Sunday, September 30, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Housing recovery blossoms

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The U.S. housing industry -- crucial to any jobs recovery -- showed more signs of strength, according to two reports issued Wednesday.The Census Bureau said housing starts and permits rose substantially in August. Separately, sales of previously occupied homes climbed 7.8% from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Builders started on new homes at an annual rate of 750,000, up 29.1% compared with a year earlier. They applied to build another 803,000 new homes on an annual basis, a 24.5% jump compared with August 2011.
Home builders have become increasingly bullish -- a confidence index from the National Association of Home Builders reached its highest level since June 2006.
Even after recent gains, housing starts lag well behind the peak set in May 2005, when the pace of building hit more than 2 million homes.
If sales continue to gain steam, that could help the nation break out of its economic doldrums. Home building provides many good-paying jobs, about three hires for every home built in a year, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
A rebound would create other jobs too: factory jobs at carpet and furniture makers, for example. Truckers get work transporting all those goods.
Most housing markets around the nation have reached a good balance between sellers and buyers, according to the Realtors' chief economist, Lawrence Yun. There's a 6.1 month supply of homes on the market at the current pace of sales. That's down from 6.4 months in July and

Saturday, September 29, 2012

LANDLORD ISSUES:Boston rental unit inspection plan debated

A proposed ordinance that would require most rental properties in Boston to be inspected once every three years was met with mixed reactions Thursday as city councilors, landlords, and tenants butted heads on whether more inspection requirements would place an unfair burden on responsible landlords.

Discussion of the proposal by the City Council was prompted by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who earlier this month called for a change to the city’s current law after a slew of high-profile citations were issued against apartments around the city.

In a meeting at City Hall that lasted nearly three hours, city councilors and representatives of tenant and landlord associations bandied ideas on how to target absentee landlords, many of whom live out of state.

Menino’s proposal would require landlords to obtain an inspection once every three years, though property owners with a good track record could apply to opt out. Owner-occupied properties with one to three units would automatically be exempt from the more frequent inspections.

Under current law, rental properties need to be inspected only when units are turned over to new tenants, but landlords rarely notify the city when new tenants move in.

The proposal would also create a database of contact information for all rental property owners, so landlords are easily accessible when problems are identified.

“We’re really going to be able to go after some of these midsized investors that don’t care about Boston, don’t care about the neighborhood, but are now buying a lot of properties,” said Sheila Dillon, director of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development.

But many were wary of establishing new rules, saying that they would create undue hardship for responsible property owners. Fees for inspections are $50 per unit for buildings with one to three units, and $75 per unit for buildings with four or more apartments.

Michael Ferguson, facilities director for Peabody Properties, a real estate firm, argued that the ordinance would not be fair to companies like his, which have 24-hour maintenance staff and conduct their own inspections each year.

“We are transparent, compliant, and accountable on a daily basis to our tenants,” Ferguson said.

Councilor Mark Ciommo pushed for the exemption to be extended to properties with up to six units.

Councilor Michael P. Ross said he recognized the need for more accountability but hoped for something “very liberal, very exempting.”

“I don’t think we need a system that punishes the entire real estate industry for the bad apples,” Ross said. “I think we need a system that goes after the bad apples.”

Ninety-eight percent of inspections performed by the Inspectional Services Department on rental properties are prompted by complaints, usually from tenants or neighbors, according to the department.

Brian Swett, chief of the Office of Environmental and Energy Services, said the city needs a more proactive system that identifies small code violations before they become larger health and safety hazards.

Several councilors were skeptical that the Inspectional Services Department would be able to handle the increased workload. Inspection officials projected that they would have to conduct 50 percent more inspections per year, requiring 12 additional employees.

Bryan Glascock, acting commissioner of the Inspectional Services Department, said the fees would just about exactly cover the costs of the additional inspectors. Councilor Tito Jackson was not convinced.

