Tuesday, August 16, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Freddie Mac offering $1500 for condo association fees

Freddie Mac is offering eligible buyers up to $1,500 for condominium association dues.

The government-sponsored enterprise said the incentive is for condos available through its HomeSteps unit, on the market for at least 120 days and sold to owner-occupants.

Buyers can apply for Freddie's Condo Cash offer between Monday and Nov. 15, and must close before Dec. 30.

The GSE offers a two-year limited home warranty covering electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, heating and other major systems. Freddie Mac also extends discounts of up to 30% on appliances for a new buyer.

In May, Freddie began offering up to 3.5% buyer's closing cost assistance, as a way to help drive sales higher through the summer selling season.

JASON PHILYAW Housingwire.com August 15, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

INSURANCE: Cut Home Owners Insurance Bill by Using Discounts

Home owners often think the only ways to save money on home insurance is to put up smoke detectors and insure cars with the home insurance company. But property and casualty companies offer a variety of other discounts, says BankRate.com, some for as much as 25% for obscure improvements.

Gated community: Home insurers have the same peace of mind you do when you live in a gated community — knowing there’s a layer of security between you and the criminals. Some are willing to credit you for lessening their risk — by up to 20%. Gated communities are a lot less attractive to thieves than those outside the compound. Where you live always affects the rates you pay — some parts of town statistically pose more risk than others for vandalism, burglary, and theft.

New wiring: Older homes with turn-of-the-century “knob and tube wiring” are more likely to catch fire and be expensive to insure than new homes with modern, up-to-code wiring. The U.S. Fire Administration says home electrical problems cause 67,800 home fires, 485 deaths, and $868 million in property damage annually. It estimates “home wiring” causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances. Qualify for a new wiring discount (10%) for your older home by hiring a licensed electrical contractor to “bring it up to code” (the National Electrical Code, 2005, adopted by Tulsa in 2006).

Impact-resistant roofing: Insurance companies worry most about roof quality. We have tornadoes and high winds, occasionally, but it hails every year here and sometimes it’s the big stuff. As more and more impact-resistant roofing materials become available, insurers are offering rate discounts (10%) to home owners as incentives to buy “impact resistant roofing” — “UL 2218, Class 4 rating” (most hail resistant). See “Products Qualifying for Impact Resistant Roofing Credits” in Texas at No such list is available for Oklahoma.

New home or renovation: Unlike new cars, new homes, or homes recently renovated cost less to insure than older homes. “New pipes don’t leak, new furnaces don’t catch fire, new electrical panels and wiring don’t cause fires, and new roofs, chimneys, and foundations don’t lead to costly claims,” says BankRate.com.

When buying a new or even an existing home, an EMP inspection will have been done by a professional who has detected — and the seller has fixed — all electrical, mechanical, and plumbing issues. With renovation, check your insurance agent first for suggestions on how to address likely issues to maximize insurance savings (up to 25%).

Nonsmokers: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the USFA says 18,900 smoking-related home fires killed 595, injured 1,200 and caused $327 million in property damage in 2007. Insurers offer nonsmokers a 15% discount on home insurance.

Mature insured: The retired spend more time at home — detecting gas leaks, pipe breaks, smoking electrical panels, etc. — before real damage is done. Insurers offer the 55+ up to 25% cheaper insurance, just for being there.

Insurance rates affected by number of claims filed Home owners often think of insurance policies as home maintenance plans, which can lead to non-renewal of policies, said David Vaughan, owner of Vaughan Insurance Group. “Small claims paid in the past often lead to higher premiums in the future,” he said.

Insurance policies are written to protect home owners from catastrophic loss — total destruction or devastating home fire, significant tornado damage, roof destruction by hail, etc. — and not every little problem that comes along, such as single window breakage or replacement of older roofs due to hail damage.

Claims-free credit: Many home insurance companies offer deductions for long periods of no claims being filed. No claims is good news. Auto insurance companies offer good-driver discounts and home insurers now offer claims-free credits. Fewer claims keeps more money in insurers’ pockets and they’re willing to pass some of that on to customers by shaving premiums (up to 20%).

More companies are trying to reward longevity. Even if customers have had single claims, they might still qualify for long-term customer discounts upon renewal if they’ve been insured for long periods claims-free.

New ratings models: Home insurance is a changeable business, as real estate is a dynamic market.

Actuarial experts crunch the numbers, as home values fluctuate and construction costs vary, to develop models helping insurance companies manage risk.

As home owners’ insurance rates naturally flow from these models, it follows that rates can change as well — sometimes in customers’ favor, said BankRate.com. In some cases, new models are used to establish lower rates to attract new customers.

