Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Revamped mortgage disclosures will help borrowers know what they really owe

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has begun testing two prototypes of mortgage disclosure forms that the new agency hopes will help borrowers applying for home loans.

So, why should this matter to you? “This is about empowering consumers,’’ said Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor tapped by President Obama to set up the bureau. “Getting stuck with the wrong home loan can cost tens of thousands of dollars.’’

Did you understand the mortgage documents you signed when you bought your home? I’ve fielded questions from homeowners who have adjustable rate mortgages. Based on their questions, they only vaguely understood what an ARM was or even how their monthly payments could fluctuate.

The housing crisis that helped plunge the nation into a recession revealed a troubling thing about many borrowers. Many didn’t know how much they would owe. Many didn’t understand even the type of loan they were getting.

Instead, they were given exotic mortgages, and they didn’t fully comprehend that their low teaser interest rates would eventually reset, pushing their monthly payments beyond their affordability.

Friday, May 27, 2011

FINANCE & MORTGAGE: Seven Deadly Credit Score Sins

John Ulzheimer, president of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft.

Formerly with FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, Elzheimer is a rare editorial source -- a recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.

He often references in his writings the "Seven FICO Deadlies," credit score deflating actions, but only recently identified them in one consolidated list.

Your credit score, from about 350 (poor) to 800 (excellent) is a numerical rendition of your credit report. The higher your score, the more likely you'll get approved for credit and the more likely you'll get the best rate and terms. Negative actions posted to your credit report, take a bite out of your credit score.

Here's what Ulzheimer says are the seven worst things you can do to your credit score. And speaking of "seven," that's how many years these black marks can stay on your credit report.

• Deadbeat behavior. Frequent, significant and late payments 30 days, 60 days, 90 days late. Don't believe a 30-day-late payment won't hurt. It may not ruin your credit but it's not helpful and can remain on your report for years.

• Collection activity. When the lender gets tired of your deadbeat behavior it will call out the dogs -- a third-party collection agency. The collection agency will report collection activity to the credit bureaus and again, seven years of bad luck.

• Charge offs. If the lender gives up on your collection case, acknowledging you'll never pay the bill, it charges off the debt and puts your credit report on notice for seven years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Choosing Your Neighborhood

Choosing a home is about more than just selecting a house. Every neighborhood offers its own unique set of people, activities, and amenities. Which neighborhood is the right fit?

Take a moment to review the following factors that can influence your decision on where to live.

The first consideration of many home buyers is the education of their children. From private, charter, and magnet to public school, there are a wide range of options. Public schools dictate enrollment according to school district boundaries. Keep this in mind when looking at new homes. You may be surprised to find where lines are drawn. Are you trying to move into a highly rated district or are you wanting to avoid uprooting your children? You may wish to visit area schools to get a feel for which place is best for your family.

Next, analyze the data on the local economy. Is there a high rate of long-term employment? It's always good news when new industries are moving into town rather than out of town. Home values should rise alongside demand. Dig a little deeper and find out what industries are holding steady, how long homes are sitting on the market, as well as your local unemployment rate.

Homeownership is at least partially about making an investment. Over time you hope to build equity in your home, allowing you to have not only a large asset, but also the ability to "move up". Be aware of foreclosed homes in neighborhoods, as they tend to pull values down. And

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Low Mortgage Rates Stay in Place

Low mortgage rates have stayed in place which resulted in an increase in mortgage applications for both purchases and refinances. Freerateupdate.com's daily survey of wholesale and direct lenders showed that mortgage rates have been consistent and still at the lowest levels of 2011 for the past week.

Conforming 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 4.375%, 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.750% and 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 3.000%. Of these, the most popular are the conforming fixed rate mortgage loans that offer the same monthly mortgage payment for the life of the loan. With good credit and the ability to meet lender guidelines, borrowers can obtain these low mortgage rates with 0.7 to 1% origination fee.

Still standing firm, FHA 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 4.250%, FHA 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 4.000% and FHA 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 3.375%. FHA mortgage loans offer down payment requirements as low as 3.5%. Easier credit qualifying also draws many borrowers to seek FHA mortgage loans. On the other hand, FHA closing costs

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

After the last of their two adult children moved out, Karen and Keith Percival contemplated selling their colonial on an acre of land in Topsfield and buying something smaller.

Like many other empty nesters, they found that the big home took lots of money and time to maintain, yet they only used three of eight rooms. While no one swam in the pool anymore, it still needed tending. For two years, the Percivals hashed out downsizing options while waiting for the housing market and economy to improve.

