Friday, August 24, 2012

SELLING YOUR HOME: Home Improvements That Sell

In a mash-up survey of 450 real estate agents and 1,660 homeowners, homeowners get it - most of the time - when it comes to home improvements that help induce sales and higher prices.

Given today's home buyers are aware of soft market conditions that can put a drag on values, they want a home that's ready to appreciate and that's a home in the best shape's home improvement survey, conducted online from June 6 to June 13, 2012, tapped agents and users who are homeowners planning to improve their home before putting it on the market.

Nearly 90 percent of real estate agents believe home improvements can help a home sell faster, and nearly 73 percent say home work can boost the price, provided the home improvements are the right home improvements.

Nearly three in four (71.4 percent) real estate agents say sellers too often underestimate the power of simple home improvements - repairs, painting and cosmetic upgrades.

Not so, say more than one in four (75.21 percent) of homeowners polled. They most certainly plan to repair broken household items before listing their home for sale.

Also, 65.9 percent of real estate agents said another common mistake among homeowners is not making "the right" home improvements for the local market. Like upgrades from home to home help pull up values overall.

Agents, 62 percent of them, also said too many homeowners make specialty improvements based on their own tastes rather than what might appeal to a buyer.

Recommended home improvements
The most common home improvements recommended by real estate agents included:

• The vast majority, 96.5 percent, of real estate professionals surveyed recommend sellers repair household items that are broken before putting a home on the market.
• More than half, 63.8 percent, of real estate agents recommend sellers make kitchen improvements.
• Most, 59.3 percent, of real estate professionals recommend sellers make bathroom improvements.
What sellers improve
Are sellers complying with real estate agents' recommended home improvements? Again, for the most part, yes.
The most common improvements made by home sellers:

• A majority, 75.21 percent, of sellers planning renovations will repair broken household items before selling their home.
• Most, 53.43 percent, of owners plan to add new flooring before selling their home.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Desperate Buyers Try To Game The System With Offers That Backfire

SILICON VALLEY - As the area housing market continues to heat up with as many as 20 home buyers for each listing, buyers are becoming desperate to get their foot in the door.

Here are the 3 most common acts of buyer desperation found inlocal markets.Acts of desperation are leading to more transactions failing and producing only headaches.

Making sight-unseen offers
The market is so competitive, with homes being sold within days, many buyers and their agents are writing offers without laying their eyes on the property.

The offer typically comes with a contingency subject to the buyer viewing or touring the home within a certain time period. Some sight-unseen offers also don't disclose that the buyer has not seen the property.

Throwing a net to snare what you haven't seen, usually brings in an empty net.
When the buyer finally sees the home and it's not what he or she seeks, all parties can suffer lost time and time is money.

Don't accept buyers' offers that come with a contingency to see the property. Accept offers from buyers who've taken the time to visit your listing.

One exception to not accepting an offer contingent upon the buyer actually visiting the property, could be an offer for a property occupied by a renter who does not want to be disturbed or is not cooperating with showing the home.

Otherwise, an offer subject to viewing the home is just not smart.

Writing an offer far above the list price
Low inventories, multiple offers and all-cash buyers prompt many rank-and-file buyers to attempt to "wow" sellers with fool's gold - an offer far above the list prince.
Later, buyers have to cancel because the lender's appraisal won't support the exaggerated sales price. Lenders request appraisals to be sure it isn't over-leveraging the property by lending more than the property is worth.

Risk-averse lenders know over-inflated value transactions contributed heavily to the housing crisis. When values crashed, homeowners were left with more mortgage than their home was worth and lenders were also left holding the bag for over-leveraged homeowners unable to pay the mortgage.

Likewise, appraisers are much more exacting when they value a home andfederal regulators are keeping close tabs on lenders.

An all-cash deal may be the exception to bidding more than a home is worth. All-cash buyers are free to pay whatever they wish and, with an all-cash deal, an appraisal may not be necessary.
However, the lack of an appraisal doesn't remove the risk of paying too much.

Offering unrealistic terms
Another red-flag offer comes with unrealistic terms such as contingency removals within five days of accepting the offer. Offers with fast contingency removal requirements typically come

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

OWNING A HOME: Preparing for Homeownership

Homeownership comes with a long list of benefits and rewards, but it also carries a healthy dose of responsibility. Misjudging or exceeding your financial limitations can have far-reaching effects.

