Sunday, July 31, 2011

I'm in Baldwinsville waiting for the Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats are a band, I haven't started a new career as a goat herder.  They are opening up for Bright Eyes at the Papermill Island Ampatheater.  Theres a couple of other bands before the bands I want to see so i'm just going to stay in my hotel room for a while.  We are at the Red Mill Inn which is right by the venue.  The photo is the view out my window.  I was hoping i'd be able to hear it from my room but all we can hear is rushing water.

Friday, July 29, 2011


"Can I get a good deal by buying a HUD home?" Here is how the process works, you will have to decide for yourself. This is information you should have before jumping into the world of HUD Foreclosures.

In Onondaga County, the vast majority of HUD foreclosures are in the City of Syracuse.

It seems like a lot of them are on the internet as a "for sale" property long after they have been sold. I've been contacted several times by people interested in a HUD home that were sold months ago.

These are usually not in live in condition - there are repairs that have to be made. There is a sheet called a PCR (property condition report) for each house, which briefly outlines the condition.

Many HUD homes in Syracuse have had frozen pipes. The water is shut off, and if the PCR says there’s plumbing problems you are not allowed to turn the water on for an inspection. So you really have no way of knowing the extent of the damage.

You are allowed to turn the power and gas on for a home inspection, but you will probably have to give a deposit to the management company.

You put in a bid through a HUD certified broker. This is entirely online. Then, like a regular offer, they can accept, reject or counter offer.

If they counter, you have one day to get your bid in again. If your bid is rejected, you can bid again.

After a bid is accepted, your agent has 48 hours to get the contract to HUD. They are very picky on the paperwork, and there is a lot of it. Paperwork must be filled out in blue pen with no mistakes. There has to be an original letter from the lender signed in blue ink. If it is cash you just need proof of funds. A certified check or money order must be sent in with the contract. If it’s under 50k, check is for 500. Over 50k, check is for 1000. The contract is usually sent by overnight mail.

You don’t send the contract to HUD, it is sent to one of their many management companies. The various management companies may have slightly different policies.

This is the point where it differs according to the various classifications of houses.

There are three types: Uninsured (U), Insured with Repair Escrow (IE), and Insured (I). IE is the most common type that I see here in Onondaga County. I haven’t been keeping records of it, but right now we have 10 houses on the HUD list, and 8 of them are IE and 2 are UI. There are no insured houses right now and I can’t recall seeing one.

It’s hard to find out this information on their site. It would be nice if they would just say on the listing exactly what the classifications mean.

Uninsured is in very poor shape. This is pretty much for cash buyers. Uninsured buyers do not have a chance to get out of the contract due to a home inspection, though they can have one if they want.

Insured with Repair Escrow is much more complected. If you are getting a loan, it is a 203b with repair escrow. The repair escrow is an amount of money that the buyer must deposit into an escrow account with their lender. Some lenders require 1.5 times the amount of the repair escrow. Then you have to complete certain work within a certain time period, and they will give you the money back from the repair escrow. You must turn in bills from a contractor.

You can also get a 203K loan, which is a more common type of loan. They loan you the money for the purchase and the repairs. They have a list of what repairs will be done, and you will have to get each stage of the project approved before they will give you more money.

For this type of property, if you are an owner occupant you have a 15 day window from when the contract was signed to get a home inspection done. You can get out of the contract if the home inspection finds serious problems in the roof, mechanical, plumbing or foundation. However, the water is not allowed to be turned on if there are plumbing problems so usually you wouldn’t be able to use that.

If you are an owner occupant with a loan, you may be able to use not being approved for your loan as a reason to get out of the contract with your deposit back.

You are allowed to have a mold inspection, but cannot use the presence of mold as a reason for getting your earnest money back.

Here is a list from one management company - there may be slight differences in other management companies policies.

