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More Grand Rapids, MI Homeowners Looking Outdoors

by Mark Brace

With better weather now here in the Grand Rapids area, more homeowners are looking outdoors. The latest from, citing a Saber Grills survey, stated that now 83 percent of homeowners find their outdoor living space to be their favorite part of their home. Up until now, the kitchen has been considered the "heart of the home," but it seems that popular opinion is swaying in favor of outdoor living spaces, peaking homeowner interest and perhaps potential Michigan homebuyer interest as well.

The survey found that "Midwesterners are the most interactive with their outdoor space. They update and accessorize most often and 75 percent use it throughout the week." Blame it on a harsh winter and too many months of snow, but we may see more Grand Rapids area homebuyers this summer favoring outdoor spaces and searching for homes for sale that have relaxing outdoor space to offer. It is being said that outdoor spaces are the new "heart of the home," especially as a whopping 81 percent of survey participants labeled it as such.

With the survey's representation of today's homeowner, nearly half said they would update their outdoor living spaces as much as their favorite interior room. Adding a grill, special lighting, a pool, a hot tub, a TV and even access to WiFi are all important to homeowners in the Midwest— our region of the U.S. was deemed the most likely to add tech upgrades like TVs to outdoor spaces. 

"We've dubbed this group 'super relaxers," said a Saber Grills executive. "The outdoor space was a major factor in their home buying decision and they are very engaged in making it comfortable. This group leads the way in defining how an outdoor space can be used and decorated."

So, what does that mean for this summer's Grand Rapids homeowners who are preparing to sell? You may want to keep your outdoor spaces in mind as Michigan homebuyers may be paying close attention to the living space beyond your home's walls. Curb appeal also plays a major factor in helping the homebuyer feel welcomed to a home, not just in the areas surrounding the home's front door, but also side yards and backyards. 

Does your home have a clean and clear path to the front door? Is your front yard landscaped and free of weeds or overgrown grass, bushes and shrubs? If the home has a fence, it is stable and free of peeling paint or faded stain? In the backyard, is your deck an eye sore or a prized feature of your outdoor space? If you have a pool, is it well-maintained? These are all projects that Grand Rapids area home sellers can tackle this summer and get their homes ready for homebuyers who may be coming into the local real estate market over the next few months.

If you're thinking of selling your home in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Forest Hills, East Grand Rapids, Cascade, Ada, Rockford, Northview, and Grandville, I would be happy to help! Let's discuss the best features of your home and how those play into what area homebuyers are looking for this season. I look forward to hearing from you!

I happily serve the areas of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Forest Hills, East Grand Rapids, Cascade, Ada, Rockford, Northview, Grandville, Kentwood, Caledonia, Walker, Cedar Springs, Sparta, Belmont, Comstock Park, Byron Center, Wyoming, Alpine, Kenowa Hills, Plainfield, Cannon, Lowell, Sand Lake, Jenison, Hudsonville, Wayland, Belmont, Alto and Kent City

Mark Brace

Brace Homes

Realtor, ABR, CRS, GRI, SRES, e-pro, AHWD, SFR

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Michigan Real Estate

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What Homebuyers Want in Grand Rapids MI

by Mark Brace

As spring winds down and summer draws closer, more and more homebuyers are beginning to come out for the busy season, especially as they start to notice local real estate market increases. Nationwide, inventory is finally seeing an increase (great news for homebuyers), as well as existing home sales and housing prices. According to a new analysis by CoreLogic, a global real estate industry firm, U.S. home prices saw increases up to 11.3% in the fourth quarter of last year compared to the previous year.

"Limited construction of new homes and low inventories of existing homes for sale contributed to the jump," said one CoreLogic economist. Also contributing to the increases are the number of "traditional" homebuyers that are making the move into the Grand Rapids real estate market. Buyers that choose homes based on their own personal wish list and desire to stay put for a good amount of time. These traditional buyers are choosing homes based on certain features that appeal to their lifestyle, including their profession.

So what types of features are drawing these homebuyers to homes in the Grand Rapids area? Or what will they be looking for as the summer buying season gets underway? One important factor is an easier commute! 