Then they went on vacation, renting a five-room ranch in Maine. Unexpectedly, the small vacation home solidified their plans. They wanted something just like that but back home — a smaller, single-family house on a smaller lot. Karen called her real estate agent. “That’s it, put the house on the market,’’ she said.

“Friends kept telling us, ‘Go condo,’ but, no, I like the outdoors. We are gardeners. I want to mow the lawn. I want to stick the bird feeder out. I want a place for the dog to be out in the yard,’’ she said. “I don’t want to be bound by any rules, anyone telling me I can’t have a clothesline in my backyard or can’t plant here because it’s not your property.’’ Nor did they want to pay condo fees.

While many homeowners downsize to condos or over-55 communities — often to lighten the amount of yard work or reside in communities with neighbors their age — others, like the Percivals (Karen is 54, Keith 59) prefer single-family living. Many are still-working baby boomers who consider a move to a smaller house to be more of a transition than a place to retire. But they are also finding that these homes are not always as easy to come by as condos, without a bit of compromise. For the Percivals, most new construction was too large, and older, smaller houses required too much updating or upkeep — exactly what they were avoiding.

Most folks who downsize to single-family homes primarily find older homes, said Laurie Cadigan, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

“Builders are not building to their requirements because of the cost of land in most communities,’’ she said. Developers thought the 55-and-older developments would capture the 55-to-65-year-old age group, she said, but a large percentage are not ready for such

Monday, May 23, 2011

TAXES: Tough Rules for Home-Office Deductions

The law allows individuals who work at home to claim home-office deductions only if they pass a series of tests. You must use a portion of your home exclusively and on a regular basis for work in your business. It has to be your principal place of business.

Arranging things to pass the tests lets you transform otherwise nondeductible personal expenditures (a portion of everything from home-insurance premiums to repairs to utility bills to depreciation if you own your house or a percentage of your rent) into deductible business expenses.

What's "exclusive" use? You must use the entire area—whether a single desk, a room or an entire floor—only for business and nothing else. Use the home office for any personal, family or investment activities, and you forfeit all rights to home-office deductions.

IRS auditors are at ease when scrutinizing a deduction for an office in a room that's closed off from all non-business activities. They remain at ease when the office is just a small part of a room as long as you clearly separate the business portion from the rest—by a partition, perhaps.

Because gray areas abound, IRS examiners set no arbitrary standard for how much you must use the office to pass the regular-use test. They base their decisions on the particular circumstances. Usually, working in the office a couple of hours a day, several days a week proves sufficient; a couple of hours a week probably doesn't pass muster. While auditors allow some leeway, look forward to a disputed deduction if you use an otherwise empty room infrequently for a purpose incidental to your business.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Things to consider when downsizing to a smaller house

Do you want one-floor living or a first-floor master bedroom?

■ Do you need extra bedrooms for your adult children or guests?

■ Do you want a garage? Storage room? A basement?

■ Does your existing furniture have to fit in the new house, or can you downsize there too?

■ Are you willing to move to a new town?

■ Are you willing to sell your house first, then rent until you find a desirable house?

Boston Globe May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Pros and Cons of Living in a Condo

Ready to look for a new place to live? Maybe you're tired of renting, or recently got rid of some stuff and want to scale down your living quarters. Moving to a condo seems the logical solution after the kids have grown and left, or if you've graduated from college and want to start small. There are pros and cons to living in a condo, some of which are covered here:

Pros of Living in a Condo

1) Security. Condominium complexes often offer security services, whether it's a gated property with hired guards, or closed circuit cameras monitoring the property 24/7. You may feel safer in a condo knowing the property managers keep watch.

2) Amenities. To entice residents, condo complexes will offer features like a swimming pool, fitness center, and a clubhouse for hosting events. Some communities may also host social events throughout the year so you can get to know your neighbors.

3) Upgrades. Newer condo communities are typically built with more innovative appliances and fixtures. You may also have options to customize the way your condo looks by choosing schemes of wallpaper, tile, and carpeting.

4) Convenience. If you plan to scale down, condos offer you a spacious property that isn't overwhelming. You can be comfortable without feeling like you're hoarding everything. Also, complexes these days tend to build shops within their community, so you can walk to the grocery and drugstore.

Cons of Living in a Condo

1) Privacy Issues. Depending on where you live, your condo may be backed up against another one, resulting in zero lot lines. If you have a neighbor who enjoys loud rock music or is always parking in your space, you may have a difficult time adjusting. Of course, bad neighbor risks aren't limited to condos, but the proximity could magnify the headaches.

