Six years, and Shono’s Japanese Grill still pleases

Grilled chicken and shrimp is one of several combinations popular with diners at Shonos Japanese Grill in Riverchase.

Grilled chicken and shrimp is one of several combinations popular with diners at Shonos Japanese Grill in Riverchase.

Any restaurant that has us coming back regularly for six years has to be doing something right.

The simple fact is that Shonos Japanese Grill—on Hwy 31 just north of the Cahaba River in the same shopping center as Hobby Lobby—has never disappointed.

Run by Eddie and Flora Cui, Shonos has gained a loyal following over the years, and it’s little wonder why.

Whether it’s the grilled chicken, shrimp or “Eddie’s special” beef entree, Eddie and Flora pride themselves on making sure that any choice you make is fresh and flavorful.

Shonos does a strong business during lunch.  One reason is because time-sensitive visitors who work in the Hoover area know they can get in and out without having to worry about a slow kitchen; Eddie cooks everything himself.

Eddie and Flora Cui have simple goals for Shonos:  Good food that's reasonably priced.

Eddie and Flora Cui have simple goals for Shonos: Healthy, good tasting food that’s reasonably priced.

Entrees are made to order, but Shonos knows how to deliver with only a few minutes waiting.

The fancy theatrics so popular at many Japanese steakhouses don’t happen here, so if you’re looking for someone to flip a shrimp in your mouth, you’ll probably be disappointed.

What you can count on is consistently good food at prices that won’t make you feel as if you’ve made a big financial sacrifice.

Eddie and Flora take pride in food that’s healthy, too.  They recently started offering brown rice (in addition to steamed and fried), and their food contains no MSG.

Service is always friendly and efficient; Flora sees to that.

Shonos does a lot of to-go business.  Orders for pick-up can be placed by calling 205-988-3319.

You can check out the Shonos website here…

Shonos is open Monday through Saturday, for lunch and dinner.

USDA Loans Snagged by Gov’t Shutdown

A quick update to the report we shared September 29th involving USDA’s no-down-payment loans for homes in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area…

While USDA has announced that its loans will continue beyond the earlier announced September 30th cutoff date, the Agency now says processing of all loans is frozen because of the federal government’s October 1st shutdown.

This also means that the extension beyond September 30th is on hold, as well, until Congress gets the government going again.

If you’re wanting to buy a home with no-down-payment financing in the meantime, we’d recommend contacting some of the Lenders we know in the area who have experience helping people obtain these kind of mortgages and who know about possible alternatives to USDA.

Self-employed people who are applying for loans for home purchases are likely to be affected by the shutdown, as well.  That’s because Lenders won’t be able to get tax transmittals from the Internal Revenue Service to help verify income.

Birmingham USDA Loans To Continue

USDA still available

Despite earlier reports to the contrary, USDA’s no-down-payment financing for people looking to buy a home in the Birmingham area will remain in effect after September 30th, 2013.

USDA no-down-payment financing for people looking to buy homes in the Birmingham area will continue to be available after September 30th, despite earlier reports from the Agency that the popular loan program would wind down permanently at the end of the month.

How long will USDA financing remain in effect?  Not even the government—which administers the program—is saying.

The loan program will “continue for some period,” according to Rich Davis, acting Administrator for USDA’s Rural Housing Service.

Many Buyers were concerned that loss of the program would reduce their chances of being able to buy a home in places in Shelby Co. including Chelsea and Calera, areas the government considers rural, and therefore eligible for USDA financing.

In the meantime, a new 100% conventional loan program has been introduced, and which would be a back-up for some Buyers who had wanted to purchase with USDA financing.

If you’re thinking of buying a home, figuring out what loan is best for your particular situation—whether it’s USDA or something else—can get confusing.

Your best bet is to contact a Lender knowledgeable in the many loan programs that are available in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area before you buy.

