Posted by Marie Presti on 5/10/2018


Some of you may have seen one by now – a nondescript envelope arrives in your mailbox. What's inside is a Xeroxed copy of a letter on cheap paper that isn't personalized ("Dear Newton Homeowner"). The missive is from a developer who is "reaching out to homeowners in the area." The offer sounds sweet: a quick sale, no real estate commission and the house can be sold "as is." Getting top dollar -- all in cash -- is icing on the cake.

Before you make a move, here's some advice -- on the house, of course!

The Grass isn't Always Greener.

Some homeowners think a developer will pay a lot for their property. Particularly if they live near a village center with public transportation, restaurants and shops – quite often the case in Newton. But they're looking to make a profit, so they'll generally offer a homeowner less money, compared to someone who will live there and take care of it the home. To maximize your options, it's always a good idea to put your home on the open market. Doing so generates multiple bids, and developers will sometimes match what an individual would pay. When choosing someone to sell your home on the open market, choose carefully. Talk to several Realtors. Make sure they have the credentials to target market the home to include a developers' network and qualified consumers. Most importantly, they should be trained to negotiate on your behalf to get you top dollar.

Remember that decrepit house on the corner that looked like Boo Radley's house in To Kill a Mockingbird? The one that transformed into a House Beautiful showpiece? Most likely, a developer bought it for short money and flipped it for a profit. Developers love old, run-down homes. (Not hard to find in Newton, which has one of the oldest housing stocks in the region.) They'll look up places that have been owned by one person for a long time and drive by to check out what kind of shape they're in. If a rehab is in order, that's music to a developer's ears. Especially if the owner doesn't have the money to make repairs.) If you're approached by one of these developers, do the calculations (the cost of renovations vs. the market value). Your house may be worth much more than what they would offer you – even when you deduct the cost of improvements.

Know the true value of your property in today's marketplace.

If you decide to sell to a developer, find out the zoning code for your property first. (This can be obtained easily from the City of Newton Assessors' Database.) If you have a property with a single-family code, but it's in a multi-family zoned area, you might be able to change it to the latter. (In order to convert a single-family zone to a multifamily zone, you have to go before the zoning board, and getting approval can be difficult.) If it turns out you can rezone, figure out how many units can be put on it, calculate the market value and use that as a negotiating tool. If you find out your single-family is in a multi-family zone, it's going to be very enticing to a developer, regardless of what sits on top of it.

Look before you leap.

Lastly, no matter how tantalizing a developer's offer may seem, be sure you are dealing with a legitimate outfit. Ask around. Check online reviews, the Better Business Bureau and the company's website. Realtors can be also be an excellent resource. Recently, one of my client's got a letter on cheap paper with typos asking if she wanted to sell her house. There was no return address, only a phone number and no website. That letter went right into the "Newton Recycles" bin. Of course there are plenty of reputable developers out there. Taking the time to do the research will lead you to them.

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Posted by Marie Presti on 3/26/2018


In her March vlog, Marie explains how online tax forms do the job well, but some people require personalized attention. If the latter is the case, Marie can provide recommendations for great tax preparers in the Newton area. Watch to win a Dunkin' Donuts gift certificate.

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Posted by Marie Presti on 2/14/2018



Newton, home of The Presti Group, was just named the best city

in Massachusetts for safety, wealth, environment and the economy, just to name a few attributes. With its top-rated schools, fantastic public services and close proximity to downtown Boston, Newton is desirable, convenient and beautiful. Real estate will continue to be strong. Following are my real estate predictions for 2018:  

  • The Upside of the New Tax Law  Homeowners who used to write off their state income and municipal real estate taxes will only be able to write off up to $10,000. Using Newton’s current tax rate of $11.12 per thousand, a house would have to be assessed for over $900,000 for taxes to be over $10,000 (without considering the Mass. income taxes for the prior year). Therefore, this should have little effect on the lower-range homes. However, for owners of higher-priced residences, there may be less of an incentive to keep their homes, particularly if they’re already considering downsizing. The good news, is that if homeowners choose to move, the number of new listings will increase.
  • Homebuyers can put away the helmet  The inventory of mid-priced homes in Newton has been low for the past several years, driving bidding wars as consumers battled for fewer homes. However, at the end of 2017, Realtors saw a 5.7% increase in the number of properties sold this year to 1,005 units (up from 951 in 2017), according to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors. This percentage may increase even more to 7-8%, as the demand for homes levels off in the entry market and new listings continue to come on-line. Not only that, because of the new tax legislation, many higher-end homeowners may choose to sell their properties and downsize. This is excellent news for homebuyers, because there will be more to choose from and fewer bidding wars as result. For sellers, though, the news may not be so bright. Selling their homes for thousands of dollars way over market value (which used to be the norm) may be waning.
  • All Good Things Must Come to an End For anyone buying a home and/or borrowing money, the low mortgage rate they’ve enjoyed for years is ending. Mortgage interest rates will increase, with industry analysts predicting them to climb throughout 2018. Given the conforming loan interest rate is now four percent, rates will increase at least a half of a percent by the end of the year. This shouldn’t hurt the higher end of the market ($1M+), since those buyers are less price-sensitive. On the other hand, it could impact first-time buyers looking to purchase a home here.
  • What goes up won’t go down (at least in 2018) The old adage, “What goes up, must come down,” hasn’t applied to Newton. The average home price here continues to rise, and by the end of 2018, I predict a healthy increase, to approximately 5-6%. (I believe this rise will not be as high as 2017, as the median sale price of all residential properties last year was up by 8% to $1,000,000 from 2016.) Tax reform could also impact us by a few percent, making the increase a more modest gain and one that is more in-line with an average market. However, due to Newton’s many attributes, not to mention the corporations with thousands of employees who are looking around Boston for housing (Amazon? Do you hear me?), we all could be surprised.

