Maven Musings

Pandemic Teaches Important Lessons

If this ??pandemic?? has taught ????‍?? us anything - it's these 3 things: 1.) Everyday is a ?? gift: Always tell your loved ones how much they mean to you ???? 2.) Your mindset is everything: Surround yourself with a tribe that inspires you to become a ????‍?? better you everyday?? 3.) You should ?? love coming ?? home: It should be space that fits your needs and lifestyle????‍??

Pre-Qualified vs Pre-Approved and Why it Matters

The most common question I get from prospective homebuyers is: do I need to get pre-qualified or pre-approved? The short answer is both! But what the heck is the difference? Let me break it down for you. 

Getting prequalified for a mortgage loan is a rough estimate of how much you can afford in terms of a loan. It's quick and it gives you a ballpark idea of a price range, but it does not guarantee you a loan or specific loan amount. Usually a lender will ask you several questions, like yearly income, your credit score, how much debt you have, etc. Your credit report is not pulled in order to be pre-qualified and I always tell people that the price range you're approved for is only as good at the accuracy of the information you provide. 
On the other hand, getting pre-approved takes your credit, employment, and other important information into account. A preapproval from a mortgage lender is an actual written commitment that says they will finance your loan up to a certain amount. In order to issue a letter of commitment, Homebuyers have to provide documentation to prove all this information and a formal credit application has to be completed. 

Most of the Homebuyers I meet have a pre-qualification letter; and as we search for homes, I recommend that they begin gathering documents for their lender... regardless of whether or not they have identified the property they want to purchase. A letter of commitment (pre-approval) is really powerful to have when you submit an offer for a home, and lets the Sellers know you are serious about the purchase. It also makes the closing process so much faster. If you are pre-approved, and we find a home you love - many lenders will be able to close on the property in 14-30 days. 

Still need more information, call me and we'll set up a "no-strings attached" one-on-one Homebuyer consultation. And if you decide buying a home is right for you, I'll be right there guiding you through the process. 

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

Florida Earns 7 Spots on "20 Easiest Markets to Find a Home" List

2/19/2020's 20 “Easiest to Find a Home” Metro Areas

  1. Cape Coral-Fort Myers – 37.9 listings per 1,000 households
  2. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach – 31.8 listings
  3. Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach – 30.9 listings
  4. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. – 29.7 listings
  5. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton – 25.8 listings
  6. Jacksonville – 21.8 listings
  7. Charleston-North Charleston, S.C. – 21.7 listings
  8. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.-N.C. – 20.9 listings
  9. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev. – 19.9 listings
  10. New York-Newark-Jersey City – 19.5 listings
  11. Baton Rouge, La. – 19.2 listings
  12. Des Moines-West Des Moines – 19.1 listings
  13. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas – 18.4 listings
  14. San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas – 18.4 listings
  15. Lakeland-Winter Haven – 17.6 listings
  16. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Conn. – 17.4 listings
  17. New Haven-Milford, Conn. – 16.8 listings
  18. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii – 16.7 listings
  19. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville – 16.5 listings
  20. Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, S.C. – 16.4 listings

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

St. Johns County New Home Building Permits Down in April 2019


Permit requests to build single-family homes in St. Johns County were down in April 2019. How much so, you ask? Almost 50 percent down - when compared to the 281 permits issued by the county last month, to the 522 residential permits issued in April 2018. 

So what's happening with the market? Well, don't panic. I can confidently say that the market is healthy. Don't forget that the 2008-2011 timeframe the housing market was in recovery mode, especially in Florida where vacant homes sat for years. So when the economy began to recover, home building picked up very slowly. 

After enjoying a booming economy in the Obama administration, super low interest rates, and first-time home buyer tax incentives, consumers and home builders began gaining confidence around 2013. And that's where we find ourselves today. St. Johns County has been super hot the last couple of years. And simply put - I believe the decline in permit requests means that builders have finally caught up with the growth and demand plain and simple. Do you live in St. Johns County? What do you think about nearby new home construction? 

