VA Loans and Other Available Veteran Benefits

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 1:56 pm, September 3rd, 2010  

This is a guest post by Brandon Fischer on VA benefits; I hope some veterans find it useful.


VA benefits

VA benefits

by Brandon Fischer:

For the men and women that have so willingly served our country, the government offers a variety of programs and incentives designed to enhance their quality of life after service. Benefits for our country’s veterans range from educational assistance to job training with benefits more specifically being:

VA Home Loans

Since its creation in 1944, the VA loan program has provided millions of veterans and active duty service members – even those with imperfect credit – with the opportunity to achieve home ownership. The VA home loan program’s flexible eligibility requirements offer borrowers the ability to receive loans up to $417,000 in most areas of the country and loans up to $1,094,625 for borrowers looking to purchase a home in more expensive real estate areas.  Veterans can use a VA loan calculator to find the loan limit in their area.

What are VA Loan Benefits?

Because the VA insures part of each loan, VA-approved lenders have greater confidence in eligible borrowers. This greater confidence in borrowers inclines VA-approved lenders to offer qualified borrowers a variety of benefits they would not be able to find with conventional loans including:      zero down payment required

  • Competitive interest rates
  • Down payments in the form of gifts
  • Flexible debt-to-income ratio
  • No mortgage insurance required

How Do I Qualify for a VA Loan?

The VA Home Loan program offers some of the most flexible eligibility requirements which has allowed over 18 million service men and women achieve homeownership. More than 80% of all veterans and active duty service members who have obtained a VA loan would not have been eligible for a conventional loan. To initially qualify for a VA, a service member must:

  • Have served 181 days on active duty
  • Or served 3 months during war time
  • Or have served 6 years in the National Guard or Reserves
  • Be the spouse of a service member who was killed during active duty

Service men and women who meet the preliminary guidelines must also obtain a Certificate of Eligibility to apply for a VA loan. Although there are no required income minimums and flexible eligibility requirements for VA loans, most VA-approved lenders wll require a mid-range credit score of at least 620 to secure financing.

Harbor Tour of Portsmouth New Hampshire

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 10:27 pm, July 17th, 2010  

This past Thursday night I had the opportunity to go on a harbor tour/cruise of Portsmouth, New Hampshire along the harbor out to where it runs into the Atlantic Ocean.

Portsmouth harbor portsmouth new hampshire

Portsmouth New Hampshire harbor view

Portsmouth is a beautiful coastal city on the northern end of the New Hampshire seacoast. In the harbor view above you can see a new, waterfront condo project under construction and the white steeple of the Old North Church to the far right.

At only 17 miles long, the New Hampshire coastline is shorter than any other state that borders an ocean.

Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River, portsmouth nh

Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River connects Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine

Because Portsmouth is a working harbor with lots of large ship traffic in and out, two of the bridges over the river are drawbridges which raise every 30 minutes from 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM to accommodate harbor ship traffic. In this photo the middle section of the bridge is starting to lift.

portsmouth nh harbor moran tugboat company

Moran Tugboat & towing company tugboats

The Piscataqua River is the third-fastest tidal river in North America and also very narrow by modern shipping standards. Local river pilots take the helm of in and outbound commercial vessels and guide them safely through the channel. These two large tugboats are operated by Moran Towing & Tugboats. Because the Piscataqua flows so fast these tugs only operate at “slack tide”, roughly four hours a day.when the incoming tides temporarily balance the outgoing river currents. Check out this Portsmouth harbor cam to watch river traffic live. The images refreshes every 10 seconds.

portsmouth naval shipyard portsmouth nh

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was established in 1800

The Shipyard’s primary mission today is the overhaul, repair and modernization of Los Angeles-class submarines. The dry-docks have recently been enlarged and upgraded to accommodate the new and larger Virginia class submarine with the first due in for a tune up later this month.

USCGC Campbell (WMEC-909) is a United States Coast Guard medium endurance cutter based at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine and is the 5th Coast Guard Cutter to bear the name. She regularly patrols the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine to the Caribbean Sea

USCG Cutter Campbell based at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

The Campbell regularly patrols the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine south to the Caribbean Sea.

