Sunday, December 29, 2013

Is Central Florida a safe to purchase a home and what about crimes and schools?

I have clients often ask me about the area around which a home, city or community is like.  Trulia offers a wealth of information, when looking at a home in Trulia, be sure to scroll down beyond the information concerning the home itself.  You’ll see information on the schools within the area; public record information on this particular home; property tax info; sales history of the home; local info (I’ll elaborate on this shortly); calculate an estimated mortgage payment; and price comparison.

Let's look into some of the tabs on the local info –

1.       Comparables – be sure to look at homes within this list and find “true” comparables.  In other words, homes of very nearby location (same community is best); size of home (bed/baths/square feet); features and upgrades if possible.  If a home is within the same community but it was a bank owned home or short sale with extensive repairs/investment necessary… this won’t be a true comparable to a well maintained home that is a resale with upgrades such as appliances, granite, newer a/c, roof, etc.   

2.       Schools – By clicking on this tab, you can see some of the local school ratings.  You can also check - for the accountability reports of specific public schools.

3.       Estimates – estimated values, however these are automatically estimated and not accounting for condition of home, so use as a source but not a true market analysis.  For an accurate market value of a home, reach out to your trusted Realtor as he/she can use their knowledge/expertise to find true comparable so you have a better idea of a more accurate value on a home so you can write an appropriate offer.

4.       Crimes, amenities, and transit information sometimes also available.  Check the local sheriff’s website for crimes and use other websites as additional sources, here’s a couple examples -; 

 It is against the laws of the Fair Housing Act for anyone to refuse to rent, sell or make a housing loan to you because of your race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Selling a home buy owner versus using a Realtor

House and money on scale Royalty Free Stock PhotographyListing a home with a Realtor is a better alternative than For Sale By Owner, there are many avenues which Realtors can access to market your home for you which you cannot. Not to mention, a Realtor will ensure a buyers capability to purchase your home when reviewing a contract... ensuring they are pre-approved or show proof of cash funds.

A For-sale-by-owner, or FSBO, you're only in front of buyers who view your ad in the newspaper, on Craigslist and a few other avenues which are not top SEO rankings and anyone who happens to drive by the house. A proven and successful Realtor will expose your home to their entire database of buyers, discuss with their team of partners and/or Broker your home and share it with these colleagues, place your home in the MLS, or Multiple Listing Service Database and other avenues they use for marketing if they are an aggressive and professional Realtor. With these tools, you immediately have a large pool of potential buyers. Who do you think will be more successful in selling your home? Listing your home yourself versus hiring a Realtor with the knowledge, expertise and tools to sell your home. A Realtor knows how to build a market analysis and tell you what your home is worth and what It should be listed for. A strongly active Realtor will promote their listings and themselves monthly, over and being promoted by their Broker and the MLS. A successful Realtor invests in promoting themselves and their listings.

How many homes would you sell yourself in a lifetime? Now think about how many homes a successful Realtor closes in a month? A Realtor know all the logistics of buying and selling a home, will walk you through every step of the process, ensure you have the appropriate documents and disclosures to protect you as a seller, has access to legal documents you will not be able to use otherwise, will know particular requirements for various type of loans and if an offer being presented meets the requirements to close and handle all of the potential buyer showings for you. Research has shown that mistakes, pricing errors, and lack of negotiation skills, you’ll cost yourself more than the agent’s commission by trying to sell it yourself.

The main reason owners try to sell on their own home, is to save money on the commission. On average, homes sold by owner sell for more than 10% less than if sold by a Realtor. For sale by owner homes make up a very small percentage of home sales. Read these articles from for more information on this topic:

Cathy Starkweather
Realtor & Investment Home Specialist
La Rosa Realty, LLC / Celebration, FL / 01.407.274.8476

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is There A Housing Shortage and Is It A Concern?

Some economists believe so.  The rapid pace of the housing recovery has surprised everyone, home prices have increased more than 20% in a few markets with the average being about 12%.

There's no question about the sustainability of the real estate recovery.  It's happened... period. It hit bottom and has rebounded with tremendous speed.  If a buyer is looking for the rock bottom deal in Orlando (or most markets), that's long gone.  Take some time to read market reports on line to support this evidence.