According to 1 in every 230 houses is in foreclosure. Distressed home sales still account for around 1/3 of all home sales. This is years after the 2009 recession.You need look no further than foreclosure rates across the nation in the past half a decade to understand the gravity of buying within your means and being cautious about purchasing a home.
Preparation for homeownership is prudent and advisable. You should follow some expert tips to get started.

First, have a frank conversation with yourself or your significant other about how much home you can truly afford. You should take into consideration a wide range of scenarios. What if one of you loses your job? What if you become disabled? How long are you planning on living in this area?
You should also calculate the costs of homeownership -- the real costs. You will need to consider closing costs, homeowners insurance, maintenance and repairs, and even decorating costs.
Next, assess the status of your credit report and score. Identity theft runs rampant today. You should make sure that everything on your report is accurate. You should also take a gander at your score. This will give you a good idea what sort of rate you may qualify for. The higher the score the better the rate.

In a final step of groundwork, you should speak to a bank or lender about getting pre-qualified and then pre-approved. Pre-qualified means that the lender is willing to write you a loan. Pre-approval gives you a more exacting budget and proves to a seller that you mean business. Get your paperwork in order for this step. You'll need W-2's, paystubs, and other financial documents.
Once you've established what your home buying budget will be and what you need to do to improve your credit score, you should start the noble task of saving.

It is likely you'll need a large downpayment (around 20 percent of the total purchase price) in

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Rising Home Prices Put a Dent in Housing Affordability

While housing bargains can still be found, home buyers are increasingly finding that home prices are on the rise in many markets. As such, housing affordability is being pushed lower, according to the second quarter Housing Opportunity Index by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo. Still, by historical standards, housing affordability remains high. 
According to the latest index, 73.8 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter were affordable to families who earn the national median income of $65,000. A record high in housing affordability was reached in the first quarter, in which 77.5 percent of homes were affordable to median-income earners. 
The index showed that 92 percent of the metros included in the index saw their median home prices rise in the second quarter compared to the first quarter. 
"While interest rates and overall housing affordability remain very favorable on a historic basis, the decline in the latest HOI is a positive development because it is another signal that the housing recovery is starting to take root, and it lends needed confidence to prospective buyers and sellers who have been reluctant to move forward in the current marketplace," says NAHB Chairman Barry Rutenberg.
Most, Least Affordable Markets
Overall, the top five most affordable housing markets for the second quarter were: 
  1. Youngstown-Warren-Boardsman, Ohio, Pa. (where 93.4% of the homes sold were affordable to the area’s median-income earners)
  2. Dayton, Ohio
  3. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y.
  4. Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.
  5. Modesto, Calif. 
On the other hand, the least affordable major housing markets in the second quarter were:
  1. New York- White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J. (29.4% of the homes sold there were affordable to the area’s median income family earners)
  2. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.
  3. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

DOWNSIZING: Why I Love My Minimalist Kitchen

Whether you’re moving into a smaller space, or just need to create more space in your kitchen, downsizing to a minimalist kitchen can make you happier.

A kitchen doesn't have to be big to be fabulous — just use some creative storage solutions. All images: Lara Edge for HouseLogic
You know that feeling you get after a major haircut? When your head feels 10 times lighter? That’s nothing compared to how you’ll feel when you downsize your kitchen to a minimalist kitchen. I’m still reveling in the feeling of light-headedness it gave me.

I won’t bore you with gritty details of why my husband and I had to leave our kitchen that was big enough to be its own apartment and had enough counter space to tease you into collecting every imaginable kitchen gadget.

The point is: I don’t miss that kitchen. I love, love my new minimalist kitchen.

Here’s why:

It saves me money

It’s simple economics: When you have less storage space, you buy less. Seriously. ‘Nuff said.

It’s keeping Alzheimer’s at bay

It forces me to be creative, exercising my mind to seek alternative solutions. Some of my solutions:

Since my countertop space is limited, I didn’t want to waste part of it with a dish rack. Instead I made my large strainer a multi-tasker:

Pitchers as vases: Instead of keeping vases and pitchers, I just use pitchers to show off my flowers.

