Sunday, April 17, 2011

Majority believe buying a home is best long-term investment

Despite the decline in home prices, 81 percent of U.S. adults agree that buying a home is the best long-term investment a person can make, according a nationwide Pew Research Center survey.

Home prices have declined 31 percent compared with their pre-recession peak in July 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.  After a pause last year, prices fell again in the first quarter of 2011.

Among homeowners surveyed, 47 percent say their home is worth less now than before the recession began, 31 percent say its value has stayed the same, and 17 percent say it has risen.

Of those who say their home has lost value, 86 percent say they expect it to take at least three years for values to recover to pre-recession levels; 42 percent say it will take at least six years; and 10 percent say it will take more than 10 years.

Still, 82 percent of homeowners who say their home is worth less now than before the recession began either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that homeownership is the best long-term investment a person can make. Among homeowners whose home increased in value during the recession, this confidence is even more pronounced. Half strongly and 41 percent somewhat agree with this view.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How To Determine The Price Of Your Home

             Why is it that some homes sit on the market for a year while others sell like hot cakes?  Frustrated sellers will blame a bad market, while a good real estate professional will tell you that many times, a slow sale is often attributed to the listing price. 
              If a home is overpriced, buyers will stay away.  But, if the price is competitive with similar homes in the area and “shows” better than the competition, it will have a better chance of being sold quickly.
              The secret is perfecting a technique that’s as American as apple pie: comparative shopping.
              Although comparing houses with different styles, square-footages and locations is challenging, real estate professionals still feel it’s one of the best methods to use when determining a home’s market value.
              A responsible real estate agent will effectively evaluate a home’s worth through a process known as Comparative Marketing Analysis (CMA).  Taking a look at assets, such as a swimming pool, bigger than normal living spaces, a fantastic view, adjacent city parks and other attractions, the agent will begin to compare your home with similar properties, called “comparables,” that have sold in the area within the last six months.  Typically, the agent is able to recommend a realistic price range that will ensure you top dollar and a reasonably
              However, factors such as the amount of time needed to sell your home can alter the agent’s price recommendation dramatically.
              Typically, people should check with real estate offices in the community to determine the typical duration that listings are on the market.  Sales associates will explain that the marketing “norms” vary with prices and properties.  Based on this criteria, the agent feels confident that he or she will be able to sell it for a price that both you and the buyer will be happy with.  However, if you’re under time constraints because of unexpected job changes or moving agreements you’ve made on another property, this will narrow your chances of selling the home for top dollar in the market.
              Assuming you have sufficient time to market the home, here are a few small steps you and your agent can take to finding the right price for your property.
              The best comparisons can be made with similar homes that have been sold within the last 45 days as opposed to the standard six months.  Any longer and other factors, such as the economy, could cloud your view of how much your home is really worth.
              Another good benchmark is to review the selling prices of homes that have just been sold and are pending closes.  Most MLS services provide information on deals pending that most real estate agents should be able to shore with you.
              A good rule of thumb before setting a price is to make 20 comparisons of comparable properties within a one-mile radius of your house.  Once completed you can feel comfortable that the price you’ve picked is a good gauge of the home’s worth and won’t discourage qualified buyers.
              Being open and honest about what you see as the home’s greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses will also help an agent get a better feel for how to best evaluate (or assess) and market your home.  Think of your home as if you were the buyer.  If your home is listed at the right price, you’re well on your way to a speedy and fruitful sale.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Easing Your Way Into Home Ownership