Many buyers are using larger cash down payments than required... which is attractive to lenders.  There are more creditworthy buyers than before, giving the investors/full cash buyers some additional competition.  A cash purchase is terrific for sellers with far less contingencies and a quick close.  However, sellers realize the market has rebounded and in part due to the increase in the number of well qualified buyers with financing.

With this continual lack of inventory which is predicted... expect continual price growth. New builds are up and this is key to helping maintain some balance on the resell demand and prices. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Corporations Vs. Limited Liability Company

Dice corporation Royalty Free Stock PhotoThis is a great webpage for those foreign nationals torn between setting up a Corporation or LLC for their Florida investment properties. 


Understanding A Florida Property Closing Statement or HUD

Homeowners Closing Statement Stock ImagesThe settlement statement or HUD can be a confusing document if you don’t understand the layout and flow.  A HUD is generally divided into two sections.
1.       Page one is the complete settlement statement. Page 1 is divided into two half’s, the left side is the buyers credits and debits and the right side the sellers credits and debits.
2.       Page two (and sometimes page three), is a breakdown of the individual charges that appear as a total on page one.
In some instances, you’ll see where the numbers are the same on both the sellers side and the buyers side. These equate to an amount that is transferred between the parties. Usually a pro-rated amount that one side owes the other for future or past payments. An example of this would be HOA fees the seller has paid up until the end of the year. Those monies would be reimbursed to the seller by the buyer on the HUD.  So a credit to the seller, debit to the buyer.  The reserve would be true for property taxes since they are paid in arrears.  The seller would be “debited” their prorated portion of taxes and the buyer would be “credited” for the time the seller owned the property until the closing date.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Do I Choose A Property Management Company For Short Term Rentals?

There are several factors in choosing a property management company for short term rentals: 

  1. Be sure they actively service the area and community which your buying and have experience in this particular area.  Do they have a current owner in this area who would refer them. 
  2. In this particular community/resort and similar property, what are their booking rates and occupancy rates.  As for ROI on a similar property to yours.
  3. They should have aggressive marketing strategies for obtaining strong bookings for your property.  What websites do they advertise on?  What social media are they actively involved in? What are their guest retention strategies for follow up bookings?
  4. Do they offer an interactive calendar so that you can market and book your property as well.
  5. How long have they been in business. (You are looking for long-term stability.)
  6. How much insurance do you carry and is the staff bonded. What's covered.
  7. How will equivalent rentals be handled.
  8. What are the monthly management fees and what do they include. What are the booking fees. Are there other charges.
  9. Will you receive monthly statements and ask for an example of one to review.
  10. How are emergencies handled.
An experienced Realtor with short term rental properties will have a list of property managers who specialize in certain communities and areas which they know are reputable and will work to help ensure the success of your investment

If you have additional questions, please feel free to call or email:

Cathy Starkweather
Realtor & Investment Home Specialist
La Rosa Realty, LLC
01.407.274.8476 /

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Who Do I Recommend For Home Owners Insurance For Investment Properties?

I'm asked this question often...
I have had terrific experience with Kathy Longtin at FCIG Insurance.  Many of my clients have turned to Kathy for quotes and knowledge. She understands what is necessary for liability insurance based on your investment - whether it's a primary residence or investment property for a short or long term renter. Here's Kathy's contact info, please tell her you read this referral by Cathy Starkweather and you'll be taken good care of...
Florida Chartered Insurance Group
Kathy Longtin, Senior Agent

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I'm not a US citizen and looking to buy investment property in Orlando, what should I look for in a Realtor?

Good investment in real estate or property Stock Photos   When looking to select a Realtor in your search be sure he/she has seasoned experience with investment properties.  Many Realtor's specialize in specific communities and cater to buyers of primary residence homes.  I suggest working with someone who knows how to calculate a true ROI for long or short term investment properties and also knows how to calculate capitalization rates.  You'll also need to comply with IRS regulations and filings which are different for foreign nationals.  You're Realtor should have contacts to help you in every facet as you'll need to set up an ITIN for each person on the deed.  You're Realtor should also be able to recommend a reputable foreign tax specialist of investment property.  Many other reputable contacts will be necessary in your absence such as a property manager.  Some one who's worked within the field will have partnerships with these types of partners necessary for your success.  If I can be of assistance, please let me know.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How Do I Choose A Realtor To List My Home?

