Monday, April 30, 2012

FOR SALE: A Renovated Gem In Jamaica Plain

pollution cities
Louisville is one of the nation's most polluted cities. Click the picture to see the rest.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- While dangerous pollutants still threaten the health of millions of Americans, the United States has made great strides in clearing the air, according to the American Lung Association.

In its annual State of the Air 2012 report, the organization said that between 2001 and 2010, ozone levels dropped 13%, year-round particle pollution declined 24% and short-term particle pollution 28% thanks to the Clean Air Act. 

Particle pollution includes things like dust, metals, smoke, exhaust and acids, like nitrates and sulfates. Ozone, meanwhile, is created when a chemical or fossil fuel, like coal or gasoline, is partially burned and the unburned hydrocarbons, when combined with ultraviolet light, form a gas. 
Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, which included the promotion of the use of natural gas and low sulfur fuel, have resulted in 23,000 fewer premature deaths in 2010, averted 1.7 million asthma attacks and prevented 4.1 million lost work days, according to The Environmental Protection Agency.

But pollution still takes a great toll on public health. More than 4 out of 10 Americans, 127 million people, live in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution, the American Lung Association said. The result: increased incidents of all sorts of health problems, especially asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease.
"We've been paying for this pollution for a long time," said Janice Nolen, the national policy advocate for the ALA.

The ALA report ranked cities by particle pollution, both short-term and year-round, as well as by ozone levels. 

Many of the cities with the dirtiest air are located in the sunny valleys and basins of the West, where pollutants can stagnate and cook into photochemical smogs.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

DISTRESSED PROPERTIES: Survey: High Share of Distressed Properties Keeps Prices Down

Inventory is shrinking and traffic for homebuyers seems to be increasing, but according to the Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey, home prices were down in March. One reason for this, according to the survey, which includes about 2,500 real estate agents, is the high number of distressed properties on the market. 

Home prices for non-distressed properties in March dropped 5.7 percent from a year ago in March 2011. Prices for damaged REO properties also saw a 5.7 percent decline in prices, while move-in ready REO prices fell 2.5 percent during the same period. Short sales declined significantly, with prices falling 14.3 percent during the one-year period. 

According to a recent RealtyTrac report, the average price of a home sold via short sale in January 2012 was $174,120, down 10 percent from January 2011. This, RealtyTrac stated, shows that lenders are more willing to approve more aggressively priced short sales.

Driven by an increase in short sales, the total share of distressed properties in the housing market in March was 47.7 percent when using a three-month moving average, according to the HousingPulse Distressed Property Index (DPI). This marks the 25th consecutive month the index has hovered over the 40 percent mark.

With nearly half of the market being distressed, we’re a long way from a return to a normal market,” said Thomas Popik, research director at Campbell Surveys. “Agents responding to our survey say that homeowners with well-maintained properties in good locations are very reluctant to list at today’s prices. That’s why inventory is low-and also why forced REO and short sales are such a big proportion of the remaining market.”

Over the past six months, the proportion of short sale transactions in the housing market increased from 17.8 percent to 19.9 percent. 

The survey also found that traffic indexes for first-time homebuyers, current homeowners, and investors all showed substantial increases in March compared to the year before, with

Saturday, April 28, 2012

HOME MAINTENANCE: How to properly vent a clothes dryer

Your clothes dryer is one of the hardest-working appliances in your home. It's also a fairly basic appliance in how it operates, and if it's properly vented and maintained, it should give you years, even decades, of reliable service.

But "properly vented and maintained" is the catch. Because a dryer is such a simple appliance to install and operate, many people don't give it much thought. They set it in place, plug it in, vent it through that pipe coming up out of the floor -- typically with the wrong type of vent hose -- then forget about it. And there it sits, slowly degrading in performance, using up increasingly greater and greater amounts of energy, and becoming a bigger fire hazard with each passing day!

Dryer operation 101
When you put in wet clothes and activate a drying cycle, here's what happens: A fan is activated to draw air into the dryer through the front. The air is heated by a heating element, then passed through the drum, which is rotating to circulate both the clothes and the air. The hot air draws moisture from the clothes, and is then directed through the dryer's door and through a lint screen. A fan pushes the now moisture-laden air into a duct that exits through the back of the dryer.
The two important things for you to know in all that is that the air in your dryer is both extremely moist and also -- despite the lint trap -- still full of fine lint. If you don't handle that air and that lint properly, it's inevitably going to lead to problems.
Lint that builds up in the dryer and in the vent pipes will retain moisture. Now every time your dryer operates, it has to work harder and harder to dry the clothes, and to push the wet air past the wet lint in the lines. That lengthens the time your clothes takes to dry, which, plain and simple, is throwing away your hard-earned money. It also shortens the life of your dryer. Besides that, the moisture in the lines is a breeding ground for mold, and it prevents your clothes from being and smelling completely clean. Finally, lint further along the lines that dries out is extremely flammable, and is one of the leading causes of house fires.

