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Residential Property and Home Mortgages with David Graham and Bela Vora

Podcast published: February 9, 2024

With so much happening in the local residential property market in recent years, we meet with David Graham and Bela Vora to discuss the topic. Based in Kennett Square, David Graham is a mortgage specialist with Rapid Mortgage. Bela Vora is a realtor in Exton, with Coldwell Banker Realty. We cover what steps to take before applying for a mortgage, how to to prepare for buying a first home or buying a home for the first time in a long time, and trends in the Chester County property market – and more.


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Liam Dempsey:  Join us in person and mingle with the Start Local community. 

Joe Casabona: We have been talking about it for a few months now. So, we are very excited to share the specifics of our first in-person gathering. Folks who subscribe to our emails already have these details, but we are sharing them now with our listeners. 

Liam Dempsey: Come on out to meet and get to know the wonderful people in our Start Local community. We’ll gather at Stolen Sun in Exton on Wednesday, March 27th from 5:00 – 7:00 PM. Experience engaging conversations, dynamic people in great food and drink. 

Joe Casabona: Attendance is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register on our website at [startlocal.co /gather].

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area. 

Erik Gudmundson: The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes trade commerce industry and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The Chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise a profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the chamber@sccc.com.

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to another conversation here on Start Local. I’m Liam Dempsey, and I’m sharing the podcast mic today with my co-host, Erik Gudmundson. Greetings, Erik. What’s shaking with you today?  

Erik Gudmundson: I think everybody’s shaking animals and people’s alike because the rain has finally stopped, the sun is out and we’re gradually, you know, enjoying winter a little bit more. 

Liam Dempsey: I like your answer today. Folks, we have a special treat for you in this episode. We are lucky enough to be joined, not by one, but by two guests. Today, In our conversation, we are focusing on the residential real estate market in Chester County. So we decided to ask a couple of professionals to speak with us today on the topic, but from different angles. 

Erik Gudmundson: That’s right. We have two wonderful people joining us today. And today’s show format will be a little bit different. As a result, we’d love to ha hear your thoughts on this episode,  and our slightly different format. So, please share your feedback via our website over at [startlocal.co]. There is a contact form there that you can use to send us your thoughts.

Our first guest today is David Graham. David is a Business Development Specialist with Rapid Mortgage in Kennett Square. David has been in the mortgage sector for more than 18 years. Welcome, David. 

David Graham: Hello there, Erik. Hello, Liam.  

Liam Dempsey: And our second guest is Bela Vora, a Realtor based in Exton, Pennsylvania. Bela has been serving residential home buyers and sellers for nearly 15 years. Welcome, Bela.  

Bela Vora: Thank you. Thanks for having me. 

Erik Gudmundson: All right. Well, to get this conversation started, we’re gonna focus on mortgages first, but to be clear, that’s just because David happens to be further to the left here as I’m looking around the studio. So, with that in mind, David, I’m gonna ask the first question of you, and actually I’m gonna turn it over to Liam so Liam can ask the first question. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I’ve got the long straw so I get to ask the first question. David, you’ve been writing mortgages for over 18 years. Why would a person call a mortgage broker instead of the regular bank where they keep their checking or savings accounts, or even finding a mortgage online? Why would they call you? 

David Graham: That is a great question, Liam. I think one of the big things is the locality of our branch, especially versus online. And when it comes to like say standard banks that do everything, we are a bank that’s more like a boutique. We only do mortgages. So we’re gonna have a little bit more and different things on our menu, we’re gonna be a little more flexible.

One of the biggest things we’re doing right now in the market is getting people to the closing table in like record times. Like we’re doing one right now, it’s literally two and a half weeks. You will not be getting that at the standard banks.

So I think overall, Realtors feel comfortable with that ’cause in this tight inventory market, it’s all about speed. That could be the name of the game to get an offer accepted. So, that’s some of the aspects of why people would go to us. But there’s nothing wrong with them going to their local bank either, depending on the relationship they have. 

Erik Gudmundson: David, you and I met at a Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce networking event many years ago, and I remember asking you at the time, when should a person buying a house contact you? And your answer really surprised me. You said that, that somebody should contact you before they contact a Realtor. So I’m curious, what is your involvement in a purchase transaction? And I’m even more curious to know if that’s typical for mortgage brokers in general these days.

David Graham: Yeah. I think when I said that, I actually do remember that quite a few years ago, and it still rings true that when a Realtor goes somewhere and they meet somebody, that’s typically where it starts. But the next step is to go to a mortgage person so that everybody knows where they are, what can they be approved for, what is, you know, what do we need to work on, if anything, whether it’s credit repair, employment, income,  and you know, so I think in the very beginning it’s more effective. The earlier they go to a mortgage person, the better. And it’s okay to go to a Realtor and a mortgage person ’cause most likely we’re a team that’s has their best interest in mind. 

So, I think looking at the big picture, I actually had some on the other day, they said, I’m not gonna be ready for two or three years. But you know what my Realtor said? To go to you. So, I know where I stand and what I need to do so we can lay out a whole program for them. And, you know, maybe they’re ready to go even faster than they think, and then we’re able to, you know, help them even faster in the timeline.  

