Friday, September 30, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Fixed Mortgage Rates Sink to Lowest on Record

Fixed mortgage rates fell to all-time record lows this week following the Federal Reserve’s announcement of “Operation Twist.”

The central bank’s new stimulus policy entails reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of GSE debt and mortgage-backed securities back into new mortgage bonds issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Fed also intends to purchase $400 billion more of Treasury securities by the end of June 2012.
Data released by Freddie Mac Thursday puts the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4.01 percent (0.7 point)
for the week ending September 29. That’s down from 4.09 percent last week. A year ago at this time, the 30-year rate averaged 4.32 percent.

Of the five regions surveyed in Freddie Mac’s survey, the West region recorded the lowest average rate for the 30-year fixed dipping below the 4 percent to 3.95 percent this week.
The 15-year fixed-rate averaged 3.28 percent (0.7 point) this week in the GSE’s survey, down from last week’s average of 3.29 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year rate was 3.75 percent.

Both the 30-year and 15-year fixed rates averaged an all-time record low in Freddie Mac’s study. Interest rates for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), on the other hand, were virtually unchanged.
The 5-year ARM averaged 3.02 percent (0.6 point) this week, matching last week’s average. A year ago, the 5-year ARM was 3.52 percent.

The 1-year ARM came in at 2.83 percent (0.6 point), up one basis point from 2.82 percent last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.48 percent.
Freddie Mac’s survey averages mortgage rates from 125 lenders across the country.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

GREEN LIVING: HouseLogic Spotlight: Bargain Babe’s 8 Money-Saving Tips to Go Green

Going green means spending beaucoup bucks on scratchy toilet paper, heirloom tomatoes, and vinegar-based anything. Right?

Half-right, says Bargain Babe blogger Julia Scott in her post “Being Green IS Frugal.”

We agree.

Buying organic food, makeup, and alternative energy sources can make big dips in your budget. These are good ways to be green while saving money.

Bargain Babe should know. She’s a famous savvy saver—you can also see her on AOL’s WalletPop—who embodies the idea: Save a dollar here, grab a coupon there, and pretty soon it adds up to lunch.

In her go green/save money blog post, she and her readers wax excited about a bunch of fabulous tips:

  • Trade clothes at swap sales to save up to 80% off retail prices.
  • Donate items to charities where they earn a second life, and earn a tax deduction.
  • Recycle cans, bottles, and newspapers. Did you know you can make a lot of money from recycling electronics?
  • Eat vegetarian meals more often. Protein from eggs and vegetables is so much cheaper than meat, and leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Switch to solar power on a budget. Many companies lease solar panels for zero down.
  • Turn pantry items into beauty products: Grapeseed oil moisturizes skin and a spritz of green tea closes pores.

And in the summer months:

  • Line-dry clothes in the sun.
  • Grow vegetables and fruit at home or in a community garden. But watch out, it’s easy to spend more on a garden than what you would pay in the grocery store.

Read more:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

INSURANCE: Your Home Owners Policy Has to Keep Pace With Upgrades

If you’re thinking about adding a pool — or a deck, an elaborate swing set, or maybe even a trampoline — you might want to consider more than whether you can afford it.
You also should talk to your insurance company to see what effect it could have on your home owners policy and premiums.

If someone is injured — breaking their leg on the trampoline, tripping around the pool — the claim may not be covered if you have not updated your policy, said Mike Barbara, senior vice president of personal lines at the Otterstedt Insurance Agency, which represents more than 20 insurance companies.

Or, the company might pay the claim but then drop you as a customer, he said.
“If you’re going to do improvements to your house, you should talk to your insurance agent beforehand to figure out how those improvements affect your existing policy,” he said.
Lori DeSimone Ramil, the agent for State Farm in Englewood, notes consumers go to their doctor for trusted medical advice, their lawyer for legal services, and their accountant for financial tips.

“When it comes to protecting their assets against a lawsuit a lot of people seem to treat it very lightly,” said Ramil. “You really should have a confidant in place like an agent who can help you.”
Another benefit of talking to your agent before you make improvements is that they can give you advice that can head off possible problems, she said. Adding a deck may not require any changes to your policy or premium, but Ramil said she can give advice that would ensure the home owner takes all possible measures to reduce their risk of liability in case there is an accident. (Her advice: If the deck has more than three steps, make sure there is a handrail, and any deck raised off the ground needs railings.)