“It’s a big deal when you come before the council and you’re asking for 50 percent more

Thursday, September 27, 2012

CITY LIVING: Why You Pay Extra to Live in the City

Is it more affordable to live in a city, where you can often walk to stores, work, and public transportation but pay more for housing, or outside the city, where you might need to rely more on cars? For many people, city living often seems to be the pricier choice.

Patricia Bolgiano, who's in her early fifties and a production coordinator near Baltimore, says she has saved money--and improved her quality of life--since moving outside the city itself. She says her city tax rates were higher, food cost more, and homeowners and car insurance payments cost more.
Since she moved outside the city, she feels safer and farther away from violence, as well. She also says she pays less for gas--along with insurance, taxes, and food. "Yes, living in the city is fun and convenient, but there are costs and trade-offs," she says. She presumably pays less for her Internet connection, too, since she now uses a dial-up connection.

Research by the Urban Land Institute's Terwilliger Center for Housing finds that in many urban areas, including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boston, working families often struggle to find affordable housing. Indeed, the price of housing often gets the most attention when it comes to measuring the cost of city living. Rent and housing prices tend to be significantly higher in urban locations. But city dwellers face other extra costs, too. Here are seven less-obvious costs of city living:

Entertainment: When you live close to the movie theaters and live entertainment such as plays and concerts, it's more tempting to pay to see them. In some cases, you can access the performing arts for free, but many city events require paid tickets.

Clothes: People who live in cities often feel more pressure to stay stylish. That means spending more on clothes, as well as shoes, which can get worn down more quickly with all of the city walking and public transportation use.

Schools and daycare: This one only applies to families with children, but paying for child care is often much more expensive in urban areas than suburban and rural ones. Families who choose to send their children to private school because they don't like their urban school districts also face expensive tuitions.

Food: In addition to the fact that produce and other fresh food can cost more at urban grocery stores, there are also more temptations for lots of daily food expenditures, from coffee to take-out to midday snacks. When you pass five cafes on your way to work, in can be hard to keep walking without stopping in for a treat.

Exercise: This cost can go both ways, because suburban and rural dwellers might spend so

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

THE ECONOMY: Mass. foreclosures drop 17% from 2011

July figures are year’s lowest as state economy, housing market improve

Fewer foreclosures were started and completed in July as the Massachusetts housing market and overall economy continued to slowly improve, according to data released Monday.

The number of foreclosure petitions — the first step in the seizure process — dropped to 1,198 in July, nearly 17 percent fewer than during the same period last year and the lowest monthly total recorded in 2012, according to the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

Foreclosure deeds — which signal the completion of the process — fell to 648 in July, also a 17 percent drop compared with July 2011. That was the smallest number of foreclosures recorded in a month since May 2011.

The slowdown in home-takings comes as the state’s economy and housing market are doing better. The Massachusetts unemployment rate in July was 6.1 percent, a long way from its 2010 peak of 8.7 percent.

And home values in Massachusetts rose by nearly 6 percent between March and June, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

‘Homeowners are making payments and working out defaults through short sales and loan modifications.’

Alan Clayton-Matthews, an economist at Northeastern University, said the newest foreclosure numbers are in line with other recent statistics.

“The economy has been fairly slowly but steadily improving. You would expect to see an effect in [mortgage] default rates,” Clayton-Matthews said.

A multistate settlement between major US banks and attorneys general that resulted in about $25 billion to help troubled homeowners nationwide also is helping to wind down the number of foreclosures in Massachusetts.

“Homeowners are making payments and working out defaults through short sales and loan modifications,’’ said Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of Warren Group.

But despite the slowdown in foreclosure activity for July, home seizures in Massachusetts remain ahead of last year’s pace. In 2011, lenders sped up foreclosure efforts to rid their

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TRENDS: Dog strollers are the latest in pet pampering

Really, it should be no big deal. After all, we already live in such a pet-centric world that the sight of a dog wearing Ralph Lauren, or checking into a five-star hotel, or dining on organic, locally sourced food, barely causes a stir. And yet, even in 2012, a dog riding in a stroller seems one pamper too far.