Proper dryer venting
At the rear of your dryer is a 4-inch diameter vent, which is where the internal fan is going to push all that wet air. It's up to you to make sure that vent pipe gets properly connected to the outside, and there are three basic components in the dryer venting system that you'll want to set up in order to do that correctly:

1. The duct between inside and outside: From the inside of the house, you'll need a duct that leads to the exterior. In homes with a crawl space or a basement, this is usually run under the floor, elbowing up through the floor to terminate right behind the dryer. If the dryer is located on an exterior wall, you can simplify the installation and shorten the duct run by simply going right through the wall. For dryers located on a second floor, or on a concrete slab, duct pipes are often run vertically into the attic, then out through a side wall.
Use 4-inch smooth-wall galvanized or aluminum duct pipe that's made for this purpose, not flex duct. Flex duct traps both lint and moisture, and is very hard to clean. Smooth-wall pipe is typically sold in 5-foot lengths, with one end crimped so that it slides easily into the uncrimped end of the next pipe. Seal the joints using a good-quality metallic seam tape -- not regular cloth duct tape. For changes in direction, use adjustable elbows.
Remember that the dryer fan has only a limited ability push the wet air, so keep the length of the duct run as short as possible, with as few elbows as you can. Support the ducts with strapping to avoid sags, and try to angle the run down from the dryer to the exterior to prevent any moisture from accumulating in the pipe. Refer to the dryer manufacturer's specific instructions for their suggestions on maximum ducting lengths and other information.

2. Exterior cap: At the outside of the house, whether you pass through a wall or a foundation, you'll need to terminate the duct pipe in a cap. The best type of cap to use is one with a set of three or four overlapping damper flaps, as opposed to one large one.

Friday, April 27, 2012

SELLING YOUR HOME: 5 signs that it's a good time to sell

Traditionally, most homes have sold during the spring months. In the current volatile housing market, the time of year is not the most reliable predictor of the best time to sell.  Homes certainly show better in spring than they do on a dark and dreary winter day. Lately, however, weather patterns are hard to predict. 

<a href="" target=blank>Real estate sold sign image</a> via Shutterstock.
The weather has some effect on home sales. It can slow things down if incessant rain keeps sellers from being able to prepare their homes for sale. However, a bigger influence on the housing market is the overall economic situation and its impact on buyers' psyche.

Normally, the home-sale market ramps up in March or April and stays busy until the beginning of July when the market tends to slow down for the summer. The 2011 home sales went counter to this. The market was active at the beginning of the year, but stalled in April. If you waited until spring to sell last year, you would have missed the best selling opportunity of the first half of 2011.
The early slowdown was partially due to the expiration of the homebuyer stimulus package. The homebuyer tax credit program accelerated home purchases creating a mini bubble in 2010 that was followed by a significant slowdown in home sales. 

Negative economic news played a big part in the sluggish home sales during most of last year. The stock market was unpredictable, and the earthquake in Japan had repercussions for many industries. Plus, Greece was on the brink of bankruptcy, and the future of the European Union was in doubt.
Bad economic news and massive uncertainty lowers consumer confidence. Buyers need to have jobs, but they also need to feel confident in their future to take on a major purchase like a house.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: The best time to sell is when consumer confidence is on the upswing; interest rates are low; unemployment is decreasing; the economic news is mild; and there are more buyers in your local market niche than there are sellers. A high-demand, low-inventory market gives sellers an edge.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index fell in March 2012 to 70.2 (1985=100), down from 71.6 in February, when it was up sharply.

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, attributed the improvement in consumer confidence in February to less pessimism about current business and employment conditions and more optimism about the short-term outlook for the economy and job prospects despite a rise in gas prices. Franco said the moderate

Thursday, April 26, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Zillow Projects Prices to Fall 0.4%; Some Markets to Hit Bottom and Rise

According to the Zillow Home Value Forecast, prices are projected to fall 0.4 percent over the next year, but not all markets are expected to see this decline, with several already appearing to have reached bottom.
Of the 30 metro areas covered by the Zillow forecast, 19 are expected to, or already have hit their lowest point in 2012, with nowhere else to go but up.

Markets that seem to have bottomed out already are Boston, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Tampa. Zillow expects Baltimore, Los Angeles, and San Jose to follow suit. 

Metro areas that are expected to see significant gains following their low point in the next 12 months include Phoenix (6.5 percent), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (5.6 percent), and Tampa (2.5 percent), according to the forecast.

