Author Archives: Steve Russo

Getting Your House Ready to Sell

I routinely present programs for sellers in libraries, senior centers, etc., with a few of my colleagues, an inspector and an interior design specialist, on steps to undertake when you are thinking of selling your house.

Upcoming programs will be listed in this section. If you can’t wait for the next one, please give me a call; I would be pleased to help you get your house ready to go on the market.

$0 Down, Low Interest Mortgages

Just about everyone has heard about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and VA mortgages. There is another federal government backed mortgage program that is little known but compares very favorably with these more popular ones. That’s the USDA Rural Development Mortgage Program.

Don’t be put off by the “Rural” in its name. USDA mortgages can be used to purchase homes in most towns in New Hampshire and central and western Massachusetts! In general, only properties in urban areas – larger cities and larger towns – are not eligible. In southern New Hampshire, for example, only Derry, Hudson, Keene, Londonderry, Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua, Portsmouth, Salem, and parts of Goffstown and Hooksett are ruled out. In Massachusetts, most communities west of Lowell and Concord and north of Worcester are eligible, except Fitchburg and Leominster.

Why are USDA mortgage loans attractive? They require no money down, have low interest rates, and don’t require mortgage insurance. Rural Housing loans are aimed at families with moderate or low incomes looking to buy (or refinance) a primary residence. The USDA will not lend to people with incomes over a certain amount, which can be as high as $ 104,000 for a family of four in certain areas of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. For information on income limitations, see the income tables on the USDA RD website.

For more information on which communities are eligible, click here. Previously, the USDA had announced that it would be deleting some towns from its program, but they have since reconsidered; there will be no changes in the eligible towns for the next few years.

All mortgage programs are complex. For an overview of the USDA Rural Development mortgage program, consult your banker or financial adviser. Please note that not all mortgage lenders offer this program, but there are many in every state that do. If you need assistance in finding a lender that offers USDA mortgages, please give me a call.

Property Tax Rates

If you are looking for a new home, how much money you’ll have to spend on property taxes is probably one factor you are probably considering.

Property taxes in New Hampshire are higher than many states to compensate for the lack of a sales or income tax. There is an easy way to check what the tax rate is in the various NH towns, by going to the NH Department of Revenue’s website; then clicking on the “2018 Tax Rate” link. Please note: new property tax rates are determined in the fall for the coming year; the 2018 tax rates are in effect until late in 2019. The latest tax rates are always displayed on the above site.

Massachusetts property tax rates are listed on the MA Department of Revenue’s site. The site is somewhat complicated to use; it’s a huge spreadsheet; the tax rates are over to the right.

Checking on School Systems

When looking for a new home, many people want to make sure that they will be moving to a community with good schools for their children. It’s difficult to check out a school system objectively; people often rely on hearsay. There are several websites designed to help you.

One of the best is SchoolDigger.com. For NH schools click here; for Massachusetts schools, click here. SchoolDigger states that its purpose is “…to empower parents like you to make informed choices about choosing a school for your child.” The site contains information on over 130,000 public and private schools in all 50 states. Data includes: national test score results, enrollment information, student/teacher ratios, school and district rankings, etc. Test score results are up to date – 2014 results are listed, along with those for 2009-2013. Other stats are similarly current. You can find schools by name, address, town/city, district, and location. The website is very easy to use and contains a wealth of information. House hunters will benefit from checking it out.

There are a few other sites that can give you additional facts about schools. Public School Review (http://www.publicschoolreview.com/) has articles about how to choose a good school, educational issues, etc. For each school, there are statistics for student-teacher ratios, graduation rates, demographic information, and a link to where standardized test scores may be found.

Great Schools lets you compare three schools in areas such as: student, teacher, and town demographics; poverty stats; and expenditures. It includes standardized test scores and, unique to this site, reviews from parents and students. Unfortunately it has lots of ads, and one has to go to several pages to get a full portrait of a school. It also includes recent newspaper articles that have mentioned the school.

