Friday, October 08, 2010

Foreclosure Halt Creates Problems for Buyers

The fallout from the crackdown on mortgage lenders’ handling of paperwork is affecting buyers' ability to close.

Distressed properties make up about a third of home sales. About half of states are particularly affected by the problem. Two factors in various states are causing numerous delays are:

1. Officials in several states — including Texas, Maryland, and Connecticut — are seeking a suspension of all foreclosures until lenders prove what they are doing is legal.

2. Title insurers are refusing to sell title insurance when they can’t be sure there is a clean title.

When will the problem be resolved? Right now, it appears to be anybody’s guess, but until it is resolved, buyers, sellers, and real estate practitioners will be caught in the middle.

Source: The New York Times, Andrew Martin and David Streitfeld (10/07/2010)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wells Fargo Settles Pick-a-Payment Charges

Wells Fargo announced Wednesday that it had agreed to pay $24 million to end an investigation by eight states probing whether the company used deceptive tactics to sell "pick-a-payment" adjustable-rate mortgages without telling consumers the risks.

The $24 million will be used to help states assist customers who took out such loans. Wells Fargo also agreed to offer more than $770 million in its own loan assistance to borrowers.

The company signed agreements with attorneys general in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Washington State.

Wells Fargo admitted no wrongdoing.

Source: The Associated Press, Alan Zibel (10/06/2010)

Foreclosure Reviews Could Lead to Costly Delays

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for a federal investigation of foreclosure sales and evictions.

Observers say that if the government gets further involved and millions of foreclosures need to be re-processed, it is unclear how long the job will take and how costs will be allocated.

Lenders are rushing to review their own situations. At GMAC Mortgage, a unit of Ally Financial Inc., a spokeswoman said, “The vast majority of these affidavits will be resolved in the coming weeks and before the end of the year,” And a spokesman for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said the company's review process is expected to take "a few weeks."

But fixing the problems won’t be that simple if the reviews uncover missing documentation or other serious problems that are likely to trigger more legal challenges.

The bottom line is: "It's very hard to see how the servicers can avoid reimbursing the trusts for losses caused by taking short cuts," said David J. Grais, an attorney in New York who represents investors.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Robbie Whelan and Ruth Simon (10/06/2010)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

HUD Has Loans for Out-of-Work Borrowers

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Tuesday that it will offer $50,000 loans to unemployed borrowers who are at least three months behind in their payments, but who have a reasonable likelihood of being able to resume regular payments within two years.

The property must be the borrower’s principal residence and they cannot own a second home. They must have suffered at least a 15 percent decline in income.

The loan is available in 32 states not receiving assistance through the Hardest Hit Fund, which gave 18 states more than $4 billion to devise programs to help the unemployed and underwater borrowers.

Source:, Tami Luhby (01/05/2010)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.
Photography Spending Pays Off

No shocker here: Sales listings taken by higher-end single-lens-reflex cameras (SLR), preferred by professionals, garner higher prices than those properties whose sellers use point-and-shoot cameras, according to Redfin Corp., a Seattle-area real estate firm.

Redfin analyzed listings in Boston and Long Island and determined that houses with better photos sold for anywhere from $934 to $116,076 more compared to listings using photos from point-and-click cameras. The data also showed that properties with better photos got more online views.

Only about 15 percent of sellers use professional photographers and better cameras. Redfin says that about half of $1 million-plus listings were shot with cheaper point-and-shoot cameras.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Emily Peck (10/04/2010)

Fed Chair: Government May Buy More Debt

Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke hinted Monday that the Fed is likely to buy more government debt, a move that could further drive down rates on mortgages, corporate financing, and other loans.

"I do think the additional purchases, although we don't have the precise numbers for how big the effects are, I do think they have the ability to ease financial conditions," Bernanke said at a meeting with college students after his presentation at the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

Bernanke also defended the TARP program, saying that the downturn would have been much worse without it.

Source: Reuters News (10/4/2010)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Regulators to Banks: Review Foreclosures

Improper foreclosure procedures are throwing another curve ball at the troubled mortgage industry.