“When the bottom will hit will vary by market, and it’s nearly impossible to time a purchase exactly right,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. But home prices are not the only part of the equation. Buyers also should take into account the possibility that rising mortgage rates could offset any further home value declines that may occur.” 

Also, the Zillow Real Estate Market Reports, which covers 165 metropolitan areas, showed

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

LANDLORDS: Millions More U.S. Homeowners to Rent, Pimco’s Simon Says

The U.S. homeownership rate may fall two percentage points to 64 percent, below historic norms, amid about six million additional foreclosures and tight lending standards, according to Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Scott Simon

“You may be turning another 4 million homeowners into renters,” Simon, the mortgage-bond head at Newport Beach, California-based Pimco, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance Midday” with Tom Keene.
A real estate agent who specializes in distressed properties, after checking a house in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photographer: Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Scott Simon, head of mortgage- and asset-backed debt at Pacific Investment Management Co., talks about the outlook for the U.S. housing market and the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values. Simon speaks with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television's "Surveillance Midday." (Source: Bloomberg) 

Homeownership has declined from 69.2 percent in 2004, the highest on record, after loose credit and soaring property values drew buyers into the market, according to the Census Bureau. While owning is now “incredibly cheap” compared with renting for consumers who can qualify for loans, relatively few Americans can take advantage of the opportunity,

REMODELING: Economy Sparks Remodeling: How To Ensure A Successful Project

Springtime generates a lot of home improvement activity. Many buyers are out shopping for their new home. With the purchase of their home, the desire to remodel often comes next. For others, the drastically fluctuating housing prices are causing homeowners to stay put and that’s causing them to want to remodel their existing footprint.

Some of the most popular remodeling projects have to do with creating homes that are livable for all ages. The National Association of Home Builders says, in 2010, that 62 percent of surveyed builders were working on “aging in place” modifications.
Whether it’s a room addition or the renovation of a kitchen to upgrade amenities and make the space feel more comfortable to suit your needs, precautionary steps to get the most out of your remodeling project will create the best outcome.

That means granny flats or in-law apartments (extra rooms with kitchenettes) are becoming staples in homes. As baby boomers ease into their golden years this type of remodeling project will continue to grow. Entry-level bedrooms are also popular additions due to the ease of access for the elderly.

Some remodeling companies are now requiring their staff to become Certified Aging in Place specialists so they can offer expertise in designing and modifying buildings and homes for the elderly. Another hot trend is using outdoor living space to expand the home’s square footage. What’s hot in outside remodels? It may be expensive but natural stone is all the rage. Gourmet grilling kitchens, fireplaces, flat screen TVs with surround sound and big comfy couches turn the backyard into a cozy space to relax and entertain.

But regardless of which type of remodel you’re planning to do, finding the right contractor for the job is vital and that can be a difficult task.

The National Homebuilders Association offers some tips for homeowners to help them navigate the process. Here are some important precautionary measures to take before your hire a remodeler.

Check with to find a remodeler who is a member of the National Association of Homebuilders. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau at to look up the company’s rating. Of course, family and friends can also offer referrals but checking with professional associations can help provide background information that a friend might not be able to.

Another great way to find a remodeler is to scope out the companies who are working in the

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BUYING A HOME: It's Buying Time Again, Big Time

If you've got the income. If you've got plenty of tenure on the job. If your credit is solid. If you can otherwise past muster at the mortgage loan desk. If it's cheaper for you to buy than it is to rent.

To wit
Yes, there are lots of "ifs," but it's one of the best times in America to buy a home. And it won't last forever.
• Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts – accounted for 34 percent of February sales, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The bargain basement is open for business.
• Investors know a party when they see one. They snatched up 64.5 percent more homes in 2011 than in 2010 and now account for nearly one in every four homes sold, NAR reported.
• The second home market is back with a vengeance. Both investors and playhouse buyers are jumping on this bandwagon. They pushed vacation/second home sales up 7.0 percent in 2011.
• Meanwhile, owner-occupied purchases fell 15.5 percent last year.

Numbers talk
The median investment-home price was $100,000 in 2011, up 6.4 percent from $94,000 in 2010, which means you may have already missed rock-bottom in this sector.

The median sales prices for vacation properties was $121,300 in 2011, down 19 percent from 2010, which means you may still have a shot at the basement here.

Likewise, NAR reported the median price of all single-family homes dropped 4 percent from $170,600 to $163,500 in the fourth quarter 2010 to 2011 and, during the same period, condo prices fell almost 2 percent $163,500 to $160,800.

Housing market forecasts for a recovery remain mixed, but it's about when, not if. If this isn't the Year of the Dragon for the housing market, it could begin to breathe fire next year.

