The Carolinas—the perfect setting for a page-turner.

12 Feb cup-fireplace

Not only are the Carolinas a great place to live, but the special places in our region also provide a perfect setting for some page-turning stories. We have a few favorite novels set in the Carolinas for your winter, by the fire reading.

Good stories based on history.

Robert Morgan, born in Hendersonville, NC, has many books that will have you reading past your normal bedtime. Several of these, including Gap Creek, Truest Pleasures and Brave Enemies span both Carolinas.

Lee Smith’s, newest book is titled Guests on Earth and is set in the once-famous Highlands Mental Hospital in Asheville, NC, where Zelda Fitzgerald died in the fire that destroyed the facility.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, Cold Mountain, read the book by Asheville native Charles Frazier for a riveting glance into the Carolinas during the Civil War. His follow-up novel, Thirteen Moons examines the relationships between the Cherokee natives and Scottish immigrants in the region.

Ellen Foster is Kaye Gibbons’ autobiographical account of growing up in a volatile situation in rural North Carolina. Her On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon is set in a Civil War hospital in Raleigh.

Modern fiction page-turners.

Former advertising exec Jan Karon has a whole set of books, called the Father Tim or Mitford Books. Set in a fictional town modeled after Blowing Rock, NC, her stories are a sweet portrayal of life in the Carolinas.

Patricia Cornwell’s Hornet’s Nest is a fictional story of the gritty, heroic life of big-city police seen through the eyes of three leading crime fighters from Charlotte.

The Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, storyteller Ron Rash writes books set in the Appalachian Mountains that run through North and South Carolina, including the bestseller Serena.

Popular novelist Nicolas Sparks has written many romantic books set in the Carolinas, including The Notebook, A Walk to Remember and Safe Haven.

Clyde Edgerton is the Thomas S. Kenan III Professor of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington. He has set many of his novels in the heart of small town Carolina, including The Floatplane Notebooks and Lunch at the Piccadilly.

Pat Conroy is a New York Times bestselling author who has written several acclaimed novels and memoirs set famously in and around Charleston, SC. Two of his novels, The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, were made into Oscar-nominated films.

Josephine Humphreys is a native of Charleston, South Carolina, which is also the setting for her novels Dreams of Sleep, Rich in Love and The Fireman’s Fair. The critically acclaimed Nowhere Else on Earth is historical fiction set in the Lumbee settlement of Robeson County, NC.

Literary greats.

Durham resident and Pulitzer Prize nominee Reynolds Price is renowned for his work in southern literature, including the fiction work, Roxanna Slade, which recounts ninety years of life in North Carolina.

Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, published in 1929, created quite a furor among the residents of Asheville, who saw themselves in this autobiographical work of fiction.

Other books with a Carolina backdrop include some of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, Joyland by Stephen King, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash, Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs, Life After Life by Jill McCorkle, The Secret of Ararat by Tim LaHaye, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, Sullivans Island by Dorothea Benton Frank, The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers and many, many more.

Our area, so beautiful and welcoming to all, is evidently an amazingly interesting place to authors as well. We are sure to have missed some favorite books set right here in our area. What are some of yours?

By: Susan Larkin (Vice President, Marketing & Public Relations)

Five Fireplaces to Warm Your Heart

8 Feb stacy-blog-fireplace

Valentine’s Day is coming soon, and we thought there’s no better time to share some cozy fireplace designs that invite romantic dinners and cuddly evenings.

1) Traditional with a Twist

Convert an old, sad masonry fireplace into a lean, clean, heat machine with a gas insert. The combination of an architectural salvage mantel and an updated front gives tired brick a welcome twist – and makes a good place to snuggle!

Cozy up a full-size dining room by pulling a small table for two in front of the fire and enjoy a candlelit breakfast or a long, lingering glass of wine.

Change a builder-grade fireplace by adding wood paneling onto a pre-cast masonry fireplace. It can also hide the television and warm up a cold Carolina winter’s night.

2) Modern Love

A master suite fireplace oozes elegance and luxury. And with a whirlpool tub just on the other side, it’s an over-the-top suite escape.