Talk to an expert
“Having an expert to talk to is really important,” Ramil said
Insurers are more wary about trampolines than pools, Barbara said. Injuries with pools can be more catastrophic, but trampoline injuries are more common. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, trampolines cause about 109,000 injuries nationwide per year. According to the CPSC, about 300 children under age 5 drown in pools and spas annually. There are about 8.6 million backyard swimming pools in the U.S., according to

Having a pool does not automatically mean that you would be disqualified for coverage, Barbara said, but the pool does need a locking gate and a fence. (In New Jersey, each municipality determines whether the fence is required by law.) If you have a slide or a diving board, that

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CONSTRUCTION: Hammurabi's real estate code

The ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi included some stiff penalties for builders of unsound homes:
  • If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death; and
  • If it ruins goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.
Oh there's more, but it gets a little morbid. Too much death for me!
But where are the Realtors mentioned? Have we always been a self-governing body of good talkers? I'm certain that as long as people have roamed the earth, middlemen and "middle-women" have existed.
I'm guessing the ANAR (Ancient National Association of Realtors) must have hosted some really great parties for Hammurabi and his wives. I'm thinking wine, flatbread, something stuffed with mint ... oh, and belly dancers -- lots of belly dancers. And thank goodness! What else would you expect for your 10 sheaves-of-wheat dues?
But just think ... what if we had been included in the code?
Picture this: You're at the signing. You've got your client's sandal in one hand and a hammer in the other and you're just about ready to nail that size 11 footwear to his new door post ... when that pesky title officer notices that you've failed to procure the buyer's signature on page six of the inspection report. Bah! You hang.
I think we'd be a mite more particular about those paper trails, hmm? That final disclaimer

Monday, September 26, 2011

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Attic Air Leaks: How to Find and Seal Them

Even if your attic floor is filled with adequate insulation, seal air leaks around pipes and other openings to prevent waste of energy and money

You probably think of your ceilings as solid surfaces, but the truth is that ceilings leak air into unfinished attic spaces through gaps and openings, such as around pipes and lighting fixtures. Air leaking into your attic could be costing you money—up to 30% of a home’s heating and cooling energy is lost due to air leaks. That’s an annual $300 bite out of your wallet that you can prevent.

Find air leaks
From below your attic, check the ceilings and note the locations of all light fixtures, ceiling fans, and electrical outlets. From the attic-side of your ceiling, find the fixtures you noted. You’ll have to pull back existing insulation to find them.

Electrical connections for fixtures, fans, and outlets require a hole cutout in your ceiling drywall. Each of these cutouts is a likely air leak. You can stop air leaks by sealing the cutouts from above with acrylic latex or silicone caulk, or with low-expansion polyurethane foam, depending on the size of the gap.

Also check for anything that penetrates the ceiling:

  • pipes
  • vent stacks
  • flues and chimneys
  • electrical wiring
  • heating and air conditioning ducts
  • access hatch
  • Gaps around these locations should also be sealed from above.

Plug large gaps
Low-expansion polyurethane foam in a can is great for plugging openings 1/4-inch to 3 inches wide, such as those around plumbing pipes and vents. A standard 12-ounce can ($5) is good for 250 feet of bead about half an inch thick.

The plastic straw applicator seals shut within two hours of the first use, so to get the most

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Home prices are expected to grow at an average annual rate of just 1.1 percent through 2015, according to a survey released Wednesday by New Jersey-based MacroMarkets LLC.

The Home Price Expectations Survey, conducted by Pulsenomics LLC on behalf of MacroMarkets, is based on the S&P/Case-Shiller index over the next five years.
Pulsenomics surveyed 111 individuals, ranging from economists and real estate experts to investment and market strategists.

“Expectations for home price performance in 2011 has become somewhat less negative,” commented Robert Shiller, MacroMarkets cofounder and Yale University professor of economics. “Unfortunately, the average projection is somewhat more negative for each of the following four years.”

On average, respondents expect prices to decrease 2.53 percent this year and 0.13 percent in 2012. They expect increases the following three years starting in 2013 with a 1.77 percent increase, according to survey results.

“Markets and government institutions are visibly struggling to respond consistently to an unprecedented rash of crises and conflicts. These struggles diminish confidence, which compounds the underlying economic stresses and lowers expectations,” Shiller stated.
In addition to documenting home price projections, Pulsenomics asked respondents for their views on the government’s role in the housing market.

Seventy-three percent of respondents believe the government is “highly likely” or “likely” to implement new policies within the next 12 months.

