FEMA Changes Encourage Private Flood Insurance



In the absence of legislative reform by Congress, there’s only so much the Federal Emergency Management Agency can do to encourage the growth of private flood insurance. But FEMA, which oversees federal flood insurance, has come up with a few small but meaningful program changes that will make it easier for households to switch to private insurance if they can get a better deal that way.

First, the agency has lifted the requirement that households retain their federal coverage if they switch to private insurance before their coverage term is up. Prior to this change, households had to maintain their federal coverage even after switching to private coverage, which meant they had to pay two sets of premiums if they made the switch.

And second, insurance companies that offer federal coverage can now also offer private coverage as well, either their own or another company’s. Prior to this change, if a company offered the federal option, it was prohibited from providing a private alternative.

The agency has also made two other small changes to make life easier for homeowners who appear to be in a flood zone.

First, if a homeowner’s state uses what’s known as LiDAR technology to collect elevation data, owners can now use that data to demonstrate they don’t need flood insurance. That can save them as much as $2,000 on the cost of a separate elevation certificate. The downside here is many states are not yet using the new technology to collect elevation data, though Minnesota and North Carolina are two examples of those that do.

And second, FEMA’s procedures for newly mapped flood areas will be extended to apply to more properties. That means more owners will be able to start their premiums at a lower rate and only gradually reach responsibility for full premiums.

—Rob Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine

Preparing your home for Sale

5 effective and inexpensive ways to stage your home

Home stagingIt might seem extravagant for sellers to spend thousands of dollars staging their homes, yet properly staging a home is one of the most important steps in the selling process. The reason is that buyers need to see firsthand just how livable a house can be. A well-staged home lets them experience a home’s full potential.

Some sellers worry about the costs involved with having a professional staging company come in and stage their home. If you want to take a low-budget route, here are five cost-effective ways to make your home look its best.

Up your curb appeal — Never underestimate the power of first impressions. Along with cleaning up your yard, trimming the landscaping and adding a couple pots of flowers at the entryway, try painting your door. A bold red can get great results.

Pack up your personal belongings — Nothing makes a potential homeowner feel so intrusive and, thus, less at home, than seeing pictures of someone else’s family.

Get rid of all strange smells — Even if the smell is just a touch off, it can turn a potential buyer away. Use plug-in deodorizers, lightly scented candles and bowls of baking soda to absorb all offending smells.

Add more light — Install brighter light bulbs and keep the blinds open for showings. The more light, the better!

Ask for a second opinion — If you know someone who classifies themselves as a neat freak, ask them to come over and let loose. The smudges, dings and old stains that don’t bother you could easily affect someone else’s overall perception of the property.


Kingsley, Kalkaska Emerge As (Cheaper) Alternatives

Kingsley, Kalkaska Emerge As (Cheaper) Alternatives

By Ross Boissoneau | Jan. 24, 2018

The median sales price for a single-family home in Traverse City rose to $256,000 last year, a figure prompting many would-be homeowners to look to adjacent towns to the north or south.  In nearby Kingsley, the median sales price was $161,500, and just up M-72 North in Kalkaska, it was $109,050 – less than half of Traverse City.

Kingsley resident and Keller Williams realtor Stacy Allman says leaving Traverse City in the rearview mirror for Kalkaska or Kingsley means you can find a three or four bedroom and one and a half bath home between $150,000 and $200,000. In Traverse City, such a home would be well over $200,000 – if you can find one at all.

Max Anderson — whose job ironically is to promote all things Traverse City — knows that firsthand. The executive director of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and his wife searched for a home in TC to no avail. “We wanted to be in downtown Traverse City, as it was close to work. We put offers in (on houses) and they got bought out from under us,” he says.

That led them to consider other towns nearby, eventually opting for Kingsley. “It’s close enough to Traverse City to have everything you want, yet I can walk on the back deck and there’s no light pollution,” Anderson says.

Gabe Snider and her husband Shannon are similarly pleased, though their story is a bit different. The two were looking for a specific type of property, and found what they wanted in Kalkaska. “It’s an old farmhouse with a barn and carriage house, two lean-tos and a chicken coop, on almost 20 acres,” she tells The Ticker. “In Traverse City it probably would be more than $400,000.” In Kalkaska? $135,000 with 11 acres, and the owner added another seven acres for $1.

The numbers bear out the two towns’ burgeoning popularity, where housing prices have steadily increased each year. In Kingsley, the median sale price 2014 was $119,950; last year it grew to $161,500. In Kalkaska, the median 2014 price was $92,000, compared to $109,050 in 2017. Solid growth, but nothing compared to  Traverse City, where in 2014 the median price was already $194,700, growing to $256,000 last year — and pricing some out of the market.