Go-2-Grill: Mediterranean Food For Birmingham

Chicken Shawerma from Go-2-Grill in Hoover, Alabama

Chicken Shawerma, complete with salad, rice, hummus, baba ghanoush and pita bread, is one of Go-2-Grill’s signature servings, available as a dinner plate or lunch serving.

One of the great things about living in the Birmingham area is the fact that we are blessed with many good restaurants.

For just about any type of cuisine you could want, there is probably at least one good place, if not two or three. For Colleen and me, Mediterranean food is a favorite.

The term Mediterranean, of course, carries a rather general geographic reference, and can include food from lots of cultures, including Greece, Lebanon and Italy, to name just a few.

We were saddened when, a year ago this month, a locally run Persian restaurant in Hoover that had been a favorite of ours shut its doors, limiting our choices.

Mike Alassi, Owner, Go-2-Grill, Hoover, Alabama

Owner Mike Alassi is usually behind the register, and is always happy to explain the ingredients in Go-2-Grill’s varied offerings.

But there are still options to sample cuisine from cultures afar, and the Go-2-Grill in Hoover may pleasantly surprise you.

Opened by owner Mike Alassi in January of 2012, Go-2-Grill used to be known by a different name:  The In-N-Out Grill.

Though Alassi changed the name a couple of months ago, everything else—including the menu—remains the same.

Baba ghanoush, served by Go-2-Grill, Hoover, Alabama

Go-2-Grill is one of the few places in Birmingham where you can enjoy Baba ghanoush, a dish usually made with eggplant, tomatoes and other vegetables and that’s popular as an appetizer throughout much of the Middle East.

Located in the WalMart shopping center at 2978 Hwy 150 in Hoover, Go-2-Grill is admittedly a bit short on atmosphere. With fluorescent lighting, paper plates and utensils, there’s little to convey a Mediterranean setting, but we’re not counting off for that.

What does impress is the food.

When Colleen and I visit, we typically choose from the Greek offerings.  These include grilled chicken kabobs, lamb kabobs, gyros, tahini or Falafel (a traditional Arab concoction of ground chickpeas and fava beans).

But Go-2-Grill also appeals to folks looking for standard American fare.  In fact, though we’ve not tried them, we’ve heard comments that the burgers are outstanding, while others rave about their wings and baked potatoes (giant size and loaded).

We have always found the service to be friendly.  You’re likely to find Alassi himself at the register much of the time, and we appreciate his always checking with us to make sure the food is good.

If the choices overwhelm you, Go-2-Grill has lots of pictures of their entrees on the walls to help you decide.

Desserts include baklava, a rich and sweet pastry made in layers with phyllo dough, nuts and honey.

You can order to go by calling 205-444-2014.

You can find Go-to-Grill on Facebook, too.

Here’s where to find the place:

Hoover Home Has Chef’s Dream Kitchen

This stunning 3BR home in Lake Cyrus---not far from downtown Birmingham---sparkles, and is move-in ready.

This stunning 3BR home in Lake Cyrus—not far from downtown Birmingham—sparkles, and is move-in ready. The Seller is offering a GE high efficiency washer and dryer, along with 46″ Sony 3D smart TV, high end receiver and surround system.

The owner is an executive Chef. Care to guess what his home’s Kitchen is like?

If you’re thinking fabulous gourmet Kitchen with all the high end features, you’ve nailed it.

We can’t help but think this fabulous 3BR home in Hoover’s Lake Cyrus (a popular Birmingham, Alabama, neighborhood) is going to sell quickly.

Loaded with upgrades and featuring one level living (plus a large upstairs Bonus Room complete with high definition TV and surround system), this 4-sides-brick home enjoys a great cul-de-sac location in a popular swim and tennis community with sought after Hoover schools.

Check out the video we’ve just produced—and let us know if you’re interested, or if you know someone who might be:

The Buyers We Can’t Help

Was I nuts?

The 5BR home our Buyers own—measuring roughly 4,000 square feet—sits on a lake, complete with boat dock and 5 car garage outside of the Birmingham area.