One set of glasses for all beverages: I must have eliminated four shelves of glasses when I downsized. Who really needs

Sunday, August 19, 2012

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mortgage rates rise for third straight week

Stronger economic activity placed upward pressure on long-term Treasury yields, and, in turn, lifted mortgage rates up for a third straight week.
The Freddie Mac survey showed the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.62% for the week ending Thursday, up from last week’srise to 3.59%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.15%.
The 15-year FRM, a popular refinancing choice, averaged 2.88%, increasing from last week‘s record low of 2.84%. A year ago, the average rate for a 15-year FRM was 3.36%.
Five-year, Treasury-indexed, hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 2.76%, down from 2.77% last week and falling from 3.08% a year earlier.
And one-year, Treasury-indexed ARMs averaged 2.69%, up from last week’s 2.65% and down from 2.86 % last year.
Fixed mortgage rates are heightening at a time of low inflation and stronger economic activity. Twelve-month growth in the core consumer price index fell for a second month to 2.1% in July. At the same time, industrial production rose .6% in July after a .1% increase in June. And retail

Saturday, August 18, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: US housing inventory falls 19% in July as prices slowly rise

The housing market is in recovery mode as evidenced by plummeting inventory levels and rising median prices, noted in its National & Local Market Trends report.
Add caption
The total number of single-family, condo, townhome and co-op listings hit 1.86 million in July, down 19.26% from a year earlier and well below the nation's peak inventory of 3.10 million units in Sept. 2007.
The median age of the nation's inventory is hovering around 88 days, down 9.27% from last year, while the median list price hit $194,900, up 2.63%, said.  
Overall, list prices still remain well below their 2007 peak of $250,000.
Rising or stable prices combined with lower inventory levels are generally a sign of a market in recovery mode, the report noted. Older industrialized parts of the U.S. economy continue to show signs of weakness when it comes to housing.
On the other hand, for-sale inventories declined in most U.S. markets, except for Shreveport, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.
List prices grew in 91 of the 146 surveyed markets and declined in only 22 markets.
"This pattern is in stark contrast to trends observed in July 2011, when median list prices were

Friday, August 17, 2012

NEIGHBORHOODS: Five Great Streets To Live On Right Now In and Around Boston

What makes a neighborhood block a great place to live? Well, most of the time, the block is full of neighbors who take care of their homes and who take an interest in their communities. Often, these blocks are densely populated, and it’s not by coincidence that many of them are located on one-way streets that don’t go anywhere – these aren’t roads that people use to cut through on their way to I-93.
All of Boston’s neighborhoods have blocks that fit these criteria. Here are brief summaries of five of the best blocks in Boston, plus another one that’s bound for greatness.
green street boston
Green Street, Jamaica Plain
Green Street, Jamaica Plain – This is on the list because someday, Green Street and the surrounding blocks are bound to be one of the coolest neighborhoods in Boston. Right now, it’s a street full of empty or run-down buildings along with a couple of single-room occupancy hotels (remember those?). But, the location is prime for development – it’s near the Green Street Orange Line station, there is a new condo project called Bartlett Square across the street at one end (with a yoga studio on the first floor), and the Canto 6 Bakery and a neighborhood quickie-market at the other. And, it’s only a block toRuggiero’s Market and two blocks from Jamaica Plain’s always poppin’ Midway Cafe. (That the Boston Police Department’s District E13 headquarters is on the block helps, too.)
The Green Street neighborhood is far enough from Egleston Squarethat you don’t have to fight through traffic to get in and out of there but close enough so you can visit there on a weekend to do your shopping. (And, you’ll never have an unmet need for car repairs and tire replacements on Green Street – there are about ten chop shops within the same one-square mile.)