The NH State Dept. of Education’s website offers basic statistical information on every school in the state; administration contact names and numbers; standardized test scores; and basic demographics about the town’s population. The MA Dept. of Education has similar stats for Massachusetts school systems on their website.

Researching Your New City or Town

The Southern New Hampshire – Northern Massachusetts area is a great place to live. Because of its attractiveness, every year many people move here from other states. Others move from one town to another within the states. This article is for those who are thinking of moving and who want to know about the city or town to which they are considering relocating.

You may get an impression of a town by driving around, checking local newspapers for recent articles (easily done online), looking at its entry in Wikipedia, etc.

You can find more in-depth background information by checking some of the community statistical websites that are available. The state of New Hampshire’s Community Profiles site or Massachusetts’ Community Profiles are good places to begin looking. These websites have basic city and town economic and statistical data such as tax rates, population characteristics, distance to major cities, lists of major employers and recreational opportunities, etc.

NH City-Data.com and MA City-Data.com have a wealth of details that can answer just about any question you may have on a town’s population, home values, crime, employment, weather, education, health, etc. They even list the radio stations that offer the best reception. Unfortunately, the ads can be a little distracting, but the charts and graphs make many of the statistics much easier to understand than plain statistical sites.

For information on schools, see my Checking on School Systems page. For information on property taxes, see my Property Tax Rates page.

The New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority

The NH Housing Finance Authority is a great resource for New Hampshire residents who are considering the purchase of a home, especially first-time home buyers. The organization was established 30+ years ago by the state “to promote, finance and support affordable housing opportunities and related services for New Hampshire families and individuals…” It is not a state agency and receives no public funds. The NHHFA’s website outlines their programs.

The agency offers fixed rate mortgages to low- and moderate-income home buyers (families with an income of less than $ 110,000); it provides rental assistance to low-income families and individuals; it assists homeowners going through financial difficulties; and it finances the development of quality, affordable rental housing in New Hampshire.

The Authority’s mortgage rates are very competitive, and they work with banks and other mortgage lenders. Their mortgage loans require little or no down payment. They also offer home rehabilitation loans of up to $ 40,000.

A list of institutions offering their loans is available by clicking here.

The NHHFA sponsors seminars to help would-be home buyers learn about mortgages, using a real estate agent, how to get pre-approved, and if home ownership is right for them. They also offer several booklets with valuable information for people considering buying a home; see their publications webpage.

Only a small percentage of NH Realtors have been specially trained in the many programs available from the NHHFA. I am one of them, so if you’re interested in their programs, please don’t hesitate to give me a call! You may call me at 603-321-9895 or email me at steve.russo@verani.com.

Repairs and Renovations – How Much Return can You Receive on Your Investment?

When thinking about selling a home, homeowners often consider whether or not a major upgrade should be done to increase the salability of the home. Although repairs and renovations should definitely shorten the time a home is on the market and help sellers get a better price, owners should realize that very rarely will they get back 100% of their investment.

The Appraisal Institute, the national organization of professional real estate appraisers, recently published an article indicating which renovations and repairs have the highest value added for the cost incurred. Click here for this short publication.

Their article is based on a country wide study by Cost VS Value.com. This study, available online, lists the job costs and resale values of the 23 most popular remodeling projects. The prices and resale values are given for both mid-range and upscale renovations.

The costs – and the resale value – of a renovation vary significantly throughout the United States, which makes this study so valuable. The annual Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report not only has national figures, but also the statistics for New England, and various subregions, such as the Manchester-Nashua NH area, the Boston-seacoast NH region, Central Massachusetts, etc.

Access to the statistics is free, and a detailed printout is available by registering with the website. The latest figures for south central and south western New Hampshire are available in the 2014 report, available by clicking here.

The 2015 publication for Greater Boston and Rockingham County NH is available on this webpage, and central Massachusetts information is available here.