• Address: 209 West Markham Avenue, Durha, NC 27701
  • List Price: $299,000
  • Sale Price: $293,000
  • Neighborhood: Duke Park
  • Square Feet: 1792
  • Bedrooms: 4
  • Bathrooms: 2
  • Lot size: 0.17 acre
  • List price: $329,000
  • 3 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms
  • 1810 square feet in house
  • 1196 square feet in garage and studio
  • Built in 1927

I know that at this time of year we need to focus on weight reduction (okay, maybe just me), but I must sing the praises of a great restaurant that opened earlier this year in downtown Durham, NC. I recently brought some out-of-town relatives there on a vist for a post-Thanksgiving meal, and they were duly impressed.

Bull City Burger and Brewery is located on Parrish Street, between Mangum and Roxboro Streets, in the rapidly developing downtown area of Durham. On my second visit, I had a group of seven eating there with me. This included some in-laws that I wished to impress with the cosmopolitan nature of Durham that has changed significantly since they lived nearby many years ago.

The biggest draw for this great new eatery is the grass-fed, North Carolina-bred beef that they serve. The hormone- and additive-free burgers are the most flavorful that I have ever tasted. In the past, the hightlight of my burgers seemingly has been the toppings that I choose to place on them. Here, the locally produced lettuce, onions, and pickles greatly complemented the flavor of the all-American sandwich. The meal was fantastic, and came with both types of French fries that they serve (I shared with my wife and my son). Please click on the link above to see the full menu, so that you might see the full range of food that they offer.

The on-site brewery is also a huge attraction. This is the third brewery located in downtown Durham (see also Fullsteam Brewery and Triangle Brewery Company), and the newest is the first with a full-service restaurant attached. On my first visit I had the Parrish Street Pale Ale, and it was hoppy and refreshing like a traditional pale ale, but tasted much fresher because it was only days old.

I was delighted to find my favorite style of beer on my second visit – an oatmeal stout. The Watts Oatmeal Stout had a wonderfully chocolaty and malty finish and had only finished brewing three days before I had my pint. Another experimental keg (which unfortunately had been consumed the night before) was the Watts Oatmeal Stout with both coffee and cinnamon added. I learned from this experience that I need to sign up for email alerts on the Bull City Burger and Brewery homepage so I know when new kegs come on tap!

DPACWe are very fortunate in Durham, NC to have the world-class DPAC that opened here in the Bull City November 30, 2008. Last year I wrote a blog which stated that in 2010 DPAC reached the top-10 list (number 9) of most attended performance venues in the United States. I wrote that with the schedule that we had for 2011, I was sure that ranking would rise for the upcoming year.

DPAC announced earlier this month that, in fact, the ranking did rise to number 4 in the U.S. for the 2011 attendance statistics accoring to Pollstar, a concert industry magazine. Last year, the most popular performances included “The Lion King” and “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” There were 68 sellout performances for the year.

This year the list of performers are both stellar and diverse: musicians Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, The Moody Blues, and Elvis Costello will be gracing the stage; comedians Steve Harvey and Lewis Black will be yukking it up; and the plays “Wicked” and “West Side Story” will all be adding drama to the stage this year. The rest of the shows for the upcoming year can be found on their website.

Here is to a very successful 2012, DPAC! Y’all come and see a show, ya’ hear.

Real estate consumers today can find ample value in distressed homes – properties that are under a foreclosure order or up for short sale. In many cases, however, “distressed” speaks more for the condition of the homes than their recent financial histories, as they’ve sat empty for extended periods and have been subject to vandalism and theft.

Those considering homes in need of repair and renovation should consider a 203k mortgage, which enables homebuyers to finance both the acquisition and rehabilitation of the property with just one loan.

“FHA 203k purchase loans are the perfect financing vehicle for homeowners seeking the value proposition offered by REO homes,” said David Wind, president and board chairman of White Plains, N.Y.-based Guaranteed Home Mortgage Company, in a company statement this June. “Home buyers’ ‘perfect’ home can be purchased in less than perfect condition with a single-close loan product that allows repairs and remodeling.”

There are two types of 203k loans: the 203k streamline and the full 203k. The 203k streamline is the most popular among homebuyers and lenders.