Liam Dempsey: In this competitive housing market, what’s the best thing a buyer can do to qualify for the mortgage they want? And I’ll give you bonus points, David. If you can share something that most people do not do before they talk to you. 

David Graham: Yeah. I would say that a lot of people hesitate to contact the mortgage company. So, there they are. They wanna look at all these homes, they have everyone running around. Then we get them at a 10:00 PM on a Tuesday night and we have to run their application and there’s a big question mark that’s gonna keep them from getting that house that they really want, whereas if they would’ve done the application with us six months ago when we first spoke with them, we would’ve been able to make sure that was taken care of. 

So, I would say literally just, you know, getting it, it’s like going to a doctor. You need a checkup to know where you are with everything and then you know better how to move forward.  I think some of the… If somebody could do something before getting to us, don’t try to do credit repair on your own because it’s not a game that you play on a regular basis. It’s very tricky. So, if we need to get you up 20 points, a hundred points,  you really need to let somebody like us guide you with that. 

Liam Dempsey: And I know that year…

David Graham: so I don’t know any bonus points. 

Liam Dempsey: I think you did get some bonus points in that one. 

David Graham: Okay. 

Liam Dempsey: Thank you! A 30 year fixed rate, 20% down mortgage, you know, used to be the norm many, many years ago. And lenders have been offering, you know, Shorter payoff terms,  variable interest rates, things like that for also some time. And I’m curious for new home buyers, what’s the norm these days? And I’m curious how varied the market of loan types has grown for residential buyers, especially now that we’ve recovered from the subprime mortgage crisis of15 years ago.  

David Graham: Yeah. I would say that it looks very similar in regards to 30 year fixed. I would, I think that really is the 30 year fixed rate is still the go-to.

The biggest change in the last 20 to 30 years, 20% down is not typically what people do, especially first time home buyers. There are programs now as low as 3% down and some even 0% down, like the VA loans for veterans and anyone in the active military.  So, I think the average down payment has come down a lot in the last 20 years.

As far as other fixed rate programs, 15 year, if somebody can actually be approved, it’s a higher payment per month, but you’re gonna be making the payoff that much faster. 

As far as,  variable rate products, those are very, very lightly used. Most people want to have it fixed. They don’t want to be surprised about which way the market’s gonna take them. And so really the 30 year fixed is the sweet spot with less money down than 20%, overall. 

Liam Dempsey: Is there anything a borrower should know about loans for new home construction? Also, wondering about where significant renovation is required on day one. Recent conditions have brought some uninhabitable properties to the marketplace. So, how are lenders willing to work with that?

David Graham:  Yeah. There is a lot of rehabilitation loans.  We’re doing one right now where somebody’s getting the home and they’re putting about a hundred thousand dollars worth of work into the home. So they’re gonna be what? By the time they get that home, it’s gonna be like in a great condition, almost like a brand new home for them. 

What happens is they take the purchase price that’s agreed upon by everybody, and we add the rehab cost to the loan, and the loan amount goes up accordingly. those take a little bit longer than the standard loans. There’s a lot of moving parts with contractors and what not manually. But they can be done and they’re getting very popular these days.

As far as construction loans, there’s a few different types. It can get a little more complicated. There could be more money down in those situations. It could depend on are you buying from a single builder and a plot of land versus a whole development. In those cases, they might even have a bank behind them and that bank might actually be the best way for them to go ’cause they’re tied into the builder.  but we look at all scenarios and that again goes to the fact of someone coming to us early on, we can guide them through those scenarios.  

Erik Gudmundson: Speaking of being guided through scenarios, especially for people newer to the home buying world, often they’re saved by inspections. You know, whether it’s a general home inspection or termite inspections, things like that. And I remember they used to be required by mortgage companies. Are they still required, and are there any inspections that matter that a buyer cannot waive?

David Graham: Yes. The biggest and only one that they cannot waive is the appraisal inspection, which really is just to set the value. It’s not a typical inspection of the home, you know, from top to bottom. It does create the value, and if there is something wrong with the home, sometimes they can come up on an appraisal report. That may lead to us needing a termite report, a mold report, those types of reports. Otherwise, no other reports are necessary, but the appraisal report. And that again is just to set the value.

Erik Gudmundson: And in this market that’s very important because deals can come together so very quickly. So if one buyer is willing to waive certain types of inspections, I imagine that’ll make their offer look a little bit more appealing. 

David Graham: Yes. We’ve run into that quite a bit in the last few years. And you know, it is hard to say when that will maybe turn around, but at some point it could get more back to normal. 

Liam Dempsey: David, thank you for that. That was really insightful. I appreciate your insight. So, let’s transition to the Realtor side of the question here.

And Bella, before I ask you to get into the specifics of the marketplace that we were talking about, we’re gonna ask you about a Cliche question, but we think it’s one worth asking. Would you briefly explain the difference between a Realtor, a Real Estate Agent, a Real Estate Advisor, and a Real Estate Broker?  And why would somebody interested in buying or selling a home choose to work with one over the other?