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently reported that "seventy-three percent of recent homebuyers said that commuting costs were an important factor when deciding whether or not to purchase." Homebuyers are now weighing the benefits of being close to work as well as having shops, restaurants, schools, and transportation nearby. As of late, buyers are now factoring these into their decision to purchase a home in the Grand Rapids area

Homebuyers want to live close to their workplace and as a result, that is driving up housing prices. "It creates a positive feedback loop; the more skilled workers employed in an area, the more others want to move there." Neighborhoods also benefit from having such skilled professionals in the area as it raises the profile of the community and thus, the value of the homes. It's also a great selling point for those who may currently be living in a coveted area— so, Grand Rapids area home sellers take note!

In addition to the commute time, homebuyers in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Forest Hills, East Grand Rapids, Cascade, Ada, Rockford, Northview, and Grandville are looking for neighborhoods that are walkable. Not only do they want their Michigan homes to be close to their workplace, but also in easy-to-navigate and walk-around neighborhoods that offer a mix of homes, stores, and businesses. According to a National Association of Realtors Community Preference Survey, 60% of those looking to purchase a home agreed that they chose a home based on its walkability and proximity to such shops and businesses.

What's important to you as a Grand Rapids area homebuyer? If this is the year you're planning to buy a new home, we can work together to find a home that meets your criteria, in a great neighborhood and with your home wish list features. Contact me today to discuss which homes are available for you!

I happily serve the areas of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Forest Hills, East Grand Rapids, Cascade, Ada, Rockford, Northview, Grandville, Kentwood, Caledonia, Walker, Cedar Springs, Sparta, Belmont, Comstock Park, Byron Center, Wyoming, Alpine, Kenowa Hills, Plainfield, Cannon, Lowell, Sand Lake, Jenison, Hudsonville, Wayland, Belmont, Alto and Kent City

Mark Brace

Brace Homes

Realtor, ABR, CRS, GRI, SRES, e-pro, AHWD, SFR

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Michigan Real Estate

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No Cost: A Photogenic Listing

by Mark Brace
Try these no-cost techniques for showing off curb appeal in online photos. Article by Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Stunning curb appeal can make buyers fall in love with a home from the moment they pull up in their car.

But equally important in today’s Web-driven world is ensuring that your listings’ curb appeal transfers to online photos, says designer ­Michelle Molinari, founder of Curb Appeal Concepts and co-owner of the design and staging company Feature This… in Abbeville, La.

"You can spend all the money you want on curb appeal, but if it doesn’t show up in the picture, it’s pointless," Molinari says. Here are a few simple, no cost ways to get curb appeal in your property photos.

1. Remove the window screens.

A home’s exterior, with brick or shingles, generally looks dull. Some home owners try to add shine with door knobs and lighting fixtures. But those subtle objects often don’t show up in a photo. Molinari says one of the best ways to add vitality and dimension in photos is by removing screens from the windows in the front of the home. Window screens can make windows look filmy and dark, she says. "Windows are the eyes of the home, and you want to show off a healthy pair of eyes," says Molinari, who first got the idea to remove the screens after watching set designers prep a row of neighborhood homes for a movie.

But whatever you do, don’t throw away those screens! Keep them in the garage and reinstall them once the house has sold. Chances are, Molinari says, buyers won’t question why there are no screens during the showing, but they will notice that the house looks bright and cheery.

2. Water the mulch.

Black mulch is a favorite for creating a clean polished look that helps curb appeal. But you can steal the look even if your mulch is brown. Before a showing or photo, water the mulch in the front of the house. The mulch will take on a darker tone, which will go a long way in making the greenery around it pop and look more vibrant, Molinari says. Darker mulch grounds a house, drawing attention to the foundation. "It’ll look like coffee grounds—[it will appear] rich, healthy, and fertile," she says.

3. Show off the path to the doorway.

Use the "red carpet ­effect" to bring the home’s walkway front and center. "With too many homes, you have to park the car and get out before you eventually see the path that leads up to the home," Molinari says. "Make your listing’s walkway stand out."

 Besides making sure the path is clear, make it prominent in your photos: Snap the photo from a higher vantage point. Don’t just stand in the street to capture a photo of the exterior, as so many do. Try using a three-foot ladder to capture the image from a higher standpoint, or shoot it from an angle. "It will put the home miles above the others on the MLS," Molinari says. "It will look like it’s welcoming buyers."