2) Fees. Condo owners do pay fees to maintain amenities, pay for security and staff. If you're on a budget, you should note whether or not you can manage these payments.

3) Assessments. Most condo complexes are subject to assessments that determine if repairs need to be made. The money to satisfy keeping the condos to code, of course, comes from the residents. Before you buy a condo, be sure it's not about to come up for assessment so you don't get stuck with a large bill.

4) Space. If you prefer large, open spaces, you may find some condo models offer just that, but if you would prefer a grander, gourmet kitchen for your cooking or a garage to hold your lawn equipment, you will want to thoroughly search your options before deciding on a place.

Once you decide on your condo living preference, take the time to explore your options.

Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer specializing in articles on downtown Norfolk condos and Virginia Beach condos.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Kathryn_Lively

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/6276828

Friday, May 20, 2011

BUYING A HOME: Home Inspection Tips for Buyers and Sellers

Many will think that home inspection is not essential while buying a house but it is not so. A home inspection is important for your family's safety as all the components, systems, structure, appliances & installations are inspected thoroughly to ascertain they are working properly. By having a home inspection you will make sure that the house is safe your family to live in and you are paying the right price for the house.

Pre-requisites for Home Inspection

At the time a NACHI certified home inspector goes to the house for a home inspection you need to make sure that the seller provides him proper access from where he can inspect every area of the house. You need to ask the seller to remove storage containers away from wall to make it easy for the home inspector to check. In case he is not able to view any particular section of the house then he should indicate it in his report.

Broad Categorization of House Defects

Most of the problems that are looked at during a home inspection can be broadly categorized into following:

Tracing major defects such as some type of structural failure.
Things which can cause major problems in future such as minor roof flashing leakage.
Problems in the house which can create hindrance in financing the house, insure or occupy it.
Safety related problems like electric panel with buss bar which is exposed.

Home Inspection Tips for Sellers

A seller can expedite the home inspection process if he follows the under mentioned tips. If

Thursday, May 19, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Retreat on big mortgages may hurt upscale market

MONTEREY, Calif. — By summer’s end, buyers and sellers in some of the country’s most upscale housing markets are slated to lose their biggest benefactor of the economic downturn: the deep pockets of the federal government. In this seaside community of pricey homes, the dread of yet another housing shock is already spreading.

“We’re looking at more price drops, more foreclosures,’’ said Rick Del Pozzo, a loan broker. “This snowball that’s been rolling downhill is going to pick up some speed.’’

For the last three years, federal agencies have backed new mortgages as large as $729,750 in desirable neighborhoods in high-cost states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Without the government covering the risk of default, many lenders would have refused to make the loans. With the economy in free fall, Congress broadened its traditionally generous support of housing to an unprecedented degree.

But Democrats and Republicans agree that the taxpayer should no longer be responsible for homes valued well above the national average and are about to turn a top slice of the housing market into a testing ground for whether the private mortgage market can once again go it alone. Michael S. Barr, a former assistant Treasury secretary, said the federal government’s retrenchment would be painful for many communities.

“There’s always going to be a line, and for the person just over it, it’s always going to be an arbitrary line,’’ said Barr, who teaches at the University of Michigan Law School. “But there is no entitlement to living in a home that costs $750,000.’’

NEIGHBORHOODS: N.Y. firm in deal for Faneuil Hall shops

The historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace is expected to change hands after a group of New York investors struck a deal with General Growth Properties to buy the lease to the trophy Boston property.

Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., a private real estate investment firm in Manhattan, had the winning bid, estimated at about $136 million, and edged out Genesis Management Group of Boston, according to local executives briefed on the proposals. Ashkenazy Acquisition, on its website, says the business has over 13 million square feet of retail, office, and residential properties in its portfolio, including Union Station in Washington, D.C., and Rivercenter Mall in San Antonio.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace is owned by the City of Boston, which leases out three of its four buildings, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market, to General Growth. The deal, detailed in a meeting yesterday to city officials, comes more than two years after the struggling Chicago mall operator first put the shopping center up for sale. New management at Faneuil Hall Marketplace could come as a welcome change to merchants and city officials who have battled for years with General Growth over the direction of the outdoor mall and the loss of local shop owners.

NEW CONSTRUCTION: 3 apartment buildings being built at former naval station

Construction of 226 apartments is getting underway at SouthField, the massive new development planned for the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.

