Monday, November 30, 2009

ALERT: Electrolux ICON and Kenmore PRO Gas Ranges Recalled Due to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Hazard

WASHINGTON, D.C.—If you purchased an Electrolux ICON or Kenmore 30” PRO Gas Range between August 2008 and October 2009, you may need to find somewhere else to cook your turkey—some of those models are being recalled due to carbon monoxide poisoning hazard.

The issue is an incorrect part that allows more fuel to pass to the range’s oven than can be burned efficiently, which causes incomplete combustion and the release of carbon monoxide. About 900 of the ranges were sold for $2,500 to $3,500, the companies said.

Electrolux has received four reports of incidents involving carbon monoxide being released from the recalled gas range. No injuries have been reported.

The following Electrolux ICON and Kenmore PRO 30” gas range model and serial numbers are included in this recall. Not all serial numbers within these ranges are included in the recall.
  • Electrolux ICON gas range model E30GF74HPS
  • Kenmore PRO 30” gas range models 790.76913800 and 790.76913801

  • Serial number range: NF83000000 – NF93633000
To find the serial number look on the back of the Electrolux ICON range or near the base of the Kenmore PRO range, just below the bottom right portion of the oven door and on the back of the range.

For additional information, contact Electrolux toll-free at 888/360-8557 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., or visit the firm’s Web site at

Consumers with Kenmore PRO brand ranges should call Sears toll-free at (800) 733-2299 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday. T

he Consumer Product Safety Commission has posted pictures at of the recalled product on its website.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Sunday, November 29, 2009

ALERT: Government Finds Link Between Chinese Drywall and Corrosion

Offering a conclusion that thousands of homeowners have already come to in the past year, the federal government said today that it has found a “strong association” between sulfur emissions from defective drywall and corrosion of pipes, wires and other metal components in homes.

The finding from a study of 51 homes paves the way for the next phase in the investigation: creating protocols for identifying and remediating defective drywall.

Today’s results are the second that the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other federal agencies have released regarding the defective building material. The first report, on an investigation of only 10 homes, was released last month and offered evidence that the drywall was giving off elevated levels of sulfuric compounds, particularly hydrogen sulfide. However, it stopped short of linking the drywall to either the corrosion or health problems being reported by homeowners.

The CPSC has collected 2,091 complaints of defective drywall problems from homeowners in 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico—making this one of the largest consumer product safety investigations in its history.

The CPSC—which is the lead agency on the issue—has spent $3.5 million and engaged 15 percent of its staff to work on the defective drywall problem, spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

HOME MAINTENANCE: 7 Signs You May Have a Drainage Problem

Finding and addressing drainage problems when they’re smaller and easier to fix, can save you thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches down the line. You don’t need to be a house inspector to know that puddles in the basement or a lake on the front lawn are signs of drainage trouble. But not all drainage problems are so obvious. Some can be hard to spot unless you know what to look for. Here’s how the pros read seven of the more subtle signs of potential water damage, and why you’ll save big bucks if you tackle these problems now instead of later.

1. Malfunctioning gutters
Rain cascading over the edge of a gutter means that dead leaves and debris are blocking the flow. But that’s not the only sign of malfunctioning gutters. Mud spattered on siding or paint peeling off the house in vertical strips are other indications. If left unchecked, overflowing gutters can rot siding, ruin paint jobs, even cause structural damage. Best case: Leaves are clogging the downspout, and you just need to clear them out or hire a pro to do it (about $75). Worst case: Gutters are undersized or improperly pitched and need to be replaced or reinstalled. That could run a few thousand dollars, but it’s still cheaper than new siding.

2. Downspouts that dump
Each inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of a house produces more than 600 gallons of runoff, enough to fill 10 bathtubs to the brim. Dumping that much water too close to the foundation can send it right into the basement, where it can ruin furnishings and flooring and damage mechanical equipment. Best case: You can add gutter extensions (about $10 for a 10-foot length) to carry the water at least five feet away from the house. Worst case: The downspouts drop straight down behind large shrubs or other obstacles. An installer may be able to relocate the downspouts (about $150 for each one moved). If not, you’ll need to uproot landscaping to add extensions or underground piping—a sacrifice worth considering if you’ve got water infiltrating the basement.

3. Water stains in the basement
Depending on where the stain appears, you can tell whether the problem is caused by surface water, which can be easy to deal with, or water traveling underground, a more complex situation. Best case: Stains are high on the foundation wall, indicating that the water is coming (or once came) from an overflowing gutter or surface water directed at the house. Worst case: The stain extends in a line around the basement, indicating a high-water mark that may recur when heavy rains hit, either because of underground water or because the basement floor lies below the level of municipal storm drains that back up. In that case, an interior drain system and sump pump (around $3,000) are essential for getting the water out if the problem can’t be resolved some other way.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Massachusetts Home Sales Up Over 17 Percent in October as Buyers Took Advantage of Tax Credit

The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR) reported today that single-family home sales were up over 17 percent compared to October 2008 as buyers made sure to take advantage of the first-time homebuyer tax credit before it was set to expire. Condominium sales also were up 17 percent. Median prices were down 2.6 percent compared to last year, while condominium median prices were down 4.0 percent. October pending sales (homes put under agreement) were up 27 percent from the same time last year. This is the fifth straight month of increases.

