Thursday, December 30, 2010

MARKET TRENDS: Sleepy Housing Market to Awaken in 2011

The housing market will remain in hibernation this winter and, without the benefit of a federal home buying tax credit, keep snoring right on through the spring, according to two recent studies.

However, by the third quarter of 2011, pent up demand could stir the market from its slumber and generate a modest, groggy recovery.

During its recent NARdigras 2010 Realtor Conference and Expo, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) forecast an "uneven recovery" next year.

"Existing-home sales have shown some improvement, but the foreclosure moratorium is likely to cause some disruption and contribute to an uneven sales performance in the months ahead," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

"Tight credit and appraisals coming in below a negotiated price continue to constrain the market. Nonetheless, there appears to be a pent-up demand that eventually will be unleashed as banks resolve their issues with foreclosures and the labor market improves," Yun said.

Likewise, the recent "Fiserv Case-Shiller Home Price Insight" reported that the home buyer tax credit delayed the housing market's slide to the bottom, and that will put off the recovery until late 2011.

Fiserv and Moody's expect that home prices will drop over the next four quarters in nearly all metro markets, before prices have a shot at stabilizing by the end of 2011.

"Some of the largest declines in prices will occur in markets that had strong spring and summer 2010 price increases," said David Stiff, chief economist at Fiserv. "This is because the home buyer tax credit delayed the correction in home prices that is necessary to return housing affordability to its pre-bubble levels," Stiff added.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Inception Parody

DECIDING TO SELL: Deciding whether or not to sell your house can be a trying time. Many questions pervade your mind. "Is now the best time to make a move?" "Will I make money from this sale?" Will a move disrupt my family's routine?" There are numerous factors that come into play when making this decision. Let's look at just a few to consider.

Deciding whether or not to sell your house can be a trying time. Many questions pervade your mind. "Is now the best time to make a move?" "Will I make money from this sale?" Will a move disrupt my family's routine?" There are numerous factors that come into play when making this decision. Let's look at just a few to consider.

First and foremost, can you afford to make a move? In many areas of the country, home values fell dramatically during the recession. Homeowners across the nation now find themselves owing more than their home is worth. If you find yourself in this predicament, it is probably not the best time for you to move. If you are able to afford your payments and have no fear of defaulting, then it will be best to stick it out for a while longer, waiting for your home to regain some of its lost value.

Along those same lines is the topic of job stability. Do you have money saved for downpayments and closing costs, as well as an 8 month emergency fund should you get laid off?

Next, consider the impact the move will have on your family. Do you have children? Moving during the middle of a semester can be difficult for children. Will you be able to move and stay in the same school district? If not, they will be coming into a new school in the middle of activities, after bonds and friendships have been established. Timing is everything when it comes to moving with children.

Additionally, research has shown that having strong social relationships can lengthen your lifespan. Consider this strongly before you move away from family and friends. Or consider it as motivation for moving closer if you live far away!

What if you need to move for your health. Warmer climates, less humidity, and even a change of settings can be a boost to some people's health. Some seniors find cold winters too hard on their older bodies. A move for health is always a good decision, since without our health we have nothing.

The bottom line is this. Moving means changing routines, hobbies, and even friends. Be sure to evaluate your decision carefully, weighing all of your options, before jumping into a life changing decision.

Carla Hill, Realty Times December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NEIGHBORHOODS: Neighbors question Hancock Village expansion figures

Increase in units raises concerns

More than 100 people packed a meeting room at the Public Library of Brookline’s Putterham Branch on Monday night to question two analyses of a revised proposal that would nearly double the number of apartments at Hancock Village.

The 1948 development has about 530 apartments in low-rise town houses off Independence Drive and VFW Parkway in the southern section of Brookline.

The latest plan by its owner, Chestnut Hill Realty, would add 466 apartments to the property: 84 in two-story buildings around the perimeter of the 80-acre site, 162 in two four-story buildings, and 220 in a five- to seven-story building restricted to older adults.

The town and the developer both issued reports in October analyzing the project’s fiscal impact, and both found that the apartments would add between 23 and 33 students to the school district, and that the proposal would be financially advantageous or at worse neutral for Brookline.

Neighbors taking part in Monday’s session disputed several of the assumptions underlying those estimates.

The current plan, like one proposed last year, involves a zoning change that would require two-thirds approval at Town Meeting, which some consider unlikely given the vocal neighborhood opposition.

But as the real estate company made clear in an even more unpopular version submitted to the town in late September, it has the right to build something on the property.

“The developer believes that he can develop on that site,’’ said Joe Geller, a former selectman representing Chestnut Hill Realty. “Something will be built there; we are here to make it better, but you may still not agree with it.’’

Town officials also say the developer will be able to build on the site.

“There’s no doubt the developer has some development rights, although it’s hard to say what because of the millions of variables,’’ said Jeff Levine, director of the town’s Planning Department.

At the meeting Monday, neighbors weren’t talking about making the plan better. The atmosphere was best summed up by David Aronson, when he suggested the discussion move faster.

“Please move to your fictional fiscal impact analysis, because we need time to attack that also,’’ he said, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Selectwoman Nancy Daly opened the meeting by announcing that the town was not promoting the development, and was concerned about its effect on the already overcrowded Baker School, which is nearly adjacent to Hancock Village. Last school year, Hancock Village sent 306 students to the Baker School, according to Geller.

But town officials note that even a tough special-permit process cannot take school enrollment into account.

“We cannot legally prohibit development because our schools are too crowded,’’ Daly said.

Selectman Ken Goldstein, a lawyer and former Planning Board chairman, told the meeting that the age restrictions on the seven-story building could be either 80 percent restricted to households with one member older than 55, or 100 percent with one member over 62.

But Alisa Jonas pointed out that many parents of children at the Baker School might qualify for the less-restrictive housing, and that 20 percent of age-restricted units would mean 44 two-bedroom units that younger families might eagerly fill.