Decision maker Stock Image

It's important to interview several Realtors before choosing one to list your home. For most people, their home is their largest asset and therefore take time for due diligence before making your decision. Ask them questions such as:
1. How will you market my property?
2. Do they personally invest any additional marketing funds outside of the MLS listing and broker efforts to market their listings and themselves?
3. Ask to see current and sold listings links within the MLS. Do these look professional? Are there adequate and enlightening comments written in the listing? Are there enough photos of the property? Realtors can post up to 25 photos of a home. Are the photos professional?
4. Have the agent provide a CMA - comparative market analysis to see what your home should be listed for and what to expect as a sale price. The CMA should mirror your home as closely as possible with comparable sales.  Is this within reason to what you're looking to sell the home for?  If the Realtor has to expand outside of your community for comparable sales (not enough in your community past 180 days), take into consideration the communities of comparison. Do these communities compare closely to yours?
5. Ask for recommendations. What are their recommendations like on Trulia and other websites?

This could be one of the most important decisions you make so think it through. If you have questions or would like additional information, please feel free to call or email me.

Cathy Starkweather
Realtor & Home Investor Specialist
La Rosa Realty, LLC
01.407.274.8476 /
1420 Celebration Blvd. #200
Celebration, FL 34747

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Is it possible to buy a home with the furnishings?

Stylish living room furniture Stock PhotographyMost homes in residential areas are not furnished, however... many in the short term rental zones like Kissimmee, Davenport and part of Haines City, Florida are.  If not, a seller may be willing to negotiate furnishings if requested and listed on a separate addendum with sale of a home.  It's something your Realtor can assist with in the negotiation process.  Keep in mind, if furniture is purchased and funds are exchanged, it is the responsibility of the buyer to pay tax on this purchase. You may try and negotiate furniture to be included with the sale of the home at zero value.

Why should a seller provide a seller's disclosure right away?

Sign the seller disclosure statement Royalty Free Stock Photo
It's best to provide a disclosure to the buyer immediately.  The seller has the responsibility to disclose known defects that could affect the value of the property. This disclosure could prevent a buyer from filing a lawsuit against the seller, in case defects that were not disclosed before the sale are discovered by the buyer after closing. It is therefore in the seller's interest to let the buyer know in advance if there are any problems with the house that should be taken care of.  Of course, a seller may not know of certain issues until a home inspection is performed.  Some sellers choose to have a home inspection prior to listing the home and fix the issues to help prevent a buyer from retracting their offer if and when the buyer has a home inspection themselves. 

How soon after I sell my home do I have access to my sale proceeds?

Money for house Royalty Free Stock Photos
Once all the buyers funds and all the required documents are received and cleared by the title company and you have a final HUD or closing statement, the title company will usually issue a check or wire to your account within 24 hours.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why are some real estate agents so lazy as to not put enough pictures or even video of a property?

Yes for Work and No for Lazy Royalty Free Stock PhotoThere are many reasons but we'll only discuss a few possibilities...
When interviewing listing agents, the seller should ask, "How are you going to market my property And... any agent should be providing the seller with a copy of the MLS listing once it's listed so the seller can see and give input on what they would like changed, this would of course be more pictures and/or video.

To touch on a few points:
1. Some agents not tech savy - This is the business and it's only going to grow more technology dependent so agents should sharpen their skills.
2. Not having access to the home because of a long term renter - Listing agents should make a point and it should be added in the listing agreement that the seller gains access to the property for the agent. I do not list a property until I have the appropriate pictures and have accessed the home myself. If it's the owner in the home, this shouldn't be an issue.
3. REO's - agree with Antonio's statement and the seller (the lender), isn't involved on a personal level like an owner would be.

If it's a short term rental property, many times the agent wants to get the listing up right away and then intends to take additional pictures once the guest is out of the home.  But, this should be stated in the listing so buyers and other agents know what to expect in the near future.

Can I buy a house in a short term rental area in Florida and live in it all year round?

You most certainly can, there are some terrific communities zoned short term that have owner occupants and/or long term tenants. It's a nice feature to have as when you sell you are opening yourself up to more buyers on an international level. And if you ever decide to move and don't want to sell you're home you have the option of renting long term as well as short term.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Does a foreign investor pay more property taxes in Florida?