“It is apparent from this significant jump in home sales in October, which is the biggest year-over-year gain we’ve seen since November 2004, that buyers were making sure to take advantage of the tax credit prior to its deadline,” said MAR President Gary Rogers, a broker with RE/MAX First Realty in Waltham. “Now that the President has extended and expanded the credit, we should see continued improvement in the market through the winter and into the spring.”

There were 3,828 detached single-family homes sold this October, a 17.7 percent increase from the 3,252 homes sold the same time last year. This is the largest single-month year-over-year gain since November 2004. On a month-to-month basis, home sales were up 11.7 percent from 3,426 homes sold this past September. This is not only the biggest September-to-October jump since MAR has been reporting monthly numbers, but also the first time sales have gone up from September-to-October since 2002.

The median selling price for single-family homes in October was $287,000, a decrease of 2.6 percent compared to $294,550 in October 2008. The October median price was up 14 percent from the 2009 low of $252,500 in February. On a month-to-month basis, the October median selling price was down 1.0 percent from $290,000 in September 2009.

The October condominium market was up 17.2 percent compared to the same time last year (from 1,296 units sold in 2008 to 1,519 units sold in 2009). Similar to single-family sales, the condo market had its biggest single-month year-over-year gain since September 2004. On a month-to-month basis, condominium sales were up 4.0 percent compared to the 1,460 units sold this past September. The condo market also had its largest September-to-October jump since MAR has been reporting monthly housing numbers. It was also the first September-to-October increase since October 2002.

Condominium median selling prices in October were down 4.0 percent from $250,000 in 2008 to $240,000 in 2009. The October median price was up $36,000 (18 percent) from the 2009 low of $204,000 January. On a month-to-month basis, the median selling price of a condominium was down 7.7 percent from a September median of $259,900.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Boomtime Or Bust, Lack Of Decent, Well-Priced Homes Still A Problem

Welcome to the Boston area, where you will find a wonderful selection of overpriced homes in need of work.

That might be a good way of summing our market to a newbie perplexed at the idea that you can shell out a small fortune and walk away with a fixer-upper that could have cost a fraction of the price in most other markets.

I love living in the Boston area. But when it comes to homes in the broad middle of the market, the selection stinks.

Now that is not based on any scientific survey, though there are hard numbers to back up the idea that inventory levels, as a whole, are dropping and have been a problem for years now.

But when it comes to the quality of what’s being offered up for sale, here I am relyaing on observation and a steady stream of comments from frustrated buyers over the past year I have been writing this blog.

Buyers hunting for homes in the $300,000 to say $800,000 range within Interstate 495 have their work cut out for them. The common complaint is that there are simply too many overpriced homes, the owners holding out for top dollar on colonials last updated in 1965.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Best Ways to Green Up Your Kitchen Remodel

Going green with your kitchen remodeling project means making choices based on your lifestyle and your budget. The decisions aren’t always simple. For example, a certain green product may outlast and use less energy but cost more than a similar product that performs equally well. Fortunately, an expanding marketplace for smart, stylish green products is helping to lower costs—making it easier to have a green kitchen and love it, too. If products you’d like to add to your project aren’t readily available, schedule visits to showrooms or green home improvement expos to examine materials first-hand before making decisions. To help you plan, here are key products, ideas, and tips to put the green in your kitchen.

Major components
• Sustainable kitchen cabinets are made from wood and wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to be produced using sustainable forest management practices. They feature formaldehyde-free glues and finishes with low volatile organic compounds that give off little or no toxic fumes. Check product literature closely to ensure the cabinets you choose meet these criteria.

When shopping for cabinets, ask if the cabinet boxes are built with wheat board or straw board. These products are made from agricultural waste, such as the chaff left over from farmers’ wheat crops. As a rule, they feature formaldehyde-free binders. They’re strong and rated to exceed the standards set by the American National Standards Institute for medium density particleboard—the material commonly used to make cabinet boxes.
• Green countertops offer variety but all share similar characteristics: recycled or sustainable content, low-toxicity binders, and eco-friendly manufacturing processes. In addition, they’re highly durable. Examples: Squak Mountain Stone is made from recycled paper, recycled glass, reclaimed fly ash, and cement. The finished countertop slabs resemble limestone and soapstone. Eco-top counters consist of renewable bamboo fiber, post-consumer recycled paper, and water-based resin glue. Vetrazzo makes countertops that are 85% recycled glass—almost all the glass comes from curbside recycling programs. Craft-Art includes a line of wood countertops made of reclaimed wood from older barns, warehouses, and commercial buildings.

• Eco-friendly flooring includes linoleum and cork. Both are made with renewable resources that make them sustainable choices. They’re good-looking and durable, but require periodic maintenance.

Linoleum is made from renewable, biodegradable materials including linseed oil and cork. It produces no harmful vapors and comes in many patterns and colors. Linoleum stands up well to traffic and offers some cushioning underfoot. It’s resistant to moisture but susceptible to staining, so some manufacturers add a coating to protect against spills and scratches. Without this protection, linoleum must be cleaned and polished every two years. Cost: $2 to $4 per sq.ft.; installation adds $5 to $7 per sq.ft.