Almost half – 49 percent – said further government intervention in the market is unnecessary

Saturday, September 24, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: August Existing-Home Sales Rise Despite Headwinds, Up Strongly from a Year Ago

Existing-home sales increased in August, even with ongoing tight credit and appraisal problems, along with regional disruptions created by Hurricane Irene, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Monthly gains were seen in all regions.
Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 7.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.03 million in August from an upwardly revised 4.67 million in July, and are 18.6 percent higher than the 4.24 million unit level in August 2010.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said there are some positive market fundamentals. “Some of the improvement in August may result from sales that were delayed in preceding months, but favorable affordability conditions and rising rents are underlying motivations,” he said. “Investors were more active in absorbing foreclosed properties. In additional to bargain hunting, some investors are in the market to hedge against higher inflation.”
Investors2 accounted for 22 percent of purchase activity in August, up from 18 percent in July and 21 percent in August 2010. First-time buyers purchased 32 percent of homes in August, unchanged from July; they were 31 percent in August 2010.
All-cash sales accounted for 29 percent of transactions in August, unchanged from July; they were 28 percent in August 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.
“We had some disruptions from Hurricane Irene in the closing weekend of August, when many sales normally are finalized, along the Eastern seaboard and in New England,” Yun said. “As a result, the Northeast saw the smallest sales gain in August, and some general impact is expected in September with widespread flooding from Tropical Storm Lee. Aberrations in housing data are possible over the next couple months as markets recover from disrupted closings and storm damage.”
Yun said an extremely important issue currently is the renewal and availability of the National Flood Insurance Program, scheduled to expire at the end of this month. “About one out of 10 homes in this country need flood insurance to get a mortgage, and we would see significant negative market impacts without it,” he said.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.27 percent in August, down from 4.55 percent in July; the rate was 4.43 percent in August 2010. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate fell to a record low 4.09 percent.

Friday, September 23, 2011

GREEN LIVING: Today's Dream Homes: Smaller, More Comfortable, More Energy Efficient and More Affordable

Green building is permeating -- and lifting up -- the limping housing market. 

Buyers are losing interest in an energy-draining dream home that comes with high costs and wasteful space. The economy has swiftly changed us from seeking abundant to practical living. A real estate ad that sings praises about all of the space that a home has to offer, like this dream home described below in an ad, now has a buyer's head spinning with dollar signs and question marks above.

"Lavishly outfitted Old World style home perfect for anyone looking for a free and spacious environment, with high arching doors and high ceilings throughout. A 23-foot ceiling with an arched window above in the great room gives a very spacious feeling. The grand foyer sets the tone, with a curving staircase that leads to a loft overlooking the main room and leading to the numerous upstairs rooms."

Buyer asks, "How much is it going to cost me to heat and cool this place?"
Such a wealth of space was yesterday's appeal. We quickly have become more sensible, realizing the drain a lot of space has on energy costs and mortgage payments. We are a people looking to cut our costs. And as such, we are shopping for homes that allow us to do more with less space.

Economic times are shaping us, and many folks now are making energy-smart choices when considering the dream home of our future. People are looking for economic security as well as ways to reduce their impact on the environment. This new home is practical, affordable, and actually quite appealing, and its name is "Energy-Efficient."

Is building an energy-efficient home really worth it?
The average homeowner spends close to $1,300 a year on utility bills. An energy-efficient home can reduce utility bills by 10 to 50%, according to Alliant Energy.
The Energy Information Administration has projected a 15% increase in space heating costs compared to last year, as we are faced with higher energy costs and a projected colder winter this season. These trends are expected to continue.

The benefits of energy efficiency are multiple: reduced energy bills, energy use, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, and increased energy security.

But what does the new "Energy-Efficient" home look like?
Your new dream home is likely to be smaller but designed to look bigger with the right floor plan, window locations and color choices. Multi-purpose rooms and convertible furniture selections make it easier to do more with less space. Shared spaces save on square footage (and save on furniture too). For example, creative planning on a recent TKA house design resulted in a 15' X 30' family room that converts into a 24-person dining room for holiday entertaining.
It's also going to be a lot easier to maintain your energy-efficient home, because it's smaller, and

Thursday, September 22, 2011


INSURANCE: Kids Heading Off to College May be Covered by Your Home Owners Policy

Today’s typical college student brings an expensive array of personal possessions with them to school. If those possessions are stolen or lost in a fire, your home owners policy may offer some protection, according to the New York Insurance Association.

“Sophisticated electronics and expensive sports equipment are increasingly common on campuses around the country, with many students bringing thousands of dollars’ worth of personal possessions with them to college,” Ellen Melchionni, president of NYIA said. “And with the cost of tuition rising, the last thing students or their parents need is to pay to replace costly items due to theft, fire, or another disaster.”