After all, most Agents would welcome the chance we had: To work with the husband and wife who called a few days ago about a home we have listed for sale in Alabaster.

We really need to find a place, the wife tells me.

Moving here from out of area and pre-approved by their local bank to spend up to $300,000, they tell of their frustrating efforts to find a home in Birmingham.

And yet, I would wind up sitting down with them face to face and telling them what some might consider unthinkable: “Sorry, we can’t help you.”

After determining that the house they called about is not a good match, I ask a little more about their situation, and if they’d like help with finding a suitable property.

I get an earful.

They have put full price Offers on two homes, only to have the houses “sell right out from under us,” the husband says.

They had tried to get help from two other Realtors in the area.

“They’ve put us on the back burner,” the husband tells me during a half hour phone call. “I’ll ask to see a particular home a week ahead of time, and nothing happens,” he says.

There is nothing Colleen and I hate worse than hearing about Agents who are non-responsive to their Clients. This kind of behavior makes all of us in the profession look bad.

In our roughly 15 years combined of helping people buy and sell homes in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area, one critical step we always follow is to learn as much as we can about our Buyer’s particular situation.

It pays to listen.

The Offers that failed, it turns out, were both made on the condition that the Buyers could first sell their existing home.

From the description of their home—five bedrooms, over 4,000 square feet on a beautiful lake setting, five car garage, in-ground pool and boat dock—you’d sure think it would go easily…especially in today’s market.

I look their home up on MLS and the Internet. Sales price: Just under $600,000.

My conclusion about their place: Very nice.

Sales data I uncover for the property suggests that these folks paid less than half their current asking price when they bought it. Maybe they’ve put some money into the place over the years.

I can certainly understand that one Agent they’d contact would be a dud.

But two Agents? That’s possible.


In my mind, questions are starting to rise.

Then comes the bombshell.

They’ve been trying to sell their home for two years.


No home should be on the market that long.

During one of our phone calls, I ask the husband more questions.

How many Offers have you gotten? Answer: None

How many showings do you typically get each month? Answer: Maybe one.

Home for sale in Alabaster, Alabama

Part of the process in getting your home sold means adjusting the price, if needed, and monitoring market response closely. If Buyers aren’t showing interest, that’s a clear message.

What kind of Feedback do you get from those showings? Answer: Everyone says it’s a very nice home.

Has anyone ever told you that your home may be overpriced? Answer: Absolutely not.

So, why, then, do you think your home hasn’t sold? Answer: There just aren’t that many people who can afford homes in our price range. Besides, he adds, none of the homes for sale in their area have sold in a long time.

Remember those roughly 15 years selling homes I mentioned? They’ve taught us other things, too.

Experienced Agents know that when homes fail to sell, it’s almost always for at least one of three reasons:

  • Price
  • Location
  • Condition

With the setting on the lake and the home’s general appearance, I’m able to eliminate two of the three causes immediately.

Price, then, can be the only reason.

My exchanges with these people make it clear to me that there is a lot they may not understand, including the changes that are taking place in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area housing market:

  • Inventory has dropped;
  • It’s not a Buyer’s market any longer;
  • Sellers have more clout than they did a couple of years ago;
  • Multiple Offers are occurring again;
  • More homes are starting to sell in shorter amounts of time (sometimes, new Listings go Under Contract within one to two weeks of going on market);
  • More Sellers who price appropriately and have their homes in top condition are getting full asking price or close to it

I realize, too, the probable effect of a recent local MLS rules change on our Buyers, which they may not be aware of.

The rules change requires homes that go Under Contingency Contract be removed from Active Listings and moved to a different category. This reduced exposure, while waiting on the Buyer’s home to sell, is not likely to be attractive to most Sellers.

As a result, many Sellers—at the advice of their Agents—are not accepting home sale Contingency Offers unless the Buyer’s home is already Under Contract to sell. This is understandable; Sellers want at least some assurance that they will be able to actually sell their home, as opposed to losing valuable time on market, only to have the Contingency Contract fall apart if the Buyer’s home fails to sell.