Cork is a sustainable flooring product made from tree bark; the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Harvesting practices are carefully regulated to ensure future supplies, reducing environmental impact. Cork is waterproof and slightly soft underfoot, which makes it both moisture-resistant and comfortable. It’s made in 12x12-inch tiles and 1x3-foot planks, each with a distinctive grain pattern. The surface is slightly textured and slip-resistant.

Treat cork flooring with a sealant every 3 to 4 years to prevent scratches and stop moisture from penetrating seams between tiles. Natural wax and water-based polyurethane work well. Cost: $2-$6 per sq.ft.; installation, $5-$10 per sq.ft.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

5 Questions (and Answers) About Adding a Fireplace

About half of the 40 million homes constructed in the U.S. since 1973 were built without a fireplace, and yet consumer study after homebuyer survey indicate that the majority of people want one and are willing to pay extra to have it. For homeowners considering adding a fireplace to their existing home, here are answers to the key questions you need to ask to determine if a fireplace is right for you.

1. Is it possible?
With the variety of fireplace options available today, from traditional wood-burning masonry to wall-mounted ventless units, it would be difficult to imagine a situation in which it would be entirely impossible to add a fireplace of some sort.

That being said, local interpretations and enforcement of building codes may dictate details such as the chimney height, the construction of the firebox and flue, minimum clearances around vent pipes, and limits on fireplace emissions—all of which narrows your choices. You’ll need to check with your city or county building department, many of which have current code information online. You also can check state and local building codes at

There’s also the question of fuel: If you’ve got the space to safely store stacks of wood (not against the house—a fire hazard—but within convenient proximity) or an existing source of natural gas or propane, then you’ll increase your options.

2. How much will it cost?
Costs for materials and labor to add a new fireplace can run the gamut from several hundred dollars to $20,000 or more. Among the most popular options, a factory-built gas/propane fireplace unit runs about $2,000 for a basic materials package; add to that at least another $5,000 for the cost to hire professional tradespeople to cut a hole in an exterior wall, frame and build a chimney, install the fireplace, and add a surround and mantle.

Figure on spending about half that or less for a fireplace that vents horizontally through the wall—called a direct-vent fireplace—which eliminates the costs of building a vertical flue and chimney extension, and for simpler finishes around the fireplace opening.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Talking About Insulation

What is that stuff in the attic floor bays?

If you are lucky enough to have insulation in the floor bays of your attic, what is it made of? If you are really lucky, you could have cellulose – stuff made of old newspapers. Cellulose insulation looks like dirty cottony paper-pulp. You are also lucky if you have fiberglass (that pink cotton-candy-looking stuff.) These, fortunately, are the most likely things you will see in your attic floor, besides dust.

You might find one of the older insulating materials, UFFI. If you see it in an attic floor, it looks like gray Styrofoam. UFFI (Urea formaldehyde foam insulation ) does a great job of insulating. But, when it was put in houses in the 1970s, it was found to out-gas enough formaldehyde to make people sick. It was outlawed in the 1980s. That was long-enough ago that the offending gas has dissipated. So, if you had UFFI in your house in 1985, you were pretty unhappy; now, it is a good thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Winning A Multiple-Offer Competition

Lately, the home-sale market has picked up in some areas and price ranges. Multiple-offer competitions are more prevalent, particularly in popular neighborhoods where there's little for sale.

It's always difficult to decide what to offer when you're in competition. It helps if you've done your homework and you know local market values well. Working with a good real estate agent who can keep you informed on current market trends is helpful. The Internet has a wealth of information about listings in most areas of the country.

Attending public open houses in the neighborhood where you'd like to live is also a good way to learn about values. However, don't be misled by the list price. Some listings are priced at market value, but many are not.

The most significant information is the sale price of comparable listings that sold within the last three months. In multiple-offer situations, a listing might sell for over the asking price. However, this is not always the case.

A complicating factor is that some sellers intentionally price their home low in order to stimulate multiple offers. This is particularly so with short sales and foreclosures. For example, a listing priced at $325,000 that receives 10 or more offers might really be a $400,000 house.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: It takes a lot of time and emotional energy to make an offer. Buyers are often devastated when they lose, and some buyers fail over and over. You can minimize the agony if you are realistic about what you can afford and about the accuracy of the list price.

If you know that a listing priced at $325,000 is likely to sell for $400,000 or more, you can tailor your offer accordingly. But, if you can afford to pay only $335,000, your offer probably won't receive serious attention if there are six or more offers. It might be better to pass on this one and save your energy for a listing that you can afford to buy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home Prices And Resales Predicted To Rise Next Year

Home prices are expected to grow modestly next year and sales will keep rising as the housing market continues to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday.

Home resales are projected to total 5.7 million next year, up from an estimated 5 million this year. Prices will climb about 4 percent after a projected decline of 13 percent this year, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the trade association.

“Going into 2010, I anticipate that prices will also begin stabilizing or begin to modestly improve,’’ Yun told the audience at the association’s annual conference and expo in San Diego.