But consider many of those forecasts are based on lagging information. One study by John Burns Consulting says many are lagging by a full quarter and prices have been rising in many markets for a full quarter.

And then there are those record low interest rates.

Don't get behind the curve and wait until a line forms and multiple offers are the norm, rather than the exception.

"Mortgage rates are near record lows and home prices may be within reach of many consumers who want to buy in today's market," said NeighborWorks America Director of Homeownership and Lending Marietta Rodriguez.

"But there are more things to consider than low mortgage rates and home prices when your plan

Monday, April 23, 2012

BUYING A HOME: Saving For a Home

With home affordability at the highest rate seen in decades, now is prime time to make a purchase.

The key to buying in today's market is having the funds and financial stability needed. How can you go about saving to buy a home?
Many renters are wanting to turn over a new leaf by investing in a starter home. Current homeowners are wanting to take advantage of low prices and buy the home of their dreams.

Financial wiz Suze Orman tells her readers and viewers all the time about the benefits of homeownership, but also the importance of being financially ready for this move. She writes, "Never buy a home or piece of real estate if you do not have at least 10% to 20% to put down. While buying a home is a great investment, if you do not have at least 10% to 20% of the purchase price to put down, then you can't afford the home and are buying before you have demonstrated the ability to save, which is a bad idea in the current market."

How do you get to that point? The first and most important step is to commit to the goal of homeownership. This requires a change in habits. Many households today spend every penny that they make each month. Instead of saving 10, 20, or 30 percent of their monthly income like they should, they strategically make minimum payments. Still others spend further beyond their means and slip further into debt with each purchase.

Both of these habits are incredibly risky in an economy that sees a near 9 percent unemployment rate and slowed growth in most cities. In order to change old habits you must replace them with new habits.

Start by working out a budget. It can be very sobering to see the real numbers on your spending. Keep track of your spending for a month. See how much you are truly spending on dining out, entertainment, household spending, clothes, and all those little extras that add up. This goes double for cash purchases. Be sure to keep every single receipt.

Now that you have the facts, it's time to come up with a new budget. Set aside money for all of the necessities first (rent, mortgage, car payment, food, medical, etc).

Cut out the unnecessary items. Do you have to have cable? Perhaps you can change over to a

Sunday, April 22, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Builders' Costs Rise While Homes and Condos Shrink

Most Canadian builders are targeting the move-up custom home market this year, but houses and condos are getting smaller.

Builders say the average size of a new single-detached house built in Canada this year will be about 1,900 square feet, and they think house sizes will shrink even further. That's down from the 2,000 square feet predicted in last year's annual Pulse survey of members by the Canadian Home Builders' Association.

British Columbia has the largest average house size at 2,200 square feet, while homes in Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba average 1,500 square feet.

In the Greater Toronto Area, where there are more condominiums under construction than anywhere else in North America, the average new condo last year was 820 square feet, a reduction of 52 square feet from 2010, and 100 square feet smaller than six years ago. That represents an entire 10X10-foot room.

This year, builders across the country expect the average condo size to stay at around 800 square feet.

However, smaller houses don't mean lower prices. Two-thirds of builders predict that new home prices will rise this year.

The cost of serviced lots is the main concern of builders, with about one-third of those surveyed

Saturday, April 21, 2012

THE ECONOMY: Home prices close to bottoming, to rise in 2013

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The relentless decline in home prices is nearing an end and prices should rise for the first time in seven years in 2013, but a possible new wave of foreclosures could threaten the recovery, according a Reuters poll of economists.
The median forecast of 24 economists polled by Reuters was for the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index to end the year unchanged. That was the same finding back in January for this house price gauge, which covers 20 cities.
"We are expecting a gradual improvement, but if we get a big wave of new foreclosures coming to the market, price declines could be even greater," said Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York.
The survey forecast the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rising 2.0 percent next year, up from 1.5 percent in the January survey.
The housing market's collapse pushed the economy into its longest and deepest recession since the 1930s. Historically, housing has led the economy out of recession, but it has been the weakest link in the recovery that started in mid-2009.
While residential construction accounts for a mere 2.3 percent of gross domestic product, home prices have an oversized reach in the economy, influencing a wide range of consumption decisions by households.
House prices have so far fallen about 32 percent from their peak at the end of 2005, and an estimated 11 million Americans now owe more on their homes than they are worth.
A resulting tide of foreclosures has held back the housing market's recovery.
The survey predicted about 1.5 million foreclosed properties will come on to the market this year. While there is no comparison for this figure, most analysts believe the foreclosure wave has either peaked or is close to topping out.
Given that foreclosures and the accompanying fear of further price declines are the main obstacles to any housing market recovery, few analysts say that further purchases of mortgage

