Monday, October 31, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mortgage applications increase 4.9%

Mortgage applications rose 4.9% last week as refinancing activity and home purchases both increased, an industry trade group said.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said the refinance index climbed 4.4% from the previous week, while the seasonally adjusted purchase index jumped 6.4%.

Refinancing applications accounted for 77.3% of all mortgage applications, which is essentially unchanged from 77.6% a week earlier.

Activity related to the adjustable-rate mortgage increased to 5.9% of total applications, up from 5.8%.
Investors accounted for 6% of mortgage application activity in September, which is a 5.7% increase from August.

"This change was led by an increase in the Mountain region," the MBA wrote. "In addition, the share of purchase mortgages for second homes decreased to 5.8 percent in September from 6% in August."
The average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a loan balance of $417,500 or less remained unchanged at 4.33%. Meanwhile, the average contract interest rate for the 30-year, FRM with jumbo loan balances increased to 4.68% from 4.64%.

The average interest rate on a 30-year, FRM backed by the FHA fell to 4.11% from 4.12%, while the 15-year, FRM increased to 3.62% from 3.61%.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LANDSCAPING & MAINTENANCE: Keeping Up The Yard Through The Winter

This is the time when people start to want to stay indoors a bit more, especially when the temperatures significantly drop.

The good news is that if you prepare ahead, you can save yourself time and money. Taking some good housekeeping steps now will allow you to step outside into the fresh spring air next year to a well-preserved outdoor space.

But you can't neglect your outdoor patios and decks, especially if you plan to sell soon. Buyers won't want to see broken-wood decks or corroded wrought iron patio sets in your backyard.
Where to begin? First, if your deck is looking a little worn and tired, make the necessary repairs now. Don't wait until you can stick your foot through a board (like I did). That's not only dangerous but it also mandates a quick fix.

Give your deck a good cleaning and sealing or staining before the weather gets too cold and wet to do this. Make sure you check for loose nails and get rid of any splintery edges by sanding them down. Seal with waterproofing sealants. For these, generally the weather has to be above 32 degrees F and 50 degrees F for sealing and stains, respectively, to work properly.

Put the clippers to work. Take a good look around your yard and decide which plants need to go. Many annuals may have been killed by frost and it's time to clear them away. Keep your flowers keep them looking good by trimming away dead leaves. If you cut your plants back now it will cause them to grow and flower more effectively later on.

Add seasonal plants. You can still have some nice color in your yard if you get the right plants for

Saturday, October 29, 2011

BUYING A HOME: You Can't Keep A Good Homebuyer Down

An estimated 2 million home buyers are poised to take the plunge just as soon as the economy returns from the deep.

Eighty-nine percent of owners and 59 percent of renters feel that homeownership is important to the American family while 87 percent of owners and 73 percent of renters feel homeownership is aneconomic cornerstone, according to Hanley Wood's Housing 360 Survey.
That's because Americans still place a high value on homeownership, but qualifying for a mortgage and raising a down payment in an economy that won't produce jobs, keeps many of them sitting on the fence.

Indeed, housing, including shelter itself, household operations, insurance, fuels and utilities, water, sewage and trash services and furnishings, among other expenditures, account for about 40 percent of the Consumer Price Index, an index of consumer expenditures, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Approximately one in three renters and about one in five existing homeowners think it's a good time to buy a home and plan to make a move to buy in the next two years, according to the survey.

The survey was electronically delivered to homeowners and renters from a national sample of adults 20 years of age and older in June to early July 2011 resulting in 3,005 results, including 1,954 homeowners and 1,051 renters.

"We thought people would be soured after watching home values fall but instead we found the typical American still places high value on homeownership," said Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood a media company and data research outfit serving the housing and construction industries.

"We found this holds across all demographic groups and across the country, even in hard-hit

Friday, October 28, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mortgage Applications Increase as Low Mortgage Rates Remain Steady

As markets changed directions this past week with stocks moving higher, pressure was put on mortgage rates as MBS prices suffered. In the end,'s survey of wholesale and direct lenders show that mortgage rates remained the same regardless of market volatility. Low mortgage rates that have remained steady have actually been successful in attracting consumers according to the Mortgage Banker's Association who reported that mortgage applications for both refinance and purchase applications increased for the week ending October 7th.

