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Bill Sands Appointed to the Historical Architectural Review Board

Bill Sands appointed to the Historical Architectural Review Board, (HARB) for the City of Reading on December 10, 2012

Bill Sands, Broker President of Sands & Company Real Estate was appointed by City Council on December 10, 2012 to serve on the board of the Historical Architectural Review Board for the City for a 5 year term ending 12/10/2017.

The general purpose of the board protecting those historical areas, buildings and structures within the City which have distinctive character recalling the rich architectural and historical heritage of the City of Reading and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and of making those historical areas, buildings and structure a source of inspiration to our citizens by awakening interest in our historic past and to promote the general welfare, education of the City of Reading

Bill Sands is Broker- President of Sands & Company Real Estate 833 Park Road Wyomissing, Pa 19610


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Berks County Housing Market is Recovering

  In 2012 the real estate market began to stabilize. Home buyers are returning to the market to take advantage of the low interest rates and bargain prices on real estate. The typical home buyers felt a level of confidence that if they purchased now, they would be at the rock bottom prices and home price would not continue to decline. 2012 showed a decrease in inventory for single family homes for sale for the first time in many years. I predict that the real estate market will continue to correct itself in a slow manner and the number of homes sold will continue to increase at a steady pace. As home inventory drops and the purchase demand is higher, prices will begin to recover. Prices will not rebound back to what they were, but will show modest increases in the future. All of this is good news for the Berks County Real Estate Market.

Factors that will affect the level of growth are the interest rates, job market, and property taxation. If interest rates stay low, unemployment continues to decrease, and local government keeps taxes in check, we will see a stronger housing market recovery.

Good news on the lending front is that home loans are more available to the real estate buyer. FHA insured loans are still one of the best bets since they are more lenient on credit scores and they only require 3.5% down payment. Another program that is worth noting is the PHFA Mortgage (Pennsylvania Home Finance Agency which requires a credit Fico score of only 660 and financing is available for up to 97 percent of a home’s value. Customers don’t have to be first-time homebuyers to qualify. Both of these programs offer down-payment and closing-cost assistance. Homeowners seeking refinancing may also qualify, which is something new from PHFA. PHFA will work with borrowers so that they make sound financial decisions. Ongoing counseling will be required, as well, to ensure that borrowers are managing their mortgage obligations. PHFA has teamed up with Fannie Mae directly so PMI (private mortgage insurance) may not be required on a PHFA Loan. Typically all loans were subjected to the expensive private mortgage insurance, unless you put 20% or more down. This is savings to the buyer’s monthly mortgage payment .

Berks County – Single-Family Homes


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Year-to-Date Market Snapshot

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Bill Sands

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The Home History of 1715 Alsace Road Hampden Heights PA 19604

The Home History of 1715 Alsace Road Hampden Heights PA 19604 (Bootlegger/ Mob Related Max Hassel)

Stone Manor House rich in history for having been built by Millionaire Beer Baron Max Hassel in 1933. Max Hassel rose to prominence with his 4 brewing companies, cigar factories, and ownership of the Berkshire Hotel, and the Greenhill’s Country Club. In 1928 the breweries closed he became partners with Waxey Gordon, the foremost beer baron in the country. Their syndicate in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania owed 17 breweries, according to the Prohibition Bureau. Waxey Gordon is depicted in the popular HBO series Boardwalk Empire. When beer was legalized in 1933 it was in direct opposition to the plans of Luciano Mob who’s plan were to regain the control of the beer and liquor sales after prohibition, Hassel was killed by a mob hit men in a New Jersey Hotel. It is believed the hit was for Waxey but Hassel died in the shooting. Hassel’s life was the subject of a book written by Ed Taggert entitled Bootlegger Max Hassel, the Millionaire Newsboy.

The Estate was occupied upon completion by Hassel’s sister and brother-law who ran one of the Reading Brewery operations.

Today the renovated estate home situated at 1715 Alsace Road in “The Heights” historic district is The home of Dr. John Stelmach and his wife Terry who have owned the home for over 20 years. It is a fine example of a stone colonial revival home. The residence offers a reception hall with sweeping stairwell, chef’s kitchen with commercial grade appliances, banquet sized dining room and large grand living room with two French doors to a stone terrace and portico. 7 bedrooms 4 full and 2 partial baths. In ground swimming pool and spa.

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Avoid Holiday Home Theft

Although we’d like to believe the holidays bring out peace on earth and good will towards men (as the Christmas carol goes), the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day tend to be a prime season for criminals. During this busy time of year, you can take some easy precautions to prevent becoming a victim of theft.

Consider the following safety tips:

When holiday shopping:

  • Don’t park in unlit areas at night.
  • Put your shopping bags in your trunk. Don’t try to cover items on your seats with a blanket. Better yet, take your packages straight home after a shopping spree and then go back out.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you, or else, keep it in your front pocket not in your purse or wallet.
  • Be extra careful when carrying a purse – they are the prime targets of criminals in crowded shopping areas. If you must carry one, make sure it has a strap that can go over the shoulder and be held under the arm, making them more difficult for purse snatchers to grab.
  • Keep a record of all of your credit card numbers in a safe place at home.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you. This is the time of year when thieves may try various methods to distract you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.

At home:

  • When leaving home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.
  • Leave a light on when you leave your home at night or put your lights (including Christmas lights) on an automatic timer.
  • Make sure your holiday gifts are not visible through the windows and doors of your home.
  • Never say you are away from home on the outgoing message on you answering machine or voice mail. Simply say you are unable to get answer the phone at the time.

During the holidays, many people can become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime. Protecting yourself and your home from potential crime is the easiest way to ensure a safe and happy holiday season.