The apartments are being built by John M. Corcoran & Co., a Braintree firm that recently bought 6.6 acres at the former military base. The $44.6 million project will include three apartment buildings, one of which will include 8,700 square feet of first-floor retail space.

“We expect people to be moving in about this time next year,’’ said Richard J. High, president of the company.

One of the Boston area’s largest privately owned developers and managers of rental apartments, Corcoran has owned and managed multi-family rental housing in Weymouth since 1970. High said the SouthField project has been in the works for more than two years.

Corcoran chose SouthField because of its proximity to highways and the commuter rail station, and for the potential for growth on the site.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: Hotel near Fenway Park is on deck for developer

A Boston developer will build an eight-story hotel near Fenway Park after a proposal for a laboratory and office building fell victim to the economic downturn.

William P. McQuillan, principal of Boylston Properties, said he will begin construction this fall on a 175-room hotel and retail building at 121 Brookline Ave., between the ballpark and the Longwood Medical Area.

Marriott Residence Inn has agreed to operate an extended-stay hotel on the property, hoping to cater to families visiting nearby hospitals and colleges. McQuillan said he has yet to secure tenants for 6,000 square feet of retail space planned for the building, but noted the neighborhood has attracted many new restaurants and stores in recent years, from Guitar Center to the Japanese eatery Basho.

“It’s a different use in the neighborhood, but it’s a natural evolution away from surface parking lots and one-story garages,’’ said McQuillan, who previously teamed up with developer Steve Samuels to build Trilogy, the large residential and retail building near the corner of Brookline Avenue and Boylston Street.

MARKET TRENDS: Bless This House

With the real estate industry stuck in doldrums, it's a boom market for links to a higher power -- whether feng shui, psychics, or saints.

Inside the white Colonial with its flaking whitewashed fence and debris-flecked yard, there’s the shrill clanging of a bell; the intense aroma of incense; the flashing of a sword.

Enrobed in black and swathed in jewelry, standing in the kitchen of a foreclosed Peabody house, Salem witch and self-described psychic Lori Bruno feels a heaviness, a constriction, and she scatters salt, wafts incense, splashes holy water, and clangs bells in an attempt to expunge it.

“Energy goes into things, and it soaks up,’’ the 71-year-old explains after performing a short blessing on the property, in a cluster of homes on a Peabody side street. “You clear that energy.’’

With the real estate pendulum seemingly suspended midswing — experts predicting foreclosures to rise this year, a continually cluttered inventory, home values in many cases dramatically low, and a national home vacancy rate above 10 percent — some are seeking metaphysical intervention.

To clear away bad vibes caused by the swirl of anxiety, desperation, and loss encircling the market, local buyers, sellers, and agents have been turning to witches, psychics, intuits, mediums, feng shui consultants, and 2,000-year-old saints — among others — to perform house clearings and blessings, and to provide direction and a divine cloak of protection.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

LOCAL HOUSING NEWS: Harvard report finds housing ‘affordability crisis'

Philip Frabetti wants to move his wife and two children out of their cramped apartment in the North End, but finding a bigger place that’s affordable has been difficult.

Frabetti, a project manager at Fidelity Investments, said the asking rents of $2,500 or more a month in Newton, Arlington, and Belmont would eat up at least half of his monthly income.

“They’re ridiculously expensive,’’ said Frabetti, 39. “We feel like there’s not a lot of options — the desirable places are out of our reach.’’

Rent and utility costs have risen faster than incomes in recent years, pushing the number of renters who must spend more than half their monthly income on housing to record levels, according to a report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The study, released yesterday, described an “affordability crisis’’ worsened by the recent recession, which eroded family incomes even as record foreclosures pushed more people into the rental market, driving up prices.

As a result, 10.1 million US households, or one in four renters, spend more than half their earnings on rent and utilities. Another one in four households spends one-third to one-half of income on rent and utilities, according to the study.

This squeeze, traditionally concentrated among lower-income families, is increasingly becoming a middle-class problem, according to the study. The percentage of middle-income families using 30 to 50 percent of their income for rent and utility payments more than doubled over the past decade, to 23 percent from 10 percent.

