A City Girl in the Country: Water Softeners

In my last post, I talked about how we went about getting water into our house after our move to outside the city limits.  Today, I will discuss the process of preparing that water for consumption.

The property we purchased was a foreclosure.  During the inspection process, we found several problems resulting from the previous owner not keeping up with regular maintenance before the bank re-possessed the property.  The water test during the inspection process showed that our well water was safe to use and drink (this is what “potable” means in the sales contract). Let me assure you: potable does not necessarily mean palatable. The water coming out of the taps had a muddy appearance, contained visible black and grey flecks, and had a strong odor of rusty nails. Much of this was caused by sediment that had collected in the pipes from the house sitting vacant for several months before the bank put it on the market.

OMNIFilter Heavy-Duty Whole House Filter SystemWe found a sediment filter attached to the water pipe just past where the water came into the house.  A quick trip to the hardware store to to buy a replacement sediment filter and a wrench that would help us open the filter housing took care of the muddy appearance and occasional black fleck. Replacing the filter was a five-minute job when we got home.OMNIFilter Heavy-Duty replacement cartridgeOMNIFilter Whole House Filter Housing Wrench

Now the water came out of the tap clear! Now, some people stop there and enjoy the taste of their well water, saying the extra minerals give it taste.  My husband and I did not like the taste or the smell and noticed several symptoms of the minerals in our well water.

We could see crusty white build-up of the calcium and magnesium on all the plumbing fixtures and inside the dishwasher. We also saw the presence of iron as rusty stains in the dishwasher, sinks and showers. Also, a bucket of water would start out clear but that after a few minutes, the oxygen in the air would literally rust the iron and the water would turn a brownish color. Strangest of all was a bubbly, red-colored slime in our toilet tanks. We found out later this was from a rust-loving bacteria that flourished in stagnant, iron-rich water. The iron was so high in our water that it smelled like rusty nails.

We needed to treat, or “soften”, the water to remove the minerals that were causing these problems. There are many options for softening water. When shopping around, I found it important to weed out softeners designed to remove smells and hardness present in municipal water.  We had more minerals, specifically iron, than these “water refiners” or “scale-reducing” systems can handle.

I called both water softener companies in town, EcoWater and Culligan, and arranged to have them come out to evaluate the water and recommend a system. Both companies did a chemical analysis to see how much of which minerals were in our water after passing through the sediment filter. Both companies recommended a two-tank salt system that could handle our iron-rich hard water and provide the daily water capacity we needed.  The units ranged in price from $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the capacity of water they could provide. The smallest and least expensive units might suffice for a family of two that did not take long showers, but simply would not be a suitable option for a family of four.

Overall, Culligan’s units were the most expensive. They also offered a monthly service, I think it was $20-30, which included a technician coming by to check the machine and top off the salt reservoir when needed, plus free service calls if problems arose. The additional cost for each bag of salt they brought was a dollar or two more than purchasing the salt in a big-box store. The thought of having someone else carry the 20 lb. bags of salt down to the basement and lift/pour the pellets into the machine was very appealing to me. Overall, I felt they offered Cadillac-type products and service at Cadillac-type pricing.

I found the owner that visited me from EcoWater Systems of Urbana more down-to-earth. Like Culligan, the softening systems used the latest technology. Instead of a monthly service, EcoWater’s units included a remote sensor that could be placed anywhere in the home that would indicate when the unit needed more salt or was not working properly. Most importantly for us, they had a rent-to-own program.  Fifty percent of our monthly rental fee could be applied towards purchase of the unit at a future date.  Another benefit of renting instead of buying was that if there was a problem with the unit they would come out and service the unit, free of charge.  If we purchased the unit, there would be a service fee.  I believe that you have 24 months to elect the purchase option.

The least expensive option was to purchase a two-stage water softener at Blain’s Farm & Fleet and hire a licensed plumber to install the system. If you are comfortable cutting and soldering copper water supply lines, you could do the work yourself.

Benefits from using the softened water:

  • Elimination of spotting on glassware, dishes and flatware.
  • Whiter and brighter laundry, while using up to 50% less detergent. I have noticed that we don’t buy soap or shampoo as frequently as we used to.
  • Elimination of hard water residue in fabrics, which can help clothing last longer.
  • Reduced scale build-up in pipes, and up to 29% lowered energy consumption of your water heater due to reduced scale build-up.
  • Reduced build-up of film on tubs, sinks, faucets and wall tiles. I use a squeegee or damp cloth to clean up splash marks on my glass shower door and stainless steel fixtures, instead of chemical cleaners.

Some people enjoy the taste of softened water. We did not, so we also had EcoWater install a reverse osmosis, or “RO” system under the kitchen sink.  We have had both the EcoWater softener and RO systems in place for two years and have had no problems.

