Monday, September 22, 2008

Preservation of Equity by Home Inspection

Selling or buying a home may be one of the most stressful events a person faces in his or her lifetime and in this challenging current marketplace real estate agents are working more closely than ever with home sellers to sell homes as quickly and for as high a value as possible. As a result, many real estate agents are now advising sellers to schedule a home inspection prior to putting their home on the market.

By utilizing a prelisting inspection, which is a home inspection that is paid for by the seller before a house is put on the market , sellers not only reduce the possibility of last-minute surprises during negotiations, but also give themselves a marketing edge by providing educated buyers with upfront information on the condition of the home. Rather than await the results of the inspection which, is more often than not a contract contingency, the proactive seller can effectively disarm the potential for over inflated contract price negotiations.

It is far less expensive for a home seller to fix a problem than to allow it to become a tool in negotiating a lesser sale price for their home. A conservative estimate states for every dollar of identified repairs, the buyer would be looking at double, or sometimes triple, that amount in a price reduction. A wise home seller who, for example, learns from their home inspection that portions of the roof need repair, may opt to repair that section immediately rather than having the problem become a price-negotiating tool. Paying $5,000 for the repair is far more enticing than losing $10,000 in the sale.

Being aware of the home’s potential problem areas before putting the house on the market creates a conducive and trusting environment between the seller and the buyer. A prelisting inspection reduces the stress that might be involved in a transaction if major repair issue were to be discovered during the time the house is in escrow.

If, for example, three weeks before a house was to close the water heater or furnace failed, the seller would need to rush to schedule a repair which might potentially cost thousands of dollars. If these issues had been discovered in a pre-sale inspection, the seller would have avoided the stress and unforeseen expenditure of having to address these needs with such short notice.

With the growing number of housing inventory and the resulting increased leverage afforded the buyer, many real estate agents are encouraging home sellers to conduct a prelisting inspection in order to reduce the chance of a deal quickly falling into jeopardy or being lost altogether because of last-minute surprises.

The prelisting inspection tells the seller exactly what needs to be addressed and assists them with prioritizing the repairs. The seller can determine what they want to fix and can create a budget for repairs or they can choose to make allowances to the buyer for any major repairs uncovered by the inspection process . Once the inspection is completed the house is ready to sell with no hidden problem areas waiting to surprise the realtor, the seller and the buyer.

Even a newer home with marble counter tops and hardwood floors may have problem spots. Buyers who are looking to make a big investment will appreciate the added touch of a prelisting inspection that is included in the home’s marketing materials. This valuable information proves that the seller has all the information laid out for the buyer which shows good faith and disclosure and will undoubtedly help to make the sales transaction process smooth and seamless.

While much of the increase in prelisting inspections has been driven by real estate practitioners who have witnessed just how quickly and easily they can sell a home with such information readily available for buyers to view, the latest trend is for the sellers to initiate the inspection in the spirit of protecting their interests. Being able to present these reports reinforces the fact that the seller has nothing to hide and is beneficial to preservation of equity.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Pet Photography and the Rennaisance Woman

It has often been said that necessity is the mother of invention
and such was the case with Renny Mills’ foray into the world of pet photography.

Renny was formally educated at the Ohio Institute of Photography and relocated to Chicago in 1984 to begin her professional career. She honed her craft over the next decade free-lancing for one of the city’s largest catalog studios in the demanding industry of table top photography while moonlighting as a wedding photographer on the weekends.

The combination of these two diverse disciplines began to shape her approach to creative photography and as a result her work reflected a photo journalistic flavor. It was evident that Renny exuded a calming influence, which allowed her subjects to feel at ease and is an attribute vital to capturing a natural and candid image.

Her evenings were spent in the stillness of the darkroom where she further perfected the technical elements and artistry of hand rendering and it was where, on one such evening , that she received a call that would set the stage for a new path that to this day is still unfurling.

A neighbor was dog sitting and called with a unique gift idea for her brother who was traveling with his family. Her thought was to photograph their dog “Audrey”, an elderly Cocker Spaniel whose health was failing, and surprise her family with a series of portrait photography as a keepsake reminder of their beloved pet.

Utilizing the lighting skills she perfected in the catalog industry and with the allure of an exciting new challenge, Renny re-tooled her studio with pet friendly props and squeaky toys. The backdrop was set and after a few simple test shots little Audrey tilted her head toward the camera as the flash bulbs popped. The dog was a natural and Renny was hooked.

The flash bulbs continued to pop over the next several days as Renny photographed her three dogs as well as her neighbor’s dog Cocoa the Pointer. The images captured during these early efforts would prove to be timeless and enduring as one of the early images of Cocoa, which was published nationally, has endured as the calling card most associated with Mill’s unique approach to her craft.

Her repertoire has expanded to include custom silk screen renderings, gallery exhibits, custom framing and matting, yet perhaps one of the most daunting challenges of late does not take place in the controlled environment of the studio but rather “ where a dog can be a dog!” Renny Mills is in her fifth year as camp photographer for Camp Dogwood which convenes twice a year and offers a unique bonding experience for the camper and their canine companions with activities such as lure coursing, agility trials, fly ball, dock diving, and just plain dog tiredness.

