The Salvation Army needs bell ringers

Every November and December the Salvation Army seeks volunteers to ring bells at various locations to catch the attention of shoppers willing to donate money. During the holidays, the Salvation Army focuses on collecting donations to help people on a national and international basis.

Most people are familiar with the organization’s name, but do not always know what it is the organization does. The short answer to that is: A lot. The Salvation Army is a non-profit organization that provides charitable assistance to people in every zip code in the United States, as well as in 127 countries across the globe. In the U.S. alone, it helps approximately 30 million people in need. In 2015, the organization reported that their help in the U.S. included providing “58.4 million meals, nightly shelter for 10.8 million people, treatment for 200,000 people in 142 rehabilitation facilities, more than 400 after-school programs, and immediate and long-term assistance following disasters to 382,000 people”. They have been helping people for 150 years.

The organization has an extraordinary impact on the communities it serves and you can be a part of that. In November, until Christmas Eve, the Salvation Army asks people to donate time and ring a bell at a collection location on behalf of the organization in what is known as Red Kettle events. You have almost certainly seen others do this in front of grocery stores and other locations, but you may not have realized they could use your assistance too.

The national website for the Salvation Army is here. To read more about all the ways the organization and its volunteers help people click here.

If you live in the Manchester, NH region you may learn about volunteer opportunities on their own website or you may call 603-627-7013 to find out how and where you can help.

The Nashua, NH Salvation Army website is here.

If you do not have enough time to ring a bell you have the option of making a donation via the organization’s website.

Supporting Toys for Tots

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Fallon’s Furniture on Daniel Webster in Merrimack is a drop off for Toys for Tots donations.

The Christmas season is upon us and for many this is a busy, and often chaotic, time of year. Though many look forward to the holidays, there are a great number of children and families that simply do not have the resources to make it special. Instead, the holidays are stressful for those already in need, and serve as a stark reminder of the degree of their hardships.

You can change that though.

Many of us find it hard to think at length about children in need of anything – food, housing, clothing, books, and toys – because it is depressing and a lot of people just do not know specifically how they can make it better. The good news is that there is much the average person can do to help bring joy to the lives of kids in need. Today I am focusing on one organization in particular: Toys for Tots.

Toys for Tots was founded in 1947 in California. The following year, the United States Marine Corps took over the organization and expanded its reach by turning it into a nationwide campaign that operated out of Reserve Centers. It was, and still is, a community driven collection and distribution effort aimed at helping children. Currently, Philanthropy 400 considers Toys for Tots a top-tier charity. In the past couple of years alone, the organization has continued to set new records for itself with regard to donations, and children helped through its activities.

In 2015, Toys for Tots reported in their Annual Report that the organization served 7 million children and distributed approximately 18 million toys. Local campaigns spanned 782 communities throughout all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico. However, due to the vast need for toys, the organization spent more than it planned to help those in need: 10 million dollars more, to be exact.

Fortunately, through continued donations and assistance from anyone willing to help, Toys for Tots keeps collecting and distributing toys to kids, but they need our help to keep up with the increasing numbers of children in need of this assistance. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Donate money to the cause, and encourage others to donate as well, by clicking on the organization’s donation page located here. This is the easiest thing you can possibly do because you do not have to purchase a toy and drop it off at a local drop location.
  2. Donate toys by identifying local campaigns. Click here to find the local campaigns closest to you.
  3. Host a local Toys for Tots event through a local campaign.
  4. Use social media and other resources to spread the word and encourage those you know to help if possible.

If you live in the Southern New Hampshire region you may drop off toys any day of the week at the Bedford Police Department, located at 55 Constitution Drive in Bedford, NH. A search of the local campaigns in the above link provides information on additional drop off locations.

Money is tight for many of us around the holidays, but Toys for Tots offers a wonderful opportunity to help children in a way that brings them hope and joy. You can make a difference in the simplest of ways and you may contribute to this cause to the extent possible, given your budget. Every donation makes a difference and so I hope you will consider supporting Toys for Tots, and other charitable organizations, this holiday season.