No one knows this better than April Soderstrom, or, as she’s recognized in the South End, the blonde tooling around with a 35-pound French bulldog in a jogging stroller.

“Sometimes people make snide remarks,” said Soderstrom, 28, an executive assistant who also designs and markets her own line of jewely. Or they point and laugh, and hint that 5-year-old Louis is a “diva.”

Berry and Nicholas enjoying a walk at the waterfront

Let the public mock. The white dog with the big pink ears has long struggled with a bad back and hips, but he got around OK until a few months ago when he injured a knee, making the two-block walk to the park impossible. “But I wanted to keep him happy,” Soderstrom said.

She carried him back and forth for a while, but that was exhausting. Enter a $130 dog stroller from eBay. “Louis loves it,” she said. “He stands right next to it waiting to be picked up and put in.”

It’s probably too early to declare pets-in-strollers a full-blown trend, at least in Boston. (In certain neighborhoods in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and southern Florida, the unusual dogs are reportedly the ones who are walking.) But the warning signs are building:

Two Pekingese pups were spotted recently in a stroller in the Prudential Center. A Yorkie was seen riding in the South End, where a cat was also observed taking a drive. In Cambridge, a long-haired dachshund was parked in a stroller in front of a Star Market. Reports of stroller dogs enjoying Castle Island and the Gloucester waterfront have also come in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

BOSTON HOUSING NEWS: Skyline blooms as Boston OK’s over $1.5b in projects

Boston’s skyline is getting busy again.

City regulators this week approved more than $1.5 billion in new construction projects, including a $500 million expansion of New Balance’s headquarters in Brighton, as well as large residential and retail developments in Downtown Crossing, the Fenway, and the South End.

The projects promise to create hundreds of construction jobs while transforming sections of the city in coming years with apartment towers, hotels, stores, and restaurants. The pace of building activity marks an abrupt change from the recent recession, when few substantial developments were built in Boston.

“These are all solid projects, and I believe you’ll see them in the ground soon,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Friday, adding that together they will add more than 1,200 residences. “What we’re trying to do is build housing to accommodate a new, younger workforce coming to our city,” the mayor said.

The approval of the $620 million Filene’s redevelopment at Downtown Crossing grabbed most of the attention at the Boston Redevelopment Authority board meeting Thursday night. That project includes a 625-foot residential tower, a renovated 1912 Filene’s building, and new offices, shops, and restaurants.

But the New Balance expansion and the projects in the Fenway and South End will also bring substantial additions to those areas:

■ In Brighton, New Balance will redevelop 14 acres of industrial parcels near the Massachusetts Turnpike into a $500 million campus with a sports complex, retail stores, a new commuter rail station, and additional office buildings. The sports complex is slated to include a hockey arena and facilities for track and field, tennis, and basketball.


Normandy Real Estate Partners will build apartments and a hotel on Albany Street.

■ In the Fenway, developer Abbey Group will build a residential tower with 322 residences and