And homes in Kingsley and Kalkaska are not staying on the market as long, either. Kingsley homes were for sale, on average, 105 days in 2014, dropping to 63 three years later. The story’s the same in Kalkaska, where the median days on market fell from 117 in 2014 to 89 last year.

And it’s not only home prices where buyers find savings. “Just south of Kingsley is still a good shot to Traverse City, but Wexford County taxes are lower,” says Allman.

She’s also a cheerleader for her hometown. “I serve on the DDA in Kingsley, and we’re bringing business in. It’s a top-ranked school, and enrollment is increasing. And it’s a tight-knit community.”

Lifelong Kalkaska resident and realtor Sue Vowels of Coldwell Banker Schmidt, who sold the Sniders their home, is similarly enthusiastic about her town. “There are activities like the Trout Festival, and horse, RV and snowmobile trails. You don’t go more than three miles without running into water, including two blue-ribbon trout streams.” She goes on to tout Kalkaska Schools and the fact the town has both a small airport and a hospital.

Kalkaska’s proximity to other northern Michigan towns was also appealing to the Sniders; Gabe splits her work time between Pellston and Harbor Springs, while her husband’s work is moving from nearby Williamsburg to Leelanau County. “We looked in Traverse City and Williamsburg – it was half the land for twice the price. Now we have land, a farmhouse, no neighbors. It’s quiet and only six miles to the grocery store, with lakes all around us,” Snider says.

Protect your Home’s pipes from Freezing

Protect a Home’s Pipes From the Cold



Cold weather can put your home’s pipes at risk of exploding. Worst case scenario: Pipes can fill up with so much ice that eventually they burst and then flood a home.

But there’s plenty you can do to keep your pipes safe in the winter, as a homeowner or landlord. Precautions should be ideally taken in the fall, but if you forgot, better to take steps now than none at all.

HouseLogic offers the following tips for protecting your pipes from bursting, including:

Turn on your faucets.

When temperatures have dropped into freezing, turn on your faucets both indoors and out to keep the water moving through your system. HouseLogic recommends aiming for about five drips per minute.

Open cabinet doors. 

Open any cabinet door covering the plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. The home’s warm air can help prevent pipes from freezing.

Wrap the pipes. 

If the pipes are already near freezing, wrap them in warm towels to help loosen the ice inside. Cover them with towels and then pour boiling water on top.

Shut off the water. 

If your pipes are already frozen, turn off the main water line to the home immediately. Shut off any external water sources, such as garden hose hookups, HouseLogic recommends.This also helps after the ice inside your pipes thaws because you don’t want the water to flood your system.

Read more tips at HouseLogic.

Source: “5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes From Exploding This Winter,” HouseLogic (December 2017)

Tall Building SLUP Back Before Commission

Tall Building SLUP Back Before Commission

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 2, 2018

Traverse City commissioners tonight (Tuesday) will reconsider a special land use permit (SLUP) for a controversial 96-foot development in downtown Traverse City – even though developers are no longer planning to proceed with the project.

Commissioners will review the SLUP for two tall buildings at the corner of Pine and West Front streets in order to fulfill an order from the Michigan Court of Appeals. After Judge Philip Rodgers vacated a SLUP for the project in March 2016 – citing city commissioners’ failure to properly analyze the development’s impact on city services and infrastructure – developers Erik Falconer and Joe Sarafa appealed the ruling. In October, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Rodgers’ decision, ordering the SLUP application be sent back to city commissioners for further study.

While they were still going through the appeals process, however, Falconer and Sarafa announced publicly they were redesigning the development to come in at just under 60 feet. The original project plans were dramatically overhauled to allow for the construction of a scaled-down mixed-use development (pictured) that can be built by right under city zoning laws. But while the developers are no longer seeking a SLUP for a 96-foot project, city commissioners must still hold a public hearing and address the deficiencies identified by the court, according to Acting City Attorney Karrie Zeits.

“As Pine Street Development, LLC has abandoned the SLUP request, it is not the intention of the public hearing to lead to an approval of the SLUP, but rather to eliminate any argument that the city has not complied with the Court of Appeals’ decision,” Zeits wrote in a memo to commissioners.

The Court of Appeals noted that among the deficiencies in the commission’s original analysis of the SLUP request, “evidence and rationale determining that the development would be adequately served by police protection was lacking, data about how the proposed development would affect traffic patterns was lacking, and evidence that local schools could support the proposed development was lacking,” Zeits says. The Court of Appeals also “found that there was no substantial evidence supporting the conclusion that the proposed development would create additional tax revenue that offset the increased cost of infrastructure and services.”