          For many renters, the first step in buying a home is becoming educated about the process.  If you’re like many people considering a home purchase, you’ve spent nights and weekends poring over your local real estate section.  You’ve talked to friends and relatives about their experiences.  Maybe you’ve even purchased a book or two to help you become more familiar with real estate terminology and the various types of mortgages commonly used today.
          Coming up with a down payment and finding a loan that meets your needs are the greatest hurdles faced by first-time homebuyers.  So, you may even have leafed through stacks of brochures and flyers from lenders offering down payments that are far less than the 20 percent you’d always thought you’d need to save before you could buy.  With so many excellent first-time buyer programs to choose from these days, you practically need to be an expert to sort through them all.
          That’s why if you’re a first-time homebuyer seeking a low down payment loan, you’ll save time by selecting a professional real estate agent who is experienced in working with people just like you in the area where you plan to buy.  An agent who frequently assists first-time buyers will know from experience which lenders in your area offer a low down payment program that will most closely match your needs.
          A professional real estate agent can help you determine whether you are likely to qualify for these special programs, since participation in some may be limited to buyers under a certain income level or for the purchase of homes below a certain purchase price.  Your agent also will be able to tell you whether there are other requirements you must fulfill in order to be considered.  With some programs, for example, you must attend an educational seminar before you can be considered for one of these low down payment loans.
`It’s important that your agent become familiar with your current financial situation.  Before you meet with your agent to discuss your financial situation and housing needs, you’ll want to collect some basic information to make the process easier.  Be prepared to show recent paycheck stubs or pay vouchers to certify sources of income; a complete list of current credit card, auto and other consumer credit payments you make each month; and recent bank and savings statements.  These documents will help you and your agent determine how much home you can afford.  It’s also important that you disclose any prior credit problems or late payments.  Your agent may be able to suggest ways to remedy any negative remarks on your credit report that could disqualify you from a low down payment loan program.
          In addition, because most lenders w2ill require that you have several months of house payments in the bank as a reserve, your agent may be able to suggest ways you can increase your savings in the weeks and months leading up to your home purchase.  Don’t forget that some programs allow you to apply a cash gift from a family member to cover the required down payment and losing costs.
          Your agent also may know a motivated seller who would be happy to assist you in accomplishing your home purchase by caring a second mortgage.  A second mortgage is helpful because it reduces the amount of the first mortgage you need to obtain.  In some cases, a second monthly payment and generally is required to protect the lender when a down payment is less than the standard 20 percent of the loan amount.  Even if your seller isn’t willing to take a second mortgage to complete the sale, he or she may be willing to pay your closing costs, which will reduce the amount of cash you need to have on hand up-front.
          With interest rates edging up, innovative mortgage financing programs that require a low down payment are even more important than ever to first-time buyers.  A professional real estate agent can help you sift through the countless programs that are available and help find the one that’s mortgage can eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance, which is added to your right for you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Almost the End of An Era

After several years of peril from developers, the home known as Orchard Gables, is finally out of danger. Designation as a cultural historic monument has now saved it from the wrecking-ball.

Built in 1904, it sits at a 45-degree angle to the southwest corner of Fountain and Wilcox. With an unusual, asymmetric design, steeply pitched curved gables and clad in wood clapboard, the home is one of the last (if not the last) from Colegrove, a development established by attorney and California Senator, Cornelius Cole.

Serving first in the State House of Representatives and then in the senate, Cole was an anti-slavery advocate and helped keep California in the Union. In fact, he was the attorney for Henry Hancock who, as you have no doubt already guessed, is the namesake for Hancock Park.

Cole received 500 acres from  Hancock as payment for legal services. As the name implies, Colegrove was to be a citrus orchard. In 1880, Cole subdivided the land into 10-acres lots, which he sold, but his influence in the area continued for many years thereafter.

Orchard Gables' past has been touched by many other figures from Los Angeles history. It was first owned by Paul Homan. Mr. Homan hired well-known architect Abbot Kinney, the man responsible for "The Venice of America" or as we now know it, the Venice, CA. At one point, it housed Hollywood's first professional theater, the Orchard Gables Repertory Company.

Remember, Hollywood wasn't always a movie town and there are many more interesting places to read about, so please come back.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A little-known loan program for fixer-uppers

A Little-Known Loan Program for Fixer-Uppers
BUYERS of distressed homes or any other fixer-upper not only face the daunting task of turning a run-down property into a livable one, but often worry about paying for it all.
There’s a way to make essential repairs and add other accouterments without dipping into savings or taking out a home-equity loan. The Federal Housing Administration’s 203(k) rehabilitation program provides for loans covering renovation costs as well as the purchase price of a primary residence — investors excluded — and it allows for just a 3.5 percent down payment.
“It’s a fantastic program, one that hasn’t been fully utilized by the American public,” said Arthur Hood, the owner of the Vanguard Inspection Group in Teaneck, N.J., which is certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help borrowers with the program.