Monday, May 16, 2011

FOR SALE: Sweet New Jamaica Plain Condo

HOME MAINTENANCE: 10 Home Repairs That Can Lead To Electrocution

On May 4, 2011, in electricity, by admin
Doing home repairs can save you money when they are done correctly and safely. Fixing a hole in a wall or the roof can be very important, but they don’t carry the same risk as dealing with electricity, and the consequences when done wrong. Electrical current can lead to serious injury if you don’t follow practical ways of respecting the danger involved. Being aware of the risks, and what you need to do to avoid them, is the key to doing electrical repairs safely. The following are ten suggestions for ways that can prevent electrocution when attempting certain home repairs.
  1. Water and Electricity don’t mix. When repairing wiring or outlets, or even an electrical appliance, prevent any contact with water while it is connected to electrical current. If there is electricity running through the wires, it can result in an electrical shock or worse.
  2. Don’t check outlets with metal tools. Never stick a screw driver or any metal objects into a broken outlet to try and remove some fragment. If you are holding metal and the electricity is on, you are risking severe electrical injury.
  3. Fixing A Toaster. It might seem like an easy solution when something is stuck in your toaster to remove it with a fork or knife. This can be a dangerous task, if you don’t take the time to unplug the toaster from the outlet first. If you make the wrong connection with the wires, then you can end up getting electrocuted.
  4. Television Repairs. Removing the back on your television and probing around the insides, especially when it is turned on can lead to a lethal consequence. Although this isn’t as common a problem as it once was, that is one more type of home repair to

Sunday, May 15, 2011

HOME REPAIRS: Front Porch Maintenance

The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but the front porch is like a handshake, welcoming visitors, serving as a connection point with the neighborhood and role-playing as the first impression for passersby and neighbors.

“The porch is the calling card of your home,” says Susanna Salk, a design expert and author of “Weekend Retreats” (Rizzoli, 2009). “Don’t neglect it or, worse, use the space as storage.”

Creating front-porch style is a simple weekend project. First, Salk says, look at your porch. How is it used? Salk believes a small porch that functions as a transitional space into the house itself should echo the overall style of your home. Alison Gelb Pincus, co-founder of One Kings Lane, a home decor and accessories website, advises going vertical on a small porch. “Make the most of the walls and ceiling,” she advises.

Her top three improvements include:
1. Paint the front door with a new high-gloss coat of paint, preferably in a color that pops. “If your

Saturday, May 14, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: Fencing Etiquette

Avoid fence disputes by practicing fence etiquette—a good neighbor policy. If you follow zoning regulations and share basics with neighbors before construction, you can install a new fence AND stay on good terms with the folks next door.

Observe boundaries: Don’t risk having to tear down that fence by going even one inch over your property line. Study your house line drawing or plat or order a new survey ($500 to $1,000) from a land surveyor to be sure of boundaries. Fence companies usually install a foot inside the line, to be on the safe side.

Respect limits: Fencing companies obtain permits and must know local zoning regulations for height, setbacks, and other restrictions. Height limits typically are 6 feet for side and back yards; 4 feet for front yards. More restrictive rules often apply to corner lots, where blind curves can limit driving visibility. To avoid disputes, review restrictions with your fence company before choosing a fence.

Follow HOA rules: Fencing companies are not responsible for knowing home owners association dos and don’ts; that’s your job. Unless you want to suffer committee wrath, and

Friday, May 13, 2011

LOCAL HOUSING NEWS: New life for their old high school in Acton

Alumni see future in housing units

Nearly 10 years after plans emerged to demolish Acton’s old high school, construction is set to start on a renovation project that will turn the building into 15 housing units for low-income residents.

Some former students, who worked tirelessly over the years to save the historic building, say they hope to move into the school where they shared so many memories growing up.

“It’s where we all went to school and met some wonderful friends, some lifelong friends,’’ said Charlotte Wetherbee, a member of Acton High’s class of 1940. Wetherbee, who turns 90 next month, said she has put her name in to be considered for one of the units when construction is done next year.

The old high school, built in 1925 at Massachusetts Avenue and Charter Road, remained open until 1958, when the town joined with Boxborough to create a regional high school. It was the town’s first high school and is consid ered significant as a representation of Acton’s community life and culture in the early 20th century, said Nancy Tavernier, chairwoman of the Acton Housing Development Corporation. It is the only large masonry structure from the period in town, and is an example of scholastic Colonial Revival architecture, she said.

The Acton housing corporation got involved with the building after voters at the April 2001 Town Meeting defeated a resolution by the School Committee to demolish the building as part of the Parker Damon Elementary School construction project. Another attempt to demolish the building was made a year later, but supporters, led by the school’s close-knit alumni group, managed to convince Town Meeting that affordable housing was a viable option for the site.

