Housing Articles

The Chronicle Housing Guide

The Chronicle's special "Housing Guide" issue. Contains information about local housing options, related news/stories, and advice about living in the Triangle.  more>>

Revitalization efforts improve downtown Durham

The city of Durham has started reconstructing and has plans to fully revitalize the American Tobacco, City Center, Central Park, Government Services, Warehouse and Brightleaf districts, which are all located in the heart of downtown Durham a few miles from Duke’s campus. Construction in these local areas has been ongoing in the past couple of years, a product of hundreds of millions of dollars local investors and the city of Durham have funneled into the area.

Many of the changes have come from Downtown Durham, Inc., an organization formed in 1993 to fuel downtown construction. It mostly focuses on economic development, parking, appearance, promotion and safety, according to the organization’s website. The city of Durham also crafted a Downtown Durham Master Plan in 1999, which called for many of the recent changes to the location.

The downtown area is now home to more than 40 restaurants and bars and various shopping venues. The Durham Performing Arts Center, which opened in 2008 with a $7.5 million contribution from Duke, features concerts, Broadway series and American Dance Festival performances, among other events. The DPAC is a part of the American Tobacco Historic District, which features a variety of restaurants and retail and entertainment venues in addition to office space.

The local arts scene goes beyond the DPAC, however. Golden Belt, which was one of the city’s historic textile mills, has been converted into a hub for the local arts scene, featuring artist studios, restaurants, live music and art exhibitions.

And finding transportation to the downtown district just became much easier. A free bus service, which began running in August, now connects downtown Durham and the campus. The bus stops near Trent and Flowers drives, near Duke South Hospital. The system, which is called the Bull City Connector, uses six new hybrid/diesel buses that were funded in part by $375,000 from the University. Duke will also help fund the service’s annual operating costs.

The downtown district is also home to the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team that plays in the Triple-A International League. The team plays in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which initially opened in 1995 and was later expanded for the 1998 season.

Durham Central Park, which has been recently revamped, features picnic areas, lawns and gardens, and is also home to the Durham Farmers’ Market, which utilizes the recently-constructed pavilion. The Durham Skate Park, which is located in the park area, opened in the fall of 2009 and is free to the public.

Although some construction projects have yet to be completed, the Durham revitalization efforts have improved the city’s downtown and may soon attract more Duke students.

New house model debuts this fall

Starting Fall 2012, residential life at Duke will see a major change.

After nearly three years of planning, the University will transition away from its current quadrangle model to the house model. The house model will feature approximately 70 affiliated and unaffiliated houses—49 on West Campus and up to 23 on Central Campus, said Joe Gonzalez, associate dean for residence life. The houses will vary in size, with smaller houses accommodating between 20 and 30 students and larger houses with 60 to 90 students. Thirty houses will provide space for existing affiliated groups, which include both fraternities and selective living groups.

Under the house model, East Campus will remain a freshmen-only campus, though sophomores, juniors and seniors will be invited to live in their house for up to three years, Gonzalez said.

During RoomPix of their freshman year, affiliated rising sophomores will be placed in their corresponding houses, and unaffiliated students will be placed randomly, Gonzalez said. Residential groups will still conduct recruitment programs similar to the current process.

It has yet to be determined where various selective living groups will be living across campus. Reseidence Life and Housing Services officials have said “best fit” and a group’s historic ability to recruit and retain members will be the two main factors in determining where groups are assigned.

Keohane 4E Quadrangle—opening Spring 2012—was built with the house model in mind. K4 will accommodate two houses: one of 60 students and one of 90 students, RLHS administrators have confirmed.  

Decisions such as whether students will be able to switch houses after a year or live in the same room in consecutive years will be discussed soon. Administrators will try to place students returning from semesters abroad in their former houses but cannot guarantee that will be possible.

The blocking system will be preserved under the new model, though Gonzalez noted that blocks will have to be smaller, accommodating between four and six students, in order to avoid potential domination of one block in a small house.
The University’s shift to a house model has precedent on campus. Throughout the 1970s, Duke’s residential model was a house-style system. It was in 1995, when the University converted East into an all-freshmen campus, that a transition away from the house model began. The University adopted the current quadrangle model in 2002.