That should help ease buyers’ anxiety. “I don’t think the fear factor will be at play in 2010,’’ Yun said.

The housing market’s rebound has been aided by an aggressive federal intervention to lower mortgage rates and bring more buyers into the market. Home resales rose in September to the highest level in more than two years, something Yun said shows buyers are eager to get back into the market.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Winterizing Your Chimney

As winter approaches, one of the things to look forward to is the cozy heat and intimate glow that can come only from a wood fire. But burning wood can create some definite safety hazards if you don't keep up with regular fireplace and wood-stove maintenance. 

The real culprits are soot and creosote. Creosote is a thick, oily material that results from the distillation of wood smoke, which then solidifies as it cools. Soot is basically particles of partially burnt material, which builds up in masonry chimneys and metal flue pipes alike, as well as in the flue cap.

The build-up of soot and solidified creosote will eventually clog the interior of the flue or chimney, creating a very serious fire hazard. If the temperature in the flue reaches a high enough level, the creosote will ignite, causing a flue or chimney fire. The fire can break through any weakened masonry or loose flue pipe joints, and from there enter the house or the attic. Sparks and flames can also easily get outside of the flue cap, where they can ignite wood roofing materials as well as dry leaves or needles on the roof or on the ground around the house.

The solution is regular chimney cleaning. You can do this yourself by simply removing the flue cap and cleaning the interior of the flue or the chimney with a wire or nylon brush made for this purpose. The loose soot is quickly knocked down into the fireplace, and the stiff bristles of the brush will remove the creosote buildup.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Analyzing the Data for Buying and Selling a Home

Bill Raveis explains how to use the web site to evaluate pricing.

Just 5 Percent Of Americans Planning To Buy House Within A Year

NEW YORK - Just one in 20 Americans say they plan to buy a home within the next year, and they are most likely to be 34 years old or younger and living in the South or West, according to a survey released yesterday.

Roughly a quarter of potential buyers said the top reason they would buy now is because prices appear to have bottomed out - not because of bargain-priced foreclosures, worries about rising interest rates, or the wide selection of homes.

The survey, conducted for, a real estate listings site, shows the percentage of buyers thinking of jumping into the market was down slightly from a March survey, but up about 1 point from a poll in June.

Recent housing figures and homebuilder earnings reports support the idea the housing market is stabilizing, and concerns about the expiration of a federal home buyer tax credit are moot after Congress last week extended and expanded the credit.

Buyers who have owned in their current homes for at least five years are eligible for tax credits of up to $6,500, while first-time homebuyers - or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years - would still get up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers have to sign a purchase agreement by April 30 and close by June 30. The poll was done before the credit extension.

And JPMorgan Chase & Co. said it sees a need for more housing-related staffers: It will hire 1,200 mortgage loan officers by the end of next year, a 60 percent increase in its sales force.

They are needed as the company goes after new home mortgage business and customers refinance home loans. New loan officers will work at bank branches in 23 states and in key cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago, and Washington.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Is Your Neighborhood Doing In The Current housing Market?

Do you know how well your home value is standing up to the current pressures of the market? You can be informed about up to date sales information by signing up for my monthly sales report. Every month I send out a list of sales in specific communities showing what sold, listing and selling price, number of days on the market and average sales for the month.

You can receive this list tailored to your community. Whether you live in Brookline, Jamaica Plain, the South End or Newton, you will receive a monthly reckoning of all the home sales in your community so that when you are ready to sell or to refinance you will be as knowledgeable about home values as a professional in the real estate business.

Just email or call me and let me know what towns you want to watch and I'll enter you in the correct email list without any obligations.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Existing-Home Sales Surge in Many States in Third Quarter, Metro Prices Moderating

Most states continued to experience rising existing-home sales in the third quarter, with prices moderating in many metro areas, according to the latest survey by the National Association of Realtors®.

Total state existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, increased 11.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 5.30 million units in the third quarter from 4.76 million units in the second quarter, and are now 5.9 percent above the 5.01 million-unit pace in the third quarter of 2008.

Sales increased from the second quarter in 45 states and the District of Columbia; 28 states and D.C. saw double-digit gains. Year-over-year sales were higher in 32 states and D.C.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the tax credit is a significant factor. “We can’t underestimate just how powerful a catalyst the first-time home buyer tax credit has been for the housing sector,” he said. “It’s given buyers the confidence they needed to get off the fence and take advantage of extremely affordable housing conditions. The buying conditions this year are the most favorable on record dating back to 1970, but the tax credit is allowing buyers to set aside any reservations about waiting for a better deal.”

During the third quarter, 123 out of 153 metropolitan statistical areas2 reported lower median existing single-family home prices in comparison with the third quarter of 2008, while 30 areas had price gains.

The national median existing single-family price was $177,900, which is 11.2 percent below the third quarter of 2008; the median is where half sold for more and half sold for less. Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – accounted for 30 percent of transactions in the third quarter, which continued to weigh down median home prices because they sell at a discount relative to traditional homes.