It’s time, I decide, to share some market and general buying knowledge with these people. I sit at the computer and start drafting an e-mail with information they should find useful.

In the meantime, I get a text message.

They’ve found a home for sale in the area they’d like to see today. It’s a Short Sale. They want to know if we can show it to them that afternoon.

I look the home up on MLS. It’s available, and it’s occupied.

There’s a hitch: Lenders in a Short Sale will not accept Contingent Offers based on the sale of the Buyer’s property.

I also look at personal considerations: We would be asking the occupant to let us show their home to people I now realize have very little chance of actually being able to carry through with a purchase at this point in time, even if they wanted to.

We’ve learned—and our Broker, Keller Williams Realty, preaches a lot—that successful sales need to be a win-win for everyone involved.

This means that we need to assess carefully the viability of our Clients to actually carry through and meet their goals.

While I might represent the Buyers and not the Sellers, is asking to show this home under these circumstances appropriate? Is this likely to be a win-win for everyone?

I respond that I can’t show them the home. Instead, I decide, it’s time to have a conversation.

I recommend that we meet in person at our office that afternoon. They agree.

“This is the situation I see you in,” I say, while seated at our conference table. I hold up a note pad.

“First, your main focus is trying to find a home here in the Birmingham/Shelby Co. area,” as I scribble point number one. “And you’re finding it difficult.”

Writing down my assessment of our Buyers’ current situation, as well as a path to follow to reach success, seemed to resonate with both the husband and wife.

Heads nod in agreement.

“Second,” as I write point number two, “You’re not getting help from the Realtors you’ve called, and you’re finding that extremely frustrating.”

“Absolutely,” I’m told. Heads are really nodding now, with facial expressions providing more confirmation.

“And third,” as I keep writing, “You’re still dealing with trying to get your own home sold, something you’ve been unable to do for two years.”

I almost hear an ‘amen, brother.’

There is total agreement; husband and wife relate 100% to everything I’ve said.

At this point, I describe what’s happening right now in the Birmingham area real estate market. I talk about how homes are selling. I explain why Sellers are unlikely to find their Offer—even at full price—attractive.

“One hundred percent of nothing is still nothing,” I tell them.

I share other valuations I’ve found for their property. And while I stress that none of those numbers should be considered reliable for pricing their home, there is such a wide disparity between them and the current asking price that I look straight at them and say, “I think this is a huge problem.”

I point out that inventory in the Shelby Co./Birmingham area can change substantially in less than a 60 day time frame. With no immediate prospect of selling their existing home, I tell them that, by the time they might actually be able to move ahead with a purchase, they would probably have to look at a different set of homes to choose from than is on market right now.

I then offer recommendations.

“First,” I say point blank to them, “Stop what you’re doing. It’s not working.”

I take my pen and abruptly strike through the bullet points I had just written down.

They seem a bit taken back.

No matter what home they find, and when they find it, I tell them that they can’t move ahead with buying until they sell their current home.

Getting your current place sold, I tell them, needs to be your absolute top priority over anything else.

I tell them that I feel very sure their home is overpriced, and that Buyers are, in fact, responding to this.

The silence Buyers have created for two years is deafening.

The husband reminds me that no other lake properties in the area have sold. I have a quick answer. That’s something we have seen before. “It may well be that they’re all overpriced,” I tell them.

“Every home will sell. There are Buyers out there.”

The husband mentions that they have to be able to walk away from the sale of their home with a certain amount of money.

“I completely understand,” I answer.

While I tell them I realize that how much money these folks clear from the sale of their home is very important to them, I point out that it’s of no concern at all to a Buyer.

The true value of your home, I tell them, is the figure at which a Buyer and a Seller agree to sit across from each other at a closing table.

Home for sale in Alabaster, Alabama

Homes in Birmingham are selling faster and easier, compared to previous years. Sellers who price appropriately and have their homes in top condition typically don’t have to wait long to receive an Offer.

