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Fall Real Estate Guide — The Altamont Enterprise, September 27, 2007

Building a nest egg and buying a first house

By Jo E. Prout

Local real-estate professionals can give the low-down on low prices and low rates to first-time home-buyers set to plunge into the housing market.

Real estate and banking professionals both told The Enterprise the same thing: First-time homebuyers should find out what they can afford before they look at homes.

"I work with first-time buyers all the time," said Altamont real estate agent Kevin Clancy. "The very first step is to get your ducks in a row."

Clancy often sends his clients to mortgage broker Darcy Rockwell, of Emortgage, LLC in Latham Circle Mall. In free monthly seminars, Rockwell encourages prospective buyers to check their own credit histories, to clear up any mistakes that might be on them, and to see the information about themselves that lenders will see.

Berkshire Bank Senior Loan Officer Dave Pentak agreed.

"Be prepared. Have W-2 forms and bank statements, and pull credit reports," Pentak said. "Before they apply, they really need to talk to" local lenders, local banks about pricing options. Shop it around."

New Scotland realtor Janna Shillinglaw, of Team Shillinglaw with the Miranda Real Estate Group, said that more than half of her clients are first-time buyers.

"I’ll invite my first-time home buyers to come for a meeting about one to two hours long," she said. At that meeting, Shillinglaw gives the prospective buyers an information packet. She said that buyers should sit down with an experienced Realtor and go over financial planning.

Falling mortgage rates have caused stricter criteria for borrowers, she said. "Three- to 10-percent down on a home can be daunting," she said. She shows buyers how they can work for their goals and save for their first home.

Some of her prospective clients find, especially in the changed market of the last six weeks, that they do not have enough money saved or that they do not have qualified credit.

First-time buyers in New Scotland are looking at homes that cost between $90,000 and $350,000, Shillinglaw said. They average between $150,000 and $250,000, she said.

Clancy said that looking with a professional at how much a buyer can afford is crucial. In Guilderland, he said, first-time buyers pay between $150,000 and $200,000 and do not get much for their money.

"They always have sticker shock," Clancy said.

For those who can be pre-qualified, Shillinglaw recommends lenders and also suggests that the buyers ask friends and family for recommendations of lenders.

"You really want somebody who is there, and who is honest," she said.

Clancy said that first-time buyers should interview two or three Realtors to find one with knowledge of the area and school districts and with whom they work well.

"It can be a six-month or a 12-month process," Clancy said.

"It’s important to interview a couple of Realtors just as they would if they were putting it on the market," Shillinglaw agreed. "There are going to be a lot of questions. They should never feel that they’re bothering them.

"I don’t recommend that they buy their home from the listing agent — the person who represents the seller. They have the right and the need for a buyer’s agent," Shillinglaw said.

"They need to consider the property tax burden"to affect how much house they can afford," Clancy said.

Shillinglaw said that buyers should create a budget to determine what they can spend and what they are willing to spend.

"I try to help my clients stay in their budget. What if you need a hot water tank, or a [if you] have a leaky roof" Without back-up funds, that can be scary," she said.

Some lenders will look only at income and tell buyers what they can afford, Shillinglaw said. "They don’t ask if you go on weekend trips, have an expensive hobby, or what you spend on automobiles," she said. If a bank tells a buyer he or she can spend $250,000, Shillinglaw estimates that buyers can really afford about $200,000, allowing $1,700 a month for principal and property taxes, she said.

She suggested that buyers use local and accountable lenders.

"They are concerned with having a relationship with you beyond buying a house. You want a lender who will look down the road five years ahead who can help refinance," she said.

Rockwell said that on-line searches for mortgages, though not recommended by Clancy or Shillinglaw, are "just how things are today." She went on, "It’s also nice to sit down and do a face-to-face. We generally like to meet our clients and know what their whole financial picture is and what they’re hoping to accomplish," Rockwell said. "We like to see ‘Can they afford to live"’ "

Rockwell said that a total financial picture can include how soon the buyers want to retire. Having no money left after a mortgage payment to put away for retirement "is going to make things very difficult for them," she said. "Buying a house is also an investment."

Shillinglaw said that 100-percent financing is difficult to get in the current market, but that first-time buyers who cannot obtain conventional loans can use State of New York Mortgage Agency loans, approved by the State, or Federal Housing Association loans.

Pentak said that SONYMA loans take 90 days or more to close.

"We do have a first-time buyers program," Pentak said. Berkshire Bank offers 100-percent financing with no money down and a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage. Rates are locked at 6.25 percent for five years of a 30-year mortgage, and then can fluctuate up or down by only 2 percent beyond the fifth year, Pentak said. Private mortgage insurance is built into the payments, rather than tacked onto the mortgage payment, he said.

"That’s a very good program we’re offering," he said. "It allows them to get a house." First-time buyers usually stay in a home for five to seven years, he said. "They’re not going to be in the house that long," Pentak said. Sellers can also give up to a 6-percent concession, which can help buyers with closing costs, he said.

"Is it for everyone" No. You can always refinance it, too. Everybody’s different. I’d ask what your goals are," Pentak said.

Clancy recommends Pentak and Berkshire Bank to some of his clients, rather than sending them to search Internet mortgages.