“The decline in the national median price has moderated recently, and a shrinking supply of unsold inventory suggests we are getting closer to price stabilization in many areas, but we need a steady stream of financially qualified buyers to further reduce inventory and get us to a self-sustaining market,” Yun said. “Foreclosures will continue to come on the market, but rising sales from the expanded tax credit should stabilize home prices by next spring and help to stem future foreclosures.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage rose to 5.16 percent in the third quarter from a record low 5.03 percent in the second quarter, but was dramatically lower than the 6.32 percent average rate in the third quarter of 2008.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said he is encouraged by recent actions in Congress. “Extending and expanding the tax credit to more buyers through the middle of next year is the right medicine,” he said. “Congress understands the impact of housing on the economy, so consumers who aren’t able to complete a transaction before the end of this month now have a second chance but must have a contract in place by April 30.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reinflating The Real Estate Bubble?

Home prices are on the rise again in the greater Boston market, a new survey shows.

Values rose 1.6 percent in the third quarter over the same period in 2008 in Boston and the suburbs, to a new median of $331,500, reports.

Short-term, prices were up even more, rising 3.7 percent in the third quarter over the second.
It’s the latest bump up in prices in the Boston area over the past few months, one that is making our area a national leader of sorts as it climbs out the real estate ditch.

Boston and Milwaukee were the largest markets to see home prices rise year-over-year in the quarter, according to Zillow.

Still, as scary as the protracted real estate downturn has been, signs that prices are turning around relatively quickly here in the Boston area leaves me uneasy.
 The downturn may have lowered prices for a time, but it did not solve the greater Boston real estate market's core problem, an inability to produce now housing to meet demand.

Whether it’s a downturn or a boomtime, relatively little new housing, especially of the single-family home variety, little gets built around here.

That means, as the inventory of unsold homes starts to fall, as it has pretty dramatically in recent months across Massachusetts, the upward pressure on pricing will mount.

Homes on the market have fallen from more than 43,000 back in September of 2006 to 28,000 this September, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors recently reported.

The price increases come amid news the home buyer tax credit has been extended across the board, not just to first-timers.

The credit has provided a badly needed – if crude and clumsy - jolt to the nation’s housing market.

But its impact on bubble prone markets like Boston is another matter.

We have a market full of desperate sellers for the past few years.

Let’s just not hope we are replacing it with a market full of desperate buyers

From "Boston Real Estate Now" Scott Van Voorthis November 10, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FHA Eases Condominium Lending Guidelines

With an eye on the volatility of the condominium market, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has backed off some of the stingy new rules for condominium lending set to be implemented Dec. 7. After a meeting with the Mortgage Bankers Association last week, the FHA made the following changes to its June 12 condominium guidelines:

• Spot loan approvals can continue until Feb. 1, 2010. Spot approvals are performed on non-FHA approved projects on a loan by loan basis, and are a way to make FHA loans available to home buyers in well run condominium projects even if they haven’t gone through the full approval process.

• The FHA will allow a 50 % concentration of FHA loans – up from 30 %-- in condominium buildings, and well-qualified buildings can have up to 100 %.

• The pre-sale requirement has been reduced to 30 % of new projects. So only 30% of a new project must be sold-out before being approved for FHA loans.

• The reserve study requirement has been eliminated. The new guidelines mandated that all existing and new condominiums undertake a study of its capital reserve account. The study can be expensive and onerous, especially for smaller associations. The guidelines instead require that all condominium budgets provide for funding the reserve account up to at least 10% of the operating budget. This is much more workable.

The original implementation date for new FHA condominium rules was Nov. 1, but that date was pushed back to Dec. 7. The above rules, except the spot loan approval, are all labeled as “temporary,” effective through Dec. 30 – although the FHA reserves the right to extend that date. This is good news for condominium buyers, especially first timers. It’s nice to see a government agency actually listen to the market for a change. A copy of the new guidelines can be found here at FHA Condo Lending Guidelines

Reprinted from Attorney Richard D. Vetstein November 11, 2009 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Obama Signs Homebuyer Tax Credit Extension. Will It Be Effective?

It is finally official. The homebuyers' tax credit has been extended to April 30, 2010.

President Barack Obama approved the extension as part of a $24 billion economic stimulus bill signed Friday. The bill also includes an extension of unemployment benefits to the longtime jobless and tax credits for some businesses.

The housing tax credit portion of the bill extends the $8,000 tax credit for home buyers who are purchasing their first home from the current November 30 deadline and expands the program to offer a credit of $6,500 to other homeowners who have lived in their current home for at least five years and are seeking to relocate.

Another modification to the original legislation raises the income limits for program participation from $75,000 for a single purchaser to $125,000 and from $125,000 to $225,000 for a couple. There are also credits available on a diminishing basis above those income limits.

The bill was passed by the Senate on Wednesday evening and by the House on Thursday. Both bodies acted in a bipartisan manner which has seldom been seen this year. The Senate passage was unanimous; the House voted 403 to 12 for the bill.

Housing interests as well as the Obama Administration had lobbied heavily for the extension. In a statement released after the House passage of the legislation, Mortgage Bankers Association Chairman Robert E. Story, Jr., said, "At a time when we are finally starting to see some signs of life in the housing and mortgage markets, extending and expanding the homebuyer tax credit is a critical step to keeping the momentum. This has been one of MBA's top single family legislative priorities, and we are very glad to see that policymakers on both sides of the aisle see the importance of this measure.

