sale from either the builder or real estate agent.

Read and make sure you understand everything in all contracts you sign.

List provided by the National Association of Home Builders.

REALT0R.COM

Home buyers who don’t have enough time to hit the streets to house-hunt can call on the help of a virtual real estate agent by using . This fast-growing Internet site helps home buyers with everything from finding a residential real estate agent to calculating the mortgage they can afford. According to the Greater Dallas Association of Realtors, Inc., almost a quarter of home buyers across the country are relying on to help them find a home.

WITH REALTOR.COM, BUYERS CAN:

View home pages from real estate companies and residential real estate agents.

Access listings by an agent’s name, real estate company name, city, or price range.

Learn about a desired city or area’s schools, churches, shopping, and recreation opportunities.

Browse a desired city’s newspapers and magazines for more information.

Save search time since sold properties leave the site immediately and new properties are posted dally.

Take a virtual tour of a home by viewing pictures on-screen.

Use a mortgage calculator to determine what they can afford.

E-mail an agent to schedule an appointment to tour a home.

TIPS TO GETTING THE MOST FOR YOUR HOME

Price it right under the advisement of an experienced, reputable agent.

Listen to your agent’s suggestions and Ideas.

Be sure to gain maximum exposure through your agent.

Allow the agent to show the home.

Consider all offers. Listen to the buyers’ agent.

Make sure the lawn is neatly landscaped.

Repair exterior damage on

roof, doors, windows, and driveway.

Remove clutter, such as toys or tools, from sidewalks and porches.

Place seasonal flowers on porch and In entry.

Repaint and recarpet, If necessary, or get carpets cleaned.

Allow an abundance of natural light to shine throughout home.

Repair door jams, stuck windows or drawers, plumbing problems.

Deodorize pet areas.

Organize closets and clear them of clutter.

Make sure bathrooms are kept clean and neat. Add decorative touches.

Keep living areas and bedrooms nice and orderly.

Keep basements, attics, and garages neat and provide adequate lighting and clear walking paths.

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

For a garden to grow and flourish In Dallas, the soil must be prepped, have proper drainage, and a sophisticated irrigation system should be installed. For ease in upkeep, when installing a yard sprinkler system, connect it to potted plants as well so they never need watering by hand. For rooftop or patio gardens, install specialized irrigation systems in each pot for low maintenance. Your outdoor living area should be a place to enjoy; not a place where you have to slave away just to keep it.

PLANNED COMMUNITIES: WHAT TO EXPECT

Although some planned communities are located in or near the uniform suburban areas of the Dallas-Forth Worth area, residents are typically surprised at the luxurious amenities and vast amount of choice they have. From home sites and builders to landscape and architecture, many planned communities provide home owners with more control and options than they may expect.

INTEREST RATES: LOW ISN’T ALWAYS BEST

More lenders are also recommending home buyers not solely shop Interest rates. Surprisingly, the lowest interest rate isn’t always the best rate. Some lenders offer a very low Interest rate, but the hefty fees at the closing table far outweigh the quoted rate. Dollars add up even faster this way since fees associated with closing costs are not tax deductible, while interest rates are. Some lenders provide general Interest rates over the phone that aren’t available for certain types of loans, so the responsibility lies with the buyer to make sure they receive correct information before they start the purchase process.

SEEK EXPERT ADVICE

Buyers and sellers of luxury homes need a highly skilled, educated, and experienced agent to represent them since listing or purchasing an estate home can be more complicated In the areas of contracts, financing, inspections, and legal issues.

HOME BUYER’S RESOURCE GUIDE

INTERIOR ALTERNATIVE 1305 Inwood Rd. Dallas, TX 75247 214-837-8800 Debra Shelton: Store Manager Fabric and Bedding Outlet. Up to 70% off retail every day! Decorative fabric, bedding, trims, pillows and accessories. Custom sewing for small projects. Thousands of patterns in stock!

AMERICAN MARAZZI TILE 2250 LBJ Freeway, Suite 200 Dallas, Texas 75234 972-620-TILE (8453) One of the most innovative and impressive ceramic tile and natural stone selections In the Metroplex. Offering products from all over the world. Design consultants on staff to assist you. Also, visit our other location in Fort Worth or our Design Center in Plano.



GEOFFREY’S 5100 Beltline Road, Suite 795 Dallas, TX 75240 972-248-1999

Geoffrey’s, an exciting new showroom gallery at Village on the Parkway in Addison, features upscale furniture, accessories, and decorative art for the most discriminating buyer.

GRANITE TRADING COMPANY, LLC.

5200 Gus Thomasson Mesquite, TX 75150 972-681-1300 Fax; 972-681-1339

National importer of granite, marble, limestone and ceramic tiles. They are the supplies to the suppliers. There are three outlet stores in North Texas each stocking huge quantities of first quality current production tiles and 90% from Italy. Family owned and operated since 1892.

REDSTONE KITCHENS AND BATHS 4630 Alpha Road Farmers Branch, TX 75234 972-960-2403 Fax: 972-960-2470 Redstone Kitchens and Baths Is a supplier of custom American and Italian cabinetry. Services offered range from design to turnkey kitchen remodeling.

STEWART ALLEN FURNITURE 11411E. Northwest Hwy. 1316 Slocum Street 214-349-2140 or 214-653-8899 Designer furniture and accessories with low prices and high turnovers. Custom furniture and finishes with lowlead times exclusively from private factories. Beautiful upholstery.

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