warwick street boston
Warwick Street, Roxbury
Warwick Street, Roxbury – Federick Douglass Square is what real estate agents call a “bookend neighborhood” – it’s at the edge of the South End. (Bay Village is the other bookend.) It’s not large enough to stand on its own but has defined borders and has housing stock of a unique style.
The streets in this neighborhood are filled with 125-year old three-story single-family homes in the Queen Anne style, which is probably surprising to many people who think they have to go to the South End to find them. Many of these homes were built for the “urban poor”, or as “social reformer” Robert Treat Paine, Jr. explained, “better homes for the masses of plain people.”
The block is populated by a small group of involved neighbors who tend gardens in their spare time, as well as students from nearbyNortheastern University and young professionals looking for affordable rents in a convenient neighborhood.
charlesgate east boston
Charlesgate East, The Fenway
Charlesgate East, The Fenway – When outsiders think of “The Fenway”, they are thinking of Fenway Park, of course, but Bostonians know that it’s a neighborhood, first.
The Fenway is split in two. East Fenway is the area that encompasses Northeastern UniversityMuseum of Fine Arts, and part of the Longwood Medical Area. West Fenway is where Fenway Park is located, along with several densely-populated streets (named after Scottish cities and towns) and Boylston Street – a mix of retail and restaurants and, now, large residential projects including 1330 Boylston and Trilogy. The Back Bay Fens lies between them.
On the East Fenway side, where the Fenway meets Back Bay, lies Charlesgate East. Originally

Thursday, August 16, 2012

RENTALS: The Cheapest, Priciest Areas to Rent an Apartment in the Hub

Everybody knows it's bad out there fortenants and very likely getting worse (forlandlords, not so much). The latest quarterly report from RentJuice/Zillow, covering approximately 85 percent of the apartment availabilities in Greater Boston, only reinforces the point.
Just take the aggregates: the average apartment rent for Boston proper in the first quarter of 2012 was $2,228, and in the second quarter was $2,503; the average apartment rent for Greater Boston was $2,218 in the earlier quarter, and $2,308 in the quarter ending June 30. Rents in some areas in particular were way up: North Cambridge, 20 percent; Belmont, 42 percent. Some were down: the rest of Cambridge, East Boston. Generally, though, the numbers reflect a rental market that appears to be trending toward ever-more demand amid tight supply, no matter how much construction there is or is planned (check out our Rental Heatmap for that).
The only real bright spot for tenants might be the availabilities coming up after the summer: Seven out of 10 rental listings being marketed now, according to the report, are noted as becoming available in early September. So there's that. 
The 20 most expensive areas:
Wellesley $4,435
Waterfront $4,255
The Harborfront* $3,667
Belmont $3,520
Needham $3,469
Arlington $3,438
Theater District $3,435
West End $3,368
Back Bay $3,328
Kendall Square $3,280
Seaport $3,262
Downtown Boston $3,256
South Boston $2,969
Bay Village $2,914
East Cambridge $2,904
South End $2,890
Teele Square $2,876
Brookline Village $2,875
Union Square $2,870
Central Square $2,853

And now the 20 cheapest:
Framingham $1,363
Everett $1,377
Norwood $1,512
Quincy $1,544

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

LIVING IN BOSTON: Commute to Work: What’s it to you?

Whether moving homes or moving jobs, we are all faced with the same question: How am I going to get to work? Depending on where you live, there is a variety of ways people get to work each day. While some of us are lucky enough to live just walking distance from our office, the majority of us spend each morning suffering through a mini-episode of Survivor. Despite Boston’s reputation as one of the easiest cities to commute through, we too endure the stress and anxiety of morning madness.
Here at BlockAvenue, two of us commute to work locally from within Boston and two of us commute into the city each day from the suburbs. You would think that the difference here would be between the Boston commuters and the suburb commuters, right? Well… wrong! While Tony and Melki both live in Boston, only Melki takes Boston’s greatest MBTA. This is the same case between Sara and Alex. While Alex takes the commuter rail everyday, Sara chooses to drive in. So we started to wonder, have we really chosen the most effective way to get to work each day?
There are two major questions we normally ask ourselves when planning our commute: what are my options and which is the best option? This is where things get tricky. What does the “best option” even mean? Does it mean the most convenient or cost effective?
After a long discussion amongst the BlockAvenue team members, it was concluded that there are two major reasons why people choose to commute the way they do: cost and experience. In this example, Tony and Sara favor the importance of the “experience” where Melki and Alex value the “cost” of the experience.
The table below gives you an inside look on how the BlockAvenue team gets to work each day and the time and cost of our commutes.
BlockAvenue’s Commute to Work (DogPatch Labs in Cambridge)
(Click to Enlarge)
According to the data, Melki spends about 12 hours more commuting to work than Tony does,

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MOVING: Which items often get broken during a move?