Geller said that Chestnut Hill Realty was open to discussing either range of age restrictions.

But according to the analysis by the town’s lawyer, such a restriction could be legally void after 30 years (by deed restriction), or might be overturned if the landlord could show hardship (under special permit), unless the restriction is made into a zoning change, again requiring a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting as well as approval by the state.

Geller stated that higher rents for the new apartments would also dissuade families from living there.

Jonas scoffed at that notion. The town’s analysis uses comparison properties that are closer to other amenities, like shopping, entertainment, and public transit, and farther from good schools.

“These units will be most attractive to whom?’’ she said. “Not single adults. Families with kids.’’

Neighbors also disputed the developer’s estimates of traffic created by the new housing, and questioned whether closing off most of the approaches to Hancock Village was an improvement.

They also disliked drawings showing more parking in what is green space that serves as a buffer between neighbors and the town houses.

Daly said the town has engaged an expert in mediating land-use disputes for a yet-to-be-scheduled neighborhood meeting with the developer.

Andreae Downs Boston Globe December 19, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

NEW DEVELOPMENT: Cambridge officials vow to fight Belmont Uplands apartments

A proposal to build a sprawling apartment complex in Belmont amid a state nature reserve is raising hackles in neighboring Cambridge, which may wind up on the receiving end of the project’s sewage.

At a hearing Tuesday afternoon on the $70 million Belmont Uplands development project, Cambridge city councilors reiterated their pledge to hold up the developer’s proposal to have the apartment complex hook into the city’s sewer system.

Cambridge City Councilor Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis said they want to wait to make a decision at least until a court appeal against the 300-unit development is heard this spring. The full council, they noted, had already formally voted in favor of such a delay.

Before offering their pledges of support, the Cambridge councilors had heard comments from an array of local environmental activists and city residents incensed about the plans by Pennsylvania-based O’Neill Development to build hundreds of market-rate and subsidized apartments on a site bordered by the 120-acre Alewife Brook Reservation.

Steve Corridan, the project’s manager, contends the developer only explored hooking into the Cambridge system at the request of Belmont officials. If Cambridge refused to let the Belmont Uplands project connect directly into the city’s sewer lines, O’Neill will simply hook into the Belmont system without any appreciable delay or disruption to its plans.

Corridan contends anger over the project is fueled not by environmental concerns, but rather opposition to lower-cost rental housing in a town in which just over 3 percent of its housing is considered affordable.

“It’s clear to us that there are people out there who are violently opposed to affordable housing and they try and cloak themselves in other issues,’’ he said.

Opponents contend O’Neill’s proposed rental complex would exacerbate flooding in nearby Belmont and Cambridge neighborhoods, and destroy an unusual silver maple forest that serves as home to a wide variety of wildlife, from hawks to otters.

“We have a tradition of going against the rules,’’ said East Cambridge resident Charles Marquardt, citing the city’s sometimes against-the-grain stands on immigration and MCAS testing. “Cambridge should do what it thinks is right.’’

Still, even as they voiced support for project opponents, Cambridge councilors questioned how much power they had to block it.

Councilors peppered Owen O’Riordan, the city’s chief engineer, with questions on the extent of their authority.

While Cambridge could refuse to let O’Neill Development tap into the city’s sewer system, the builder could instead connect into Belmont’s system, albeit at a higher cost, O’Riordan acknowledged.

Nor does the City Council have complete authority over the sewer connection issue, with the city’s Conservation Commission having a major say in any wetlands project, councilors noted.

Undaunted, project opponents, from residents to representatives of environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, urged Cambridge to put up whatever obstacles it could in the path of the Belmont Uplands project.

“In New England, each town is like a state in and of itself,’’ said Rich Clarey, a Cambridge resident who lives less than a mile from the Belmont Uplands site. “One town will try and put its junk on another town’s line. This is a perfect example.’’

“There is no obligation to cooperate,’’ Clarey said.

And that message appeared to resonate with some councilors.

“We’ve got your back,’’ Simmons told project opponents.

With any decision on sewer connections likely months away, O’Neill Development is working to clear more immediate hurdles in Belmont.

The town is expected to issue a building permit next month allowing O’Neill Development to move forward with the Belmont Uplands proposal. Opponents, in turn, have vowed to seek a court injunction should the town’s building chief issue the permit.

The project already is embroiled in a combined court appeal, brought by the Belmont Conservation Commission and the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands, of a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection to give a green light to the development.

Meanwhile, Belmont state Representative William Brownsberger said at the hearing that he has launched another bid to pass legislation that would give Belmont, Cambridge, and Arlington the chance to buy the development site and add it to the state-controlled Alewife Brook Reservation.

Scott Voorhis, Boston Globe December 19, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

LEGAL NEWS: New law clarifies Mass. homestead protections

Protecting your home against creditors will be easier now that Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a bill that automatically provides Massachusetts homeowners with a $125,000 cushion against debt collectors, if they hold that much equity in their properties.

The legislation, signed Thursday, clarifies ambiguities in a law first enacted in 1851. The statute, amended a number of times in ensuing years, provided $500,000 in protection from creditors — but only for homeowners who file a so-called homestead declaration with a county registry of deeds, a process that can cost between $35 and $100. Under the new law, homeowners do not have to make such a filing unless they hold more than $125,000 in equity in their homes. They can still get $500,000 in protection if they file a homestead declaration.

“It is an important piece of consumer protection,’’ said Michael Goldberg, cochairman of the legislation committee for the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts. “It ensures that homeowners in the Commonwealth have the protection of a modernized, understandable homestead law.’’

The legislation culminates a years-long effort by attorney groups to improve the antiquated homestead law, enacted when women could not own property. It also addresses complaints that the law was unfair to homeowners who didn’t have the training or legal counsel to help with the declaration filing process.

