When to buy a house?

Best time to buy a house is NOW
17:02 EDT, July 11th, 2013

WSJ – now is the best time to buy a house

The Wall Street Journal’s third-quarter survey of housing-market conditions in 28 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas found that home values declined in all but five markets compared with the second quarter, according to data from Zillow Inc. Meanwhile, rent levels have risen briskly across the country and mortgage rates, hovering around 4%, are the lowest in six decades. As a result, monthly mortgage payments on the median priced homeincluding taxes and insuranceare lower than the average rent levels in 12 metro areas, according to data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by Marcus & Millichap, a real-estate brokerage that tracked 27 metro areas. It remains less expensive to rent than to buy in 15 cities. In Atlanta, which had the most favorable values for owning versus renting, the monthly payment on the average home was $539 assuming a 20% down payment during the third quarter. By contrast, the average asking rent stood at $840, according to the Marcus & Millichap data.

Other cities where owning is now cheaper than renting include Detroit, Minneapolis, Orlando, Las Vegas, Miami, St. Louis, Chicago and Phoenix. Home ownership is also looking more affordable because after several years of declines, apartment rents will rise by around 4% this year, says Mr. Nadji. He says rents are poised “to pick up even more momentum across the country next year.” Even cities where it is still cheaper to rent than own have seen big boosts in affordability. In San Diego, the monthly cost of owning a home has averaged around 83% more than renting over the past two decades. During the third quarter, owning was 22% more expensive than renting, according to John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

Mortgage rates are a big reason why affordability continues to improve. In 1991, a $1,700 mortgage payment allowed a borrower to take out a $200,000 mortgage. Today, it gets that homeowner a $350,000 loan, a 77% increase in borrowing power, says Dan Green, a loan officer with Waterstone Mortgage, in Cincinnati.

Affordability could continue to improve as prices slide even lower in coming months. Price declines are likely because the share of “distressed” sales, including bank-owned foreclosures, tend to rise in the winter, when traditional sales activity cools. Banks are often much quicker to cut prices to unload properties quickly, which means that the greater the share of “distressed” sales, the more prices tend to fall.

One hopeful sign that it’s time to buy a house is that inventories have fallen from their bloated levels of one year ago. All 28 cities in The Wall Street Journal’s latest survey saw homes listed for sale fall from one year ago, when markets were reeling with a substantial overhang of properties amid a big drop in demand. Visible inventory was down sharply in several markets, including by almost half in Miami and 40% in Phoenix. Low inventories have spurred more bidding wars at the low end of the market as investors compete for homes that they can convert into rentals. In Sacramento, it would take just 2.5 months to sell the listed inventory at the current sales pace. Las Vegas has a 4.3 month supply of inventory, according to John Burns Real Estate Consulting. But the potential supply of homes is much bigger because banks have yet to process hundreds of thousands of potential foreclosures.

Black Friday sales boom

Sales rose an estimated 6.6% to a record $11.4 billion on Black Friday, typically the busiest shopping day of the year for Americans, while the traffic at stores rose 5.1%, according to ShopperTrak. The day’s sales growth was the strongest percentage gain since 2007, when sales rose 8.3% on the day after Thanksgiving, said Ed Marcheselli, chief marketing officer at ShopperTrak, which monitors retail traffic. As usual on Black Friday, retailers used deep discounts on popular items such as toys and televisions to lure shoppers as the holiday shopping season began. Some started sales as early as Thanksgiving night to get a jump on their rivals. While the Black Friday rise was a “positive indicator for the holiday season,” Marcheselli cautioned it is just one day. ShopperTrak has estimated that sales for all of November and December will rise about 3 to 3.3%.

The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, expects

152 million people to hit stores this weekend, up 10.1% from last year. But it expects sales for the full November-December holiday season to rise just 2.8%, well below the rise of 5.2% in 2010.

