Thursday, June 30, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Long-promised loan aid for jobless is launched

A federal program that will provide interest-free loans to unemployed homeowners so they can make mortgage payments was launched yesterday after months of delays, with $61 million earmarked for Massachusetts.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and NeighborWorks America, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that is helping to administer the $1 billion program, said it will benefit about 30,000 homeowners nationwide — including more than 1,000 in Massachusetts. Applications are due by July 22, and officials are anticipating needing a lottery to determine who receives money. Those who meet eligibility requirements will be able to borrow up to $50,000 over a two-year period. Under some circumstances, the money will not have to be paid back.

The program, approved by Congress last summer, was supposed to be up and running by the end of 2010, but various complications slowed its start date.

Lewis Finfer, executive director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a Boston nonprofit, said about 1,260 Massachusetts homeowners are expected to qualify for the funds, which must be allocated by the end of September.

“We know there are so many people in need,’’ said Finfer, who has been pushing for help for unemployed homeowners for several years. “This will make the difference between people saving their homes and losing their homes.’’

To qualify, homeowners must be able to prove they have had a drop in income of at least 15 percent due to job loss, wage cuts, or a health emergency, and be at least three months behind on their mortgage payments. Borrowers also must meet certain income requirements, which differ by region. In the Boston area, a family of four’s income could not have exceeded more than $110,150 before the drop in salary, according to federal documents.

In some cases, the federal loans will turn into gifts. Borrowers who remain in their homes and stay current on mortgage payments for five years — after they stop receiving the federal help — will have their debt balance reduced by 20 percent annually until it is eliminated.

The program, which targets residents in 27 states and Puerto Rico, is meant to complement a similar effort managed by the Treasury Department for states that were “hardest hit’’ by the US financial crisis, according to federal officials. Massachusetts was not part of that program.

Local agencies, including Urban Edge Housing Corp. and Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. in Roxbury, will be working with homeowners to help them through the new program’s application process.

The federal assistance comes as the number of foreclosures mounts in Massachusetts and around the country, even though the rate of increase has slowed. Locally, as many as 56,000 homeowners were at least 90 days late on their mortgage, but not yet in the foreclosure process, according to a recent study by the nonprofit Massachusetts Housing Partnership.

In Worcester, Mayor Joseph C. O’Brien held a press conference yesterday to highlight the new program. The central Massachusetts city has been severely affected by the foreclosure crisis. “These funds will help hard-working families stay in their homes and help stabilize neighborhoods,’’ O’Brien said.

To receive a loan application or get more information, call 855-346-3345 or visit

Jenifer B. McKim Boston Globe June 21, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Requiring bigger down payments won’t stop a repeat of housing crisis By Michelle Singletary

After a disaster, people often want to figure out how to avoid the debacle again. As we continue to deal with fallout from the housing crisis, regulators are proposing rules to prevent folks from getting into homes they can’t afford. One would require borrowers to come up with a 20 percent down payment. If they don’t meet this threshold, their loans would be considered more risky. It would not be a “qualified residential mortgage,’’ or QRM, and therefore the bank would charge more.

“Why, in a law intended to fix the mistakes that caused the credit crisis, would you mandate a certain down payment when low down payments were not the problem?’’ asked Kathleen Day, of the Center for Responsible Lending.

I’m wondering the same thing.

In 2000, I met Agnes Howard, an 81-year-old who was in poor health and in debt. She had lived in her home in the District of Columbia for 46 years. Thanks to some shifty lender, she was persuaded to refinance several times to help pay off some credit card debt. She was assured she would reduce her monthly mortgage payments. Instead, the retiree saw her payment go from $132 to more than $1,300. Her income was $1,700 a month.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to loan defaults, but the lack of hefty down payments was not one of them. Rather it was making loans to people who had little or no chance to pay their mortgages.

Under the proposed rule, borrowers who can’t afford a 20 percent down payment and who can’t obtain financing through the FHA will be expected to pay a premium of 2 percentage points for a loan in the private market to offset the increased risk to lenders, according to National Association of Home Builders.

Like so many others, I want to be sure that our government fixes whatever broke the housing market. But if borrowers have to save a 20 percent down payment to qualify for the best mortgage deal, we will be putting homeownership out of the reach of a lot of people.
The proposed rule will create a “class of newly designated high-risk borrowers, formerly known as the responsible middle-class borrower,’’ said Marc H. Morial, chief executive of the National Urban League, in a letter to the six agencies charged with developing new mortgage regulations.
It would take more than a decade for the median American family to save enough for a 20 percent down payment on even a modest home, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Last year, an average first-time home buyer financed 96 percent of a mortgage, according to the association.

We won’t stop a repeat of the housing crisis and predatory lending by making creditworthy people wait a decade or two before they can save enough to get the best mortgages. We stop it by putting in place rules that prevent what happened to borrowers like Howard, who should have never gotten a loan.