Property tax for foreign nationals are exactly the same as property tax for US residents. Property tax in Florida is based on property value as assessed by the county. You can look up a property tax amount yourself by visiting the county Tax Appraisers office and looking at tax records.

However, US residents can claim homestead exemption on their primary residence which entitles them to a tax break.  If a US resident purchased a second home as a vacation home, it wouldn't qualify as homestead exemption.

Most looking to invest in the short term zone in/around Disney and the Orlando area are looking for a secondary vacation home.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

If a foreclosed home/REO is taken off the market, will it be re-listed at the same price?

The reason why it's difficult to answer this dynamic question if because there could be many variables which could cause the price to be adjusted. Here are a couple:
1. If there are repairs needed that weren't evident originally, the lender may decide to take the home off the market while the repairs are done. If the condition of the home is improved, this will most likely affect the market value of the home and the lender may decide to increase the price to reflect the new condition of the home.
2. A lender may request a BPO or Broker's Price Opinion to assess any changes and fluctuation in the market value of the property when it's relisted which could also affect the price.

If you're really interested in the property, the best situation is to have your Realtor continue communication with the listing agent for any updates which they can legally share and be ready when it's listed again. Have your pre-approval and/or proof of funds ready to make an offer.

Do I need proof of funds or a pre-approval to make an offer on a home?

Yes, proof of funds is required by the seller and is to be presented with the offer so you should be prepared with documents having the portion of your purchase which is cash and if financing a pre-approval letter from a lender.

For the cash portion, a certified letter from your bank or copy of your investment/banking account(with the account numbers and personal information blacked out or other verifiable depository or a current balance statement will do. This must be no more than 30-days old.

If you intend to finance any portion of the transaction, you'll need a pre-approval letter.  If you need assistance with a reputable lender in the area, I can help. Most of the time, we can have a pre-app in just a couple days time.

Don't wait to find the home of your dreams and not have these documents in place, a day or two gathering them could mean another offer being accepted before we can submit yours. The market is very strong and some properties sell the day they are put on the market so being prepared is in your best interest.

The best deals are those that move quickly so be ready!

Cathy Starkweather
Realtor & Vacation Home Specialist / 01.407.274.8476

What do I need to tell my Realtor so I find the perfect home and area which fits my needs?

There are many factors you should share with your Realtor to ensure he/she is focused on what is appealing to you.  Some questions to ask yourself and share the answers with your Realtor are:
  1. What size (number of bed/baths), type of home (condo/town home/detached home) are you looking for?  If detached home, is one with a pool important?
  2. What is your price point?
  3. Are you looking for a home which is ready to move in or would you consider distressed properties which may require work?
  4. What are you looking for in a community?
  5. Are you hoping to be within certain distance from certain attractions, parks, downtown/city life, access to major highways, or other specific landmarks?
  6. If working, what is the driving distance you'd prefer to be from your job? 
  7. What academics/sports are you looking for in local schools if you have children?
  8. Other ammenties/features that are helpful to know - Golf community?  Gated community? 55+ community?
This is not a full list of what your Realtor may ask but it's a good range to get you started. If you have questions or would like additional information, please contact me at -
Cathy Starkweather
Realtor and Vacation Home Specialist

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Can I make money on a short term rental townhome in the Regal Palms Resort in Davenport, Florida?

I specialize in Regal Palms among many others in the area.  Regal Palms is a nice community for the price point, however you shouldn't rely on a property manage to turn a strong ROI here.  What you're hoping for is to cover your running costs and use the property yourself for friends and family.  Depending on your budget, there may be better options for a stronger ROI in the short term rental zone of the area.  The best way to increase your ROI on any property is to be an active owner.  This means you book market and book the home yourself to colleagues, associates, etc as well as some websites such as and many others.  Social networking alone could really prove beneficial, if those you work or associate with know you have a vacation home in the Disney area, you could offer them wholesale rates during off season. These are times when the property manager typically will not be booking the home anyway.  Therefore, you'll increase your occupancy rate and income.  Not to mention, most property managers charge a much smaller booking fee or none at all for owner bookings.  There are several other important factors to understand in Regal Palms.  If you'd like more information or particular ROI statistics or other points to be aware of in Regal Palms, please call or email me directly.

Cathy Starkweather
Realtor & Vacation Home Specialist
LaRosa Realty & Jerry Barker Vacation Homes
01.407.274.8476 /

How much are Regal Palms HOA & Club fees and what does it cover?