Many insurance companies use tiered rating now, and if customers don’t quite fit into perfect molds because of something they left on their credit reports, they could be paying more than necessary until they clear these up.

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/cut-home-owners-insurance-bill-using-discounts/#ixzz1TPMy1eoy

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

GREEN HOMES: Simple Choices For A Greener Planet

Can saving the planet be as simple as what kind of laundry detergent you use? Maybe not. But MXenergy, an independent energy provider, says those choices do matter and wants consumers to think about the environmental impact of their daily decisions.

“What you realize as you move to a more sustainable lifestyle is how so much of ‘green living’ is just about simple choices,” says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy managing director. “Do you use plastic bags at the grocery store? Do you use cloth napkins instead of paper? All these small choices add up to a better planet for us all.”

Consider the packaging: When shopping consider not only the price but also the packaging. Choose laundry detergent in boxes rather than plastic bottles. Choose milk in paper cartons instead of glass. Buy bar soap for washing dishes and bathing rather than liquid. These simple changes can dramatically reduce your plastic consumption in just one shopping trip.

Think about the little things: Choose matches over lighters. Say no to straws. Choose a wood cutting board instead of plastic.

Clean green: Not only will baking soda and vinegar help your home sparkle, you eliminate toxic chemicals and multiple plastic cleaning containers as well.

Buy in bulk: When given the choice, buy in bulk for items you consume regularly. You will not only save money but eliminate unnecessary packaging waste. Choose to buy dry good items from bulk bins when possible and bring your own reusable bags.

Eliminate paper: Take advantage of online banking and e-statements. This saves paper, money, and helps reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating the energy needed to deliver the statements to your door.

Reuse: Bring your own cup to the coffee shop. Bring your own bags to the grocery store. Before making a purchase or discarding an item, look for ways to reuse those things you already have in your home.

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/simple-choices-greener-planet/#ixzz1TPLynci8

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Add Energy Savings to Your Summer Vacation Checklist

Get away from high utility bills by adding home energy savings to your summer vacation checklist. In just a few minutes, you can reduce the energy your home will use while you’re on vacation.

Try these five tips from ComEd for cutting power bills:

1. Check the refrigerator and set the temperature to 38 degrees. If you’re going on a longer vacation, unplug the refrigerator, remove all contents, clean the inside, and prop open the freezer and refrigerator doors.

2. Turn the lights off while you’re away. If home security is a concern, set a few lights on a timer or have a trusted friend periodically check your home. For longer-term savings, replace traditional incandescent bulbs with energy-saving CFLs to save more than $40 in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime.

3. Unplug equipment that doesn’t need to stay on, including computers, TVs, and cable boxes. Electronic equipment and cords plugged into active outlets consume electricity even when not in use. Approximately 40% of electricity used to power consumer electronics is used when they are turned off.

4. Set your home thermostat at a higher temperature. Switching your home thermostat to 80 degrees instead of turning it off completely keeps home humidity levels stay lower and prevents mold and mildew.

5. Close your shades and curtains. Doing this helps to prevent adding heat to your home, stabilizes your home temperature, and reduces electricity usage for home cooling.

Source: ComEd
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/add-energy-savings-your-summer-vacation-checklist/#ixzz1TPL4ZGOO

Monday, August 8, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD SAFETY: Protect Your House While you Enjoy Summer Vacation

Crime rates across the country can peak as temperatures rise during warm weather months —
the same time that many families leave their homes unoccupied and unprotected.

Try these simple precautions from Florida Realtors® to make your home less of a target for criminals:

No Home Alone
Before leaving your home during the day, make it look as if someone is still at home by using timers on lights in various rooms. Even though daylight hours are longer during the summer, it may still get dark faster than you expect or you may return home later than anticipated, and taking this step ensures that your home appears occupied at all times.

No open door policy
Ensure that all doors leading to the home and garage are locked, even when leaving for a short time. The typical burglary takes less than five minutes, and unlocked doors, combined with an empty home, put out the welcome mat for criminals.
Someone to watch over me

Be landscape smart. Shrubbery and other plants can grow very rapidly during the warm, wet summer months, so keep them trimmed to allow your neighbors to keep an eye on your home. Also, an unkempt yard could be viewed as a sign of an empty home to a burglar
A key reminder
When leaving home, take your house keys along or leave a spare set with a trusted neighbor. Never leave a key under a welcome mat, in a mailbox, or other hiding spots — most burglars know where to look.

Crime doesn’t take a vacation
If you’re planning to be away from home on vacation for more than a day or two, ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway and pick up your mail and newspapers if you’re not going to cancel the paper and hold the mail. Disable your garage door opener and manually lock it from the inside then check that the door leading from the garage to the home is locked, too.