Who says the wood in the fireplace always has to be horizontal? These cool vertical birch logs make a hot design statement.

Clean lines and a neat chaise sectional sofa in front of a roaring fire can dispel distractions and create a great place for couple time or family game night.

3) Hot Stone

From rustic to sculptural, there’s just something about a stone fireplace! Some designs evoke a fairy tale feel and invite you to live out your “happily ever after” curled in front of a warm fire.

Others invite you to fan the flames of your inner artist and bask in the warm glow of a creative, beautiful focal point.

4) Go Portable

No fireplace? No problem. There are a myriad of portable solutions in all price ranges. Consider a sculptural portable fireplace that borders on art, centerpiece for your living room. Pull up your comfiest, coziest armchair and you’ve got a warm place to escape to all winter. In the spring, take your portable fireplace outdoors for a fabulous backyard, deck or patio feature.

5) Firelight and Starlight

Popular with urban and suburban dwellers alike, the Carolina weather is perfect for an outside fireplace almost year around. Whether it’s a standalone terra cotta chiminea, a fire pit or an elaborate masonry wonder that’s part of an outdoor living room, there’s nothing more romantic than a night in front of fire, underneath the stars.

If your home has a boring fireplace that just doesn’t light up your life, consider an update. While not every fireplace can transform, many can. But check with your Allen Tate Realtor® first, to be sure your update is a good investment if you decide to sell.

By: Susan Larkin (Vice President, Marketing & Public Relations)


6 Reasons Your House Isn’t Selling

5 Feb stacey_blog-photo.2.2.16

For sale sign in the yard: Check.

Open house scheduled for this Sunday: Check.

Freshly vacuumed carpets: Check.

So why, despite all the hard work, is your house still on the market week after week?  Maybe it’s your collection of ceramic frogs scattered throughout the house or your unique choice of paint color for your bathroom that’s turning would-be buyers off.  Personal feelings aside, if the process is moving at a sloth’s pace in a gazelle housing market, it’s time to get to work and get your house sold.

  1. Your home isn’t priced to sell

Buyers often have a hard time pricing their house without letting their feelings get involved.  Don’t do that, experts say; it’s best to work with a Realtor who can accurately pinpoint a competitive price for your home based on the Comparative Market Analysis (CMA).

If your home is over-priced for the surrounding neighborhood consider reducing the price. But bumping the price down a paltry $500 or $1000 won’t even cause potential buyers to bat an eye, and experts recommend reducing an over-priced house by a minimum of two to five percent.

  1. Curb appeal is lacking

Pretend you’re a potential buyer and observe your house from the curb–what’s the first thing you see? Does your shabby front door that’s in dire need of paint steal all your attention or do you have trouble finding the home through the overgrown shrubs and bushes?

Homes that lack curb appeal tend to sit on the market far longer than their attention-grabbing counterparts. Don’t fret about investing tons of money to dress up your exterior though–focus on simple, inexpensive tasks to amp up your home’s exterior. Add a coat of paint to your front door, trim, or shutters for an inexpensive facelift or consider adding a pop of color by installing flower boxes or placing large flowering pots next to your front door.

  1. You haven’t told the online story with compelling photography
    Gone are the days of driving neighborhood to neighborhood looking for your next home. These days, consumers are jumping online first– so you better have bright, well-staged, professional photos to help market your home online to potential buyers. These photos should tell the story about the lifestyle your home offers and not just traditional photos of each room.  If a consumer gets a bad taste in their mouth from your house’s virtual introduction, chances are they won’t even bother visiting your house in person.
  1. Updates need to be made

Buyers today want move-in ready homes. Does your house still have a kitchen featuring appliances from your grandmother’s era? If you haven’t had an interested buyer grace your front steps in a while, it’s probably time to make some updates.

Focus on making improvements in the bathrooms and kitchen–these are the two areas buyers care most about. Painting old cabinets, replacing out-dated light fixtures, and adding new paint can make a world of difference without breaking the bank.

  1. Your home isn’t staged to sell

An effectively staged home sells fast; in fact, experts report that on average, staged homes sell 88 percent faster and for 20 percent more than homes that aren’t staged. Work with a professional or go the do-it-yourself route to have buyers falling in love the minute they step in the door.