Portsmouth Naval Prison, Kittery ME

Portsmouth Naval Prison

This is Portsmouth Naval Prison which is curiously actually located in Kittery, Maine just across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth. The prison has been closed and abandoned since the 1970s as too expensive to rebuild or to tear down. Scenes from the movie “The Last Detail,” starring Jack Nicholson were filmed there.

new castle nh harbor smallest town in nh

New Castle, New Hampshire the smallest city in NH

This is some of the waterfront of New Castle, the smallest city in New Hampshire and the only one located entirely on islands. New Castle is also home to a US Coast Guard station and the historic Wentworth by the Sea hotel.

setting sun over portsmouth new hampshire

Setting sun over Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

portsmouth light at New Castle Coast Guard Stations setting sun over portsmouth new hampshire

The green light at right is Portsmouth Light on the New Castle Coast Guard Station grounds.

Portsmouth light was originally established before the Revolutionary War when American was still a British Colony.

In 1946 the current lighthouse keeper’s wife Connie wrote a book titled not surprisingly “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” and described the view from the top of Portsmouth Light. “I looked down forty feet to the little white scallops of incoming tide washing over the rocks, caressing each one lovingly. …We could look up the Piscataqua River to Portsmouth, with its gleaming white belfry of North Church, a landmark for sailors, silhouetted against the sky. …At the center of the harbor was Whaleback Lighthouse, and ten miles out to sea from that was the lighthouse on White Island, part of the Isles of Shoals. Both sent their beams across the water.”

Lighthouse keepers were or often became, a little ‘different’ from the rest of us. Imagine your job was taking care of Whaleback Lighthouse on an uninhabited, rocky small island day in and day out.

One lighthouse keeper was reported to use the top of his light to shoot passing ducks. He also had a small dingy that he used to row to shore occasionally where he would borrow a resident’s car to visit the local grocery store.

Whaleback island lighthouse entrance to portsmouth harbor

Whaleback Island lighthouse marks the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor

Whaleback Island is actually part of  a  jagged ledge known as Whaleback. This ledge is completely underwater at high tide and is a continuation of the southern portion of Gerrish Island in Maine.  The little dots you see in the water are buoys for lobster traps.

whaleback island lighthouse at darkness falls and a light fog starts to roll in

Whaleback Island at twilight as a light fog starts rolling in.

By the way, this is a working light house; the reason it appears dark in the photos is that the light only flashes on and off every few seconds but trust me, you do not have any problem seeing it when its light flashes. Whaleback light gives 2 white flashes every 10 seconds and during foggy weather, 2 blasts on its foghorn every 10 seconds. Click here to hear the Whaleback Light fog horn. It’s not too loud so it won’t blast you out of your seat. ;)

portsmouth nh harbor at night

Portsmouth Harbor at night is a beautiful sight too.

We got back to the dock around 10:00 PM after a great tour of Portsmouth Harbor. If you ever in the area I recommend a harbor tour as a ‘must do’ part of your visit.

Google Trends Labs shows you what people search for in your area

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 6:59 pm, July 9th, 2010  

Have you tried this great Google tool yet? Google Trends Labs lets you search, find, and compare keyword search terms with others to see which ones are being searched for most.

Here’s an example from my area comparing: “Knoxville Real Estate”, “Knoxville TN Real Estate” and “Knoxville Homes For Sale”

knoxville tn real estate listings for sale in knoxville tennessee google chart

Google chart comparing keywords

The blue line above represents Google searches within the US for the keywords, “Knoxville Real Estate” which form the baseline at 1.00

The red line is for “Knoxville TN Real Estate which scored 0.45 or less than half the top keywords rank.

Last is the term, “Knoxville Homes For Sale” which is the keyword set the salesman below told me was the top search term for my area and it ranked 0.39

These results are for searches done within the United States for the year 2009. You can ask Google Trends Labs for most any combination of areas and time periods. Since I believe most of my searches originate in the US that was what I was most interested in.

I found this tool by accident while looking for most used keywords for real estate in my area. I had one of “those salesmen” call me several times trying to sell the proverbial “latest and greatest” keyword oriented website. Looks like Google’s results above doesn’t support his story.

Here’s what Google says about their new tool:

“1. How does Google Trends work? Google Trends analyzes a portion of Google web searches to compute how many searches have been done for the terms you enter, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time.

We then show you a graph with the results – our Search Volume Index graph. Located beneath the Search Volume Index graph is our News reference volume graph. This graph shows you the number of times your topic appeared in Google News stories.

When Google Trends detects a spike in the volume of news stories for a particular search term, it labels the graph and displays the headline of an automatically selected Google News story written near the time of that spike.