Michelle Singletary Washington Post June 19, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: For rent: tiny slice of tony Newbury

Cash-strapped T looks to let a slab of sidewalk

On Boston’s street of boutique businesses, this might be the ultimate boutique space.
Right now the “property’’ on Newbury Street is just a slab of sidewalk, barely a dozen feet wide — 275 square feet in total — tucked against the back end of the Hynes MBTA station and a department store. But its owner, the MBTA, believes it has enough commercial potential that the agency is soliciting proposals from businesses to set up shop there.
“It was a dead space, a missing tooth on Newbury Street,’’ said Boston city Councilor Michael P. Ross, a big booster of putting the concrete slab to more productive use. “There’s no access or use for the MBTA — we can do better than that.’’
Through its real estate arm, Transit Realty Associates, the MBTA is proposing to lease the site for 10 years and wants a minimum rent of $24,750 for the first year. The deadline for bids is July 1.
However, there are no utilities to the location, and the winning bidder would be responsible for building its own facilities. And, no pushcarts.
The lease is part of the MBTA’s effort to solve its longstanding financial problems by turning its vast unused real estate holdings into money-making assets. Typically, though, the transit agency has much larger properties that draw developers eager to build sizable mixed-used developments, such as residential, office, and retail complexes. This one on Newbury, however, is barely big enough to park a truck.
But MBTA general manager Rich Davey is unfazed about the limited potential of the site.
“Any dollar that I can get is one less dollar I have to charge at the fare box,’’ Davey said.
And Ross said there is precedent for developing such an unlikely site: The long-vacant public restroom on the Boston Common will soon house an Earl of Sandwich shop.
“We just find these unused spaces and turn them over,’’ he said.
One interested businessman had previously pursued the site, but backed off when he became worried the construction would prove too costly.
Solomon Boucai, who owns Truffles Fine Confections and lives above the slab in the 360 Newbury

Monday, June 27, 2011

LOCAL NEWS: Big-name developers waiting in the wings

Prominent developers quickly angled yesterday for a role in Harvard’s just-announced plan to build a massive 36-acre life sciences business park in Allston.

Among the interested parties: real estate tycoon Mortimer B. Zuckerman, the chairman of Boston Properties Inc. and a key player in the commercial development success of nearby Kendall Square; Skanska AB, the international construction firm that has built prominent facilities for Harvard; and National Development, which has built office and retail parks around Massachusetts.

Zuckerman said he is familiar with the Allston property because of his connections to Boston and Harvard — he is a donor and a Harvard Law School graduate — and has often talked with university officials about its potential.

“We would be willing to look at it very seriously,’’ Zuckerman said in an interview from his New York office. “We frequently indicate to [Harvard] that this is a completely viable project and it will add dramatically to that whole area.’’

On Wednesday a panel of top Harvard officials recommended the university resume its stalled buildout of a new campus in Allston, with an additional emphasis on drawing commercial development to feed off research in life sciences at its academic facilities. The Allston campus will feature a prominent facility devoted to research in the life sciences and an adjacent enterprise zone dedicated to businesses that want to specialize in the field.

The enterprise zone, now a vacant swath of land, is huge: the 36-acre site could accommodate up to 2.5 million square feet of development in up to a dozen buildings. Harvard officials likened the building and business potential there to Kendall Square, which has become home to many technology and life sciences companies in the shadow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After an unusual period of financial stress tied to the economic crisis, even the mighty Harvard is less able to finance such major development on its own. University officials said the idea to partner with private-sector companies to build out the enterprise park has practical considerations: Developers are better at developing than the school is, and are more likely to have access right now to the kind of financing necessary for such a large project.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

MARKET TRENDS:11 Fastest-Selling Real Estate Markets

Nationally, the median age of inventory of homes on the market shrank slightly in May from April to 92 days, but still marks a 4.55 percent year-over-year increase.

But in some markets homes are selling much faster. For example, the fastest-selling market continues to be Denver, where homes are selling, on average, in just over a month at 39 days.

Here’s a look at the fastest-selling markets from May, based on the median age of inventory of 146 markets tracked by

Median age of inventory: 39
Median list price: $253,700

Oakland, Calif.
Median age of inventory: 46
Median list price: $320,000

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.
Median age of inventory: 51
Median list price: $134,900

San Francisco
Median age of inventory: 57
Median list price: $628,000

Washington, D.C.-Md.-Va.-W.Va.
Median age of inventory: 60
Median list price: $369,999

Bakersfield, Calif.
Median age of inventory: 60
Median list price: $134,900

Rochester, N.Y.
Median age of inventory: 61
Median list price: $139,900

Omaha, Neb.
Median age of inventory: 61
Median list price: $150,000

Anchorage, Alaska
Median age of inventory: 61
Median list price: $289,000

Fresno, Calif.
Median age of inventory: 61
Median list price: $151,900

San Jose, Calif.
Median age of inventory: 61
Median list price: $479,000

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey for REALTOR® Magazine online

Read More:
April Report: Where Homes Are Selling in 2 Months or Less

Saturday, June 25, 2011

THE ECONOMY: Key indicators suggest slow growth

NEW YORK — A private research group said yesterday the economy is rebounding from its spring slump and should grow modestly through the fall. 