Additional insurance may not be necessary. If the student lives in a dorm, most personal possessions are covered under their parents’ home owners or renters insurance policies. However, some home insurance policies may limit the amount of insurance for off-premises belongings to 10% of the total amount of coverage for personal possessions. “This means if the parents have $70,000 worth of insurance for their belongings, only $7,000 would be applicable to possessions in the dorm,” Melchionni said. “But, not all insurance policies include this type of limit, so you should check with your agent or company representative about your specific policy.”

Computer and electronic equipment and items such as jewelry may also be subject to coverage limits under a standard home owners policy. If the limits are too low, you can buy a special personal property floater or an endorsement for these items. There are also stand-alone insurance policies for computers and cell phones.

Another option is buying a stand-alone policy specifically designed for students living away at college. This can be an economical way to provide additional insurance coverage for a variety of potential losses.

Students who live off campus are likely not covered by their parents’ home owners policy and may need to purchase their own renters insurance. Parents should consult with their insurance agent or company representative to see if their home owners or renters policy extends to off-campus living situations.

For students going off to college, NYIA recommends the following:

Leave valuables at home if possible. While it may be necessary to take a computer or sports equipment to campus, other expensive items, such as valuable jewelry, luxury watches, or costly electronics, should be left behind or kept in a local safety deposit box.

Create a “dorm inventory.” Before leaving home, students should make a detailed inventory of all

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Pending Home Sales Slip in July but Up Strongly from One Year Ago

WASHINGTON (August 29, 2011) – Pending home sales declined in July but remain well above year-ago levels, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. All regions show monthly declines except for the West, which continues to show the highest level of sales contract activity.

The Pending Home Sales Index, which measures the number of home sales contracts signed, slipped 1.3% in July, but is 14.4% above the level seen in July 2010.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said sales activity is underperforming. “The market can easily move into a healthy expansion if mortgage underwriting standards return to normalcy,” he said. “We also need to be mindful that not all sales contracts are leading to closed existing-home sales. Other market frictions need to be addressed, such as assuring that proper comparables are used in appraisal valuations, and streamlining the short sales process.”
Regional pending home sales
The PHSI in the Northeast declined 2.0% in July but is 9.7% above July 2010. In the Midwest the index slipped 0.8% but is 18.8% above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South fell 4.8% but are 9.5% higher than July 2010. In the West the index rose 3.6% and is 20.6% above a year ago.

“Looking at pending home sales over a longer span, contract activity over the past three months is fairly comparable to the first three months of the year, and well above the low seen in April,” Yun said. “The underlying factors for improving sales are developing, such as rising rents, record high affordability conditions, and investors buying real estate as a future inflation hedge. It is now a question of lending standards and consumers having the necessary confidence to enter the market.”

Read more:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

REFINANCING: Avoid Home Equity Loan and Refinancing Scams

Refinancing a mortgage to a lower interest rate can make sense for some homeowners. So too can taking out a home equity loan against the value you’ve built up, perhaps to finance a kitchen remodel or pay Junior’s college tuition. What doesn’t make sense is losing your home because you fall for home equity loan and refinancing scams such as loan flipping and equity stripping. Although scam artists can be very convincing, homeowners who know what to look out for are less likely to become victims.

Loan flipping
Loan flipping is a scam targeted at homeowners looking to get money back when they refinance a mortgage. This is often referred to as a cash-out refi. Scammers take advantage of this desire to tap the equity in a home to pay for things the homeowner couldn’t otherwise afford.

A cash-out refi in itself isn’t a scam. For some, it’s a smart way to borrow. What is a scam is when a lender, after receiving a few payments, comes back to you with an offer of another refinance, this time to fund a vacation or a new car. The easy money is difficult for some homeowners to turn down.

Many borrowers don’t realize how much they’re paying in fees to refinance. The U.S. Federal Reserve estimates the settlement costs on a typical refi to be 3% to 6% of the loan amount. Loan flippers often charge much more, plus they may quietly roll the settlement costs into the loan to disguise the total charges. Take a day or two to get quotes from several lenders and compare terms.

Loan flipping ultimately leaves you with more debt and more years that you’ll owe on that debt. When the equity finally dries up, you might not be able to afford your higher monthly payments and another refinancing will be impossible. You could be forced to sell your home.
Equity stripping
Equity stripping can occur in several ways, but at its heart is a scam artist who gains ownership of your home, borrows against it or sells it, pockets the proceeds, and disappears. You’re often left with a hefty mortgage balance and no place to live.

A telling sign of equity stripping is a lender that offers more loan than you can afford or that encourages you to pad your income on a loan application. Homeowners with low incomes but a good amount of equity built up are prime targets because they otherwise would have a hard time borrowing. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a lender that’s pushing a home loan with too-high monthly payments is likely counting on foreclosing on the property when you fall behind.