Applications for FHA mortgage loans have also been on the increase. Many consumers find that FHA's consumer friendly guidelines make it easier to obtain mortgage financing. Staying competitive with conforming mortgage rates, 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%. FHA's loan limit for one unit properties is $271,050 in most areas, while in high cost areas it can be as high as $625,500. FHA loan limits are based on the median home price of an area. Just about anyone with decent credit can obtain an FHA mortgage since FHA, in their effort to increase affordable homeownership, has easier credit qualifications. An often overlooked benefit of FHA is that these mortgages are assumable should a borrower decide to sell their home. Although FHA closing costs (APR) tend to be higher because of various FHA fees and the upfront mortgage insurance premium, FHA does have a list of what closing cost fees are allowed which is there to protect borrowers.
Although statistics could be better, borrowers looking for a bargain are out there taking advantage of what is being offered. Still at their lowest levels, 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%. These are the lowest conforming mortgage rates available with 0.7 to 1% origination fee. While the 30 year conforming mortgage is usually the choice for new home buyers, the 15 year conforming mortgage has been a favorite for refinancing. Even though monthly savings may not be significant, being finished with mortgage payments sooner is enough incentive for many borrowers. Conforming mortgage loans require that borrowers have good credit scores, but having a reasonable amount of assets can compensate for credit scores that fall below 700. Long term employment is also a plus for borrowers seeking a conforming mortgage loan with low mortgage rates. Since there are many factors that make up the underwriting process,

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Persevere, Don't Abandon Your Dreams

Are you letting global uncertainty extinguish your real estate dreams without full consideration because money is an issue? Sometimes balancing livable compromises against researched options can help you achieve more than you may have believed possible.

Your future should not be entirely defined by what is affordable. When it comes to where you’ll live and how, concentrating on finances alone may short-change you in the long run.
One long-time reader is living proof that adapting your finances to achieve your dreams is a powerful alternative to designing your life around a lack of money.

When two people close to Tina Lowe (identity protected) died prematurely, Lowe promised herself she would not to spend her life sitting at a desk. She wanted to retire at 60 and start enjoying life.

“Friends and family couldn’t understand how I was doing it, but I did it anyway because that is what I wanted to do,” said Lowe, explaining how she achieved home ownership and early retirement without the million dollars that pundits say is essential to a successful future.
Lowe was almost 50 when her 30-year marriage ended, leaving her financially vulnerable. For a few years, Lowe held down two jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, a move to a small, less expensive apartment on the outskirts of town allowed her to quit the part-time weekend job.
Lowe invested time and effort in learning about money. She took advantage of her employer’s shared-contribution program and a loan from a friend to build up her Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). She also invested time in learning all she could about pensions, indexing, RRSPs, and, later, Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA). From company seminars to reading anything she could find on the principles of investing, Lowe made sure she fully understood how money made money. By the time Lowe left work at 60, her RRSP fund totaled almost C$50,000.
Economic volatility did not shake Lowe’s determination to leave work on schedule. Meticulous planning and appreciation of the rewards of a simple lifestyle maintained her commitment. 

Creative back-up plans added security.
When Lowe noticed an advertisement for a condominium that could be carried for about what she was paying in rent, she revived the dream of home ownership that had been abandoned in favour of early retirement. Once again Lowes began researching diligently. She learned how condominiums work and what gave them sustainable value. When she discovered that prices

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: West Coast firm takes on Fort Point

The West Coast development firm Gerding Edlen is bringing its urban development vision to Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, where it plans to begin construction next spring on a 20-story tower at 319 A St. that will be the former industrial enclave’s largest residential building. The firm purchased the property and an adjacent building on Melcher Street recently from Archon/Goldman, which had spent years getting permits for a large apartment project on those properties.

Casey RossGlobe Staff  October 20, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: 3 mortgage mistakes you can avoid

The mortgage market is in a state of tumult these days. Rates are bizarrely low, but many homes are worth much less than the mortgage balances they secure. People are still losing their homes left and right, but millions of mortgage applications of creditworthy borrowers are being rejected every year.