Friday, December 24, 2010

NEIGHBORHOODS: Apartments in Fort Point OK’d by city

Complex to add 211 units in the Innovation District

Construction will begin next year on a 21-story, $150 million apartment complex in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood that is designed to fit Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s goal of creating a so-called Innovation District in the area.

The project, at 319 A St., takes its cues from the city’s efforts to lure young professionals and technology companies to the former industrial district, which is slowly being transformed by upscale restaurants, new retailers, and more modern homes.

Some units in the complex will feature shared living areas and other elements designed to encourage a communal lifestyle.

An executive with developer Archon Group, which is based in Irving, Texas, said the complex will help Fort Point attract the biotechnology firms and entrepreneurial start-up companies Menino hopes to bring together there.

The project, which received city approval Tuesday night, will replace a five-story warehouse with a complex of more than 200 apartments in two buildings along Melcher and A streets, near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The larger building, on A Street, will include 184 apartments and four levels of parking, with 19 units to be rented at below-market rates. The smaller building, at 63 Melcher St., will offer 27 apartments with shared lounges and other common spaces.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: With tax deal, window to lock in low mortgage rates may be closing

NEW YORK — Homeowners who delayed locking in super-low mortgage rates — think close to 4 percent for a 30-year fixed — may have waited too long.

Rates are creeping back up, in part because of the tax cut in Washington. Now those in the market to buy or refinance have to decide whether to take what’s available or wait — and run the risk that rates will keep rising.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said this week that overall applications for loans declined 2.3 percent from last week. Refinance applications slipped 0.7 percent, while purchase applications dropped 5 percent.

Rates on both 15- and 30-year mortgages increased to the highest levels in at least six months. The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan rose to 4.84 from 4.66 percent, the group’s survey showed.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 4.21 percent from 3.98 percent, on average.

“People thought for a while that rates would fall below 4 percent, and they hedged on that,’’ said a New York mortgage broker and banker, Andrew Toolin, who had just been on the phone with a client who is paying 5.875 percent on his mortgage.

Rates are rising because they tend to follow the trends set by the 10-year Treasury bond and other government bonds. Investors are selling those bonds, causing their interest rates to rise, because of the tax cut approved by the Senate.

The measure has been sent to the House for action.

Some economists think the deal, which would put money in Americans’ pockets right away, will help the economy heal faster. A stronger economy would make stocks more attractive than bonds, which are a safer investment in rocky economic times.

Even though they are rising, mortgage rates remain at extraordinarily low levels, by historical

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: What we do with our time

Really worth the time it takes to see this

MARKET TRENDS: Fewer homes "underwater"

The number of homes worth less than the debt owed on them dropped in the third quarter, largely because of mounting foreclosures rather than a rise in property values, according to CoreLogic Inc.

About 10.8 million homes, or 22.5 percent of those with mortgages, were “underwater’’ as of Sept. 30, the Santa Ana, Calif., real estate information company said yesterday. That was down from 11 million, or 23 percent, at the end of June, the third straight quarterly decline.

Falling property values and unemployment near 10 percent have spurred a surge in foreclosures. The number of homes offered in foreclosure auctions averaged 110,000 a month in the third quarter compared with about 98,000 in the same period a year earlier, said Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist.

“There are two ways to reduce negative equity,’’ Fleming said in a telephone interview. “Price appreciation or disposition, which means people getting taken out of their homes. At the moment, there’s more disposition.’’

A further decline in prices threatens to increase the number of homeowners with negative equity, Fleming said. US home values will probably drop $1.7 trillion this year after rising foreclosures and the expiration of buyer tax credits that boosted demand early in the year, Zillow Inc. said Dec. 9. More than $1 trillion of the drop came in the second half, according to Zillow, a Seattle-based real estate data company.

The asset value of real estate held by US households fell by $649 billion in the third quarter to $16.6 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Dec. 9. Home prices may drop as much as 11 percent more through the first quarter of 2012 before finding a bottom, according to a Morgan Stanley report last week.

“House prices are going to fall more next spring and that will bring more negative equity,’’ Fleming said.

Negative equity discourages homeowners from maintaining their property or their payments, “because their financial interest [the equity] has disappeared and has only a small prospect of returning soon,’’ CoreLogic said.

About 2.4 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their home from June through September, bringing the total amount of mortgaged homes underwater or near negative equity to 27.5 percent.

Banks seized a record of 288,345 homes in the third quarter, up 7 percent from the previous three months and 22 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, Calif., real estate data service, said in October.

In Nevada, 67 percent of homes with mortgages were underwater in the third quarter, more than any state, CoreLogic said. It also has the highest rate of foreclosure filings, with one in 79 households receiving a notice of default or foreclosure in October, according to RealtyTrac.

States with the lowest rate of underwater homes included Oklahoma at 6 percent, New York at 7 percent, Pennsylvania and North Dakota at 7.4 percent, and Montana at 7.7 percent.

By John Gittelsohn Bloomberg News / December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NEIGHBORHOOD GEMS: Jamaica Plain's "Salmagundi"

Jessen Fitzpatrick (left) and Andria Rapagnola, owners of Samagundi.
 From berets to fedoras to trilbies: One couple’s boutique keeps on top of latest styles, trends

Once he wakes up, the hat’s on.
FEDORA: A mainstay. Most often associated with Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, or Indiana Jones, this classic style is known for its brim and creased crown and is now acceptably unisex. “The last time it was inappropriate for women to wear a fedora, it was also inappropriate for them to wear pants,’’ explained Jessen Fitzpatrick. Felts, colors, trims, brim widths, and crown shapes and lengths shift by season.

BERET: No longer a cliche or worn only by beatniks or the French. Brimless, flat, and round, they come in a variety of felts, wools, knits, faux furs, and leather for both men and women. Some are festooned with buttons, flowers, and studs. Occasionally oversize.

CLOCHE: Imagine a 1920s “flapper’’ girl, and you’ve got it. A cloche is a bell-shape hat that snugly cups the head. Available in a prism of colors, and also printed, flowered, studded, pinstriped, buttoned, or demurely bowed.