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta and Steve Nowicki, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, were the two driving forces behind the University’s return to a new and improved house model. The objectives of the model are three-fold, focusing on community, equality and autonomy within the houses. Nowicki said, emphasizing

The goal of the house model is to raise the residential experience of all students to the level that residentially affiliated students have historically encountered and yet maintain the experience of affiliated groups, Nowicki said.

This shift in residential culture has proven to be a collaborative effort between students and administrators. A working group for the house model, which is composed of both three student subcommittees and administrators, has been working closely with the House Model Student Working Group to consider their input as the transition to the house model begins. This student committee is comprised of independent students as well as representatives from Interfraternity Council, National Panhellenic Council, Inter-Greek Council and Selective House Council.



Home ownership a good risk for most people

Buying a home is the largest purchase most people will ever make. Homeownership has great benefits. Homeownership also comes with certain responsibilities.

Are you ready for homeownership? Look at your current situation and determine if:

    • You have a steady, reliable source of income and a steady employment history for at least two     years.

    • You have a credit history.

    • Your total debt is manageable and you can afford to take on the costs associated with homeownership.

    • You have money saved for a down payment and closing costs.

Think about your future plans that might affect your ability to manage the costs of homeownership.

    • Consider whether you need to make lifestyle changes that might include not taking expensive vacations or purchasing luxury cars, and dining out less.

    • Consider the costs of a growing family when looking at your homeownership budget.
    • Consider whether your future plans might include a wedding or college education for yourself or your children.

And remember, the mortgage is not the only expense you need to consider. Homeownership comes with other potential budget items such as repairs, maintenance, taxes, landscaping, etc.

Why Own?
There are many great reasons to consider owning a home:

    • You’ll have a place that is yours! You’ll own it, have a place to raise your children and become a  part of your community. You can pass your home down to your children, and their children, creating security for generations to come.

    • You may pay less to own a home than you would to rent – and it’s yours at the end!

Homeownership can reduce the federal income taxes you pay. You can deduct the interest on your home mortgage and property taxes you pay on your home on the tax returns you file each year. These tax savings partially reduce, or offset somewhat, the actual cost of owning your home.

    • Your monthly payments won’t ever go up if you choose a fixed-rate mortgage!

 If you choose a mortgage with a fixed-interest rate (one that stays the same for the life of the loan, say 30 years), you’ll pay the same mortgage payment each month for the entire 30 years of the loan (if your taxes go up, your escrow will go up – increasing your monthly payment).

    • You’ll build a good nest egg!  Owning a home and building equity is the single greatest source of financial security and independence for the majority of people who’ve taken this step.

What Are the Risks?
Overall, homeownership is a good investment for most people, but there are risks. If you understand the benefits and risks of homeownership, you can make the best decision about when to buy a home.

    • Monthly housing expenses can increase. Your monthly mortgage payment may be larger than your rent.

    • You become your own landlord.

    • You may need to sell your house due to life circumstances.  more>>

Local real estate business headed in the right direction

The Durham real estate market is seeing mixed results as it works to pull itself out of the recession in a still-difficult economy.

There have been some good signs, as the Durham-Chapel Hill market was named in March the third healthiest of the 100 largest U.S. housing markets. Builder Magazine ranked the area just behind Raleigh-Cary, in first place, and Austin, TX. at No. 2. 

The rankings are based on several factors, ranging from job growth to appreciation and depreciation in home prices to building permit activity. According to Market Opportunity Research Enterprises, new single-family building permits increased by 14 percent in the Durham-Chapel Hill area in 2010 after a disappointing fall in numbers in 2009.

However, many metrics indicate that the market is still struggling. The average price for square foot for Durham homes was $85 in May, down 12.4 percent from $91 three months prior, according to Trulia, a website providing statistics for real estate markets in the United States. 

In addition, the number of sales in the area has declined sharply in the last year, even as the median sales price has also decreased over the past year.