Housing market, fuel and food costs weigh on economy

The Conference Board said that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.8 percent last month. That’s an improvement from April, when the index dropped 0.4 percent — the first decline since June 2010. A string of declines would indicate that a recession was coming.

The May report was the largest increase since February. Eight of the 10 measures the Conference Board uses to calculate the index increased. In April, only four showed improvement.

The brighter reading suggests the economy will regain some of the momentum it lost this spring, when high gas prices cut into consumer spending and businesses pulled back on hiring.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein cautioned that growth will be “choppy’’ through summer and fall, a point echoed by other economists. The housing market remains weak. And even though there has been some relief in recent weeks from the high gas and food costs, prices remain elevated.

“We don’t think the economy is going to come roaring back and replace all the lost jobs,’’ said Tim Quinlan, a Wells Fargo economist. He predicted “slow growth for the foreseeable future’’ — about a 2.5 percent quarterly pace for the rest of year. That’s an improvement from the 1.8 percent rate he expects for the April-June period.

Helping lift the index in May:

■The Federal Reserve’s policies to help support financial markets.

■A jump in building permits, which signal future construction.

■An increase in consumer confidence as gas prices fell.

■Fewer people applying for unemployment benefits.

But even with those improvements, the unemployment rate rose last month to 9.1 percent and the housing market continued to struggle.

The rise in building permits was encouraging. But economists say the pace of home construction last month was far below the 1.2 million homes per year that must be built to sustain a healthy housing market.

Many credit-strapped builders are struggling to compete with low-priced foreclosures.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell from an eight-month high of 478,000 in April.

Still, it has been above 400,000 for 10 straight weeks. Economists say a level below 375,000 suggests sustainable job growth.

Tali Arbel Associated Press / June 18, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

BUYING AND SELLING: Savvy Buyers Know Value When They See It

Suddenly it begins. After all the anticipation of finding your dream home, your buyer agent has called and you're off to see the first property that may be "it". You're excited, but are you really prepared to recognize the best deal when you see it?

Whether you've shopped for a home before or not, you probably lack professional real estate assessment skills. How have you honed your powers of observation when it comes to construction and interior design details? Buyer agents are expert at both assessment and observation since they are legally and financially bound to make sure buyers they represent understand what they are buying.

Don't make assumptions that you'll be covered by professional ethics and expertise. Ask a lot of "how can you tell …" questions beforehand. Have positive and negative features pointed out to you as you walk through to evaluate the house or condominium you hope will be a dream, not a nightmare.

Too many buyers look at the wrong things in the wrong way and end up paying more than necessary. As a buyer, you must look at things differently than a casual observer would:

You're not there to give the owners a thumbs-up or down on their colour scheme. The best buy may be a poorly decorated or out-dated home with great bones.

You're not shopping for furniture. If you love the furnishings, beware. They may distract you. If you hate them, imagine the rooms empty and then mentally add your pieces.

Don't buy with your nose. Yes, dampness can be a warning sign, but if the owners love smelly food or need to wash the dog, hold your breath. A house or condo that shows badly can save you money.

You're not the tidy police. If the level of housekeeping and clean up is below your standards, suck it up. Look carefully to separate dirt from damage. If a power clean and a coat of paint would transform the place, what's that worth to you?
You are viewing the property to prepare to make an offer. If the property is worth visiting, it's worth serious consideration from an offer point of view. To help you establish a crystal clear, accurate impression of value, be prepared. Pack high- or low-tech versions of a tape measure, note-taking material, and camera. Get a copy of the listing and take notes about what you want to have included in an offer. Check out appliances since if they're too old you don't want them in the offer. After you've seriously considered the property, decide whether you want to make an offer. Don't decide this when you first see it from the curb or the front door.

Here are five ways to get ready before you go:

1. Are you ready if the first one is the best one?
There's not a magic number of properties to see before you find one you like. If the buyer agent has been listening, the first one may be it. Can you make an offer if you love it? Have you been pre-approved for financing? Have you got all the advice you need from friends and family, or

Thursday, June 23, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Real Estate Outlook: The American Dream

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), owning your home still remains "essential to the American Dream." A recent survey backed by the NAHB found that Americans "see beyond the immediate housing market to the enduring value of homeownership." NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen reports that 75 percent of those polled said owning a home is worth the market fluctuations. Plus, a healthy 95 percent of homeowners say they are happy with their decision to own.

Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners says, "People believe overwhelmingly that owning a home is an anchor to the American Dream. It's an anchor to your retirement, and it's an anchor to your personal economic well-being." She noted that owning a home is more than just a commodity, it's a core value.

Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, had more somber news to report last week at the International Monetary Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Despite historically affordable home values, many buyers are unable to access financing due to tightened lending standards. Many feel reluctant to enter the market at all due to the uncertainty of the job market. Bernanke reports that nearly all segments of the construction industry remain "troubled."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Why Own My Home?

A soft real estate market that is ripe with all the conditions that should entice people to purchase a home still has some renters asking, "Why own my own home?"