FLAT CAP: You might remember your grandfather wearing one — or your taxi driver. The flat cap sports a rounded back and a stiff, protruding front brim. Most abundant in a diversity of tweeds and plaids.
A fedora, usually. Brim up for business, flicked down for casual.

Cocked to the right or left, angled off-kilter, covering one ear or another — all different attitudes, depending on the day, depending on how he’s feeling.

Hats, said Jessen Fitzpatrick of Jamaica Plain’s headwear boutique Salmagundi, are a signature — drawing out a personality, emphasizing a mood, revealing “a part of you that you didn’t notice before.’’

Fashionable head-toppers aren’t the everyday accoutrement they once were — maybe, as it’s been theorized, their decline was influenced by “Hatless Jack’’ John F. Kennedy. Maybe it was the proliferation of the automobile. Maybe the ease and functionality of the baseball cap in the latter decades of the 20th century simply eclipsed dressier options.

And yet, for youthful, stylish types, hats are again a wardrobe staple. It is no passing fad. Pop culture icons are now rarely photographed bareheaded: Tom Brady sports his newsboy cap, Justin Timberlake has his porkpie, Snoop Dog, his beanie. Britney, Rihanna, Katy Perry — they all have a cache.

And so it is for (many) of the rest of us. Fitzpatrick and his wife, Andria Rapagnola, make a living selling hats at Salmagundi, where measuring tapes are always unfurled for their menagerie of habitual, and sometimes slightly obsessive, hat-wearers.

In fact, the colorful, whimsical rectangle snug among the collection of shops on Centre Street underwent an expansion this fall that nearly doubled its inventory and boosted its offerings of custom and exclusive headgear.

“People are being more experimental with fashion,’’ said Fitzpatrick. Although fedoras, cloches, flat caps, and trilbies will never cover every cranium, he admitted, Salmagundi’s crowning wares are “definitely more accepted’’ these days.

And they’re mandatory among the clientele.

“I don’t think you can have enough hats,’’ said John Kramer, a composer and pianist from Jamaica Plain, who won’t go out without one. Considering it an essential wardrobe piece, he and his wife own roughly 30 combined, both dressy and casual. “They’re a fun accessory for life.’’

But this isn’t the stuff of Dr. Seuss or “Alice in Wonderland.’’ When Fitzpatrick and Rapagnola (just try and catch them with their heads uncovered) first tipped their brims into the business, they saw the industry vacillating between the ultra-classic Frank Sinatra and the flamboyant Flavor Flav. They wanted their wares to represent various eras, but also be “teetering the line of edginess,’’ Fitzpatrick explained from his perch on a stool in a narrow, stuffed storage room beneath Salmagundi. It is so crowded that, in some places, one must inhale deeply and contort to navigate the space. “We combine those two worlds.’’

Upstairs, just beyond the hustle of Centre Street, there are hats as far as the eye can see.

On walls or floor stands are traditional outback hats, crowns tucked one into the other. There are top hats with floral blooms, cascading fedoras flared with peacock feathers or striped bands, one of them in lollipop red.

Berets and five point ivys are stacked on tables and garden chairs like Sunday-morning pancakes. Cloches — the snug, bell-shaped caps favored by the flappers of the 1920s — flourish in a chromatic spectrum of ultraviolet purples, yellows, burgundies, leopard prints, or pinstripes, some embellished with zippers, ribbons, and flowers.

“They get it, they understand that there’s this whole other group of people that were not being serviced,’’ said milliner Dina Pisani — of the Brooklyn-based Cha Cha’s House of Ill Repute — who creates custom Salmagundi designs. “Younger clients don’t just want the standard old-man’s hat.’’

To meet that demand, Salmagundi maintains a cache of roughly 6,000 headpieces — several dozen of which are exclusive designs — representing both international brands and independent designers like Pisani, whose handmade hats include vintage baubles or other unique, one-of-a-kind flairs.

It’s a motley assortment — and pursuit — reflected in Salmagundi’s very name, derived from the French word “salmigondis,’’ meaning a disparate assembly of things, ideas, or people forming an incoherent whole.

Which is also an analogue for their customers.

Being one of only a half-dozen hat stores in New England, Salmagundi has become a destination, with devoted hat-wearers traveling from all over the region and New York, Rapagnola noted.

“It’s millionaires to blue collar, and they’ll hang out together,’’ said Fitzpatrick, who creates an ambiance with seasonal playlists that include jazz, Latin, soul, funk, and classics. “We cater to a diverse crowd, culturally and economically.’’

It all started in a vaudeville-like fashion. For about six months, Fitzpatrick and Rapagnola — both 34 and parents to 9-month-old Theo — worked as traveling vendors, setting up a boutique at music festivals and other events, eventually developing a sort of cultish following. (And yes, they get the “mad hatter’’ thing all the time. Fitzpatrick’s response? “I’m a happy hatter.’’)

They’d both long been budding fashionistas: Rapagnola, with a degree in fine arts, recalls high school days fighting bad prints and jeans rolled-up into multicolored socks; Fitzpatrick, in turn, battled business casual while in corporate finance.

“Everyone had the blue shirt and the khakis,’’ he said. “I’d find ways to work the dress code.’’ Now, the stylish couple, whose words weave into one another’s with expressions like “jazzy’’ and “rock it,’’ can’t imagine roaming through life with heads bare.

She prefers flat caps, he likes fedoras. They each pick four to six per season, and often get “stuck in one,’’ said Fitzpatrick. (For the moment, he’s committed to a gray wool fedora with a 2-inch brim, a signature his hairdresser gladly snips around.)

But obviously, not everyone can wear a hat, right?

Rapagnola gives a skeptical squint and breaks out the air quotes. “People say they’re not a ‘hat person.’ What does that mean? It’s like saying, ‘I’m not a shoe person.’ ’’

“There’s a hat for everybody,’’ Fitzpatrick agreed. “You just have to find the right one.’’

