Inspired by REI

REII was truly impressed last month when a leading outdoor retailer, REI, announced that all 140+ nationwide stores would close on Black Friday and that the company would pay their employees to go outside. The company believes that being outside makes life better and I couldn't agree more.

The nearest REI Store to us is in Boston so it is likely that a lot of rural Mainers are unfamiliar with the company or with this "Opt Outside" movement. I didn't know what REI was before moving out west. Here is a bit about my experience with REI:

My husband Mark and I met while working for REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) in Colorado in 2008. We made lifelong friends and shared countless outdoor adventures with the great people that we met while working for the company. The people that chose to work at REI are all passionate about one outdoor activity or another, they are passionate about outdoor stewardship and are committed to getting customers the gear and education they need to have a memorable and safe experience in the wilderness.

It doesn't surprise me that the company would try something as bold as locking up on the biggest shopping day of the year, but what does surprise me is the number of people that have vowed through social media to take the Opt Outside pledge instead of fighting their way through crowed stores. To date, over 1,015,000 people have committed to bundling up and hitting the great outdoors instead of stores. State Parks across the country have announced free entrance on Black Friday in response to, and partnership with, REI's movement.

Now that Mark and I are living back in Bethel, Maine, we have recreational opportunity in every direction. Inspired by REI's effort, Mark and I have committed an entire day to a long hike in West Paris around Little Concord Pond and up Bald Mountain. (Mark will spend the first couple hours of the day in his tree stand). We are fortunate to get outside for quick dog-walks or for a few miles of jogging, but as busy as we are this time of year, it's rare that we take a whole day off to go play outside.

There are countless ways to get outside this time of year. The roads are still clear of snow and ice so cycling could be an option. Sunday River Resort has reported 15 trails open and more available each day. Deer season runs through Saturday so if you are in the woods hunting, hiking or climbing, be sure to wear orange.

To add your adventure to REI's Opt Outside count, use social media to post a photo of the adventure you plan to take, or adventure that you complete, and hashtag #OptOutside. To see the count rise, check out the Opt Outside website:

Posted on August 24, 2016 at 10:15 pm
Cassie Mason | Category: Bethel, Education, Lakefront Properties, Maine, Maine Ski Areas

Five Steps Smart Sellers Take to Generate Multiple Offers

Home sales (and values) have been on a strong uptick nationwide thanks to low interest rates, freer lending standards and a drop in the foreclosure rate. Sellers everywhere are breathing a giant, collective sigh of relief! But for all of the buyer activity, it seems like most houses sit on one end of two extremes: they either get snatched up the moment they hit the market (with multiple offers and an above-asking sale price) or seem to languish on the market without an offer in sight.

All sellers aspire to be on the multiple-offer end of the spectrum. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make that happen. Here are five tips to move your listing in to the multiple offers zone.

1. Price it aggressively. Homes that get multiple offers are often sold in an "auction" atmosphere. If you think back to the last auction you saw on TV or participated in online, you'll remember this basic element of Auctions 101: the starting price is lower – sometimes quite a bit lower – than the final sale price.

In fact, it's the low list or starting price that gets people excited about the possibility of scoring a great value, whether they're bidding on an antique Chinese pug figurine on eBay or on your home. And when it comes to your home, it's that same, low-price-seeking excitement that will cause many more buyers to show up and view your home than would have come at a higher price point.

In real estate, more showings are an inescapable prerequisite to more offers.

This doesn't mean you have to give away the farm, just that sellers who get multiple offers price their properties from a retailer's or auctioneer's perspective. Work with your agent through the comparable sales data – as recent and as comparable as possible – and then do your best to list your home as a slight discount, not at a slight premium, compared to the recent neighborhood sales. That will get buyers' attention.

2. Give buyers and brokers ample access. Put yourself in your target buyer's shoes. Say there are 40 homes on the market which meet their specifications, in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, price range and location. And 25 of those top the list. But they only have time to see 8 today. If the buyer's broker can't get into your house today, because you have so many restrictions around showing it, your home could very well miss out on a showing with this qualified, motivated buyer.