A variation on equity stripping has a scam artist talking you into selling your home at a discount or signing over the deed, perhaps with a promise of securing better loan terms if your name isn’t on it. The scammer promises to let you stay in the home as a renter until the refinancing is finalized, then you can buy back the home. In reality, the scam artist drains equity by borrowing against the house or selling the house, perhaps after evicting you.

According to Consumers Union, don’t agree to a home equity loan if you can’t afford it. A good rule of thumb: Your combined home loan payments shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross income. The nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine also warns against signing any documents unless you understand them and turning over you property to anyone without first consulting a trusted adviser.

Phantom help
Watch out for unsolicited offers to refinance from companies claiming government affiliations. In particular, don’t be fooled by the use of official-sounding acronyms like “TARP” or official-looking

Monday, September 19, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: 4 Drawbacks of Home Equity Loans

Taking out a home equity loan against the value of your property can backfire if you fail to avoid these common pitfalls in the borrowing process

When you need a quick source of funds, a home equity loan can be tempting. Done wisely, you can use the lower-interest debt secured by your house to pay off debts with high interest rates, like credit cards. It’s also a good choice if you know exactly how much you need to borrow for a big expenditure like a new kitchen.

Home equity loans aren’t always the best choice for accessing cash. The best use for home equity is to buy things that will contribute to your home’s value, like a needed remodel, or your family’s future income, like a college education. Consider carefully before you cash in home equity to spend on consumer goods like clothing, furniture, or vacations.

The fact that you’re staking your home against your ability to pay off the debt is just the beginning of the potential drawbacks.

Drawback #1: Money doesn’t come cheap
A home equity loan is a second mortgage on your house. Interest rates are usually much lower for a home equity loan than for unsecured debt like personal loans and credit cards. But transaction and closing costs, similar to those for primary mortgages, make home equity loans a pricey — and imprudent — way to finance something you may want but don’t absolutely need, like a fur coat, exotic vacation, or Ferrari.

The average closing costs on a $200,000 mortgage are $4,070.

 To compare offers on competing home equity loans, use a calculator that compares fees, interest rates, and how long you’ll take to pay back the loan. Ask your current mortgage lender if it offers any discounts if you get a second mortgage from the same company.

Drawback #2: Early payoff can be costly
Home equity loans almost always have fixed interest rates, so you know your monthly payment won’t rise. Do check to see if there’s a pre-payment penalty — a fee the lender will charge if you pay back the loan early because you sell your house, or you just want to get rid of the monthly payment.

Such early-termination fees are typically a percentage of the outstanding balance, such as 2%, or a certain number of months’ worth of interest, such as six months. They’re triggered if you pay off part or all of a loan within a certain time frame, typically three years. Despite the penalty, it may be worthwhile to refinance if you can lower interest rates sufficiently.
If you want to be able to borrow money periodically, it may make sense to go for a home equity line of credit instead of a lump-sum second mortgage. Although more lenders are charging stiff prepayment penalties for HELOCs too, these are triggered when the line is closed within a certain period, such as three years, not when the balance is paid off. Bear in mind that interest rates on most HELOCs are variable.

The big advantage to a credit line is that you can borrow whatever amount you need as you need money. The big drawback is that the lender can shut off the line of credit if the value of your home

Sunday, September 18, 2011

REMODELING: Low-Cost Kitchen Storage: Cheap Stress Reduction

Good news for budget-minded cleaning compulsives: Getting organized in the kitchen won’t drain your piggy bank. Stash more cash and control the chaos with these low-cost kitchen storage solutions, all readily available at home centers, discount stores, and online.

Rack attack: Store pots, everyday dishes, spices, and wine on racks that are freestanding, wall-hung, and ceiling-hung—and voila! Everything is in its own location, visible, and easily accessible!

Position the racks where they make sense: A pot rack above the cooktop; a dish rack close to the dishwasher for quick unloading; spices near the range or meal prep area; a wine rack near the wine glasses and dining table.

You’ll find racks in metal, wood, and other materials, starting as low as $10 to $15.

Shelf expression: You can size an open shelf to fit anywhere you need it and paint or stain it to match your d├ęcor. Use shelves for storing such kitchen necessities as cookbooks, attractive dishware, oils and vinegars, and spices.

Home improvement centers have storage sections where you can hunt, but don’t overlook the office supply and bathroom sections for even more low-cost shelves.

You’ll find cool shelves starting as low as $8.