As of March, the Triangle had a 10-month supply of homes for sale on the market, according to the (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Another issue the Triangle area faces is the rising foreclosure rate. According to CoreLogic, a company that provides real estate data, the mortgage foreclosure rate in Durham-Chapel Hill was 1.6 percent in March. This represents a .48 percent increase from the same period in 2010, when the foreclosure rate was 1.12 percent. It also marked the tenth month in a row of increasing foreclosure rates in the Durham-Chapel Hill area.

This rate is, however, still significantly lower than the national foreclosure rate, which was 3.57 percent in March 2011.

Real estate information website Zillow has also named Durham one of 25 U.S. communities that have rebounded to within single-digit percentage points of their peak home values. Much of this success is attributed to the relatively healthy jobs market in the area, as Durham’s unemployment rate remains lower than the state average. Durham’s position as one corner of the Research Triangle, as well as it’s prestigious universities and economic incentives to drive new business, have kept its job market a priority.

While the national and local housing market remain unpredictable, Durham looks to be headed in the right direction for successful recovery.




Duke encourages alternative transport


Brian Williams, Duke’s transportation demand coordinator, has been working over the past year to promote more sustainable transportation methods to students, faculty and staff. With new University programs and initiatives and the recent introduction of the Bull City Connector, there are more ways than ever to commute to campus without relying on single-rider cars. The Chronicle spoke with Williams this summer on his efforts and why you should consider different methods of transportation. 

You started working at Duke last year; what were your goals coming in to the position? Have they changed in the last year?

My goal coming into the position was to support the commuting choices students and employees have. If someone wants to bike, we’ll try to get bike lanes in the city of Durham. If someone wants to carpool but doesn’t know who to ask, we’ll try to provide a way to match them with the Duke folks that live and work around them. If someone wants to move to an apartment along a bus route that comes straight to campus, we’ll try to provide the tools to help them find the right place. My projects have changed over this first year, but the goal will remain the same.

I’ve seen a lot of people on bikes recently – do you feel that more people are looking to bike, walk, or carpool? Why is switching to more sustainable transportation important, and how is it beneficial to do so?

Yes, I think more people are looking to try anything but bringing their car by themselves every day. No city or campus on the planet is moving forward with models where everyone drives. Ask a student that drives to campus and he’ll tell you he spends 5 minutes in traffic, 5 minutes finding a space and 10 minutes walking from his car to class. Ask a student that rides her bike to campus and she’ll tell you she doesn’t sit in traffic and parks right outside her building.

What steps has Duke taken to encourage more sustainable transportation methods?

Recently, Duke has been taking steps to set up programs to encourage carpooling, biking, taking the bus and vanpooling. We’ll be looking to add more modes, so people that walk, ride a scooter or use other forms can receive benefits too. We’re also looking to increase the amount of benefits those people receive. The ways we want to encourage are the ways that prevent us from having to build more parking spaces.

What are the greatest challenges the University faces in terms of reaching its transportation goals?

I think the University’s biggest challenge is that parking permit fees have been low for a long time. Many students and employees may believe the rates are already high, but they are below the average parking rates for our peers. Universities that are successful at reaching sustainable transportation goals all have very high parking rates to discourage bringing your vehicle to Duke each day.

I’ve had people ask me why Duke charges for parking when other schools or businesses don’t. It’s the myth of free parking. A business will cover its parking costs by paying its employees slightly less and charging its customers slightly more. So whether you bike, take a bus or drive, you’re always paying for parking. At Duke, we give you the choice. If you don’t bring your car to Duke, you don’t have to pay for parking, and you receive discounts on bus passes and bicyclists get free daily parking passes for days they need to drive. 

The Bull City Connector has now been running for one academic year. Has that been successful in drawing members of the Duke community to bus into Durham?

We have been happy with ridership on the Bull City Connector and we’ll be rolling out more incentives for the people that commute on this free bus. It’s also been great for patients and visitors coming to campus. The weekend of the Alabama-Duke football game showed us the potential we have with using the Bull City Connector in many ways to reduce the need for a car at Duke. Ridership doubled that weekend from a normal Saturday. 

