Wednesday, June 30, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: YouTube Play

YouTube Play is a collaboration between YouTube and the Guggenheim Museum to unearth and showcase the very best creative video from around the world. To have your work considered, simply post it on YouTube, and then submit it at A jury of experts will decide which works presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York on October 21, 2010 with simultaneous presentations at the Guggenheim museums in Berlin, Bilbao, and Venice.

BOSTON HOUSING MARKET: Home sales are up, but will it last?

Massachusetts numbers rise for May; but as tax credit ends, the coming months will tell the real recovery story Home sales and median prices in Massachusetts rose again in May, buoyed by a tax credit and low interest rates, according to data released yesterday. But it is unclear whether the positive numbers signal an improving real estate market or are just a short-term reaction to the availability of federal stimulus dollars.

People hoping to cash in on the federal tax credit for home buyers pushed single-family home sales up 36.8 percent last month compared with May 2009, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

During the first five months of the year, sales are up 29 percent compared with the same period last year.

Median prices for single-family homes also rose in May — by 2.6 percent to $290,000 — Warren Group said, and median prices for the first five months of 2010 increased 7.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

But Glenn Kelman, chief executive of the online brokerage firm Redfin, cautioned against too much optimism. Kelman said sales have been artificially boosted by the tax credit and will likely decline in July. The federal program provides up to an $8,000 tax savings for first-time home buyers and a $6,500 credit to eligible current homeowners who signed a binding purchase contract by April 30 and close the deal by June 30. Since May 1, Kelman said, home buyer interest has plummeted.

“Entry-level demand has been sinking like a rock,’’ he said. “July is going to be very soft.’’

Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of Warren Group, said median prices likely increased because people are purchasing pricier homes, and not due to an overall rise in property values.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TAX & FINANCE: New-home sales crash in May as tax aid ends

WASHINGTON — Americans showed far less appetite to buy new homes last month after the government stopped offering a home buyer tax credit. The news signaled a renewed housing slump that threatens the broader economy.

Sales of new homes fell in May to their lowest level on record, plunging 33 percent from the month before. The bleak data followed a report earlier this week that sales of existing homes dipped, too.

The Federal Reserve repeated its pledge to hold interest rates at record lows to fuel economic growth. That has helped keep mortgage rates down, but even ultra-low rates couldn’t overcome the chilling effect on new-home sales caused by the end of the tax credits.

The government offered up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers had to sign a contract by April 30.

“We all knew there would be a housing hangover from the expiration of the tax credit,’’ wrote Mike Larson, real estate and interest rate analyst at Weiss Research. “But this decline takes your breath away.’’

High unemployment and slow job growth are weighing on the housing market as well. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has expressed confidence that the nation won’t fall back into a “double dip’’ recession. At the same time, the recovery remains vulnerable, and one of the chief threats is the real estate market.

New-home sales for May came in at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 300,000, the Commerce Department said yesterday. That was the slowest in the 47 years records have been kept. And it was the largest monthly drop on record. Sales have now sunk 78 percent from their peak five years ago.

Monday, June 28, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Truth In Advertising

If only our elected officials were this honest

MARKET NEWS: Massachusetts home prices post second largest gain in the country

National home prices posted annual gains for the second month in a row during April, although prices were lower in 24 of 50 states, according to a home-price index maintained by CoreLogic.

The home-price index showed home prices nationwide were up 2.6 percent from a year ago in April -- a reflection of "the lingering effects of the homebuyer tax credit," said CoreLogic Chief Economist Mark Fleming in a statement.

"We expect that we will see home prices remain strong through early summer, but in the second half of the year we expect price growth to soften and possibly decline moderately."

Even with recent gains, the index showed national home prices down 29.5 percent from their April 2006 peak.

The 10 states with the greatest annual price appreciation during April were:

1. Hawaii (13.4 percent)
2. Massachusetts (7.4 percent)
3. California (7.3 percent)
4. Virginia (6.5 percent)
5. New Hampshire (5.2 percent)
6. Maine (4.8 percent)
7. Ohio (3.9 percent)
8. Missouri (3.8 percent)
9. Rhode Island (3.6 percent)
10. Nebraska (3.6 percent)

The 10 states with the greatest annual price declines during April in CoreLogic's home-price index were:

1. Idaho (-7.2 percent)
2. Illinois (-5.8 percent)
3. Nevada (-4.6 percent)
4. Maryland (-4.3 percent)
5. Washington (-3.7 percent)
6. Pennsylvania (-3.7 percent)
7. Mississippi (-3.7 percent)
8. Florida (-3.5 percent)
9. Alabama (-3.5 percent)
10. Oregon (-2.6 percent)

Inman News June 21, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mortgage effort has high dropout rate

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s flagship effort to help people in danger of losing their homes is falling flat.

More than a third of the 1.24 million borrowers who have enrolled in the $75 billion mortgage modification program have dropped out. That exceeds the number of people who have managed to have their loan payments reduced to help them keep their homes.

Last month alone, 155,000 borrowers left the program — bringing the total to 436,000 who have dropped out since it began in March 2009.

About 340,000 homeowners have received permanent loan modifications and are making payments on time.

Administration officials say the housing market is better than when President Obama entered office. They say those who were rejected from the program will get help in other ways.

But analysts expect the majority will still wind up in foreclosure and that could slow the broader economic recovery.