"The existing credit for first-time homebuyers has helped move a segment of potential homebuyers off the sidelines and into their first homes. By expanding it to qualified existing homeowners, we can help stimulate even more home purchases for qualified buyers. I also want to applaud measures in the bill that will help eliminate fraudulent use of the tax credit."

The Associated Press quoted Rep. Shelley Berkley that the bill "will allow more people to purchase a home in my district and help stop the continued downward spiral in housing prices caused by the foreclosure crisis." Shelly represents Nevada, a state that has been particularly hard-hit by the housing collapse.

Critics of the bill have said that it is merely accelerating purchases that would have occurred anyway and creating yet another artificial housing bubble.

Mortgage News Daily Managing Editor Adam Quinones said, "It is likely that the prior tax credit's Nov.30 expiration has already stolen a portion of housing demand from 2010. On a broader scale, the extent to which the tax credit extension adds new demand is a function of buyer's perception of home prices, liquidity in the secondary mortgage market, and the health of the labor market. Overall, while the home buyer tax credit extension is a net positive for the industry, there are still several structural ineffficiences that must be addressed before housing can gain recovery momentum".

In signing the bill President Obama stressed that the measure is revenue neutral and will not increase the deficit.

From Mortgage News Daily, November 6, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

FAQ's About The Extended Homebuyer Tax Credit

Who Qualifies for the Extended Credit?
First-time home buyers who purchase homes between November 7, 2009 and April 30, 2010.

Current home owners purchasing a home between November 7, 2009 and April 30, 2010, who have used the home being sold or vacated as a principal residence for five consecutive years within the last eight.
To qualify as a “first-time home buyer” the purchaser or his/her spouse may not have owned a residence during the three years prior to the purchase.

If you or your client purchased a home between January 1, 2009 and November 6, 2009, please see: 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.

Which Properties Are Eligible?
The Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit may be applied to primary residences, including: single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops.

How Much Is Available?
The maximum allowable credit for first-time home buyers is $8,000.

The maximum allowable credit for current homeowners is $6,500.

How is a Buyer's Credit Amount Determined?
Each home buyer’s tax credit is determined by tow additional factors:


Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, credit may only be awarded on homes purchased for $800,000 or less.

Buyer Income

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, which is effective on November 7, 2009, single buyers with incomes up to $125,000 and married couples with incomes up to $225,000—may receive the maximum tax credit.

These income limits have changed from the 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit limits. If you or your client purchased a home between January 1, 2009 and November 6, 2009, please see 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.

DEVELOPMENT IN THE AREA: Recession Delays Fitchburg Housing Development

"All that is money is gone as of right now"

FITCHBURG -- The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to postpone a decision on whether to implement zoning changes that would allow for residential use in old mill buildings in the River Street area until Dec. 1.

The decision came following a presentation by City Planning Coordinator David Streb explaining Smart Growth zoning, meant to create a mixed-use zoning district in the area that would allow residential development. The area is currently zoned for commercial and industrial use.

Ward 3 Councilor Joel Kaddy suggested the vote be postponed, because he wanted more time to review the Smart Growth plans.

Smart Growth districts were designed by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration to encourage urban, residential and mixed-use development close to public transportation. Twenty-percent of Smart Growth housing must be affordable, as outlined by state guidelines.

Streb spoke to councilors on economic incentives the state is supposed to award to cities and towns to encourage Smart Growth, though Mayor Lisa Wong said before the meeting on Thursday that the financial incentive piece will likely be cut as a result of a $600 million deficit in the state budget.

"All 40R payments were cut. All that is money is gone as of right now," said Wong. Smart Growth zoning is a 40R project.

Neither Wong nor Streb discussed the cuts during the City Council meeting.

"What would they do if it doesn't become a smart growth (zone). Will we let it rot?" asked Councilor-at-large Marcus DiNatale.  DiNatale's question came during a discussion in which several councilors voiced concerns to Streb, and Wong, about rezoning the mill buildings to attract residential developers, rather than commercial and industrial developers.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Breaking News: Homebuyer Tax Credit Set to be Extended and Expanded!

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed an extension and expansion of the homebuyer tax credit. This morning, the House of Representatives approved the agreement reached in the Senate by a vote of 403-12. The bill has now passed both chambers and is awaiting the President’s signature, which could be as early as tomorrow!

Below is a summary of the new modifications in the extension and expansion of the tax credit:

1) The $8,000 tax credit will be extended and available for first-time purchases before May 1, 2010.
 2) A new $6,500 tax credit will be available for repeat buyers who purchase between December 1, 2009, and May 1, 2010. To qualify for this provision, buyers must have used the home sold or being sold as a principal residence consecutively for 5 of the previous 8 years.

3) Prospective purchasers with binding contracts in place as of April 30, 2010, will be allowed an additional 60 days to complete the transaction.

4) Income limits are expanded to $125,000 on a single return and $225,000 on a joint return.