Bela Vora: So, some of them are very obvious ones, but I’m gonna scramble your order a little bit. A Real Estate Agent is somebody who went through 60, 70 hours of education, gave two exams, the state exam, national exam, and got a license, and you’re a Real Estate Agent. Then you become a Realtor when you join the local and the National Associations, you, Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, National Association of Realtors. So there are slightly higher standards now. There are ethics requirements that are continuing education requirements and, you know, sort of answerable to, you know, and you learn from the group and you grow with the group kind of thing. And then you go on to advising. That’s what I call myself. 

Real estate agent has the connotation of just being transactional, like, I wanna buy my house, write an offer, negotiate on my behalf, and you know, let’s get the settlement, or I wanna sell my house, market it and get settlement. 

Advisor is more buying or selling may not even be a one of the recommendations I may make for you. So where are you in your journey right now? I’m not your Financial Advisor. I’m not your lawyer, but when it comes to real estate, I can say, okay, there’s primary residence, there’s opportunities for investment properties, I may tell you, oh, the mortgage rates are great. Did you refinance? Or I may tell you, Hey, you need to appeal your taxes. The window to appeal taxes in Chester County, you know, is this, and it’s a great time to appeal your taxes. So, you know, it’s a much broader relationship with the consumer instead of just buying and selling a home.  

And the last one is a Broker. You have to be a real estate agent for five years. You have to be licensed for five years and then go through the education and give the exams for a Broker to become a Broker. So that’s at a different level. Right now, I have to hang my license with a Broker. All agents have to hang the license with a Broker in order to be able to practice.

As a Real Estate Agent, I just can’t go and do deals without affiliating myself with a Broker. But as a Broker, I can be bailor broker. You know, I can do my transactions on my own. I don’t need a Caldwell banker or a re max or any other brokerage.  

Liam Dempsey: That makes sense. Thank you for clearing up those details. That’s good to know and good to have in the background. 

Because you’ve been a Realtor for 15 years, your business has survived bubbles and bursts. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Chester County real estate in general over the course of your career?

Bela Vora: So I haven’t seen the bubble burst yet. Actually, I joined right around when it was bursting. And then there was nothing to do but go up, you know, which was great, but it was a horrible time to join back then during the recession, but biggest change is the pricing in this area. I mean, Chester County has grown. We’ve got a lot of new construction. We’ve got income growth, we’ve got job growth, we’ve got real estate growth. I was just doing some numbers. I have my own, you know, YouTube channel and I’m, I do,  numbers for my market updates. And the average price of a home in Chester County was about $350. Actually even lower, but $315, say 2019, 2018 times. And  this past year it was $495, the median price of a home in just county.

Liam Dempsey: Wow. 

Bela Vora: So that’s a little crazy. Affordability is getting, you know, a little crazy in this area.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, you’re not kidding. That’s a pretty significant jump and, we certainly heard about the housing challenges that a lot of our cHESTER County residents are facing. And be sure to surf over to [startlocal.co] for the show notes about, then we’ll link to some of the older episodes where we talk with folks about this particular issue.

But let me get onto the next question. Bella, having been on the buyer side and seller side of a home purchase, it is a very, very stressful adventure. And I’m using the term adventure in a massive air quotes. I noticed that you advertise a stress-free approach. That was not something that I enjoyed ever when buying and selling homes. What are some of the things that you do to mitigate that stress of such a massive transaction? 

Bela Vora: Yeah. I mean, most people think, I mean, it has actually been documented that buying and selling can be up there with the death of a loved one or divorce or, you know, that level of stress. 

I’m gonna pick on something that David said. It’s like a health checkup. One of the things I do is, like I said, I’m the Advisor. I’m there throughout, you know, people check on their stock market portfolios all the time. You know, what’s my stock doing? What’s my Apple stock doing? Oh, the market went up by, oh, the Dow dropped by whatever. But when it comes to housing, they’re in their primary residence and then they forget about it. So I like for my clients, my past clients and people who know me to stay in touch with me. I will keep you posted on what the values of homes are doing, what the interest rates are doing, what updates you wanna make that will actually help when it’s time to sell. So if you are constantly in the know, if you’re constantly keeping track, then it doesn’t come as a sudden shock like, what is my homework? What? Really? you know, that’s not how it should work. So, you know, check in. I mean, most people assume Realtors only wanna buy and sell homes. Well, that’s not true. We can be, you know, guide. We can be your guides with other things as well. 

So, I mean, not all Realtors do that. So the barriers to entry, and that might probably, you know, I’m probably getting ahead of myself here, but barriers to entry in this business are low. So not every Realtor thinks the way I do. So, you know, that may make a difference as well.

Erik Gudmundson: I’ll definitely be asking about some of the career objectives of folks entering the real estate market a little bit later in the interview, that’s for sure. But, sticking with the question that Liam just asked, aside from education, educating specifically educating yourself as much as you can and working with someone like you, what is one specific tip you could recommend to home sellers and buyers to keep their stress levels to a minimum? 