What started in a small studio in Chicago has grown and transcended the Midwest with demand for her services in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois and will culminate with the release of a calendar in 2009. The sale proceeds of the calendar will benefit the efforts of Pet Refuge, a no-kill shelter based in Mishawaka, Indiana and is one of several philanthropic endeavors that Renny has embraced and supported.

“ I truly love what I do, “ said Mills, “ I have the opportunity to freeze a moment in time and preserve a beautiful image that we can revisit at any time that we need to lift our spirits.” In dog years, that translates to a lifetime.

Monday, November 5, 2007

In The Midst Of A Harvest Sky

It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words but more often than not those words cannot be accurately portrayed within the framework of the picture. That is to say, the picture frames the dialogue, and not the reciprocal.

Allow me to set the stage.

It is early autumn and the leaves have turned. The aroma of Concord grapes sweep through the countryside on the whim of the wind and for a few short weeks it is possible to smell the color purple. The vibrant palette of nature is on display as a fleeting escape of foliage jettisons the mighty sentinels of our Southwest Michigan forests. Our season gives way to the magnificent desolation that will be another Midwest winter with the splendor that only Michigan can provide.

The tourists are gone and the purists remain, save for the vestige of our annual refrain.

To live in the Midwest is truly a gift of seasonal survival. We brave the torrent of spring rain as we traverse the bridge to summer, we endure the harsh rays of an unforgiving sun as we strive for harvest, we pray for rain yet curse the floods, and we thank the soil for all that she bestows upon us. Thank you Mother Earth!

Tonight the sky is crimson red which is due in no small part to the dust kicked up by the harvesters as framed in the foreground of the setting sun.

To smell the soil is quite remarkable, to await the harvest is our destiny.

These unadulterated parcels of productive farmland our quickly becoming the dinosaurs of our modern era and unless we recognize them for the significance that they represent we risk losing them to the urbanization of the housing market.

It is time to educate ourselves as to the existence of PDR’s and Conservation Easements as well as a plethora of other land preservation mechanisms as we endeavor to set aside the very essence of family value as it pertains to our dinner table and how we feed our families.

Can you make a difference or will you stand by waiting for somebody else to do something?

I await your reply…and so does the rest of the Midwest!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Canines On The Catwalk

The fashion industry has officially gone to the dogs, if only for a day in South Bend, Indiana.

On Tuesday, October 16 2007, a talented and resourceful group of volunteers known as “The Pet Refuge Guild” sponsored a full blown poochie fashion show and on this auspicious afternoon, it was all about the dog.

The show featured six different dog stars and their human counterparts complete with music, wardrobe changes, and a full service luncheon at the accommodating Waterford Estates.

The music was lively and the talent was primed but what was most impressive is that these wonderful dogs were flawless in their delivery. It was as if they were trained to do this yet they were just novices with no formal training. Turning on a dime, strutting to the music, and representing their brethren famously, these precious souls brought it! A “paws” for the cause, if you will, which raised over $2000.00.

The proceeds from this event will serve a truly benevolent cause by supporting the ongoing efforts of The Pet Refuge which is a no kill shelter serving the South Bend and greater Mishawaka areas.

Pet Refuge was founded in 1978 as a not-for-profit Corporation and consists of many volunteers whose sole mission is to protect the health and welfare of these rescued animals while providing the best possible placement options.

They recognize the value of these animal’s lives and are quite creative in establishing temporary foster homes while searching for long term and permanent placement. It is in this arena that the greatest challenges lie, in that there is an ever increasing demand as these pets are abandoned and left behind.

Another uplifting attribute of this organization is that they have created an opportunity for the youth of the community to contribute to this worthy cause.

A young man named Ethan Starke helped Pet Refuge to repair the roof and some of the exterior kennels as part of his Eagle Scout Project. Ethan spent 139 hours selling over $400.00 in candy bars and an additional 40 hours on the repair job with some help from Troop 256 from the Bremen area.

Pet Refuge also supports a “Junior Program” which meets every other Saturday from May through October and has children and their parents working side by side while instilling the values of caring and nurturing as they serve this wonderful organization.

Every dog has it’s day, and with the hard work and determination of these selfless volunteers, many other dogs will have their day as well.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

A City On The Rise

The City of Buchanan was settled in 1833 at the spot where McCoy Creek meets the St. Joseph River and was once a major transportation route for Native American tribes in the area, especially the Potawatomi.

An historical marker to that effect has been placed on Moccasin Trail north of Buchanan near Batchelor's Island.

Buchanan is in the midst of a civic rebirth in that many of the historic buildings that have come to define the downtown district are under renovation.

Not to be lost in translation, it is important to be cognizant of the industry that once flourished here.