“It’s a historic building and the only other option for it was demolition, which would’ve been a shame,’’ said Tavernier. “There is a large group of people who love that building. The community supported it, and it’s a very important statement for everyone.’’

Since 2002, the project has cleared several hurdles, Tavernier said, including a review of public construction laws by the state attorney general as they relate to private development on publicly owned land. In addition, the economic landscape changed, making it more difficult for investors to get financing, she said.

But finally, financing on the project is set to close later this month, with the start of construction close behind, Tavernier said.

The $5.6 million project is being funded by a variety of sources, including Acton housing gift funds, federal and Massachusetts historic tax credits, state low-income housing programs, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.

The town is not selling the building but is leasing it to a nonprofit developer, Common Ground Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Community Teamwork Inc. of Lowell, which has a 50-year lease.

Plans call for the building to be converted into 15 affordable rental units. Three will have one bedroom; nine will have two bedrooms; and three, three bedrooms. Two of the units will be fully accessible for people with disabilities.

Steve Joncas, director of real estate development for Common Ground, said he’s looking forward to getting the project started. While the inside will be completely renovated to accommodate the apartments, the outside will retain its historic appearance.

“The building will be quite handsome and we’re very excited about it,’’ Joncas said. “It’s an example of what a small local group can do with perseverance and hard work.’’

Jane Kelly, a member of the class of 1957, said she’s never worked so hard as she did to save the building from the wrecking ball. She said she’d like to live there but first has to convince her husband.

“It was such a small high school — it was special,’’ Kelly said. “The bond in our particular class is incredible.’’

Michael Gowing, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said town officials are pleased with the outcome. He thinks it’s a positive reuse of the old building, which will also provide some much-needed affordable housing in town.

Gowing said it’s a located in a part of town that’s poised for redevelopment and near a supermarket, convenience stores, tennis courts, the regional junior high and high schools, and other amenities. It’s also about a mile from the Acton commuter rail station.

“We think this project is an excellent use of the property,’’ he said. “It’s a perfect place for it.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts Bosaton Globe May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MORTGAGE DEBT RELIEF: For many homeowners, false hope

Firms offer mortgage relief, then fail to deliver, state says

Marlon Hernandez was sick with worry that he would lose his Malden home to foreclosure two years ago. Then the Salvadoran immigrant heard a Spanish-language radio advertisement that sounded like the answer to his problems.

In the ad, Revere lawyer David Zak said he helped troubled homeowners negotiate with banks. Hernandez paid Zak $5,600 to help lower his unmanageable monthly mortgage payment. But Hernandez said he never got the promised services.

“I am just waiting for my house to be in foreclosure,’’ he said. “I’m waiting for them to kick me out.’’

Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Zak, claiming he targets troubled Latino homeowners like Hernandez by making false promises and unlawfully charging upfront fees to provide help that he fails to deliver. Zak contests the charges, calling it a “smear campaign,’’ arguing that he is doing nothing unlawful and has helped hundreds of troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The legal dispute highlights a growing concern in Massachusetts and across the United States about lawyers and business people taking advantage of troubled homeowners through foreclosure rescue scams. Loan-modification schemes have been one of the top five consumer issues in Massachusetts over the past two years, state regulators say.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SELLING YOUR HOME: The 21st-century broker

How savvy real estate agents are using virtual sales techniques to move brick-and-mortar homes.

Before an open house, real estate broker Joanne Paleo Taranto runs through a mental checklist: Make sure the clutter is gone, put out the glossy brochures, turn on the lights, and, oh yes, compose an intriguing Tweet.

Just five years ago, no one used Twitter to sell real estate. But it’s quickly becoming a must-have element of the increasingly Internet-enabled toolbox of savvy real estate brokers. “For the average Massachusetts homeowner, Internet marketing is really where it’s at,” says Paleo Taranto, a broker with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Weston. “There’s been a paradigm shift, because we’re really in an information-hungry society right now. Buyers want information, and they want it a minute ago.”

And the speed with which realtors can get information into a prospective buyer’s hands is almost that fast. Lisa Johnson Sevajian of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Andover now includes QR (“quick response”) codes on most of her “for sale” signs. When scanned by smart phones, these codes will upload a combination of photos, video, and text about the property to

Monday, May 9, 2011

FOR SALE: Stunning Jamaica Plain Condo - Fully Renovated

REAL ESTATE NEWS: Government, Too, Has Trouble Selling Buildings

For more than six years Akridge, a developer in Washington, had its eye on a 10-story office building in Bethesda, Md., which had been vacant since the National Institutes of Health moved out in 2002.