Bela Vora: So, you know,if you work with a Realtor who has systems in place, that is a huge reliever of stress. We tell people what to expect. So when a buyer comes to me, I start with a Zoom call. You may have something in your head that says, oh, I want three beds, two beds. I want one car garage. I want, you know, whatever. And it’s aspirational. And hey, that’s an American dream. That’s what a home is. But I want it all for under $350,000 in this location. Well, that may not work. So my Zoom call, and I used to do this. I always did this in my 14 years. I met the buyers at my office pre covid and I, you know, sort of helped them work through that criteria. But now on a Zoom, it is phenomenal where I share my screen, I share my MLS, and I’m like, listen, I’m plugging everything you want in here. If this is a search engine and I’m gonna hit enter and show you how many homes sold in the last year in your criteria. And I kid you not, I sometimes get two, sometimes I get four. I’m not being judgmental. I’m just showing you what happened last year and more likely that’s gonna happen again this year. What is the probability of you finding this? Then we go back as like, maybe that garage wasn’t important, or maybe that location is too pricey. Maybe we need to switch to this.

And then we have a realistic criteria now, you know, even before, like, you know, you’re ahead of the game,   just because your criteria matches what the market’s doing, and that’s like 80% of the job done, you know, so I mean, that’s I think a huge thing for my buyers, which, you know, when there’s multiple offers, then  how do you know how high to go, ight? I’m familiar. I’ve been living here for 28 years, so I’m familiar withr all the local neighborhoods. So I’ve given them pros and cons. So I’m having several Zoom calls with my people, like I’m talking estimate of closing costs. I’m doing okay. You think you want this? Check out these four neighborhoods. You know, most likely you’re gonna land there. 

And now they’re so, you know, aware of what. And so when that home comes up in that neighborhood with the absolutely love, which they have driven through, they already know what the pricing there. They have a spreadsheet from me somewhere that says, homes usually sell for this range. Now it’s like, let’s go for this pay. That’s the exciting part, right? Oh my God, I found my home. That’s what people want. 

Liam Dempsey: It sure is. So, you’ve talked about how first time home buyers might not necessarily have a realistic understanding of how  great a percentage they have of getting the home they want in the neighborhood they want at the price they want. What is the most common misconception you encounter about your job, either from sellers or from buyers or from mortgage brokers? What’s the most common misconception? 

Bela Vora: People are not quite aware of what Realtors can do for them. The lowest common denominator is often assumed. It’s like anybody can write up the offer, anybody can, you know, open a door with a lockbox key and anybody can, you know, claim that they negotiated and take you through settlement. It’s like with every deal, something happens first is to take the stress away, you know, and then something happens and you have to pivot and think, you know, out of the box.  

I’m not sure a lot of people see the value in that yet. You know, like you could go to these online portals, the houses are available for therefore you to see they’re on sale, you know it. So what stops you from just going there and doing it without a Realtor? Still nine. The statistics that 90% of the buyers do use a Realtor, and sellers do use Realtors. So it’s that value addition that just needs to be conveyed. And the barriers, again, like I said, to entry, are so low that not all Realtors give that value. So, you know, we are all judged based on the lowest common denominator. So… 

Liam Dempsey: Well, let’s focus back then on residential property. Is there a particular area in the county where residential property is something we should keep an eye out for? What’s up and coming in Chester County? 

Bela Vora: So, I feel like the growth is most further west, usually north and west from Philadelphia. We’re known as the suburbs of Philadelphia. You know, beyond the mainline suburbs. And this is where the growth all happened, new construction happened and you know, like the DowningTown, Chester Springs, all this Northern Chester County areas were discovered. And I believe that the growth is moving further west. So, to me it is more like, you know, I’m on the border of Chester County, so, my territory is actually parts of four different counties, the way I see it here. But, I think West is where all the action is. 

I watched one of your podcasts where a commercial real estate person said Oxford is the place to watch out for. And that might be, you know, the case.  But I don’t, I sell mostly Northern Chester County. I don’t go beyond a certain area. 

Erik Gudmundson: So Liam just asks about particular areas of the county. I’m curious if the springtime, in terms of timing, is the best time to buy and sell residential real estate these days.Traditionally, that’s always been the busy time of year, but is that still the case?  

Bela Vora: Yes. It’s a distinct seasonality to the business. I always joke that it starts based on how cold our winter is. So if it is a mild winter, the bus starts earlier in the season. if it is a very strong winter, you know, sometimes you’ve had snow in April and then it might be a little delayed. And the peak season, the peak months for real estate are, you know, April, May, June. That’s when you’ll see the most buyers out there and most listings for sale as well. So the competition is intense, you know, and the numbers are high. Most people wanna settle in July and August because they want that to make that switch for the school year. They want to be settled by then, and then everybody jokes, you know, the Realtors at the beach, everybody else is at the beach as well. So 4th of July weekend is when it starts slowing down. August is one of the slowest months, and then it market picks up again for the fall months. So that there’s a distinct seasonality to the business.

Liam Dempsey: The end of 2023 brought a ground shaking, 1.3 billion with a B dollar verdict against the National Association of Realtors and Real Estate Brokers, Keller Williams and Home Services of America, not to mention $140 million in settlements with other home sellers, including Coldwell Banker’s Parent Company. 