Sunday, September 23, 2012

BUYING A HOME: Winning in a seller's housing market

(Money Magazine) -- When Paul and Ieva Johnson moved from Minnesota to Florida, they were looking forward to warm weather and plenty of bargain-priced homes. But when the couple made their first offer earlier this year, they quickly discovered that they'd have to settle for the sunshine.
Not only didn't they get the house, says Paul, but "we didn't even get a callback." Over the next two months they put in seven offers -- most at or above asking price -- before finally making a successful $365,000 bid on a Sarasota three-bedroom.
How to Spot a Recovering Market
If key local sales indicators beat the U.S. averages (as they do in the areas below), your market is probably picking up -- and prices will soon follow.
Metro AreaPercentage With Drop In List PriceDays Listed On ZillowSale-to-List Price Ratio
San Jose16.5%511.01
Cheyenne, Wyo.21.7%881.08
Clarksville, Tenn.30.6%1030.98
National Average30.7%1130.97
NOTE: Zillow, based on June 2012 data.
To their surprise, buyers in some housing markets are finding that they're no longer in the power position. The reason is simple: too many bidders and not enough homes.
A growing number of shoppers are on the hunt, confident that the market has hit bottom, say brokers. Yet many would-be sellers are staying on the sidelines, either because they're underwater or because prices are still painfully low.
In June the number of houses listed for sale nationwide dropped 24% compared with the year prior, sending the supply of homes relative to buying activity down to levels not seen since 2006.
That's led to some stiff competition among buyers, says Sin-Yi Chao Lambertson, a broker in Glendora, Calif.: "I've had listings get 45 offers."
As the economy improves, the supply of homes should bounce back. If you're in the market now, though, and want to ensure yours is the winning bid, take these steps:
Size up your town. First you'll need to determine whether you could be in for a bidding war. Rising price tags are a sign that sellers are gaining ground, but prices often lag the market.
Two other stats, available on real estate site Zillow, can mean an area's heating up: a drop in the percentage of homes with list price cuts, and an increasing ratio of sales to asking prices.
Don't skimp on credit. With many sellers worried about deals
falling through, you'll need the bank's blessing right away. Don't waste time on prequalification, which is an estimate of how much you might be able to borrow.
"When multiple offers come in, I'll toss out anything that's just prequalified," says Teri Herrera, a broker in Redmond, Wash. Pre-approval based on your credit, income, and assets is better, and full credit approval, which goes through the bank's underwriting department, is best.
Get a veteran on your side. Finding an experienced agent is even more important in a competitive market; you'll want a pro who specializes in working with buyers and who knows the local players and pricing trends.
"One of your first questions should be whether the agent has experience in multiple-offer situations,"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

BOSTON NEWS: Cambridge startup Block Avenue prepares to launch a Yelp for your neighborhood

On the Internet, you can dole out stars and write reviews for doctors, hotels, restaurants, and even your evil employer. Now there's a Cambridge startup, Block Avenue, that wants to collect your opinions about the street where you live. The site is set to launch next week, and after getting a sneak peek of the company's demo, I've got two thoughts: 1. It's very cool, and 2. It's destined to cause controversy.

Block Avenue has divided up the U.S. into 1.89 billion squares, each one with 300 feet on each side, says founder Tony Longo. (He's on the right in the photo, with director of engineering Drew Myers.) "Then, we went and we collected as much data as we could about each block," he says. That includes information about whether there's public transit, car-sharing, or bike-sharing locations; recent crimes and sex offenders who live in that block; amenities like gyms, parks, dry cleaners, grocery stores, and restaurants; and schools. "There are players out there who do each of those things on their own," says Longo, "but nobody has brought it together." Based on the information Block Avenue collects, its software algorithm assigns a grade, from A through F. As you zoom in and out on Block Avenue's map, the system calculates an overall grade for the area you're looking at, which shows up in the upper right corner. (See the screen shot below.)

Visitors to the site can also write reviews of blocks they live on, or are familiar with. They can also add even more information to Block Avenue's database, rating a block on matters like noise, cleanliness, traffic levels, and community spirit (all things which Block Avenue couldn't find in existing databases.) Longo says that user reviews and ratings will influence those automatic grades that Block Avenue assigns.

The company is focusing on three cities in its launch phase: Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., and Longo says that during its testing this summer, the company has already gathered about 2,000 reviews from users in those cities.

Now, on to the prospective controversy. Longo also says that he has plans to overlay U.S. Census data about race, income, average age, and ethnicity onto Block Avenue's maps, which could upset people. (Though there are already sites like Mixed Metro that offer up that information.) No homeowner will want to admit they live on a Grade D or F block, especially if they ever hope to sell their property, and so I predict there will be a natural tilt toward grade inflation. (I also think it will be a challenge to keep boosterish real estate agents from writing gushy reviews about the areas they represent.)