It might seem overly simple, but if you want multiple offers, it behooves you to make sure your home is available to be shown today. Every day that it is on the market. Inconvenient? Yes. Frustrating? Sometimes. A challenge to keep the place clean at all times? Assuredly. But consider your priorities and what is at stake. If getting top dollar for your home is at the top of your priority list, then you have to be ready and willing to deal with the inconvenience involved in churning up multiple offers and getting your home sold.

3. Make it beautiful. Really, really beautiful. The homes that get multiple offers are those with look, feel and function that can be described in one word: covetable. You're not trying to create a situation in which your home barely edges out the listing down the street in the hearts and minds of your target buyer. If you want multiple offers, you need multiple buyers to fall deeply in love with your home – enough to bid above the listing price, and enough to compete with others for it.

To generate multiple offers, prepare your home by ensuring it is:
immaculately cleaned from the inside out – closets, basements, garages and crawl spaces included
decluttered and staged to the nines – this includes fresh paint, carpet and other things that need replacing
in perfect working order – make sure things like doors, windows and systems buyers test (e.g., stoves, faucets, heating and air conditioning) are not creaky, wonky, leaky or otherwise dysfunctional.

If you've done any major home improvements or replaced any appliances or systems lately, market that! Show off how immaculate, adorable and move-in ready your home is now – and tout it's great working condition for the long run.

4. Expose it to the market. An offer the very first day your home goes on the market may sound like a dream come true. But it might also incur opportunity costs. See, many buyers can't get out to see homes that quickly – some are unable to house hunt except on the weekends. Listing agents who get multiple offers often plan from the start to expose the home to the market long enough for target buyers to see it and get their offers on the table.

Some agents expressly include open house and offer review dates in the timeline of the listing. It's not uncommon to see a listing come on the market with a calendar of 1-2 Open Houses and an offer date sometime early in the week following the second one. Ask your agent to brief you on the standard practices for market exposure in your local area.

Setting – and publishing – a timeline for market exposure and offers lets buyers know that they will be able to get to the property and get their offers considered, while still creating a sense of urgency.

5. Be ready to course correct. Is your home one of the houses that has been sitting on the market for months without any action? Do not fret – there might still be hope. In real estate, there's something insiders call the Sweet Spot Phenomenon, where an overpriced home sits on the market for months with no bites, sometimes even through multiple price reductions. Finally, the seller lowers the price to the 'sweet spot,' and it generates multiple offers and sells for more than the final list price.

Yes – there are listings whose sellers net more than they expected because they were willing to revise the list price downward in response to market feedback (i.e., no showings, no offers or lowball offers).

If your home has been lagging on the market, talk with your listing agent about what sort of price reduction strategy is likely to maximize your net sale price. Hint: many more buyers are attracted by chunky reductions or reductions below a common online search price point limit than by tiny, incremental reductions.
For example, you might draw more buyers, and ultimately more money, with a price reduction from $499,000 to $474,000 than with a series of small reductions from $499,000 to $479,000, because there is a set of buyers who may be cutting their search off at $475,000 – so a price cut below that point will expose your home to a whole new group of prospects.

Posted on August 24, 2016 at 9:59 pm
Cassie Mason | Category: Cumberland County, Education, Financing, Maine, Maine Real Estate, Real Estate, Uncategorized

What is “Upta Camp”?

Upta campThis time of year when the humidity level averages 90% for a week at a time, the hazy visibility sinks below 6 miles, and temperatures remain at a swampy 88 degrees, it is confusing to us Mainers as to why people come flocking to the inland, rural, part of our state. Sure, the cold Atlantic ocean – our picturesque Eastern Seaboard- with its scenic shoreline, lobster rolls and seagulls must be desirable any time of the year. It is no mystery as to why the entire length of Route 1 North, from York to Bangor, is backed up with bumper to bumper traffic- out of staters escaping their cities for the relief of the cooler coastal country. But those that dare to turn west and venture inland year after year, willing to face the heat, the bugs, the potholed country roads and the lack of plumbing, must be drawn by one destination and one destination only: Upta Camp.