Low interest rates, lower home prices and an improving job market still have some buyers sitting on the fence fearful of an uncertain real estate market. Real estate agents and even sellers are finding that prospective buyers (current renters) may need a little more "emotional" attention in these market conditions. They may need a little more explanation to ensure that they understand the benefits of purchasing your home rather than renting another.

While deciding to own a home or rent one is very personal, many tend to let fear of the unknown be the driving force in making their decision and that can later create an unhappy decision.

Here are five top reasons to at least consider owning your own home.

No more landlords: This may be a highly influential factor depending on a potential buyer's experiences. Many renters have poured a ton of money into a home that they're living in to keep it at the standard of living they enjoy, only to find that their landlord is soon planning to sell the home. Their hard-earned cash and money invested into their rented home will then only benefit the seller.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: New meeting space could be boon

State panel is told expansion would boost economy, add thousands of jobs

An expanded convention center in Boston could pump an additional $222 million a year into the local economy, bring in 186,000 annual visitors, and create or support 7,300 construction jobs, according to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

The new analysis was presented yesterday by authority officials to a state panel appointed to review a proposed $2 billion expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center that would include nearly doubling the meeting space and adding a 1,000-room hotel nearby. Next week, the panel will discuss recommendations that will be detailed in the final report to the state.

Many members of the 27-person panel, called the Convention Partnership, have said they are leaning toward recommending an expansion. But critics of the project point out that the convention industry has been suffering, even as the amount of convention space nationwide has expanded, and that there is intense competition for the up to $200 million in public subsidies that will probably be needed to pay for the hotel.

“You’ve got so many demands for public resources, and they are all competing. And do you want to choose the one in which the number of people attending conventions has gone from 126 million in 2000 to 86 million in 2010?’’ said Charles Chieppo, a longtime critic of the proposal who heads a Massachusetts public policy research firm.

In Boston, visitors to the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center and the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center fell from 870,000 in 2008 to 645,000 last year, although the convention authority is forecasting a reversal, with attendees climbing back up to nearly 782,000 this year.

The expansion would allow the center to host events that are too big for the existing space, said James Rooney, the executive director of the convention authority who leads the panel. Over the past five years, Rooney said, the shortage of hotel rooms and space limitations at the convention center have cost the city 61 events, which would have generated $140 million in economic impact and $8.6 million in tax benefits a year.

Currently, there are only 1,700 hotel rooms within a half mile of the exhibition hall, putting Boston well below the 8,000 rooms near the Philadelphia convention center and the 6,600 rooms near the exhibition space in Baltimore.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Stop & Shop quits mixed-use project

A real estate development company said yesterday that it is looking for a new supermarket operator because Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. withdrew from a mixed-use project the developer is planning at the northern end of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in Boston.

Tweet Be the first to Tweet this!ShareThis The developer is Trinity Financial Inc., and its project is called One Canal.

Last year, a Globe story said the $150 million plan calls for street-level shops, a second-floor supermarket, a parking garage, and six to eight floors of apartments.

One Canal had been planned to include a Stop & Shop, Trinity Financial said.

But yesterday, the company reported that it had been informed by Stop & Shop that the supermarket chain “is now concentrating on occupying another site in the neighborhood.’’

Trinity Financial said it is continuing efforts to secure a supermarket operator for its project.

Boston Globe Staff June 15, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Mass. housing recovery years off

Despite a steep drop in home foreclosures this year, Massachusetts has years to go before it will experience a substantial real estate recovery, a study released yesterday said.

The report by the nonprofit Massachusetts Housing Partnership found that thousands of homeowners are still straining to pay their mortgages as the state’s economy slowly improves. Massachusetts probably won’t see housing values fully recover until 2014, said Tim H. Davis, author of the report.

The report also found that the year’s dramatic slowdown in the number of foreclosures is not a sign of improvement, but rather the result of US lenders’ concerns over national scrutiny of alleged sloppy and fraudulent foreclosure practices.

The drop-off in foreclosures began last summer when the state Legislature passed a law requiring lenders to wait 150 days, in most cases, before starting the foreclosure process. The decline continued into the fall after some bank employees, now known as “robosigners,’’ admitted to signing thousands of legal foreclosure documents without reviewing them. Federal regulators and state attorneys general are in the midst of investigating foreclosure problems and negoti ating settlements with major financial institutions.

“This is more of a pause in the whole process,’’ said Davis. “Lenders really were worried that their processes weren’t correct.’’

In Massachusetts, 2,111 homeowners lost their properties during the first four months of the year, 56.2 percent fewer than during the same period of 2010, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. Foreclosure petitions, the first step in a seizure process, fell nearly 58.6 percent in the first four months of the year, compared with the same period last year.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

LOCAL NEWS: Faneuil Hall shops deal rejected

BRA says firm seeking lease hasn’t responded

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has denied a request by General Growth Properties to sell its Faneuil Hall Marketplace lease until the mall operator responds to the city’s repeated requests for information.

Peter Meade, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said General Growth has refused to provide various documents related to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., the New York real estate firm set to take over the lease.