Friday, April 20, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Report: Sellers’ Asking Prices Rose in March

Here’s a sign that sellers are feeling more optimistic about their prospects this spring: median asking prices in March jumped by 5.6% from a year ago, and were up 1% from February, according to a report released Tuesday.
The jump in median asking prices comes amid a sharp drop in the number of homes listed for sale from one year ago. While listing inventories in March rose by 1.5% from February, they were still 21.5% below last year’s levels.
Inventories of homes listed for sale tend to go up in the spring, and the 1.8 million listings in March represented the second straight increase for the year. Over the past 27 years, the average increase in for-sale listings in March has been 1.8% from February, according to research firm Zelman & Associates.
The figures include sale listings from more than 900 multiple-listing services across the country. They don’t cover all homes for sale, including those that are “for sale by owner” and newly constructed homes that aren’t always listed by the services.
Compared with February, inventories declined in roughly less than half of the top 30 metros tracked by during March, with the biggest declines in Phoenix (-6.4%), Seattle (-4.8%) and Orlando, Fla. (-4.2%).
Northeastern cities showed the largest inventory gains — a finding that shouldn’t surprise given that sellers are more likely to list their homes when the weather improves. Washington, D.C., saw a 9.5% gain, followed by Philadelphia (8.1%) and Boston (7.4%).
But compared with one year ago, inventories are still down sharply in almost all of the 145 markets tracked by Just two, Philadelphia and Hartford, Conn., have seen any annual inventory increases. Listings are down by more than half in Oakland and Bakersfield, Calif. 
Where are prices rising? Median asking prices were up from one year ago or unchanged in

Thursday, April 19, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: More building permits in March than previous 3 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. builders requested the most permits in March for single-family homes and apartments in 3½ years, suggesting that many expect the housing market to improve over the next year.
The Commerce Department said Tuesday that permits, a gauge of future construction, rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000 in March. That's the highest level since September 2008.
The rise in permits helped offset a slower month of construction.
Jonathan Basile, director of economics at Credit Suisse, said more permits is a "good sign for broader economic activity" and should lead to increase in construction in the coming months.
Builders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 654,000 homes last month. That's down 5.8 percent from February. Apartment construction, which can fluctuate sharply from month to month, fell nearly 20 percent. Single-family homebuilding was mostly unchanged.
Yet the rate of construction and the level of permits requested remain only about half the pace considered healthy. Economists say that construction activity is still depressed and the housing market has a long way to go before it is back to full health.
Since the fall, builders had slowly grown more confident in the market after seeing more people express interest in buying a home. But that interest has yet to materialize into many sales. As a result, builder confidence fell this month for the first time since September.
Part of the reason for the previous optimism was a mild winter allowed builders to keep working in most parts of the country. And an improving job market has many slightly more optimistic

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Real Estate Outlook: Vacation Sales Surge

According to the National Association of Realtors' 2012 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, there was a surge in sales of both investment in vacation homes in 2011.

Yun said the shift in investment buyer patterns in 2011 shows the market, for the large part, is able to absorb foreclosures hitting the market.NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said investors with cash took advantage of market conditions in 2011. "During the past year investors have been swooping into the market to take advantage of bargain home prices," he said. "Rising rental income easily beat cash sitting in banks as an added inducement. In addition, 41 percent of investment buyers purchased more than one property."

Increased investor purchases are partly responsible for the large percentage of all-cash purchases seen in the last year. They make up around one-third of all purchases. Forty-nine percent of investors paid cash in 2011.

"Clearly we're looking at investors with financial resources who see real estate as a good investment and who aren't hesitant to use cash," Yun said. Of the buyers who didn't use all cash they paid a hefty average 27 percent downpayment.

As opposed to investment purchases, which were made out of the desire for rental income, vacation homes were driven by lifestyle factors and were purchased by households making an average of $88,000 a year.

What portion of the market are these vacation sales? They accounted for 11 percent of all sales

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

THE ECONOMY: The Housing Recovery

Economists and real estate experts have discussed, debated, and driven home the important role a housing recovery has in helping the overall economy recovery.

Despite the end of the recession in 2009, many American households continue to struggle. The unemployment rate remains elevated, hovering between 8 and 9 percent. Home prices are on the downturn, falling over 4 percent in the last year, and distressed properties still dominate many markets.
In a recent speech during the 2012 National Association of Homebuilders International Builders' Show, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized the need for just that, a housing recovery.

Additionally, potential would-be buyers have been sidelined by tightened credit standards, including the need for excellent credit and at least 20 percent down.