Longo, as it happens, was previously the founder of the online brokerage CondoDomain, and he

Friday, September 21, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Robert Shiller Explains When He'll Call A Bottom In Home Prices

Calculated Risk's Bill McBride points us to a new interview with Robert Shiller, the legendary Yale economist who famously predicted the dotcom and housing bubbles
Speaking to NPR's Neal Conan earlier this week about housing prices, Shiller continues to be reluctant about calling a bottom in U.S. home prices.  However, he suggests when it may be appropriate to say that the housing bottom really is in place. 
Here's part of the transcript of the interview:
CONAN: And in the spring you were on the fence as those first reports came in giving three months of generally positive data. Do you think we're coming off the bottom?
SHILLER: Well, we definitely have positive data. The question is how strong is it, and will this fizzle - this rally fizzle or not? And I don't know the answer to that. But I point out that this is the fourth time we've had a rally since the crisis ended. It's coming in the summertime, right? Well, that's the normal time of strength in the market.
So if you look at the data, it doesn't jump out at you that we've reached the turning point. Now, we may have, but I think that seasonality seems to be getting stronger, and that's another contender.
CONAN: So how long do you think you would want to wait before you saw enough numbers to make a decision?
SHILLER: Well, I used to forecast home prices, and I thought a year - once you have a year - this is what I used to think, and whether it's still true, but...
SHILLER: But once you have a year of solid price increases, you are probably off

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

THE ECONOMY: Fewer Mass. homeowners ‘underwater’ on mortgages

Nearly 232,000 Massachusetts homeowners were “underwater” at the end of the second quarter of this year, meaning they owed more to lenders than their properties were worth. That was down from 250,166 during the first three months of 2012, an indicator that the state’s housing market remains on track to make a slow recovery.

According to data released Wednesday by California-based CoreLogic, property values here continue to fare better than those in many areas of the United States. In Massachusetts, 15.6 percent of borrowers had mortgage balances that trump what they could recoup in a home sale — down from 16.8 percent in the first quarter of the year. Nationwide, 22.3 percent of homeowners were saddled with so-called negative equity, a decline from 23.7 percent after the first three months of 2012.

The drop in underwater borrowers benefits the housing market and overall economy by increasing consumer confidence and reducing the number of mortgage holders at risk of heading into foreclosure, according to many economists. They say borrowers who have home equity are more likely to spend money, fix up their properties, and eventually move on to other homes.

“Negative equity has been the giant anchor that has been holding back the housing market and the broader economy,’’ said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic. “If equity is suddenly rising and rising rapidly, it is a good sign.”

Historically, Khater said, less than 2 percent of homes are valued below their mortgage at a given time.

Most underwater borrowers live in homes that had steep value declines during the housing crash that started in late 2005. In some cases, buyers were allowed to make minimal down

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

THE ECONOMY: A comfortable retirement requires saving eight years of salary

Retirement savers need to set aside roughly eight times their annual salary in order to live comfortably if they retire at age 67, Fidelity Investments said in a report Wednesday.

The Boston firm is the nation’s largest manager of 401(k) retirement assets and is in the business of persuading people to save more. It offered a plan for arriving at the eight times figure, suggesting that workers should save an amount equal to a year’s pay by age 35. If they have three times their annual salary at 45, and five times at age 55, they would be on track.

Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said the math tracks with her group’s research — but the eight times figure applies to people earning $100,000 or more.