Regulators from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have told seven major banks to review their foreclosure procedures after Bank of America and Wells Fargo joined JPMorgan and GMAC (now known as Ally Financial) in freezing their foreclosure processes.

Banks that regulators contacted include HSBC, Citigroup Inc., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., and U.S. Bankcorp (USB).

Simultaneously, title insurer Old Republic National said Friday it would stop insuring the sales of homes foreclosed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. or GMAC Mortgage until questions about documentation are cleared. An inability to get title insurance could bring home sales to a halt.

Source: The Wall Street Journal (10/01/2010) and Reuters News (10/03/2010)

Friday, October 01, 2010

90-Day Delinquencies Fall Again

More evidence that the housing crisis is easing: Fannie Mae said Thursday that delinquencies of 90 days or longer on single-family mortgages declined in July for the fifth-straight month.

The overall delinquency rate fell to 4.82 percent in July, down from 4.99 percent in June. This was a 10-month low.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Nathan Becker (09/30/2010)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Owners Spending Less on Housing

The percentage home owners with mortgages who spent 30 percent or more of their household income on housing, including mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and utilities, was 37.6 percent in 2009, almost unchanged from 2008. At the same time, the median home price dropped about 6 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Renters weren’t so lucky. The number of renters spending 30 percent or more of their household income on housing-related costs rose to 51.5 percent of all renters in 2009, rising from 50 percent in 2008, according to the Census.

Two factors affected housing affordability:

· Median household income, adjusted for inflation, fell 2.9 percent in 2009 as unemployment rose.

· Median monthly housing costs, including rent and utilities, rose 3 percent in 2009 from $818 to $842.


Source: USA Today (09/29/2010)

Monday, September 27, 2010

What's New in New Housing Design

Here are the products grabbing the attention of the home building and remodeling industries, according to Bill Millholland, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Case Design/Remodeling in Maryland, and Jamie Gibbs, a New York-based interior designer:

· Appliance Drawers. Small warning drawers, modest-sized dishwasher drawers for small loads, refrigerator drawers and microwave drawers.

· Counter-depth refrigerators. Some are only 24 inches deep.

· Motion-detecting faucets. Like you'd find in the restrooms of businesses.

· LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. These are used under cabinets and in ceiling fixtures as a longer-lasting, more efficient alternative to compact fluorescent lamps and incandescent bulbs.

· Electric heated floors. A nice touch in bathrooms,

· Showers with multiple heads and body sprays. Bathtubs are out.

Source: The Washington Post (09/25/2010)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Home Buying and Selling Tips for Fall

HGTV’s real estate site Front Door says the weeks between now and the end-of-the year holidays are the best ones to find a bargain. Here are some of their tips for fall buyers and sellers:

Fall Sellers:

· Replace faded summer plants with fall-blooming flowers and add autumn decorations to the home.

· Expect low-ball offers and be prepared with higher counter offers.
· Freshen up listing photos by shooting pictures that make it less obvious that the seasons have changed.
· Price the home to sell. A price that is a little lower than the competition may be a winning move.
· Be willing to show the property and hold open houses whenever potential buyers are ready.

Fall Buyers:

· Look for motivated sellers who have a reason to move on by the end of the year.
· Explore new constructions. Builders are often particularly interested in selling before the new tax year.
· Beware of fall maintenance issues. Consider overflowing gutters and leaf-covered lawns warning signs.
· Shape offers carefully. Even in this market it is possible to turn sellers off with a too-low bid.

Source: (09/16/2010)

Banks to Review Rejected Loans

Some banks are launching a “second look program” to review loans that have been denied in order to identify circumstances that might persuade underwriters to reverse their decisions.

The Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group of 100 financial companies, including Bank of America Corp., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and U.S. Bancorp. Bankers say these programs are starting to loosen the logjams that have made it so hard for both home buyers and small businesses to get loans.