Investor Purchasers:
Uninsured Sales: 100% of the deposit will be forfeited to HUD for failure to close regardless of the
Insured Sales: 50% of the deposit will be forfeited to HUD for failure to close if the purchaser is
determined by HUD to be an unacceptable buyer.
100% of the deposit will be forfeited to HUD if the sale fails to close for any other reason.
Owner-Occupant Purchasers
Return 100% of the deposit when:
• There has been a death in the immediate family (purchaser, spouse or children living in the same
• There has been a recent serious illness in the immediate family that has resulted in significant
medical expenses or substantial loss of income, thus adversely, affecting the purchaser's
financial ability to close the sale.
• There has been a loss of job by one of the primary breadwinners, or a substantial loss of income
through no fault of the purchaser.
• For an FHA insured sale, HUD (or a D.E. underwriter) determines that the purchaser is not an
acceptable borrower.
• For an uninsured sale, the purchaser was pre-approved for mortgage financing in an appropriate
amount by a recognized lender and, despite good faith efforts, is unable to obtain mortgage
financing. "Pre-approved" means a commitment has been obtained from a recognized mortgage
lender for mortgage financing in a specified dollar amount sufficient to purchase the property.
• There is other equally good cause, as determined by management company, in keeping with the spirit and intent of the above policy.
Return 50% of the deposit when:
For an uninsured sale, despite good faith efforts by the purchaser, there is an inability to obtain a
mortgage loan from a recognized mortgage lender.
Forfeit 100% of the deposit when:
• No documentation is submitted.
• Documentation fails to provide an acceptable cause for the buyer's failure to close.
• Documentation is not provided within a reasonable time following contract cancellation.

I have never seen or dealt with an Insured property, so I’m not going to write about them.

I think that HUD homes are probably best for people who are experienced rehabbers and able to take a gamble with the condition of the house. It’s really not a good choice for someone looking to buy their first home, especially if they have no experience in home repair or plumbing.

If you are an experienced contractor who is used to rehabbing properties, you may be able to get a great deal on a house.

If you are looking to buy a house and want to get a good deal on one but have it be in better condition, contact me. There are bank foreclosures, short sales, and other deals to be had out there which are a lot easier to deal with and carry much less risk.

Call Melissa at 315-908-2287 or email

Monday, July 25, 2011

BEWARE Craigslist Rental Scam

I got a call about my rental house on Tipp Hill! I don't have a rental house on Tipp Hill right now. I have one for sale... But the woman insisted she had seen it on Craigslist. So I looked, and sure enough, this house:
Except they had taken the photos and information from the craigslist ad I wrote and used their own email. The woman who wanted to rent it googled the address and came up with my listings for it.

This is not even the first time that this has happened to me. It's a really common scam. When you email about these ads it's always someone who just had to leave the country. Many times they say they are missionaries who just got sent to Africa and they didn't have time to rent the house before they left. They need you to wire money to them and they will send you the keys.

You should never wire money for a rental or anything else over Craigslist.

Since this happened I've been reading a lot about rental scams. There are a lot of them. There's many cases people wired money for a house that is still occupied. They arrive in town and are shocked to find they spent money for rent and deposit on a house that is not even available. Sometimes people break into a vacant house, show it, and get deposits from a bunch of people. Or they may even be renting a house and then rent it to several different people.

You should either rent from a licensed agent or the actual owner. Ask to see identification from them before signing the lease. Agents in NY State have a photo ID card that shows they are an agent. If you are renting from an individual, look up the tax records online and make sure the names match.

And for any suspicious rental ads, google the address. If it comes up listed for sale or rent with an agent, give them a call. I'm glad this woman called me instead of sending the money to criminals.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thai Flavor on Erie

This is Thai Flavor on Erie Boulevard. There used to be another Thai place here, but it closed and this one opened up. This one is much better. It reminds me of the ones I used to eat at when I lived in California and Toronto.
They have done a nice job on the interior. Sorry for the terrible camera phone photos!
On our last visit, we had a curry and a salad. I can't find these items on their online menu, I think we ordered from their special items menu which is not online. The curry was amazing.
My husband and I have eaten here three times and we have been happy. The people here are friendly and the service was attentive. We plan on coming back frequently.

Actually I'd eat here a couple of times a week if I had more money and wasn't on a weight loss/fitness plan. Luckily my plan allows me a free day once a week so I can eat out!

Thai Flavor of Syracuse website and menu

Location: 2863 1/2 Erie Blvd East
Syracuse, New York 13224

Tel : 315-251-1366

Hours: Mon 11:00-3:00 and 5:00-10:00
Tue Closed
Wed 11:00-3:00 and 5:00-10:00
Thur 11:00-3:00 and 5:00-10:00
Fri 11:00-3:00 and 5:00-10:00
Sat 11:00-3:00 and 5:00-10:00
Sun 11:00-3:00 and 5:00-10:00

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smorals: Comfort food and good service = relaxing night out

Smoral's is a restaurant that seems like it is in the 1950s. I mean this in a very good way. It has an old fashioned air about it. I just love it.