DSNews.com – mortgage rates down

The 30-year fixed-mortgage rate has averaged at or below 4% for four consecutive weeks now. For the week ending November 23, Freddie Mac’s study puts the average 30-year rate at 3.98% (0.7 point). That’s down from 4.00% the week prior. The only time Freddie has recorded a lower 30-year rate average was for the

week of October 6, 2011, when it came in at 3.94%. The 15-year

fixed-rate mortgage posted an average of 3.30% (0.7 point) in Freddie Mac’s latest survey. It was 3.31% last week. The 5-year ARM is averaging 2.91% (0.6 point), down from 2.97% last week. The 1-year ARM slipped from 2.98% to 2.79% (0.6 point) this week. Rates for both ARM terms are the lowest ever recorded by the GSE. “Mortgage rates eased slightly this week with fixed-rate loans hovering above all-time lows and ARMs reaching a new nadir,” commented Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. He says the high-degree of home-buyer affordability in recent months translated into a 1.4% pickup in existing home sales during October, as measured by the National Association of Realtors. Nothaft noted, however, that the trade group also reported a sharp increase in contract cancellations in October, with a third of its members seeing at least one contract fall through during the month. This “restrained sales from achieving a stronger rebound,” according to Nothaft.

Morgan Stanley cuts growth forecast

The continuing uncertainty over debt troubles in Europe and the US has increased the downside risks to global growth, according to Morgan Stanley. The bank downgraded its forecast for global growth next year to 3.5% from 3.8%, just three and a half months after it cut its forecast from 4.5%. “Our economics team in Europe now expects a recession in Europe while the US economy is expected to continue growing below its trend,” said Morgan Stanley. It also cut its 2012 growth estimate for Asia ex-Japan to 6.9% from 7.3%. “Since we downgraded our regional growth outlook in August 2011, we have been constantly worried about the increasing downside risks to growth. In addition to further evidence of weakening domestic demand, the external environment in Europe has made us more concerned about the region’s growth outlook,” economists at Morgan Stanley said in a research note today.

Even Asia, which has so far escaped the global slowdown is likely to be dragged down, according to Morgan Stanley. The bank noted that the regions’ deep trade and financial linkages with the rest of the world made it vulnerable to deep shocks in the global economy. “The prospects of further fiscal tightening and weaker domestic demand in Europe will translate into weaker external demand growth for the region,” it said. “The slowdown in final demand in the developed world will likely be amplified on the region’s cross-border production network, leading to a significant slowdown in export growth across the region in 2012.”

Morgan Stanley noted this was already starting to happen. Asian exports, which “have been flat on a sequential basis since Mar 2011, have also begun to decline on a sequential basis in the last two months.” Asia’s domestic indicators, such as auto, retail and property sales as well as manufacturing activity (PMI) were also pointing to a deceleration, the bank said.

Home prices to fall another 6%? Buy a house now

Analysts with JPMorgan claim home prices will fall another 4% by year-end, resulting in a 35% peak-to-trough decline once a bottom is reached. When looking at just non-agency residential mortgage-backed securities, the report says “market volatility, lack of liquidity and stagnant fundamentals” will remain drags on the entire segment in 2012. In non-agency residential mortgage-backed securities, the authors also noted slowing activity on the modification front. “We continue to recommend fixed-rates and select seasoned hybrids,” the report said. The JPMorgan report also is careful when forecasting the performance of commercial mortgage-backed securities in 2012. “Our outlook for 2012 is cautiously optimistic, as market conditions continue to weigh on what we believe remains cheap fundamental credit risk. Private label and agency CMBS supply should reach $35 billion and $32 billion, respectively,” the report said.

At Dupont Real Estate, we are market experts. Let us be your experts when buying or selling a home in the Charlotte or Lake Norman area. Rest easy knowing you have our guidance and experience in the real estate market.

