When a Storm May Come Your Way….

Summertime is storm time in Florida.  While the official hurricane season begins June 1, most of the actual storm activity takes place in August and September, with some tapering in October and then all gone by November 30.  While storms can, and have, occurred in every month of the year, August through October are the most dangerous months.

What is truly dangerous is to have the attitude that it can’t or won’t happen here.  This attitude leads to the failure to prepare in even the simplest ways.  But anyone who has ever been truly impacted by these types of storms and who know the amount of damage, both physical and psychological, will never fail to prepare again.



Make your Family’s plan here!

One of the best sites to go to first is the Florida Department of Emergency Management here.  You can keep up with the latest NOAA releases but more importantly, you can Get A Plan.  After you click the Get a Plan link, you are taken to a series of pages where you fill in information relative to your own family.  (They do not store this information, they just use it to create a personalized plan for your family).  It takes about 3 minutes to input, then you print out the plan which includes Checklists, supply lists, emergency management phone #s and evacuation routing relative to where you live.

Storms have to be taken seriously and if you follow the information laid out for you in your own Get A Plan, you will weather the weather a lot better than 99% of the rest of the population.

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The City of Seminole establishes a Red, White and Blue Initiative.

On March 25th, 2015, the City Council of Seminole passed a resolution authorizing the “Red, White and Blue Initiative”.  This is a program to increase patriotism in the city, but the means they are using is appropriate to everyone, where ever they live.

Since many of us have established spots on our own properties on which to display a flag of the United States of America, the webpage established by the city offers a great deal of information for the proper and correct display of the flag and the colors.  You can access the webpage here.

In reading through the Code (that is the Federal code, passed by Congress and signed by the President of the United States), two things may pop out for you.  First, according to paragraph 8 of the Code, “the flag represents a living country and is itself considered to be a living thing”.  How should we treat a living thing but with respect.  And second, also in paragraph 8 of the Code, the flag should never be used in advertising, especially not embroidered on cushions or printed on temporary or throw-away items like boxes, napkins and articles of clothing.

The website also has information on flag etiquette and an etiquette quiz that was very informative and interesting.  If you are at all concerned about patriotism or proper display of the flag, check out the City of Seminole’s webpage.

Pinellas County is removing the Australian Pines from Fort Desoto Park

One of the interesting trees in this area of Florida is actually a non-native tree known as the Australian Pine.  It was introduced in the United States in the early 1900’s and was widely used as a windbreak.  Between 1993 and 2005 it has nearly quadrupled in Florida.

It is considered an invasive tree now, and it is especially not wanted near the shoreline of Pinellas because it very efficiently blocks all other plants from growing, therefore contributing to beach erosion.  It’s roots are matlike but very shallow, so while they work well as a windbreak where there is hard soil, in sand they can just be pushed over in a strong wind.

The link below takes you to a YouTube video by Pinellas County, detailing the reasons and the process.


3 Tips to Cut Your Water Bill and “Save” Water

One of the best ways to get folks to participate in environmentally friendly activities is to show them how to save significant money while conserving. Here are three simple things you can do to drastically cut your water and sewer charges.

First: Stop letting water just run down the drain.  We are probably all familiar with the ads to turn off the water while brushing our teeth. What if we all stopped running water whenever we aren’t actively using it for something? Start paying attention to how often you turn it on and then do something else, like stand there and wait for it to get hot. Or just let it run while rinsing dishes in the sink. Try catching the “not hot enough” water in a pitcher and saving it to pour into your filter pitcher or for cooking or for making big ice cubes.

Second: Cut down the amount of water you use in the shower. For under $5.00 you can purchase a quick shut-off value that you install between the hose and the shower head. Then get in the shower and wet down, turn off the flow with the valve and lather up, turn the water back on and rinse off. The valve will more than pay for itself the first month, even if only one person is using it!

Third: Adjust the amount of water you use in the washer according to the size of the load. But ideally, try to limit your clothes washing to full loads only. Use your dishwasher when full and not on half loads. Believe it or not, manufacturers have said that it takes less water to load dishes, then run a “rinse only” cycle after a meal than to hand-rinse  before loading the dishes. When the washer is full, run your cycle.

By using even one of these tips you can have dollar savings, but if you use all three you should significantly cut your water usage and have significant savings in your bill. 

3 Ways to do a Property Inventory

It’s that time of year when those of us in the south are very aware of the tropics. Someplace nearby seems to always be having some property damage related to weather, usually flooding from too much rain or actual damage to homes from wind or wind-driven debris. I don’t know which is more of a hassle, cleaning up the place or dealing with the insurance appraiser. One thing that makes the latter much easier is to have an up-to-date Property Inventory.

A Property Inventory is a file that has photos of each and every item in you home (that you would want to have replaced or be compensated for) along with invoices, descriptions or appraisals or each item. There are three ways to do this. But the following procedure has to be done for all of them.