LittleWell WQA Gold Seal 5-Stage 75-GPD Reverse Osmosis Water Filter with Brushed Nickel Faucet and See-Through HousingReverse osmosis systems, sometimes called “drinking water” systems are available a most larger hardware stores and can usually can be installed without a licensed plumber with the use of pressure fittings. The cost depends the level of filtration and the daily capacity. The multi-filter system supplies water to a small tap, usually installed at the kitchen sink. The replacement filters cost $25-40 each, depending on the system and how small a particle they filter.

Replacement Filtration Faucet in Chrome

Many city-folk use reverse osmosis systems to remove any smell or taste (like from chlorine) found in municipal water. We use water from this tap for drinking, cooking, making coffee, tea, juice concentrates, etc. We have also noticed that  our ice cubes no longer have bubbles and do not affect the flavor of beverages.  If you are looking at homes and see an extra faucet on the kitchen sink, look in the cupboard underneath.  It could be an instant hot water tap or a reverse osmosis system.

If you are considering purchasing a home outside of the city limits, our team can certainly help you identify potential issues as best as we can.  We have certainly likely seen it in other homes, or, like in this case, may even have have personal experience.

Next time, I will talk about what happens to the water after it goes down the drain and introduce you to the septic system!

Susan
Admin Assistant for the AroundCU Team

Top 10 ways your home will not sell on time when your buyer wants an FHA loan

Congratulations!  We have an offer on your house!  As you look through the contract, it’s easy to focus on the main terms: Price and closing date.  Here’s where you really need an agent to focuses on the details of the offer.  The details of the buyer’s financing plan are just as important as the price and closing date.  Even though you may get a top-dollar offer for your home, for our example today, let’s assume that the buyer is planning on obtaining FHA financing for their purchase.

One of the big reasons that a buyer gets an FHA loan is that it enables them to purchase a home with less money out-of-pocket.  The minimum down payment requirement for an FHA loan is 3.5% of the purchase price (the down payment can be even less when an FHA loan is paired with another loan program or grant).

With a conventional loan, or with a typical appraisal, the purpose is to identify the value of the property, based on its condition.  An FHA appraisal goes a step further and identifies the value of the property AND any safety/fire hazards and perceived major maintenance issues that could be cost-prohibitive for the buyer to take on in the near future.  Due to the low down payment requirement, this may mean that the buyer doesn’t have a lot of discretionary funds to deal with appraisal-related repairs.  The result of the FHA appraisal can extend the timeline for selling your home, or make the transaction completely fall apart.  According to local appraisers, loan officers, and issues that I’ve personally experienced through being a full-time agent, here are the most common problems that come up in FHA appraisals:

  1. Flaking/peeling paint
  2. Roof – Appraisers like to see at least 3 years’ life left
  3. Bowed or damaged foundation walls
  4. Poor grading or drainage issues
  5. Proximity to a gas station or other hazardous condition
  6. Deteriorated/rotted siding – particularly masonite or wood
  7. Electrical issues – Open splices, “amateur” wiring
  8. Bedroom windows not opening/closing freely
  9. Furnace/heating system malfunctioning
  10. Lack of a Shared Driveway Agreement
  11. Bonus Item! Issues may also come up if you have a home with a well or septic system, as banks usually require satisfactory results from a well and septic test (tests for which the buyer pays).

If a problem comes up, then what?  This is why you choose me as your agent.  From the time we get an offer, I can help you anticipate issues before they happen and address them, request that the buyer obtain conventional financing, or reject the offer if we feel that the house won’t “pass”.  Of course, issues can arise and surprises can come up.  The good news is that most problems have solutions!

Lenders/banks require that any repairs be completed before the closing (with an exception being exterior peeling paint, which cannot be addressed when it’s too cold to paint).  If you already feel like you’ve agreed to a low price, these repairs still have to be done, regardless of the value that the home appraised at.  In other words, you can have a contract sale price of $150,000, with the FHA appraisal coming in at $153,000, but the buyer still can’t get the loan if the appraisal mentions a bedroom window that doesn’t open smoothly!

Simply put, the repairs have to be done.  Most of the time, you as the seller pays to have the items repaired.  We can help you find good contractors who can do the job in a timely manner, and do it well at a reasonable price.  Sometimes, it’s a simple repair that you can do himself, like painting, working on windows which have been painted shut, servicing a furnace, etc.  Fortunately, the lender isn’t too picky about having an expert do the repairs; they just want them done well enough to pass a re-inspection by the appraiser.  When the repairs cannot be done prior to the closing (as in the example of exterior peeling paint when it’s cold, or if a roof is covered with snow and needs to be replaced), a quote normally need to be obtained from a contractor, with 150% of the quote placed into an escrow (holding account), to be done as soon as possible after the closing. These repairs are then paid for out of the escrow account, with any funds left over going back to whichever party funded the account.  Depending on how things get resolved, the buyer may be the one who funds that escrow account if they feel like they are getting a good price on the house.  However, when you need to fund 150% of a $6,000 roof project, most buyers who are getting an FHA loan don’t have $9,000 to throw into the escrow account.  As a result, the house may [sadly] go back on the market if you, as the seller, are not willing to do the repair.  Depending on the repairs, I have professional relationships with some contractors who can wait until the closing to get paid out of your proceeds if you do not have the funds upfront.