If you're moving to a new house or apartment, be advised: Some things are made to be broken.

When it comes to moving, you've got to be careful.
That's because some things - no matter how sturdy they appear on the surface - are made to be broken.
"People don't realize how big of a job it can be," says John Bisney, a spokesman for the American Moving and Storage Association. "They think, 'No big deal, load up a U-Haul and we're good to go.' "
But breaking items during the moving process can be a big deal. Whether you go with the do-it-yourself (DIY) route or hire a moving company, the hassle of replacing or repairing busted items can cost time, money, and, in some cases, broken hearts.
Which items are among the most likely to get smashed and dashed at moving time? Keep reading to find out...
#1 - Electronics
Computers, TVs, and home entertainment systems are among the most likely victims of breakage when it comes time to  move. If you drop electronics, the sensitive and delicate components can suffer major damage.
A possible solution?
Save the boxes and packing materials that originally came with the items, says Abbey Claire Keusch, a professional organizer based in Los Angeles. When the time comes to transport the gear to your next home, re-pack your gadgets in the boxes and materials the way you purchased them.
#2 - Your Back
Back pain, pulled muscles, and broken bones are among the physical injuries you can suffer by trying to move that refrigerator or piano without the right equipment or people power.
"Moving is hard physically and emotionally," says Steve Weitekamp, president of the California Moving and Storage Association.
From the physical standpoint, moving is a strenuous activity that adds a measure of danger when you have to move items up flights of stairs or repetitively lift heavy objects. On top of that, you're asking for trouble if you try moving things by walking backwards.
The Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute, a resource center for technical information, writes on its website that you should always face forward when moving furniture to lessen your chances of falling. Otherwise, use a cart for larger pieces and go over the moving route in advance.
#3 - Tables
Wrestling with tables or other odd-shaped items during a move can be a recipe for disaster if you're in DIY mode. These items can be clunky, bulky, or a logistical nightmare at best,

Monday, August 13, 2012

HOME DESIGN: 5 Porch Pick-Me-Ups Under $500

Sprucing up your porch is more than a cosmetic upgrade — it’ll boost your curb appeal and help preserve the value of your home. As a bonus, you’ll even get some neighborhood bragging rights. Here are five simple porch pick-me-ups, each costing less than $500.

1. Adding architectural pizzazz
Sweeten your porch’s appearance with a wide variety of architectural trim pieces in weather-resistant wood or low-maintenance synthetics (PVC or polyurethane). They’re readily available at home improvement centers.

Most porch trim pieces install with nails or screws and require basic tools and moderate do-it-yourself skills. Or, hire a handyman for a few hours at $30-$60 an hour.

Add decorative brackets (starting at $20 each) where support posts meet the ceiling.
Span the space above porch stairs with a fancy fretwork spandrel ($200 for 6 feet).
Shapely corbels ($30 and up) lend charm under the eaves.

2. Painting the floor
You’re walking on sunshine when you splash color on a porch floor. Use good-quality exterior paint made for porch floors ($30-$45 per gallon) and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for prepping the surface so the paint won’t peel.

If the old paint dates prior to 1978, find out if the paint is lead-based. If necessary, remove lead paint.

Once the basecoat dries, you can add a painted design, such as a faux rug, using stencils. Or outline your motif with quick-release painter’s tape to ensure crisp edges.

3. Fanning a breeze

Stir up your own cooling breezes by adding a ceiling fan to your porch. Be sure to select a ceiling fan model designed for outdoor use ($75-$250).

Wiring a fan is a task you can do yourself in less than an hour if there’s an existing electrical box and you have the right electrical tools. Or, hire an electrician ($75-$200) to wire the fan.

4. Creating privacy

If your exposed porch leaves you feeling like a goldfish in a bowl, add home privacy using one or more of these makeover strategies:

Louvered shutters: Tall louvered panels, or shutters, filter light while allowing breezes to blow freely across your porch. Select shutters in wood, vinyl, or PVC; prices start at about $50 for a 12-by-64-inch shutter.