Pull out two large pieces of cloth (sheets or blankets), one in a light or white color and one dark. Use these as backgrounds so that the items are isolated for the photo. Take pictures of each item or set of items. A sofa is an item (and probably doesn’t need the background) and your silverware is a set of items. If you have a collection of artwork or collectibles, photograph each of them individually, because each item will have a different value. In the case of silverware or crystal, photograph the forks and knives separately because forks have a different value than knives. Just be sure the photo shows the number of the items.

Once you have this process down, you are ready to choose your method.

Method 1. After you photograph each item or set, print out the photos and attach them to the invoice, appraisal or written description of the item. Make a file folder of these photos and documentation and put the file in a safety deposit box.

Method 2. After you photograph each item or set, upload the photo to a photo sharing website online, such as Google Photos or Flickr. Scan copies of the invoices and appraisals or descriptions and then upload them to a file you create in Google Docs or some other cloud based program. When all the docs and invoices/appraisals/ descriptions are in, link the photo of the item or set directly to the written document. This actually costs you nothing and you will be able to access the information from anywhere in the world that you have a computer.

Method 3. Subscribe to a cloud based property file. I use HomeZada for my customers. The property inventory part of the program is free and the ease of use and peace of mind is fantastic.

The program comes with simple software that you download to your computer, and apps that each adult in the household can download to their phones. You don’t need to scan anything, just take photos of the documents and upload to the items preset in the program or that you have added yourself. Everything is sorted according to rooms, closets or garage/yard areas and you put all the photos you want, along with the receipts, appraisals and descriptions in the correct place without having to create documents yourself. If you need to make any kind of insurance report, it’s as simple as uploading to your insurance company from any computer or tablet.

HomeZada has tons of other features that are available to you with the premium package, but the home inventory portion is completely free. I do not get any compensation of any kind from this company. I just happen to think it is the best closing gift for my customers so I give a year of the premium plan to each of them following the closing.

15 Things You Need to Know Before You Sell Your House

Actually, I came up with 22 things, but I’ll combine some for you. Selling a house can be a piece of cake or a bite out of a lemon, depending. On what? On these 15 things:

1. Is the title to your house clear? It most likely was when you bought it, but have there been any liens put on it since then? These have to be cleared up.

2. How much remains on your mortgage?  What remains gets subtracted from the proceeds.

3.  How much will your closing costs be? If your property is priced less than $200,000 you should figure 2.5% of the sale price, plus the amount you are paying the buyer’s Realtor. If the price is over $200,000, figure 2%.

4.  If you (or a previous owner) did repairs or upgrades to the property, did you (or they) get required permits? Did you get final inspections and a finaled permit?  If not, those will have to be taken care of before closing, and preferably before you put the house on the market.

5.  Where will you go after the sale?  It’s not a good idea to market the property before you have made definite arrangements for your future housing.

6.  Stuff! How much stuff will you take with you and what will you give away? How and when will you eliminate the rest?

7.  Do you plan to put the property on the local Realtor Association’s Multiple Listing Service? If so, how will you accomplish this and how much are you willing to pay for the service?

8. How about getting the listing featured on the other real estate listing sites? How much will you spend to market and advertise your property?

9.  What will be your process to determine your price? How will you know whether you set the correct price?

10.  State and federal laws require that you disclose any material facts that could affect the value of the property. How do you plan to do this?

11.  What is your plan to show the property? Will you be meeting total strangers and allowing them into your home? What if the buyer wants to see the property during the day? The evening? After dark?

12.  Do you know how to determine if a buyer actually has the funds or if the buyer can actually qualify for mortgage?

13. What if the buyer makes a verbal offer? What if the offer is a low ball offer?

14. Will you be comfortable knowing the buyer has professional representation (Realtor) while you are representing yourself?

15. Have you decided which title company or attorney will handle the closing?

If you have questions about any of these things, feel free to call or email me. 813-503-6145. marylou.galea@floridamoves.com

What’s Trending in Homeownership.

In past centuries, change came but it came slowly. In this 21st century change is almost a daily occurrence. We humans weren’t actually designed to have so much change, but it’s happening, so we try to adapt.

Some of the changes that actually are taking place in homeownership include the trends toward “green” living, the trend toward minimalism and the continual advancement of technology. We’ll be exploring these trends in future posts so keep an eye out for them.

“What is a short sale?”

Short Sale


If you are paying any attention at all to the real estate market these days, you keep hearing about “short sales”.  Media types speak about short sales (as they often do about other complicated subjects) as if everybody understands the term; but most people don’t, and if they don’t, it is very hard to understand why they are such a huge problem.  Read on.   

When an owner goes to sell a property that has a mortgage, that mortgage has to be paid off when the closing takes place.  The problem is, many people do not receive enough from the sale of the property to pay off the mortgage.  For example, if Jack and Jill bought a home in 2006 and paid $200,000 for it by borrowing $180,000 from YeeHaw Junction Federal, and then sold it in 2010, they are at great risk of having to sell short.         