But the federal government did not put the building on the market until November 2009. By then, of course, the real estate market had slumped. Akridge and its partner, Rockwood Capital, a real estate investment fund in White Plains, finally bought the building last October, paying $12.5 million, less than the $14 million asking price.

In a report last October Republicans in Congress pounced on the long delay in selling the Bethesda building — and the discounted price — as an example of how the federal government has been managing its real estate holdings

Read More: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/realestate/commercial/27gsa.html?_r=1&ref=realestate

Sunday, May 8, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: US home vacancies fall in quarter

The US home vacancy rate, a measure of the share of properties empty and for sale, fell to 2.6 percent in the first quarter as foreclosures slowed amid a lender backlog in processing paperwork.

Tweet Be the first to Tweet this!.ShareThis .The rate, down from 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter, is based on 2 million vacant properties for sale out of 74.5 million residences, the Census Bureau said yesterday. A gauge measuring the share of people who own their homes dropped to 66.4 percent, the lowest since 1998, according to the report.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

LEGAL NEWS: Lawyers’ role in closings affirmed

SJC backs Mass. real estate bar in dispute with firm.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released a ruling yesterday that requires real estate lawyers to play a key role in residential home closings — a long-awaited decision that could mean stronger legal oversight for home buyers and more business for local lawyers.

The ruling by the state’s top court addresses a legal dispute in what has become a high-stakes turf battle between local real estate lawyers and a Pittsburgh company that provides services to mortgage lenders nationwide, including examining titles, disbursing settlement funds, and arranging for local lawyers to attend closings on the lenders’ behalf. At issue is what constitutes the practice of law in residential home closings.

Supporters of the ruling, which include local legal groups, say it is good for lawyers and for homeowners, who often are making one of the most important financial decisions of their lives. They say local real estate lawyers provide better oversight than those hired by a third party who show up just for real estate closings.

Friday, May 6, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: A housing rebound? More like ricochet

New-home sales tick up; still worst March ever
Sales of new homes, such as those in this development in Danville, Calif., rose 11.1 percent last month.
The market for new homes is so depressed that even a rebound last month did not keep it from eeing the slowest March on record. Buyers signed contracts in March at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000, an 11 percent increase from the month befor  but down from 384,000 in March 2010, the Census Bureau said yesterday.

In March 2005, when a lack of sufficient income or savings was no deterrent to getting a dream home with granite countertops and a walk-in pantry, families and investors flocked to real estate at an annual rate of 1,431,000 houses.

The millions of homes built during the boom have created a drag on the current market as owners surrender them to foreclosure.

Builders cannot compete against relatively new construction offered by banks for large discounts.

The March sales numbers modestly exceeded analysts’ expectations but nevertheless did not impress.

“Still miserable,’’ said Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist for MFR Inc.

While February sales were revised up to 270,000 from an initial 250,000, it was still the lowest of any month since records were first kept in 1963.

Builders told potential buyers in March that they might want to make a deal before new rates kicked in from the Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees many loans. That probably contributed to the rebound.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

BUYING A HOME: 5 Steps to Deciding How Much to Offer – or Ask – for Your Home

One of the hardest, most important decisions homebuyers face is how much to offer for their home. And the glut of information on the web about real estate only makes buyers even crazier than the decision itself does. Supply, demand, foreclosure rates, mortgage rates – buyers think they need to run spreadsheets and do fancy math to make a smart offer. And THAT can be super intimidating.
But the fact is, there is a pretty short list of steps you need to take to make a smart offer – one that gets you a great value, but is also likely to be successful at getting the property. (A low offer does not make for a great deal if you don’t get the house!) And most of the same steps apply to sellers trying to set the list price that will lure the most buyers (and net them the most cash)!Click Here For More

Monday, May 2, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mass. foreclosures see steep drop over last year