Install one or more shutters floor-to-ceiling or just above the rail to create a private spot on the porch. You’ll need an afternoon to install shutters, typically by securing wood cleats to the floor and fascia and fastening the shutters to the cleats with screws.

Outdoor fabric: Add a little romance, color, and pattern to your porch with fabric panels that draw closed for privacy. Weather-resistant curtain panels with grommet tops come in a variety

Sunday, August 12, 2012

LANDSCAPING: Keeping Your Patio More Private

One of the most relaxing and entertaining places in the home is the patio. Despite the fact that it’s outdoors, it can be an extension of your living space and a great place for dining with friends and family, lounging on a warm afternoon, or even hosting intimate parties with guests. In order to make it feel like a part of your home, it is important to create some privacy.
Keeping your patio private doesn’t have to involve large costs or renovations.  In fact, you can make use of what you already have rather than spending money on new items.
To help you keep your patio more private, here are a few ideas:
  • Plan a good spot for your patio. If you don’t have a patio yet and are planning to construct one, choose a spot where you can be concealed from neighbors. You may even find that you can use one side of the house to help conceal the area.
  • Plant flowers and greenery around your patio. This can be done by planting plants in pots or creating flower bed border. Or, you can simply move potted plants from other areas of your yard, so you don’t have to spend anything.
  • Add a pergola to your patio. Adding a roof will not only create privacy, but it will also provide more protection from extreme weather conditions, thus enabling you to enjoy it whenever you’d like. A pergola is a roofing option that adds elegance to your patio, and its classic appearance creates a cozy feel. However, if a pergola is too large of an investment for you right now, there are many other roofing options available.
  • Screen in your patio. There are three benefits of using a screen on your patio. First, it protects your patio from complete exposure to the outside. Second, despite being concealed, you still have a view of what is happening outside. Third, the screen helps keep out pesty insects, so you can enjoy your relaxation and meals in peace.
  • Install a fence. Place a fence or elevated border around your patio, so you can have a little privacy when eating breakfast or having a romantic dinner with your spouse. You can even

Saturday, August 11, 2012

STAGING YOUR HOME: 5 Inexpensive Kitchen Staging Tips

The kitchen is one of the most important selling points of a home. It is really the heart of the house and is always a price factor/decision influencer depending on its condition, and therefore demands strict attention for a vendor. When staging your home, the kitchen needs to present well to the buyers. 

Here are 5 Inexpensive Kitchen Staging Tips to ensure that your buyers will fall in love with your home. 

1. Deep Cleaning.  Nothing turns a potential buyer off more than a dirty home. Scrub the kick boards and vacuum the corners. Polish the fixtures.  Wipe down all the cabinets, inside and out. Polish the hardware. 

Check out Home Staging Channel’s comprehensive Kitchen Cleaning Checklist.  It will guide you to cleaning your kitchen — sink, cabinets, refrigerator, oven, down to the floor.

kitchen after bg property styling

2.  Check the Walls.  Clean them with a sponge and warm water.  Tone down bright room colours by painting walls with white or a light neutral colour. Patch, repair or replace any uneven walls. 

3.  De-Clutter and depersonalise.  Concentrate on the countertops.  Buyers like to see lots of empty workspace. Put away all appliances, dishes, and all pots and pans.  Show off the countertops and keep it clean & organised in drawers and cabinets.   Organise the fridge and cupboards as well.

kitchen after bg property styling

4.  Evaluate your Worktops. Consider replacing your worktops if these are worn out, chipped, or scratched. 

5.  Accessorise.  Give your kitchen that show home finish.  Place a green plant or a fruit

Friday, August 10, 2012

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: U.S. Mortgage Rates Increase For First Time In 7 Weeks

U.S. mortgage rates rose for the first time in seven weeks, increasing from the record lows that have helped stabilize the housing market.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage climbed to 3.55 percent in the week ended today from 3.49 percent, the lowest level in records dating to 1971, according to a statement from McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac. The average 15-year rate rose to 2.83 percent from 2.8 percent.
Low borrowing costs and a shrinking inventory of available properties are helping to bolster a real estate recovery. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of prices in 20 U.S. cities decreased 0.7 percent in the 12 months through May, the smallest decline since September 2010.
House prices have turned the corner,” Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a telephone interview. “The record-low mortgage rates are supporting the best affordability in at least four decades.”
An index of applications for refinancing climbed 0.8 percent in the week ended July 27, the

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Boston parents speak up on school wants

Parents across Boston want schools that offer strong academics and a safe environment close to home. But their priorities differ based on where they live, a new Boston School Department report shows.