I use descriptive names to describe the two flavors of short sales.  One is the “Unfortunate” short sale.  This is where the sale price is “short” of the amount needed to pay all the closing costs and the mortgage balance, BUT the seller has sufficient personal funds to pay the difference out of pocket.  This is referred to as “bringing money to the table”.  If you can be sure that the short sale is of the “Unfortunate” variety, you have nothing to fear, it will operate just like a normal, non-short, sale.  You should be able to close within 60 days of agreeing on a contract.        

The other flavor is the “Distress” short sale.  In this case, the seller has no possible way of making up the difference out of personal funds, so the mortgage holder has to agree to settle the mortgage for less than the amount that was actually owed.  The example we used for Jack and Jill would most probably be a “Distress” short sale. In Pinellas County, Florida, homes purchased for $200,000 in 2006 are going for around half that amount today, give or take, so the $100,000 paid by the buyer won’t come close to paying off the remainder of a $180,000 mortgage.  

(By the way, the terms “Unfortunate” and “Distress” to distinguish between types of short sales are not industry terms.  I chose them and use them to explain the type of short sale I am talking about, but if you go out and talk to your Realtor® and try to use those terms, you’ll likely have to explain them yourself!)           

Now if you are out looking for a house to buy, you have to know whether the properties you are looking for are “Distress” short sales or not.  This type of short sale, to be successful, requires that the Realtor® for the seller is either very skilled at this type of sale, or that the seller has engaged a third-party company that specializes in handling short sales.  (Be very careful that the seller doesn’t hook you into paying the fees that can be charged by the third-party processor.)  Even following both these precautions, a short sale of the “Distress” type can take anywhere from 3 to 12 months to close with most of them coming in at 3 to 6 months.  As far as a seller’s lender is concerned, if a buyer gives up midway through the process, the seller has to find a new buyer and start the process all over again.  We have seen cases where it took over 24 months to close a short sale because several buyers got bored with waiting and the process was restarted multiple times with multiple new buyers!        

Why does it take so long?  The sheer number of short sales has bogged down the financial institutions; the investigation as to whether the seller is really in a distress situation takes some time; the negotiation as to the final terms of the sale can hit a few snags; and whether or not there is a second mortgage on top of the first really complicates the whole process.  Each of these elements requires time and a huge amount of personal investment on the part of the seller’s Realtor®, even if they are using a third-party company.  Sometimes stuff just gets lost and has to be sent multiple times, contacts at the lender get sick or quit, or the management of the case by the lender requires multiple levels of supervisory involvement, each level of which can take weeks.          

If you want to buy a “Distress” short sale, you cannot be in a hurry to get into the property!  But if you can afford the time, a short sale can be a very good deal.

3 “Do Not Break” rules for decorating or landscaping

If it’s time to make some major changes in your living space, whether inside or outside the house, there are 3 basic rules that you should follow that will assure that you thoroughly enjoy the result AND do not destroy the essential value of your home.

1. Know your preferred style and stick with it.

There are 4 acknowledged fashion styles: the Classic, the Romantic, the Trendy and the Relaxed.  You probably already know what your style is, but how about your spouse or partner’s style?  If it’s different from yours, try to meld the two styles so both of you have the feel you can enjoy and be comfortable in.

2.  Whatever you decide to do, be sure it can be reversed easily if you should decide to sell the property.

Odd Update
Whose idea was this!

So you want to install a mosaic tile floor in the style of a Tuscan Villa.  It fits your fashion style and really sets the tone for the rest of the decor.  Or you set up a BMX track, complete with hills and valleys in the backyard, to give your kid a place to practice.  They each seemed like a good idea at the time, but if you want to sell the house, you will have to find a buyer who exactly matches your style. Because of that innovation and uniqueness, you will have shrunk your likely buyer pool and probably either increased the length of time to sell or decreased the final sale price.  And believe this:  it’s a lot more fun to create than it is to demolish!  Think this all the way through and see if you can find an alternative that is less trouble to undo.

3.  Don’t overimprove the property in relation to the rest of the neighborhood.

Big house, little house
Would you pay top dollar for either house?

You add an $80,000 update to a house that is currently valued at $120,000 and is located in a neighborhood of $100,000 homes.  Or you re-landscape with triple the plants, fountains and rockwork of any other property on the street.  Or you double the size of your house with a second floor addition, while all the neighbors are single story bungalows. The problem in all of these cases is that the property has been overdeveloped for the neighborhood in which they are located.  People who are willing to pay $200,000 for a home will want to be in a neighborhood of other $200,000 homes.  It will be extremely difficult, even in an appreciating market, to get your money out of these types of improvements.

What other points or tips do YOU think a homeowner should consider when planning a home or landscape renovation project?

Photo Credit for Odd Update:  George Eastman House

Photo Credit for Big House, Little House:  Daryl Mitchell

Everything you ever wanted to know about living in your Florida home! Written by Mary L Galea, LLC, a Realtor Associate of Coldwell Banker Residential Realty, LLC

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