I write down a new set of bullet points on my pad.

Number one, I recommend, is to get an appraisal. It’s the best independent assessment of their home’s actual probable value.

The husband mentions that they can use an appraisal from two years ago. Nope, I respond, that won’t work. It needs to be no more than about six months old. After looking at a current appraisal of their home’s probable selling price, I tell the couple that they’ll have a decision to make.

Number two, as I continue scribbling, is to adjust the sales price. And, I tell them, they have to keep adjusting it until they get sufficient interest—and an Offer that turns into a Contract—on their home.

Number three, as I talk and scribble, is to get their home Under Contract.

I conclude by scribbling item four: Start looking for your next home.

When they make it to point number three, I tell them, is when it’s time to pick up the phone and call us for help with finding a home in the Birmingham area.

And that’s more promising to be a win-win for everyone.

I tear the sheet off the notepad and hand it to the husband.

“Colleen and I would love to be your Agents,” I tell them, “but now you understand why we can’t help you with looking at homes right now.”

While our meeting concludes on a friendly tone, I sense that these folks are not walking out very happy.

Will we ever hear from them again?

Did we manage to lose a potential Buyer Client and sale?

I have no idea.

But my conscience is clear.

It’s about being honest and giving people information they need to know.

Even when they may not want to hear it.

Just Listed: Chef’s Dream Home

Here’s quick info on a spectacular 3BR home Colleen and I have just placed on the market in Hoover’s Lake Cyrus.  The owners wanted a top-of-the-line Kitchen, and that’s exactly what they created:

You can click this link for more information about the home on the Greater Alabama MLS…

More details coming later.

Let us know if you’re interested.

Birmingham Area USDA Financing Ends

If you’re thinking of buying a home in several areas near Birmingham using 100% loan financing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you’ll have to go a different route.

Effective October 1st, homes in Chelsea, Calera, Moody and Pleasant Grove—areas that have been eligible for USDA’s no-down-payment funding—will no longer qualify.

Current loans that are already in USDA’s processing system as of October 1st will be honored.

The removal of these areas comes as a result of a decision that these communities are no longer considered rural.

USDA’s loan program has been very popular…Colleen and I have helped many first time Buyers over the years with purchasing a home using this financing.

This does not necessarily mean that you’re out of options if you’re trying to get a 100% financed loan for a home in these areas.

USDA Financing

USDA’s no-down-payment financing for Calera, Chelsea, Moody and Pleasant Grove is winding down as of Oct 1st.

A new 100% conventional loan program has just been announced that may be a suitable alternative.

Offered by several area Lenders, the new loan program is currently available at a fixed rate of 4.75% to Buyers who qualify, and has reduced mortgage insurance.  And, unlike USDA loans, this new loan is not restricted by area.

Here are a few Lenders in the area you can contact for more information:

KC Haririan
Aliant Bank

Gloria Jackson
First Federal Mortgage

Woody Woodfin
Home Mortgage of America, Inc.

Chefs Will Love 214 Lake Forest Way

214 Lake Forest Way

This is a beautifully maintained 5BR home on one level over finished basement, offering a totally new Kitchen and loads of space, including three bedrooms on the main level plus a 3 car garage…

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the Birmingham area with loads of space and some beautiful upgrades, check out 214 Lake Forest Way.

This is a 5BR home on one level over a finished basement.  The owners have just completed a major upgrade of their Kitchen, and it’s enough to make any Chef envious!

This home is located on a cul-de-sac street in Lake Forest, one of the more desired neighborhoods in the Birmingham area.  Zoned for the new Alabaster city school system.

Featuring lots of open space with high ceilings and attractive neutral colors, this home needs nothing.

To give you an idea of how much this great home has to offer, take four minutes and check out the video we’ve produced in high definition.  Click the player just below…

Kitchen Talk: Flood Plain Blues

flood plain bluesColleen discusses what has been a complete surprise to a number of home owners and Buyers in the Birmingham area…