This May 21 St. Augustine Record article offers a little more insight on growth and permitting in the county:

And if you want to see last year's take, this April 2018 article highlights the continued growth in St. Johns County:

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

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Best investment: Pool or Outdoor Kitchen?


With temperatures heating up in Florida, I’ve heard more and more people discussing their home improvement projects. Paver patios, in-ground pools, outdoor kitchens and koi ponds - the choices and options are endless!

For homeowners the decision to upgrade and spend their dollars is complex. On one hand, your home is your castle. You should enjoy it and it should fit your lifestyle. But you also don’t want to invest significant amounts of cash into an improvement the next homeowner may not value.

Which brings me to the pool versus outdoor kitchen debate - a very popular conundrum. I’ll jump right in.

First, let’s look at the pool. The latest National Association of Realtors data states that the average cost to install, equip, and fill a 600-square-foot concrete pool starts at $30,000. That number doesn’t include the pool fence or screen enclosure, lighting, landscaping and hardscaping (pavers and such) around the pool. The total bill can easily add up to $50,000 when all is said and done. Additionally, you have to budget about $100 a month for pump and heater utility costs. And another $500-$1000 a year for maintenance, cleaning and chemicals. You’ll also have to update your homeowners policy to indicate you have a pool. This may increase your annual premium by $50-100.

When it comes to an outdoor kitchen, build-out costs can vary greatly based on size and design specifications. A basic, outdoor kitchen (built on an existing patio) with a cooking grill and 6-foot countertop runs around $3,000. If you want to add additional counters & cabinets, a sink, a refrigerator, a rotisserie, or other features the price tag could run upwards of $15,000. Outside of the initial cost, recurring/maintenance expenses for an outdoor kitchen are pretty minimal.

Taking the personal “enjoyment” aspect of having a pool or outdoor kitchen out of this debate, and strictly looking at this decision from a ROI (Return-on-Investment) perspective - the outdoor kitchen is the way to go!

In terms property values: an outdoor kitchen will provide between 100-200 percent ROI, making the investment a no-brainer. Additionally, from a marketing perspective: every eats so kitchens are always a plus!

A pool on average provides about 50 percent ROI, and that’s because pools are a turnoff for some buyers. Pools are viewed as safety liabilities and require continuous care and maintenance.

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

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The Low-Down on the $0 Downpayment USDA Home Loan


If you’re like me, when someone mentions the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), I immediately think about farming, food inspections and national nutritional guidelines.

It wasn’t until I became immersed in real estate that I learned about the USDA Loan program - a mortgage program that many Duval, Clay and St. Johns County residents are eligible for.  Managed by the Department’s Office of Rural Administration, eligible suburban and rural home buyers can qualify for a 100 percent, no-money-down mortgage backed by the USDA.

How so, you ask? Well, the USDA loan program was made possible by the 1990 U.S. Farm Bill, which established the Rural Development Administration (RDA) to administer programs related to rural and small community development. Currently, the RDA has a $216 billion portfolio of loans and is on track to administer $38 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants through the fiscal year to support essential services such as housing, economic development, health care, first responder services and equipment, and water, electric and communications infrastructure.

USDA loans are similar to the more-widely know FHA loans in that they are issued by lending institutions and “guaranteed” by a government agency. Additionally, USDA loans are:

  • Fixed-interest loans
  • Have no prepayment penalties
  • Discounted mortgage rates as compared to other low-downpayment loans; the discounted rate is what allows the agency to provide the 100 percent financing option
  • First-time home buyers and repeat home buyers are both eligible

As long as the property address is located in an approved USDA zone and loan applicants meet certain income requirements, they are eligible for the loan program. Income guidelines vary depending on the state and county, but for the greater-Jacksonville and surrounding areas, household income of 4 people cannot exceed $82,400 and for households of 5 people, the income limit is $109,150.

Here’s a link to the official site:, where you can learn more about the program. And certainly, give me a call and I’m happy to answer your questions.