For faculty, staff, and students who live off campus, where can they go for information on the best ways other than driving to commute?

They can go to parking.duke.edu and click on ‘Alternative Transportation.’

Any last thoughts?

This is going to be a big summer for Parking and Transportation. We believe we’ll be launching several initiatives over the summer and into the fall that will make it even more appealing to use an alternative to get to campus. Driving by yourself, which is often more time-consuming and expensive, should be the alternative.



Mortgages: Now is a good time to refinance

Q & A with Scott Baker, Mortgage Lending Officer at Duke University Federal Credit Union


Is now a good time to refinance? To buy a first home?

Even given the situation in the housing market, for many now is still a good time to refinance. This will depend on the individual, their credit scores, the amount of equity, credit history and loan-to-value. 

In regards to purchasing a first home, now is an awesome time. Sellers are anxious to sell and with the condition of the market, they will settle on a price lower than they would have a year or two ago. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you approach the process of home buying as a game, you will see that the stronger player wins every time. I would also urge any potential home buyer from becoming emotionally attached. Part of the job of realtors is try to get you to fall in love with a house. What if things do not work out on the house that you are in love with? Then it may take longer to find the next one. If you can save the attachment until you have the keys in your hand, you will be much happier. 

Is it harder to get a mortgage loan due to the credit crisis?

There have been a number of changes in mortgage lending. These changes have affected the way that we determine mortgage rates. I would not say that it is harder to get a mortgage but you may have a few more hoops to jump through. 

Is it best to be pre-approved for a mortgage before you start looking?

I believe that it is imperative that you get pre-qualified prior to beginning the house hunting process. There is a difference between being pre-approved and pre-qualified. Being pre-approved means that a loan application is prepared, credit reports are pulled and the loan is sent thru an automated underwriting process. This is done typically on a property that does not yet exist. I prefer the pre-qualification process.  

First, this will give you a really good idea as to the price range that you should be looking. Secondly, you will get an idea as to your monthly payment. This will be beneficial in preparing your budget. Most importantly, you want to limit the number of people inquiring into your credit. 

Next, you need to be careful during this process because if you provide to someone your date of birth and social security number, rest assured that they are going to pull your credit report(s). This is called an inquiry. This inquiry is going to drop your credit score anywhere from 2-14 points. This one inquiry will take 2 years to fall off of your credit report.  

What I recommend and how I pre-qualify everyone is that I have them go to www.annualcreditreport.com. By selecting the state in which you live, clicking on request report and providing some basic info about yourself, you will be able to access your credit report for free and your credit score for $7.95. The credit report that I prefer is Equifax. Please be aware that this site is not from a 3rd party vendor like www.freecreditreport.com . This is a site that the bureaus provide the consumer their free report from all 3 bureaus once every 12 months. Too, by getting the Equifax report and score from annualcreditreport.com, you are getting the exact same report and score as if I pulled your credit. I also advise that prior to printing your report that you select the option of blocking your date of birth and social security number from being printed.  

How much should you put down on a home?

Typically, the minimum down payment will depend on the type of loan that you are looking to do. If it is an FHA, the minimum down is 3.5% and if it is a FNMA loan, the minimum is 5%. 

Everyone is pretty much aware that the days of 100% financing are no longer available. At Duke Credit Union we still offer 100% financing. We have been offering 100% financing, Home Express, since 2002, provided they are qualified borrowers.  

On this product, we are the actual investor and lender.  The way that we do it is to provide a 1st and 2nd mortgage. The first is for 80% of the loan-to-value and the 2nd is for 20% of the loan-to-value. The first mortgage is a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). This is amortized over 30 years with principle and interest. It is not an Interest-Only type of ARM, nor is it a Sub-Prime mortgage. The 2nd mortgage is a 15 year fixed rate mortgage. We offer this for purchases, refinances and 2nd homes. We even pay the closing costs on the 2nd mortgage portion for you. The maximum purchase price for this product is $275,000.00 and is subject to credit approval. 