In hats, they see many metaphors. Getting your first can be a “gateway drug,’’ the beginning of a full-blown addiction. Fitzpatrick also compared the hat-search process to dating: You can’t just settle for the first one you try on.

“Sometimes the first one’s good, though,’’ Rapagnola reminded him.

Still, it’s not about merely putting a hat on. As Sinatra once put it: “Cock your hat, angles are attitudes.’’

“There’s no wrong way,’’ said Rapagnola, her felted brown fedora with its 1 1/2-inch brim tilted to the right, half covering her right ear and flattening her brunette ponytail.

“You have to own it,’’ said Fitzpatrick. “It has to work for you.’’

Taryn Plumb Boston Globe, December 2, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010


An old-fashioned looking triangle of busy streets, Roslindale Village hums with restaurants, shops, clothing boutiques, bakeries, specialty grocery stores, and a small green park. Located south of downtown, beyond Jamaica Plain, Roslindale is off the beaten track and not easy to find without a degree in Boston driving. There’s a rail station but no subway stop, leading some to say that Rozy, as it’s affectionately called, is one of Boston’s lesser-known neighborhoods. However, residents and business owners prefer to think of it as Boston’s best-kept secret.

On Thursday evenings this month (Dec. 9, 16, 23), Roslindale Village Main Street sponsors a ‘‘Shop Local’’ Holiday Stroll. Participating businesses will be open late, and offer special attractions such as refreshments, live music, and other fun events. For more information, and to download a map, go to
Where to shop
20 Birch St.

Birch Street House & Garden
760 South St.

Village Books
751 South St.

Colorwheel Collection
4266 Washington St.

Joanne Rossman
6 Birch St.

Boston Cheese Cellar
18 Birch St.

Bob’s Pita Bakery
748 South Street

Where to eat
Fornax Bread Co.
27 Corinth St.
Sandwiches and pizzas $6-$8.

Sophia’s Grotto
22 Rear Birch St.
Entrees $10.95-$23.95.

Birch Street Bistro
14 Birch St.
Entrees $15-$24.

754 South St.
Entrees $16.95-$26.95.

“Roslindale is a hidden gem,’’ said Jane Connelly, owner of Village Books on South Street. “People don’t usually come out this far, but there are plenty of wonderful people here.’’

On a recent morning, the sun streamed through the windows where Connelly and her sister, Lorie Spencer, set up shop nine years ago. It’s tiny, as bookstores go, but they manage to offer new books of all genres for adults and children in about 900 square feet of space.

“We’re small but we pack a big punch,’’ said Connelly.

Across the street, Bob Khouzami opened Bob’s Pita Bakery in 1991 in a space that was formerly Droubi Brothers Bakery. The sign above the market lists both names, and walking inside feels like stepping back in time to 1970 when it first opened. It’s less a bakery than a Mediterranean-food specialty store with offerings such as pomegranate molasses, gulabi tea, tahini, brick-sized bags of sesame seeds, kefir, halloumi and Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta, fillo, honey, 16-inch rounds of pita bread, and wood crates piled high with affordably-priced fresh fruits and vegetables.

Nearby, Birch Street House and Garden is approaching its 10th anniversary. Elizabeth Swanson worked for years at this eclectic gift shop before taking over the business in 2008. A Roslindale resident, she admits to having “a great commute’’ and being a fan of the town.

“I love Roslindale,’’ said Swanson. “Everyone here is committed to shopping locally and eating locally.’’

Her shop is spacious, bright, and airy with oriental carpets scattered across the painted cement floor. It takes a while to fully peruse the walls, glass shelves, and wood tabletops stocked with candles, incense, pottery, kitchen towels, woven scarves, baskets, cards, toys, accent furniture, locally-made jewelry and paintings, and fair-trade objects from Africa, India, and Guatemala.

“The products are always changing,’’ said Swanson. “We try and make gift shopping very easy here.’’

In fact, it’s easy to shop everywhere in Roslindale, at price points both high and low. The Home for Little Wanderers Thrift Shop and Family Dollar store share the same swath of real estate with sophisticated boutiques, and Chinese restaurants, pizza parlors, and taco joints rub elbows with establishments touting locally sourced food. The eclectic mix of the district — chic and homey — adds to its appeal as a destination.

One of the newer shops in the neighborhood is the light-filled boutique Regeneration. Owner Kelly Witmer and her “brown mutt,’’ Shaft, moved east from Los Angeles, and opened in October. Regeneration “sells a little bit of everything,’’ including new and used clothes, plus

Sunday, December 19, 2010

HOME SAFETY: Are Your Holiday Decorations a Safety Hazard?

Many Americans engage in alarming habits when it comes to holiday safety and decor, according to a new survey from CSA International. Putting their homes at risk of fire, 22% of Americans leave their holiday lights up for at least two months and 23% rarely or never check to see if holiday decorations have been tested and certified for safety.

A 2009 report by the National Fire Protection Association that found 23% of Christmas tree fires and 170 home fires per year involved decorative lights.

To keep your home safe this holiday, follow these tips from CSA:

Out with the old
Carefully inspect holiday light strings for inside and outside use each year and discard any with frayed cords, cracked lamp holders, or loose connections.

Size ‘em up
Unplug light strings before replacing bulbs and check to ensure replacement bulbs match the voltage and wattage of the original. Make certain that bulb reflectors are the correct size for the light string.

Spot the mark
When purchasing light strings, extension cords, and electrical decorations, look for a certification mark, such as one from CSA or Underwriters Laboratories. Your outdoor light strings, cords, spotlights, and floodlights should be certified for outdoor use.