The requested records include Ashkenazy’s capital reserves and restrictions on those reserves, a proposed capital and maintenance plan for Faneuil Hall, pending litigation against Ashkenazy, proposals to retain and attract local merchants, plans to respond to merchants’ concerns, and the most recent financial statement for Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

“We have so little information, you can’t make an informed decision,’’ Meade said. “It’s owned by the people of the city and it’s our obligation to protect this. We weren’t looking for a dictionary here. It was seven items.’’

General Growth, based in Chicago, and Ashkenazy declined to comment. City officials’ refusal to approve the lease transfer is likely to hold up the $140 million deal recently reached between the real estate businesses.

Friday, June 17, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: 230,000 homeowners underwater, study says

More than 230,000 Massachusetts homeowners with mortgages — 15.4 percent — owe lenders more than their homes are worth, according to a report released yesterday by CoreLogic, a California analysis company.

Tweet 2 people Tweeted thisShareThis On average, those borrowers’ homes are valued at $120,000 less than their mortgage loan balance. Massachusetts ranked second only to New York in upside-down mortgage debt, according to the study, which was based on the first quarter of this year. Nationwide, the average “underwater’’ borrower owed about $65,000 more than their homes were worth.

About 10.9 million US homeowners, or 22.7 percent of mortgage holders, were underwater by the end of the first quarter, down slightly from the last quarter of 2010, when 23.1 percent of borrowers held upside-down loans.

Mark Fleming, chief economist of CoreLogic, said that many borrowers still pay their mortgages despite falling home values, but he added that a financial shock — such as a job loss or health problem — could put such people at higher risk of foreclosure.

“The existence of negative equity for the foreseeable future will weigh on the housing market recovery by holding back sale and refinance activity,’’ Fleming said.

Jenifer B. McKim Boston Globe June 8, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

LOCAL HOUSING NEWS: Plan for Herald site: apartments, stores

National Development may begin work in ’12; goal is a vibrant city block

A proposal to build retail stores, 262 apartments, and underground parking on the site of The Boston Herald was filed with the city yesterday, signaling an end to the newspaper’s operations at its longtime headquarters in the South End.

National Development, of Newton, told the Boston Redevelopment Authority it wants to transform the industrial property into a mixed-use complex that would incorporate public gardens, outdoor seating, and other amenities.

An executive with National, which has an agreement to redevelop the property with Herald publisher and owner Patrick Purcell, said the tabloid is planning to move from the property by the end of the year. The executive, Ted Tye, said the Herald is considering two locations in Boston but declined to say where. A spokeswoman for the Herald could not be reached.

Last month, the newspaper said it was negotiating to have the tabloid largely printed and distributed by The Boston Globe.

The proposed redevelopment of the Herald’s headquarters promises to enliven a drab corner of the city where Chinatown, the South End, and South Boston meet.

The two-story newspaper building was constructed in the 1950s.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: With home rentals on the rise, costs follow suit

Low vacancy rate limits affordability

A growing number of people are living in rented homes, helping to drag the national homeownership rate below 67 percent, the lowest it has been since 1998, according to a study released yesterday. The report, by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, showed that more people are renting homes either by choice or necessity, resulting in higher rents at a time when incomes are strained.

During the first quarter of this year, 66.4 percent of US residents owned their homes, compared with 66.9 percent in the third quarter of 2010, the study said. In Massachusetts, homeownership rates fell to 65.5 percent during the first three months of the year, down from 67.1 percent in the third quarter of 2010.

At the same time, rental vacancy rates have been falling and rents rising nationally since the second half of last year, the study said. Boston’s vacancy rate dropped below 5 percent in the first quarter, making it one of the country’s tightest rental markets. The report reinforces the position of affordable-housing advocates, who say low-income residents are increasingly struggling to find adequate housing.

“Incomes are not growing at all and rents are growing rapidly,’’ said Megan Decrappeo, a research analyst for the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C. “There’s a big gap now for what’s available and affordable for low-income renters.’’

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Rising cost of rent raises fears concerning inflation

WASHINGTON — For all the attention given to almost $4-a-gallon gas, the biggest threat to containing inflation may be the shift away from homeownership, which is pushing up the cost of leases across the nation’s 38 million rented residences.

Tweet ShareThis Excluding food and energy, shelter represents about 40 percent of the consumer price index, and accounted for almost one-quarter of the 1.3-percentage-point rise in April. That share has grown as falling home prices shake Americans’ confidence in housing as an investment.

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, and his colleagues say they will hold interest

Monday, June 13, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Choosing Your Dream Home

There's a lot to think about when it comes to buying your dream home. Every decision, small to large, is important! Let's look at a list of common issues that buyers face.

1. Neighborhood: Deciding on what neighborhood you desire is tricky. You must consider your wants and needs. They vary by person. Do you have children and need to live within the boundaries of a specific school district? You might want a short commute, a neighborhood with historic homes, or homes that are near night life and restaurants.