How Long Is My Short Sale Going To Take?

by Mark Brace

How long do Short Sales take?... quite and interesting question, as there are several variables in play when you are working on a Grand Rapids Short Sales. Things you to understand in regards to short sales, which can complicate the negotiation process.

  1. There can be more than 1 lien on the home (i.e. 80/20 mortgage, HELOC, water) If 2 mortgages they may be with the same bank or different banks, if different it can take longer to get them to agree on the settlement, if they will agree, some will never agree.
  2.  Even though the mortgage is serviced by a bank that doesn’t mean the primary investor is that bank they may need to take the negations to another bank to see if they will work with it. (Typically this is how Fannie or Freddie fits in) as they are the primary investors in the majority of loans.
  3. There may be defects in title, or legal disputes such as property lines etc... That may be involved that can hold the process up.
  4. The Realtor or third party negotiator that is working on the file my be very experienced and have connections or not. This can vary the time of a short sale by over a month or two.
  5. From the time you make an offer the short sale times can differ if the sellers have already started the process with the bank, compared to starting at Square one.

I guess what I’m trying to convey to you is that they are very complicated, and can be simplified if things are be handled by professionals. I have had probably close to 40-50 short sales completed in the last 2 years. And they have ranged from 45 days to just over 10 months. I would say a typical short sale should take around 3-4 months. You should look the professionals you are working with to give you an indication of how long you individual situation is going to take, and the variables involved.

Grand Rapids Michigan Named Americas Greenest City

by Mark Brace

The Rust Belt city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, takes on a green patina -- and finds that it boosts business

On a sunny afternoon in Grand Rapids, a group of earnest, middle-age folks is gathered in a conference room, looking at slides of wind turbines and charts about wasteful energy use. A full-bearded man, who looks as if he's just back from a nature walk, talks about his plans to build a home showcasing the latest in low-impact design. At the front of the room, the speaker asks, pep-rally style, "What's the most effective source of renewable energy today? Conservation!"

But this isn't a meeting of Earth-loving Hippies Reunited. The speaker, Michael Ford, is an executive at Cascade Engineering, a plastics manufacturer that makes ducts for Ford, dashboard silencers for Chrysler, and all manner of doodads for other industries, and he's presenting at the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum's monthly meeting. The attendees are top managers from major companies in and around Grand Rapids, the region's commercial center and Michigan's second-largest city. "We are in business to make money," Ford reminds them. They're doing it by turning eco-friendly, in the belief that reducing the environmental cost of commerce will raise their profits, boost the regional economy, and burnish Grand Rapids' increasingly credible claim to the title of greenest city in America.

Grand Rapids leads the nation in the number of LEED-certified buildings per capita. In 2005, Mayor George Heartwell pledged that more than 20% of the city's power would come from renewable sources by 2008; it hit that target a year early, and Heartwell upped the target to 100% by 2020. The municipal government's energy use has been cut by more than 10%. The public-transit fleet features hybrid buses. And here, in the heart of the Rust Belt, manufacturers are leading the greenification charge. Office-furniture heavyweights Herman Miller and Steelcase both have LEED-certified buildings in the area, as do industrial firms such as Cascade Engineering.

Peter Wege, Steelcase's retired chairman, is the father of green Grand Rapids. "In 1937, when I started working in the desk plant of my father's metal-office-furniture company, I learned that we recycled steel to cut costs," Wege recalls. "Seven years later, flying an Army plane into Pittsburgh on a sunny day, I became an environmentalist when I had to ask for tower lights because I couldn't see the airport through the black smog. Those two experiences helped make me an economicologist -- a word I coined to define the balance we need between economy and ecology."

Over the years, Wege ordered various eco-friendly moves, introducing the reprocessing of toxic solvents and investing in a baler for recycling packing materials -- a purchase he cites as a proof of economicology because "once the baler was paid for, Steelcase began saving $20,000 a year." Last year, Wege gave $20 million for the construction of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the world's first LEED-certified art museum.