A major reason so many have fallen out of the program is the Obama administration initially pressured banks to sign up borrowers without insisting first on proof of their income. When banks later moved to collect the information, many troubled homeowners were disqualified or dropped out.

Many borrowers complained that the banks lost their documents. The industry said borrowers weren’t sending back the necessary paperwork.

Associated Press June 22, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

LOCAL NEWS: Mass. housing market posts strong May

Massachusetts home and condominium sales rose sharply in May, lifted by a federal tax credit for home buyers that is being phased out, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported this morning.

According to the association, the Massachusetts housing market had its largest May increase since the association began tracking monthly data. The big question, of course, is what will happen to the market when the tax credit is no longer providing an incentive to potential home buyers.

In any case, there were 3,911 detached single-family homes sold in the Bay State this May, a 31.5 percent increase from the 2,975 homes sold the same time last year, the association said in a press release.

The median selling price for single-family homes in May was $299,000, a 4 percent increase when compared with $287,500 in May 2009; it was the seventh straight month of year-over-year gains, the association said.

The May condominium market in Massachusetts was up 32.4 percent to 1,635 units sold. In May 2009, there were 1,235 units sold. Condominium median selling prices in May were down 1.1 percent from $265,000 in 2009 to $262,000 in May 2010, the first drop after five straight months of year-over-year gains, the association said.

"May is the first month with closings that came from contracts signed in April, the final month to qualify for the home buyer tax credit,” association president Kevin Sears said in a statement. “However, some buyers who previously met all the qualifications for the tax credit might not be able to close by the June 30th closing deadline for various reasons. We urge Congress to immediately extend the tax credit deadline for those buyers already in the pipeline. It would be terrible for those buyers if they were not able to complete the purchase in time to claim the credit.”

The Warren Group, a Boston firm that tracks real estate activity, issued a separate report on the local housing market. The report included a statement from the firm's chief executive, Timothy M. Warren Jr.

“The increase in May sales volume isn’t a huge surprise," Timothy Warren said. "The residential real estate market is still feeling the effects of the homebuyer tax credit because buyers who want to take advantage of the expired tax credit have until the end of June to close their deals.”

Boston Globe June 22, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Boston Globe Tailors Print Edition For Three Remaining Subscribers

Sad but true. The Onion tells of the demise of the Boston Globe.
Boston Globe Tailors Print Edition For Three Remaining Subscribers

LOCAL NEWS: Developers seek upper hand in race for casino project

Details of resort-style complex for Milford revealed; at least six others pitched around state

As state lawmakers weigh legalization of casinos, a developer yesterday outlined plans for a massive gambling hall in Milford, a $600 million resort-style complex with up to 3,000 slot machines, five restaurants, and a 300-room hotel.

Crossroads Casino
plans in Milford

The Crossroads Casino is one of seven that have been pitched in advance of the state Legislature’s action on gambling, but it is one of the more detailed proposals so far. The 275,000-square-foot main hall would also feature 100 table games and 24-hour food service.

Named for its location near the intersection of interstates 495 and 90, the complex would have a facade fashioned out of New England granite.

“We want to give a more traditional look and feel, as opposed to glitzy Las Vegas,’’ said developer David Nunes, chief executive of Ajax Gaming Ventures. “It will still have all the bells and whistles of Las Vegas, though.’’

His pitch comes as casino builders try to attract attention — and investment funds — to their proposed facilities as the state Legislature nears final votes on expanding gambling in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts House earlier this year approved legislation to legalize two casinos and authorize the state’s four racetracks to host slot machines. Senate lawmakers are expected to vote on a three-casino plan within weeks. The versions would have to be reconciled and get a final sign off from Governor Deval Patrick, a casino supporter.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


zitofilm — April 11, 2010 — New York invasion by 8-bits creatures !
PIXELS is Patrick Jean' latest short film, shot on location in New York.

LOCAL HOUSING NEWS: Triple-decker territory

As prices rise, some worry a new crop of speculators is looking for a profit without investing in the neighborhood. Three-family homes have offered generations of Massachusetts families the opportunity to own property in a housing market that might otherwise be out of reach.

Robertson, who is renovating homes on Navillus Terrace (above), says he is a responsible investor. “We don’t just clean up in front of our own yard,’’ he said. (Erik Jacobs for The Boston Globe)

Traditionally, middle-income families who bought triple-deckers — the mainstay of many urban neighborhoods — lived in one apartment while renting out the others to offset mortgage payments.

But triple-deckers also have been a hotbed for speculators, making their values especially volatile. In recent years, their prices climbed faster and then fell more steeply than prices for other types of property in the state, according to a study to be released today by the public nonprofit Massachusetts Housing Partnership.

Now, prices and sales of triple-deckers are once again heading up. Some public officials and housing advocates worry that’s because a new crop of investors is buying multifamily homes in hopes of turning quick profits. That could spark another pattern of boom-and-bust in vulnerable neighborhoods.

“The cycle of neglect is continuing,’’ said Tamar Kotelchuck, director of policy and neighborhood planning for Lawrence CommunityWorks, a nonprofit community development corporation who worries some investors are purchasing neglected properties without plans for improvements. “They are being occupied with little and no work.’’