The number of foreclosures in Massachusetts dropped again last month as an improving economy and a slowdown in the home-seizure process kept more struggling owners in their houses, new data showed yesterday.
Foreclosure petitions, the first step in a residential property-taking, dropped to 1,048 in March, about 60 percent fewer than during the same month last year, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.
Foreclosure deeds, the last step in the process, decreased by 60.3 percent in March, to 552, compared to the same month in 2010, according to Warren Group.
David Turcotte, a research professor in the economics department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said factors causing the foreclosure slowdown include a brightening economic outlook and a new state law that extended the waiting period from 90 to 150 days before lenders can start foreclosure proceedings. But he does not expect a long-term lull.
“In talking to attorneys that represent lenders, they anticipate foreclosures will jump back again over the next few months,’’ Turcotte said.
“While extending the time for lenders to foreclose makes sense, it is delaying the inevitable in many cases.’’
Many US lenders temporarily stopped or dramatically slowed foreclosures last year following allegations of sloppy and fraudulent practices.
In addition, homeowners in Massachusetts also have been aided by the economy: The unemployment rate dropped to 8.0 percent in March, compared with 8.7 percent during the same month in 2010, according to the latest data.
And a small but growing number of homeowners are receiving assistance from lenders through loan modifications that reduce their mortgage payments. Since 2009, nearly 14,000 Massachusetts homeowners have received permanent loan modifications through the federal government-sponsored Home Affordable Modification Program, according to the latest data.
In Chelsea, a city hard hit by foreclosures, community organizer Eliza Parad said many of her clients are still trying to save their homes, handicapped by unemployment and cuts in their wages. Still, she said some have managed to postpone or stop a foreclosure through loan modifications or legal challenges. “People have found some solutions,’’ Parad said.
But Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of Warren Group, said the housing market has not improved enough to indicate that the foreclosure crisis will fade any time soon. Adding to concern, both foreclosure deeds and petitions increased in March compared with February, he said. Petitions alone surged 50 percent over the one-month period, data showed.
“There are likely more foreclosures in the pipeline, which will come to the surface in coming months,’’ Warren said.
Jenifer B. McKim Boston Globe April 21, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Banks high on list of delinquent property owners

Yet both banks, two of the nation’s largest, question whether they are responsible for the properties and tickets. Wells Fargo representatives, for example, said they don’t even know if they own many of the homes; Wells Fargo could be servicing a foreclosure for another bank, or acting as a trustee for a giant pension fund that holds the mortgage.
Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Straff
“It is confusing as to why we’re being fined,” spokesman Tom Goyda said about citations issued to the bank.
The situation is another example of the problems created by the modern mortgage market, where loans are sliced, diced, and resold many times by banks and financial institutions, diffusing ownership and, ultimately, responsibility. Banks granted mortgages and sold them to other banks, which packaged them into securities  and sold them to investors, which then hired the same banks to collect the loans.
Now, with banks holding a record number of abandoned and foreclosed homes, many of those properties have become magnets for vandalism, arson, and drugs as banks and local officials try to sort out — and often dispute — who is responsible. Meanwhile, local government officials and taxpayers are left to clean up the mess.
“The problem is so big it doesn’t fit on my desk,” said William J. Good III, commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department. “I’ve never seen anything like it — maybe my mother once did during the Depression.”
Many of the foreclosed, and sometimes abandoned, properties are well-known to city inspectors, who trace ownership and issue citations for trash-strewn lots and overgrown yards. And the city often pays for the cost of renting Dumpsters or boarding up eyesores.
When code inspectors find a problem property — a neglected lot or an unshoveled walkway — they issue a ticket and leave it on-site. If it’s not paid within 30 days, the city mails a copy of the ticket to the owner of record, located through the city tax assessor’s office or Suffolk Registry of Deeds.
Wells Fargo and Bank of America rank among the city’s top 20 delinquent landlords owing unpaid fines to the city. Wells Fargo is second. Bank of America, which appears on the list under an employee’s name, is fifth.
Bank of America has nearly 100 unpaid tickets and about $35,000 in overdue fines, according to city records. The fines run the gamut, from $25 for overfilled trash bins to $2,500 for illegal dumping.
Bank spokesman T.J. Crawford said the bank had no knowledge of the delinquent fines.
“Bank of America employees are in regular communication with employees of the city’s inspection services department and are unaware of these fines,” Crawford said.
Good said he was puzzled by the bank’s response and had “an incredibly difficult time believing they don’t know they owe fines.” The top 20 delinquents are posted online. And late last fall, city employees bundled unpaid tickets and mailed them to the bank’s mortgage servicing department in Plano, Texas, he said.
“The whole problem on the bank’s side is their unwillingness to take responsibility for the problems,” Good said. “What we’re trying to do is get them to take responsibility.”
The city began aggressively targeting abandoned and foreclosed properties for enforcement in 2008, after passage of an ordinance requiring the owners of foreclosed properties to register them annually and provide contact information for a property manager responsible for upkeep. Earlier this month, more than 3,000 Boston properties were registered.