For some quick and easy staging solutions try getting rid of the clutter, removing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. It’s also helpful to make sure your home is well lit, which will create a warm and inviting light to entice buyers. Don’t forget to remove personal items, too. Buyers need to see themselves in your home, and that’s hard to do when your family’s picture is lurking in every corner of the home.

  1. You’re not reviewing your market position with your Realtor monthly

With the housing market improving, things change frequently, so it’s a good idea to review the active and sold competition relative to your home on a monthly basis.  Evaluating this critical information helps you determine if you are in a good, competitive position so that your house stands out from the rest.  Take this time to also evaluate the price (if necessary) and update photos with the changing season.

And as always, let Allen Tate Realtors know if we can assist in any of your home buying or selling needs!

Tony Jarrett
Regional Vice President, Triad and Vice President of Operations, Allen Tate Companies

8 Things Carolinians Should Know About the Bay Area

3 Feb sanfran-superfowl-social-fb

With the Carolina Panthers on their way to the Big Game in San Francisco, we knew there would be plenty of fans making the trip to cheer them on, too.

So we reached out to our fellow Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® broker in California, Alain Pinel Realtors, for the top things to look for, know and do in the Bay Area. Read on, because there’s a lot more to it than cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge!

  1. The Bay Area is BIG! We’re talking 9-county big. And unlike many metro areas, there are three very distinct cities – San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland – all of which have their own distinct cultures, economies and more.
  1. While the Big Game is taking place in Santa Clara (part of the Silicon Valley), a lot of the festivities, including Super Bowl City presented by Verizon, will be in downtown San Francisco, some 45 miles away.
  1. The area gets more than 250 days of sunshine a year, but this year they’ve had quite a bit of rain. And in San Francisco, it’s not uncommon for the weather to differ significantly block-to-block, hour-to-hour. With unpredictable fog hanging around (it even has a name and Twitter account), it’s best to always have a jacket or sweater on hand. You never know when the sun is going to disappear and temps are going to drop.
  1. The Bay Area is home to America’s Best Burrito. No joke, someone did a taste-test, with a bracket and all, and La Taqueria in the Mission District of San Francisco was named the best. The area also is known to enthusiastically support the food truck concept. The city even has a permanent park dedicated to them.
  1. Take some time to enjoy the beauty of the Bay Area. Whether it’s the redwoods of Marin, the coast of Half Moon Bay, or the hills of the East Bay, when it comes to scenery, it’s hard to beat. If you get the chance, take some side trips out of the urban centers and see as much as you can.
  1. Teslas are real – and people in the Bay Area love them. The Alain Pinel Realtors team even sponsored a client-appreciation event with them. While much of the nation has recently jumped on the electric vehicle bandwagon, the people there have been on it for a while. Whether you’re staying in Silicon Valley or San Francisco, chances are you’ll see one of these quite pricey, all-electric vehicles.
  1. From Silicon Valley to San Francisco, the biggest names and companies in technology – Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, Adobe, Evernote, etc., are headquartered in the area.
  1. The area real estate market is unlike any other market. Because of the amazing weather, a plethora of high-paying jobs, great schools and universities and a healthy economy – people want to live there. As a result, real estate is very expensive, including the most expensive Zip Code in America.

Enjoy your trip to the Bay Area, and between Dabbing and showing your Panthers Pride, take it all in and make some great memories.

Pat Riley

Pat Riley,

CEO and President, Allen Tate Company

Before Closing, Don’t Do These 5 Things

1 Feb shopping-bags

You’re approved! The contract is signed on the house, the closing date is set and you are ready to go! But hold on. Don’t go buying new appliances the new house or a new car for the new commute just yet!

Why? Because your credit is monitored right up to the day you sign the contract. Lenders will question any big transaction or change in financial status until you have the keys in hand. So be aware that not only is a credit check run when you apply for a mortgage, but another is run just before you close.

So avoid these 5 things before closing on your home—or risk losing it before it’s even yours!

  1. Don’t change your job status.

Banks are looking for a demonstration of wage-earning stability, so changing jobs, your job status or earnings may be a red flag to those in charge of approving your mortgage loan.