Bernanke commented on today's conditions, noting, "Though some progress has been made in reversing the losses in jobs and income sustained during the recession, the pace of expansion has been frustratingly slow and the unemployment rate remains very high by historical standards. The state of the housing sector has been a key impediment to a faster recovery."

Existing-home sales and new construction have seen minor rises in recent data studies, but the pace has not been enough to offset the large inventory glut of home.

In his speech Bernanke gave an overview of the state of housing. He showed how the past few years have seen a big disparity between supply of single-family homes and demand for these

Monday, April 16, 2012

NEIGHBORHOODS: Trayvon Martin Death Puts HOA's and Neighbor Watch Programs on Notice

Even if George Zimmerman is never charged with or convicted of Trayvon Martin's death in a criminal trial, Zimmerman's homeowners association (HOA) could be open to a Martin family civil suit that could cost the association (read: HOA members) millions -- just to defend the case.

Zimmerman faces a grand jury on April 12. His HOA community allegedly assigned him the role of community watchman. Even if
"stand-your-ground" law absolves Zimmerman in a criminal trial, he and his HOA likely won't escape a civil suit for negligence.Martin died of a gunshot wound Feb. 26 in an encounter with Zimmerman on the property of Zimmerman's HOA, the Retreat at Twin Lakes, in Sanford, FL.

If Zimmerman was named watch captain and there are questions about the HOA exercising due diligence in preparing Zimmerman for his role as a community representative, specifically as a Neighborhood Watch leader, negligence can easily make a civil case.

Just for this reason, at least one real estate company selling properties at The Retreat has distanced itself from the HOA in an online statement that says "We are an independent brokerage firm NOT affiliated in any way with the Home Owner Association."

"The death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student in Sanford, Fla., is a vivid reminder that neighborhood watch programs, even with the best intentions, can trigger tragic results for families, residents and entire communities," says Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, chief executive officer of Community Associations Institute (CAI).

"We know neighborhood watch programs can reduce crime and ease the fears of residents, but they also pose major risks when appropriate procedures aren’t followed. It’s essential that those who organize and lead watch programs work with local law enforcement authorities to ensure that all volunteers understand and accept the extent and limitations of their responsibilities," said Skiba.

Skiba said it’s not CAI’s place to pass judgment on the criminality of the events in Florida or the state’s stand-your-ground law.

"But the horrible fact remains that family and friends now grieve for a young man," he says. "As the father of a 17-year-old son, I can’t begin to imagine the horror facing Trayvon’s family. If nothing else, the regrettable confrontation that night reminds us that such programs must be carefully implemented and rigorously monitored."

Skiba urges all community associations—even when a watch program isn’t managed by the association—to review procedures and to do everything possible to prevent confrontations that should be handled by police.

For communities considering neighborhood watch programs, Skiba offers the following advice:
• Contact the local police department for start-up support, guidance and training. Volunteers who skip this critical step can find themselves on the wrong side of the law—or worse.
• Seek the advice of an attorney with expertise in community association law.
• Create processes for recruiting only responsible volunteers who will follow all procedures.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

NEIGHBORHOODS: Noisy Neighbors Be Gone

From noisy neighbors and adolescent garage bands to urban living spaces it can be hard to find some peace and quiet.

Enter QuietFiber® noise absorbing material. This versatile material is a solid way to address sound issues and can be installed as an easy do-it-yourself project. According to the makers of this revolutionary product, “QuietFiber is the only sound dampening product on the market that can be custom tailored to create a complimentary design element in any space. You have the sound abatement properties you need, in a product that can be completely hidden under a tapestry or in strategic spots throughout the room, or disguised as an artistic element within the space."Aside from relying on city and HOA ordinance enforcement, a strong hand with teenagers, or complaining to the noisy party, it can be tough to find a solution to a noisy space.

When complaints from neighbors began to trickle in for club owner Bobbie Rahmani in Los Angeles, California, he knew he had to find a way to deaden the noise and relieve his stressed out neighbors. He also wanted a solution that looked as good as it worked.

"We haven’t had any complaints since we hung the panels, and no news is always good news," Rahmani said of the noise deadening qualities of the Quiet Fiber treatments.

This versatile material is a solid way to address sound issues and can be installed as an easy do-it-yourself project. High sound absorbency QuietFiber is a two-inch thick DIY interior noise solution that can be cut to fit and simply hot glued underneath a bar, cabinets, countertops, tables, chairs, behind a wall tapestry or curtains. Slide a QuietFiber "pillow" on top

Saturday, April 14, 2012

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mortgage Rates Remain Steady As Consumers Prep for Changes

Mortgage applications were down for the week ending March 23rd according to The Mortgage Banker's Association Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey. 

