Real-Estate Broker helps ForSaleByOwner.com Founder Sell his Condo

I just discovered this 'old' news gem yesterday. It's probably the best endorsement ever for using a real-estate pro to sell your home! DIY Guru Gets Broker Help

FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

By JOSH BABANEL | AUGUST 3, 2011

A founder of a website dedicated to direct sales of homes by their owners has sold his two-bedroom apartment in Chelsea for $2.15 million—with the help of a real-estate broker and a standard 6% commission.

A do-it-yourself advocate enlisted a broker for his West 19th Street unit.

Colby Sambrotto, a founder and former chief operating officer of ForSalebyOwner.com, a large website for owner sales, spent six months trying to sell his condominium himself through online listings and classified ads, before turning over the listing of the 2,000-square-foot apartment to a broker at Bond New York in November.

The broker, Jesse Buckler, said he told Mr. Sambrotto the apartment in the Lion's Head building on West 19th Street near Sixth Avenue was priced too low and wasn't drawing the right buyers.

By May, it went into contract, he said, after attracting multiple offers. It closed in the last few days for $150,000 more than the original asking price.

"At first he wouldn't let me increase the price," Mr. Buckler said. "I told him I know what I am doing—the market is picking up."

The sale is likely to add some fuel to debate over whether direct for-sale-by-owner deals, known as FSBOs in the trade, are workable in the higher end of the Manhattan market, where many brokers try to hold the line on commissions and resist discounting.

There have been a handful of extremely expensive sales that closed in the last few years, without the help of broker. In 2007, Edgar Bronfman Jr., the chief executive of Warner Music Group, sold a townhouse on East 64th Street for $50 million without a broker. Last month, a townhouse on East 69th Street off Fifth Avenue was sold for $48 million, also without a broker commission.

ForSaleByOwner.com was founded in 1999 and sold to Tribune Co. in 2006 in the midst of the real-estate boom. Mr. Sambrotto left the company when it was sold, and in 2007 paid $2 million for a second-floor apartment at the Lion's Head, a successful condominium conversion where buyers lined up for a chance to buy in 2005.

Mr. Sambrotto confirmed the details of the transaction with Mr. Buckler as the broker. He said he is still active in real estate and still believed in owner sales and discounted commissions.

Looking to move his family to the suburbs, he said he carefully staged his apartment for sale himself, and put it on the market. But after using a mix of websites to publicize his apartment, he said he had only "middling success" and switched to a broker because many buyers were so reliant on brokers.

"The apartment market in Manhattan was tightly controlled by agents," he said. "So many buyers don't even bother to do a search online."

Now Mr. Sambrotto said he plans to use his condo-selling experience with a new sale-by-owner website, USRealty.com, that he plans to launch in a few weeks after a non-compete agreement expires. Owner-sellers on the site will have the option of offering commissions to brokers who bring in buyers.

Matt Brown, director of business development for ForSaleByOwner.com, said selling without a broker "is definitely not for everybody."

"It is a time-intensive process that can save you a ton of money," he said. But even so, "In the high-end market the sellers might not have the time to dedicate to selling" their homes themselves, he said.

Bruno Ricciotti, a founder and principal broker at Bond, had a different perspective. "FSBOs are a significant source of leads for us," he said, since brokers are trained to use the owner listings to sign up new customers.

After looking for houses across the region, Mr. Sambrotto said he and his wife had decided to stay in the city, and to buy a second home on the East End of Long Island.

It Can Pay to Snoop on Neighbors

FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL MARKETWATCH | MAY 22, 2011 By AMY HOAK

Going to the open house of a home for sale down the block may make you feel like a nosy neighbor. But there are good reasons, beyond sheer curiosity, to take a peek inside.

By knowing the selling prices and how properties look inside, homeowners can become more educated about values in their neighborhood, says Karen Goodman, a real-estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in the St. Louis area. 

Attending open houses is especially important if you plan to sell soon. But it's also a good idea even if you plan to stay in your home for a while. Eventually, these homes will become the competition, and it's smart to know how your place stacks up, says Ken Shuman, spokesman for Trulia.com, a real-estate website.

"Look at the upgrades they've made, look where they haven't made upgrades," he says. This exercise helps you "find out where your advantage is and you can focus on that when you put [your house] on the market." And you'll know where your home may fall short.

There are other reasons to check out neighborhood open houses:

To prioritize home-improvement projects. Seeing what the neighbors have done can help you decide which projects to take on first. Perhaps you know you need to fix your roof. Noticing that five neighbors have replaced their roofs recently might cause you to put that project at the top of your home-improvement list, Mr. Shuman says.

To avoid over-improving your home. "Make sure [improvements] are in line with what's considered popular in the area," Ms. Goodman says.

In a $150,000 home in the St. Louis area, for example, you may not get a good return on your investment for the installation of a granite countertop in the kitchen, she says. By seeing other homes, you'll know what kind of finishes typical homes in the area have; that can help you make smart decisions when planning projects.

To get remodeling and decorating ideas. "For a lot of people, it's fun to see homes, decorating styles, the layout of furniture," Ms. Goodman says.

If you live in the same subdivision and your home has a similar design, it'll be easy to steal some of the ideas -- from how to arrange the furniture to how the living area would look if, say, a wall were removed to create an open floor plan.

To shop for a real-estate agent. If you want to sell your home soon, open houses are a good way to interview agents. Notice how attentive they are to prospective buyers walking through the property. And make sure they're selling the home they're standing in -- only bringing up other listings when it's clear buyers are definitely not interested in the home, Ms. Goodman says.

One of the reasons agents hold open houses is to meet prospective clients, so it's a good opportunity to assess whether you'd like to work with that agent.