“The maximum allowable in repairs is $35,000 under the 203k streamline and it does not allow any structural repairs to be done to the home, unless [the repairs are] a result of an unforeseen circumstance,” explained David Krushinsky, a certified mortgage planning specialist for Mesa, Ariz.-based AmeriFirst Financial Inc. “The full 203k allows structural repairs and will allow the buyer to exceed the $35,000 in home repairs. Both loans allow up to $1,500 in swimming pool repairs.”

Contractors chosen to perform repairs must be licensed, bonded and insured, and they usually must provide the lender with a resume and two client-reference letters.

“After the close of escrow is when all the rehabilitation work begins,” said Krushinsky. “Funds usually aren’t released immediately so it’s important for your contractor to start work in a timely manner. Typically, if they’ve been in business, they have existing relationships with vendors so they can order materials and begin work. If not, the project may take longer than anticipated.”

Since the 203k mortgage is based on the home’s potential value after repairs — not its existing value — you can be approved for a higher loan amount. The mortgages also carry long-term-fixed rates, are insured as soon as they fund, and include escrow accounts for the scheduled repairs.

Loan amounts are capped according to local FHA limits. Only owner-occupied properties of one to four units qualify for 203k mortgage financing; homes also must be at least one year old.

When it comes to preparing your home for sale in an environmentally friendly way, Kermit the Frog had it wrong. It is easy being green.

With so many homebuyers seeking green features in the homes they consider, sellers should create an eco-friendly atmosphere for the buyer, and that doesn’t always mean costly fixes.

It’s always nice for a homebuyer who’s been touring houses all day to find water or a snack waiting for them in your kitchen. Instead of leaving the customary bottled water, go the eco-friendly route and have a pitcher of filtered tap water at the ready. Add some organic fruits and vegetables and keep trash minimized. Also, use glassware and plates instead of plastic cups and paper plates. This practice is not only green, it shows class.

Talk with your agent about using recycled paper for all your brochures and advertisements around the neighborhood. Someone who is environmentally conscious will appreciate the effort.

Another way to act “green” is during your de-cluttering stage, where you remove furniture and other items from your home prior to the home’s listing. Instead of simply throwing out all those things you no longer want or need, you can recycle, resell at a garage sale, donate to a charity, or give away the items at the popular website Freecycle.com.

Big fixes around the home can go a long way, too. In this age of global warming and high-energy costs, more buyers are looking for houses that embrace energy conservation. The simplest upgrade is to replace all the light bulbs in the home with CFLs (compact fluorescents), which use a quarter of the electricity as regular bulbs.

To help with heating, make sure cracks are tightly caulked and leaks are sealed. Doing so can reduce your annual heating bill by $100, according to Department of Energy figures.

Justin Barnes, a policy analyst for the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, said some of the easiest green fixes deal with appliance replacement. Most of today’s appliances are highly efficient and will reduce your energy bills. They’re also more attractive than their worn-out predecessors.

Barnes also suggests replacing doors and windows if the budget allows, and looking for better ways to insulate the home.

Also consider tankless water heaters, which are energy efficient and ultimately use less water during the heating process.

Don’t be afraid to boast about your green home and any recent enhancements. Working with your agent to highlight your eco-friendly features may just be what makes the difference in completing the sale.

Homeowners with young children face a common challenge when their house is on the market: How do you keep the home clean and ready for prospective buyers while maintaining a kid-friendly and safe environment?

Keeping that “staged look” as the kids create instant messes can be overwhelming.  Your primary focus should be the kids’ bedrooms, according to two home stagers.

“Children’s bedrooms are often problematic when getting a home ready to sell,” said Külli Yee, founder and president of Ilus Design Home Staging and Re-design, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada. “They tend to have more clutter than most rooms in the form of toys and activities, and out-of-season and hand-me-down clothes and toys are often stored in the child’s bedroom.”

Yee suggests limiting the number of toys and activities that children play with each week and adding and subtracting as the kids get bored.

“Most kids only actively use three or four favorite toys at a time and the rest just sits there collecting dust,” Yee said. “Pack away extra toys, stuffed animals and books. Organize the remaining toys neatly in baskets, boxes and bins and display only a few items on the shelves.”