Read before you refinance
18:54 EDT, October 14th, 2011

 

Friday, October 14, 2011

FHA Refis on Original Low Monthly MI Terms Could Give Borrowers Higher Savings

An idea that is taking capture of the industry is that of FHA streamline refinances calculated with the original terms of lower monthly mortgage insurance. Originally, Monthly MI through FHA was set at .55% with financed MI at 2.15% while currently FHA has it monthly set at 1.15% and financed at 1%. Sure, financed MI has dropped but monthly has increased and this is truly what effects your payments the most of the entire life of the loan. If FHA were to create a new structure of streamline refinances that would allow borrowers to calculate the monthly MI based on the factor at the time of purchase, this would allow them to gain a greater savings on their refinance.

Renter caught up in foreclosure

Q. In Foreclosure!  I live in a house that had a lis pendens delivered for foreclosure with 20 days to respond. I have no interest or involvement with the owner or the house. Aside from moving out as soon as possible, is there anything else I have to do? Do I have any legal issues to worry about?

Unfortunately, the financial and mortgage crisis has been a wave that has taken many innocent people along with property owners and lenders.

You, it seems, are a renter in a property that is in the process of being foreclosed. The owner of the property you live in has either fallen behind on his payments to his lender or has simply stopped making the payments.

Now the property’s lender is trying to recover what it can by foreclosing on the property to sell it off and get the loan repaid.

You, on the other hand, may have a lease with the owner of the property. That lease obligates you to make payments to the landlord for your rent.

During normal real estate markets, a lender forecloses on a building or home and wants the place empty for resale purposes. The lender doesn’t want to be in the business of being a landlord. So the lender moves to foreclose and notifies all occupants of the property of the foreclosure proceedings and follows through to evict all occupants.

Recently, however, more and more lenders are coming to the realization that tenants are good for properties and are a good source of income for the thousands of properties these lenders are foreclosing on.

Where does that leave you? There are several possibilities:

If you live on a month-to-month lease at the property and the property owner has effectively abandoned the building, most people in your shoes do what you are doing now and pack up their things to find another place to live.

But if you like where you live, you might want to see if the lender wants you to stay at the property. You should contact the lender directly to see if the lender would want the rent payments to continue or if there is some way the lender can finance your purchase of the property.

Until the lender forecloses on the property, the property is still owned by (and managed by) the current owner. But lenders have the ability to take possession of the property without becoming the owner by getting the court to allow them to operate the building until the foreclosure is final. If the lender goes this route, you may find that the lender will be eager to keep you at the property.

If you have no lease but lived in the property as a guest of the owner of the property, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about with either the owner of the property or the lender when you move out. You’re free to move out whenever you have to or want to.

If you are a tenant on the property, your lease continues to be valid until it is canceled through the foreclosure process.

If you’re in a situation where your landlord no longer collects rent and is nowhere to be found, and you receive court papers that order you to vacate the property, you should be able to leave the property without worrying that someone is going to sue you down the line.

However, if your landlord continues to collect rent from you and is actively managing the property, you need to review the documentation you received from the court to determine if that documentation is sufficient to cancel your lease and allow you to move out without creating a Catch-22 situation for you in which you move out and the landlord sues you for non-payment of rent.

As a tenant, you need to make sure that the information given to you by the lender is accurate and that you do, in fact, need to forward rent payments to the lender.

How to Avoid Foreclosure

How to avoid foreclosure

A tidal wave of anxiety is washing over America, propelled by the mortgage industry collapse. BLOOMBERG NEWS

Worried about losing your house? This advice might help:

If you lose your job and know you’ll have trouble making your mortgage payments, call your lender immediately and follow up in writing. Above all, don’t ignore letters from the lender.

Stay in your home as long as possible. If you move out and the home is vandalized, the bank can charge you a fee to repair the damage.

Beware of predators. One red flag is someone who wants a fee upfront for something you can do yourself or get for free. For instance, if you’re having trouble getting through to your lender on the phone, don’t pay someone else to call. Ask yourself, “Is anyone going to profit from this?” If the answer is yes, proceed with caution. See whether a nonprofit group can help you first.

Under no circumstance should you sign over your house to someone who agrees to pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet. This is one of the most common scams going, and it typically ends with you renting back your home until the new owner decides to sell and evicts you.