Great divide: Organize the contents of kitchen drawers and cabinets with wire or wood inserts. Drawer dividers keep utensils sorted and orderly. Vertical dividers inside cabinets create a spot

Saturday, September 17, 2011

HOME MAINTENANCE: Repair Sagging and Leaking Rain Gutters to Save Money

Sagging and leaking gutters risk damage to your siding and foundation that may cost thousands to repair. Use gutter sealant, patches, and hangers to fix sagging and leaky gutters at a cost of only a few dollars.

How to fix leaky gutters
Seal leaky gutter joints and small holes using gutter sealant applied from the inside the gutter. A tube of sealant costs about $5.

Repair larger holes using a gutter patch kit or a scrap of metal flashing glued down with sealant. You’ll find patch kits at home improvement centers for about $10.

How to straighten sagging gutters
If you suspect a sag, get up on a ladder and sight down the length of the gutter. Gutters should be straight. Long gutters should have a peak in the middle to enable water to run toward downspouts at either end.
The problem area should be easy to spot. In most cases, you can simply reposition loose hangers, using a cordless drill or a hammer.

Here’s how to set stubborn sags straight:
From the ground, prop a long, straight 1x4 or 2x4 brace under the sag.
Get up on a ladder and remove a hanger or two near the sag.
Sighting along the gutter, adjust the brace until the sag disappears.
Replace the hangers. If needed, add one or two new hangers for extra support. They cost less than $3 each.

Read more:

Friday, September 16, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Wire Your Home to Sell

Home buyers are ga-ga over gadgets.

A survey by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) says home security systems, home theater-wired systems, home automation management systems and energy management systems are hot selling points.

"There is a strong relationship between home technologies and the real estate market. While the market needs to recover before home technologies play a more important role in home sales, the industry can help prepare real estate agents to be comfortable in discussing these types of systems with their clients," said CEA's Rhonda Daniel.

CEA said the vast majority of real estate agents have encountered homes with installed technologies.

In the past 24 months, nine in 10 real estate agents have been involved in buying, selling or showing a plugged-in home equipped with technology ranging from more established systems such as monitored security (93 percent) and home theater or home theater-wired systems (89 percent) to newer technologies like home automation and management systems (54 percent) and energy management systems (51 percent).

More than half of real estate agents said they are excited by these homes and believe their clients' enthusiasm for technology mirrors their own. Nearly two-thirds of real estate agents said their clients are excited to see technologies in homes.

That's no surprise.

The soft economy is bringing more and more entertainment home as a cost-saving factor. That

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Lenders are Looking More at the Condition of the Property

It is pretty well known these days that mortgage applicants are liable to undergo scrutiny more thorough than just about anyone in the business can remember. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in our neck of the woods (Orange County, California) we are also seeing the emergence of a parallel trend. Not only are borrowers getting a more thorough examination, but also the properties themselves are being scrutinized as never before.

I am not talking about the value of the property -- those kinds of appraisal issues have been with us for some time now. Today, I am referring to the physical condition of the property.

FHA and VA have historically been more stringent than conventional lenders with respect to issues such as peeling paint, unpermitted additions, and non-fully functioning appliances. Nowadays, though, it seems just as likely that a real or perceived deficiency in the property’s physical condition may cause as much of a problem for a conventional loan as for one that is FHA or VA.

I am not complaining that there is anything wrong with this. Certainly, the institution that is putting up the lion’s share of the money has a right (perhaps even an obligation to investors) to require that the security for the loan is in acceptable condition according to its own standards. But it is something that agents need to be aware of as the loan process is working its way towards funding.

Critical consideration of property conditions may occur at one or both of two stages in the loan process.

1. At the appraisal stage: it’s tough enough having to deal with distressed property comps, additionally, agents can no longer rely on appraisers just to measure the property, draw a floorplan, and leave. Sometimes they are liable to conduct their own mini-inspection – checking out the roof, looking in the attic, flushing toilets, randomly checking appliances, etc. Malfunctions or deficiencies may not affect evaluation, but, if flagged, correction may become a condition of loan approval.

2. At the underwriting stage: it is becoming more common for underwriters to probe into the

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Bright Metropolitan Markets

There are bright spots in the real estate market! The National Association of Home Builders' First American Improving Markets Index reveals that key metropolitan areas have shown recent improvement in housing permits, employment, and housing prices.

This is a vast improvement over last year's numbers, which showed no growth at all. Today, there are 12 areas seeing growth.

"Despite the challenging conditions in the national economy and housing sector, there are areas throughout the country where we are seeing pockets of improvement," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "Housing conditions are local, and do not always reflect the national picture. We created this new index to shine a light on those housing markets across the country that have stabilized and have begun to show signs of recovery."