Source: Florida Realtors®
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/protect-your-house-while-you-enjoy-summer-vacation/#ixzz1TPJamtjk

Sunday, August 7, 2011

HEALTHY HOMES: Bedbug Alert: Tips To Prevent Close Encounters

As families gear up for vacation time, one thing not on their to-do list is to have a close encounter with bedbugs. Use these tips from the Restoration Industry Association to keep bedbugs from hitching a ride home with your family:

Pack clothes in large Ziploc bags to prevent the spread of bedbugs from one suitcase to another.

When arriving at a hotel, look for bedbugs in the piping along the mattress, the frame around the bed (particularly the head and footboards), the carpet under the bed, and between the mattress and box spring.

Check any upholstered furniture nearby as well, particularly sofa beds. Using a flashlight, check the closet for evidence of bedbugs before hanging clothes or placing anything inside.

Instead of unpacking and putting clothes in the drawers, leave them in your suitcase on an unupholstered chair or luggage rack. Place shoes out in the open instead of under the bed.

Upon returning home, immediately unpack (preferably in a laundry room or garage), wash your clothes, and inspect the suitcase for any freeloaders.

Source: Restoration Industry Association
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/articles/bedbug-alert-tips-prevent-close-encounters/#ixzz1TPIuiokk

Saturday, August 6, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Housing sales remain tentative, report finds

The state’s housing market continued to sputter last month as buyers remained skittish, making it the slowest June for sales since 1991, figures released yesterday showed.

Last month, 4,313 single-family homes were sold, a 23.5 percent drop from the same month last year, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. It marked the fifth consecutive month of sales declines in Massachusetts, pushing volume down 20 percent compared with the same period last year, Warren Group said.

Condominium sales also fell, to 1,706, nearly 32 percent below June 2010. For the first six months of the year, condo sales dropped almost 30 percent compared with that period last year, Warren Group said.

The sales slowdown comes as prospective buyers are scared off by the fragile economy and challenged by stringent financing requirements, real estate specialists say. And with interest rates so low for so long - and no sign of them rising - people also don’t feel pressure to make a decision and lock in a mortgage, they say.

Friday, August 5, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Detroit firms offer loans, rent help

DETROIT - About 16,000 employees at five Detroit companies will be offered $4 million in loans and rent subsidies to move into the city’s downtown area under a program designed to rebuild the city’s residential base.

Officials with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware Corp., DTE Energy Co., Quicken Loans Inc., and Strategic Staffing Solutions unveiled “Live Downtown’’ yesterday.

The program will provide the opportunity for young professionals “not only to work and play in Detroit, but also live in what is becoming an exciting, technology-focused urban core,’’ Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans, said in a news release.

The plan would stretch over five years and offer $20,000 forgivable loans to new homeowners and matching funds of up to $5,000 for exterior improvements to current homeowners. Renters would receive $3,500 over two years toward the cost of a new apartment. Current renters will receive $1,000 for a lease renewal in 2011.

In just a decade, Detroit’s population dropped by more than 200,000 people to 713,777

Associated Press July 26, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Coakley steps up probe into foreclosure fraud

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is beefing up her investigation into foreclosure fraud, targeting a powerful lender-created company in Virginia that claims to be the official owner of tens of millions of mortgages nationwide.

Yesterday, Coakley said she will ask county registers to provide information to see if Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., known as MERS, is violating Massachusetts laws related to property seizures. She is concerned that MERS failed to pay government fees as well as “impaired the integrity’’ of the state recording system by failing to document loan transfers.

Coakley also said she would not agree to releasing MERS from any liability in talks between government regulators and large banks to settle allegations of sloppy and fraudulent mortgage-related practices. State and federal regulators launched the probe last year after some bank representatives, now known as “robosigners,’’ admitted to signing thousands of mortgage-related legal documents without accurately reviewing them.

“We want to be clear we are not prepared to give a release of liability on any broad scope of MERS issues,’’ she said. “We intend to complete the investigation.’’

Coakley joins a growing number of real estate attorneys, judges, and consumer advocates voicing concerns about MERS, a company created in the 1990s by major US lenders to reduce paperwork and save money.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

THE ECONOMY: Airport construction halted across country

WASHINGTON - Dozens of airport construction projects across the country are on hold and thousands of federal employees are not working because Congress failed to pass legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration operating, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

The FAA’s operating authority expired at midnight Friday. Dozens of stop-work orders were issued over the weekend for projects to build and modernize airport control towers, as well as other improvement projects. Many of the airport projects are designed to reduce congestion.

Logan International Airport in Boston is not affected.