Smart holiday light shopping
Scrutinize the packaging of holiday lights. Counterfeit packaging often has an inferior design or partial illustrations. Look for misspellings and unclear print on products and labels. Check for a discrepancy between the contents of the product package and its description. When products don’t include brand identifiers or trademarks, they may be fakes. Look for missing return addresses or company contact information. Check the heaviness and the “look and feel” of products. Fakes are often light and flimsy.

Reducing fire and tree risks
Watch the flicker of candles and keep open flames or candles away from wreaths, trees, and paper decorations.

If you buy a real tree, make sure it’s fresh. Fresh trees will be less likely to dry out and become a fire hazard. Artificial trees with holiday lights should have a certification mark on them and should be made of fire-resistant material.

House Logic November 30, 2010

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

INSURANCE: The best price to insure your home

Are you paying too much for home owners insurance?

If you combine a sharp drop in home values from their peak in the spring of 2006 with an increase in competition among insurers, that’s a real possibility.

It’s worth checking, says Steve Enright, a fee-only Certified Financial Planner from River Vale.

In reviewing home owners insurance policies for clients, Enright has found that some are overpaying because they have too much coverage or because they haven’t taken advantage of the growing competition in today’s market.

He cites a recent example of a client with a house insured for $1.2 million and an annual premium of $2,580. For the same coverage with a different insurer, the premium was $1,450.

But the house—including land—is valued at only $1.1 million today. Based on $200 per-square-foot replacement cost, the actual structure needs to be insured for only $900,000, Enright said.

“What this means is that many homes may have been over-insured even before the real estate crash,” Enright said.

But don’t get market value and replacement costs confused, says Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president for public affairs at the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade organization.

A big chunk of a home’s value includes land, she said, and has absolutely nothing to do with how much insurance you need.

“How much does it cost to rebuild the house and to re-buy your personal possessions in it?” Salvatore asked. “That’s the number to look at. Unfortunately, rebuilding costs have not come down.”

You can use an online calculator to estimate your home’s replacement cost, such as (it’s free) or (it’s $7.95, but easier to use), or you can hire an appraiser ($250 to $500).

Even if you don’t change the face value of your coverage, you might still save money because of the increased competition among insurers, Enright said.

“We’ve certainly had clients who have chosen not to reduce the coverage amount,” he said. In almost every case, they’ve been able to lower their premium between $200 and $1,400 per year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: The world is catching up.

BUYING A HOME: 10 Reasons To Buy.

Owning a home has been a part of the American Dream for decades. If you are still unsure, however, whether or not homeownership is the move for you, be sure to read these ten reasons to buy.

1. Low Interest Rates. It's true! Interest rates are currently at historical lows. This means over the course of your loan, you'll pay less interest. And it also means monthly payments will be a smaller, more manageable amount.

2. Mortgage Interest Deduction: While this deduction may not be available for much longer, for now you can still use this great tax advantage!

3. Stability: Studies have shown that homeownership not only increases community involvement, it also leads to safer neighborhoods, and higher graduation rates.

4. Affordability: Coupled with the low interest rates, affordability is the highest it's been in years. Prices fell in many areas and median incomes rose -- meaning you can get more bang for your buck.

5. Paying Towards Ownership. Instead of paying a landlord, you are making an investment in your future. Every month your payment goes towards something you'll eventually own and that will have worth and value. Renting only makes the landlord richer!

6. Appreciation: Average appreciation rates vary widely depending on the condition of the local market and demand, but anywhere from 4 to 6 percent annually is considered average. This means the longer you stay in your home, the more your home will be worth.

7. Home equity: This building of worth over time (see number 6) means that if you need to make improvements to your home, you will be able to tap into its equity to finance repairs and additions.

8. Gardening: Many households are embracing the organic movement, and families have begun again to raise their own food. Even the White House has its own victory garden. Owning your own home (in most cases) means you will have your own land to cultivate.

9. Roots: Young and old alike seek out places where they belong. Owning a property, and taking your first steps towards putting down roots, can mean the difference between a house and a home.

10. Monthly Payments: Once your home is paid off -- you won't have monthly payments anymore. Apart from insurance, property taxes, and repairs, monthly expenses are minimal. In today's market, many buyers are finding, as well, that their monthly house payments are less than what they'd pay in rent!

Carla Hill, Realty Times, December 8, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

NEWS: Pending Sales Rose In October

Housing affordability is bringing buyers to the market, say industry leaders. And the proof is in the numbers. Pending home sales rose in October, up 10.4 percent from September.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), reports, "It is welcoming to see a solid double-digit percentage gain, but activity needs to improve further to reach healthy, sustainable levels. The housing market clearly is in a recovery phase and will be uneven at times, but the improving job market and consequential boost to household formation will help the recovery process going into 2011."

Regionally, all areas saw double digits gains, except for the West, which still struggled -- at a 0.4 percent decrease from the month prior. The largest increase was seen in the Midwest, which surged ahead 27.3 percent.

If one looks to the NAR's Housing Affordability Index, the appeal of today's market becomes evident. From 2007 to today, the median house price in the U.S. has fallen from $217,900 to just $171,100. Interest rates have dropped from 6.52 percent to 4.62 percent, while median incomes have risen slightly. This means a buyer can find themselves with the same house as 3 years prior, but for smaller monthly payments. And although buyers must have cash for downpayment, as well as good credit, there may have never been a better time to buy if you are in the position to do so.

Will homes sales continue to climb? This could depend very much on the state of the job market, which for now continues to struggle.

The Labor Department reports that "this past November, nonfarm payroll employment increased by 39,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate increased to 9.8 percent." They note that while 1.2 million private sector jobs have been created, this is nowhere near enough to make up for the 15 million unemployed, and the new unemployed that continue to enter the ranks.

Yun notes, that, "more importantly, a return to more normal loan underwriting standards and removal of unnecessary underwriting fees for very low risk borrowers is needed and could quickly help in the housing and economic recovery."

Carla Hill, Realty Times,December 7, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SPRUCE IT UP: Let it shine, it's not just paint color that counts!

