All small towns have their perks — from the peace and quiet to the lack of tourists (and not to mention, the simple fact you tend to get more square footage for your money), it sure seems like they are the standout winners when compared to urban areas.
But just like big cities, no two tiny towns are created equal. And thanks to map publisher Rand McNally, which just released the results (see below for more details) of this past year’s mission to find the best small towns in the country, we’ve found out which of these stand out as a cut above the rest. Whether, they offer incredible eats or just plain appreciate being American, these are definitely the small towns with big hearts (and big perks).
Best For Food: San Mateo, California
Runners-up: Walla Walla, Washington; Roseville, Minnesota; Galesburg, Illinois; Charlottesville, Virginia
Like the insight we got from our friends over at Houzz on what people’s dream kitchens look like, Zillow’s report reveals that upgrades will focus more on flourishes, than on function, with these preferences rounding out the top three:
Popular materials to achieve this look will include quartz and black granite that has been honed to give it a leathery finish, Zillow says, adding that black is likely to be paired with a lighter counter such as marble or light gray for contrast.
Kitchen cabinets used to be the place to stash dinnerware out of sight, but according to Zillow’s survey, upgrades will put kitchenwares on display in the coming year. “It is now fashionable to display almost everything in the kitchen — from dishes to pots and pans to gourmet oils and vinegars,” Zillow Digs Board of Designers member Kerrie Kelly says.
Finding the right house or apartment is rarely easy, but it’s even harder when you’re conducting your search remotely. Just ask Marjorie Comer, 26, a military wife who’s moved several times in the past few years. She and her husband tried to house hunt from afar before they moved from Kansas City, Mo., to Charleston, S.C., in January 2010. Not knowing many people in Charleston, the couple searched online before deciding to drive in for a two-day real estate blitz. “Everything was really gross or way out of our rental price range,” she says. Finally, they settled on a rental in what she describes as a “semi-nice area.”
When the family moved again to Florida in May 2011, Comer says she felt better equipped to find a place to live thanks to the military resources she’d uncovered and the strategies learned from their previous search. They searched online again, then spent a four-day weekend in the area north of Jacksonville, Fla., once they narrowed their search to 10 houses.
Here’s a look at strategies for conducting a real estate search from a distance.
Do your homework online. The Internet has a wealth of information available about rental units and houses for sale, so try websites like craigslist.org or zillow.com to get a feel for the local market. “Know what you’re looking for, how many bedrooms you need and what your price range is,” Comer says.
Alerting your social network can also help. “Don’t be afraid to post on Facebook that you’re looking,” Comer says. “You never know if someone is friends with someone whose brother-in-law lives in that location.”
As Bill Deegan, CEO of renternation.com, a website that advocates for renters, points out, “people usually pick up stakes and move for a reason – for school, family or work – so try to use those networks to get recommendations.” He also suggests using Google Earth to get a feel for the neighborhood, a potential home’s exterior and what amenities are nearby. “If having art galleries or things are important to you, make sure that they’re nearby, and you can have easy access to them,” Deegan says.
Patti Castillo, Kayla Castillo, reaching for the family dog, Chico, and Robert Castillo live in Richmond. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle
For Patti and Robert Castillo of Richmond, using eminent domain to prevent foreclosures boils down to a simple reality.
“We are living paycheck to paycheck just to pay the mortgage,” Patti Castillo said. Reducing their principal through eminent domain “would help keep money in our pockets and let us stay in our house.”
Their mortgage on a modest house now worth half of the $420,000 they paid for it in 2005 is among 624 home loans that the city of Richmond has threatened to seize via eminent domain in an effort to restructure them to be more affordable.
While homeowners like the Castillos welcome the idea, the banking industry loathes the idea of municipalities forcibly seizing mortgages and is vigorously fighting the effort. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the nation’s top housing regulator, seeking information on whether it’s been unduly influenced by the banking industry.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency in August threatened possible legal action against localities that pursue eminent domain for mortgages, and said it might bar Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from backing new home loans in those areas.
Now the ACLU’s lawsuit seeks to uncover “the nature of (the FHFA’s) relationship with the financial industry,” said Linda Lye, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Its unusual and very aggressive stance raises potential questions of governmental integrity.”
An FHFA representative declined to comment.
The eminent domain plan, in which cities would forcibly acquire mortgages at discounts, then help homeowners refinance into smaller, more affordable home loans, is at heart a form of principal reduction, Lye said.
“Principal reduction is very mainstream; there have been calls for it from entities including the secretary of the Treasury,” she said. “Communities like Richmond particularly interested in principal reduction are disproportionately minority. The FHFA should be treading very carefully and looking at whether its conduct has an extra impact on communities of color. The general concern is that they would be effectively red-lined.”
The Most Expensive Homes to Recently Come onto the Market
Sally Kuchar | Curbed SF | December 3, 2013 | link
Every week we comb through the real estate listings to bring you the ten least expensive pieces of residential real estate in a single neighborhood. This week we’re switching it up a bit, and instead showing you the ten most expensive properties to hit the market in the past seven days. This map does not include multi-unit buildings—only single-family homes and condos are shown. Of the 55 properties that hit the market recently, the tenth most expensive is a TIC in Noe Valley that’s asking $1.3M. At $5.5M, the most expensive is a 2-bedroom at Millennium Tower in Yerba Buena.
We might not quite be in the age of “The Jetsons” yet, but there are quite a few gadgets on the market than can make you feel a little more like you’re living in the future. More than something to just keep you connected the web, your wireless network can now be used to keep you connected to your home or home office while you’re out on town, ensuring that your home stays safe and even making sure you have what you need to make breakfast in the morning. Here are five of our favorite gadgets in the growing connected-home market that would even give the Jetsons’ robot assistant Rosie a run for her money:
1. Lockitron: The Lockitron is a Wi-Fi-connected door lock that allows you to lock and unlock your door using your smartphone. The $179 lock is simple to install and works with any smartphone — as well as older phones via SMS message — to lock and unlock your door on command. As an admin, you can grant access to whomever you want, for any time period you want. So, you can give your neighbor a virtual key to go let your dog out when a meeting runs late, or pass out virtual keys to your whole family while they’re visiting. An online log lets you see when your door is locked and unlocked and by whom. [See more about it in the video below.]
2. Dropcam Pro: This nifty gadget is a $199 Wi-Fi-connected camera that can be used as everything from a baby monitor to a home surveillance system. With Dropcam Pro, you can tune in to a live feed from the camera from your smartphone or computer no matter where you are in the world, and a built-in speaker and microphone allow you to communicate through the camera. Push-notifications alert you when there’s movement in the camera’s view — for instance, your front door opening — and an optional subscription service records and stores the video feed from your camera in the cloud. Since video is stored off-site in the cloud, you’ll be able to access it even if your camera is stolen in a burglary, a feature that has already help nap a few criminals.
3. Belkin WeMo Switch: Belkin’s $49.99 WeMo switch turns any outlet in your home into a “smart” outlet. The device plugs into your standard electrical outlet, allowing you to control it from anywhere on the planet through Belkin’s free WeMo app. You can use the app to turn on a light when you’re not at home, or even just turn on a fan that’s located across the room. Outlets can also be programmed to turn on and off at any time you specify. [See more about it in the video below.]