Currently, only English-language headlines are displayed, but we hope to support non-English headlines in the future. Below the search and news volume graphs, Trends displays the top regions, cities, and languages in which people searched for the first search term you entered.”

Pretty cool stuff from our friends at Google.

BTW, here’s a pretty cool website to search for Knoxville area homes if you’re looking or thinking:

Knox County, Tennessee home sales report for the week of Oct. 4th

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 9:29 am, October 5th, 2009  
Knoxville, Tennessee
Image via Wikipedia

October…… east Tennessee the air is turning crisp and cool, the leaves are starting to turn to their fall colors, and real estate sales are in the air.

So what does the first week in October bring to Knoxville real estate news?

It looks like the average number of sales is still average; we had 152 closed real estate transactions reported by the Knox County Register of Deeds, here’s the price points breakdown:

Knox County, TN real estate transactions recorded

Knox County, TN real estate transactions recorded

And as usual the lower pric points continue to dominate the sales figures. 35 in the $100,000 to $150,000 price ranges was the top number with 2 in the over $1,000,000 price range.

And if you compare an average week of sales to the absorption rates (how long it takes houses to sell) you’ll see the price point points above go hand in hand with sales.

Knoxville, TN home sales by price points and months to sell

Knoxville, TN home sales by price points and months to sell

And the year to date sales figures compared to the past 4 years

Knoxville real estate sales year to date compared to past years.

Knoxville real estate sales year to date compared to past years.

So which way are Knoxville area sales headed? My guess is down for few months until January-February 2010 when they have historically started their seasonal climb to the peaks in May-June.

Even though sales this year around 50% less than 2005-6 the sales trend still mirrors the peak years sales; there is just far fewer sales.

The $8,000 federal tax credit expires at the end of November this year and I believe that carrot has accounted for about 20-30% of our sales this year. If buyers want to have a chance of collecting that eight thousand bucks they need to plan on having a house under contract in the next 1-2 weeks. After there your odds of closing before the end of November are going to go way down.

There is talk and much action from real estate entities like the National Association of Realtors to extend the credit to keep sales going but what’s going to happen there is anybody’s guess.

Bottom line, if you want to buy a house, now is a great time if you have a stable job and can qualify for a mortgage. Interest rates are in the low 5 to high 4% range, you still might be able to collect $8,000 in tax credits if you buy soon, and there is a huge selection of homes for sale. is a great place to start you search as well as find school information, and lots of other Knoxville area information.

Please call or comment with any questions.

Knoxville, TN real estate

Knoxville, TN real estate

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Knoxville & Oak Ridge TN Farmer’s Markets open today

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 5:00 pm, April 18th, 2009  
Baked food
Image via Wikipedia

The Oak Ridge Farmer’s Market opened this morning at 8:00 am across from Jackson Square in Oak Ridge. My wife is a regular during the season so we were first in line this morning when the buying began promptly at 8:00. Nothing is allowed to be sold before then for some reason.

grand opening day at the Oak Ridge TN Farmer's Market.

grand opening day at the Oak Ridge TN Farmer's Market.

The Oak Ridge market is open Saturdays at 8:00 am and Wednesday afternoons at 3:30 until they sell out which happens typically in a couple of hours.

Tuesdays and Fridays most of the same farmers move over to Knoxville for one or both of the Knoxville Farmer’s Market in the parking lot of the Laurel Avenue Church of Christ on Kingston Pike across from the main entrance to Sequoyah Hills.

This is Shirley, she was Tennessee Beekeeper of the year recently.

This is Shirley, she was Tennessee Beekeeper of the year recently.

Shirley is one of my wife’s favorites; she always has a smile and a kind word not to mention some pretty awesome honey from her beehives. I love the Sourwood honey when it gets harvested in late spring.

In the early season there are lots of annuals, perennials, and herbs for sale.

In the early season there are lots of annuals, perennials, and herbs for sale.

Sheep's milk cheese is not only delicious but it's much easier to digest than cow milk cheeses.

Sheep's milk cheese is not only delicious but it's much easier to digest than cow milk cheeses.

Even though it’s early, local farms are producing green onions, spinach, lettuce, green garlic, red and white onions, turnips, radishes and asparagus along with potted herbs and flowers of all sorts.

This smiling farmer had lots of flowers for sale.

This smiling farmer had lots of flowers for sale.

We also buy free range eggs here along with grass-fed meats including smoked sausage, bacon, free-range turkey and chicken. Unfortinately the baked goods lady wasn’t here today but she has delicious breads, muffins, and other home baked goodies.