Against this backdrop, it's really no wonder that would-be buyers and homeowners alike are in a state of confusion about which end is up in the mortgage marketplace.

To shed some light into this darkness, here are three very common mortgage mistakes that you might be making as we speak -- and some strategies for avoiding or correcting them.

1. Failing to try to refinance because you're upside-down. At last count, nearly 11 million Americans were upside-down on their homes -- meaning they owe more in mortgage(s) than the home is worth -- and that's about 23 percent of all American homes. With interest rates having dropped to historic low after historic low, more than 10 million Americans have refinanced their mortgages since 2009.

But most homeowners with negative equity feel like they are trapped in their 6, 7 or even 8 percent interest mortgages, unable to save the hundreds of dollars every month of a mortgage at today's sub-4 percent rates, because no lender will refinance them.

The fact is, multiple options abound for lowering your interest rate and monthly payment if you're upside down on your home loan. Banks are increasingly amenable to simply modify existing mortgages to render them less prone to default and foreclosure -- especially when the homeowner is trying to recover from a financial hardship like interrupted income due to job loss or illness, and especially with upside-down loans (which are particularly liable to strategic default, without modification).
 Also, many banks offer refis on mortgages as much as 25 percent underwater (so long as no payments have been missed) through the Obama administration's Home Affordable Refinance Program and the less widely adopted Federal Housing Administration Short Refinance Program.

Contact your own mortgage bank's loss mitigation division about a loan modification or a refi under HARP, or reach out to any mortgage broker that offers FHA loans to apply for the Short Refi Program.

2. Walking into the bank branch to get a mortgage. Not to jump on the anti-bank bandwagon, but unless your bank happens to be a neighborhood credit union or one of the few large banks that ranks highly in customer satisfaction (e.g., USAA), you'll likely not be satisfied with the speed, customer service or assertiveness of a mortgage banker you meet just walking into

Saturday, October 22, 2011

FINANCE: Your Credit Report is an Important Asset

Your credit profile is one of your most important assets and probably your only intellectual property asset. Each one of us has credit history profile data kept by each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Those companies started accumulating this vital information about your borrowing and other behavior the first time you applied for a credit card, education loan, or car loan. They have this information because you allowed your lender to provide it to the bureaus each time you applied for credit

Credit Can

Be An Asset or Liability to You

You want those bureaus to have your information so that you can build a positive credit report for yourself by paying bills on time and conforming to the loan terms. Of course, if you pay bills late or not at all, what would have been an asset turns into a liability for you.
Your credit profile stays with you for your whole life and will impact many aspects of your life in positive or negative ways. Note: if your credit profile is a liability based on your past payment and credit history, you can improve it so it becomes an asset – but it usually takes many years of hard work.
Unknown to many, not only will your profile affect the interest rates you pay on all of your loans and borrowing, but it can impact the cost of your car and health insurance premiums, whether or not you can rent a particular apartment, and sometimes whether you are qualified for a specific job. That’s right, insurance and job opportunities can be impacted by your credit profile, but not in every state due to some state laws.


The way that most companies analyze your credit is by something called your credit score. The next time you apply for credit that company will do a credit inquiry, which will pull your payment and borrowing history from the credit bureaus, run it through third-party predictive model software, and assign a score to you based on the model. The model software tries to predict your future borrowing and repayment characteristics based on your past history and millions of other individuals’ profiles and payment history. The score will allow the creditor to determine your borrowing capacity, or the interest rate you will pay on loans, or if you are qualified for a job or

Friday, October 21, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Is Real Estate a Man’s or Woman’s World?

In the age-old battle of the sexes, who “wins” when it comes to pricing and putting homes up for sale?