As of a direct result, many analysts have predicted changes are coming to the traditional 6% real estate commission. What changes have you seen to commission structures in recent years and how could coming changes unfold? 

Bela Vora: So changes have been coming all along. So first of all, I actually questioned that 6% real estate that hasn’t existed for a while because we’ve had major disruptors in this industry. We had these online portals like Zillow and Redfin and Realtor.com. Clearly, you don’t, they don’t do business at 6%.  then youT have a lot of discount brokerages that don’t do business at 6%. 

And even within a brokerage, there are individual agents who determine what the numbers will be and, you know, 5%, 4%, you know, there are all kinds of a variety of splits. So if you had to listen to Lawrence Klein, who is the Chief Economist with the National Association of Realtors, he’s like, there’s 1.5 million Realtors.  And you can’t have collusion with 1.5 million people. It’s hard to get five people to do the same thing. Righ? How can you have 1.5 million? 

Erik Gudmundson: or even three people. Yeah.

Bela Vora: Yeah,  exactly. So, it’s a little interesting, but changes are coming. In terms of the future, this is something that I have always grappled with clearly; it is the value-based economics. You know, there’s a lot of, we we’ll see a shakeout. I actually welcome it. The folks who are doing one and two and three deals. And just because, okay, my neighbor, my cousin, my mom’s house, or whatever,  I think you need a certain level of barriers to entry before you can do the business. So yes, the people who are not as active, who are not keeping up with, you know,  the knowledge will fall off the market. And the ones that stay are the ones who have, who are adding value to the buyers and the sellers. So that change is coming.

And how we discuss our fees will change, you know. And historically, sellers have paid both the buyer’s agents and sellers here in this country, but that’s not the model in other countries. So, maybe the buyers will pay their own agent. Sellers will pay their own agent. The lenders may do their part and roll in, maybe into the mortgage, maybe that may become a norm. So there’s a lot of, it’s too early to say how changes will happen, but we are expecting changes and how the Realtors are [Inaudible 27:57.7] in the future. 

And I actually welcome them because, it shouldn’t be a given really, and I don’t, you know, again, there’s just so much variety out there. Some of us who are in the trenches all day every day, were really shocked that there was this collusion charge because we literally know people who do different business differently than us who charge different amounts than us. So, it felt like strange that the jury decided. And you know, that will continue. There are probably some really deep pockets behind that lawsuit, and you know, we’ll see where that goes.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, Bella, thank you very much for your answers there. I wanna bring David back into the conversation. And so for the rest of the interview, what I’d like is to get some answers from both of you. So if one of you has a particular answer you’d like to share, do feel welcome to jump in, but don’t feel like you have to jump in to every single question. I wanna try to keep this in more of a rapid fire kind of, a scenario here so that we can work our way through ’cause there’s just so much information happening in this market.

One thing I’m seeing right now is that the market remains to be tight despite the upward swing in interest rates. And although lately the interest rates have technically been decreasing, I suppose, and I’ve heard stories for the last couple years of how sellers and buyers, you know, are getting together with cash in hand waving home inspections that I referenced earlier. And I’m curious how common that sort of a transaction is now. And I’m curious when you think it might change and how can buyers use these market conditions to their advantage? So maybe David, I’ll start with you and Bel, if you’d like to chime in, do feel welcome.  

David Graham: Sure. Eric. I would say, and I’m gonna use my own sample size here of who I’m working with right now and what I’ve seen the last two winters.

So, what you had asked Bela earlier, is it a good, like, when’s the best time? I think the most time people buy is the spring. I think right now if somebody can find a home that and they can get under contract, this is a great time. There’s a little less competition out there. And as the rates come down, they’ve only come down a little bit. But, I can imagine in three months from now, the headlines say the rates are the lowest they’ve been in two years. 

Now, you’ve got a crazy amount of people looking for homes again. And now you’re at 30 offers on each home, over asking price and you know, and waving every type of inspection. 

So I’m finding right now, this is a small pocket of time. So, starting in December, maybe through February, some of my people are having a little easier time. They’re actually getting inspections done.  And, I just don’t know how much longer that’s gonna go on with that. And I’m not sure what Bel is seeing, so it’d be interesting, I think sometimes in real estate you could just have two different samples based on who we’re working with at any given time. 

Bela Vora: But, no. It’s totally true. The multi, I mean, and that’s truly true nationally as well. I think anything that is in a good location, in a good condition is getting into multiple bits. It’s as simple as that. And certain price ranges more than the other. So if you’re…right now, the Chester County median is $495,000 for a medi  home.  Anything below that is going, just selling quickly in multiple bids. Where the hesitation comes is when the property’s a little different, not in that excellent location or it needs work. That’s when things slow down a little bit.

So my advice to, you know, sellers as they are, you know, if they’re not in on the market yet, is just prepare your homes. You know, anything that is move-in ready is selling at a premium. So, you don’t know when you’re gonna sell, but at least that’s one thing you can do to enhance the value of your home while, you know, you’re not selling. And for buyers, how they prepare themselves is really the education piece of it.