“If you’re in a low-income group and you’re going to get most of your money from Social Security, you don’t need that high a multiple,’’ she said. By the center’s calculations, a person

Monday, September 17, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Homes selling more quickly, says real estate group

In another sign that the nation’s housing market is recovering, the time it takes to sell a home is shrinking, according to theNational Association of Realtors.
The median time a home was listed for sale was 69 days in July, down nearly 30 percent from 98 days in July 2011. NAR began tracking days on market in May of last year. From May through July of 2012 his year, market time averaged 70 days, down from 97 for the same period last year.
“As inventory has tightened homes have been selling more quickly,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist in a statement. “A notable shortening of time on market began this spring, and this has created a balance between home buyers and sellers in much of the country.”
Realtors say there’s a direct relationship between inventory and time on market. At the end July, there was a 6.4-month supply of homes, 31 percent below a year ago when there was a 9.3-month supply.
In periods where home sales averaged close to a 6-month supply of homes in the inventory, the median selling time was just over six weeks, NAR said. In such balanced market conditions, home prices generally rise up to 2 percentage points above the inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
Realtors forecast median existing home price to rise up to 5 percent this year and next, which is somewhat stronger than historic norms because of the inventory shortfall that is most pronounced in the low price ranges, Yun said. CPI growth is projected at 2.1 percent for 2012 and 2.3 percent next year.
From 1987 through 2011, NAR found that the typical time on market was 6.9 weeks, while the average supply of homes was 7 months. During the housing boom in 2004 and 2005 when inventory supplies were historically low, averaging 4.3 months, the median selling time

Sunday, September 16, 2012

INVESTMENT PROPERTY: Multifamily Still Doing Just Fine

The multifamily housing sector continues to improve, fed by people renting homes and the improving for-sale market, the National Association of Home Builders reported Thursday.
The trade group says that its Multifamily Production Index came in at 54 out of 100, climbing three points from the prior quarter and marking its eighth consecutive quarterly improvement. The reading is the highest since the second quarter of 2005, back before the housing market took its huge dive.
The quarterly index examines confidence surrounding construction of rental and for-sale units. As with the group’s single-family index, any reading over 50 indicates that more respondents think conditions are improving, with increased construction and sales potential.
More Americans burned by the housing debacle are looking to rent, particularly in big cities where glitzy towers boasting amenities including resort-style pools and outdoor kitchens are springing up. And those who can afford to buy are racing to tap mortgage rates that continue hovering near record lows.
Indeed, the index component tracking full-price rental properties came in at 63, indicating those developers are quite comfortable moving forward with new projects. The reading has topped 60 for four consecutive quarters—the longest sustained period of strength since the index’s 2003 inception, the NAHB reports.
This “continues to give us the signal that the rental market is healthy,” says David Crowe, the

Friday, September 14, 2012

HOME DESIGN: Decorate With Intention: The Art of Compromise

One of the questions I hear most often is, How do you decorate a home when your significant other has a completely different style? If you are new to merging different styles under one roof, chances are that you could use a blueprint for moving forward. Walk through these 10 steps for simple strategies for blending styles without stepping on too many toes.
Step 1: Commit to Respecting Each Other

Set an intention from the beginning that you will value each other's opinions and preferences, and lend equal weight to each point of view.

Think about blending styles rather than blending personalities. It keeps things more civil and allows you to see more options. After all, many of us are drawn to more than one style. Look at this as a design dilemma (which it is) rather than trying to read too much into it. We all have our own likes and dislikes, and that's OK.
Case in point: This living room is a great example of merging traditionally masculine elements (wood-panel walls, rich browns, hex print rug, cowhide stool) with a touch of boho glam (printed pillows, persimmon throw, velvet sofa, glass lamp) for a look that keeps everyone happy.
Step 2: Make Your Wish Lists

Sit down separately and write up lists of everything your heart craves in a home. At this point don't worry about budget or space limitations; let your imagination run free and just get it all down on paper.
Don't be afraid to ask for what you really want. If pink walls are what your heart desires, list it. Try to avoid guessing what your partner will think. You might be surprised.
Step 3: Set Your Priorities

Once you have your wish list complete, pick your top five items, in order of importance, and have your partner do the same. It's important to know which items are the most meaningful to each of you and where there is some wiggle room.