Believe it or not, America’s workforce is made up of more ladies than gents (almost 60% more, to be specific). Yes sir-eee Bob – it’s very much a woman’s world as far as numbers go, but does this hold true when you take a look at the nitty-gritty details, as in the actual job? Well, out of shear curiosity, we decided to look into the guy-to-girl ratio among real estate pros and see how male and female agents differ – besides on the obvious stuff, that is.
Why are we doing this, you ask? Well, why the heck not?! This is seriously interesting, not to mention fun, factoids to know. And you thought rent vs. buy was a great debate. Well, my friend – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
First things first, here’s our methodology: We started with a simple name analysis using thegenderizer to separate the men from the women agents among all the real estate pros Then we took a good hard look at which gender outnumbered the other in this industry, who listed more homes for sale and who had more expensive homes.
The Pink Ladies of Real EstateNot to reinforce stereotypes, but let’s face it…some careers are dominated by women (think nurses and nannies) and some are made up of almost all men (can we say construction workers and software engineers). But as far as the real estate industry goes, the gender divide is fairly balanced…or is it? In one of the early draft of our female vs. male real estate agent map, we colored each state pink where there were more women and blue where there were more men.
To our surprise, we ended up with a really, really pink map – see for yourself.
Number of male vs. female real estate pros across America
So what’s going on here? Well, as it turns out, there’s actually more women than men who are in the business of buying and selling homes for a living…and the state by state breakdown wasn’t crazy different. Looking at the lower end of the spectrum, there are about 48% more female than male agents in South Dakota and Nebraska. Meanwhile, on the higher end of the spectrum, there are 64% more women working as real estate agents than men in Mississippi and Oklahoma. What can we say, however you try to slice this, the ladies are kicking butt and taking names. Needless to say, the first point goes to the ladies.
Anything you can do, I can do better. I can list more homes than you.After examining the gender divide, we then took a look at the average number of homes that men and women put up for sale by state. To be clear: this has nothing to do with the actual number of homes sold, just the volume that each agent is listing.
Number of listings - male vs. female real estate pros
Judging by the number of blue states (where male agents had more listings) to pink states (where female agents had more listings) and grey states (where it was pretty much equal, give

Thursday, October 20, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Choosing a Condo

Not all home buyers have dreams of spacious lawns, rambling rooms, and secluded properties. Many buyers, rather, are on the search for a home that will be easy to care for and will give them plenty of chances to be active and social.

From first-time buyers to down-sizing retirees, condos offer a wealth of opportunity. Many come equipped with clubhouses, gamerooms, gyms, and common outdoor meeting areas. Others go above and beyond with organized mixers, dances, movie nights, and more!

Condos can be a great choice for single homeowners looking to socialize. They can be a wonderful choice for older adults who are fully capable of caring for themselves, but wish to cut back on home maintenance.

Typically, owning a condo means you no longer have to worry about mowing your yard, maintaining landscaping, cleaning or scooping sidewalks, or making large-scale repairs. You pay a small fee each month that pays for your portion of this upkeep. Your condo association should also have a reserve fund that is held for large repairs, such as roof replacement, when the time comes.

The operative word is "should." Not all condo associations are the same. Before you buy, be sure to check into how diligent the association is. Are they up-to-date on reserve studies? How often in the last 10 years have they raised fees? Do they have an lawsuits pending?

Additionally, not all condo communities are equal when it comes to amenities. When you set up a showing, be sure to visit all that will be available.

This next upside has a catch. Condos generally come with an extensive set of rules. This means

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

FOR SALE: Investment Condo In Jamaica Plain

FOR SALE: Lovely Pondside Condo New To Market

OWNING A HOME: The Joys of Homeownership

Today's experts spout off the latest statistics about long-term wealth, home values, and interest rates, yet there's a much more sentimental side to homeownership. In fact, many home buyers are drawn to homeownership for these warm and fuzzy reasons.

Owning a home allows you to put down roots, both figuratively and literally. On one hand you become part of a neighborhood and community. When you rent, neighbors come and go as quickly as leases renew. Homeowners, however, tend to stay put longer.

What does this mean for you? You can develop, many times, lifelong relationships. This also means your home will see you through many of life's important milestones.

It makes sense. Many people enter the realm of homeownership as young couples looking to build a nest. They plan on starting their own family and need room to expand and grow. These family homes will see many firsts and will be the container of countless memories. Additionally, homeownership gives families more room to entertain and this means extended family will also share in building memories.