The HOA fee for the Regal Palms Resort is $535/month. Until October, 2017 - there was an HOA separate Club fee that equalled $535, however the HOA bought out the Club which went into affect, 10.1.17, this has been good for the community, owners and buyers. 

The HOA fee includes: Ground maintenance of common grounds and around townhomes, building exterior, roof, exterior pest control, security, trash removal, basic cable, internet and phone.  The Regal Palms Club fee includes the amenities such as the community pools, lazy river, slide, sand volleyball court, games room/Banana Jacks, fitness, inside/outside spa's, sauna, steam room and basic phone.  For more information on Regal Palms and other vacation homes in the Disney area, please contact me directly:

Cathy Starkweather
Realtor & Investment Home Specialist
LaRosa Realty, LLC 01.407.274.8476

Monday, March 4, 2013

What do you think the real estate market will look like in 2015 in Kissimmee, for a townhome in the 34741 zip code?

The market is certainly trending upwards, seeing 15%+ increase in average listing and sale pricing from a year ago. There's less inventory in the Kissimmee, Davenport areas and more buyers.

Lenders are relaxing somewhat and writing loans on properties that a couple years ago couldn't be financed. This is of course, for well qualified buyers.  

If you're looking to buy, it's still a very good time and the consensus is that the market will continue to grow.  If you'd like a market analysis or more information on 34741 or other areas of Kissimmee, Florida, please call or email me.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where can I find some of the best schools in Central Florida for special needs children?

There are several in the Orlando area that may fit your needs and interviewing with the schools is always best to ensure the development needs as well as what you expect personally from the school such as compassion and patience. 

Here are a couple to reach out to: 
Conductive Education Center of Orlando (CECO) 
3377 Forsyth Road, Winter Park, FL 
Phone: (407) 671-4687 

Providence Academy 
7605 Conroy-Windermere Road 
Orlando, FL 32819 
Phone: (407) 298-8699 

If looking for a Christian alternative: 
First Hope at The First Academy 
2667 Bruton Blvd, Orlando, FL 
Phone: (407) 206-8801 

If you'd like a list of more shcools that are specific to your childs needs and areas that may fit your criteria, please feel free to call or email -

Can a foreign national obtain a loan in the US to purchase a vacation home?

     Yes you can!  There are more lenders today working with foreign nationals than even a year ago.  With recovery of the housing market, several lenders have opened up to this market.  

      The pre-approval process is fairly simplistic.  Your pre-app is valid for 30-days, as time sensitive material a contract would need to quickly follow. The challenge begins when the lender begins asking for documents for the loan commitment. This happens once you are under contract for a home.  However, it's best to know some of the requirements before hand for a smoother transition and quicker commitment.

      Working closely with the loan officer and obtaining documents necessary prior to having a home in place is a proactive strategy.  There are requirements which vary from lender and also vary depending on what country you reside in.   The credit check in the United States is different than other countries and the US does not recognize foreign credit reports so the information has to come from the creditors themselves which you provide to the loan officer.  Some lenders require you open a checking account with the local branch, you may also be required to be physically at the closing table.  Some lenders will grant power of attorney so that you may assign some one local to handle the closing on your behalf.  For more information or if you're looking for a lender for a home in Florida, please email Cathy Starkweather.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bahama Bay I Sand Beach

What's The Story Behind the Bahama Bay ll condos in Davenport, Florida?

There's pending litigation with Bahama Bay II.  It's in a holding pattern at this time.  Bahama Bay II would like ingress/egress via Bahama Bay I and the Bahama Bay I HOA is adamant that Bahama Bay II guests WILL NOT use the facilities of Bahama Bay I. As you can see the pictures in this blog offer some wonderful amenities with Bahama Bay I, not Bahama Bay II.

The lender sold Bahama Bay II to an investment group who is now renting some units long-term.  The units for sale seem to be those on Calypso Court, which is the street lacking access other than via Bahama Bay.  Bahama Bay II is not for the novice investor or an investor not willing to take a risk.  

For more info on Bahama Bay II and what is going on, click hereor email 
Cathy Starkweather, Realtor & Vacation Home Specialist, LaRosa Realty.

There are terrific property prices in Bahama Bay I and you'll be assured to have full use of the amenities.