At the height of the housing market in 2005, investors were purchasing three-deckers at a rapid pace. The median price of three-family homes skyrocketed to $540,000 in 2005, a 300 percent increase from the 1997 median price of $135,000, according to the study.

In contrast, the price of other residential properties swelled 175 percent to $390,000 from $142,000 during the same period, the housing group found.

When prices began to fall in 2005, some homeowners abandoned their homes, leaving behind hefty mortgages and boarded up buildings in some of the state’s most depressed neighborhoods. While three- and four-family homes make up about 10 percent of the state’s total housing stock, units in three-family buildings accounted for 17 percent of distressed properties in April this year, the study said.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: Housing Market Slows as Buyers Get Picky

Before the recession, people simply looked for a house to buy. Later they got squeamish just thinking about buying. Now they are on a quest for perfection at the perfect price.

A house being built in St. George, Utah. Home construction fell more than 17 percent in May compared with April.

Exacting buyers are upending the battered real estate market, agents and other experts say, leading to last-minute demands for multiple concessions, bruised feelings on all sides and many more collapsed deals than usual.

It is a reversal of roles from the boom, when competing buyers were sometimes reduced to writing heartfelt letters saying how much they loved the house and how they promised to eternally worship the memory of the previous owners. These days, it is the buyers who are coldly seeking the absolute best deal while the sellers are left in emotional turmoil.

“We see buyers who must have learned their moves from the World Wrestling Federation,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of the online broker Redfin. “They think the final smack-down occurs at the inspection, where the seller will be reluctant to refuse any demand because the alternative is putting the house back on the market as damaged goods.”

Everyone expected the housing market to suffer at least a temporary hangover after the government’s $8,000 tax credit expired, but not necessarily this much. Preliminary data from around the country indicates that the housing market began swooning last month immediately after the credit was no longer available. In some places, sales dropped more than 20 percent from May 2009, when the worst of the financial crisis had subsided.

Builders have been affected too. Construction of new homes in May dropped 17.2 percent from April, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, significantly lower than forecast. Permits for future construction dropped 10 percent, suggesting a cruel summer.

Even the lowest home mortgage rates in decades are not doing much to invite deals. The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday that applications for loans to buy houses were down by a third compared with last year. Applications are back to the level of the mid-1990s, when the country’s housing market was smaller.

Against such a backdrop of misery, buyers are empowered — and are taking full advantage.

John Porter Simons, a Seattle software engineer, thought he had a couple willing to pay $340,000 for his house. But they asked for $24,000 worth of work, most of which involved waterproofing the basement. “It was totally irrational,” said Mr. Simons. “My basement has never flooded. I live on a hill.”

He made a counteroffer to their offer, and the buyers walked. The house is now under contract to a new set of buyers, who got a cut in price and $2,500 in electrical work thrown in.

Buyers, of course, say they are merely being smart.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

HOME MAINTENANCE: Summer Home Maintenance

Summer is a season full of many activities. Pool-side barbecues, family vacations, and children's backyard campouts are just a few. But there's another activity that sometimes gets overlooked, and that is summer home maintenance.

This season presents some prime opportunities to make sure your home is in good working order. Let's examine a few areas you should add to your activity list.

1. Decks: Even the most well-constructed deck will need to be looked over for loose nails and screws, as well as warping or rotting wood. Replace any pieces that pose a safety risk. For easy cleaning, consider using a power washer. This will get rid of the dirt and grime that naturally collects throughout the year on decks.

2. Roof. Roofs require semi-annual inspections. Wind storms, hail, and regular old wear and tear mean you need to visually inspect your roof each year. Clean debris from your roof and look for missing and loose singles. Trim back branches that overhang onto the roof. And be sure your gutter is still free of debris.

3. Water Heaters. Your tank should be drained once a year. This will help with sediment build-up that is inevitable with water heater use. By draining the water heater you can add years to its lifespan.

4. Change air filters. Filters do their job well, and as such, they need changed often. Filters are part of what keeps your home protected from pollutants and allergens. And since they are inexpensive and easy to change, there is not reason not to add this task to your summer activity list.

5. Recreation. Pools are a popular destination during the summer months. Take this time to be sure that tiles and grout are in good repair, or that linings are free from holes in the case of above ground pools. Check your pool's chemistry often. That means twice a week during the summer. And don't forget to clean the pool skimmers often to make sure you get the best circulation, a must for any healthy pool.

Have fun this summer, and remember to give your home a little TLC.

Published: Carla L. Davis for Realty Times June 14, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: New Trulia Real Estate Index: Rent vs. Buy

Today Trulia announced America’s Top 10 Cities to Buy vs. Rent and the Top 10 Cities to Rent vs Buy. Trulia calculated the price-to-rent ratio using the average list price compared with average rent on 2 bedroom apartments, condos and townhomes listed on To create the list, Trulia analyzed the largest 50 cities in America, by population.

Top 10 Cities to Buy vs. Rent

City Price-to-Rent Ratio
1. Minneapolis, Minnesota 8
2. Arlington, Texas 8
3. Miami, Florida 8
4. Fresno, California 8
5. San Antonio, Texas 8
6. Mesa, Arizona 9
7. Jacksonville, Florida 9
8. Phoenix, Arizona 10
9. El Paso, Texas 10
10. Las Vegas, Nevada 11

“At the peak of the real estate bubble, cities like Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas were not affordable for many. Now the opposite is true,” said Pete Flint, co-founder and CEO of Trulia. “Home sellers in these hard hit areas are forced to lower their prices to compete with all the foreclosures on the market. As a result , these unattainable markets are so affordable it makes better financial sense to buy than rent.”