"I don't think of it as being looser. I think of it as making good judgments," says Stephen D. Steinour, chairman, president and CEO of Huntington Bancshares Inc.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Ruth Simon (09/23/2010)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

10 Reasons to Buy a Home

Time magazine is being overly pessimistic in its recent cover piece that called into question the benefits of homeownership. In fact, now is a great time to buy. And, what's more, tomorrow will be a great time to own, because the fundamental strength of homeownership hasn't changed.

Why is now a great time to buy? Here are 10 reasons:

1. You can get a good deal. Prices are down 30 percent on average. They're at a level that makes sense for people's income.

2. Mortgages are cheap. At 4.3 percent on average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, your costs to own are down by a fifth from two years ago.

3. You can save on taxes. When you add up the deductions for mortgage interest and others, the cost of owning can drop below renting for a comparable place.

4. It'll be yours. The one benefit to owning that never changes is that you can paint your walls orange if you want (generally speaking; there might be some community restrictions). How many landlords will let you do that?

5. You can get a better home. In some markets, it's simply the case that the nicest places are for-sale homes and condos.

6. It offers some inflation protection. Historically, appreciation over time outpaces inflation.

7. It's risk capital. If the economy picks up, you stand to benefit from that, even if you're goal is just to have a nice place to live.

8. It's forced savings. A part of your payment each month goes to equity.

9. There is a lot to choose from. There are some 4 million homes available today, about a year's supply. Now's the time to find something you like and get it.

10. Sooner or later the market will clear. The U.S. is expected to grow by another 100 million people in 40 years. They have to live somewhere. Demand will eventually outpace supply.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Brett Arends (9/16/10)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Corner Properties

Some people see a corner lot as an asset, but an equal number believe it is a liability.

Pluses of these properties include more flexible design options, shorter driveways, sunnier interiors, and more on-street parking. The negatives are a small and not-very-private backyard, more noise, more streetlights and headlights, and a greater need to look out for dogs and children.

Additional maintenance demands, which bring higher costs, discourage some would-be buyers of corner properties, said Steve Hovany, president of Schaumburg's Strategy Planning Associates, a real estate planning consultancy.

But some buyers like corner homes anyway. A corner home "is a rare home," said Ray Hartshorne, partner with Chicago's Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture. "It's a home that's distinctive in a world that makes distinctive homes more valuable."

Source: Chicago Tribune, Jeffrey Steele (09/03/2010)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Tips for Finding the Perfect Neighborhood

Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

The neighborhood you choose can have a big impact on your lifestyle—safety, available amenities, and convenience all play their part.

Make a list of the activities—movies, health club, church—you engage in regularly and stores you visit frequently. See how far you would have to travel from each neighborhood you’re considering to engaging in your most common activities.

Check out the school district. The Department of Education in your town can probably provide information on test scores, class size, percentage of students who attend college, and special enrichment programs. If you have school-age children, also consider paying a visit to schools in the neighborhoods you’re considering. Even if you don’t have children, a house in a good school district will be easier to sell in the future.

Find out if the neighborhood is safe. Ask the police department for neighborhood crime statistics. Consider not only the number of crimes but also the type—burglaries, armed robberies—and the trend of increasing or decreasing crime. Also, is crime centered in only one part of the neighborhood, such as near a retail area?

Determine if the neighborhood is economically stable. Check with your local city economic development office to see if income and property values in the neighborhood are stable or rising. What is the percentage of homes to apartments? Apartments don’t necessarily diminish value, but they do mean a more transient population. Do you see vacant businesses or homes that have been for sale for months?

See if you’ll make money. Ask Teresa for the local appreciation trends in the area. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, this information may give you a sense of how good an investment your home will be. Teresa may also be able to  tell you about planned developments or other changes in the neighborhood—like a new school or highway—that might affect value.

See for yourself. Once you’ve narrowed your focus to two or three neighborhoods, go there, and walk around. Are homes tidy and well maintained? Are streets quiet? Pick a warm day if you can and chat with people working or playing outside. Are they friendly? Are their children to play with your family?

