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For First-Time Home Buyers, There's No Time Like The Present

The Business Monthly
, September 2006.<empty>
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It's All in the Family: Linda Odum's Daughters Become Her Business Partners
The Business Monthly , May 2006.<empty>
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For First-Time Home Buyers, There's No Time Like The Present
By Courtney Odum-Duncan

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If you're a home buyer in search of that first house, this could be a very good time to be looking. Prices are starting to come down and stabilize a bit. And many sellers are willing to offer at least some help with closing costs.

Until recently, buying a first home was difficult for many people. Since they had no equity from the sale of another property, they were cash poor and had to save for years to come up with enough money for a down payment and closing costs or hope for a generous gift from Mom and Dad.

But lenders are beginning to recognize the changing demographics of first-time buyers. Many are older now and have several years of employment behind them when they enter the housing market.

With that in mind, new mortgage guidelines allow greater flexibility, with lower down payments and higher income to debt ratios for people who have good credit. And since you no longer have to prove your income, assets or debt, you may qualify for a slightly higher mortgage.

Here are some tips for first-time buyers:

  • Before you start shopping, know how much of a mortgage you'll qualify for. And think beyond the lender's requirements to your own comfort level. Some people are willing to spend all of their disposable income on a mortgage; others want some money left over for extras like vacations.
  • Also think about the other expenses of home ownership: the property tax, home owners association dues and The Columbia Association assessment if you'll be living in Columbia.
  • Know your priorities. What's most important to you -- the location or the house itself. If a short commute and the very best school district are most important to you, you may have to compromise on the house.
  • Take notes and discuss your priorities with your Realtor as you're shopping. What's really important to you will probably become clearer as you look at homes.
  • Be willing to compromise on the location. Howard County is one of the nation's most expensive housing markets. You may be able to come closer to your dream house just a few miles away in Baltimore, Anne Arundel or Prince George's Counties.
  • Be prepared to start small and move up. Most first-time buyers begin with a condominium, move up to a townhouse and then use their accumulated equity to buy their single family dream home.
  • Think about the future. With 100 percent financing and closing cost help from the seller, it's possible to buy a home with very little or no cash. But that means you'll have less equity if you're hoping to sell the home and move up in three or four years.
  • Find a Realtor who's willing to take the time to work with you and guide you towards the right decisions. And work with one Realtor rather than several. You can reach the same point if you house hunt with several people, but you won't know how you got there, and it's important to own and understand every step of decision making process.

It's true that you can house hunt alone by going to open houses and looking at homes that are for sale by owner. But finding the right home is the easy part. A Realtor will help you obtain financing and make sure the house is priced appropriately and the contract is written to protect you. Believe it or not, there can be as many as 19 people involved in a real estate transaction once the contract is signed. It's the Realtor's job to protect the buyers and guide them through the entire process.

Despite the ups and downs of the housing market, real estate is one of best long-term investments you can make, and there's never a bad time to buy.

Courtney Odum-Duncan is a Realtor with Odum Real Estate Group. She can be reached at 410-715-3238.

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It's All In The Family:
Linda Odum's Daughters Become Her Business Partners
By Missy Zane

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  The family business includes, from left, Teddey Jones, Linda Odum and Courtney Odum-Duncan.

Ask Realtor Linda Odum about her daughters, Courtney Odum-Duncan and Teddey Jones, and she'll tell you they and their sister, Missy, are her "best friends." And now, Courtney and Teddey are also her business partners, poised to carry on the family real estate tradition for another generation.

The three recently formed the Odum Real Estate Group, which offers the full range of residential real estate services, from advising first time buyers and empty nesters who want to downsize to investors seeking properties for their portfolios.

A former Columbia Association vice president, Odum began her career as a full-time professional Realtor in 1976 with Clark and Associates. She joined RE/MAX Columbia in 1984.

"I love having them as partners," Odum says of the new business relationship with her daughters. "I feel very fortunate."

After a career as a Foreign Service Officer, Odum came to Columbia in 1971 to head CA's Early Childhood division. At the time, she was married to Paul Duncan, who was CA's director of Commercial Operations. He also left CA for a career in real estate and is currently with Century 21 H.T. Brown.

Although her girls' summer jobs when they were growing up were usually in real estate, Odum says she was surprised when Courtney and Teddey decided to follow her career path. But then, her own choice of a second career was something of a surprise as well.

"When I was leaving CA, I thought I might return to public service, but with young children, I didn't want to commit to the commute," she says. "Just on a lark, while I was sorting through my options, I decided to get a real estate license."