To take it a step further, work together to make a joint list of priorities. This list should point to five things you want to create in a home together, from the specific (uncluttered, sunny) to the less tangible but equally important (warm, laid-back).
traditional bedroom Loft
Step 4: Define Your Limits

If there are things that completely horrify you, now is your chance to exercise your veto power. The point here is to avoid major conflicts down the road, not to pick a fight now. So stick with the few things that really are deal breakers for you, and ask your partner to do the same.

If your partner claims to hate some of your favorite looks, don't worry. In step 9 you'll have a chance to bring back a little of what you love, even if your partner doesn't get it.
Step 5: Agree to Blend Styles in Main Spaces

Shared spaces like the living room, where you spend lots of time together, should reflect both of you. Now is the time to compare your lists and try to find items that will work together.

Case in point: In this living room a dark floor, traditional furniture and a library ladder build a classic foundation for the room, while the rich green paint behind the bookcases and a sparkly chandelier

Thursday, September 13, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Home Prices Rebounding With Low Mortgage Rates

Over the course of several months, home prices in many markets have been rebounding with the consistent level of low mortgage rates. The National Association of Realtors data has shown five consecutive months of home price increases through July 2012. This past week, the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index showed a 1.2% increase during the second quarter of this year. It is obvious that the housing market is recovering at a modest but steady pace as mortgage rates continue to remain affordable, as well as, attractive.

Lending guidelines remain strict for home purchase loans and traditional
 mortgage refinances. Borrowers must qualify per employment, income and asset requirements and need to provide documentation as proof. After examining and verifying the information in the loan file, lenders often request additional information in order to make their decision for an approval or's survey of wholesale and direct lenders shows that mortgage rates remained firm this past week with 30 year fixed mortgage rates at 3.375%, 15 year fixed mortgage rates at 2.750% and 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates at 2.125%, all available with 0.7 to 1% origination fee for borrowers who have maintained a record of good credit.

The Home Affordable Refinance Program, HARP, is available through the end of 2013 for underwater borrowers who have loans that were sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior to June 1, 2009. With the removal of loan to value caps, loans above 125% LTV have been increasing since June when it became possible for lenders to securitize these loans.
However, many lenders still have strict overlays on HARP which has made it difficult for many borrowers to refinance. HARP requirements and mortgage rates differ from lender to lender and require borrowers to actively seek which one will give them an approval and the best deal. The fastest results can be obtained with an online inquiry where lenders are willing and available to assist borrowers who receive a response within minutes and without the need of a social security number.

The FHA streamline refinance is, in many ways, the FHA version of HARP. This refinance is available for all FHA borrowers and, with no cash out, does not require an appraisal or other documentation. This works well especially for underwater borrowers or those who have a deduction in income. Now, for borrowers who have FHA loans that were endorsed prior to June 1, 2009, the FHA streamline has a reduced upfront mortgage insurance premium of .01% and annual mortgage insurance premium of .55%.

This reduction was done to entice more borrowers to obtain an FHA streamline at today's low, affordable mortgage rates, thus reducing the cost of homeownership in order to prevent further foreclosures or defaults. Current FHA 30 year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.125%, FHA 15 year fixed mortgage rates are at 2.625% and FHA 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 2.625%. FHA still offers several mortgage purchase programs that have low down payment requirements, easier credit qualifying and all the long standing benefits that FHA mortgages have had in place for years.

Although FHA closing costs (APR) are high because of various FHA fees and the upfront front mortgage insurance premium, FHA allows borrowers to add this amount to the mortgage loan or use seller concessions in accordance with guidelines. FHA mortgages can be easily obtained through an online inquiry where approved FHA lenders are available to help borrowers obtain their goals.