Know whether a short-term fix will give you the time you need to catch up on your payments. Several programs offer one-time assistance, often only for a single month. They might only postpone the inevitable.

Use a Housing and Urban Development-approved foreclosure-prevention counselor. To check credentials, call 1-800-569-4287 or go to www.hud.gov/foreclosure.

On the Web, see HomeLoanLearningCenter.com; www.HousingHelpNow.org; and HopeNow.com, the government-led alliance of lenders, mortgage servicers, investors and advocacy groups.

The Orlando Sentinel

Pay your HOA or risk losing their home

Pay Your HOA- Residents are falling behind on association fees, and one family faces foreclosure.

By Nancy Stancill
nstancill@charlotteobserver.com

April and Richard Maher are homeowners in Indian Trail whose home is slated to be auctioned off because they owe homeowners dues. T.ORTEGA GAINES-ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

More Information

  • 15% of U.S. spend half of income on housing
  • Overdue Dues
    Homeowners and condominium associations often begin legal action if dues are more than 90 days late.
    They can file a lien against the property if they follow state law by properly notifying the owner. Lawyers advise not to let the matter get that far.
    Most associations are willing to negotiate a payment plan with owners having difficulties. Communicate early and often.

An unprecedented number of Charlotte-area residents are failing to pay dues to their homeowners and condominium associations, driving worries that pools will close, maintenance will suffer and property values will fall.

Lawyers and management companies for hundreds of community associations in the region say dues delinquencies have risen sharply with the foreclosure crisis and the sour economy. Although they don’t know exactly how many home and condo owners are in arrears, they say it has likely doubled in the last two years.

Some troubling signs:

Mike Hunter, a Charlotte lawyer for about 500 associations, estimates that about one-fifth have serious delinquency problems. His firm files more than 100 liens a month against owners whose dues are more than three months late, he says.

Foreclosing on owners with unpaid dues is rare – but more likely as associations get squeezed. An Indian Trail family’s home is scheduled for public auction Oct. 8 because the couple owes $2,200 in dues.

More than 30 percent of the owners in some starter-home communities aren’t paying their dues, an unprecedented number, says Gail Pizetoski, whose Davidson-based Jorel Association Management works with 45 associations.

“One neighborhood fired the landscaper and has volunteers mowing the lawns,” she says.

Spreading to affluent areas

Hunter says he’s seeing the highest delinquency rates in starter-home neighborhoods and older condo complexes that have a lot of absentee owners. “But there are beginning to be more homes in affluent neighborhoods.”

Hunter declined to identify clients and said associations fear that publicity about dues problems could affect values.

It’s a combination of factors, he and others say. Homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages get stretched when the rate goes up. Gas and food prices are higher, and people are losing jobs and income in a rough economy. It’s easier not to pay the homeowner dues than to skimp on food or daycare.

Owners associations collect dues and provide services for hundreds of thousands of people in the Charlotte region. State law allows legal action – even up to foreclosure – when owners don’t pay dues. Hunter says he sees dues ranging from $175 a year to maintain small subdivision common areas to $350 a month for extensive services in a high-rise condo.

Associations represented by Hunter and two management companies declined to be interviewed by the Observer, saying those officials could speak for them.

Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, a national trade organization for about 300,000 associations covering nearly 60 million Americans, says dues delinquencies have climbed across the country for two years. It’s especially bad in places like Florida, California and Nevada where foreclosure problems have mounted.

“Delinquency rates are 10 or 20 percent or even higher in some places,” he says. “If you have that many not paying their dues, it puts the association in a difficult situation.”

Dennis Abbott, whose Charlotte-based Abbott Enterprises provides management services for 80 associations, says a 3 percent delinquency rate used to be typical for those communities. But in the last year, it’s averaged 41/2 percent, with more associations crossing the 5 percent threshold – and one at 10 percent.

At 5 percent, he says, communities need to take more serious steps to keep services up to par.