Wege also popularized the term "triple bottom line" here, listing human welfare and environmental responsibility on par with fiscal profit. Today, that's the most common eco-biz buzzword in Grand Rapids. "Environmental drivers may be the reason companies try sustainable business practices, but eventually business drivers take over," says Dave Rinard, Steelcase's director of global environmental performance. The company's LEED-certified wood-fabrication facility, for example, cost up to 5% more to build than a traditional plant, but it uses about 30% less energy; Steelcase recouped the extra cost in 18 months. It also refined its wood-manufacturing process, replacing harsh solvent-based chemicals with a water-based one. The new finish costs more but proved easier to recover and reuse, and takes just 24 hours to cure wood, compared to 90 days for the toxic solvents. It also makes workers happier. "At the finishing point in most plants, workers wear hazmat suits and respirators," says Steelcase manager Kevin Kuske. "Ours wear shorts and T-shirts."

Like Steelcase, Cascade Engineering sought LEED certification -- its HQ is rated platinum -- and greenification has opened the company's eyes to new lines of business. Its new EcoCart, a curbside trash receptacle made with recycled plastics, has quickly become a hot seller, and the firm has inked a deal with a Scottish company to be the exclusive North American marketer of an innovative wind turbine that includes a plastic propeller produced by Cascade. "Most businesspeople think of instituting sustainability as a zero-sum game," says Cascade founder and CEO Fred Keller. "But it is the right thing to do -- and we think we can make it a good business, too."

In becoming a green center, Grand Rapids is also turning itself into a lab, a training camp, and both an exporter and a magnet of expertise. Keller teaches a sustainable-business course at Cornell University, and it was there that he recruited Michael Ford, one of his MBA students, who has launched two energy-related subsidiaries in the past two years. Integrated Architecture, designer of several of Grand Rapids' LEED-certified buildings, has an expanding list of out-of-state clients drawn by its hometown work. Aquinas College launched the nation's first undergraduate-degree program in sustainable business in 2003, underwritten by a $1 million donation from Steelcase's Wege. "We see ourselves as part of the new knowledge-based economy," says Bill Stough, CEO of Sustainable Research Group, a consultancy with a growing national business. "We're exporting the information we've learned to other parts of the country."

Matthew Tueth, chair of Aquinas's sustainable-business program, goes so far as to call what's happening in Grand Rapids a "movement" that could secure the region's economic future. "You can make lots of money while at the same time having a restorative -- not just a less-bad -- effect on the environment," he says. "This is not a fad. And if it is, we're done as a species."

Thinking about moving to Grand Rapids click here to view available homes

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Getting the Price Right On Home Value Sites

by Mark Brace
Getting the Price Right On Home Value Sites

Anyone can research the potential resale value or sales history of their home -- or their neighbor's -- by plugging in the address on Internet sites like, and

However, while all three allow house hunters to price or compare properties they may be interested in, and potential sellers to get guidance in setting an asking price, the sites aren't always 100% accurate.

Zillow's calculation of a home's value  -- a "Zestimate" -- should be a "starting point," says Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow's director of communications.

All these sites utilize at least some public information, so in regions where housing data is not complete or up to date, these sites' calculations may fall short.

"In some places, we don't have enough information to complete a Zestimate," Ms. Bohutinsky says. According to Zillow, of the 70 million homes in their database, the site has Zestimates for 52 million of them, or approximately 74%.

Likewise, Cyberhomes has data on more than 100 million property records across the U.S., and RealEstateABC has property information for more than 60 million U.S. homes.

To counter these issues, Cyberhomes, RealEstateABC and Zillow invite consumers to update property data. On Zillow, anyone can view changes to a home's profile, so the site may be useful to sellers who want to market their properties. Zillow has several measures in place to restrict non-homeowners from editing other people's property profiles. "Any user can flag content for review by Zillow's customer service team," Ms. Bohutinsky says.

Any consumer can adjust a home's details on Cyberhomes and RealEstateABC, but the revised profiles are available only to the person who made the changes. As a result, these sites can be used by anyone who wants to factor in how multiple variables may affect the price a particular property may get on the market.

To get the most out of these sites, use these steps to update home profiles and price estimates:

Type your home's address to get to the property's highlights page. To adjust the home's estimated worth, click "Refine Value" and add the number of bedrooms/bathrooms, square feet, etc.

To factor fixes or remodels into a property's estimated value, click on the plus sign to the left of "Home Improvements." Select a project from the pull-down menu, type in the date it was completed and its total cost. Hit "Add" to factor in the changes. Repeat for additional home improvements and click "Apply changes & continue."