This does not seem unusual as consumer prep for the numerous changes that are taking place with FHA mortgages and conforming mortgage refinances. It is the intent that some of these changes will finally be helpful to borrowers who have been want, but unable, to refinance to low mortgage rates.

Harp 2.0 is the updated refinancing program for underwater borrowers who have mortgages that are held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In most cases, an appraisal is not required and full documentation is waived. This is the best way for borrowers, who owe more on their mortgage than their property is worth, to refinance to the record low mortgage rates that are available today. Mortgage rates for
 Harp 2.0 mortgage refinances can vary from lender to lender, so it is necessary for borrowers to do their homework to make sure that they are getting the best's survey of wholesale and direct lenders shows that all mortgage rates remained steady this past week. Current conforming 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.750%, 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.000% and 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 2.375%. These low mortgage rates are available with 0.7 to 1% origination fee for borrowers who have a consistent history of good credit. For purchases and regular refinances, full and detailed documents for employment, income and assets are required. The latest change for conforming mortgages is the Harp 2.0 program which became widely available on March 18 through automated systems.

Although FHA mortgage rates have remained the same, the latest news for FHA is the increase of the upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums. FHA 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.375%, FHA 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 2.875% and FHA 5/1 ARM loan rates are at 2.875%. No one knows how much of an impact these fees will have on the use of FHA mortgages at this time. FHA mortgages still offer lower down payment options than conforming mortgages, although for high mortgage amounts, the upfront mortgage insurance premium of 1.75% could become an obstacle. FHA closing costs (APR) are higher because of this upfront mortgage insurance premium and other FHA fees, but as long as the loan to value remains intact, these fees can be rolled into the mortgage. Another change this month for FHA involves the credit qualifying with disputed and collection accounts. If the total of any of these accounts combined equal $1,000 or more, they will now need to be paid off, have payment agreements in place or have documentation, such as police reports, in the event of theft.

Since payment agreements must show three months of consistent payments, borrowers will have to take care of these issues prior to even making an FHA mortgage application. On a positive note, FHA streamline refinance with no cash out will be available in June. This updated program will have reduced upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums for borrowers who

Friday, April 13, 2012

THE ECONOMY: Real Estate Outlook: Labor Market Improvements

The health and recovery of the real estate market is closely related to the health of the labor market. This much has been seen since the beginning of the recession and continues today.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke last week on this subject at the National Association for Business Economics Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.
Will the labor market continue to improve or are the recent declines in the unemployment rate simply a temporary respite from an otherwise struggling jobs market?

He noted that job creation has seen an uptick recently and layoffs in the public sector are moderating. He also made clear that today's job market may have seen improvements, but it is weak in relation to historical normal.

"The positive signs from the labor market have shown through to measures of labor utilization," he said. "After hovering around 9 percent for much of last year, the unemployment rate has moved down since September to 8.3 percent in February, and the share of employment represented by people working part time for economic reasons, an indicator of underutilization, has declined modestly."

The real question on most homeowners minds, however, is whether or not the recent improvements will lead to further declines in unemployment. The answer to continued labor market rises: more-rapid economic growth. 

"A wide range of indicators suggests that the job market has been improving, which is a welcome development indeed.  Still, conditions remain far from normal, as shown, for example, by the high level of long-term unemployment and the fact that jobs and hours worked remain well below pre-crisis peaks, even without adjusting for growth in the labor force," he said.  "Moreover, we cannot yet be sure that the recent pace of improvement in the labor market will be

Thursday, April 12, 2012

GARDENING: 7 Killer Ways to Get Rid of Weeds

Here are 7 ways to murder weeds with household items. You’ll save money and show no mercy to your garden’s uninvited guests.
Nothing ruins your garden or yard like weeds, those uninvited guests that rob your plants of space and nutrients. So murder those weeds most foul, but without harmful chemicals that can do you in, too. 

Here are 7 ways to kill weeds with weapons you already have around your house. 

1. Newspaper: A carpet of newspaper, which blocks sunlight and oxygen from reaching the soil, will smother weeds already sprouted and prevent new ones from growing. Throw down newspaper in 10-sheet layers, wet to hold it down, and cover with an inch or two of mulch. If weeds begin to grow in the mulch, add more layers, making a mulch-newspaper lasagna, which eventually will decompose and nourish the soil.

2. Old shower curtains and carpet samples: Spreading these useless items in garden paths or between rows will keeps weeds from ever showing their unwanted heads. Cover with mulch. 

3. Corn gluten meal: This corn by-product stops seeds from growing into weeds. Since the meal will prevent germination, spread it around established plants, and after seedlings and transplants have taken hold in the soil. After harvest, spread the meal to prevent late-season weeds. 