Although the program has been around since 1978, it is not well publicized, and many borrowers mistakenly think they have to buy a wreck in order to qualify. They don’t.

The house “doesn’t have to be falling apart; it could just be outdated,” said Joseph Latini Sr., the president of Hartford Funding, a lender in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. “It just has to appraise below market value and then at market value with the repairs.”

While “run-down” typically means a foreclosure, the program also applies to many historic and older houses as well as short sales and bank-owned homes. HUD outlines the rules on its Web site.

Luxury improvements are ineligible, though the program has wide definitions of “repairs” and “modernization.” Covered repairs include a new roof or heating system (geothermal ones too). Decorative changes, like replacing vinyl with ceramic tile on the kitchen floor replacement, or painting the interior, are covered.

The loan rates typically run around a percentage point higher than conventional ones, and come in 15- to 30-year terms, either fixed or adjustable. Additional paperwork for inspection, appraisal, title updating and the like pushes closing costs $1,000 or more higher than average. Most borrowers, however, refinance to a conventional loan after a few years, Mr. Hood said.

Demand for 203(k) financing has been on the rise, although experts predict some contraction given the major banks’ current moratorium on foreclosures. For the first nine months, HUD insured $2.9 billion in 203(k) loans, compared with $3 billion for all of 2009 and $401 million in 2005.

Home buyers must put down at least 3.5 percent of the current value of the property and use a HUD-approved lender, appraiser and a contractor approved by the lender for the repairs. One list of approved businesses can be found at

Using a HUD-approved consultant like Mr. Hood, who charges a flat fee of $400 to $1,000, is not required, but the agency recommends it to expedite processing. A HUD-approved inspector will make around four trips to the home to ensure that renovations are being properly done; each trip costs the borrower around $150.

Most 203(k) lenders are smaller regional and community banks. Loan limits vary by geography, and range from $271,050 to $729,750, which covers the total mortgage. The first $5,000 must go toward the more substantial repairs like roof replacement. HUD insures the loan.

Once the borrower receives the mortgage, money owed the contractor for repairs is held in escrow by the lender until the work is completed; all work must be finished within six months.

A miniversion of the 203(k) — called a Streamline (k) — has a repair-cost limit of $35,000 and restricts upgrades to minor improvements like replacing gutters. In this case, the do-it-yourself approach is permitted.
“This is a loan for someone who’s willing to be a little involved,” said Jon Sigler, a banker in Madison, Conn., who works for at the Franklin American Mortgage Company.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chimney Check-Up

Cozying up to a warm fire on the first really cold night of the season is a pleasant image, but the picture could be spoiled by a fireplace that hasn't been properly maintained. To make sure your fireplace works properly and safely all winter, consider following this advice from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Clean the Chimney
The NFPA says that most uncontrolled fires linked to fireplaces involve a failure to keep the units clean. Hire a certified chimney sweep to check your fireplace and have it cleaned according to the schedule recommended. If you need some recommendations, call me.

Burn Seasoned Wood
A build-up of creosote, a flammable chemical produced by burning wood, is the main cause of more than one-fourth of uncontrolled chimney fires, according to the NFPA. To avoid creosote build-up, use properly seasoned wood. Dry, older wood has low levels of creosote, while fresher, wetter woods contain high levels.

Start Safely
Use kindling and newspaper to ignite fires, not flammable liquids such as lighter fluid or kerosene.

Shield the Room
Use a sturdy fireplace screen large enough to shield your living area from flying embers. Keep all flammable materials at least three feet from the fireplace. Have a fire extinguisher nearby.

Monitor Gas
If you have a gas fireplace, make sure you have a carbon monoxide monitor in your house. Learn more about carbon monoxide hazards.

Cool Ashes
Allow ashes to cool completely before disposal. Collect and store in a tightly covered metal container at least 10 feet from your home. After collecting and disposing ashes, douse them with water.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Green Tip of the Week: Blankets for heaters?

This one is for my friends back in the Midwest or up in Northern California!

Have an old water heater and not ready to upgrade? Put a hot water heater blanket around your water heater and save on heating costs. A hot water heater blanket will set you back $15 to $25, but you could save more in the long run.