To gather comparables. If you're selling your home, you may want to attend open houses to collect information about the competition in the area, says Joseph C. Magdziarz, president of the Appraisal Institute, a professional association that represents real-estate appraisers.

"Assessor's records don't always include all the improvements to a property," he adds. "Appraisers rely on interviews with sellers and [real estate] brokers." The only party who isn't allowed to speak with an appraiser during the process is the lender or mortgage broker -- whoever is involved in approving the financing, he says.

While it may feel awkward walking through a neighbor's home, sellers and agents typically don't take offense. "In today's market, people understand," says Mr. Magdziarz.

From their perspective, the more foot traffic they can get, the better, and they're hoping you spread information about the home to family and friends who might be interested in buying it.

"You never know where that buyer is going to come from," says Julie Ann Giachetti, a real-estate agent with Lang Realty in the Boca Raton area of Florida.

But be honest and tell the agent that you're not a buyer, just an interested neighbor. "That allows us to gauge how much interest there is," Ms. Goodman says. "Ten people, one buyer is very different than 10 buyers."

Also, sign in with the agent, just as everyone else does -- there's a good chance your neighbor won't see the sign-in sheet anyway, Ms. Goodman says.

Finally, in return for having a look around, give honest feedback about the home. "You can give us an honest opinion without jeopardizing your buying power," Ms. Goodman says. This can help the seller address issues with the property.

Maple's Moment (See Michael's on the Hill, Waterbury Center, after the break)

From the Wall Street JournalFOOD & DRINK | MARCH 12, 2011

From scrambled eggs to side salads, a guide to all the marvelous places the golden syrup can go.

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Karen Evans

Thanks to the historic lashings of snow that hit the Northeast this winter, we're poised, pancakes stacked, for what's likely to be a banner year in maple production. Icy nights and warmer days are essential to a good syrup season-the end-of-winter rhythm of freeze and thaw coaxes sap from the trees for as long as they can resist the urge to bud, usually four to six weeks. Last year overheated prematurely, leaving some producers with a maple bust. But it's been a snowy season, and chances are good that the sugar bush (as tapping areas are cheerily called) will stay chilled and the sweet sap will flow.

With a glut of nature's most bewitching sweetener headed our way, it's high time to break maple out of its brunch hour rut. Under that sticky toffee veneer are layers of smoke and tannin that play just as well at dinner or cocktail hour. In search of a few unexpected ways to use the spoils, we turned to chefs across the Northeast.

-Kristen Miglore

The Salad Dressing Maple can be a powerful supporting seasoning in a salad dressing. Chef Tony Maws at Boston's Craigie on Main considers it a "smoky, almost sinister substitute for honey" in a vinaigrette, and has also been known to simmer it with cider vinegar and sage for a sweet-sour gastrique for pan-roasted sweetbreads.

Ice Cream Topping At her restaurant Prune in New York, chef Gabrielle Hamilton serves butter pecan ice cream "drowned" in a pool of syrup, finished with a shower of coarse salt-a step up from the childhood treat of maple poured over fresh snow.

The Poacher Anything is better cooked in a hot maple bath. At Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon, biscuit dough is poached in maple syrup and cream for pudding chômeur and lightly scrambled eggs are simmered in maple, then piled on a buckwheat crepe with sliced fingerling potatoes and seared foie gras.

Latin-Style Lee Duberman, the chef at Ariel's in Brookfield, Vt., has found that maple syrup bears a strong resemblance to Mexican piloncillo sugar: "It adds a lovely dimension to moles and classic tacos al pastor."

The Cure-All Everything from duck breast to pigs' feet, it seems, can be improved after a long soak in maple and salt. At Michael's on the Hill in Waterbury Center, VT, trout that's been steeped in a maple brine-along with aromatics like fennel, celery leaves and caraway-is then smoked over maple chips and served with horseradish crème fraîche. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Maple Staples

Dark, heady late-season syrup (classified as Grade B and sometimes labeled "Extra Dark for Cooking") is prized by chefs and barkeeps for holding its own against strong spices and booze. Here are two bottles we love.

Tree Brand Maple

Tree Brand Maple, Marston, Quebec

Its buttery, molasses-like tang is ideal in making cakes or granola and for glazing gamy meats like duck or short ribs. $25 a quart, themaplefarm.com

Green Wind Farm Maple

Green Wind Farm Maple, Enosburg Falls, Vt.

An aromatic syrup that slings you with clean maple sweetness. Stir this into your morning yogurt or mix it with bourbon and soda at night. $17 a quart, pumpkinvillagefoods.com

Fifteen-Year Mortgage Hits a Record Low

From the Wall Street JournalFAMILY FINANCES | JUNE 4, 2010

WASHINGTON–Home-mortgage rates were little changed last week, holding steady for the most part at or near recent lows, including a record for the 15-year fixed-rate loan, Freddie Mac said.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage average rose slightly to 4.79% for the week ended Thursday, according to Freddie's weekly survey.

In the prior week, the average rate was 4.78%, the lowest since December. The year-ago average for the 30-year home loan stood at 5.29%.

"The economy grew at a slower rate than originally reported in the first three months of the year — which suggests inflation will remain tame in the near term," said Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft, referring to revised data on U.S. gross domestic product.

"As a result," he said, "mortgage rates held at historic levels this week."

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.2%, the lowest level since Freddie Mac began tracking the mortgage in 1991, down from 4.21% in the prior week.

One-year Treasury-indexed adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.95%, unchanged from the prior week and the lowest level since May 2004. The one-year ARM averaged 4.81% a year ago.

The five-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 3.94%, down from 3.97% in the prior week and 4.85% a year ago.