It's not like one of those fake 50s diners where they have waitresses in poodle skirts and jukeboxes, but more the quality of a family restaurant where people go to eat tried and true good food. It's fancy enough for a nice dinner out but not so formal that you can't bring your kids or that you have to dress up.

The food is kind of typical old style family restaurant/steakhouse - steaks, shrimp cocktails, seafood platter, some pasta and chicken dishes. That's why it reminds me of the 50s - there's really no fusion food or innovative new tastes. It strikes me as something that would have been cutting edge in the 50s. I can imagine someone saying "I went out on a date last night and he took me to a restaurant with crab stuffed mushrooms and I had a lettuce wedge salad!" but now we have become more sophisticated with our celebrity chefs and gourmet cooking shows. Smoral's harkens back to a simpler time, and I like that.

The food is well prepared. Steaks are tender and you don't need steak sauce. Clam chowder (Friday only) has big clams.

Pies are the desert specialty here. They are made on the premises and the crusts are perfect - nice and buttery. Pie selection varies by what they have on hand, and sometimes they run out. If there is a particular type of pie you want, order it when you order dinner so no one else gets it!

There is also a bar, with a bar menu of appetizers and light meals.

The wait staff is friendly and competent. I've only had good service and good meals here.

This is what we had last time we were here: fried seafood platter and chicken Avery. The chicken dish is in a wine cream sauce with mushrooms - my husband loved it. I actually think the broiled seafood platter is better than the fried one, but this night I was in the mood for fish and chips!

These are the salads that come with dinner.

So if you are looking for comfort food in an old fashioned place with good service, head over to Smorals.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cinema North

Cinema North, originally uploaded by Melsky.

This is an abandoned movie theater in Mattydale - very cool looking but sad it has been abandoned. It's way off in the corner of the lot behind Kmart.

Tiger Lilies - easy to grow in Syracuse

These are Tiger Lilies - they grow almost like a weed here! Right now they are in season and all over.

These are in my yard. I'm not showing you a photo of the whole yard as I've sadly neglected it and it looks like a jungle! I truly meant to do a lot of gardening this year but I have been so busy with real estate, art, and working with Spay and Neuter Syracuse that the whole gardening thing just dropped out.

Oh well, I have someone coming to help me clear away a lot of the overgrowth and I'll make sure to find time to plant bulbs this fall.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Buying a House in the Syracuse Area - the Short Version

The first step is talking to a mortgage agent. They will be able to tell you how much house you can afford and what type of loan you qualify for. There's no point looking at homes that you are not going to be able to buy. I can send you a list of loan agents if you do not already have one.

Next, you need to decide what features are important to you in a home and what areas you want to look in.

I will send you listings of homes that fit your criteria. These will automatically be delivered to you every day. When there is one you are interested in, I can send you more information and we can make an appointment to see it.

When you find a house you like, it's time to write an offer. We will sit down and decide how much to offer and what other conditions

In New York State, most offers will have some contingencies. That means there are conditions that must be met or you can cancel the contract.

The first one is that both parties lawyers must approve the contract. In New York, the buyer and seller each have their own attorney. Usually it's just a formality to approve the contract, but sometimes the lawyer doesn't like some of the conditions. The sellers can also use this to back out of the contract if they have another offer.

The next contingency is usually the home inspection. As soon as the contract is approved by both parties lawyers an inspection is scheduled. After the inspection you can ask the owner to make repairs or to credit money for repairs. They do not have to make the repairs and the contract can be cancelled.

The most common other contingency is sale of the buyer's current house.

After the contingencies are closed, the next step is for the Mortgage Commitment Letter. That is the real approval for the mortgage, where all the conditions have been met. Then the closing is scheduled.

Be aware that the mortgage call still be denied any time up until closing. So don't make any large credit purchases or open new accounts, and especially do not buy a car!

A day or two before the closing a final walkthrough is done, where the buyers and their agent make sure the house is in the same condition promised in the contract.

The closing is usually scheduled in one of the attorney's offices. Get ready to sign paper after paper!

At the end of this marathon signing session, you get the keys and you are a home owner.