These growth markets are calculated by analyzing Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) growth numbers, house price data from Freddie Mac, and permit data from the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the NAHB, "A metro area must see improvement in all three areas for at least six months following their respective troughs before being included on the improving markets list." This index is designed to track housing across the country in order to identify areas of improving economic health.

"It’s not surprising that many of the states represented are energy rich areas," says NAHB chief economist David Crowe. "Those are the regions still experiencing relatively strong employment, supporting housing demand."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Boston Herald moving to Seaport

The Boston Herald plans to relocate to the Seaport District early next year, the newspaper’s publisher said yesterday, abandoning its longtime headquarters in the South End for new office space in South Boston.

"It was very important to me that the Herald continue to make its home in the city of Boston.’’ Herald Media president and publisher Patrick J. Purcell said in a statement.

The company has signed a 10-year-lease at Seaport Center on D Street.

The newspaper will join a growing list of businesses moving into the waterfront area between Fort Point Channel, Summer Street, and the Boston Marine Industrial Park, including ad agency Allen & Gerritsen and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The Herald will occupy 51,000 square feet on two floors of the Seaport Center, according to a note sent to employees by Purcell yesterday.

The building was acquired by Boston-based Beal Cos. and Rockpoint Group in April 2006.

“While the move from our home for the last 53 years on Harrison Avenue is somewhat bittersweet, the amenities and efficiencies we’ll enjoy in the Seaport Center will be substantial,’’ Purcell wrote.

There are already plans to redevelop the Herald’s current headquarters, on the corner of Herald Street and Harrison Avenue.

The two-story building was built in the 1950s.

In June, Newton-based National Development filed a proposal with the Boston Redevelopment Authority to transform the property into a mixed-use complex with retail stores, apartments, underground parking, and amenities that include public gardens and outdoor seating.

Erin Ailworth Boston Globe September 7, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

BUYING A HOME: 7 Questions Homebuyers Need to Answer

I find more and more that buyers are calling the listing agent of a property and expecting them to have their best interest in mind. The listing agent represents the seller in a transaction, and always has the sellers’ best interest in mind. Anything you say to the listing agent can and will most likely be used against you in a negotiation. A Buyer’s Agent will know what to tell the sellers side without weakening your negotiating position. Here are some questions you should consider the next time you are on the fence about whether to use a Buyer’s Agent

1) Do you know how to comprehend all of the local market data to best understand what is a good value, current trends and absorption rates?

2) Are you familiar with a common residential real estate contract and how to interpret various clauses to protect yourself from making common buyer mistakes?

3) Do you know what not to say to the seller to hurt your negotiating position?

4) Do you know the zoning regulations, building codes, and any other laws pertaining to real estate in the area you desire?

5) Are you familiar with the various loan types and special programs that you may qualify for?

6) Do you have the expertise to negotiate on your own behalf, especially if the seller has an

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Lawmakers get further details of convention hall proposal

New details for the proposed $2 billion expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center include a bustling commercial area around the giant hall in South Boston, with a grass-covered rooftop park, several new hotels, restaurants, and stores, according to a proposal released by state officials.

The area now surrounding the hall, including Summer Street, is a patchwork of barren strips, forbidding road barriers, or large buildings with few sidewalk activities.

If fully built out, the parking lots and industrial parcels around the center would be filled with a mix of midpriced and luxury hotels, parking garages, and several public parks. The convention hall would get a large ballroom and an expanded exhibit hall at the rear of the current property, at the corner of D and Cypher streets, and the existing Westin Hotel would add a new wing with hundreds of rooms.

James Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said the plan is meant to be a broad vision for the area rather than a specific blueprint, especially since the state doesn’t own much of the property where the development would occur.

But he recently distributed the plan with state lawmakers who would have to sign off on the use of public funds to expand the convention complex, a project Rooney said is necessary to attract the nation’s largest trade shows.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: Deal reached for Navy site

The public organization overseeing redevelopment of the South Weymouth Naval Air Station has reached a tentative deal to buy a huge swath of the base from the Navy, providing land needed for construction of a minicity with thousands of homes, stores, and recreation space.

South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., which represents the communities surrounding the base, will purchase about 900 acres of property from the Navy for $25 million.

The agreement, to be finalized in coming weeks, marks the final chapter of long and complicated negotiations over the disposition of the decommissioned air base.

The deal, announced by Senator John Kerry’s office late yesterday, will allow base developer LNR Property Corp. to continue with work on SouthField, a project that will cover the property with homes, stores, offices, a golf course, and other amenities. Work on the first homes in the development began earlier this year after the state provided stimulus money and other funds for construction of an access road across the property.