In order to help commissioners address those deficiencies in their analysis as ordered by the court, city staff prepared documents for tonight’s discussion that include a report by Traverse City Police Department Chief Jeff O’Brien on the project’s impact on police services, a traffic analysis from City Engineer Tim O’Brien, and a letter from Traverse City Area Public Schools Human Resources Executive Director Cindy Berck affirming the school district can accommodate new students potentially brought by the development. Former Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Rob Bacigalupi also submitted an analysis of tax revenue created by the development versus its potential impact on city infrastructure and services.

Collectively, the documents cover the gaps in the commission’s original analysis to satisfy the Court of Appeals’ order that the board reconsider those particular issues. While the developers’ decision “to not pursue the project essentially makes this moot,” according to City Manager Marty Colburn, some commissioners previously expressed skepticism about holding tonight’s public hearing. Commissioner Brian McGillivary questioned whether the hearing could lead to a back-channel approval of the SLUP, freeing developers to pursue the original contentious 96-foot design, though several other commissioners said they would not vote to approve the SLUP under those circumstances.

In order to avoid that or any other unintended outcomes, Zeits is recommending commissioners tonight pass a motion stating that the board has held a public hearing to comply with the Court of Appeals’ order and is taking “no further action because the applicant has abandoned the SLUP application.” Commissioners would not vote on approving the SLUP itself, ensuring the permit would remain voided as originally determined by Rodgers.

Also at tonight’s meeting: City Clerk Benjamin Marentette will present the 2017 City of Traverse City Performance, an annual report compiled by city staff on notable areas of accomplishment and investment each year, and Colburn will present the 2017 Department and Employee of the Year awards. Commissioners will also consider authorizing nearly $26,000 in repairs at the city’s garage, as well as appointing resident Rick Brown to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and forming an ad hoc committee to fill a vacancy on the city’s Brown Bridge Advisory Committee.

Rail Study, Climbing Facility, And More Ticker Updates

By Ross Boissoneau | Dec. 18, 2017

You read lots of news here (first) throughout 2017, but much has developed since we first reported some stories. So today and tomorrow (Dec. 18 and 19), we revisit Ticker stories to update them with what’s new.

Rail study to announce results next year
In February we reported on an upcoming passenger rail study that would evaluate the feasibility of running regular train service between Traverse City and Ann Arbor. We’ve now learned that results from that study will be announced by June, according to James Bruckbauer of the Groundwork Center. “The number one (query) from the public was connecting to Traverse City” from the south, says Bruckbauer.

Bruckbauer says the fact the railroads still own the tracks makes it much more possible. “The consultants will help us determine the next steps,” he says, including whether the operating entity should be a for-profit or non-profit and where the train should stop. The tracks go as far north as Petoskey, and go through Kingsley, Cadillac, Clare, Mt. Pleasant, Alma, and Ann Arbor, where they connect with other lines to East Lansing, Port Huron, Detroit and Chicago.

Chorus shows off in Vegas
For the Grand Traverse Show Chorus, the opportunity to perform in Las Vegas was a reward for finishing first in the regionals, which we noted in our October story. “We definitely came home on a high from our experience on the international stage,” says Jill Watson, the group’s director. Though the group achieved the highest regional score among the five finalists, it placed fourth in the finals. The winning group hails from Sweden, according to longtime member Marsha Minervini. She also noted that the competition came just a week after the mass shooting, and the group was among those that sang at various Vegas locales to first responders and others. “We sang in three different places. There were lots of tears and lots of hugs,” she says.

Climbing enthusiasts ready crowdfunding for new facility
Our October story on the purchase of 2.9 acres on M-72 west of Traverse City by Nancy and Larry Bordine earmarked for a climbing facility precipitated great interest among the climbing community. “We have been getting lots of excellent contacts as we travel down this road,” says Nancy Bordine. The group has settled on a slogan, incorporating the newly chosen name for the facility: Myself, My Challenge, MI Summit. The next step, says Bordine, is raising funds and greater awareness of the group’s plans. “We’re collecting information and will soon establish a landing page for crowdfunding,” she says. They will try to raise $250,000 for the building and equipment. Currently there is a 13-member steering committee, which will determine how to move forward and who will be on the board. “The center will be run by the board, which will set its operating procedures.”

Seniors coasting for free on BATA
Kelly Dunham, executive director of BATA, is pleased with the response to its free ride program for seniors. The Ticker reported on the COAST (Commission on Aging Senior Transit) pilot program between BATA and the Commission on Aging last month. The program was unanimously approved for funding by county commissioners, and in the first two weeks provided over 50 rides. “It runs twice a week, and in four days we had a total of 54 rides with 20 unduplicated riders,” says Dunham.

She says the response is in line with what was expected, and she is hopeful the program will continue to see growth. “The first two weeks are a small snapshot,” she says. The program will be reviewed after 30 days by the COA and BATA, and in 90 days by the county commission. Dunham says the ridership has been about evenly split between medical and personal needs, such as shopping. “It’s improved the quality of life,” she says.