Top 10 Cities to Rent vs. Buy

City Price-to-Rent Ratio
1. New York, New York 33
2. Omaha, Nebraska 26
3. Seattle, Washington 25
4. Portland, Oregon 22
5. San Francisco, California 22
6. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 21
7. Kansas City, Missouri 20
8. San Diego, California 20
9. Cleveland, Ohio 20
10. Dallas, Texas 19

“It is not a surprise to see cities like New York and San Francisco on the ‘Rent’ cities but I was surprised to see areas like Omaha, Oklahoma City and Kansas City on our rental list, “said Flint “We’re not suggesting that it’s unwise to buy in these areas, though - just that it’s significantly more expensive than renting. In many of these cities, even though home buying is much more costly than renting, prices are still much lower than they have been in a long, long time.”

To see the Top 50 City Rent v Buy Index, please click here to download.’s Rent vs. Buy Index - Interpretation Key

Price-to-Rent Ratio of 1-15: It is much less expensive to own than to rent a home in this city Price-to-Rent Ratio of 16-20: It is more expensive to own a home in this city are The total costs of ownership of a home in this city are greater than the costs of renting, but it might still make financial sense depending on the situation. Price-to-Rent Ratio of 21+: The total costs of owning a home in this city are much greater than the costs of renting.

Definitions: Total costs of home ownership include mortgage principal and interest, property taxes, hazard insurance, closing costs at time of purchase and ongoing HOA dues and private mortgage insurance, where applicable. Total costs of homeownership include an offset for the tax advantages of homeownership, including mortgage interest, property tax and closing cost deductions.

Total costs of renting include rent and renter’s insurance. June 3, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: Tech-Savvy & Under 29: The Next Wave of Home Buyers

This is the last in a series of 3 installments on generational home-buying preferences. Author, John Tarducci, discusses baby boomer, generation X and generation Y purchasing trends. Below is his piece on generation Y, the wave of the future in real estate trends.
Generation Y
When it comes to generational demographic shifts, the nation’s 75 million baby boomers have dominated the media spotlight for years. Baby boomers, move over, here come the Gen Y consumers. They’re young (ages 12 to 29), more than 80 million strong and they represent the next big wave of home buyers in America.

As a group, members of the Gen Y generation (born 1979 through 1996) embrace communications, media and digital technologies like email, texting and instant messaging – they’re the most connected generation in our history, and they give new meaning to the term “multi-tasker.” Their hobbies probably include social networking on Facebook or other social media outlets, they have a strong environmental consciousness and they place a high priority on work/life balance.

Many within the Gen Y group may be renting now, but they’ll be buying homes increasingly this year; a much larger buying wave will begin in 2012, according to a 2008 report by the Urban Land Institute. The #1 Gen Y choice of metro area? New York City.

Here are some interesting insights into Gen Y home buyer preferences and priorities.

Gen Y places a premium on walkable environments and convenience.

-77% of prospective Gen Y buyers plan to live in an urban core, although those living in the Northeast will still express a preference for inner suburb locations.
-One-third say they’ll pay more to walk to shops, work and entertainment.
--Two-thirds say that living in a pedestrian friendly, walkable community is important.
-More than half of Gen Y buyers would trade a bigger lot for proximity to shopping or work; even among families with children, one-third or more would a trade a larger lot for a walkable community.
-Nearly half of Gen Y buyers would choose a “less than ideal” home if they could walk to work.
-Even in the suburbs, most Gen Y buyers prefer features common to urban areas, especially walkable environments.
-70% don’t feel they must move to the suburbs once they have children.
-Only half say they’ll need a single-family home to raise a family.
-Gen Y has an environmental consciousness.

More than half say that a “green” home and/or community will significantly impact their home buying decision.

Gen Y wants lots of choices, and they will be selective.

The more personalization and customization, the better. Brand names will have less importance. Gen Y members expect a wide selection of housing types and styles to choose from, though smartly designed spaces will trump size and affordability will remain key.

Gen Y buyers will also make housing choices based on the community, and they’ll choose a community that reflects their lifestyle. . Asked to name the most desirable community features, Gen Y buyers listed the following as their top hometown amenities:

Restaurant or café
Main street village
Recycling center
Fitness center

This is an exciting time in the real estate marketplace. The evolving concerns, priorities and attitudes of America’s youngest generation promise to reinforce current trends and drive new ones emphasizing greater economy, smarter design and unprecedented innovation.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Into The Deep

LOCAL NEWS: Developer to push ahead with Belmont Uplands apartments

A Philadelphia developer is vowing to push ahead with a controversial plan to build a major apartment complex amid a nature reserve on the Belmont/Cambridge line, despite a volley of legal appeals by opponents.

O’Neill Properties Group is drafting construction plans for its nearly 300-unit rental development in the Belmont Uplands and will apply for a building permit later this summer, according to Steve Corridan, the project’s manager.

The decision to forge ahead with the long-delayed project, slated to take shape on a privately owned tract surrounded by the 120-acre Alewife Brook Reservation, comes even as O’Neill faces new court challenges from opponents.