The list above is more common with older homes than with newer homes, so if you live in an older home, the arrival of spring brings opportunities to look over your house and address some of these applicable items.  For example, I have seen some lenders/banks postpone the closing due to lack of a shared driveway agreement (not uncommon in areas closer to downtown Champaign and Urbana).  So, if you share a driveway with your neighbor, get an agreement written up so that you are ready to sell in a timely manner to an FHA buyer when you call us to sell your home.  In our area within the past year, 7.72% of residential loans were FHA loans (plus 3.58% VA, which have a similar appraisal), so even if this wasn’t an issue when you bought your home because you paid cash or obtained a conventional loan, it’s plausible to get an FHA buyer, especially if you live in an area that is desirable for first-time buyers.

When we work together to sell your house, we will talk about many of the nuances that can affect your home sale, from the initial pricing and staging, through the entire “under contract” period.  We don’t just want to have a great offer; we want to have a great closing, too!  If we are going to take our house off the market for a buyer, I will help you do everything possible to ensure we close successfully and not find ourselves back on the market 60 days later (the approximate time it takes to obtain an FHA loan), having missed out on other potential buyers.

Congratulations! You’re buying a house… Now what?

Welcome to my first blog as the Buyer Specialist for the AroundCU Team. I am truly fortunate to be working with Mariya, Susan, Kirby and Ruth, and I’m so glad you are here today too! As I sit at my keyboard looking out the window on Valentine’s Day, I am reminded that much to my dismay…it is still winter. The snow is blowing across the prairie, and coming down fairly heavily. Although with any luck it won’t stick and make everything messy outside this week.

With thoughts of spring on my mind, it makes me think of the upcoming spring season for real estate and how the AroundCU team can help you with your home buying/selling needs. In our area, the market is strong; we have buyers looking to purchase and sellers who want to sell their current homes, which adds up to a great upcoming spring season. And now is a great time to get started!

As a home buyer you will find there are some standard basics to house-hunting beginning with, and I can’t stress this enough, visiting with a lender to get pre-approved for your mortgage loan. Getting pre-approved will open so many doors for you in your home search. Most importantly, it will make you a better buyer in a seller’s eyes because the seller will know you can afford to purchase their house. When you write an offer, your pre-approval letter will be sent to the listing agent along with your offer so the seller sees that you are able to purchase the home you are placing an offer on.  If you plan on paying cash, you can get a “proof of funds” letter from your bank, saying that you have at least the amount of the house’s list price at your disposal.

There are a number of great local lenders right here in Champaign County, some smaller very local banks, some regional, and even some larger banks with a national presence. As part of our service, we make it a point to be in touch with these lenders on a regular basis, so we stay aware of interest rates, special loan programs, and grants available.  Still, the best person to give you that information is your lender. Don’t worry if you don’t know who to go to; we work with so many great lenders and can help you by making a recommendation of who can best help you.

Once you are ready to buy, it’s time to meet with me, your “Buyer Specialist”. A buyer specialist (or buyer’s agent or buyer’s representative), like me, is a real estate agent who specializes in representing buyers rather than listing and selling homes. Sometimes a buyer’s agent is also occasionally referred to as a “selling agent,” although to confuse things further, listing agents are also known as selling agents in certain circumstances.

As your buyer’s specialist, I will meet with you prior to going out to look at homes to get a feel for the types of homes you are interested in. This is called the Buyer Consultation and typically lasts about an hour to an hour and a half. At this time, not only will I learn more about the types of homes and neighborhoods you are interested in, you will learn more about me and we will form a relationship to work together. Don’t be surprised when I have you fill out a brief questionnaire or take notes while speaking with you; it’s important for me to get to know you in order to help you find your new home! I am familiar with most of the properties currently listed for sale in the area and can make suggestions based on your needs/wants in a home. Once we feel comfortable with each other, there is a standard Buyer-Agent agreement form, which we will sign. This says you are comfortable with working with me to help you look for houses and I commit to working with and for you. It’s a win/win agreement that protects us both.

You’re probably thinking, “Where is she going with this and what’s the correlation between house-hunting and Valentine’s Day?” You guessed it…house-hunting for many buyers comes down to “love at first sight”! Many times, this happens upon entering the very first house; you walk through the front door and love the refinished hardwood floors; you see the high ceilings and swoon; your heart pounds at the chef’s kitchen and the huge yard, and you begin to picture yourself cuddling up by the fireplace or building holiday traditions with your family. However, there’s nothing more painful, emotionally and financially, than falling in “lust” with a place you may find really isn’t the house for you. And this, dear buyer, is where I come in with that list of needs and wants you shared with me during our buyer consultation!