Independent Bank To Acquire Traverse City State Bank

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 5, 2017

Independent Bank Corporation (IBC) announced Monday it is acquiring Traverse City State Bank.

According to a press release announcing the news, Traverse City State Bank will be consolidated into the IBC family and operate under the Independent Bank name, along with four other branch locations. At least two senior leaders of Traverse City State Bank – CEO Connie Deneweth and President and CFO Ann Bollinger – will continue on under the reorganization.

In a statement, Deneweth said: “We are very excited to join the Independent Bank family. We share a commitment to community banking, valuing our employees and serving our customers. This combination significantly enhances our capabilities including, larger lending limits, an expanded loan and deposit product mix, and more automated services. We believe this partnership is in the best interests of our customers and shareholders.”

Brad Kessel, president and CEO of IBC, said the deal would strengthen his company’s current franchise and support its “growth in the attractive Traverse City market with full-service banking through five locations.”

“We are excited to welcome the Traverse City State Bank team and together create an even stronger bank for the Michigan communities that we serve,” Kessel said. “We are pleased that Connie Deneweth will continue to lead the northern Michigan market. She is a respected business leader in the Traverse City area who will make a positive contribution to our organization. In addition, Ann Bollinger will lead the development of our wealth management services in Northern Michigan. Connie and Ann have built an exceptional bank with a strong foundation.”

The deal is expected to close in the first part of 2018. Subject to the merger terms, which were unanimously approved by both companies’ boards, Traverse City State Bank shareholders will receive 1.1166 shares of IBC common stock for each outstanding share of TCSB common stock, or 2.71 million shares of IBCP common stock in the aggregate. The transaction is valued at approximately $63.24 million, or 206.4 percent of Traverse City State Bank’s tangible book value as of September 30.


Sell Your Home With the Right Music



A little music may be just what your listing needs. Some real estate professionals believe that soft music playing in the background can be just the subtle, emotional pull that welcomes buyers inside your open house or house tour.

Tom Hignite, owner of Miracle HomeBuilders in Milwaukee, plays music during his open houses and tours, but he’s careful that his song choices fit the home’s vibe.

“It’s trying to create a sense that goes with the home,” Hignite told realtor.com®. “With a contemporary home, a lot of times it’s New Age … [it] sounds almost Zen-like. If it’s an older home, mansion-like, we’ll want to have classical music, maybe piano and violin music.” A property in an urban neighborhood may benefit from some jazz, he adds.

Researchers from Australia investigated whether music can truly turn a shopper into a buyer in studies conducted in 2015. Researchers found that study participants made meal choices that corresponded with the background music they heard. In a second part of the study, music also was found to make people want to spend more money than if no music was being played. Therefore, researchers concluded that music can add more perceived value to a product.

“Having some soft, soothing music playing at an open house does help with the sale,” Michelle Galli, a listing agent with Century 21 M&M in Los Banos, Calif., told realtor.com®. “It gives the prospect a calm, relaxing feeling … so they can picture themselves in the home in serenity.”

But the music choice is key, real estate pros say. You don’t want anything too loud and distracting, but you also don’t want anything too soft like “elevator” music, Hignite says. Instrumental jazz tends to be a good choice, agents say. For more insights on music choices, visit realtor.com®.

30-Year Mortgage Rate Hits New 2017 Low

30-Year Mortgage Rate Hits New 2017 Low



Borrowers applying for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage this week locked in the lowest rate of the year, as it dropped to its lowest average since November 2016, Freddie Mac reports. Additionally, “the 10-year Treasury yield fell 6 basis points this week amid concerns over lagging inflation,” says Freddie Mac chief economist Sean Becketti.

Freddie Mac reported the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending Aug. 24:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.86 percent, with an average 0.5 point, dropping from last week’s 3.89 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.43 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.16 percent, with an average 0.5 point, the same average as last week. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 2.74 percent.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 3.17 percent, with an average 0.5 point, rising from last week’s 3.16 percent average. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 2.75 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Rent vs. Own? The Best Option in Each State

Rent vs. Own? The Best Option in Each State



Home prices may be on the rise across the country, but you’re still better off buying a home in most states in the U.S. than renting one. Consumers in only 11 states will find renting more affordable than buying a home, according to a new study by GOBankingRates, a personal finance website.

GOBankingRates analyzed the cost of renting versus owning a home in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers looked at estimated rent prices for all homes listed on a real estate website. It then calculated the estimated monthly mortgage to own a home in each state, based on the median list price of homes, a 20 percent down payment, and a 30-year fixed-rate loan.

Source: “The 2017 Cost of Renting vs. Owning a Home in Every State,” GoBankingRates.com (July 24, 2017)