A group of local homeowners and wildlife activists last week filed an appeal of a recent decision by state environmental regulators to give a green light to the Belmont Uplands project. The Belmont Conservation Commission, which had rejected O’Neill’s proposal only to be overruled by state officials, has also filed its own appeal in state court.

But Corridan contends the $70 million apartment development has been carefully designed to prevent damaging nearby wetlands and will help fill a need for affordable housing in Belmont. About 40 units will be set aside for those making no more than 50 percent of the median income, or about $45,000 a year for a family of four.

“We are going ahead,’’ Corridan said. “We think we are filling a void in the town. There is a significant lack of affordable housing.’’

The suit by the Friends of the Alewife Reservation and other local groups seeks to overturn last’s month’s DEP decision, which came after years of debate and regulatory appeals.

The decision ignored testimony at a state hearing held last year and did not fully take into account the damage the project would cause to wetlands around the proposed development site, according to the lawsuit filed in Middlesex County Superior Court.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LOCAL NEWS: Greenway’s managers hope food will make the park more appetizing

Food vendors will open for business Monday on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, offering everything from Argentine sandwiches to fruit smoothies as part of an effort to draw larger summer crowds to the downtown Boston park system.

The vendors will help fill an obvious void on the Greenway, which provides plenty of open space but little in the way of food or drink to give people a reason to linger there. By the end of the month, six new food stands will be operating, most of them between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

“The goal is to create a great public amenity and have food that is interesting to a broad range of people,’’ said Nancy Brennan, executive director of the conservancy that manages the park system. “It will be healthy, affordable food that meets people’s needs.’’

The vendors, to be located at strategic points between South Station and the North End, were selected as part of a one-year pilot program to begin introducing food service to the 1.3-mile string of parks. Each vendor will pay monthly rent, producing about $50,000 to help finance park operations.

The vendors, selected from 21 bidders, include:

■ Clover Food Lab Truck, in Dewey Square park near South Station. The truck, powered partly by recycled cooking oil, will sell mostly vegetarian food, including sandwiches, salads, and french fries. The truck opened this week.

■ Silk Road BBQ, in the Rowes Wharf Plaza. The unique circular kiosk will offer charcoal-grilled meat skewers, taking its inspiration from the world’s original grilled takeout, served along the passage between Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The kiosk will also serve free hot tea, observing the Central Asian tradition of always offering tea to visitors, as well as encouraging them to stop and chat.

■ Beantown Franks ’n Spuds, near the Rings Fountain at Atlantic Avenue and Milk Street. The solar-powered pushcart will sell hot dogs, roasted rosemary potatoes, and corn on the cob.

■ Andale Express, also near the Rings Fountain. The cart, adapted from the downtown Boston restaurant, will sell Latin favorites, including burritos, tacos, and Argentine sandwiches called choripan.

■ Going Bananas, near the carousel across from Faneuil Hall. An offshoot of the North End store will sell fruit smoothies, Italian ice, fresh fruit, and bottled drinks.

■ Boston Pushcart, in the North End Park, at Cross and Hanover streets. North End restaurateur Joe Bono, owner of Al Dente and Benevento’s, will sell hot dogs, Italian sausages, and lemonade, among other offerings.

Casey Ross for Boston Globe June 11, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: 30-year mortgages near record low

WASHINGTON — Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fell this week to the lowest level of the year and were barely shy of the record low.

The mortgage finance company Freddie Mac said the average rate sank to 4.72 percent, down from 4.79 percent last week. It was just above the record of 4.71, set in December.

The average rate on a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage hit 4.17 percent, down from 4.2 percent last week and the lowest on records dating back to 1991.

Though mortgage rates are at attractive levels, the housing market has not benefited. The number of customers applying for a mortgage fell to the lowest level in 13 years last week and was down 35 percent from a month ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

That’s a sign the market is struggling without the tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers, which expired at the end of April.

Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day.

Rates on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.92 percent, down from 3.94 percent a week earlier.

Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 3.91 percent, from 3.95 percent. That was the lowest average since May 2004.

Associated Press June 11, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: The Geography Of Time

This enlightening and funny animation/lecture on time perspectives is the prefect coda to a slow Sunday:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NEWS: Pending home sales drop as tax credit ends

The number of pending Massachusetts home sales slipped in May, compared with the same month last year, as buyers lost a sense of urgency following the expiration of a federal tax credit intended to spur sales.

Pending single family home sales fell 3 percent and condominium sales dropped 6 percent last month, compared with May 2009, according to data released by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. Pending sales are measured by signed purchase and sales agreements and are considered an indicator of where the housing market might be headed.

May was the first month since last July in which the number of pending sales — both condos and single-family homes — decreased compared with the year before, the association said. April 30 was the last day for buyers to enter into a binding contract to qualify for the federal tax credit. It provided $8,000 for first-time home buyers and $6,500 for new purchases by eligible longtime homeowners.

“The decrease in pending sales in May is a direct result of buyers making a final push to get homes under agreement’’ by the credit deadline, said Kevin Sears, a Springfield real estate broker and the association’s president.

Lisa Johnson Sevajian, a North Andover real estate agent, said the lower-end market has slowed, but homes priced at between $400,000 and $600,000 are moving more quickly. “Buyers are definitely not feeling the pressure they were four weeks ago,’’ she said.