It's not just young families, though, that seek homeownership. Families with teenagers seek larger homes to room their growing brood. Retiring adults may wish to start a new phase and

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

REMODELING: Remodeling Double-dip Offers Opportunity for Homeowners

Remodeling is suffering a double dip in sales, not unlike the double dip in home prices, but just as it's a good time to buy an affordable home, it's a good time to budget for and negotiate a home improvement deal. says the number of homeowners reporting that the economy is dashing their hopes to remodel jumped from 69 percent earlier this year in the spring to nearly 80 percent this fall.

"The Fall 2011 U.S. Remodeling Sentiment Report shows that after a year of stabilization in 2010, the unrelenting bad news about the economy this summer is driving many homeowners to reconsider and either delay or scale back their remodeling plans," says Dan Fritschen, founder and publisher.

Sentiment in the report indicates that in the next few quarters there will be a contraction in spending on residential remodeling -- a double-dip. By summer 2012, barring any additional significant negative news about the economy, spending will pick up again.

That's the silver lining.

For homeowners sitting on the remodeling fence, the findings mean it's a good time to at least go comparison shopping for a contractor, architect and materials and try to lock costs as much as possible now, before a potential 2012 rush.

The other option is to bite the bullet now, save money by actually getting the work done at bargain-basement prices and have an upgraded home poised to benefit from the remodeling job's added home value. If selling is in the near future, the job could also have a possible impact on the sale price.

"Reaching the spending levels of the peak in 2005 to 2007 will not be possible until a sustained and widespread economic recovery is achieved with unemployment below 8 percent, interest rates for 30 year mortgages below 6 percent, home prices increasing more than 10 percent above current levels, and lending easing to enable qualified homeowners to easily access their home equity," according to the report.

That's a tall order. Homeowners' confidence is pretty rattled.

• Home equity that drove the remodeling frenzy in 2005 and 2006 has fallen 40 percent since

Monday, October 17, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Time to move up?

The market if fraught with scary headlines and ominous news reports. Could the economy slip once more into a recession? Will home prices fall even further? It's enough to make even the bravest buyer a little squeamish.

The truth of the matter is that now is a fantastic time to buy. Interest rates are wonderfully low and affordabilty rates are at record highs. Not only that, but there is an oversupply of homes on the market. Now is a great time to move up if you play host to the right set of circumstances.

In order to evaluate if now is the time for you to buy, consider these five issues.

1. Interest Rates: Low rates translate into smaller monthly payments and less money over the long-term. The Federal Reserve has promised to keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future, but in the next few years we could see rates climb back upward. If you have excellent credit, you'll likely qualify for an exceptional rate. Better yet consider doing an all-cash purchase (like the nearly 30 percent of the market) and avoid interest rates altogether!

2. Why are you buying?: This is an important question to spend some time pondering. Don't move on a whim. What is the real need to move? Many move-ups need more space, want to claim a more prestigious address, or are ready to settle down for good and want to be exactly where they've always dreamed. Perhaps your current home is unable to be remodeled to accommodate your wants and needs. Regardless of the reason, be sure to spend ample time thinking about what move is best for your family.

3. Equity: Home values have fallen across much of the country and this could mean that equity

Sunday, October 16, 2011

REMODELING: 5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

For all of the excitement of choosing plumbing fixtures, cabinets, and tiles for a remodeling project, the most important decision you make won’t involve color swatches or glossy brochures. It’s the contractor you pick that makes or breaks the job. That choice will determine the quality of the craftsmanship, the timeliness of the work, and the amount of emotional and financial stress the process puts on you. To make sure you’re getting the best contractor for the job, here are five questions to ask the candidates.

1. Would you please itemize your bid?
Many contractors prefer to give you a single, bottom-line price for your project, but this puts you in the dark about what they’re charging for each aspect of the job. For example, let’s say the original plan calls for beadboard wainscot in your bathroom, but you decide not to install it after all. How much should you be credited for eliminating that work? With a single bottom-line price, you have no way to know.