After nearly 30 years, she still loves her profession. She's built a reputation as an expert name in Central Maryland real estate. Now, she's sharing that expertise, not just with her clients but with her daughters.

"Working with her and being able to call on all those years of experience for advice is a huge, huge benefit," Odum-Duncan says.

They work primarily with residential customers helping them buy homes, investment properties and land. But they also have some commercial clients.

While grown children entering a family business don't always think like their parents, Odum and her daughters share similar business philosophies. What they love most about their work is their relationships with people. They like creating relationships that last a lifetime.

"After about 10 years, a lot of Realtors stop working with the less expensive properties," Odum says. "But I've always wanted to offer the full spectrum. I've had as many as 22 transactions with the same family. It's a nice feeling when parents trust us with their children's real estate needs."

"We all enjoy feeling that we're really helping people," Odum-Duncan adds.

Like Mother, Like Daughters

Odum-Duncan and Jones joined their mother's business in 1999, after working briefly with their dad.

"He loves to teach," Odum-Duncan says. "We learned a lot from him."

Now, their mother is their mentor, and the two continue to learn.

Jones is the office manager who keeps everyone organized. She's been a licensed Realtor since 2001 and graduated from UMBC. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Odum-Duncan's had her real estate license since 1994. She enjoys working with first-time buyers and has extensive property management experience.            

Like her mother, Odum-Duncan believes that real estate is an important part of any investment portfolio.

"Sometimes, people are reluctant to invest in real estate because they're worried about how they'll manage the property," she says. "And it's true. Real estate's not like the stock market, where you just sit back and watch your investment grow with no help from you.

"But with a good Realtor to guide you in your purchases and a reputable property manager to make sure the rent's paid on time and the property's well-maintained, real estate can be a very profitable way to diversify your portfolio."

She thinks about her own investment properties and her passion for dogs. "I just wish more landlords would rent to people with pets," she says. "They're missing out on a huge segment of the marketplace. And research shows that pet-owners are generally more careful about maintaining the property and stay in their rented homes longer. That's certainly been my experience."

Charity Begins At Work

Like their mother, Odum-Duncan and Jones are deeply involved in the community.

Over the years, Odum has served on the boards of directors of numerous community nonprofits, including The Family Life Center, Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland and The Columbia Foundation. She's a founder and past president of the Masters Club, an organization for Howard County Realtors.

She is a founder and immediate past chair of the Woman's Giving Circle, a Columbia Foundation Donor-Advised Fund that focuses on charitable efforts to benefit women and girls. Odum-Duncan and Jones are also Women's Giving Circle donors, and mother and daughters recently pledged $15,000 to Grassroots' Renovation and Expansion campaign. They're also sponsors of Animal Advocates of Howard County's Walk for Paws and are active supporters of Success In Style, a local nonprofit that provides proper business attire for women reentering the job market. Odum-Duncan is also a member of the board of the Sierra Villas Condominium Association in Columbia.

Jones's real passion is children. She's the mother of two adopted daughters, Sydney and Katie Emebet, and sponsors children in Colombia, India, Nepal and the Philippines through Children International. She's working on sponsoring at least one child in Ethiopia, where Katie Emebet was born.

She's also working on starting a transracial adoption support and resource group. The organization would include a play group for the children and a resource/support group for the parents.  

Family Life At The Office

Jones is known for her organizational skills. These days, mounds of paperwork accompany each real estate transaction. "Mom really needs me, and I really need her," she laughs.   Odum-Duncan also cites the benefit of having an experienced Realtor on the team.

When Odum started out, selling a house wasn't all that difficult. You got rid of the clutter, freshened the paint and waited for a potential buyer to make an offer.

But 30 years later, Odum-Duncan says, "the process has become a lot more complicated. There are constantly new laws and new disclosures. The more complicated it becomes, the more we feel we're providing a very necessary service."   She points to clients who were first time buyers not so long ago and have now returned for help in selling their condominium or townhouse and in finding their 'dream home.'

"Everyone was afraid the Internet would put Realtors out of business," Odum adds. "But we've found that a strong, competitive agent is more crucial than ever."   Odum-Duncan brings that competitive edge to her work, just as Jones brings her skills.

"I love working with them," Odum says. "Our office has its own dynamics. They were raised in an atmosphere of 'We trust you to make a good choice,' " Odum says. "I don't need to control everything. I just want to be sure it's under control. With Courtney and Teddey, I know it is."

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