Alice T. Chan, a Fremont, Calif.-based home stager and author of the book 8 Steps for Creating an Irresistible Market Ready Home that Sells, recommended keeping a child’s bedroom floor and closet free of clutter by lightening the load.

“Reduce the amount of items stored in the closets,” she said. “Pack, store or give away anything that the child doesn’t need for the next two to three months. This is also the perfect time to get rid of unused or broken toys and old clothes.”

For those with infants, a nursery should be kept tidy with all extra diapers, wipes, lotions, baby bottles and clothes hidden away in a dresser. Make sure that the diaper pail is emptied frequently.

Moreover, remove any furniture that doesn’t serve a purpose in the nursery. Anything beyond a crib, dresser, rocking chair, changing table and small accessories should be packed away.

If your kids have their own rooms, consider asking them to share a room for a couple of months until the home sells. This allows you to set up the other bedrooms as a guest room or home office, adding extra value to your home.

Unlike pets, you can’t simply pack up the kids and send them away for weeks at a time. Remind your children that once your current home sells, the new home will bring them exciting new adventures. If that doesn’t make them more cooperative in helping keep the place then there’s always plan B: bribe them with ice cream, outside!

The accolades for the Bull City have been piling up as of late, and the most recent one will certainly add allure to our well-balanced city. Some of our recent kudos are listed on the scroll at Durham’s website.

In a May issue of US News & World Report, it is reported that the Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina is the place that represents the greatest amount of sexual equality in the entire United States. This study is based on income equality, male and female representation in the workplace, and educational level.

I read recently that there are now more females than males getting their advanced degrees, and the educational metropolis of Durham-Chapel Hill should certainly be a place where this equality is most evident.

Home Sellers: A Deck May Make the Difference

With spring in the air, the exterior of a home becomes even more important when putting your house on the market because buyers now will spend more time outside looking at your property and envisioning what their summer barbeques and family playtime will look like.

The addition of any amount of usable real estate to a property increases value. Customized decks and personalized outdoor living areas are a hot trend in home improvement upgrades, and a great-looking deck may entice more people to come see your home.

Building or updating an existing deck isn’t simply a great investment; it also provides opportunities to personalize your backyard and customize the look to your taste. And with many families staying home this summer to save money, why not think about creating the perfect location for entertaining?

Deck experts agree that multi-level decks are the most popular now. These are a series of decks connected by stairways or walkways, which are aesthetically pleasing and can be used for different purposes. One level can be used to catch the sun, one level can be positioned for shade and another can be set close to the house for entertaining and barbequing.

Wood decks have always been the most popular, but caring for them is tough. They will rot over time, are subject to insect infestation and require a great deal of maintenance to keep the wood from fading. Accordingly, people are embracing composite materials for their decks, which cost significantly more but will last longer with less maintenance.

For those homes that already have a deck, it’s important to make sure that it’s still in good shape and adds to the attractiveness of a property. You can change your deck’s appearance with interesting balusters to match other decorative accents on your house or in your yard and really add unique touches to make the deck a personal haven. Meanwhile, railings offer a good opportunity to pull in color and ornamental detail that complements the house.

By designing your deck with accents, lights and unique accessories, you can transform your backyard into an outdoor retreat one will never want to leave. Whether you’re catching up with friends over a grilled dinner in the evening or are curled up with a book in a lounge chair on a sunny afternoon, a deck is the perfect place to be.

Our beloved Bull City has taken another step toward becoming more environmentally-friendly, less energy consumptive, and ultimately, saving its citizen-taxpayers money in utility costs. I have blogged in the past about other environmental initiatives that Durham has taken, and this is yet another.

Firefighters in Stations 8, 14, and 16 are the fortunate ones who are are able to benefit from using the sun’s solar energy to naturally heat their water. These firehouses still have radiators and boilers to provide heat for the rooms, but the boilers will be used less frequently because of the new solar panels that were added to the roofs of the three buildings.

The manager of Durham’s Sustainability Office, Tobin Freid, said, “The installation of these systems will help the City meet its greenhouse gas objectives by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by five metric tons annually.”

These three firehouses are the third, fourth, and fifth of Durham’s fire stations to get this treatment, because Fire Stations 12 an 15 already have implemented these energy saving measures.

To learn more about this project and other environmental initiatives that Durham has in place, please visit Durham’s website.