On the other hand, if you get an itemized bid, it’ll show the costs for all of the various elements of the job—demolition, framing, plumbing, electrical, tile, fixtures, and so forth. That makes it easier to compare different contractors’ prices and see where the discrepancies are. If you need to cut the project costs, you can easily assess your options. Plus, an itemized bid becomes valuable documentation about the exact scope of the project, which may eliminate disputes later.

The contractor shouldn’t give you a hard time about itemizing his bid. He has to figure out his total price line by line anyway, so you’re not asking him to do more work, only to share the details. If he resists, it means he wants to withhold important information about his bid—a red flag for sure.

2. Is your bid an estimate or a fixed price?
Homeowners generally assume that the bid they’re seeing is a fixed price, but some contractors treat their proposals as estimates, meaning bills could wind up being higher in the end. If he calls it an estimate, request a fixed price bid instead. If he says he can’t offer a fixed price because there are too many unknowns about the job, then eliminate the unknowns.

“Have him open up a wall to check the structure he’s unsure about or go back to your architect and solidify the design plans,” says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association’s Forum on the Construction Industry. If you simply cannot resolve the unknowns he’s concerned about, have the project specs describe what he expects to do—and if he needs to do additional work later, you can do a change order (a written mini-bid for new work).

3. How long have you been doing business in this town?
A contractor who’s been plying his trade locally for 5 or 10 years has an established network of

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: Changing the landscape

Plan to build glass gateway in Back Bay development will herald entrance to one of city’s most prominent but hidden parks

For a casual passerby, it is easy to overlook the entrance of the Southwest Corridor Park, one of Boston’s largest and most prominent public spaces.

It presents itself along Dartmouth Street like an alley between commercial buildings, offering little indication of what lies just a few feet away: a plush, linear park that stretches for 4.7 miles, running from the Back Bay to Jamaica Plain.

That is all about to change.

Under a plan to build Boston’s tallest residential tower on nearby land, developer Simon Property Group and area residents are discussing construction of a striking glass gateway or public art display that would boldly announce the park’s entrance.

“It’s going to be something that draws your attention and causes you to cross the street from Back Bay Station,’’ said Jack Hobbs, president of The Collaborative Partners, which is managing the $500 million project for Simon Property. “Once you get there, there will be a pathway to invite you into the park itself.’’

The exact nature of the gateway has yet to be decided, as Simon gathers feedback from the city and neighbors. But the planned upgrades are part of a broader array of changes that many neighborhood residents hope will fundamentally alter public spaces at the edge of Copley Place that have long felt barren and unaccommodating.

Simon, which is promising the upgrades to help smooth the way for its 47-story residential tower, is also proposing to improve the chaotic pedestrian crossings in the area and build a glass-encased “winter garden’’ at the corner of Dartmouth and Stuart streets with retail kiosks, seating areas, and space for music performances and other events.

Some neighbors have questioned the idea of replacing the existing open plaza with a winter garden, saying the structure does not bear the hallmarks of a New England public space, feeling more like it could be in Houston, Los Angeles, or a dozen other cities. Others have welcomed the notion of a gathering space protected from harsh weather and wind.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Boston officials have rebuffed a proposal to build the city’s first Walmart in Roxbury, the opening round of a fight expected to continue in several neighborhoods as the retail giant scouts for locations from Downtown Crossing to Dorchester.

In a recent private meeting with developers, Menino administration officials declined to endorse a plan to open a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store at the former Bartlett bus yard, a shuttered MBTA maintenance facility near Dudley Square, where food-shopping options are few.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said a Walmart would undercut local businesses, including the nearby Tropical Foods market, whose owners are planning to expand in the neighborhood.

City officials also said they want a mix of retail uses at the 8.5-acre site, such as restaurants, a day-care center, and smaller locally owned shops.

“Dudley Square is a unique and special place in the heart of the city, and we don’t believe Walmart is in keeping with that uniqueness,’’ said the mayor’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce.

The developer of the Bartlett yard property, a partnership of Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation and Windale Developers Inc., said yesterday that it is no longer pursuing a Walmart after neighbors and city officials raised concerns.

Plans for the store were preliminary, but the partnership raised the prospect of opening one of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s grocery outlets in a recent meeting with city officials.