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Borrowers seeking a mortgage or looking to refinance increasingly turn to credit unions. These financial institutions are expected to surpass a record-breaking $100 billion in mortgage loan originations this year.

The growth has mostly been attributed to a surge of refinancers and a growth from consumers’ “disillusionment with big banks,” The New York Times reports. Credit unions may offer slightly lower closing costs and be willing to look at a minimum credit score of 625 when other conventional banks are stuck in the 650 range.

Credit unions mostly keep their servicing on all their mortgage loans in-house – an incentive for them to be more responsive to their customers. Here in Berks County many of the credit unions are conveniently located at or close to where people work increasing the desirability to do business with them.

As a broker the loan process is a bit more cumbersome since the processing is down in a different state. It is my opinion; explore all of your options especially if you feel your credit score is not up to par. Always shop around to find the better mortgage to fit your specific needs.

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Special for Lehigh Valley Business REAL ESTATE: Optimism will ring in the New Year

The residential real estate market marked a turning point in 2012 as many industry experts agree stability is returning to the market. What does that mean for 2013? At present, real estate agents in and around the Lehigh Valley admit to an optimistic out­look for the New Year. Monna Lou Henninger, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Heritage Real Estate in Bethlehem Township, is optimistic because inventory continues to get absorbed. “I feel the New Year is going to be a decent year because I believe there is pent-up demand,” she said. “If we have more people looking to buy homes and less homes coming on the market, then the market will change. “It will then become a seller’s market as opposed to a buyer’s market.”

Henninger believes reduced inventory, a high affordability index and a lack of new con­struction bode well for the resale market in the Lehigh Valley. Another real estate agent sees similar poten­tial in the Poconos – once buyers there reduce the glut of current inventory.

“I see an upcoming an increase in sales, not in price,” said Eileen Chaladoff, president of the Pocono Mountains Association of REALTORS and real estate agent with Prudential Associates Real Estate in East Stroudsburg, Monroe County. “Right now we are still trying to get through the distressed properties. Once we get through that, the market should really take off.”

Chaladoff sees steady improvement in sales, but expects the market to take another year or two to clear distressed properties out of the area’s housing stock. That’s a factor that will prevent any appreciation in home sale prices for 2013. The housing stock in New Jersey’s Warren County continues to see brisk activity; a trend one professional hopes will carry over into 2013. “All indications are that the market will be increasing due to the election behind us and people being overwhelmed… (and) the interest rates still being at an all-time low,” said Shelley Mondzak, broker/owner of Re/MAX Supreme in Philipsburg. “We are seeing activity in December, with many multiple offer situations. Many homes, especially things that are going on the market now, are going under contract very quickly. “All indicators are that the first quarter of 2013 will be an increase and, fingers crossed, that does happen.”

Other industry professionals also await deci­sions from Washington on whether proposed tax increases on Jan. 1 and year-end expiration of tax credits (including the mortgage interest deduction) will occur. “The housing market in 2013 will probably look a lot like this year’s in Schuylkill County,” said Kent Hatter, a broker with RE/MAX Five Star Realty of Orwigsburg.

“I think next year is a holding pattern. If people have confidence in their jobs and money in their pockets, the economy will do just fine. But really the uncertainty is what’s hanging over everybody.” Washington’s procrastination in dealing with its fiscal responsibilities fuels that uncertainty for prospective homebuyers and businesses.

“The people I talk to are all looking at this ‘fiscal cliff’ and tax uncertainty not knowing which way to go, so they are not looking to do any moves in their business or speculation,” said Hatter. “It seems we are in this huge pattern of uncertainty. Nobody knows what the tax rates are going to be (or) the health care law, how much money that could take out of people’s disposable incomes.” While Hatter believes buyers remain con­cerned about the economy, he sees a silver lining. “The good news is, from every sign, interest rates are going to remain low,” he said. “A lot of foreclosures nationwide have gone through the process, so I hear from people that in cer­tain price ranges there’s a shortage of homes for sale. So maybe we have seen the housing prices stabilize and that will be good for 2013.” Price stability and reduced inventory just might create the foundation for a solid turn-around in the industry in 2013. “I expect that we are going to see continued growth in sales which means that more of the inventory is going to be absorbed,” said Bill Sands, broker, owner and president of Sands & Co. of Wyomissing, Berks County. “As that becomes absorbed, we’re heading in a slow, moderate procession towards the market changing from a buyer’s market into a seller’s market again because less inventory means more demand.” Sands said certain segments of the Berks’ market see both increasing sales and property values. “We might see some growth as far as the baseline of where our real estate values are and where they will be going,” he says. “In the last quarter of the year, we have seen definite increases and upticks in some of the markets. They are modest but it’s still a good sign. We are very pleased this past year with it being busy and buyers acquiring properties and I have no reason to believe that that’s going to stop.” Activity and optimism also have increased in Carbon County. “We are very optimistic in Carbon County,” said James Zurn, president of the Carbon County Board of REALTORS and agent with Cedar Creek Real Estate in Jim Thorpe. “Our inventory of homes is decreasing, so people are buying homes. The programs that are out there are very, very good. You just need to be able to qualify. With FHA and USDA, people are able to buy homes with little to no money out of pocket.” Zurn does fear continued difficulty with tight lending criteria as well as lingering buyer concerns about job stability. “Homes are at an all-time low; interest rates are at an all-time low,” he said. “That’s good news for the buyers. Those are all good indicators but again no one is going to buy anything if their job is uncertain.” Yet Zurn and other agents remain optimistic about growing activity during the coming year. “We are very optimistic and rightfully so,” he said. “Things are picking up. I think the bottom has been reached and we are going to see it improve. We have a bright future.”