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

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The Hidden Costs of New Construction


Florida’s real estate market is pretty unique.  Unlike other states where home resales dominate the market, locals know that new construction homes seem to pop up on a regular basis.

In Jacksonville and St. Johns County, Builders are offering a plethora of incentives, including closing cost assistance, a bundle of upgrades at “no-charge”, and enticing Buyers with the “latest and greatest” upgrades and floor plan options.  Currently, it’s the white kitchen cabinets, quartz countertops and wood-look tile that’s trending.

Hey, I get it it!  I visit new homes regularly and there’s something about the shininess of a new home and the thrill of going to a design center, sorting through swatches, and choosing your flooring, paint colors, and more.  And that’s what this blog topic is really about.  This heavy new-construction environment tends to put existing homes, also know as “resales” at a disadvantage.  That is, until you actually think about the hidden costs of new construction.

As you view new construction homes, keep in mind that the model homes you tour will typically have $50,000-$100,000 worth of upgrades from the “base price” of that particular floor plan.  Those wood-look tiles or real wood floors aren’t included, and cabinets with crown moulding and beautiful lighting fixtures aren’t standard.

Additionally, after you purchase a new construction home, keep in mind that windows treatments and/or blind costs will add up quickly, and you will most likely have to install a rain gutter system, and a fence for your yard.  Just last year, we priced a fence for our own yard - and it was $6,500 and that was after a neighbor fenced their own yard! And gutters for our new construction home were $2,000!  In contrast, most home resales would have all these items already affixed to the home and included in the sales price.

So I leave you with this: When shopping for a new home, I encourage you to explore all your options and keep an open mind.  When you’re comparing new construction to a home resale - always remember to keep a tally of those hidden costs you’ll have to incur with new construction.  And I’m not saying that to knock new construction.  There are certainly pros and cons to each scenario.  I’m offering this advice so you have a full picture of what a new construction home will cost you.

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

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The Elusive and Often Misunderstood Down Payment


“No, you do not need a 20 percent down payment in order to purchase a home.”

Every time I share those words with prospective homebuyers, their reactions are a mixture of disbelief and curiosity.  Let’s face it: Saving a $40,000 down payment for a $200,000 home purchase is pretty hard, and for first-time homebuyers, especially Millennials, that entered the workforce during the recession, it really sounds like a pipe dream.  Hey, I know how it feels firsthand.  More on that later…

According to the 2018 Borrower Insight Survey from Ellie Mae, a whopping 48.6 percent of renters think they need to put 20 percent or more down on a home purchase. Another 40.4 percent said they need 4-19 percent down. (For background, Ellie Mae is a leading software company that serves the mortgage finance industry. Their proprietary software processes more than 35 percent of home loan applications nationwide.)

Sadly, those stats don’t surprise me.  If the study would have been conducted in 2007, when I moved to Jacksonville, I would’ve been one of those folks that believed I needed significant cash to purchase a home.

I was not a Realtor at the time but now that I am, I can certainly appreciate my then-predicament: My rent was equivalent to the mortgage of a $120,000 home. But for three years, I rented and gave my hard-earned money to someone else… because I thought that A.) I couldn’t afford a home. B.) Who’s going to lend a 20-something-year-old money? And C.) I for-sure didn’t have $20,000 sitting at the bank.

And it wasn’t until I began reading and researching that I discovered that there were a variety of home loan products that would allow me to purchase my own home for less than 20 percent down. And that I did. At 26 years old, I was handed the keys to a cute home in the Mandarin area of Jacksonville. The purchase price was $159,000 and because of the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) program the down payment was 3.5 percent - or $5,565 - a much easier amount to obtain for someone in my situation.

So I leave you with this: home ownership is possible.  Don’t rule out the idea or label it a fantasy until you have a chance to speak to your trusted real estate advisor and explain your situation.  There are options and solutions for almost every situation.

- Mabel Perez, Real Estate Maven

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