2. Square footage: What size of home fits your needs? The average home in the United States is 2,195 square feet. Thirty years ago the average size was just 1,645. The trend has been for larger and larger homes, with special purpose spaces, such as exercise rooms, offices, studies, and media rooms. This trend is now receding.

3. Floorplan: Architectural styles offer a wide range of choices! Open floor plans might appeal to you, with their great flow for entertaining. Or you may have a more traditional aesthetic, preferring cozy rooms. Think about how you live your life and what style best fits your needs.

4. Finishes: There are different grades of homes. Take your kitchen, for example. You can find a wide range of beautiful laminate counters, just as you can find a wide range of beautiful granite ones. These choices dramatically affect price. Think carefully about what you want in your dream home. Do you want stone floors or will ceramic suffice? Are you looking for green building

Sunday, June 12, 2011

TAXES: Homeownership and Taxes

Homeownership comes with a wonderful host of benefits. But did you know that it can also save you money on your taxes?

According to the National Association of Realtors, numerous deductions and credits are available for homeowners. These include capital gains and mortgage interest deductions, as well as credits for energy-efficienct upgrades.

To get the latest information on energy credits for this year's tax return, visit You may be able to deduct portions of improvements on everything from windows and doors to water heaters.

Why do homeowners get such special treatment? For starters, the NAR reports that "home owners pay 80-90 percent of all U.S. federal income taxes."

And the credits and deductions don't just benefit wealthy homeowners.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Competitive Tips for Buyers

Not every market is struggling. The truth is that many desirable neighborhoods and zip codes are still experiencing healthy inventory levels and conditions that promote multiple offers. As a buyer in these markets, how can you be competitive?

First, and perhaps most importantly, be ready to buy. Readiness is not impulsiveness, however. Before you begin your home search, be clear on your objectives. This means knowing your budget (and how much wiggle room you really have), what amenities are must-haves, and what things you can do without. By having a clear plan of action, you'll know a good deal when you see it and won't hesitate to act. Many would-be buyers miss out on their dream home because of hesitation. They need "the night to think about it" or "to see a few more" before they make a decision. If the home is a good price and in a desirable location, one night could mean missing out on the house altogether.

To take the preparation stage one step further, be absolutely sure you are pre-qualified and pre-approved for a loan. Do this before you even set foot in seller's house. Why? You wouldn't be the first buyer you puts in an offer on their dream home, only to find out financing has fallen through. Lending is tight right now. You may not qualify for as low of an interest rate as you would think. And for others, you may not qualify at all!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Green Living: Green Living: Low-Impact Home

Living a low-impact lifestyle means thinking twice about how your actions affect the health of the Earth. You may not believe that your everyday choices can make a difference, but you're wrong. Making small changes in your own household is the best way to inspire bigger change.

Here's a "bright" idea. Be sure to change all of your household lights to CFL's. Compact Fluorescent Lights last anywhere from 8 to 15 times longer than traditional incandescents. That means you not only save energy, but you save money ... at least after the initial purchase costs.

Energy Star Appliances are also big money savers. The label "Energy Star" was introduced to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to make it easy for consumer to purchase products that help save money on energy bills. Energy Star washers, for instance, use 50 percent less energy and half the water!

Wash your clothes in cold water (warm water requires energy to heat) and pick a dryer that has a "moisture" sensor, so you don't spend energy overdrying your clothes. Or take low-impact laundry one step further by harnessing beautiful days. Dry your clothes outdoors. Air dried clothes smell great and cost nothing! Solar energy also works great for outdoor lights. Consider exchanging your energy zappers for solar versions. Solar energy is free and infinitely renewable.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

GREEN LIVING: [RSS Feed] Buyers Want Green and They're Getting It

Could it really be true? No more utility bills? It's not just keeping green in their wallet that buyers are after when it comes to purchasing a home. These days buyers want to know that the home they buy will save them money on things like their utility bills after the sale.

"Just about all the larger builders are focusing on energy efficiency," Kevin Morrow of the National Association of Home Builders said.

In a down economy, builders are doing all they can to help increase interest and sales of their housing inventory and that means going green.

In Canada, net-zero building–designing of homes that produces as much energy as it uses each year–are becoming the norm. However, according to experts, in the United States, we're still quite a way off from that.

But the landscape may be getting greener when it comes to smart, energy-efficient homes and builders are carving the path.

The celebration of Earth Day recently coincided with Meritage Homes' announcement that it will offer a net-zero home. This means their homes, starting at $140,000, will include a nine-panel rooftop solar array. For a $10,000 upgrade, homeowners can have 24 more solar panels added which can drop their utility bill to nothing. These homes will be available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

MOVING WITH PETS: Moving Advice: Happy Pets

Transitioning to a new home and routine can be difficult for many pets. The stress and worry can cause out of character behavior, as well as lowered immune responses.

In order to ease your pets into a move, it's important to consider what makes them feel safe, secure, and stable.

First, if you are moving out of the area, be sure that your pet is current on all of their vaccines and treatments. Refill any prescriptions and consider microchipping your pet, as moves are a common time that pets become lost.