For more information on neighborhoods and buying a home visit:

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Renters take note: patch and repair to reclaim your full deposit
(ARA) - Whether you're renting a truck or paying for movers, costs can add up quickly when you're changing residences. If you've been renting, the full return of your security deposit may come as sweet relief as you move from one place to the next.

Because you've been without that healthy chunk of change since moving in to the place you're now leaving, anything less than a full refund would be a disappointment. It would be a shame if a spot on the carpet, a broken blind or knick gave your landlord a reason to withhold a large portion, or all, of your security deposit.

With a careful eye and some elbow grease, you can ensure that you get your full deposit back and put the money to good use during the next phase of your life. Home improvement experts and authors of "Dare to Repair" Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet teamed up with Lowe's to offer the following tips for getting your full deposit back:

* Work with your landlord. Obtain a list from your landlord that defines normal wear and tear, as well as tasks that must be completed upon moving out. If possible, have your landlord do a walk-through with you before moving out. If not, take photos so you have proof of the condition your residence was in when you left.

* Pack first, clean later. While cleaning and making minor repairs are integral to getting your deposit back, it's a lot easier to do once everything has been cleared out of your residence. A home improvement store like Lowe's will have all the boxes and moving supplies you may need.

* Dust and vacuum. Do not limit to just floors and obvious places. Dust light fixtures, ceiling fan blades and around the windows. Vacuum closets and under appliances.

* Clean appliances. Check the manufacturer's website for instructions on cleaning the oven. This can take hours, so budget your time accordingly. Clean the refrigerator with a warm, soapy rag and move shelves to be cleaned to the sink. Dry the shelves before returning to the fridge. A handy trick for cleaning microwaves is to fill a microwave-safe bowl with water and half a lemon and heat it for a few minutes. Remove the bowl, wear an oven mitt and wipe down the inside with a wet rag. Clean the exterior of your washer and dryer and remove lint.

* Make sure the kitchen and bathrooms are spotless. Use specialty cleaners for toilets, sinks and other surfaces if necessary.

* Touch up walls. Use lightweight joint compound for nail holes and wall repair patch over larger holes. Let the filling dry, sand and paint. For cracks, use wall repair tape, let dry, sand and dust. Reapply and follow the same process before painting. To find the right paint, take a chip of paint to a home improvement  store and have it matched to the original paint color. Consider a one-coat-and-you're-done paint like Valspar Signature, which is carried by Lowe's, to save time.

* Clean carpeting. Before spot-cleaning the carpet, test the carpet cleaning product in an out-of-sight area.

* Replace broken items. Look for burnt-out or broken light bulbs both inside and out and replace. Check for blinds and shades that are broken.

* Clean up outside. Pick up trash. Mow and sweep if necessary.

* Donate items you don't want or need. Look for local charitable organizations that could use the items instead of throwing them out. Ask for a receipt so you can write off your donations on your taxes.

For more help with your moving needs, visit your local Lowe's or

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.
Five Surprising Reasons to Buy a Home Now
Low mortgage rates serve as an equity shock absorber. When buyers borrow at today's record-low rates, they start building equity as soon as they close. That means they can absorb a few ups and downs as the still-recovering housing market gains traction.

Houses are in move-in condition. Home owners have continued to spend on maintenance and repair, according to the Harvard Joint Center on Housing. As these houses enter the market, they are in marked contrast to tattered foreclosures.

Terrific houses are coming on the market. Foreclosures are finally starting to clear the system, and they are being replaced by some very attractive properties.

Appraisal regulations are finally aligned with market realities. Fannie Mae has adjusted its appraisal guidelines, giving appraisers more flexibility to set values that reflect the current market.

Plenty of programs. Many programs that encourage middle-class families to buy homes continue to exist, despite market downturns. Buyers who qualify can get a big boost by combining one of these programs with today's low mortgage rates.

Source: (07/29/2010)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Weighing the costs of walking away from an upside-down mortgage

(ARA) - Owing more on your mortgage than your house is worth may seem like a bad investment. But the alternative - choosing to default on your mortgage even if you can afford the monthly payments - will take a significant toll on your credit rating.