Residents of Charlestown, downtown, parts of Dorchester, East Boston, and West Roxbury are more likely to say they want their children to attend a school in their neighborhood. Those in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Mattapan and Roxbury prioritize safety over proximity.

The differing priorities illustrate the competing interests school officials must weigh as they design a new method to assign children to schools across the city. The complicated school-choice process — the subject of a yearlong series in the Globe last year — baffles and frustrates many parents, who say a system designed to promote fair access often unfairly shuts them out of the schools they choose.

Boston school officials hope to unveil proposals for revamping the student-assignment process in the fall and are weighing the feedback they received from members of the community at a series of public meetings and in online surveys.

An External Advisory Committee composed of parents and community members will also make recommendations on the best option to pursue in the fall. And a subcommittee of that panel meets Monday to begin examining a cache of data from the School Department, now posted online at

As school officials reconsider the assignment plan, they are focused on maintaining opportunities for all students, regardless of where they live.

“We felt it was incredibly important to assemble that data and make it public so that everyone knew the data that was available to analyze any number of models,” said Laura Perille, a Boston school parent who cochairs the data subcommittee. She also works as executive director of EdVestors, a nonprofit that works in partnership with donors to fund programs and school change initiatives.

The data provide information about the 125 schools across the city and the students who attend them.

Some charts, for instance, show the number of high-quality schools in each of the three zones that form the current geographic boundaries for students to apply for placements. If those zones change in future proposals, officials and parents want to ensure that each one has quality schools to offer.

Another spreadsheet details students’ race, neighborhood, and current school placement, so

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SELLING YOUR HOME: 10 DIY projects to sell your home faster

With the troubled housing market of the past five years and banks still reluctant to lend, its no wonder homeowners hoping to sell are sitting on the market for months at a time. Buyers, meanwhile, are trying to find a balance between their dream home and one that's affordable.
(Photo: Mary Hutchison | Flickr)For those trying to sell a house, what are some quick and easy DIY projects that can help sell your home faster? We asked experts to share step-by-step instructions for completing projects bound to modernize your home, from resurfacing cabinets to eliminating home odors to re-caulking bathroom grout.

1. Create a welcoming entrance 
If you don't immediately impress potential buyers as they enter the home, you're setting yourself up for a tough sell. Creating a welcoming entrance is arguably the most effective way to sell your home faster.

Doug Perlson, co-founder and CEO of, shares the following tips for instantly improving curb appeal:

  • Remove weeds and make sure plantings are trimmed and don't appear overgrown.
  • Replace old address numbers with modern exterior ones. It’s a quick and inexpensive update.
  • Paint the front door and refrain from excessive decoration.
  • Part of what makes an entrance appealing is what you don't see. Specifically, your entrance should not be crowded with shoes, keys, mail, etc.

2. Mulch 
Applying mulch to your front and back yards is another inexpensive way to make your home more appealing to buyers.

Jason Cameron, TV host and TruGreen partner, shares these strategies for mulching:

  • Apply a one- to three-inch layer of mulch – any thicker, and roots will begin growing in the mulch instead of the soil, making them susceptible to drought and low temperatures.
  • Check the depth of the mulch in your landscape beds. It should be two to three inches deep. Add more mulch if you do not have the minimum level in place, but do not exceed four inches. When rainfall is limited, mulch not only conserves soil moisture, but moderates soil temperature and helps deter weeds.
  • Make sure your mulch is not too close to the base or trunk of the plant, as it could cause decay and winter injury.

3. Eliminating odors 
You may not notice odors in your home, but prospective buyers will.

Jill M. Banks of Happily Better After Room Redesign & Home Staging suggests using baking soda as a way to fight odors: "Baking soda is a natural odor neutralizer, so if a spot in the carpet still smells funky after cleaning, try sprinkling some baking soda on it, leave it for 15 minutes or so, then vacuum."