Laura Schindler, an agent in Wellesley, said waning urgency to buy, coupled with a lack of inventory, is depressing sales in the $700,000 to $1.2 million range. “I have people who are waiting for nice houses to come on’’ the market, Schindler said. “If they don’t see something they like, they wait.’’

Some agents are trying to motivate buyers with added incentives now that the tax credit is no longer a possibility, said Alex Kupelian, owner of BrokerKing Realty in Watertown. “I offer 20 percent of my commission to my home buyer clients toward their closing costs,’’ he said. “I am not the only one offering incentives.’’

Jenifer B. McKim Boston Globe June 3, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

LOCAL NEWS: Mass. home building pegged at $2b

Home building remains a key contributor to the Massachusetts economy that could provide a boost to the state’s nascent recovery, according to a study to be released today by the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts.

It estimated that even in depressed 2009, home building generated nearly $2 billion in income for Massachusetts contractors and workers; more than 20,000 jobs, directly and indirectly; and more than $300 million in taxes and fees for governments.

The study estimated homes built last year would continue to generate nearly $300 million a year in income, through earnings of the homeowners and spending on housing-related goods and services.

“The ripple effects are large,’’ said Elliot Eisenberg, senior economist at the National Association of Home Builders, which prepared the study.

The study is being released as the Legislature considers extending building permits for projects put on hold during the recession. Permits typically expire after two years. A measure supported by the Patrick administration would keep them valid for an additional three years. But Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said such blanket extensions would undermine local control of building.

Robert Gavin Boston Globe June 8, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Phony foreclosure aid is targeted

Homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments beware: Some people promising help just want to grab your scarce dollars.

That is the key message of a campaign launched in Massachusetts yesterday to alert homeowners to the proliferation of loan modification schemes nationwide. The campaign, backed by local, state, and federal agencies, urges owners not to pay any money in advance of a securing a refinancing deal and advises them to use a federally approved loan counselor for refinancing and to report suspected fraud to federal or state authorities.

“Loan modification scams are reaching epidemic proportions across the nation,’’ said Thomas J. Curry, a board member of NeighborWorks America, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit spearheading the nationwide program. “Countless fraudulent companies are making a great deal of money by preying on the fears of worried homeowners.’’

The effort comes as foreclosure activity mounts in Massachusetts. During the first four months of the year, 4,821 homeowners lost their properties to lenders, a 36.6 percent increase from the same time a year ago, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. Another 9,008 homeowners went into foreclosure during that time.

Grace Ross, a founder of the nonprofit Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, praised the new campaign as a much-needed effort to keep financial predators from taking advantage of desperate homeowners. Only a small percentage of people seeking relief from lenders are getting it, she said, and many are not aware of their legal rights.

“The crisis continues,’’ Ross said of foreclosures in the state.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Training for the World Cup

Optus Secret Training Camp from Paranoid US on Vimeo.

REMODELING: When It’s Time for an Electrical Wiring Upgrade

The lights come on when you flip the switch, the TV works, and the refrigerator keeps food cold. That means the electrical wiring must be fine, right? Not necessarily. There may be times, especially if your house is more than 40 years old, when you need to upgrade electrical wiring for safety, or because the existing wiring no longer meets your family’s power needs. Rewiring can be a messy and expensive proposition, but with a little upfront planning you can minimize the disruptions and even turn the job into an opportunity to add features that will increase the value of your home.

Safety issues with older wiring
Faulty wiring is the leading cause of residential fires, according to a 2009 study by the National Fire Prevention Association. And the older your house is, the greater the chances that the wiring might be outdated or unsafe.

Old wiring—even knob and tube wiring that dates back to the early 20th century—isn’t inherently dangerous, but unless you were around when the house was built, you can’t be sure the electrical system is up to code. Plus, materials such as wire insulation can deteriorate over time.

If you don’t know when your wiring was last inspected, it’s worth paying a licensed electrician to give it a once-over, especially if you have any of these warning signs:

Breakers that trip or fuses that blow repeatedly
A tingling sensation when you touch an appliance
Flickering or dimming lights
A persistent burning smell from a room or appliance
Warm, discolored, or sparking outlets
Two-prong ungrounded outlets throughout the house
No ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets in kitchens, baths, and other areas exposed to moisture.
Another reason to consider upgrading is that some carriers refuse to insure houses with older wiring, or charge owners higher premiums.

Be on the lookout for aluminum wiring
Instead of the standard copper wire, many houses built in the 1960s and early 1970s have aluminum wiring, which is considered a safety hazard. “Aluminum wiring connections often loosen up over time,” says Greg Fletcher, a master electrician, educator, and author of several books on wiring. “That can cause overheating and possibly fires at receptacles when appliances are plugged in to them.” An inspection can determine whether it’s safe to leave the wiring in place. Sometimes the addition of copper connectors, called pigtails, at receptacles and circuit breakers can resolve potential problems.

When you need more power
Sixty amps used to be the standard for household power. Today, houses often need 200 amps to run air conditioners, flat-screen TVs, computer equipment, and all the other gadgets our parents and grandparents hardly imagined.

Not having enough power isn’t just an inconvenience; it can actually damage sensitive electronics. “It’s very hard on these devices if the voltage drops off,” says San Francisco-based builder Bob Hauser. Even with adequate power, you may need to add outlets to avoid relying on power strips and extension cords, an inconvenience and a potential safety hazard.