"Strategically defaulting - deciding to stop paying your mortgage regardless of your ability to actually carry the debt - will have a far-reaching, long-lasting impact on your ability to secure future credit," says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for global information services company Experian, one of the three large credit reporting companies that receive and update consumer credit histories which are scored to help predict risk. "It's by no means a move to be undertaken lightly."

About 355,000 borrowers strategically defaulted in the first half of 2009, according to research conducted as part of the Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Reports. Interestingly, Experian and Oliver Wyman found that the homeowners most likely to strategically default were also those with the highest credit scores.

While it may seem like a good move to simply stop paying and walk away from a bad investment, keep several factors in mind when you consider strategic default:

* It's very final. Strategic default will lead to foreclosure by the lender. Foreclosure will negatively impact your credit report and scores. In fact, only bankruptcy will affect your scores more adversely than foreclosure.

For more information on just how severe the impact can be, VantageScore LLC recently completed a study that evaluates the effect that foreclosures, bankruptcies, short sales, and various mortgage programs have on consumers' VantageScore credit scores.

* The default will remain on your credit report for seven years. Since credit scores are based on information in your credit report, the foreclosure will greatly impact your credit scores during those seven years. Securing other credit at reasonable terms and rates will be very difficult, if not impossible, during that time.

* Potential lenders aren't the only ones looking at credit reports these days. Insurers, employers and even cell phone companies are considering the creditworthiness of those who want to do business with them. By impacting your credit report, a strategic default may affect your ability to get a job, secure insurance and enter into important service contracts.

* Fannie Mae, the government-controlled mortgage giant, announced on June 23 policy changes that will make you ineligible for a new Fannie-Mae-backed mortgage if you walk away from a current mortgage that you actually could afford to pay. The ineligibility will last for seven years from the date of foreclosure.

* Finally, in some cases, the debt that foreclosure "erases" may be recorded as income, which means you will have to pay taxes on it.

"Strategic default may seem like 'walking away' from a bad debt, but it's really anything but," Sweet says. "While you will no longer have to pay the actual debt, you'll almost certainly 'pay' in other ways, in the form of lowered credit scores and a drastically curtailed ability to secure future credit for the next seven years. Higher interest rates and unfavorable terms could end up costing you more in the long run than continuing to pay on an upside-down mortgage."

To learn more about credit management, credit reports, credit scores and the factors that affect them, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Frugal Tips for Making a Home More Appealing
Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Homeowners who want to sell but don’t have a lot of cash to spruce up their properties might consider these tips from for upgrading a property without spending a fortune.
Polish up the kitchen. Add new cabinet door handles, replace lighting and update the faucet set. Unless the cabinets are mica, give them a fresh coat of paint. Order new doors for kitchen appliances.

Tidy up the bath. Replace the toilet seat. Clean up the floor with vinyl tiles or sheet vinyl applied over the old floor. Re-grout the tub and, if the tub is dingy, add a new prefabricated tub and shower surround.

Paint the walls.

Add closet systems to all the bedrooms, pantry, and entry closets.

Hire a plumber and an electrician to fix anything that is loose or that leaks.

Clean the carpets or, if they are worn, cover them with area rugs.

Replace ceiling lights with inexpensive but attractive fixtures.

Refinish or repaint the front door and replace the hardware.

Mow the lawn, edge the sidewalks, mulch all the beds and put two big planters at either side of the front door.

Source: (07/14/2010)
It's a Great Time for Housing Deals

Paying off an underwater mortgage and buying a better home could be the best tactic in this troubled market.

"If you are trading up, what better time than when interest rates are at record lows and the cost of the trade-up is much less than it used to be?" says Christopher J. Mayer, a Columbia Business School economist.

With 15-year fixed-rate mortgages at about 4.5 percent, it also makes sense to pay off the mortgage and keep the house. "At this point," says Jay Brinkmann, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., "if they don't have anything else that is bringing a tremendous return, then they are buying themselves an annuity by paying their house off sooner than they needed to."