One of the best and fairly inexpensive tips for making a home look new again just before you sell it, is to give it a fresh coat of paint. However, it’s not only the color you paint it but also the sheen that gives it a radiant glow.

Many new tract homes are painted using a flat paint. While that may look nice at first, it can be very difficult to clean and instead of wiping off walls, you may find you have to touch them up with paint more frequently.

Thankfully there are some other paint finishes that look great and are a bit more durable and easy to clean. The eggshell and low-sheen finishes put off a higher shine but they seem to last longer, stay cleaner, and are all around easier to maintain.

So, if you’re getting ready to sell your home and you’re looking for an inexpensive way to warm it up, give it some color, and make it look fresh to buyers, try painting. Don’t be afraid of color and some shine. They can enhance your home and its value.

While you don’t want to go overboard with, say, a deep rich purple, an accent wall in a deep color that is coordinated with your decor can be very appealing. You are trying to appeal to the masses; so do keep that in mind. But personal taste can be quite different. You want paint colors that show off the architecture and draw people into a home–and that doesn’t mean you have to have boring or neutral beige on all of your walls.

Choose colors that reflect the style of the home. A country house might have red accents. An Italian-style home might make use of rust or a deep green for an accent wall that is beautifully matched with rugs and throw pillows.

Once, you have a color in mind then it’s important to choose the right finish for the paint. The paint color might appear slightly different depending on the type of sheen you choose.

Most trim, baseboards, and doors are done in a high-gloss paint. They standout and look bright and cheerful and are fairly easy to clean the scuff marks off as the house ages.

The walls have a few more choices. You can go with flat paint; you’ll have no shine. You also will have a more difficult time cleaning off the handprints and dirt that gets on the walls. This type of paint simply doesn’t clean easily.

Eggshell is a popular sheen that can look somewhat flat on the walls when looking straight at them. However, there’s a bit of a sheen from an angle which also makes the color richer and the painted walls simpler to clean.

Paint companies have various names they use for paint finishes. What one company calls flat another may refer to as matte. So be sure to ask for samples and take them home and apply a little on the wall. Sometimes the samples will only come in a matte finish. You can at least get an idea of how the color will look. When you increase the sheen, the reflection of light bouncing off the walls increases.

Here are a few suggestions. Flat or matte gets dirty easily and does not offer any shine. This paint finish is good for an area where there isn’t much foot traffic. An area where the walls won’t be touched much.

Eggshell is excellent for bedrooms. It makes the paint look vibrant. Some complain that it can have a plastic look. Personally, I really like it and think that it makes rooms come to life. If the room is small and you paint it a darker color with white trim, the room can have the illusion of looking bigger. One paint company told me that people always think a small room must be painted with a light “but it’s the exact opposite”.

Low-sheen paint also has a shine and, depending on the company, the amount of sheen can vary quite a bit. So be sure to test the colors in all lighting. With some paint, the sheen can make the reflection from a lamp look odd.

High gloss paint is typically reserved for walls and trim because of how reflective it is. Sometimes the walls and the trim will be painted the same color but with different finishes creating a special effect.

Letting your house shine with enriching and warming color and paint finishes can increase the value of your home and bring you more money at the time of sale.

Phoebe Chongchua Realty Times, December 3, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TAXES & FINANCE: Mortgage Tax Deduction

For months now, experts have been debating the fate of the home mortgage interest deduction (MID). So why exactly are politicians targeting the MID? With a federal deficit of around $13 trillion, officials are hard-pressed to find ways to curb the growing the debt.

The deduction, a pillar of the housing industry since 1913, could be on the chopping block. The Obama administration's deficit committee is currently reviewing it, along with other items, in order to scope out new ways to help reduce our budget shortfall.

The co-chairmen of the White House's bipartisan deficit-reduction commission said Tuesday they would propose a significant paring of popular middle-class tax breaks, including the mortgage-interest deduction, and push for an increase in the Social Security retirement age.

Some say there are better options available than keeping the MID, following suit of many European nations who have in recent years nixed the deductions themselves, but the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) disagrees. They feel that this deduction is a strong incentive for homeownership. For nearly 100 years homeowners have been allowed to deduct the interest paid on mortgages for their primary residences, second homes and most home equity lines of credit.

"The tax deductibility of interest paid on mortgages is a powerful incentive for home ownership and has been one of the simplest provisions in the federal tax code for more than 80 years. In a new survey commissioned by NAR and conducted online in October 2010 by Harris Interactive of nearly 3,000 homeowners and renters, nearly three-fourths of homeowners and two-thirds of renters said the mortgage interest deduction was extremely or very important to them."

NAR President Ron Phipps, states, "Recent progress has been made in bringing stability to the housing market and any changes to the MID now or in the future could critically erode home prices and the value of homes by as much as 15 percent, according to our research. This would negatively impact home ownership for millions of Americans, including those who own their homes outright and have no mortgage."

He continued, saying, "Any further downward pressure on home prices will hamper the economic recovery, raise foreclosures and hurt banks' abilities to lend and likely tip the economy into another recession resulting in further job losses for the country. It will effectively close the door on the American dream."

Will Washington continue to allow taxpayers who own their homes to reduce their taxable income by the interest paid on the loan? Time will tell. It is dependent on finding alternative ways to curb growing anxiety over our growing debt.

Carla Hill Realty Times December 2, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

CONDO LIVING: Making nice in a Homeowner Association.

One of any homeowner association's challenges is helping neighbors "make nice". The board is sometimes called on to mediate disputes between neighbors or fine them for doing bad things.

What exactly is a "good" neighbor? To be one, you don't need to be friends or hang out together. Being a good neighbor is an attitude. A good neighbor attitude allows you to live as privately or as sociably as you wish. Here's how to cultivate and nurture it:

Meet Them. While marching up to their door with hand extended is great, the chance encounter works well too. Introduce yourself at the mailbox, while walking the dog or when you take out the trash. Learn their names and offer a cordial "Hello" or "Good Morning" when you see them.