Prepare to open your walls—and your wallet
Upgrading electrical wiring is a big job, for one simple reason: All the wires are behind the walls. Every house is different and prices vary by market, but for a whole-house rewiring job, you’re easily looking at a bill of several thousand dollars. The vast majority of that is the labor involved to get to the wires, run new ones, connect them to every switch and outlet, close up the holes, and clean up the mess.

The easiest time to tackle this work is during a larger remodeling project, such as redoing a kitchen or building an addition, when contractors are knocking holes in the walls anyway. That speeds the process, which can take anywhere from five days to two weeks for an entire house, according to Lansdale, Pa., electrical contractor Wes Carver.

Depending on the circumstances, though, you might not need a top-to-bottom rewiring. Examples are when you need to add circuits to run a new appliance or power an addition like a swimming pool. In those situations, the expense and disruption could be reduced.

Plan ahead for future power needs
If you’re going to spend the money and cut holes in the walls, you might as well run all the wires you can. That way, you’ll be ready for any possible future power needs. “There are things to be bought and plugged into a receptacle 10 or 20 years from now that are not even invented yet,” says Fletcher.

One smart investment is structured wiring. These are heavy-duty data cables that enable the latest features of TVs, stereo equipment, computers, game consoles, phones, security systems—even Internet-based remote control of house systems like heating and lighting. While a standard electrical upgrade essentially maintains the value of your home, adding structured wiring can increase it. According to a 2009 study by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Home Builders Research Center, almost 50% of homes built in 2008 included structured wiring, a sure sign of its growing value to home owners.

Here’s a checklist of questions to help you determine whether you’re due for a wiring upgrade.

House Logic August 2009

Friday, June 11, 2010

HOME MAINTENANCE: Inexpensive Landscaping Projects Spruce Up and Protect Your Home

When you’re landscaping to improve curb appeal this spring, consider projects that also boost your home’s protection from natural disasters.

“With minimal monetary investment and a little work, you can easily ready your home to better endure natural disasters,” says Mike Convery, vice president and chief claim officer for MetLife Auto & Home. “Even better, many of these projects could save you money in the long run by reducing energy costs and avoiding damages—whether you pay out of pocket or file an insurance claim.”

He recommends these do-it-yourself projects that can all be done with the help of everyday landscaping tools, and depending on the size of your property and desired landscaping changes, a few basic purchases that cost less than $30:

Do preventative tree trimming. Examine all trees for disease or damage, which may make them weaker and more susceptible to causing damage during a storm. Remove all compromised trees or limbs, especially ones that hang over your home, external structures, or parking areas, to reduce the probability of damage.
Find out which native trees have good root penetration, as they are less likely to uproot during a storm. Take an inventory of all your trees and remove any unfit ones close to your home.
Clean your gutters and check for proper water flow through your downspouts to avoid water pooling near your basement. For as little as $8, you can add extensions that will route water further away from your home if necessary.
Check the soil grading against your basement walls to ensure rain water will travel away from your home rather than toward it. By just adding a little extra soil around your basement walls, you can direct rain away from your home.
Depending on your wildfire risk, create a defensible zone with a 30-, 50-, or 100-foot radius around your home clear of all trees and shrubs to prevent the likelihood of fiery embers reaching your roof.
Clean away dried and dead vegetation from your yard. Dried vegetation could serve as kindling to fuel a growing fire and set your house ablaze. You should also trim low tree branches to reduce potential fuel for ground fires. May 19, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: Pending Home Sales Rise for Third Month in a Row

WASHINGTON (June 2, 2010)–Pending home sales have risen for three consecutive months, reflecting the broad impact of the homebuyer tax credit and favorable housing affordability conditions, according to the National Association of Realtors.

NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index rose 6.0% in April and is 22.4% higher than April 2009. That follows gains of 7.1% in March and 8.3% in February.

The PHSI measures real estate deals for which a contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.

Pending home sales are at the highest level since last October, when first-time buyers were rushing to beat the initial deadline for the tax credit.

This second round of surging sales from the tax-credit extension looks as strong as the original tax credit, said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

“There were concerns that only a small pool of buyers were left to take advantage of the tax-credit extension. But evidently the tax stimulus, combined with improved consumer confidence and low mortgage interest rates, are contributing to surging sales,” he said. “The housing market has to get back on its own feet and now appears to be in a good position to return to sustainable levels even without government stimulus, provided the economy continues to add jobs.”

NAR expects a net of 1 million additional jobs in the second half of this year and about 2 million in 2011.

“The homebuyer tax credit brought close to 1 million additional buyers into the market, which is now helping the trade-up market and has significantly improved the inventory situation. This stabilized home prices more quickly and has preserved about $900 billion in home equity; in turn, that is keeping additional households from going underwater and risking foreclosure,” Yun said.

Regional home sales
The PHSI in the Northeast jumped 29.5% in April and is 24.5% above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index rose 4.1% and is 17.9% above April 2009.

Pending home sales in the South slipped 0.6% , but that is 31.3% higher than a year ago. In the West, the index rose 7.5% and is 12.0% higher than April 2009.

“A big concern surfacing recently is insufficient time to close the deal at the settlement table. Under normal circumstances, two months would be enough time from contract signing to settlement date,” Yun said. “However, the recent housing cycle has brought long delays related to the short sales approval process by banks, and from ongoing appraisal issues. There could be a sizable number of homebuyers who responded to tax credit incentives, but may encounter problems meeting the settlement deadline by June 30.”