What is PMI? What are discount points?

PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance. This is an insurance policy for the lender protecting them against the mortgage going to foreclosure. The amount that you pay generally depends on the amount of your down payment, loan amount and your credit score. To avoid this and you only want one mortgage, you will need to put down 20%. If you are unable, you will want to keep track of your principle and your home’s appreciation. My advice would be wait until you are certain that you have 22% equity before inquiring into the removal. 

 Discount points are where you typically see that the borrower is ‘buying down’ the rate. That is to say that they wanted a lower rate, they had extra cash on hand and they wanted a rate that was below the going rate. They could pay extra at the time of closing in order to get the lower rate. Each point is equal to 1% of the loan amount. One thing that I would suggest is to weigh the difference and see where you break even from a cost perspective before handing over the extra money. 

Can you briefly describe the different types of loans (fixed, adjustable, etc.) and how to you determine what is best for you?

There are several different types of mortgages available. The most common is the fixed rate. This means that the rate is fixed for as long as you own the home unless you refinance. The terms for this type can be anywhere from 30 down to 10 years.  

Another type is the ARM, which is an acronym for Adjustable Rate Mortgage. ARM’s are a fixed rate for a specified period of time. This is generally either 3, 5, 7 or 10 years.  

What happens is that the rate is fixed for the amount of years and then the rate can adjust yearly, on a conventional loan after the initial period. With a FNMA type of ARM the rate can only adjust as much as 2% either up or down and there is usually a lifetime cap of 6%.

Depending on the current market conditions you are sometimes able to get ARM’s with a lower rate than for a 30 year fixed. The question to ask yourself before getting this type of loan is, how long do I intend on living in the home. Typical homeower’s today are in their house an average of 3 - 7 years. If that is the case, then it may be worth investigating further.  

Interest Only mortgages are not available at DUFCU. I try to keep people away from this product. This type of mortgage provides the borrower an opportunity to own a home and to pay the interest only for a specified period of time. This type of loan means that you are not required to pay anything towards the principle during the initial period of 3-10 years. However, if you only pay the interest and you put nothing towards the principle, you are going to have a tough time trying to refinance when that initial period ends because the only equity that you are going to have is from appreciation and that will not be enough unless you put close to 20% down. Appreciation in this area can be anywhere up to about 4%. 



Tips to stay safe on campus and in the city

Durham is a creative and thriving city, a top destination for education, creativity and entrepreneurship. For the most part, Duke University—located in the heart of Durham—is a safe campus. Heeding some general safety rules will ensure that the Duke community remains secure. These top ten tips have been adapted from the Duke University Police Department website. 

• Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times—whether at work, in class, at home or at a party.


• Don’t walk alone at night and avoid unfamiliar, dimly lit areas.


• Stay informed. Familiarize yourself with University emergency notification procedures and pay attention to DukeALERT emergency text messages.


• Walk in groups or get a ride late at night by calling a Duke Van Services at (919) 684-2020. 


• If a person confronts you and demands money or possessions, law enforcement officials suggest giving what is demanded and creating a safe distance. 


• If you feel uncomfortable or lost, approach a police officer or a store owner to get your bearings or directions.


• When in doubt of your destination or the safety of a neighborhood, take a cab—especially late at night.


• Excessive drinking may lead to negative consequences, including assault, illness and driving under the influence. The legal drinking age is 21. If you see someone who is passed out or sick from alcohol, call 9-1-1 immediately.


• Lock your residence or office when away and secure your belongings.


• Don’t leave valuables unattended.


Report crime, concerns, threats of violence, unwanted contact and suspicious activity immediately. Dial 9-1-1 to reach Duke Police or Durham Police, or (919) 684-2444 to reach Duke Police.


Recent Durham Accolades

Durham is one of 34,000 places in the US (1,237 over 25,000 population), one of 254 cities 100,000+, one of 3,140 counties and the principal city in one of 362 MSA’s. There are communities that rank higher in a category or two, but Durham is one of a handful that consistently rank high across so many different aspects in a given year. Below are some of the accolades Durham received during the past year either as a community or as the core community for a four county MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area as defined by the US Census).