To further refine the site's estimate of a property's value, select similar nearby homes. To do so, hit "Choose Comparable Home Sales." Click on the properties most like the home in question and hit "Apply changes & continue."

Choose "Adjust Market/Home Conditions" to rate the property's lot size, view, privacy and other features on a scale ranging from "Worse" to "Same" to "Better," and to describe the local real-estate market as "Slow," "Average" or "Hot."

Click "Update" for a new calculation of the home's worth.

The information you supply will be used to create a new estimation of the property's value, which will be listed under "Your Changes" on the search results page, and isn't made public. "It is a clipboard just for you to use," explains Marty Frame, senior vice president and chief information officer of Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions. While homeowners may want an updated measure of their residence's worth, not all want that estimation to be public, say to a neighbor or tax assessor, he explains. "There is a real reluctance of people to come online and give up their private information," he says.

If RealEstateABC has calculated an "ABC Value" for your home, you can adjust it by clicking on the "Adjust Value" tab in the table to the left of the map. (If there is no ABC Value for your property, your changes will have no effect.) Rate the residence's interior, exterior, lot size, view and privacy/noise on a scale from "worst in group," to "average" to "best in group." For example, if you think the house is under par for a certain quality -- say, perhaps it's on a busy street -- slide the slider to the left.

Again, only if the home has an ABC Value assigned to it, you can fix or add property characteristics (e.g., number of bedrooms or bathrooms) by clicking on the edit button for that feature and entering the correct information.

To further refine the site's calculation of the property's worth, select homes that are a close match in value from the provided list of addresses. After making your choices, click "Done" to save.

The new ABC Value is available only to you and is not permanently kept on the site. RealEstateABC doesn't make these new calculations publicly available because of the "subjectivity" involved in estimating a home's value, says Michael Dodge, general manager of the home and real-estate division of Internet Brands. "What is valuable to one seller or buyer isn't valuable to another," he explains. Homeowners can use ABC values to set a selling price, while house hunters can utilize them to compare various properties they may be interested in, he says. "A buyer can go out and look at a few different homes and adjust [the scales] according to what they observed in a particular house," he says.

Homeowners can "claim" their house or property on and update information for Zillow's users (and potential buyers) to see about their property, such as the number of bedrooms and square footage, and note recent remodels or important details about the home. "It is something we recommend any seller to do," says Ms. Bohutinsky, Zillow's director of communications. Homeowners can advertise their home for free on Zillow or suggest a "Make Me Move" price (a dollar amount that might convince a homeowner who isn't selling to move), so updating one's home facts on Zillow is potentially important for those reasons. At least 600,000 U.S. homeowners have claimed and edited the profiles on their properties, Ms. Bohutinsky says. For homes for which Zillow has a "Zestimate" (an estimation of the residence's market value, based on public data) adding additional details about a home will create an "owner's estimate," or a new calculation of that property's worth. Such estimates run side-by-side with Zestimates, but later this year, the site will incorporate homeowner-added information into the Zestimates, Ms. Bohutinsky says.

To claim a home and create a new estimate, enter in an address, click "Claim Your Home" and register with the site by choosing the legal name of the property's owner from a list of randomly generated ones and agree to a virtual affidavit.

To proceed, go to your home's details page, click on the address and hit "Edit Facts." Adding information to a property's profile is as simple as typing in the new data and saving.

By Lauren Baier Kim :Ms. Kim is a senior editor at

Displaying blog entries 1-6 of 6

Contact Information

Mark Brace, Realtor, ABR, GRI, CRS, SRES, e-PRO, A
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Michigan Real Estate
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Grand Rapids MI 49525
Direct: (616) 447-7025
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Fax: (616) 447-7025

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Michigan Real Estate is a full service, locally operated real estate brokerage company backed by the strength of a solid national and global brand. Our full service businesses include Residential, Commercial, Relocation, Mortgage, Insurance, Home Services and New Homes & Land. Our core values, service philosophy, cutting edge technology, and most importantly our people are what make us the leading real estate company in Michigan. We are committed to providing the highest quality real estate services possible and making each customer's experience one that surpasses their expectations.