David Price, executive director of Nuestra Comunidad, said the development team will continue to entertain proposals from other grocers and retailers. It is also planning 300 residences on the property.

Wal-Mart has recently intensified its efforts to open stores in Boston, one of the few US cities where the retail giant has yet to establish a presence.

Its executives have said they want to open stores in underserved neighborhoods. The chain has also looked at locations in Dorchester and in the Downtown Crossing shopping district.

Last week, the retailer launched a website,, to provide customers with information and to generate support for its plans.

“We still don’t have any projects to announce in the city of Boston, but we continue to have discussions with brokers, developers, and landlords to make access to our stores more convenient,’’ said a spokesman, Steven Restivo. “We think our stores can be part of the solution for folks who want more affordable groceries in their own neighborhoods.’’

The company has decided to employ more store sizes and formats in an attempt to cater to urban neighborhoods, which is spurring its interest in Boston.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

REMODELING: Working with subcontractors also about relationships

Given the depressed state of residential building and remodeling, is it reasonable to assume contractors would respond to opportunities for work like locusts to a green pasture?

I certainly did this past summer, before contacting 150 subcontractors in eight trades for two remodeling projects.

As a small businessman, I was excited to offer work to people who need it. I had recently “unretired’’ and resumed my business of doing consulting work about home building and remodeling and set out to find contractors for my new clients’ house.

Suzette and David Standring planned a new family room, storage area, and half-bathroom in the basement of their brick Colonial in Milton. Their daughter and her family, including two young girls, might soon move in, and the new space would provide privacy.

The centerpiece would be custom wainscoting and an entertainment center with roll-outs for toys, additional storage, and shelving for a wide-screen television, books, and pictures.

The Standrings also wanted to address a lingering problem.

“There is a very old, almost unusable bathroom near the room,’’ Standring said. “We wanted to take out the existing shower, move the toilet location, install new fixtures, and redo the walls, window, and floor.’’

I beat the bushes for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, tile and hardwood installers, plasterers, painters, and insulators, then developed a database to track them, called relentlessly, and awaited the invasion.

Rather than a swarm, I heard a buzz.

“Where did you get my name?’’ some challenged, as though I had hacked the computer of their secret society. When I told them the phone book they said, “Oh.’’

Several demanded to know my occupation, which was probably a test, and pressed for more.

“Are you a general contractor?’’ No.

“Are you a lead-generator service?’’ No.

“Do I owe you anything?’’ No.

“Who pays you?’’ The homeowner.

“How many bids are you after?’’ Three.

“When can I see the jobs?’’ Whenever.

Eight visited, but only two bid.

“There are a lot of hacks out there, and pricing is insane,’’ a contractor volunteered.

Most told me to check references, but one electrician actually asked for my references. So I e-mailed my bio and heard nothing.

To avoid lengthy explanations, I e-mailed the subcontractors links to pictures of the project,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More than a third of homes sold this year in Massachusetts, from gritty fixer-uppers to multimillion-dollar estates, have been paid for in cash as an increasing number of buyers decide to sidestep the traditional, and increasingly burdensome, mortgage process.

Cash sales accounted for 34 percent of residential real estate transactions through August, compared with about 22 percent during the first three quarters of last year and 20 percent for the same period in 2009, according to data provided by the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

“Clearly, there is more cash and more liquidity in the marketplace than we ever imagined,’’ said Kevin Ahearn, president of Otis & Ahearn Inc., a Boston real estate firm.

Real estate agents say cash buyers include baby boomers downsizing to Boston condominiums with profits from the sales of their suburban houses, well-off parents purchasing homes for college-age children, and investors seeking discounted properties they can rent or sell.

They are turning to cash for various reasons, including tighter lending guidelines that have made mortgages less attractive, dwindling bank financing for investment properties, and a volatile stock market that has sent people looking for other places to put their money.

The Massachusetts cash purchase trend is in line with national numbers. Across the nation, about 31 percent of all August home sales were in cash, the second highest percentage since February, when it reached nearly 34 percent, according to a survey by the Maryland-based trade publication, Inside Mortgage Finance.