Now it’s time we take off those rose-colored glasses and make a second or third visit to the property to carefully look it over from top to bottom, to the best of our ability, for any defects or problems we may have missed on our first visit. In addition, I encourage all my clients to drive through the neighborhood at different times during the day to get a “feel” for the neighborhood. For example, do the owners of the houses surrounding your dream home take good care of their homes? Are the lawns and gardens in good shape? Does that barking dog ever stop?! Every neighborhood is different and its nuisances affect different people in different ways. Make sure you love the neighborhood as much as you love the house!

Once you have decided on the house that will become your next home, the next step is putting in an offer on the property, which we will talk more about in a future blog. Have a great week!

Beth Culkeen, Buyer Specialist, AroundCU Team

A City Girl in the Country: Well Water

Shortly before I began working for Mariya, my husband and I purchased a home five miles outside the city limits of Champaign. Relocating to a rural landscape meant many city services that I had previously taken for granted would no longer be available. So many things about owning a home in the country are different than in town and we were advised to inspect and test some things before we purchased a rural property.  In my next few blog posts I will share some of the many things like like clean water, sewer systems, garbage/recycling service, cable/internet connection, and backyard critters. For me, the biggest change was having to think about where our water would come from. Since the day I was born, clean water had always just magically appeared out of the faucet.

When we started looking at rural properties, the house info sheets said “Well” so we had a water source. Done. It turns out, that was only the beginning. My husband wanted to make sure the well actually had water at the bottom and that the pump which brings it up to the house worked. Apparently drilling a new well can be very expensive ($5,000-10,000) and would definitely affect the offer price we would make on a property. Because the house was surrounded by corn/soybean fields and I saw the neighbor kept horses, I wanted to get the well water tested for nitrates from fertilizers, bacteria from animal waste, and arsenic. I found the following websites very helpful:

http://www.c-uphd.org/water-wells.html
http://privatewellclass.org/resources

We arranged to have a well inspector come out at the same time the home inspector was scheduled to be there. The well guy told us that our well was deep and had a good level of water in it. Also, the water pump and pressure tanks were in good working order and capable of supplying excellent pressure for our needs. We could take a shower, flush a toilet, run the dishwasher, and wash clothes all at the same time without a problem. The only issue he found was that after decades of landscaping, the original well head (where the pump is housed) was now so close to the ground that we risked contaminating the well with groundwater run-off.  We ended up paying $400 to have it raised.

To have the quality of the water tested, you must collect a sample in a specific way to ensure you are testing the well water and not the faucet from which you obtain the water.  I’d heard that the sampling instructions are easy to follow but we decided to have the well inspector collect it for us and then send it off to a certified lab for testing. Five days later we found out that the well water was usable. No arsenic, no nitrates and no coliform bacteria.  While looking up the links I included above, I saw a recommendation that private wells be tested for coliform every year and nitrates every 2-3 years; seems I need to stop typing to get my water tested again. Now!

In my next post I will discuss the second biggest change for this city girl: having to treat water once it is inside the house.  While not harmful, there are several things in well water that do affect the color, smell and taste. Why does my water turn brown after a minute or two and smell like rusty nails mixed with rotten eggs?

Susan
Admin Assistant for the AroundCU Team

Your lending team: who they are and their role in helping you get a mortgage loan

I recently had a transaction where my buyer became a bit frustrated with the loan process.  He’d applied for his mortgage loan through the loan officer he had been working with, and was starting to receive emails from other people at the bank who were asking about his application and asking him to supply further documentation.  He didn’t know who these people were, as he’d only been in touch with his loan officer.  And sometimes, they were asking for the same items he’d already provided to one of the others; no wonder it was frustrating!

It’s important to know what to expect as you go through the loan process and the people that you’ll be coming into contact with.  I was going to describe the various people at the bank myself, but then realized that I should just go straight to the source!  I asked Todd Beard, a great local lender with Marine Bank, to tell me about the various positions of the people you may interact with.  Here are Todd’s words:

“Typically, there are 3 main people that are involved in the loan process from application to closing – Here is a short breakdown of each of those, and what they generally do:

LOAN OFFICER – The job of the Loan Officer is to go over your scenario and determine which loan options are available for you, and ultimately provide a Loan Pre-Qualification Letter to you that you could use when/if you decided to make an offer on a new home.  The Loan Officer will get questions answered about the process as a whole, run payment scenarios, and give you an idea of the types of documentation required for the loan program being used.   While the Loan Officer cannot actually approve the loan or process the loan, they would generally be the main contact person for you throughout the loan process.

PROCESSOR – After the loan officer meets with you and issues the Loan Pre-Qualification Letter, and you present a contract to purchase a new home, the Loan Officer will submit the application, purchase contract, and your documentation to the Processor.  The main job of the Processor is to gather all the needed documentation for the file and make sure that the documentation matches what the Loan Officer has entered on your loan application.  The Processor will also take care of ordering the appraisal on the new property and reviewing that to make sure there are no issues or required repairs when that appraisal comes in.  The Processor will then assemble a complete file with all documentation and submit that to the Underwriter for final approval.