Food took precedence

April and Richard Maher moved to Indian Trail two years ago from Florida and bought a house in the Taylor Glenn subdivision for $289,900. Because they had an adjustable rate mortgage, their payments have gone from $2,400 to $3,600 a month. They have three children, including a 3-month-old daughter. They’re employed at lower-level jobs than they had in Miami, she said.

April Maher said they received notice last year that they owed $2,200 in homeowners association and legal fees and didn’t pay it “because food for the kids was at the top of my list.” Their annual fee is $795 a year. She said their interest rate has jumped from about 9 percent to 13.6 percent and is due to go up again. At the moment, she said, they are current with their mortgage payments.

She said they didn’t know the homeowners association had the power to foreclose on their home until it was too late. She said she has tried to negotiate, but the law firm handling the legal action rejected her payment plan offer of $100 a month. A public auction of the Mahers’ home is scheduled for Oct. 8.

Tim Sellers, an attorney for the firm that’s representing the Taylor Glenn association, said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the Mahers’ case. But he defended the association’s action.

“When the matter has moved along to this point, there have been a number of opportunities to make things right,” Sellers said. “It’s understandably an upsetting thing. But associations can’t just stop providing landscaping or other amenities when people don’t pay.”

Charlotte: A Friendly Place

In Charlotte:  Think we talk funny? Well, bless your heart

Mark Washburn

MARK WASHBURN

You’ll love this if you moved here from Atlanta.

Or New York. Or Miami. Or Washington, D.C.

Or San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia or Boston (particularly Boston).

We have baaaaad traffic here.

Yep, that’s what we think. Welcome to Charlotte, bad-traffic city.

See, we’re an ambitious place and it’s part of the city’s personality to fret about how much we’ve grown. We want to think of ourselves as a big city. We just don’t want any big city problems.

Lots of people move here expecting to find a big hick town in bib overalls. Sometimes we oblige their expectation.

Drive down Interstate 77 and go hunting for the airport. Think we’ve got any signs saying “Airport”? Nah.

There are a couple symbols of planes bolted to overhead signs (they sort of look like a Girl Scout badge sash), but that’s about it. One reason our population is growing so fast is because people fly here to visit and can’t find their way back to the terminal. Your average real estate open house is better marked than Charlotte/Douglas International.

Manners are still in fashion here. You’re expected to nod or say hello to strangers you encounter on the street. Don’t take that habit with you when you go back to Boston or Miami. People will hand you money like you’re a beggar. If you try to chase them down to give it back, they’ll spray mace in your eyes.

People here still offer their seats to old people on a crowded bus, say thank you to the cop when handed a ticket and let you know slyly when your kids act up (“Little Johnny just said the oddest thing that he must have picked up from some child at school, though I can’t repeat it”).

Our uptown is a spiffy thing, thick with tall buildings slathered with glass. From afar, it looks like the Emerald City from across the poppy fields.

But architecture isn’t our strong point. Most cities have old buildings full of character from the age of their birth. Our city center is over-endowed by designs from the linear 1970s. New York’s great spires owe their appeal to the art-deco period. Our skyline is inspired by major appliance boxes.

Our two tallest buildings, however, do their work well. Bank of America’s headquarters is a stately thing, from its lobby murals to pleasing spire. Down the street, the Hearst Building intrigues with padded shoulders. It’s nice symmetry – they look like dance partners.

We’re not the genteel South of olden times, of course. It is possible sometimes to go all day without hearing a Southern accent, which appeals to some but not to me. It’s a rich dialect full of frills and ornaments and one of the attractions of living here.

One phrase you need to learn is “Bless his/her heart.” This is a good one. You can say anything about anyone as long as you cap it off with “Bless his/her heart.”

“He had so much fun at that party, he could barely stand, bless his heart.”

“She always finds the most alarming qualities in others, bless her heart.”

So welcome to our world, and all its oddities. They’ll grow on you, believe me. Before long, even you folks from Boston will be complaining about the traffic, bless your hearts.