And across the street in the Jackson Square parking lot there was some toe tapping music from this trio.

Musicians entertain the Farmer's Market crowd in the early morning hours.

Musicians entertain the Farmer's Market crowd in the early morning hours.

Here's Shirley the beekeeper loading what looks like some fresh green onions into a customer's bag.

Here's Shirley the beekeeper loading what looks like some fresh green onions into a customer's bag.

Now that the market is open we’ll be making the Saturday morning trek over to Oak Ridge to buy some delicious fresh produce, honey, and other locally produced goods. One of the requirements for selling at this farmer’s market is that you actually have to be the farmer that produced it in order to sell it. The farmer’s market association makes the rounds to ensure that only local farmers that produce what they sell are allowed to participate.

If you’re around Knoxvill or Oak Ridge during farmer’s market hours stop on by and pick up a few things to take home. Once you do you’ll be hooked on the quality and freshness of the goods plus you’re supporting local farmers; a good deal for all.

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Knoxville’s Awesome Christmas light show

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 6:46 pm, December 20th, 2008  
A designer Christmas tree in an Australian vil...
Image via Wikipedia

An amazing Christmas light show is going on just off the Watt Road exit in West Knoxville. Shadrack Water Sports and RV has turned their entire lot into a Christmas wonderland with over 250,000 lights,10,000+ feet of network cable to control the show, and 30,000 feet of power cords.

Visitors can drive through and enjoy the show or park for a few minutes to hear the music synchronized to all the lights.

This huge undertaking began this past August and required over 500 hours of computer programming to pull it all together.

It was worth it all. This is the most amazing display of Christmas lights set to music I’ve seen. Imagine Knoxville’s Boomsday fireworks show without the noise and a Christmas theme and you’ve nailed it

This song is “Christmas with a Capital C” by Go Fish

And the finale is an old favorite “Silent Night” by Mannheim Steamroller

Great Christmas entertainment for the whole family. The Christmas light show is open 6-10 p.m. weekdays, 6-11 p.m. weekends past New Year’s. Admission is $10,00 per carload during the week and $12.00 on weekends. They said over 2,000 cars have toured the grounds and watched the light show since it opened in mid November.

Fun for all the some of the proceeds go to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank.

If you’re in Knoxville take I 40 & 75 west to the Watt Road Exit, turn right on Watt Road then almost immediately left on a frontage road parallelling the interstate. There are plenty of signs and you can’t miss seeing all the lights.

Don’t miss it.

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Take a fall color cruise on beautiful Norris Lake in Knoxville, Tennseeee

Posted by Jim Lee, REALTOR® @ 10:09 am, October 25th, 2008  

A Bald Eagle with a freshly caught fish. Taken...Image via WikipediaMost every fall we take one of the annual color cruises on nearby Norris Lake. Operated and narrated by a ranger from Norris Dam State Park, these cruises take you places you can only access by boat.

A local friends of the park group donated this nifty pontoon boat they use for the cruises.

pontoon boat on norris lake for fall color cruise

the good ship Eleanor

This past Friday was a rainy, overcast, blustery fall day in east Tennessee but the fall colors were ready to view so off we went with our ranger/guide Lucinda and two other hardy souls from nearby Knoxville.

The colors were not at peak just yet but were very beautiful never the less. Some of the Maple trees were showing their usual spectacular red colors.

red maples showing glowing fall colors at norris lake near knoxville tn

the Tennessee Valley Authority routinely drops the water levels of most all their lakes in the fall to make room for spring rains and flood control downstream. Norris lakes level routinely is dropped around 20 feet but since it is such a deep lake the average water depth is still around 75 feet.

norris dam tn north of knoxville

Norris Dam was completed around 1936 and impounds the Powell and Clinch Rivers to form Norris Lake with almost 800 miles of shoreline. It’s a very popular attraction for visitors from all over.

On other cruises we have seen lots of wildlife from Bald Eagles, deer, ducks, and more, but this trip we only saw two mallards passing over and one lonely Belted Kingfisher on the bank.

color cruise on noris lake tennessee

It was very peaceful on the lake, we only saw one other boat with a lone fisherman trying his luck.

Now is a great time to be looking for a home in the greater Knoxville area so you can enjoy places like Norris Dam State Park and Knoxvilles many other family friendly attractions. Knoxville Home Center is a great place to look for that new home.

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