The Zestimate Part II

zestimate_noAs a realtor in Southern New Hampshire I get a lot of questions from buyers and sellers about the Zillow.com “Zestimate”. The most common questions include: How accurate is the Zestimate? Why is the Zestimate lower than the seller’s asking price? Why is the Zestimate higher than the seller’s asking price? Why is the Zestimate so intent on preventing me from selling my home?

The simplest answer to those questions is that the Zestimate is flawed. It is only accurate, or close to accurate, when the comparison properties it uses to price a particular home are 1) good comparisons, 2) recently sold comparisons, and 3) comparisons with a reasonably accurate Zestimate. You see, all too often the Zestimate of a home is based on already existing Zestimates of other homes that it has determined are good comparisons. For the system to work, those Zestimates have to be right. It is a problem when the comparisons used to estimate a home’s value are based on other estimated values that do not really reflect true activity in a housing market.

Last May I wrote about some of these issues and said I was going to track some Zestimates for homes on the market to determine how closely they mirrored the home’s sale price later on. As an initial example, I used one of my own listings to show what most realtors already know: the Zestimate is more of a nuisance than a helpful resource. Zillow’s automated home value estimate is not exactly the gold standard for determining a property’s worth. Moreover, these estimated values have the potential to impact a buyer’s perception of a home’s market value.

Why is this a problem? Well, if the Zestimate is lower than the asking price then a buyer might interpret it as confirmation the seller/s (and/or the seller’s real estate agent) priced the property too high. That’s not outside of the realm of possibility, right? Sometimes sellers and realtors do over price homes, and it is not always done intentionally either. Depending on the market and variables influencing it at the time, a price determined by a thorough market analysis may or may not reflect what a buyer is willing to pay for the home.

The Zestimate being low is an understandable problem, but what happens when it is too high? If the Zestimate is much higher than the asking price it may prompt buyers to ask what is so wrong with this house that the seller has discounted it so significantly. Realistically, the home may be priced appropriately when compared to recently sold comparison properties, but how would a buyer know this without being told? How would they know the Zestimate is potentially false without seeing evidence showing this? The sad fact is they wouldn’t. It is troubling for buyers when they are faced with a Zestimate that varies considerably from the asking price – especially when there is no clear explanation as to why.

When I wrote about this topic before, I used 1 Grove Court in Litchfield, NH as an example. I selected it mainly because of how large the gap was between the asking price at the time and the Zestimate. At the time my original post on this topic was written, the asking price was $460,000. The Zestimate, however, was $387,805. That is a big difference.

The above Zestimate was based on two specific properties: 47 Garden Drive and 2 Garden Drive. I described these properties in detail previously to demonstrate the reasons why they were not good comparisons. One glaring problem with these two comparisons is that when they were used for comparison purposes by Zillow they were still on the market. Many real estate agents use active and pending listings to evaluate a home’s worth, but it is important realtors use recently sold comparisons in a market analysis to show what buyers have paid for similar homes in the market. If a comparison property is still active it is helpful in terms of indicating what buyers probably won’t pay for the home, but it does not show how much lower the seller would need to price their home to sell it.

Getting back to the property I used as an example, 1 Grove ultimately sold for $455,000. According to the buyers’ lender, the home appraised at that value. The Zestimate was wrong and not just by a little. It was off by $67,195.

Even though the home sold for much higher, the Zestimate can’t or won’t admit when it is wrong. It does not seem to be coded in a way that takes real market activity pertaining to the property into account. I say “seem” because perhaps it does and it just does not attach enough weight to make a difference in the Zestimate after the property sale is complete. For instance, as I am writing this Zillow reports that 1 Grove is worth less than the final selling price of $455,000. However, I should point out that instead of the original $387,805, the Zestimate has increased ever so slightly and currently values the house at $389,889. That could change though. Tomorrow it might suggest the value is more or less. The bottom line is that it’s wrong today. 

Putting aside the home on Grove Court, what about the properties Zillow used as comparisons for that home when it was on the market in May? What became of those properties? Did they sell for as much, or even near, the same price as 1 Grove?