Things to see and do in Durham

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

You can’t fully embrace life in the Bull City without a visit to the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Made famous by the 1988 movie Bull Durham, the team draws in record crowds all season long, often filling its 10,000-seat downtown stadium designed by the architects of Camden Yards. It’s a baseball lover’s dream from the traditional seventh-inning stretch to roaming vendors selling cotton candy, peanuts and cold drinks. Arrive early to check out the restaurants next door in the refurbished AmericanTobacco Campus.


Eat Local. Eat Well

This advice is easily followed if you visit the Durham Farmer’s Market, open Saturdays year round and Wednesday afternoons in the summer. Located at the new Pavilion at Durham Central Park, the market features more than 50 vendors, all located within 70 miles of the market. As you weave through the bustling crowds, you’ll find produce, meat, eggs, flowers, plants, baked goods, pottery, jewelry and artwork. If you’re hungry after shopping the stalls, stop by the neighboring Piedmont restaurant, which serves only local, seasonal food often fresh from the market. 


An Afternoon Delight

For both students and locals, there’s no better place to have an afternoon picnic or study session than the Sarah B. Duke Botanical Gardens. You can sunbathe on a blanket or throw a football on the spacious South Lawn or grab a seat with a book along the terrace. Watch the garden’s resident ducks and geese from one of the bridges over the pond in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Hidden throughout the garden are benches and secluded nooks and crannies that make you feel like the grounds are all your own.


Chow Down

When in North Carolina, do as the North Carolinians: eat barbeque and lots of it. And one of the best places in the state just happens to be the legendary Bullock’s Barbeque off Hillsborough Road.  They serve authentic Eastern-style pulled pork barbeque with tangy vinegar style sauce, hot and crispy hush puppies, Brunswick stew, and Southern sweet tea.


Get Away From It All

The beautiful Eno River winds it way through Durham offering a quiet, scenic respite from busy streets.  There are several access points to the Eno River State Park where you can hike, fish, canoe, and daydream. Two local favorites are the hiking trails at the Fews Ford Access and Durham’s city park, West Point on the Eno.


A Taste of Summer Year Round

Durham is home to its own gourmet popsicle stand that offers water- or cream-based Mexican paletas. Locopops is known for its unusual flavors such as Mojito, Pistachio, Cucumbers and Chile. They also serve basic fruit flavors, and everything is made in house with fresh ingredients. Because of its popularity, the owners expanded from their original shop on Hillsborough Road to five additional locations across the Triangle.


Working Out

Known by locals as the Golf Course Loop, the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail is one of the best places in town to get a good workout. The hilly three-mile gravel trail circles around the perimeter of the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Course. The heavily-shaded trail is maintained by the Office of the Duke Forest, which oversees 7,000 acres of privately owned land in Alamance, Durham and Orange counties that is used for recreation and research purposes.


Downtown Delicacies

For beignets as good if not better than the famed ones from Café Du Monde in New Orleans, stop by Rue Cler, a Parisian-style restaurant in downtown Durham. The beignets at Rue Cler are made to order so these bite size donuts sprinkled with powder sugar come out hot and ready to melt in your mouth every time. Who knew that something that only costs $7 per dozen could be featured in Food and Wine Magazine?


Shop and Stroll

There’s no better place to spend a lazy afternoon perusing shops than Ninth Street. It’s a great walk-able shopping district that can meet anybody’s needs from fine arts at Zola Craft Gallery to beautiful bouquets at Ninth Street Flowers and more. And of course you’ll want to venture over to gorgeous Brightleaf Square in downtown Durham, which offers spectacular dining and a wide array of shopping options.


Fresh Air and Food

Known for its hearty sandwiches and fresh baked goods, Foster’s Market is often packed to the brim during the weekday lunch hour and weekend mornings. The gourmet food market café has been a staple in Durham since it was opened in 1990. The food is to die for, but eating it on the market’s large front porch makes the experience even better.