“Because Congress didn’t do its work, FAA programs and thousands of public and private sector jobs are in jeopardy,’’ LaHood said. He called on lawmakers to pass legislation quickly to restart shuttered operations.

But all indications pointed to a prolonged shutdown.

Representative John Mica, Republican of Florida and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said there are no negotiations between the House and Senate to resolve the dispute, and House Republican leaders are determined to hold their position.

“I have no idea when we’ll open the FAA again,’’ he said.

Air traffic controllers have remained on the job, as well as FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots.

But airlines’ authority to collect federal ticket taxes has expired, costing the FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue, Randy Babbitt, FAA administrator, said.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: High-end sales push city’s condo prices up 10.2%

$487,000 median near peak; luxury sector at $735,000

Boston’s downtown condo market enjoyed a double-digit price increase this spring as buyers snapped up homes in luxury buildings, pushing prices to near-peak levels, new data show.

Citywide, the median price swelled by 10.2 percent to $487,000 in the second quarter of 2011, compared to the same period last year, according to Listing Information Network, a Boston company that tracks the downtown condo market. The city’s peak was $499,000 in 2008, before the national financial crisis stalled sales and frightened away buyers, according to data provided by the information network.

Median prices headed upward partly because of increased sales in high-end buildings like 45 Province, the Clarendon, and the Residences at W Boston. Two properties at the Mandarin Oriental each sold for more than $12 million in June.

“Confidence has resumed in the market,’’ said Wayne Lopez, director of sales and marketing for 45 Province, which has sold or put under agreement 32 homes over the last year.

The Clarendon has sold nearly 75 percent of its 102 units, which went on the market starting in December 2009. Kim Sherman, an official with the Clarendon, said sales have been strong because of the building’s benefits as well as the change in the market. “There’s a shift in the mood,’’ she said.

The median price for luxury buildings, those with a valet, concierge, and other services, jumped 13.1 percent in the quarter to $735,000, just $15,000 lower than the 2008 peak, according to the information network.

Sales in the luxury condo market increased by 26.8 percent compared to the same time last year, while overall sales dropped by almost 10 percent, new data show. Luxury sales represented about 17 percent of all sales in the second quarter.

Monday, August 1, 2011

RENTAL MARKET: Rents hit a record high in Hub area

Tenants scramble to find vacancies in a tight market.

Boston-area rents are hitting new heights - with the median price recently reaching $1,665 a month - as the vacancy rate falls to the lowest level in almost a decade, new data show.

In a region long known for its costly housing, the tight rental market has left many frustrated apartment seekers scrambling to find places they can afford before Sept. 1, the area’s traditional changeover date. Facing competition, some renters are taking properties sight unseen. Others, answering ads, find apartments already snatched up before they can get a tour.

“This is the tightest it’s been,’’ said Ishay Grinberg, chief executive of RentalBeast.com, a Somerville company that has provided a database of apartments for renters since 2003. “We have a significant number of companies that have zero vacancies.’’

Record-high rents in the Boston area - loosely defined as the region bounded by Interstate 495 - were reached during the second quarter of this year after recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, which deflated rents around the country, according to Reis Inc., a New York company that tracks rental data.

Boston is the fifth-most-expensive rental market in the country, behind Fairfield County in Connecticut, Westchester County in New York, San Francisco, and New York City, according to Reis.

The vacancy rate for Boston-area apartments dropped to 4.4 percent in the second quarter of the year, down from 6.2 percent a year earlier, and is the lowest it has been since the end of 2002, according to Reis.

RentalBeast.com reports that availability in some neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill and the Back Bay is even tighter - at about 1.2 percent. Rents are also higher, with a two-bedroom in the Back Bay averaging $2,658, compared to $2,316 in Charlestown, according to RentalBeast.com.

Prices are heading up as inventory shrinks, largely because of the stalled housing market, the foreclosure crisis, and the growing graduate student population, said Barry Bluestone, dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.

In Massachusetts, the foreclosure crisis forced many homeowners into apartments, while many young people who normally would purchase homes can’t get financing or are concerned home prices will continue to slide. Sales of single-family homes in the state slowed by nearly 20 percent during the first five months of the year, according to the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks real estate.

At the same time, Boston’s population of graduate students is growing, while few new housing units are being built. Over the past decade, about 20,000 graduate students have been added to the Boston area, Bluestone said.

“We continue to have a serious affordability problem,’’ he said. “Prices stay high and are now at an all-time high level, despite the fact the economy is very weak.’’

Nancy McCreary, the manager of Hammond Rental Group in Chestnut Hill, said this is good news for landlords, many of whom were not able to raise rents for several years. She said it also will help the real estate market; more investors - seeing a potential for profit - are becoming interested in purchasing rental properties, she said.