UNDERWRITERThe Underwriter is the person who will actually “approve” the loan.    The job of the Underwriter is to review all the documentation that has been presented, making sure that the file meets the program guidelines for whatever program is being used for the loan.  When the file reaches the Underwriter they are generally checking to make sure that there are no additional questions that surround the documentation that has been presented.  After the Underwriter has reviewed the file and is satisfied that all questions are answered and that the file meets the guidelines for the loan program being used, they will issue a Loan Commitment Letter, which is essentially the final approval of the loan.  If there is still any missing documentation, those items will be specifically listed on the Loan Commitment Letter.

Closing Department After the underwriter issues the Loan Commitment Letter, the file is returned to the Process to await the actual closing.  The Processor will then submit the file to the Closing Department who is then responsible for preparing all the various loan documents and getting those documents to the title company for the closing.  The Closing Department will work with the title company to come up with all the final numbers for the file.  Once those final numbers are determined, the Loan Officer would generally contact you and give you the exact amount of funds needed for the closing.

You would have most of their contact directly with the Loan Officer – The Processor would contact you occasionally, generally when tracking down any documentation that is missing from the file.  You would generally never have any contact at all with the Underwriter – If the Underwriter needs additional information, they would have the Loan Officer or Processor reach out to the borrower to collect that information.”

If you’d like to ask Todd any further questions, or to begin the loan pre-approval process, email him at tbeard@ibankmarine.com or call 217-239-0131.

There may be issues that arise at each step of the loan process, outside of our control, some of which I’ll discuss in future entries.  Most things can be resolved without affecting the closing date (the date that you become the owner of your new home).  It helps to anticipate issues as best as possible and to have an experienced team (your lender and I) on your side.

25 Ways to Win With People – A glimpse into John Maxwell’s book

I love learning new things and new skills and am grateful when someone takes the time to share their skills with others.  I had the privilege recently to listen to a John Maxwell-certified coach, Lesley King, speak about John’s book, “25 Ways to Win With People.”  One of the Busey lenders in our office, Joni Utnage, invited Lesley and also served pizza to anyone who wanted to attend!  I would love to share with you some of the things that I was reminded of.  I can’t say that any of this material is new to anyone, but do we really know it if we do not put it into practice and implement it into our lives?

Once you discover your missions and purpose, life gets easier.  You can’t get away from people, because you’re a person. :) Anyone can win with people; these are learn-able skills.  It’s crucial to apply the skills that you learn.

Only 3 of the ways were shared with the group, and I’ll go through each one.  Basically, everything Lesley said was meant to be a poignant truth, and I quoted her as best as I could:

  1.  Start with yourself – You have to like yourself.  It’s really true.  “Your relationships can only be as healthy as you are.” – Neil Clark Warren

You have to see that you have something to offer.  You can’t be happy unless you’re healthy.  Emotional health is at the center of winning with people.  Emotionally-sick people talk about themselves.  You have to be emotionally sound.  You cannot give what you do not have.  The more solid you are about your strengths and weaknesses, the better you can .

“Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

You cannot enjoy others unless you enjoy yourself.  Self-acceptance is the most important thing in winning with people.  Don’t spend a ton of time on your weaknesses, since you’ll likely have those the rest of your life.  Get better at your strengths.  Finally, live a life of gratitude.  If you do not, you are likely a pretty negative person. Through the hard times, you become better or bitter.

Slow down – Life has a lot of simple things that we can enjoy, but if we move too fast, we’ll overlook them.  When Lesley said this, I thought of the many times I drive to the office.  It’s amazing how much richness and variety I notice when I go for a walk along the exact same route: the flowering bushes at one house, the cat looking out the window at another, the paving bricks recently laid ever further; so many reasons to smile!

The most important thing in life are people.  Good always comes out from something bad that happens… if we are looking for it.  Lesley shared her story of getting hit by a semi-truck at 27 years old, in a head-on collision.  She remembered praying to God, “if you let me walk again and my teeth are all in place (she joked about her priorities at the time), I will declare your goodness.”  And this is what she is doing.

Write down your birth year on a sheet of paper, with a hyphen after it. – What impact is your hyphen making on people (family, relationships, colleagues)?  We forget to slow down and make an impact.  Maximize who you are by overcoming or fixing those things that are in your power to change.

Leaders are constantly learning.

  1.  Practice the 30-second rule – “He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything.” – Samuel Johnson.

The first 30 seconds of a conversations says something encouraging to someone.  Make it all about them.  Lesley always thought that if you find something to connect with, then you’ll establish rapport with them.  But they didn’t invite you to their story.  The 30-second rule is about giving people the “AAA” treatment.