Keep Them Informed. Contact them before undertaking something that might affect them, such as hosting a big party, building a fence, cutting down a tree or getting a dog.

Be Aware of Differences. Age, faith, ethnic background and marital status can drastically affect lifestyles. Be aware of the differences between you but home in on what you have in common.

Point of View. From your neighbor's viewpoint, how does your compost pile, swingset or junk car look? Would you like that view? (If you do, refer to your neighbor's viewpoint).

Be Appreciative. If a neighbor does something you like, tell them! They'll be pleased that you noticed the new awning, patio furniture, plants, etc.

Assume the Best. Most people don't intentionally create problems. Assume the neighbor doesn't know about the annoyance when you speak to them. Your delivery will be dramatically kinder. And assume they will be cooperative.

Be Candid. If your neighbors do something that bothers you, let them know as soon as possible.

Be Calm. When discussing a point of contention, speak calmly, listen carefully and thank them for telling you how they feel. You don't have to agree or justify your behavior. If you don't react defensively, anger usually subsides, lines of communication remain open and resolution is possible.

Take Your Time. If caught in angry confrontation, take a break to reflect and finish the discussion when cooler heads prevail. Don't leave it hanging. Time and lack of resolution will intensify hostilities.

Best Advice of All. Treat others as you would like to be treated. This attitude will pave the way for good neighborliness. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Richard Thompson Realty Timnes, December 1, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

NEIGHBORHOODS: New to the neighborhood

Welcome to the neighborhood! You've just made a big move, and now you may be trying to figure out the lay of the land. So, how can you become a part of your new community?

The first order of business is to have an open mind. Your new neighborhood and even Homeowner's Association may function very differently from what you're used to. There may be new cultures, new rules, and (hopefully not) new cliques. By being open to new situations you may find yourself more able and willing to make new acquaintances.

This is not a time to be a recluse. Venture out on strolls through your neighborhood or take your dog on walks. Spend time in your yard, accept invitations to parties and events, and take opportunities to volunteer. As you meet members of your new community, you will surely find those you like ... and those you don't. But you'll never know if you don't put yourself out there.

A few great places to meet your neighbors are through the PTA, local HOA meetings, and community events, such as festivals, carnivals, and theater events.

Above all, being a part of your community means being a good neighbor yourself. Be sure to help your neighbors when they are in need. This can be as simple as helping change a tire, lending a tool, or bringing over food and flowers after a funeral.

Be willing to compromise during disagreements. You may want to cut down the tree that shades your garden, while your neighbor wants to keep that same tree that they planted 20 years ago with their children. Don't let anger get the better of you. Having neighbors means that you share property lines, streets, and communities.

And finally, a good neighbor is also on the watch. A good rapport with your neighbors can mean you watch their place, and they watch yours when you're out of town. That's a pretty good trade-off!

Above all, now is the time to be open and adventurous. Try new things, take up new hobbies, and find out how you can fit into your new community.

Carla Hill Realty Times December 1, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

REAL ESTATE LAW: 'As is' clause clears seller of fraud

Judith Johnston owned a home in Mobile County, Ala., In 2001, the county placed drainage culverts on her property to drain runoff into a creek behind Johnston's property. Johnston complained to the county that the drainage system was flooding her lot, although it did not flood her actual home. The county claimed it could not do anything about the flooding, and Johnston decided to sell the property, according to court records.

Wylene and Ross Teer offered to buy it, and Johnston provided them with a disclosure statement that expressly represented "that there were no 'flooding, drainage or grading problems' with the property and that the property had never flooded," after which the Teers and Johnston signed a purchase agreement for the home.

The purchase agreement stated that the sale was an "as-is" transaction with the exception of a warranty Johnston would provide on the appliances, and also provided that the "contract constitutes the sole agreement between the parties and any modification hereto and any modifications of this contract shall be signed by all parties to this agreement. No representation, promise, or inducement not included in this contract shall be binding upon any party hereto."

While the Teers claimed that they were induced to sign the purchase agreement by the disclosure statement, both the Teers and Johnston acknowledged that the disclosure statement was not formally incorporated into the purchase agreement.

The Teers purchased the property in 2005 and moved in, after which the property flooded several times. The Teers filed suit against Johnston in 2007, seeking to rescind the purchase agreement, reverse the sale and recoup damages they incurred in buying and moving into the home.

Their primary claim was that Johnston intentionally and fraudulently induced them into buying the property by representing that it had no flooding issues, when she knew that it did.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Johnston, citing Alabama's rule of caveat emptor in the "as is" purchase of real estate, and dismissed the Teers' case.

The Teers appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which affirmed the trial court's ruling. The high court of the state rejected the Teers' invocation of the rule that when a seller knows or should know of a material defect in the property that affects health or safety, both the seller and the listing agent are required to disclose the defect to the buyers.

The court agreed with the trial court that the Teers had not shown that the flooding on the rear of the property's lot was, in fact a material defect that affected health or safety.

Further, the court explained, in an as-is real property sale contract in Alabama, a fraudulent misrepresentation in pre-contract disclosures does not survive the execution of the purchase contract, unless that contract incorporates the pre-contract disclosures, which the Teers' contract did not.

The state's Supreme Court reiterated that in Alabama, on the resale of residential property, the caveat emptor rule applies, and sellers have no duty to disclose any property defects to buyers, unlike in many other states -- even in cases of seller fraud; the court went on to expressly reject the Teers' plea to reverse this "clear and consistent" line of cases upholding this rule.

The court concluded: "Because the 'as is' clause in the purchase agreement negated any reliance the Teers may have had on previous representations made by Johnston in the disclosure statement concerning the property in question, the Teers cannot establish their fraud claim against Johnston." Accordingly, the trial court's ruling was affirmed and the Teers' case was dismissed.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson Inman News December 1, 2010