Be sure that you are well-stocked on their normal food and treats. Changing diets can cause upset tummies and general unrest. In fact, it may be best to pack a Ziplock bag of dry food in your overnight bag. This way there is no scramble to find food at the last minute.

On the day of the move, when doors are left wide open and strangers are coming and going, consider dropping your pets off with a friend or leaving them at doggy day care. This is as much for your benefit as it is for your pets'.

Before you introduce a dog to your new home, create a space that is all their own. Choose a room and set up their bed, food, and toys. Cats will want to check out their entire "kingdom." Just be sure they know where their litter box, food, and water are.

Cesar Milan, known as The Dog Whisper, recommends that when traveling with your dog you do the following:

Prepare. Have a game plan ahead of time. Are you going to need food, water, or medication on the drive? When and how often will you take breaks?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The developer of Seaport Square on the South Boston Waterfront will submit final designs this fall for the first three buildings in a massive development that will include offices, stores, and hundreds of homes.

Yesterday, developer John B. Hynes III said he has hired architects to design a pair of 20-story residential towers on Seaport Boulevard near the federal courthouse, plus a one-story structure that will house an innovation center to spur collaboration between new companies in the district.

The 23-acre project would replace parking lots that occupy much of the buildable land on the waterfront, which is drawing interest from medical and technology companies looking to relocate.

The development is a joint venture of Hynes’s firm, Boston Global Investors, and Morgan Stanley Real Estate Funds.

“We find ourselves in the position of rolling out a substantial amount of activity at Seaport Square to begin satisfying the various components that will make up and enhance the innovation district,’’ Hynes said in a statement.

Monday, June 6, 2011

RENTALS: Luxe condo rentals find eager market

The rental class has never had it so good.
Developers offer glut of properties — with perks.

Due to a glut of glitzy condo towers and the need to appease skittish lenders, some developers have found a new use for the gilded, clubby preserves once meant for buyers who could afford the seven-figure price tags. They’re renting them out and offering all of the perks normally reserved for the elite. The hand-watered grass roofs and outdoor movie theaters. The heated, valet-attended porte cocheres. The pet spas offering canine cardio and play dates for your puppy.

And developers have found that renters — reluctant to buy in a still-unsteady market —are embracing them. One marketing banner flapping against a ritzy, new rental building in New York says it best: “Repent. Rent. Repeat.’’

Frank Gehry’s crumpled, stainless-steel skyscraper in Manhattan — the tallest residential tower in the world — was originally supposed to include 200 sprawling condos along with 700 rentals. Now all of the critically acclaimed building’s apartments are for rent. The units, whose rents start at $2,630 for a 600-square-foot studio, are even rent-stabilized — meaning rents are regulated so tenants will only see small annual increases. The upgrades aren’t limited to New York buildings. In Chicago, a 547-square-foot studio in the Jeanne Gang-designed Aqua, with its liquid, undulating glass skin and curving balconies, can be had for $1,571. In late April at Silicon Valley’s Three Sixty Residences, the sales office re-opened as a rental office. Since 2007, not one of the building’s sleek condos, with their Bosch appliances and Del Tango cabinetry, had made it out of escrow and into a final sale, despite the fact that the plush residence sits in the middle of Silicon Valley, one of the nation’s top 10 millionaire hotspots.

During the credit bubble, the 651 units in New York’s MiMA might have gone into bidding wars, as similar properties had. Instead the developer put 500 of the apartments on the market as rentals. Since rentals in the Hell’s Kitchen building became available in mid-March, 70 percent of the rentals have been leased.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

LOCAL NEWS: Bigger meeting center favored

Panel members say room needed for conventions

Many members of a state panel reviewing a proposed expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center said they are leaning in favor of the $2 billion project, even as some panelists question whether it would generate enough economic benefits to make it worth taxpayers’ investment.

The expansion, which would nearly double the size of the South Boston complex, would probably require increases in tourist-targeted taxes and fees, and up to $200 million in public subsidies to finance a 1,000- to 1,200-room hotel on adjacent property.

The Globe contacted all 27 members of the panel, known as the Convention Partnership, and about half responded.

A majority of those said they were in favor of expanding the convention center, or leaned toward recommending an expansion after a year’s worth of public meetings. They suggested the project would make Boston one of the nation’s top destinations for meetings.

“All of the event planners pointed to the fact that the center needs to expand its exhibit space and needs additional hotel rooms,’’ said Richard Dimino, a member of the partnership and chief executive of the business group A Better City. “They were then asked if we took those steps, would they come to Boston, and 100 percent of them said yes.’’

But several panel members are not convinced that a costly expansion would lead to more convention business for Boston. They have asked the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to provide better data on the number of visitors the larger facility would attract, how many jobs it would create, and how much tax revenue it would generate for city and state coffers.

“Clearly there are costs here, so we need to see the benefits laid out in a detailed and realistic way,’’ said Michael Widmer, a member of the panel and president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “We need to be sold on the jobs and economic gains, otherwise it’s not a persuasive argument.’’