If you know anyone looking to buy their first home at a time when prices and interest rates are still down, or if you are thinking of buying another home and getting the new $6,500 credit please contact me today.

Email me and I will send you a copy of the criteria.

Getting Serious About Your House And The Market

WHEN Matthew White, a landscape architect, decided two years ago to sell his 1,300-square-foot apartment in Philadelphia, he knew real estate prices were plummeting. Nevertheless, he thought he could get $760,000, about what he had paid two years earlier, because he had made many improvements to the space, an airy penthouse with two verdant terraces.

“It’s an incredible property, with spectacular views,” he said. Within a month, he got what he considered an “insulting” bid of $525,000. Five price reductions later, he wishes he had taken that offer. “I wasn’t realistic about what I could get,” said Mr. White, whose apartment is currently listed for $449,900. “It is such a special place, but now I realize that doesn’t matter during a recession.”

Even in the best of times, it’s hard for individuals to objectively value their homes, which often reflect their sense of self and personal style. Making things even more difficult has been general market inactivity lately, if not paralysis, which has provided little in the way of pricing guidance. But by using online resources, investigating neighborhood trends, consulting real estate experts and perhaps even asking the opinions of brutally honest friends, homeowners can arrive at a reasonably accurate appraisal even in these uncertain times.

A good place to start is your local tax assessor’s or county clerk’s office, many of which post real estate transactions on their Web sites. Links can be found at (parts under construction) and Those records will tell you what has recently sold in your neighborhood and for how much. Look for comparable homes with similar features and square footage.

Be aware that prices may not always totally reflect reality. “The house could have been sold to a sister or been part of a larger transaction,” said Dean Gatzlaff, a professor of real estate investment and urban economics at Florida State University in Tallahassee, like maybe a 1970s Eldorado convertible was thrown into the deal.

People living in “nondisclosure” states (Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming), where the sale prices of homes in most jurisdictions are not public information, have to approximate by looking up mortgages on transferred deeds of trust and factoring in typical down payments and interest rates. In any event, don’t trust tax appraisals, as they are notoriously inaccurate.

“Look for sales within the last two to three months if there are any,” said David Kupfer, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Phoenix, where prices in some neighborhoods have fallen as much as 50 percent in the last two years. “Six months ago is obsolete,” he said, because markets have been changing so rapidly.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pondside Rowhouse Condo For Under $340,000

Live one block from Jamaica Pond. This charming and spacious centrally located 3 bedroom condo with flexible floor plan & eat-in kitchen is just steps from Jamaica Pond, restaurants and public transportation. Amenities like its updated kitchen, bath and in-unit laundry make it a lovely and convenient living space.

The floor plan lends itself to 3-4 bedrooms or 3 bedrooms plus dining room; or use the large central foyer for dining and have 3 bedrooms plus office. The unit has a contiguous rear deck, great closet space plus original pantries and large basement storage. Heat and hot water are included in the condo fee.

Exclusively Offered by Roberta Stone for $339,000

Home Maintenance Must-Dos

This list is a great guide for new home owners and old hands alike.

  • Change your furnace filters monthly. “It’s so easy to do but so critical,” says Lesh. Clogged filters decrease furnace efficiency and can cause breakdowns.
  • Drain your water heater at least once a year. Sediment will drain out along with the water from the water tank. Removing sediment can prolong the heater’s useful life.  
  • Clean the coils. If you have baseboard heating units that use hot water, clear dust from the coils inside the units to maximize heating efficiency. Clean dust whenever you see it accumulating. If you have a hot water boiler/furnace, you should also oil the pump inside the furnace twice a year, says Lesh. Look for the three spots on the pump designated for oiling.
  • Check your circuits. Test the performance of the circuit breakers in your electrical circuit box twice a year by flipping them off and back on. If you have a circuit that keeps shutting off with normal daily electrical use, call an electrician. A faulty circuit breaker could indicate a short in the wiring inside your walls.  
  • Watch out for drips. Check under sinks periodically to look for leaks or water stains that might indicate leaks. Catching a small problem early can prevent water damage. Use a plunger to clean out sinks and tubs whenever water doesn’t drain normally.  
  • Be aware of life spans. Water heaters, furnaces, roofs, and other key components of your home should be replaced before they fail, based on their average useful lives. Here’s a general ballpark of the life span for key components:
  • Exterior house paint: 5-10 years
  • Furnace: 15-50 years
  • Roof: 13-15 years
  • Water heater: 7-15 years
  • Wood deck staining: 4-7 years  

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bill On Home Tax Credit Near!

The Senate and House are poised to agree on a compromise measure to extend unemployment benefits that also would expand a popular $8,000 tax credit for home buyers, despite a recent government report on extensive mistakes and suspected fraud in the program.

The Senate might pass its version as early as today, and aides to congressional leaders say the House could accept it this week, sending the bill to President Obama to sign into law. After weeks of partisan delay in the Senate, Democrats are eager to show progress before Friday, when the October jobless report is again expected to show high unemployment.