The existence of Upta Camp dates back as far I've ever been told. Grampa tells stories of his own father's time upta camp so that must mean it's been a destination since at least the early 1900's. If you aren't part of a family that frequents their own getaway, there may be some confusion as to what truly defines an upta camp. Let me help you understand:

Upta camp is most definitely a seasonal dwelling, year round homes do not count- these classy establishments are called "cottages" or "cabins". Upta camp is not insulated- it is likely sided with logs, plywood, metal or screens. It is not heated, though it may have an old woodstove rigged up for use to extend through the summer season or during hunting season. If the dwelling can be occupied comfortably through the winter, and through the end of snowmobile season, it is likely a "cabin".

Upta camp is located in what seems to be an inconvenient place (don't worry – you will come to love it). Dirt roads have been washed out from the 8-10' of snow that melted and carried away the road's surface last month. The utilities end about three houses into the road where the year round residents live in their cabins. Beyond these cabins, the road narrows to a single lane and climbs steeply while the trees thicken and hoof prints appear (these are not horses).

Once your reach upta camp you'll know you are there because it's just as you left it. The outhouse door is propped open with a piece of firewood. While your intention was to air out the family's only composting toilet room, you may discover you have given free and easy accommodation to a variety of woodland creatures. You'll want to discourage their occupancy immediately. There will be a variety of objects left on the lawn from last year. (I use "lawn" loosely as it's really just a cleared area where a few trees have been downed and their stumps remain- really it's a dooryard. Google that one). The empty LaBatts Blue Ribbon boxes are soggy and leaning against the camp off to one side. There is likely a pink flamingo- this yard décor is important as it helps us Mainers to trick ourselves into thinking we are someplace exotic.

Your upta camp may be specific enough to fall into a subcategory (e.g "sled", "deer", "lake" are all common prefixes which replace "upta"). For example, my family proudly owns "duck camp". It is where the men in our family have been going, and will continue to go, for generations in order to most effectively hunt ducks. We do live in Maine year round, and we are located in a geographic area with plenty of wetland and waterfowl habitats. Duck Camp is located about 3 hours away (justa 'bout due North), and is true to the "upta camp" definition. It features an outhouse (no plumbing), a reclaimed woodstove, plywood siding, bunk beds, a bumpy dirt road, mosquitos, oil lamps (no electricity),a dooryard, and remnants of cases of beer. I personally feel satisfaction from visiting once annually, just to see with my own eyes that it is still standing and to experience a weekend in the tradition of being upta camp. The men of the family, however, feel the need to visit duck camp as frequently as possible throughout duck season. Whatever the draw of these questionable features and the experience one has at the property, it is no doubt that duck camp will thrive as a family destination for generations to come.

The initial investment in an upta camp varies based on the existence of infrastructure, size of the lot and quality of harvestable timber on that lot. Fortunately our experience with and appreciation for upta camp, makes us area specialists when it comes to purchasing your first one. If you or someone you know is looking for an upta camp, contact Mason Bancroft today.

Our landline telephone number is 207-824-1033.

Posted on August 24, 2016 at 9:55 pm
Cassie Mason | Category: Bethel, Education, Maine, Maine Real Estate

Five Secret Sources of Down Payment Money

Whether you are planning to put down a full 20 percent or pulling together the cash for a 3.5 percent down payment for an FHA loan, your down payment might be the biggest single cash expenditure you ever make. Some scrimp and save for years, while others can ready the cash with less difficulty, but no buyer in the history of home buying has ever said they have too much down payment money.

Here's an insider secret: many buyers have a treasure trove of down payment resources at their disposal, hidden in plain sight. Here's a map to this hidden treasure – a handful of frequently-overlooked sources of down payment funds.

1. Your budget's biggest line items. Home buying is one of those push-meet-shove-type situations. If you're serious about coming up with your down payment funds, sit down and backtrack over your monthly budget or your last month's checking account statements. Isolate your top 10 budgetary line items and do an internal gut check on whether there is anything on this list that you can slash or eliminate.