The Convention Partnership was appointed by city and state leaders to review the expansion proposal and recommend to the governor and legislative leaders whether it should move forward. Its members are business executives and public officials. The panel’s report is being drafted under the direction of convention authority executive director James Rooney and is expected to be filed later this summer.

One longtime critic who has followed the proceedings said he’s not surprised the panel is favoring an expansion.

“This was never meant to be a serious inquiry,’’ said Charles Chieppo, who heads a Massachusetts public policy research firm. “This is another kangaroo court where everyone expects this project to breeze through to approval. I don’t think they’re anywhere close to making a substantive case for this.’’

Saturday, June 4, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Seven Deadly Credit Score Sins

John Ulzheimer, president of Consumer Education at, the credit blogger for, is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft.
Formerly with FICO, Equifax and, Elzheimer is a rare editorial source -- a recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.

He often references in his writings the "Seven FICO Deadlies," credit score deflating actions, but only recently identified them in one consolidated list.

Your credit score, from about 350 (poor) to 800 (excellent) is a numerical rendition of your credit report. The higher your score, the more likely you'll get approved for credit and the more likely you'll get the best rate and terms. Negative actions posted to your credit report, take a bite out of your credit score.

Here's what Ulzheimer says are the seven worst things you can do to your credit score. And speaking of "seven," that's how many years these black marks can stay on your credit report.

• Deadbeat behavior. Frequent, significant and late payments 30 days, 60 days, 90 days late. Don't believe a 30-day-late payment won't hurt. It may not ruin your credit but it's not helpful and can remain on your report for years.

• Collection activity. When the lender gets tired of your deadbeat behavior it will call out the dogs -- a third-party collection agency. The collection agency will report collection activity to the credit bureaus and again, seven years of bad luck.

• Charge offs. If the lender gives up on your collection case, acknowledging you'll never pay the bill, it charges off the debt and puts your credit report on notice for seven years.

Friday, June 3, 2011

GREEN HOMES: Green Living: Earth-Friendly Cleaners

Households all across the nation use an arsenal of cleaning products to keep their homes in good working order.

With the prevalence of food-borne illness on the rise, such as E. coli and Salmonella, a clean home is more important than ever.

The question is posed then as to whether or not there are green options for cleaning supplies. Do they carry the same punch?

Many of today's most popular brands are full of harmful chemicals. On our own the contribution may seem minimal. Yet, as each household sends these chemicals down the drain, the impact on the environment increases exponentially. This harsh impact has many green activists searching for ways to use earth-friendly cleaners.

Here are ways that you can take your cleaning "green".

First, be sure to only buy products that fully disclose their ingredients. Some brands list exactly what is in their products right on the package. Choose these over brands with lists of chemicals no one can pronounce.

Next, buy products that are free of dyes and perfumes. You may be tempted to buy fabric softener or laundry detergent that is scented like the “lavender fields of France,” but dyes and perfumes are polluting our waters every day. Clean laundry smells just as good as perfumed laundry.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Market for single-family homes still slow in April

Sales decline 28 percent in Mass.

The crucial spring housing market remained sluggish in April, with Massachusetts sales and median prices slumping compared with the same month last year, according to data released yesterday.

Single-family home sales fell 28 percent in comparison with April 2010, marking the third consecutive month of slower year-over-year sales, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. For the first four months of the year, sales of single-family homes were off nearly 16 percent compared with the same time last year, Warren Group said.

The median sales price, or midpoint price, also dropped in April to $274,000, about 4 percent lower than the same month in 2010. It was the fifth consecutive month of year-over-year price declines across the state. Year-to-date, the median sales price fell to $270,000, a 3.6 percent drop compared with the first four months of 2010.

Last year at this time, housing sales and prices were still being propped up by the now expired federal home buyers tax credit, which offered up to $8,000 in incentives. Yet the downward trend illustrated by the latest numbers still surprised some housing specialists who have described the local housing market as bouncing along a bottom rather than still falling steeply.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Before taking on a reverse mortgage, it’s important to know options, costs

More and more seniors are turning to reverse mortgages to supplement their retirement income. If you are considering making this move, you need to understand some of the options and the initial and recurring costs associated with them.

Most reverse mortgages are offered through the Federal Housing Administration’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program, and I would urge you to consider a reverse mortgage only if it is under this program’s auspices.

Aside from interest, there are three basic costs associated with a reverse mortgage: an origination fee, mortgage insurance costs, and closing costs. The entire amount of these fees may be financed as part of the mortgage. The origination fee is 2 percent of the loan amount up to $200,000, plus 1 percent of the loan amount above that level. The fee cannot be less than $2,500 or more than $6,000.

HUD guidelines require that all HECM mortgages be insured. For a standard HECM mortgage, the initial mortgage insurance premium cost is 2 percent of the appraised home value plus an annual premium of 1.25 percent of the loan balance. This requirement penalizes mortgage holders who take out a loan much lower than the home value. For an HECM Saver mortgage, the insurance cost is only 0.01 percent of the appraised home value or of the principal lending limit, whichever is less.