"Local guys always beat that, in my experience," Clancy said. "A lot of [the Internet-based loans] have teaser rates. Working face-to-face is best."

Pentak said that some mortgage consultants are honest, and that others are "a little shady." He went on, "Buyer beware. Mortgages are a commodity. I’m always there for the person. It’s a process. Don’t let it get too taxing, too stressful. We’re here to make it less stressful."

Leaving the empty nest for less stress, more amenitites

By Jarrett Carroll

Senior housing isn’t just for old people anymore.

As the baby boomer generation continues to retire from the workforce in New York, many people are beginning to look to a future that includes a smaller home and a more manageable lifestyle.

The demand for senior housing has been steadily rising in the Capital District, according to local real-estate agents and developers. Both community-living centers and smaller individual homes are being sought by people aged 55 and older.

"People don’t want to leave where they live; they just want less maintenance," said Troy Miller, a local developer. "There’s no doubt about it that there’s a need for it"Right now, I’m focused on the areas within 10 or 15 miles of here."

Miller, who is the broker for CM Fox Real Estate in Altamont, said the average age of people who come to him looking for senior housing is around 75. He said there is also a "staggering" number of people over the age of 62 looking for new housing.

Miller specializes in small complexes that nestle into existing communities while another area developer, Jeff Thomas, has several large senior housing projects in the works that will create their own new communities.

"I think there’s a great need for it," Thomas said this week. "Seniors don’t want to be shipped off to Washington Avenue Extension," he said, referring to the site of several large senior-housing complexes.

"They want to stay in the areas that they love," Thomas said.

Thomas is working on three separate, large-scale senior developments in Guilderland, Berne, and just outside of Altamont.

The projects being built by Miller and Thomas are for able-bodied seniors and do not include services like meal preparation or nursing.

According to Lauren Hatch Meacham, a Voorheesville based real-estate agent, there appear to be two distinct age groups looking for senior housing.

"We have a lot of people in Voorheesville looking into ‘downsizing,’" Meacham said. "Surprisingly, they are younger and younger people"It seems to be two different categories"People 50 years old are now looking, when before they were 65 and 70."

Meacham said that the younger retirees are not as interested in "community living" as they are in smaller, individual homes with less maintenance and more amenities.

"Fifty-year-olds don’t want condominiums, but they are old enough to want first-floor living," said Meacham.

The "upper $200,000" range is typical for senior housing in Voorheesville and New Scotland, Meacham said. Although many people are selling their current homes to move into smaller units, they are not downgrading, said Meacham, because many of the smaller dwellings have more amenities.

People are either pocketing the difference to use for retirement, she said, or putting the money into more comfortable living in the smaller homes.

"They want a nice house; they are looking to the future," said Meacham.

However, Meacham added, some of the larger houses being left behind by seniors are staying on the market a little longer.

"They are staying on the market because there are more of the larger homes on the market than before"and there are more choices, so it’s taking longer," she concluded. "In New Scotland, there are 50 homes on the market right now."

Meacham said that the Capital District is bucking a national housing trend. She contends that, even though there is a lag in sales nationally, locally the housing market is still doing well.

"It’s been a steady growth," Meacham said of senior-housing sales.

Miller agrees.

"The amount of people coming of age is staggering," he said. "I try to focus on the small towns where there is no land to build the larger senior housing projects."

Miller cited his project in the village of Altamont, called Creekside, as an example. It contains eight units and is located right in the center of the village. He has a similar development under construction in Voorheesville, and another one in the planning stages.

His projects are relatively small compared to Thomas’s plans to convert the former Bavarian Chalet on Route 20 into a 13-acre, 86-unit senior-housing development.

The Route 20 project is called Mill Hollow and he also has a 72-unit development underway on Brandle Road called Brandle Meadows.

"I have seniors on a waiting list for Brandle Meadows"It’s the first of its kind in the area," Thomas said. "The projects are specifically designed for the seniors,"

Thomas said focus groups of between 40 and 60 seniors provided architects with input into the designs of the housing projects.

Thomas also has plans for a 48-unit senior development in the town of Berne. He said it is still in the preliminary planning phase, but he has included a possible "Phase II" which would add an additional 48 units to the site.

His Brandle Meadows and Mill Hollow plans include amenities like walking trails, community and flower gardens, as well as pools and workout rooms and possibly a putting green.

Miller said that local government has recognized the housing need, too, and is helping developers.

"The municipalities are helping us to get it done," he said.

For Thomas’s Mill Hollow project, he applied for a multiple residence re-zone from the Guilderland Town Board, and has variance and special-use applications filed with the town’s zoning board.

As part of the negotiations with the town board for the re-zone, Thomas offered the town a 4,000-square-foot senior community center that will be available to the public year-round. The community center was presented as part of his development’s site plan for 5060 Western Turnpike.

Thomas’s projects are open to anyone over the age of 55 and cater to "independently living seniors."

"They are not just apartments tucked away into some small area," Thomas said. "They really are beautiful."

Miller and Thomas both say the senior housing projects will continue to be popular.

"I think communities like Altamont and Guilderland will be desirable for a long time," said Miller.

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