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Posted by Marie Presti on 2/2/2018


Mortgage loans for more than 80% loan-to-value typically require private mortgage insurance (PMI). This type of insurance reimburses the lender if a borrower defaults on a loan. However, PMI is expensive, and homeowners should be aware of how to remove it when certain conditions have been met.

A borrower can request in writing for the lender to cancel the PMI, when the mortgage balance has reached 80% of the home’s original appraised value. (Many people don't realize this, but the lender is required to eliminate the PMI when the balance reaches 78%. So it's a good idea to monitor this, especially if additional principal contributions are being made to pay off the loan early.)

I followed this process myself with my Newton home many years ago, and was able to get the PMI removed. It saved me over $150 a month off my mortgage payment.

Other methods to eliminate PMI sooner (than through normal amortization) include:

  • If the value of the home has increased, the owner may consider refinancing with a loan that does not require PMI. There will be refinancing charges involved, but you can determine how long it will take to recapture those costs from the monthly savings.

  • Some lenders will consider using a new appraisal to verify that the home’s mortgage is below the 80% requirement. Find out in advance from your lender if they will accept this procedure and get the names of approved appraisers they will recognize. The cost of an appraisal could range between $450 to $600.

  • Another strategy is to make additional principal contributions on a regular basis to reduce your mortgage balance to 78-80% level that would allow the lender to eliminate the PMI.

Mortgage insurance is not required on VA loans regardless of the loan-to-value. FHA mortgages made after June 3, 2013 are required to have Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) for the life of the loan. For FHA loans made prior to that date, the MIP should automatically cancel when the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78% and has been in effect for a minimum of five years.

To obtain additional information specific to cancelling your mortgage insurance, contact information can usually be found on the annual statement provided by your mortgage servicer.

If you are thinking of doing this, feel free to reach out to me at The Presti Group ahead of time. I can do a pricing analysis that can be given to your bank's appraiser, to help with justifying the equity in your home.  I'm always happy to help reduced my client's mortgage payments!

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Posted by Marie Presti on 12/21/2017


During the holidays, as throughout the year, getting cash from an ATM is normal for many people. ATMs are available 24 hours a day and they’re located in bank branches, convenience stores, grocery stores, malls, airports, sports venues and on street corners.46024154-250.jpg

Unfortunately, the convenience aspect can compromise personal safety, especially if you are distracted or not paying attention. Planning for an ATM withdrawal and applying common sense can help you avoid trouble.

  • Be aware of your surroundings throughout the entire transaction, like people sitting in a nearby parked car or someone offering to help you. In Newton, Mass., where The Presti Group is based, hundreds of ATMs abound. Although they're mostly owned by reputable companies like Bank of America, there are some sketchy-looking models out there. Don't ever use a dusty, generic ATM in the back of a store, or someplace else out of site. Always make sure you use one that's in full view, as thieves are less likely to install a camera to record your card number and PIN. The safest ATMs are affiliated with banks. 
  • Safeguard your PIN. Don’t share it with anyone. Don’t write it down. Don’t use your birthdate, last four digits of your phone number or other obvious numbers.
  • If there are other people at the ATM to make a withdrawal, shield the keypad when entering your PIN number.
  • Keep your car doors locked and windows raised, except for your driver’s window, when using a drive-up ATM.
  • Minimize the time spent at the ATM by being prepared with your card ready, what you plan to do and do not count your money until you are in a safe place away from the ATM.
  • Take your receipt with you and destroy it if you decide to discard it.
  • Be aware that some thieves use skimming devices to steal account and PIN numbers. If something doesn’t look “just right”, consider finding another machine to use.
  • Especially at night, pay attention to locations with adequate lighting and being visible from the street. Don’t compromise your safety just because it is convenient.
  • After you have your money, pay attention to see if someone might be following you. If you are concerned, go to a nearby police or fire station or well-trafficked business and call the police.
  • If you feel uneasy during a transaction, cancel it, remove your card and LEAVE.

There may be a time in the not too distant future when we don’t have a need for cash anymore. Until that time, paying attention to simple safety precautions can help protect us during the holidays and throughout the year.

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