Mark Washburn is a local columnist for the Observer. Reach him at 704-358-5007 or mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com.

International flavor spices up Southern charm

Ethnic festivals highlight some of the rich cultural experiences that you can find, if you take the time to look.

By Franco Ordoñez
fordonez@charlotteobserver.com
Slideshow
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  • Alfredo Molimia and Zenaida Villa dance the polka with the Ballet Folklorico Mexicana de Greenville at the 2003 Latin Festival at the Mint Museum. CHRIS KEANE/STAFF

More Information

  • 5 months with ethnic festivals

    1. September: Oktoberfest Starts Sept. 26 and continues weekends through Oct. 12. Waldhorn Restaurant, behind Carolina Place Mall; 704-540-7047; www.waldhorn.us

    Yiasou Greek Festival is early in the month. Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 600 East Blvd. 704-334-4771

    2. October: Taste of the World: Oct. 9. Twenty participating restaurants in East Charlotte International District. Eastland Area Strategies Team; 704-716-6600 www.charlotteeast.com. Latin American Festival: Oct. 12. Symphony Park at SouthPark. Latin American Coalition; 704-531-3848; www.festivallatinoamericano.org

    3. November: Beaujolais Nouveau celebration Nov. 21. Levine Museum of the New South; Alliance Française de Charlotte; 704-236-4863; www.afcharlotte.org

    4. May: Charlotte Dragonboat Festival: May 16. Location TBD but likely Ramsey Creek Park; Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce; 704-540-6808; www.charlottedragonboat.com

    5. July: Bastille Day Festival takes place mid-month. French-American Chamber of Commerce of North Carolina; 704.225.3910; www.facccnc.com

One of Charlotte’s best kept secrets is its rapidly growing international community.

Perhaps not immediately apparent like in other larger cities, but those willing to branch out a bit will be rewarded with rich cultures and tastes from almost every corner of the world.

Discover hand-made Turkish pottery, for example, or catch an African Kalimba performance, otherwise known as African thumb piano, at Pura Vida World Art – a folks arts store, café and art gallery in Plaza Midwood. Talk Paris, Berlin, and Rome at a free conversation hour in French, German, or Italian at the International House in Elizabeth.

More than 10,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students come from 102 countries and speak 83 languages.

Your neighbors could as easily hail from Chile or Vietnam as Boston or Buffalo.

“The thing that is so unique to Charlotte is that you continue to have the traditional southern charm genre,” said Andrea Lee, a board member of the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, “But now you’ve added all these elements of intrigue – all these cultures from all over the world – make it so much more.”

Ever dream of being a champion Dragon Boat racer? Then don’t miss the spring Asian festival when teams of 21 – and a drummer – compete against each other in 40-foot dragon boats on Lake Norman.

The city hosts as many as 70 ethnic festivals a year, including the widely popular Yiasou Greek Festival where attendees can watch traditional dances on three stages while eating a succulent souvlaki sandwich. Try the drive-thru if you’re pressed for time.

Franco Ordoñez writes about minority affairs for the Charlotte Observer. 704-358-6180; fordonez@charlotteobserver.com

Why live in Charlotte?

Here’s how to embrace your new home

AMY BALDWIN

More Information

  • Family found its spot in Charlotte

What’s a Charlottean?

In a region with tens of thousands of newcomers a year, if you’re a transplant, the answer is you.

My job is to write about newcomers – what brought them here, why they chose Charlotte, how they’re adjusting, what they like and don’t like – and answer their questions about living here. I do that in my Living Here columns in the Observer and New Around Town blog on www.charlotteobserver.com/livinghere.

My loose definition of a newcomer is someone who moved here in the last two years. But as a relative newcomer wrapping up my fifth year in Charlotte, I know it takes a while to feel at home. As much as I hear from new residents, I also hear from natives or those who have been here for decades, and I appreciate their perspective on how much Charlotte has changed.

No matter when you settled in the Charlotte region, if you have a question or comment or story to share, I want to hear it. Please be in touch.