If you spend $5 a workday on a bagel and coffee at breakfast and another $15 on your takeout lunch, that's $400 per month – almost $5000 a year! – you can save by simply bringing these things from home (not to mention the health and other benefits you'll gain). And those numbers are not inflated, if you work in a big city. Nor is the $100/month cable bill, the $20 yoga class, the $2,000 vacation or the premium pricing you might paying for cell service.

Redirecting the dollars you would normally spend for some of these big-ticket items back into your down payment savings account is like pressing fast forward on your home buying timeline.

2. Your stuff. When you need to save money, there are really only two levers you can pull: you can spend less, or you can make more. Selling stuff you already own and don't actually use is a relatively painless way to make more money to go toward your down payment. If you're really serious about home buying, put everything on the table.

Things buyers-to-be often sell (usually online) include:

  • RVs, cars and motorcycles
  • designer clothes, costumes, shoes and handbags
  • underutilized hobby-related gear (bikes, boats and snowboards)
  • furniture and antiques
  • electronics, books and CDs (think: TVs, computers, old smart phones, etc.).

Don't underestimate the amount of cash you can bring in from the things you already own. With the proliferation of peer-to-peer sharing sites popping up across the inte

3. Your skills and time. One way to make more money is to sell off the stuff you have lying around the other is to get to work! Spend your off-time, your evenings and weekends leveraging your professional skills or personal hobbies to bring in some extra cash.

Once you get serious about coming up with your down payment cash and decide to be creative about where to find that money, using your skills and your time creatively is a power-packed way to open the financial floodgates.

Consider starting out with a simple email to your circle of acquaintances outlining your skills and what kind of work you'd like to pick up. You can also list your potential services on a site like TaskRabbit. If you are crafty you might let your new felting hobby stock the virtual shelves of your shop on Etsy. Even if you aren't "creative" think creatively about what you might do to earn a little extra cash. One acquaintance of mine has earned thousands of dollars dog sitting while she works at home. You'll be surprised by how much you can earn hawking wares on the side or with small business projects, like research, bookkeeping or office organizing projects.

4. Your Parents, Family and Friends. Many home buyers get by with a little help from their friends (and relatives). Most mortgage programs will allow for some portion of your down payment to come in the form of 'gift money,' which is exactly what it sounds like: money someone gives you to help you buy a home.

The best case scenario is to have some idea of what sort of gift money you can count on as far in advance as possible, as it will impact your own savings targets and your lender's documentation requirements. If you have a parent, sibling or auntie who has mentioned their interest in giving you this sort of gift it is important to bring the subject up, express your gratitude and let them know that you're planning to buy soon. You'll want to have a detailed conversation about logistics and go over everything from timelines to tax obligations.

Check in with your mortgage pro about how much of your down payment needs you can satisfy with gift money – guidelines varies widely based on how much of your own cash you have to put down and what loan programs you're applying for. Lenders almost always require that gift money be contributed along with a gift letter that states that the giver is a relative and that the money is a gift, not a loan. The lender may also require to see a bank account statement from the giver showing that the money was theirs to give – just to be sure they didn't go out and get some sort of loan that they expect you to help them repay.

5. Your Assets. Some retirement accounts allow you to borrow against or pull out funds, penalty-free, to apply them toward your down payment on a home. Obviously your specific circumstances will determine if it is advisable for you to tap into your 401K or IRA and plug that cash into a house. For some buyers, it may make sense to get your down payment up to 20% by borrowing a few thousand dollars from yourself!

If getting your down payment to the 20 percent mark by borrowing from your 401K gets your mortgage interest rate down and allows you to repay that cash to your own retirement account (vs. to your mortgage lender) with interest, you and your financial advisor might agree that this move is the right move for you. Or not – this is a highly personal decision that must be made strategically, but some homebuyers should at least explore whether their retirement accounts are a sensible source of some portion of their down payment funds.

Posted on August 24, 2016 at 9:35 pm
Cassie Mason | Category: Buyer News, Education, Financing, Maine, Mortgages