Source: The Wall Street Journal, M.P. McQueen (07/24/2010)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Continued Strong Pace for Existing-Home Sales

Existing-home sales remained at elevated levels in May on buyer response to the tax credit, characterized by stabilizing home prices and historically low mortgage interest rates, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Gains in the West and South were offset by a decline in the Northeast; the Midwest was steady.

Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops, were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.66 million units in May, down 2.2 percent from an upwardly revised surge of 5.79 million units in April. May closings are 19.2 percent above the 4.75 million-unit level in May 2009; April sales were revised to show an 8.0 percent monthly gain.

Buyers Face Purchasing Delays

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said he expects one more month of elevated home sales. “We are witnessing the ongoing effects of the home buyer tax credit, which we’ll also see in June real estate closings,” he said. “However, approximately 180,000 home buyers who signed a contract in good faith to receive the tax credit may not be able to finalize by the end of June due to delays in the mortgage process, particularly for short sales.

“In addition, many potential sales are being delayed by an interruption in the National Flood Insurance Program. Florida and Louisiana, also impacted by the oil spill, have the highest percentage of homes that require flood insurance.”

As the leading advocate for homeownership issues, NAR is supporting Senate amendments to extend the home buyer tax credit closing deadline through September 30 for contracts written by April 30, and to renew the flood insurance program. “Sales and related local economic activity would have been higher without delays in the closing process or flood insurance issues,” Yun noted.

Housing Still Affordable

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.89 percent in May from 5.10 percent in April; the rate was 4.86 percent in May 2009.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $179,600 in May, up 2.7 percent from May 2009. Distressed homes slipped to 31 percent of sales last month, compared with 33 percent in April; it was also 33 percent in May 2009.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder said home prices have been stabilizing all year. “With distressed sales at roughly the same level as a year ago, the gain in home prices is a hopeful sign that the market is in a good position to stand on its own without further government stimulus,” she said. “Very affordable mortgage interest rates and stabilizing home prices are encouraging home buyers who were on the sidelines during most of the boom and bust cycle.”

Pending home sales are expected to decline notably in May and June from the spring surge, but Yun added that job growth and a manageable level of foreclosures are keys to sales and price performance during the second half of the year.

Inventory Falling

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 46 percent of homes in May, down from 49 percent in April. Investors accounted for 14 percent of transactions in May compared with 15 percent in April; the remaining sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales were at 25 percent in May, edging down from a 26 percent share in April.

Total housing inventory at the end of May fell 3.4 percent to 3.89 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.3-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with an 8.4-month supply in April. Raw unsold inventory is 1.1 percent above a year ago, but is still 14.9 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.

Single-family home sales declined 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.98 million in May from a pace of 5.06 million in April, but are 17.5 percent above the 4.24 million level in May 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $179,400 in May, which is 2.7 percent above a year ago.

Single-family median existing-home prices were higher in 16 out of 20 metropolitan statistical areas reported in May from a year ago. In addition, existing single-family home sales rose in 18 of the 20 areas from May 2009.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 6.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 680,000 in May from 730,000 in April, but are 32.6 percent above the 513,000-unit pace in May 2009. The median existing condo price was $181,300 in May, up 3.4 percent from a year ago.

By Region

Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 18.3 percent to an annual level of 890,000 in May from a surge in April, but are 12.7 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $240,200, down 2.2 percent from May 2009.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales were unchanged in May at a pace of 1.33 million and are 22.0 percent above May 2009. The median price in the Midwest was $150,700, up 2.2 percent from a year ago.

In the South, sales increased 0.5 percent to an annual level of 2.15 million in May and are 22.9 percent above a year ago. The median price in the South was $159,000, up 1.0 percent from May 2009.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 4.9 percent to an annual rate of 1.29 million in May and are 15.2 percent higher than May 2009. The median price in the West was $221,300, up 7.4 percent from a year ago.