She says baking soda can also be used in garbage disposals, trash cans, washing machines and refrigerators to knock out mystery smells.

4. Resurfacing cabinets 
Replacing your cabinets is undoubtedly a major expense and will likely require a professional to complete. Resurfacing your cabinets is a cost-effective way to spruce up your kitchen, though.

Design expert Kathy Peterson offers the following steps to a perfect cabinet:

  • Step 1: Remove hardware, doors and drawers.
  • Step 2: Clean the surface.
  • Step 3: Deglaze it with liquid sand, then clean again.
  • Step 4: Paint and, depending on the style you're looking for, add a tint over the paint (design kits can help you with this).

5. Baseboard repairs 
The baseboards in your home are subject to plenty of wear and tear over the years. To make some easy repairs, Frank Foti, business manager adviser for Mr. Handyman, offers these tips:

  • Strike nails flush with face of trim board using a nail punch or awl tool.
  • Patch holes and/or small cracks/dents with wood filler; sand; re-paint.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

HOME MAINTANENCE: How to Measure Your Home’s Square Footage

One of the most confusing and misleading metrics in the home building and home selling business is area — the “size” of a house.
The problem is that there’s no adopted standard; everyone measures it differently. There has been a move in the past few years to create a universal standard like the one architects use (specified in AIA contracts), but it isn’t mandatory and isn’t yet widely used.
Many state boards of real estate specify a process to measure house area, but it’s a recommendation, not a requirement. So “house area” means different things to different people.
The one thing that is always true is that area is never measured from the inside of the walls; the area of a house always includes all wall thicknesses interior and exterior.

Gross area

Not surprisingly, builders and real estate agents often want to show the largest number they can, so they sometimes measure the entire perimeter of the house on both floors. They may or may not include porches, stairs and two-story spaces. Because you don’t know their basis, it can be very hard to compare one house to another.
A relatively impartial source is your county auditor or assessor. They calculate the size of the house for tax purposes and therefore measure all houses the same way. And although their measurements aren’t always a true reflection of the size of the house, they use the same protocol, so it’s easier to compare one house to another.
But county records show only the gross areas contained within the perimeter of the foundation, which doesn’t accurately reflect the “livable” space within.

Defining separate spaces

A better way is to list areas separately, rather than combining them into one number; that’s the way we calculate areas at our office:
We first measure the perimeter of the house at the exterior wall sheathing — not the siding or brick, just the framing — on both floors.
Next we subtract the upper part of any two-story spaces and deduct the area of stairs on the

Monday, August 6, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Shrinking supply of homes for sale has upended market dynamics

The stock of homes listed for purchase has fallen significantly from last summer, in turn raising prices and homeowners' equity stakes and reducing total sales.

WASHINGTON — Though many home shoppers who assume they are still in a buyer's market find it hard to believe, one of the sobering fundamentals shaping real estate this summer is shrinking inventory: The supply of houses for sale has fallen significantly in most areas compared with a year earlier, sometimes dramatically so. And that is having important side effects by raising prices and homeowners' equity stakes and reducing total sales.
In major metropolitan markets from the mid-Atlantic to the West Coast, the stock of homes listed for purchase has dropped by sometimes extraordinary amounts — 50% or more below year-earlier levels in several areas of California, according to industry studies.
In Los Angeles, available inventory is 49% lower than it was last summer, San Diego by 53%, reports Redfin, a national online realty brokerage. In Seattle, listings are off 41%. In Washington and its nearby suburbs, listings are down 28%.
"We're not just talking about 10 or 15" offers, he says, "but sometimes 40 and 50."Just south of San Francisco, Redfin agent Brad Le says inventory in Silicon Valley is down so drastically — and demand so strong — that the bidding wars are spinning off the charts.
Some buyers are inserting escalation clauses into their contracts to keep pace with counter-bids, and waiving financing contingencies, inspections and even agreeing to increase their down payments to counter any differences between the accepted sale price and the appraised value. One modest, 1,700-square-foot house recently was listed at $879,000. It drew more than 50 competing offers and sold to an all-cash buyer for $1,050,000 in less than a month.
Silicon Valley is in its own special economic niche, but inventories have declined nationwide. Online real estate and mortgage data firm Zillow reports that some of the steepest declines are