Buchanan was historically known as the headquarters for Clark Equipment Corporation. A manufacturer of truck axles, fork lift trucks, front-end loaders, and other heavy machinery; Clark left the area in the 1990's and this departure forced the city to diversify which resulted in a number of smaller businesses which ultimately took over the buildings that Clark had essentially donated to the city.

Another industry leader was the Electro Voice Corporation which was a manufacturer of high quality audio equipment such as microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers. Soon after being purchased by Telex Communications, Inc., Electro-Voice's management left Buchanan and several years later, in 2002, the remaining Electro-Voice manufacturing plant closed.

In addition to the remnants of industry, it is the beauty of this enclave that truly defines the character of Buchanan.

Bear Cave is a camping resort north of Buchanan featuring a cave which was once a stop along the Under Ground Railroad, assisting freed and escaped slaves from the Southern States to reach freedom in the Northern States or Canada. Bear Cave offers canoeing and boating along the St. Joseph River.

The Tin Shop Theater, located near Pears Mill, is a wonderful, little theater with great performances in the summer. The seasons run into September and a variety of shows for everyone of any age and any occasion are performed here.

Pears Mill which utilized the water power of the swiftly flowing McCoy Creek, was built in 1857. This beautiful piece of Americana remains open during the summer for visitors.

Fernwood is a nature preserve along the Eastern bank of the St. Joseph River along Rangeline Road and Redbud Track 'N' Trail is an event site north of Buchanan featuring motocross, BMX, and other motor sport activities. Certain races held there are of national interest and are often featured on ESPN and other such cable sports networks.

The hidden treasure and jewel of Buchanan lies in the diversity of the citizenry. There are winemakers and farmers, there are entrepreneurs and visionaries, but best of all there are the people who will shape the future while embracing the past.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Charity Throughout the Year

Please allow this to serve as a warm, heartfelt thank you to all of the many generous and benevolent contributors who donated to the Suitcases For Kids initiative here in Southwest Michigan.

This year’s effort raised approximately $2000.00 in cash contributions as well as a small truckload of shiny new travel bags and suitcases for our Berrien County area foster children.

Of course, the requisite personal care items which are stocked in these bags were collected as well and it was with great pride and humility that we presented these items this past Friday 14th, 2007.

While there are always rewarding moments that arise I thought I would share one particular moment that moved all of us on the day we organized and distributed the items.

A very colorful and vibrant back pack was stocked with some comfort items which could have only come from the heart of another child. A child’s blanket, socks, tee shirts, a music CD of children’s songs, and the donating child’s favorite bedtime story book complete with a Polaroid photo and a handwritten note explaining how good it felt to be helping!

The child in the photo was all of three and a half feet tall!

Have faith in humanity, there is hope for us all!

We chose to work on this program during the summer to illustrate that the need is ongoing and not seasonal in nature.

Many organizations endeavor to tie their charity work to the holidays as it seems the most logical of times to reach out to those in need.

I think that if I could instill one message it would be that those who are in need are in need right now.

Make a difference today.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Suitcases for Kids

It has often been illustrated that through the eyes of a child the world appears to be an uncomplicated place where the most perplexing situations seem but a daydream away. Such was the case for a talented and young visionary named Aubyn Burnside.

In 1995, as a ten year old girl, Aubyn founded a wonderful program called Suitcases for Kids after she had learned that children in foster homes and foster care programs are often called upon to relocate with very little notice and are forced to transport their personal belongings in trash bags.

Now try to imagine that. A child who is just a lost soul searching for a sense of belonging. A child who is essentially homeless due to no fault of their own and as if to magnify this reality is forced to stuff all of their worldly belongings into a garbage bag!

“ I thought it was horrible that the children had nothing to carry their things in as they moved so many times. I wanted to make them feel special by giving them something of their own to keep. I tried to put myself in their place and think how I would feel”, said Aubyn.

Aubyn put the word out to 4-H clubs and Scout group organizations and church and social club gatherings and successfully delivered 175 suitcases to Catawba County Department of Social Services in March of 1996.

Within a month, suitcase deliveries had found their way to eight surrounding counties as the program partnered with Families for Kids which was an initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to improve foster care for children.

Suitcase for Kids distributed 4,000 suitcases locally in 1996 and by the end of its first full year was in operation in 19 states and in all fifty by the end of its second year.
Currently, Suitcases for Kids is an international non-profit organization with chapters in every state as well as many foreign countries.

The Southwest Michigan Association of Realtors is proud to announce our second year of involvement in this most benevolent cause and we hope to build on last years success when we collected eighty new suitcases and duffel bags, two truckloads of personal care items such as new clothes, basic toiletries , diapers, soap, shampoo as well as over two thousand dollars in cash donations from our generous membership.

This years drive will end on Friday September the 14, 2007 for our members but the Suitcases for Kids program will remain ongoing. To donate to our effort on behalf of the program please contact our MLS office at 1-269-983-6375 or visit us at or to find out more information on the program please visit

It is our chosen profession to help families to find that special place to call home and it seems a natural progression to affect this positive change and to help these children feel at home, regardless of where they call home.

Please rally around this cause, it is truly a need to be filled!