Inside Mortgage Finance publisher Guy Cecala said investors - buyers who are not purchasing properties as their personal residences - are largely resorting to cash because lenders consider such deals too risky to finance in a stagnant real estate market. Other buyers, he said, believe buying a house at today’s lower prices is preferable to taking a chance on stocks. “They don’t have a better use for the money,’’ Cecala said.

Roxbury, downtown Boston, and Cambridge are at the top of the list of areas with the highest percentages of mortgage-free deals. Recent cash closings in Boston included the sale of former Red Sox player Manny Ramirez’s $5.6 million condo at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Towers, a $5.4 million condo deal at the Mandarin Oriental, and a $3.4 million sale of a Beacon Hill penthouse, public records show.

Brian Bethune, an economist at Amherst College, said wealthy buyers may want to take advantage of deep discounts in the high-end market rather than watch their money flounder in stocks and bonds. He said the stock market overall has done better than housing during the last six years, but given stock performance of late, current discounted home prices seem like especially good values.

“If your dream is to have a spectacular waterfront house, now is the best time to buy,’’ Bethune said.

Davis Rowley, sales manager at Hammond Residential Real Estate in Cambridge, said that of six offers he recently received for a property, three were in cash. He said some sellers are more willing to reduce their prices if they don’t have to worry about a buyer’s financing situation or a low appraisal scuttling the sale. As lenders have grown more conservative in an effort to avoid the kinds of mistakes that led to the subprime mortgage crisis, the loan process can take months to complete.

“It’s a huge headache taken off the plate,’’ Rowley said of cash offers.

Tracy Campion, owner of the high-end Newbury Street real estate agency Campion & Co., said many of her clients buy homes with cash to speed the sales, and later apply for a loan. “They say, `We are all cash and we want to close,’ ’’ Campion said. “The sellers like that. They expect no mortgage contingencies on a high-end deal.’’

It’s not just pricey deals that are being completed without mortgage brokers and appraisers. In

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Lenders still keeping credit on a tight leash

Few homeowners can count themselves among the lucky

Jo-Ann Taddeo is one of the lucky ones.

Though she has no debt on her $400,000 house in Medford, her initial application for a home-equity line of credit was rejected. The bank feared she couldn’t pay back the loan.

So Taddeo, 58, a sales representative for a food-services company, wrote a detailed letter asking Century Bank to reconsider and explaining how she planned to use the money. The bank ended up approving a $75,000 line of credit with a 2.99 percent variable interest rate.

“I’m extremely happy,’’ Taddeo said. “I feel so relieved. It’s a great weight off my shoulders.’’

Taddeo’s saga is both typical and atypical for homeowners seeking home-equity loans and credit lines.

What’s typical is the ongoing challenge for homeowners to get a home-equity loan or a credit line, even for someone such as Taddeo, who has 100 percent equity in her home.

What’s unusual is that Taddeo did get the money. Even applicants with solid credit and equity in their homes continue to be rejected by a wary financial industry.

“It’s still tough out there,’’ said Keith T. Gumbinger, vice president a HSH Associates, a financial survey and publishing company in New Jersey. “The market for these loan products is still tight. Many people are wary. Things are marginally loosening up, but not by much.’’

The numbers bear out his assessment.

Three years after the meltdown on Wall Street and ensuing credit crunch, the home-equity loan and credit-line markets are struggling. That makes it hard for many homeowners who want to undertake renovations or borrow money for college tuition and other big costs.

Volume for fixed-rate home-equity loans was $158.8 billion in August, down 13.3 percent from the same month in 2010 and about 42 percent off its prerecession 2007 total, according to Equifax Inc., the credit reporting agency.

The market for home-equity credit lines - also known as revolving loans, they allow homeowners to periodically draw down smaller balances of available credit - is doing slightly better.

The home credit-line market stood at $594.6 billion in August, down about 6.5 percent from the prior year, according to Equifax. But the overall US credit-line market is still slightly above prerecession levels, according to Equifax data.

Several factors are keeping the market tight, though not impossibly restrictive: falling home values, which are wiping out equity for homeowners to borrow against; banks’ tougher lending standards; and customers who are reluctant to take on debt during turbulent times.