I actually tell them a couple of things. One is, if your range, suppose your range was 350 to 400, I would like you to be a little closer to the 350, 360 range, so that way if you’re going high in escalation addendums, or if you are making inspection free offers, you have a little bit of leeway in terms of some wiggle room. And then just compromise on the criteria a little bit. I did a video on this one and that word compromise wasn’t liked, but think about things that you can change later. You know, you can’t change your location, you can’t change your school district. You can’t change your monthly payment unless you know the rates drop. But maybe that kitchen, which is a little dated when you have some funds, you can update it later, the bathroom or that flooring. So do not reject a home because of the interior updates.  Those things can be changed later. So a little bit of those mindset changes for the buyers, and then they win in. 

Erik Gudmundson: Yeah. I like that focus on what could be there and not necessarily what is there, depending on what your needs are.

For a person refinancing or buying a home for the first time in say a decade, what is the biggest difference in the closing process that they should prepare for?  

David Graham: I would say this, I started in 2006. That was right before the crash happened in 0708. All, anybody needed was to fog a mirror. They could get whatever they wanted. Okay? So, anyone who bought a home between 2002 and 2007, if they try to buy a home now, they’re gonna be like, why are you asking me for pay stubs? Why are you asking me where I work? You know, and so that’s kind completely weird. I’m working with someone now who hasn’t bought a home in 35 years, and this is completely natural for them. Because they didn’t know any better, and this is really where the market should be. So right now, one of the reasons we’re not gonna have another crash is because we have the most qualified people in their homes right now. Maybe in the history of real estate, because we learned our lessons, luckily from the crash. 

Liam Dempsey: That’s very insightful. 

Bela Vora: Yeah, I agree. Totally. Yeah, totally agree with that. Everybody was wondering, oh, is there gonna be a crash? Are we getting into a recession again? Is there gonna be a lot of foreclosures coming on the market? No, because that Dodd-Frank Act that was passed. Now the mortgage lending standards are so tight. They want, you know, there’s just so much diligence happening at the front end. People who own these homes can afford them. The Y values have risen, like I talked about. So now you have a lot more equity in your homes and you were qualified when you got it to begin with. So in the last few years, post that recession, you know, that is not a worry anymore. 

Erik Gudmundson: Is there a particular type of property really hot in Chester County right now? 

Bela Vora: My…Sorry, was that for David? David?

Erik Gudmundson: No, it’s… that is definitely a question for you, I think. Yeah. 

David Graham: Go ahead Bella.

Bela Vora: Yeah. I’m more of the Northern Chester County area, and I think the new construction is selling like hotcakes around here. A lot of the buyer profile here loves move in ready. Almost everybody loves move in ready homes. Nobody wants a to-do list when you get into a home. And the new construction has just been flying off the shelves for the builders, and it’ll continue to do that. And partly because of the, you know, the fact that the sellers are reluctant to sell and reluctant to give up their 3% and under interest rates that they have locked in. So it’s the builders who are just making out big time here. 

So, the, you know, and especially the town homes in terms of the type, because one of the things I get told is, oh my God, you can pass sugar to your neighbor and you don’t even have to stretch your hand out a little bit, yyou know. They’re just packing so many homes in an area or, you know, in that neighborhood, but we are getting more and more urban. When I moved to the Exton area 28 years ago, it was called the Village of Exton that route hundred and 30 intersection was called the Village. There was a sign, literally that said, village of Exton. Well, you clearly, it’s nowhere near a village anymore with all the development. Even when all these rental communities came up in Exton area, you know, which is where my office is, everybody was like, who’s gonna rent all these apartment buildings? Look at all these apartment buildings coming up everywhere. Well, they’re all renting. So, it’s crazy how much we’ve grown over the years. 

David Graham: And if I can add to that, also with the baby boomers now, they’re turning 65 at a record piece in our society here in our country. So you have places like Hershey’s Mill which is an incredible place in Westchester 55 plus. Those are also very hot places. People are actually on waiting lists to get into homes in these places. 

And then you have the bottom of which the millennial generation now is becoming of age now at 35 more than ever. So you’ve got these two huge amounts of people that need to live somewhere. And that adds a lot to where we are right now in the market. 

Liam Dempsey: I’m gonna focus on families, younger families now, and there are reports of young families putting off having children and maybe young people, even deprioritizing marriage. How has this changed your typical client base? If there ever was a typical client base, and what advice would you give these? We’ll call them non-traditional families as they think of buying homes?

Bela Vora: So, that’s shifting a little bit. The millennials are buying homes later. Earlier it was like 26, 28 was when people started thinking about buying homes on, you know, getting married or whatever. And now it’s more in their mid thirties. So the millennials were perfectly happy to just, you know, turnkey, like switch out, you know, lock your apartments and travel and, you know, become, you know, they were into career moves, but now they wanna, I mean, it became very obvious during Covid, you know, the conversations were always, I need that extra bedroom for my home office. I need that backyard for my pets. I need, you know, an extra room for the nursery. We have a baby coming. So, now it’s the age has gotten, you know, higher. 