Source: NAR

Monday, April 12, 2010

5 Signs a Home Has Potential

The best deals on homes these days are often on properties that aren’t perfect.

Home shoppers looking for a great deal should keep these factors in mind when they are looking for a place with potential:

· Location, location, location. It’s still true that you get a better deal when you buy the worst house in a great neighborhood than you do when you buy a fancy house in a not-so terrific neighborhood.

· Less than 50 years old. Properties older than a half decade are likely to have more fundamental problems — like aging wiring, inadequate plumbing and sagging foundations.

· Livable floor plan. Buyers should select a home with a basic design they can live with. Once they start moving walls, they’re into big money.

· Light. Houses with the most potential have plenty of natural light.

· Good storage. Adding storage isn’t cheap, so it’s smart to choose a property that already has it.

Source:, Marilyn Lewis (04/12/2010)  Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

'Speed Decorating' Quickly Improves Property

Anyone planning to sell a home might be advised to read Jill Vegas’ Speed Decorating.” Vegas explains how to redecorate at minimum cost and maximum speed.

“Speed decorating,” she says, “is not about calling in contractors; it's about looking at a room and thinking about what you can do in a couple of hours, a week, to make it better."

Vegas offers these tips for anyone who needs to do a little high impact, low cost upgrading:

  • Clear out the clutter
  • Clean and repaint
  • Define the function of each room and then place furniture to accentuate that purpose  
  • Improve the lighting, adding bright light to work areas and soft light to bed and dining rooms
  • Use art and accessories to add drama and personality

Source:, Les Christie (03/17/2010) Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Good Time to Buy a High-End Home

Some of the best housing deals are on high-end homes, many over $1 million. Some of them need TLC or they aren’t in the most-coveted locations. But there are plenty of desirable properties and lots of sellers who are getting impatient.

Buyers with cash have the best opportunities. Buyers who need a mortgage should move especially quickly. With the Federal Reserve ending its purchases of mortgage securities this month, the mortgage market is likely to rise from its current low level. Even if prices fall further, the rising cost of borrowing could eliminate any savings.

As Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, says, this is a "very good time to be a buyer at the high end."

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Nick Timiraos and James R. Hagerty (03/27/2010)
Key Features of the New Housing Rescue Plan

The government’s newest housing rescue effort, which was announced Friday, includes these key tenets:
· As much as $14 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will be made available to pay for writing down second liens for loans whose borrowers refinance through the Federal Housing Administration.

· Lenders that facilitate refinances through the FHA will be required to write down the principal of the first mortgage by at least 10 percent so the home owner has a loan-to-value ratio no higher than 97.75 percent.

· Lenders of second liens will be offered incentives of 10 cents to 21 cents per dollar of principal they write down in connection with an FHA refinance.

· Borrowers who lose their jobs can apply to have their mortgage payments reduced for three to six months while they search for a new job.

· Borrowers with a payment still greater than 31 percent of income after they find a job will be considered for a permanent loan modification.

· To encourage more short sales and “deed in lieu” of foreclosure transactions in which the lender settles the loan for less than is owed, the government will double assistance to borrowers to $3,000 and increase incentives to subordinate lien holders and investors to $6,000.

Source: Reuters News (03/26/2010)

Friday, February 26, 2010

New Posterous Account

I just discovered Posterous. I set up a new account and then I can post one status update and it will post to all of my social networks at once. Pretty cool.

Posted via web from teresabutler's posterous

New Posterous Account

I just discovered Posterous. I set up and account and I can make one status update here and it will update all my social networks at once. Pretty Cool.

Posted via web from teresabutler's posterous

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Picking the Perfect Neighborhood

Check out the local markets, parks, shops, restaurants and community events. Attending events will allow you to get a feel for the area and your potential neighbors. Ask store owners and community members what they love about the neighborhood.


Check with the local police department or state Web site for crime statistics in the area. Sites like Family Watch Dog and Spot Crime are great places to start.