All people feel better and do better when you give them the AAA treatment: 1) Attention: make others feel valuable.  Others have worth and have value.  When you strip everything away, the heart is all that’s left; that’s what you need to reach.  Accept people even though they’re different. 2) Affirmation: every human being wants to be affirmed.  Even though this is simplistic, how are you actually applying this in your everyday life?  3) Appreciation: let people know you appreciate them!  If you are not the recipient of AAA treatment, you will retreat from that person.

  1. Pass the credit on to others – If you can grasp the principle that “It’s not about you”, you will be the most fulfilled, satisfied, and full-of-joy person.  Servant leadership is key.  Passing the credit to others is one of the easiest ways to win with people.  People don’t do this because they think it will lessen their own value, but it has the opposite effect.  The more you give unselfishly, the greater the return to your life.  You will go right up the ladder.  Many people are so insecure that they constantly feed their egos to make up for it.  To win with people, you must set aside your ego at the door and give credit to people.

“An egotist is not a person who thinks too much of himself; it’s someone who thinks too little of other people.” – Wayne Wong

 “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweizer.

Focusing on others will give you a purpose.  Focusing on others will give you energy.  When you give of yourself, something good goes off inside of you.

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” – Napoleon Hill

I think that if I can be proficient at just these 3 (of 25) ways, this will already improve my relationships with people.  I love people; I just need to SHOW them that I do. :)

Unit 4 schools update

My buying clients often ask me about whether the local school systems are good.  “Good” is such a loaded word. :)  Does it mean that a school has a good fine arts program or offers many foreign language options?  Does it churn out high AP test scores or consistently wins the conference title in a certain sport?  Are there bully-prevention measures in place?  Does it have a diverse student population?  “Good” for one person is completely different than “good” for someone else.

I attended a luncheon recently, hosted by Champaign Unit 4 schools.  The speakers were: Dr. Judy Wiegand (Unit 4 Superintendent), Dr. Laura Taylor (High School superintendent), John Woods (Athletic director at Central), and Marc Changnon (District Coordinator, Education to Careers and Professions Program).  I do my best to stay informed in the topics that are important to my clients, such as schools, and wanted to share my “notes” from the meeting with you.  Please remember that what I have written here is my best account of what was said.

Dr. Wiegand gave a quick overview of Unit 4, saying that close to 10,000 students are served in Unit 4 schools.  There are 12 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 2 primary high schools, and 1 alternative high school (the Novak Academy).  50% of the faculty members hold at least a master’s degree.  Unit 4 may be the only district in central Illinois to have district technology coaches, who are available to assist faculty.

Dr. Taylor reviewed some of the accomplishments that had recently happened in the high schools.  There have been several perfect ACT scores; $6 million in scholarships given to the 2014 graduating class.  There are a lot of opportunities after high school.  About 100 students per year attend the U of I; one student received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

AP courses – Unit 4 recently won the AP Honor Roll award, which means that more minority and low-income students take AP classes while maintaining or increasing AP test score performance.  AP test scores are above the Illinois and National average.  There are 19 AP course offerings. Unit 4 also offers dual-credit courses, where enrollment has increased by 93%.  These courses are taught by teachers certified at Parkland College, but taught at the high schools.  Dual-credit is not related to AP, so a student’s dual-credit English composition class counts as credit for English general education classes at the U of I.  The schools have also introduced 4 computer programming classes for the first time this year (2014/15).  100 students signed up right away.  AP Computer science will be added next year.  They have also have started collaborating with Wolfram Research to introduce networking classes next year.

John Woods is a graduate of Centennial High School.  He was an all-state athlete in basketball and track, played football, and was Homecoming King.  He started at Central in 1992, when his father hired him as the assistant girl’s basketball coach.  One of his buddies asked him, “‘Why are you at Central?’… Later, some kid said, ‘No one at Central does anything'”.  This really struck him.

When he started as Central’s athletic director in 2002, his goal was to recognize the excellence in the Central athletes.  You cannot manufacture tradition and pride, and it’s something that’s happened at Central since 1894.  John talked about some of the past great athletes that played at Central, like Olympian Bob Richards (first athlete on the cover of a Wheaties box).  Bob still remembers his Central football days and recalls them fondly, so John Woods is striving to instill that excellence in all of the athletes.  Central has had 168 Hall-of-Fame athletes and 63 individual state champions.  They have an excellent swim program, even though they don’t have their own pool. :)   His goal is for Central “To be the standard of excellence in the Big 12 Conference” by making kids feel valued, not just by adults, but by other kids.  Trust, Care, Commitment, and Action – these are Central’s 4 core values.  Why Central?  It’s real simple.  The tradition, the pride, the vision, the mission, the core values, and the academic excellence.