Let’s take a look at that.

47 Garden was the first comparison included in Zillow’s estimate. When I wrote last about the Zestimate this home was being sold by the owner. The owner eventually got a realtor and then the home sold for $330,000. The current Zestimate values the home at $347,906 (as of the time of this writing). If accurate, this home has increased in value substantially in just a matter of months. Such a massive improvement does not seem likely, does it?

Then we have the other comparison Zillow used for Grove Court: 2 Garden. This property sold shortly after my original post about the Zestimate. The actual closing price in June of 2016 was $290,533. Right now the Zestimate considers the value to be $337,500. Does it matter though if buyers will not really pay that much for the home? Apparently not. 

Since it does not seem as though the Zestimate is going anywhere soon, realtors and sellers have to find ways to overcome the estimated values that are not in line with the market. One way of addressing the issue is to have accurate comparison sales ready to show buyers and/or their agents why the selling price is different than the Zestimate. It also helps to have currently active and pending comparisons to illustrate what is happening in the market at a particular moment in time. Another means of breaking down this barrier is for sellers to claim the property through Zillow as their own and update the description and features. This action comes with a warning though: it may or may not help to bring the Zestimate in line with the price the owner is asking. It may increase or decrease the value, depending on how accurate the description of the property was before the changes. And that value is still based on other Zestimates.

Ultimately we are all at the mercy of Zillow and it’s seemingly arbitrary selection of properties it deems as comparable, and so it helps to understand how the Zestimate works, and doesn’t work.

Merrimack PD Food Drive

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Merrimack Police Department’s annual food drive

Each year, the Merrimack Police Department coordinates a food drive to help Merrimack residents in need of food. The drive begins in November and runs through the end of the year. All food donations collected at the four different drop off locations are donated to the Merrimack Food Pantry.

Please consider making a contribution to this worthy cause. Small and large donations are greatly appreciated. The Police Department accepts donations of food items at the following locations:

The Merrimack PD

Merrimack Highway Garage

Merrimack’s Transfer Station

Hairthirium (in the Harris Pond Mall)

If you have questions about the food drive, or making a donation, please contact Sgt. Gregory Walters at 603-424-3774.

Helping Troops for the Holidays

With Veterans Day right around the corner, some in New Hampshire might be wondering what they can do to provide help or assistance for those serving our country. One easy way to help is to attend various packing events coordinated each year by Operation Care for Troops, or make donations to fund packages and shipping associated with the events. The organization, based in Nashua, is a non-profit geared toward helping soldiers.

Currently the organization reports they have enough volunteers this year for their November packing event, but are still looking for people interested in participating in their February event, as well as subsequent events occurring throughout 2017. A calendar describing the dates and activities associated with the next event may be found on their website by clicking on this link.

Operation Care for Troops offers other ways to help troops besides the packing events, such as asking volunteers to write letters of support and encouragement to soldiers and units. The organization maintains a goal of including 4 to 6 letters inside each individual package and this so they are always in need of more people to write letters. Additionally, people may donate money toward the costs associated with items included in the packages and for shipping. Those wanting to help on a longer term basis may even adopt a soldier or unit.

A little time or money goes a long way toward helping others and so if you are looking for opportunities that are reasonable in terms of time and cost, this one is a good fit. For more on this non-profit organization’s mission, opportunities, contact information, and needs please visit their website at www.octnh.com.

 

Uncomfortable home disclosure questions

In New Hampshire, sellers typically fill out a standard disclosure form. For the most part the items covered are predictable, such as the age of a home’s roof or the estimated annual heating costs. However, there are a few somewhat unexpected questions on the disclosure form that catch sellers off guard. For instance, one asks simply, “Do you have knowledge of methamphetamine production ever occurring on the property?” The seller has the option of checking either “yes” or “no”, and if “yes” they are prompted to explain. While I have never yet seen a disclosure form with the box checked “yes”, it has obviously been an issue before since it made its way onto one of many pages that make up the property/seller disclosure form.

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