But yes, I mean, people buy and sell homes based on their life change. You know, people always getting divorced. People are getting married, they’re having babies, they’re downsizing. Part of the reason why we have such a high demand and not enough  homes for that demand.

David Graham: Now is the average age of a first time home buyer is 35. That’s up quite a bit. A lot of single people, especially single women buying homes more than single men. And then you also have group, like a group of friends buying homes together and being on the same mortgage. So, we definitely are seeing a changing landscape. 

Bela Vora: Yeah. I even have a few brother, sister buying together cause they want to start building equity. Why build your landlord’s equity? Build your own. And I’m completely, you know, with that.

Liam Dempsey: Before Eric asks the next question, I just have to say, I feel like we could have a whole episode on the different way that folks are buying homes these days, given the changes really of everything in our world. It’s just so interesting. Thank you for flagging up that, that little bit of families and siblings and friends buying together.

Erik Gudmundson: And I want to keep that theme going, but go back to something Bela mentioned earlier, and that’s workforce issues and people entering the real estate workforce and the mortgage workforce in general. And I’m curious because it’s common for people reentering the workforce after a major life change to start with a career in real estate, it seems. And why do you think that is? And what advice would you give them?

Bela Vora:  Well, first of all, real estate is a great career. It’s not for everybody. I’m going to say. And you’re right. A lot of people joined real estate as a second career. I don’t know if you were aware, but it was, they were teachers first or, you know, whatever else that they were doing. And then, so I was with the non international nonprofit world before I joined real estate. So I was in my forties when I joined, so it was like, okay, what do I wanna be when I grew up? And real estate was it.

So, the advice to them would be, a lot of people tend to think that, oh, it’s easy, I wanna do it on the side. My kids will come home from school at three, so if I have some time before that, I’ll do it. Or even I don’t care if I sell only three houses a year. You know, it’s something I wanna do on the site. A lot of people have full-time jobs and they’re trying to do this over evenings and weekends, and I believe you are doing a disservice to yourself and your clients if you do that. If you try to do this halfheartedly. It is a business and it has to be treated like a business. And if you do that, you will see success as well. So, if you’re full-time, you’re reading up, you are keeping ahead of what’s going on in the market. You are, you know, you’re engaged in what’s happening in your local communities. What are the pros and cons of the local neighborhoods?  What are the, you know, contractual changes, like even our contracts change. There are so many edits that are being made to the contracts over time. A lot of people are just not, and some I have had the, you know, like some privilege of working with people who’ve been in the business 30 years. and they started their business when it was books. So they’re not comfortable with the technology. They’ve not kept up. I get addendums, which was like, I have never seen this addendum before. Where is this from? 19 what? So, and they’re not even familiar with the newer addendums that have been introduced by the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors or whatever.

So there’s a whole lot more to this business. And if you just do see one piece of it, as in, oh, I can talk. Well, I’m very friendly. and I love homes and I wanna become a Realtor. No, that’s not quite how it works.  

David Graham: Can I piggyback on Bela real quick there? What she was saying, it’s an ironic question because last year, the business was down 25% transactions in the nation. Okay. Because of the rising rates and the tight inventory. So you had more people dropping out of being Realtors and mortgage people than maybe ever in the history of the industry. But once the gold rush comes on, as we say, and the headlines talk about how everything’s real estate, everything’s real estate, that’s when you start getting people in. But also, it’s harder than ever right now for a Realtor to show buyers homes ’cause they have to sometimes see. Instead of five homes, they might need to see 50 homes before they finally get them a home. 

So the dynamics have changed quite a bit. And I would never wanna work with a part-time Realtor as a buyer right now. It just not enough knowledge or time to help me out in this market. So, I think that’s important.

Erik Gudmundson: That makes sense. And it’s telling that you’re both in agreement on that. David, you mentioned headlines, and I want to ask specifically about that because real estate and mortgage lending headlines can appear to be extremely volatile to people outside the industry. What keeps you motivated to come back for more? What’s the reason you enjoy your career?   

David Graham: Okay. I’ll take that one first. I’ve been this 18 years and I’m still fevered about it. I think, it is one of the largest investments of people’s lives and a cornerstone of their financial future. So I think,  and also from our standpoint as a rapid mortgage, we help people get to the closing table sometimes years in advance if they’re not ready, as we talked about earlier. So you have tears of joy at the closing table at a very emotional process and a very emotional time in these people’s lives. So that’s what keeps me going. And part of our lives, Bela and me, no matter what side of the real estate coin we are on, is guiding people along very calmly through these, a lot of these headlines don’t have a lot of merit to them. Some of them do, but there’s ways that we can explain it and, you know, and just try to make their fears put inperspective so they can move forward. 

Bela Vora: Yeah. I agree with David’s. So, in terms of headlines, we call it, I call it clickbait. So one of the most popular pieces of videos, kind of videos I do is a green screen video where I show behind my head an article, a newspaper article, or a magazine article, and then I talk about it. And most of the time it’s like too much hype, too much clickbait, you know, what’s really happening is not something that drastic or you know, crazy.