Academically, the IHSA recognizes teams for the team GPA (average 3.0 or higher).  19 of their 21 varsity sports earned that award and they were 3/10’s of a point away from having 21/21.  This year so far, 8/9 (2/10’s away from 9/9).  There are 71 scholar athletes out of 260 students that maintain a 3.0 GPA while earning a varsity letter their junior or senior year.

In 2014, John was awarded the Athletic Director of the year title.  He is humble about it and said that it is a result of the efforts of the entire department.

To learn more about Champaign Unit 4 Schools, visit their website and schedule an in-person tour with one of the staff.

A hint of Centennial High School’s musical talent

My husband is a member of one of the local Rotary clubs.  They recently had a meeting at Centennial High School to view a few snippets from Centennial’s upcoming performance of “Bye Bye Birdie”.  I jumped at the opportunity to join the meeting!  When I was in high school, some of my very good friends were heavily involved in the fine arts, including the band, choir, drama (musicals/plays) and crew (set design, lighting, all of the behind-the-scenes work).  I had great pride in the quality of the musical shows that my high school performed and was prepared to be disappointed. :)

Was I wrong!  The few numbers that the students performed were pretty incredible AND they still have one week until the dress rehearsal!  There were a couple microphone/sound issues, but it’s not a high school musical without a few glitches. :)  And again, they still have a week to address any issues.

If you have no plans, mark your calendar for April 9, 10, or 11th at 7pm.  Ticket costs for adults are $9; children are $5; students/senior citizens are $7.  Let me know if you are going and I will look for you!

What do you know about Rantoul?

If you are like me and are not from there, your knowledge of Rantoul may be limited to, “Oh, that’s at the 250 exit off of I-57, right?” or “That’s that town that had the Chanute Air Force base; its closure really hurt Rantoul’s economy.”  I had a rare opportunity to meet with some of the leaders of the Village of Rantoul recently, and what a great experience it was!

History timeline of Chanute
History timeline of Chanute

Things started off with a tour of the Chanute Air Museum.  I had no idea that a place this interesting was so close to Champaign-Urbana.  I highly recommend that you visit there; it’s a great rainy-day destination!  We started off down the hall, past the silver timeline, outlining the important events in the base’s history.  We passed through a “historic street” of vintage memorabilia, past some WWI-era inspired rooms (we got the “nutshell” tour, apparently) :), then entered into the large indoor hangar area with the historic planes.

Replica of the Wright Brothers' aircraft
Replica of the Wright Brothers’ aircraft

What a place!  From a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane, to some of the Air Force’s more modern high-speed aircraft, I was reminded of the human desire to achieve what seems impossible and how impressive these engineering feats were at times before the Internet and the modern world we live in today.

Older planes
Older planes

After our tour, we listened to several talks: by the mayor, by a local resident and real estate broker, and by a local appraiser.  Here is approximately what they said:

Mayor:  Rantoul is experiencing a “Renaissance”.  He thinks that Rantoul will outpace every other local town in growth.  Rantoul has had growth in manufacturing, research, hi-tech, etc.; all those industries are expanding and many of those company executives are having trouble finding suitable homes.  He has a plan for new retail amenities, especially in the downtown area, where a “New downtown with proposed restaurants” is in the works.  He acknowledged that the housing market suffered greatly as a result of Chanute closing.  He feels that Rantoul has organically grown to where it’s a part of a regional/global community with diverse industries and praised Rantoul’s diverse population.  The school system is quite unique.  Rantoul is a great places to live, and great places to live are great places to learn.

Huge facility
Huge facility

I had hoped that there would be a Q&A session, as I was curious as to what Rantoul is doing to attract businesses, but there wasn’t one.

Real Estate Broker:  84% of houses have sold under $100k.  Over 2,000 housing units became available after the base closed.  For homes up to 1,200sf, the average sale price is $63,000.  There hasn’t been much new construction.  Presently, there are 76 active listings; 80% of those are under $100k.  Some business have left and this has resulted in recent foreclosures.  A bit over 2% of the homes are currently for sale.  50% of the properties are rental-owned (including apartment buildings).  As far as demolition, the city tore down a 120-unit complex and 26 single-families, which had been bought by the village and demolished.  A 30-unit mobile home park, another 10-unit building next year, and another 11-unit after that are in the works.  Those vacant lots are starting to go on the market (42 currently for sale).  Future plans include a retirement community on the West side of town and new addition to the Lincoln’s Challenge program.  Rantoul has at least 10 parks, 3-4 ponds/lakes, a campground with 95 sites, and is home to the U of I Football training camp.

Appraiser:  The Rantoul recession has lasted 20 years and he feels that the groundwork has been laid for a resurgence.  The market in Rantoul today is a “balanced” one.  Days-on-market are stable (around 95) and average prices are steady or slightly increasing. Indian Hills subdivision is similar to Cherry Hills in Champaign and he’s discovered that the home values in Rantoul are at least 15-30% less than most of these other neighborhoods and markets.  He thinks that the worst is over.