The home buyers’ credit - enacted last year, expanded this year, and scheduled to expire Nov. 30 - would be extended to cover homes under contract by April 30. Also, it no longer would be limited to first-time buyers of a primary residence, and the income limits for eligible taxpayers would be raised, making many more people eligible.
 Extending and expanding the credit would cost an estimated $11 billion, on top of the $10 billion spent so far. It would be a big victory for the housing and real estate lobby and for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, who faces a tough reelection race next year in the state with the most claims for the credit per capita.

Critics complain that most of the credits go to taxpayers who would have bought their homes anyway, which even the industry acknowledges.

Also, a congressional subcommittee released a Treasury Department report last month about suspected criminal and civil abuses of the program.

Working From Home: Set Up A Professional Office

Gain an efficient, attractive work space in your own home by following these recommendations.

Where to Locate ItThe "where" should depend on how you work and your family needs. "If you've got young children and want to keep an eye on them, a central location, perhaps in a kitchen corner, may be best," says Joshua Zinder, a Princeton, N.J.-based architect.

In other cases, a kitchen corner may be too highly trafficked for someone requiring quiet, says Atlanta designer Johnna Barrett. For different reasons, she frowns upon offices in master bedrooms. "You have to put away work every night so it's not in view or it will be tough to get away from it," she says.

Other questions to ask before deciding on where to locate your office:

Do you need privacy, quiet, and a door to keep family out?
Do you need sunlight and views—which may rule out a windowless basement?
Do you need room for clients to meet with you? If so, you should nix a walk-in closet, alcove, or second-floor spare bedroom as options.

What Furnishings You Need

Think about how you like to work: Do you like to sit at a desk or big table to spread out papers, stand up, or have mobile work stations in several rooms?

If long periods need to be spent working at a computer, Kristie K. Abruzzo, owner of The Back Place in Kalamazoo, Mich., stresses the importance of having the right work surface, monitor, keyboard, chair, and storage.

Work surface. A work surface should be level with your elbows so you are able to get close enough to the keyboard without leaning forward or reaching up, which puts extra pressure on your neck and shoulder muscles, says Abruzzo. Leaning against the back of the chair for support is also important, she says. Barrett has found attractive, functional, and mid-priced desks at retailers like Crate and Barrel, Ikea, and West Elm.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pending Home Sales Rise for Record Eight Straight Months

Pending home sales rose again, marking eight consecutive monthly gains – the longest streak since measurement began in 2001, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in September, rose 6.1 percent to 110.1 from a reading of 103.8 in August, and is 21.2 percent higher than September 2008 when it stood at 90.9. The gain from a year ago is the largest annual increase on record, and the index is at the highest level since December 2006 when it was 112.8.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the momentum is understandable. “What we’re witnessing is a rush of first-time buyers trying to beat the expiration of the tax credit at the end of this month,” he said. “Home values will stabilize sooner rather than over-correcting. That, in turn, will mean wealth stabilization for the vast number of middle-class families and lay the foundation for a durable economic recovery.”

NAR estimates approximately 3 million renters are now financially well-qualified to buy a median-priced home. “As long as buyers do not overstretch and stay well within their budget, a sizable pent-up demand can be tapped among financially qualified potential buyers,” Yun said. “Although the tax credit is greatly reviving the existing home market, new-home sales may continue to struggle as home builders hold back production to drive down inventory. In addition, there remains an ongoing credit crunch for construction loans.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Conforming Loan Rates Still Below 5%

Average 30 yr fixed rate:
Last week: +0.01%
This week: -0.05%

Stocks (weekly):
Dow: 9,800 -200

NASDAQ: 2,060 -100

***William Raveis Mortgage weekly rates ending 10/30/09 **Rates Subject to Change and final credit approval***
15 YR Fixed Conforming 4.375% 4.520%
15 YR Fixed Jumbo 5.625% 5.839%
30 YR Fixed Conforming 4.875% 5.027%
30 YR Fixed Jumbo 6.000% 6.163%
30 YR Fixed Super Jumbo 6.000% 6.163%
5/1 YR ARM Conforming 3.625% 3.640%
5/1 YR ARM Jumbo 5.000% 4.018%
5/1 YR Portfolio Arm 4.875% 3.711%

Home Ownership Is Not A Solo Sport

If you own your own home you already know that the home buying process is not a solo sport. You need plenty of people on your team to bring your home search or your sale to a successful conclusion. . . That's where I come in.

As a Realtor with over 15 years of experience successfully helping hundreds of clients either find the right home or sell their home for the highest value I can be your Most Valued Player. As a Buyer you will need Information, knowledge, reliability, a practiced eye for the nuts and bolts of home construction and systems, a referral source for home inspectors, attorneys and contractors, counseling based on your needs and above all; negotiation skills. All these things and more are what I bring to the table and what you will need to buy your home.

As a seller you will need an expert in marketing with a wide array of resources to display your home's advantages to the broadest possible range of buyers both locally and nationally. Negotiation is a key skill; not just going for the jugular - but going with the deal that will stick. The person who should get your business is a professional who invests in professional marketing materials, the widest web visibility, and the smartest niche marketing as well as utilizing an excellent affiliation with a successful real estate company.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Inside An Energy Audit

If your house is energy efficient you will pay less to heat your home and you will be at an advantage when selling.