And yeah. We become engaged in the lives of people. I have over the years have been, I get invited to housewarming parties after my buyers buy the house, but that’s, you know, that’s normal. But I’ve been invited to 60th birthday parties like 10 years after my clients bought that house. I get a call and say, Hey, my husband’s out of town and I’m heading to the emergency room. I didn’t know who to call. I’m come like, no, you wait. I’ll come. I’ll take you to the emergency room. And I get invited to weddings after many years. So I’m a part of their lives. It’s not like transactional where you know you help. I helped you buy and sell and we’re done. So that’s joy. You know, that’s just, as much as I talk about numbers, I’m a bit of a numbers geek and all that, but, and I am a, you know, an educator. So, there’s some of my young clients who get yelled at because I was like, I mean, I’m very honest and open. So when I tell them, okay, you make this much money and your the lenders approve you for this much, and this is what you’re putting down, where does all the money go? Right? I know how much they’re making. I know what they’re putting down. And I’m like, wait, what? Now It’s a very personal thing, right? But to me, it’s important that I know. Sometimes it’s like, Hey, I sent it to my family in another country. Or sometimes, Hey, I didn’t have my visas so I did this. There is reasons behind it. So, it’s to guide them and like I said, it’s the advisory role rather than just a transactional role. That’s what I particularly enjoy. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. And that joy comes through in your voice, so thank you. Thank you both for these answers. That’s really heartwarming to hear. 

Part of what we’re doing here at Star Local is trying to get to know and connect with the community that is Chester County. And very few people know the region, like those involved in the residential real estate market, whether showing properties, buying properties, advising on properties, or helping folks get a fantastic mortgage to best meet their needs. I wanna ask you if you could highlight a business or nonprofit that you think might not get enough attention that more folks in and around our area should know about. And David, I’m gonna ask you to go first and Bela, I’ll ask you to share your second please. 

David Graham: Sure. This is one I’ve adopted recently in one of my networking groups, safe Harbor of Chester County.  It’s a homeless shelter right in the Borough. I did a tour with the Director of Development,  Ruby Abara. And, I think we’re looking to, when we do a lot of events within my company and with other Realtors, I would like to really, you know, get them some notoriety ’cause they perform an incredible thing here, right in Chester County. And people don’t realize you walk around the… You think about what restaurant you’re going to next, what drink you’re gonna have, and there’s this issue here that is right there in front of us. So it’s called Safe Harbor of Chester County. 

Bela Vora: So my couple of charities that I am engaged with, I believe you’ve already talked to them, I’m,  getting quite engaged with the Chester County Food Bank. I think they do some amazing things. Most people think of food bank and they think cans and boxes. But, you know,  a significant portion of what they do is produce fresh produce. And that’s the part that really excites me. So I would, I’m hoping you could support some, you know, CSAs in the area. I don’t know how quite, I mean, you know, I can send you a few   details later. 

But the other passion of mine is decluttering. A lot, every time I go inside a home that needs to be sold, there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be removed from the house before it can be shown, well, photographed, well and all. So, my, you know, there is Habitat for Humanity. They have stores called Restore. I would, you know, I mean, habitat is a very, it’s a household word. I mean, everybody knows about it, but I’m not sure how many use it. We have a center here in Coatesville. There’s another one in Phoenixville. And, you know, I’m big into reuse, recycle, you know, repurpose. So I’m hoping you can support, you know, some of those kind of charities that will help people declutter. And it’s, you know, someone’s trash is someone’s treasure, so we’re keeping it all sustainable.  

Erik Gudmundson: David and Belo, those are some excellent organizations and some excellent points you’ve mentioned there, and I would definitely highlight for listeners our 32nd episode with Andrea Youndt from the Chester County Food Bank is a very good listen. 

Bellara Realtor serving Northern Chester County, Montgomery County, and Delaware County, thank you so much for joining us today. Before we say goodbye to you and David, Bela, please tell us where we can find you online and, so where we can learn more about your services. 

Bela Vora: Oh, I have the benefit of having a very unique name. So, if you just Google me, you’ll find everything there is to know about me. But, if you are looking for my reviews, Google has them. Zillow has them. I have a LinkedIn profile, but [belavorahomes.com] is my website. So, I’m everywhere where you wanna be. Instagram, Facebook, follow me anywhere.  

Erik Gudmundson: And David Graham, Business Development Specialist with Rapid Mortgage, so grateful to you for your time and insight today. I really learned a lot from you. Can you tell us where folks can find you online and learn more about how you can help them get the mortgage they need and want?

David Graham:  All right. Thanks Liam and Eric, Bella. Great to be with you today. Just like Bela said, if you Google me, you’ll find me. I have a business Facebook page, David Graham, mortgage specialist, LinkedIn, and also Instagram as well. So that’s really where, you know, we have a company website, but I think the social media is where you’re gonna get more hard hitting information from me and what’s going on in the market and other life life type of things. So that’s where you can find me. 

Erik Gudmundson: David Graham and Bella Vora, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you also to my co-host, Liam Dempsey. I’m Erik Gudmundson. 

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