View of high school from the school bus :)
View of high school from the school bus :)

Then, it was time for lunch!  A school bus took us from the museum to the Rantoul Township High School, where one of the gyms had tables and chairs set up.  Butcher Boy Burgers, a local eatery, catered this event.  The pulled pork was fabulous; I highly recommend it!  It was so good that I didn’t even think to take a photo. :)  Our lunch was followed by presentations from the superintendents of the high school and of the elementary schools, then with a tour of the school.  Here is what the superintendents had to say:

Cool things from shop class
Cool things from shop class

High School Superintendent Scott Amerio:  Their priority is to assist students in their ability to discover their life goals and provide staff with resources to assist them.  At RTHS, this goals looks like this: Honors courses, AP courses, and dual-credit courses.  There are also students who want to make a good living through being a contractor, doctor, plumber, etc.  Our students don’t have to choose a track; i.e. have a student in AP, as well as a shop class.  Or, a student may go to Parkland for automotive classes.  Test scores are not where they want them to be.  They won’t attempt to raise those test score goals if it is at the expense of taking their eyes off their goals for their students.  Safety: 13 students were suspended for fighting in 2014 as a result of 6 or 7 incidents (since it takes at least 2 people to have a fight).  Drugs: Acknowledged that there are drugs, so they’re very vigilant about following leads through social media, rumors, etc.  Remember that it’s a small percentage of the students.  Focus on the rest of the student body and staff, and community, who he’s proud of.  He’s proud of the kids who do a lot of volunteering for their community and for their peers.  Students made the podium he’s speaking at.

Woodworking studio
Woodworking studio

Another option is St. Malachi school, a pre-k through 8th grade school for parents who want a Catholic/Christian school.  The superintendent chose that school for both of his kids because they also instill the same type of faith and values that he does at home.  The high school’s current enrollment is about 750 students; the school can accommodate 1,200.

A 3D printer for the drafting students!
A 3D printer for the drafting students!

Elementary Schools  Superintendent Michelle Ramage:  There are 6 pre-K through 8th grade school buildings which service 1,650 students.  High school and elementary schools are 2 separate districts because Rantoul Township High School is a feeder school from other surrounding communities.  Achievement scores are not acceptable (70% of students are not achieving).  They know that this is a problem.  Almost 20% of students speak another language.  They have a strong bi-lingual program and are moving to a dual-language program where all students learn a foreign language in elementary school.  Their goal is a 16-17 class size for K-3rd grade.  RCS is a “green district” through energy-efficiency buildings, A/C, etc.  They are a work in progress, have a lot of new staff, and are proud of their leadership, who are looking forward to change.

The "Cafetorium" - Cafeteria/Auditorium
The “Cafetorium” – Cafeteria/Auditorium

My overall thoughts:  I was very impressed with the services at the high school.  I had about 2,000 students in my high school in Chicagoland and, short of having a swimming pool and in-house automotive classes, RTHS had all of the amenities of a much larger school.

Planting and dividing
Planting and dividing

Their horticulture program, as well as the other “hands-on” programs, along with the business class offerings, seem to offer a lot of options for both college- and tech school- bound students.  I personally believe that it is not the job of a school to teach values, morals, ethics, and love for other people; those things are taught in the home.  For things that a school is responsible for, Rantoul seems to really be on the ball with a top-notch facility and staff who want their students to succeed.

A 2003 replica of the original high school's facade
A 2003 replica of the original high school’s facade

Let me know if you’d like to learn more about Rantoul!  It really is a much less expensive place to live and it is very close to Champaign-Urbana.  Or, for more information about Rantoul from their website, visit: http://www.village.rantoul.il.us/

Where did I go?

I have not kept up with my posts and I am sorry.  Over the last few years, I have been exploring the various methods of advertising my business, coupled with what I actually enjoy doing.  I have gone back to the “basics” of what I enjoy: sharing some of my daily, and exceptional, experiences in real estate.  This way, we can navigate the waters of a real estate transaction, being as informed as possible, together.

Back in 2005 when I purchased my first home, I had no idea what I was really doing.  I looked at one house and bought it.  All I thought I needed to know was where to show up and how much money I needed to bring to the closing.  :)  My agent at the time did not inform me that perhaps we should look at a few more homes, or that, even though it was a new home, I should seriously consider a home inspection.

I also didn’t think that anything could postpone the closing, so I had no problems with scheduling the curb-side delivery of a refrigerator to my new house the afternoon of the closing day.  Looking back, I know that I was extremely fortunate in how things worked out!  Perhaps it was my military mindset at the time, but I had made my plans and everything worked as it was supposed to.

This perfect execution is not always the case, no matter how hard everyone who is involved in the transaction works.  Things can happen that could postpone the closing, or, in rare cases, completely make a deal fall apart at the last minute.  I hope that you find the information in this blog to be useful to you (or to a friend) in your next real estate sale or purchase.  Come back for content often, or just subscribe!