The final deal to transfer the property is expected to be completed by Nov. 15.

Casey Ross Boston Globe August 31, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Appraisers say new rules will cause confusion

Abbreviations, ratings intended to add consistency

New guidelines aimed at standardizing the way home appraisals are conducted will result in confusion, delays, and higher costs in an already vulnerable housing market, according to many home-appraisal professionals.

The changes, which take effect today, are being required by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Under the new rules, appraisers must use a set of abbreviations to describe homes, and rate conditions through a system of numbers and letters. Some appraisers say the new format will be difficult for home buyers and sellers to understand.

Real estate agents also must provide more information to appraisers, including whether kitchens and bathrooms have been remodeled, and when the work was done.

Because most lenders eventually sell their mortgages to quasi-government mortgage agencies, primarily Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the new requirements will affect the majority of housing sales.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Google wants to help homeowners add solar power panels

NEW YORK - Google wants to buy solar panels for your house.

The search giant announced yesterday that it will provide $75 million to build 3,000 residential solar electricity systems across the country. Google will own the panels, and get paid over time by customers who purchase the electricity the panels produce.

Google is creating a fund with a San Francisco company called Clean Power Finance that local solar installers will be able to tap so they can offer financing plans to prospective buyers. The plans allow homeowners to install a $30,000 solar electricity system on their house for little or no money up front. Instead, customers pay a monthly fee that is the same or less than what they would otherwise be paying their local utility for power.

Google will earn what it calls an attractive return on its investment in two ways. It gets the monthly fee from homeowners, and, as the owner of the systems, Google will get the benefit of federal and state renewable energy subsidies.

The systems will not carry the Google brand, however. Instead, local installers will offer the deal under their own brands.

Solar power has gotten dramatically cheaper, but the up-front cost for a homeowner remains formidable. A typical home system costs $25,000 to $30,000. Federal and state governments offer subsidies to help defray the cost somewhat, but it is still far too much money for many homeowners to shell out.

Solar financing plans are offered by a handful of large solar companies such as SunRun, SolarCity, and Sungevity, and they are growing in popularity. Google created a $280 million fund with

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Sluggish Economy Keeping Low Mortgage Rates in Place

Recently reported data regarding U.S. jobs is having a negative impact on global markets throughout the world. As stocks have suffered, the sluggish economy is keeping low mortgage rates in place as investors continue to choose safe assets.'s daily survey of wholesale and direct lenders show that mortgage rates have remained stable for the past week as a result of uneasiness that continues to flood the markets. Current 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.875%, 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.250% and 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 2.625%. On the bright side, the majority of consumers are employed and, with good credit, can take advantage of these historical low mortgage rates. With housing prices down, this can be a win-win situation for many and an opportunity that may never happen again. These low conforming rates are available with 0.7 to 1% origination point to well qualified borrowers who can meet lender guidelines to receive approval.

FHA mortgage rates also continue to be low. Many consumers choose FHA mortgage loans because they are consumer friendly since it is goal of FHA to promote homeownership. FHA 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.750%, FHA 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.500% and FHA 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 2.750%. Despite FHA's higher closing costs (APR), which is due to the upfront mortgage insurance premium and other FHA fees, borrowers find FHA's benefits assist in making the overall transaction affordable. A down payment of 3.5% is accepted with a credit score as low as 580, but FHA mortgage rates are not affected by low credit scores. FHA also allows borrowers to use gifts that meet the guidelines, as well as housing grants to reduce FHA mortgage loans.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

HOME MAINTENANCE: Fall Fixes for the Home

Fall is a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat of Summer. It also offers homeowners all across the country a chance to ready their homes for cold weather, hard rains, and all that cold seasons have to offer.
As the seasons change, once again it's time to perform some home maintenance. Here are 10 yearly tasks that will help keep your household in working order when the temperatures drop.

1. Clean Gutters: Do so frequently. Clogged gutters can result in standing water and roof damage. Plus, if you clean them frequently, you're less likely to have to deal with decomposing leaves.

2. Mow and trim: It seems counter intuitive, but Fall is a wonderful time to both fertilize and reseed your lawn. A maintained lawn improves a home's value and saleability. Use this time to trim shrubs and grass one last time so that your yard stands out, even in a dormant season.

3. Prune trees: With Winter comes ice. With ice comes broken limbs. Take advantage of nice weather and cut back or remove precarious limbs. It only takes one heavy snow or ice to weigh down a limb and damage property.

4. Powerwash: Driveways, sidewalks, decks, and patios can get quite grimy during the summer months. Invest in a powerwasher and you'll be surprised how clean you can get them!