Current jumbo mortgage rates also remained stable this week with jumbo 30 year fixed mortgage rates at 4.250%, jumbo 15 year fixed mortgage rates at 3.125% and jumbo 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates at 2.250%. Borrowers are required to have excellent credit in order to receive these low jumbo mortgage rates with 0.7 to 1% origination fee. Jumbo mortgages are necessary in higher cost areas where the price of property exceeds the loan limits of conforming and FHA mortgages. Often, guidelines can be strict and require substantial funds for larger down payment and reserve requirements.

Without a secondary market since the housing crisis, lenders generally keep these loans within their own portfolio. Even though it is considered risky, many lenders are re-entering the jumbo loan market because it is also profitable. This move is increasing competition which is making some lenders offer flexibility with guidelines. Borrowers who are in need of jumbo mortgages

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

GREEN LIVING: Laminate Floors Get Eco Approval

Are you looking for a new flooring option that will save money and the planet at the same time? According to the North American Laminate Flooring Association, laminate flooring can transform a room at a good value -- without "felling a tree" or "mining a quarry." It's a win-win.
Instead of using natural hardwoods, laminate is composed of a hybrid mix of materials fused together through a lamination process. It looks like the real thing without having used up any of Mother Earth's natural resources!
"The manufacture of laminate flooring doesn't involve the harvesting of old-growth hardwoods like those found in tropical rainforests," says Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA). "Laminate provides the desired look, no matter how scarce, without depleting natural resources."

NALFA conducts independent, third-party performance tests on laminate flooring, and products that earn the NALFA Certification Seal are deemed sustainable.

"Laminate flooring has a wealth of green advantages, and products certified to NALFA's sustainability standard are being used in growing numbers because of them," Dearing says. "Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of environmentally friendly products."
Let's take a look at some of laminate's earth-friendly benefits.

  • It's made with recycled natural resources producing a heavy-duty, high-density core board
  • It's recyclable.
  • It's free of air-damaging chemicals. Because laminate is installed without glues and adhesives, and because laminate floors can be cleaned without the use of harsh chemicals, laminate helps to prevent harmful emissions of volatile organic compounds.
  • It complies with formaldehyde emissions regulations for laminate flooring core board set forth by the California Air Resources Board.
  • It is comprised of recycled content that may contribute points to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for homes and businesses.
Plus, as an added bonus, laminate flooring can be reused or recycled when you're done with it! So, if you're looking for a great green flooring option that will save you money while saving the

Sunday, September 9, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Case-Shiller: Home prices rose in June in all 20 cities

WASHINGTON – Home prices rose in June from the same month last year, the first year-over-year increase since the summer of 2010.

The increase is the latest evidence of a nascent recovery in the housing market.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday showed a gain of 0.5% from June 2011.

All 20 cities tracked by the index also rose in June from May, the second consecutive time in which every city posted month-over-month gains. And all but two cities posted stronger gains in June than May.
Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta recorded the biggest one-month gains.
"The combined positive news coming from both monthly and annual rates of change in home prices bode well for the housing market," said David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P's index committee.

June home price index

June index
Change from May
Chg. from June 2011
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
New York
San Diego
San Francisco
The indexes have a base value of 100 in January 2000; so an index value of 150 translates to 50% appreciation for a typical home in the market.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices and Fiserv
The S&P/Case-Shiller monthly index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The June figures are the latest available.
The increases partly reflect the impact of seasonal buying. The month-to-month prices aren't adjusted for seasonal factors.
Still, a measure of national prices rose for the third straight month. Home prices jumped nearly 7% in the April-June quarter compared to the previous quarter.
The housing market is making a modest but steady recovery in part because homes are more affordable: Mortgage rates have fallen to near-record lows. Housing prices are about one-third lower than at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006. Those trends have helped lift sales of both new and previously occupied homes.
Sales of previously occupied homes increased in July from June, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Sales have jumped 10% in the past year.
Builders are growing more confident after seeing more traffic from potential buyers. Last