4. Vinegar: The acetic acid in 5% vinegar is a desiccant that sucks the life out of plant leaves. It’s most destructive to young plants with immature roots, though it just rolls off weeds with waxy leaves, like pennywort or thistle. Make sure you cover desirables before spraying, because vinegar is an equal opportunity killer. Keep your spray on-target by removing the bottom from a 2-liter plastic soda bottle, and placing it over the weed. Spray vinegar into the mouth of the bottle, which will keep it from splattering on your vegetables. 

5. Vodka: Don’t know if vodka makes weeds fall down dead or drunk, but 1 ounce mixed with 2 cups of water and a couple of drops of dish soap will dry out weeds that live in the sun. Doesn’t

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

REALTORS: Why you need an expert to buy or sell a home

If you are either buying or selling a home in today’s market, you need a real estate expert. However, we must realize what the term ‘expert’ actually means. An expert in any area cannot give perfect advice as no one can predict the future. But they can give excellent advice based on their insight into their field.
If you go to an attorney with a legal challenge, he/she will look over your case and give you your options. They realize they cannot guarantee the outcome of any of the options. Still, they give the best advice possible and allow you to decide the option with which you feel most comfortable. They then will put together a strategy which hopefully will bring about the most favorable conclusion.
If you go to a doctor with a serious ailment, he/she will give you your options and work with you to develop the best treatment program. They cannot guarantee any program’s success. They will, however, monitor your progress and adjust your treatments or medications. They will stand next to you until the best result is achieved.
Real estate is no different. A true real estate professional will understand your options and simply and effectively explain them to you and your family. Once you chose an option, they will strategize a plan to help you accomplish your goals. They will standby you as the process evolves and will help you make the necessary adjustments if necessary.
They cannot see the future any better than doctors or attorneys and thus their advice will never

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

INVESTING IN FORECLOSURES: It's harder for noninvestors to buy foreclosures

For the average homebuyer, a short sale might be the better way to go.

It's getting more difficult for noninvestors to buy foreclosures in some parts of the country, as lenders shift their strategies on how to deal with distressed inventory. 

 When homebuyers consider a foreclosure, they're usually looking at real-estate owned properties, in which the lender has taken back and is selling the property. But REO sales have been shrinking for a few reasons. 

 First, more properties are selling at auction, typically the first opportunity a lender has to sell the property, and where most buyers are investors. Buying a foreclosure at auction often requires full payment in cash, and the buyer often doesn't get the chance to inspect the property before buying it. Both are turnoffs for a homebuyer looking for a place to live. (Bing: How many foreclosures are there in your area?) 

 "Anecdotally, we're hearing from investors that the lenders are more aggressively pricing the opening bid at the auction to attract more bidders," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure marketplace. In a more typical market, the lender sets the opening bid at what it's owed on the property, he said. Home affordability calculator Combined annual income $ Other monthly obligations $ Cash for down payment $ 

 Selling at a trustee's sale or sheriff's auction gets a property off the lender's books before it becomes an REO. Lately, many investors are willing to bid on the properties at auction, as many see opportunities in rehabbing foreclosures and renting them out or selling them. 

 Second, there have been more short-sale transactions, so more distressed properties are being saved from foreclosure, statistics show. A short sale occurs when a lender accepts less than what is owed on the mortgage as payoff from the homeowner. Read: How foreclosures affect buyers and sellers 

 "The longer the foreclosure timeline, the larger the severities for the lenders," said Sam Khater,

Monday, April 9, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Rents keep rising as home prices stagnate

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Renting used to be cheaper than buying. But in many U.S. cities that's no longer the case, as rents continue to climb and home prices stagnate. 

While asking prices for homes declined 0.7% over the past 12 months through March, rents rose 5%, according to a report released Thursday by real estate listing site Trulia. Quiz: What the rich really pay in taxes 

The median rent for all types of rental homes hit $1,350 a month in March, up from a median of $1,285 a month 12 months ago, Trulia reported. "Buying a home is more affordable than renting now in almost every part of the United States," said Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia. 

Several metro areas recorded double-digit percentage increases in rental rates. In Sarasota, Fla., the average rent jumped 12.9% year-over-year, the biggest increase of any of the 100 largest metro areas Trulia surveyed. Miami and San Francisco saw the next biggest increases, with rent hikes of 12.1% and 11.1%, respectively. 

The metro areas that sustained the highest rent increases were a decidedly mixed bag, but obviously shared one factor: rising demand for a limited supply of rental units. 

Low-ball appraisal: Mortgage denied 
The national vacancy rate for apartments fell 0.3 percentage points during the first quarter to 4.9%, its lowest point since late 2001, according to a separate report from Reis Inc., a real