Going from part-time to full-time should be okay, but don’t do anything to decrease your paycheck. Just going from employee to contractor, or salary to commission, even if the earning potential is greater, can be seen as a negative before your closing date.

If you get a promotion or switch to a job with a higher salary, even this positive change could delay your closing, so get ready to present all your proof of employment documents again. That’s right. Again.

You should be safe if you change positions within the same company as long as your pay does not change.

  1. Don’t make late payments of any kind.

If you have an existing mortgage on your current home, missing a payment between loan approval and closing time could cause you some serious headaches that you don’t want or need. It will hurt your FICO score and has the great potential of even making you ineligible for a loan with most lenders for at least a year. Yikes!

And make sure you are not late on car, credit card or other outstanding debt payments from the time you begin house-hunting until you have closed. Paying your bills late will drop your FICO score, so it’s a good idea to avoid that scenario at any time, but especially when you are seeking to close on a mortgage loan. Check out direct payment options, which could make an accidental late payment a thing—and a worry—of the past.

  1. Don’t take on new debt.

Unfortunately, when you take on any type of debt you didn’t have at the time of your mortgage application, it changes your debt-to-income ratio. In other words, it creates concern that you will have too much money going out and not enough coming in. It changes your “before and after” financial picture. And if you were right on the edge between approved and not before, well, you’re not going to like what happens with more debt.

And the new debt you incur doesn’t even have to be something as big as that new commuter-mobile. Even as little as $3,000 of new furniture for the new house can put a halt to your closing. The credit inquiry triggered when you buy that refrigerator and washer and dryer you need for your new home can result in a negative response from your lender, even after you have been approved. And then you won’t have a new place for all that new stuff …

It’s because new credit creates a FICO-dropping triple hit—a new account/inquiry, an account with a little or no repayment history, plus a high balance-to-credit limit ratio.

So, pretty much stay out of the stores, off the car lots and away from credit card applications until the last “i” is dotted and the last “t” crossed at closing. Okay, groceries. You can get groceries. Just pay cash.

  1. Don’t close any accounts.

If you don’t have existing credit accounts that reflect your good money habits like paying on time, it may look like you have less available credit. Pay accounts down to 30 percent, or pay them off if you can’t sleep at night otherwise, but DON’T close them!

If you have no credit accounts at all, you may want to ask  your lender during thepre-approval process  if you should open one or two secured credit cards at your bank to show payment in full and on-time every time credit history.

If you plan to use any money from a retirement account for a down payment, you should plan to request the withdrawal of money as soon as you have a ratified contract to allow enough time to receive the funds. Check with your mortgage broker to make sure the withdrawal will not have a negative impact on your lender’s approval.

  1. Don’t change your cash profile.

Can a big deposit into your cash accounts or a fat gift check from family ever be a bad thing? Yes. When you are waiting to close on a house, it could be. Cash deposits into your accounts might be extremely difficult to source and your lender will most likely not allow this money for your transaction. It could almost certainly prolong the underwriting process.

The bottom line is that any large deposits other than your paycheck will need to be sourced—as in explained. And that includes transfers from one account to another. If you do that, be prepared to provide copies of the checks you deposited and a signed letter of explanation stating where the money was from.

So back to that generous family gift. Or even that “new homeowner” perk your employer may award.  Make part of your celebration a pause to let your lender know. They will most likely require you to complete a “gift letter” and additional documentation explaining the gift funds.

Just when you may need the money the most, it’s complicated. But not impossible, so just be sure keep in good communication with your lender and defer gifts and transfers when and if you can. And make sure your scanner is working. Because you’ll make copies, lots of copies.

Bottom line: The time between contract and closing is an exciting and busy time. Get the support you need with knowledgeable professionals, starting with a licensed Realtor® and a trusted mortgage advisor. Then enjoy the journey. And after you find that house but before closing, keep that credit card and checkbook tucked away—for just a bit.

Lisa Green
Vice President of Sales, Allen Tate Mortgage

Allen Tate Mortgage NMLS# 79543

Loans available in NC/SC


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