Throughout this magazine you’ll find suggestions for getting to know the area, making friends, networking and picking a doctor or school.

So, want to be a Charlottean or at least pass for one? Here are five tips for making that happen.

1. Experience uptown. Try taking a walk around uptown at the beginning of the workday or during lunch and ask yourself if you have ever been in a mid-sized city with so many professionals bustling about the center city. But you’ll see more than just people earning a living uptown. You’ll see people living there too – runners out pounding the pavement, dog owners walking their pooches and couples pushing baby strollers.

Wonder what the four statues at Trade and Tryon represent? Call the Charlotte Chamber for a tour. Local history enthusiast and volunteer tour guide Russ Ford gives free two-hour walking tours on Fridays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Registration is not required, but big groups should call ahead to arrange a special tour time. 704-331-2753, 704-847-3302.

2. Learn some local history. Don’t let the phrase “New South” or all the construction crews and cranes make you think there isn’t any.

Mecklenburg declared its independence from Britain a year before the colonies did – though some folks here dispute this. And Charlotte had a gold rush that preceded the more famous one in California.

Best bet for where to get schooled in local history: Levine Museum of the New South (www.museumofthenewsouth.org, 200 E. Seventh St.).

The permanent exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South” covers 8,000 square feet and takes visitors through the Charlotte area from the post-Civil war era to now. It’s an interactive tour. Visitors can step inside a one-room tenant farmer’s house and run their hands through a pile of seed cotton. They can sit in a pew from Good Samaritans Hospital Chapel, one of the first African-American hospitals in the South, or at a lunch counter and listen to personal accounts from the Piedmont’s civil rights era sit-in leaders.

3. Go to a NASCAR race. Again, set aside any preconceived notions (you know what they are – just a bunch of guys turning left, huh?) and just do it. Racing was born in North Carolina. Living here and not seeing a NASCAR race would be like living in Kentucky and never seeing a thoroughbred horse race.

You might be surprised and – gasp! – like it. At the very least, you’ll appreciate experiencing the sound of 43 cars revving their engines at the same time and the excitement of the crowd when a favored driver takes the lead. Besides, what other sport allows you to bring in your own food and drinks?

For more on racing, go to www.lowesmotorspeedway.com or check out racing writer David Poole’s story on page 141.

4. Go on a barbecue tour. There are three styles of barbecue in the Carolinas but one thing stays the same: it’s always pork. Eastern style has a vinegar-based sauce and is slow-cooked from the whole pig. Lexington style is known for a redder (that’s usually ketchup) vinegar sauce, and the pork typically comes from the shoulder. South Carolina style is known for golden-colored mustard-based sauce.

If nothing else, remember barbecue is a noun, not a verb. Cooking food on the grill does not equal barbecue.

Some places to start your barbecue tour: Bill Spoon’s (Eastern style) on South Boulevard in Charlotte, Lexington No. 1 in Lexington and Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby (Lexington style), and Sweatman’s in Holly Hill, S.C. (mustard style). Holly Hill is a three-hour trek. Lexington and Shelby are each about an hour away.

Attention foodies: Want more? Read food editor Kathleen Purvis’ stories on top local food experiences on page 30 and how to cook like a Southerner on page 134. Also check out her column Wednesday’s in the Observer’s food section and her online Q&A at www.charlotteobserver.com/food.

5. Get outside. One of the best things about living in Charlotte is the relatively mild weather, though summers are hot and humid. You can golf, play tennis, run and ride your bike year round. Mecklenburg and the surrounding counties have an array of parks and greenways. In the summer, take the kids to cool down at one of five spraygrounds in Mecklenburg.

For more info on Mecklenburg’s public parks, greenways and spraygrounds: www.parkandrec.com.

Do all these things and give it a year or two and you might just start feeling like a Charlottean. Have fun exploring. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Got a question or comment about Living Here? Amy Baldwin writes about newcomers. Reach her at 704-358-5179 or abaldwin@charlotteobserver.com.

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