Because of these market challenges, NAR has asked Congress to provide flexibility on the deadline for closing.

National Association of Realtors June 2, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: Gen X Homebuyers are Trading Up, Not Trading Off

This post is the second in a series of three articles about generational home-buying preferences. Author, John Tarducci, discusses baby boomer, generation X and generation Y purchasing trends. Stay tuned for his last installment!

When it comes to Generation X, many of whom represent the current wave of new homebuyers, smart home builders and real estate professionals are thinking outside the box.
That’s because Gen X buyers – those born between 1965 and 1979 and who are now in their 30s and early 40s – comprise many of today’s “trade up” buyers. And they’re looking for homes that suit a lifestyle that’s very different than that of their baby boomer parents.

The Gen X population, estimated at 81 million strong, dwarfs the baby boomer generation, which numbers roughly 67 million Americans.

Numerous surveys, focus groups and studies reveal a number of Gen X characteristics that affect their home buying preferences. These include a growing environmental consciousness, a tendency to delay starting a family that’s due, in part, to challenging economic conditions, an increase in non-traditional households (where more people are living without a spouse or roommate) and an increase in single-parent households.

As a result, Gen X homebuyers…

Skip the formalities.

Gen X homebuyers aren’t impressed by designer kitchens, ostentatious entry foyers or amenities that shout “prestigious.” Gen X buyers want to live in a real home, not a show home, one that suits their lifestyle.

Want less square footage.

Because they’re putting parenthood on hold or are skipping it entirely, Gen X buyers are interested in a smaller “footprint,” but one where all living spaces are optimally designed for family usage, not individual use. So rather than a formal dining room or a spare bedroom that’s used a few times a year, they are more apt to fill that space with exercise equipment or a plasma TV.

Are smart, selective shoppers.

While delayed parenthood has led to a greater number of two-income households, Gen Xers are not delaying home ownership. Their idea of the perfect home may be smaller than mom and dad’s, but they still want the best amenities, comforts and convenience that money can buy.

Gravitate toward urban living.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: How Do Mature Homebuyers Want to Feather Their Nests?

This post is the first in a series of three articles about generational home-buying preferences. Author, John Tarducci, discusses baby boomer, generation X and generation Y purchasing trends. Stay tuned for his future installments!

Buyers ages 55+ have distinctly different ideas about the kind of housing they want to live in, according to a 2009 survey on buyer preferences.

The study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and MetLife Mature Market Institute reflects the shifting priorities of seniors when compared to the general population.

Housing Type and Location

Most respondents (53%) preferred a single-family detached home; 13% preferred a condominium. According to the survey, roughly equal percentages (32%, 31% and 28%, respectively) preferred living in a suburb outside a city, an outlying suburb or a rural community; 9% preferred city life.

Mature Home Buyers
Respondents liked living near shopping centers (57%), hospital/doctor’s offices (55%) and drug store (49%) while fewer desired proximity to a bike trail (12%) or golf course (8%).

Interestingly, a February 1, 2010 U.S. News & World Report story suggested that older baby boomers approaching retirement will increasingly choose condominiums in pedestrian-friendly “urbanized suburban town centers.”
 Square Footage

Housing size preferences remained fairly similar to the median existing home size of those surveyed (1,886 sf, although the median square footage desired (1,903 sf) rose with household income, up to 2,707 sf for those with incomes of $150,000 or more.

Floor Plan and Layout

Most respondents (79%) prefers single-story living during their golden years. Just 52% of the general population shares this preference.
Over half (51%) of those surveyed said they wanted three bedrooms; another 18% preferred four bedrooms.
Seniors aren’t willing to stint on convenience. A majority (43%) said they wanted two bathrooms, while 22% wanted 2.5 bathrooms; 14% said they wanted three or more bathrooms.
Master bedrooms should be on the first floor, said 69% of respondents (Just 16% of all buyers feel the same.)
46% said they wanted a two-car garage.
Special Features

Buyers were asked to rate the importance of 36 home features. Here are the most important features, based on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being “very important.”

Washer/dryer 4.5
Storage space 4.3
Windows that open easily 4.2
Private patio 3.9
Bigger bathrooms 3.8
When compared to the general population, those ages 55+ cared less about a kitchen work island (42% vs. 80%); separate shower enclosure (48% vs. 79%); private toilet compartment (13% vs. 60%); wood-burning fireplace (26% vs. 48%) or exercise room (27% vs. 38%).

However, seniors cared more than the general population about bathroom grab bars (54% vs. 26%); lower kitchen work surfaces (57% vs. 30%); and a stairless entry (46% vs. 31%).

Green Construction

Given a choice of green features, respondents favored:

Energy-efficient appliances 79%
Solar heating 63%
Water-filtering system 58%
Chemical-free building materials 42%
Security/Technology Features

High-speed Internet access (83%) is far more important to seniors than the next highest ranked security/technology feature, a home security system (55%).

As aging baby boomers continue to transition from careers and raising families to retirement, the homes they live in will change as well. New homebuyers today have a wealth of options they can choose from to tailor their homes to their new lifestyle.

By John Tarducci, CMP, CRB Senior Vice President on May 14, 2010 New Homes Division