Consider how you will get around. Is there public transportation? Do most people drive? Is it safe to ride a bike? How far will your commute be to work? Time it during rush hour to make sure. What about grocery stores, restaurants, malls, pharmacies and doctor's offices? You may not want to drive 20 minutes for a loaf of bread or to refill your prescription.


Research the local school districts. Are public and private schools available? Do they offer extra curricular activities? What is the cost per student? If your child will ride a bus, how long will it take to reach school grounds?

Traffic and Noise

Walk around the community at different times of the day as well as during the evening. Are there railroads, airports or entertainment establishments around? Where are the highways located? Have sound barriers been constructed?

These are all important aspects of a neighborhood to consider. Ask for information from your professionally certified Realtor®, and use the internet as a resource. Your Realtor® should be able to give you great insight into the area, and provide you with the tools you need to make your decision.
Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Easy ways to stage your home for sale
(ARA) - You've made the decision to sell your home. But before you put the "for sale" sign in the yard, make sure it's ready to make a good impression on prospective buyers and clearly stands out among the many other homes on the market.

There are many easy and inexpensive ways to clearly differentiate your home so that it appeals to a wide range of buyers ... and in return, yields a fast and profitable sale.

To begin, purge. Nothing makes a home look smaller than cluttered countertops, cupboards and closets. Plus, buyers want to envision a home with their own possessions - not yours. As you start cleaning, sort items in three categories: donate, sell or keep. Soon, your home will look neater and you may add some cash to your wallet or gain a tax write-off.

Next, consider tackling projects that are easy, fast and inexpensive - but will significantly boost your home's appeal. Magazines are a great source of inspiration, and brands such as Krylon even have Web sites ( that offer practical advice and dozens of projects specifically designed to stage your home for sale.

Some indoor and outdoor projects that are quick, inexpensive and guaranteed to get your home noticed include:

Focal point finishes

Lighting fixtures are the focal point of many rooms - but replacing them can cost hundreds of dollars. With a little elbow grease, $20 and less than two hours, you can update your existing ones with a new, more attractive and popular stainless steel finish.

Directions: Cover your work area with newspaper and disassemble the fixture. Clean the pieces and tape off areas that don't need to be painted. Following the instructions, apply indoor/outdoor primer followed by the new metallic paint. Once dry, remove the tape and reassemble the chandelier.

Cover the smallest details

When sprucing up your home for sale, sometimes it's the small details that can make the biggest impact. Painting dull, dirty or chipped register covers or light switch plates can give any room a quick pick-me-up, in less than an hour.

Directions: Remove register covers or light switch plates and place them on newspaper. Sand the surface lightly and wipe clean. Clean all pieces to remove any built up dust and grime. Following instructions, apply a number of light coats of primer, followed by a couple coats of gloss or metallic spray paint. Once dry, reinstall and enjoy.

Illuminate the exterior

Exterior lighting showcases the beauty of your home, so make sure that your light fixtures are just as attractive. Update faded, rusty or outdated finishes with a fresh new finish for a minimal price and maximum impact.

Directions: Turn off power to the lights and detach the fixture from the house. Remove the light bulb and mask off any parts that should not be painted - including wires. Place the fixture on newspaper and lightly sand. Clean all pieces and wipe dry. Following the directions on the can, spray several light coats of Krylon's Outdoor Spaces Metallic Finish. Make sure to evenly apply paint to the entire fixture. Once paint is completely dry, reattach the parts, reconnect the lightning fixture and turn the power back on.

Freshen up with flowers

The right landscaping and use of plants and flowers can greatly improve your home's curb appeal for prospective buyers. Brightening up your flower boxes is a quick and easy way to add some color to the front of your home in just a few hours.

Directions: Place a clean flower box on newspaper, sand the exterior to create a smooth surface. Apply several light coats of indoor/outdoor primer to help ward off drips. Next, apply a few coats of indoor/outdoor paint in your favorite color. Once dry, the box is ready to display your favorite flowers.

Whether you're prepping your house for sale or fixing up your new home, you'll find dozens of fast and easy projects at

Courtesy of ARAcontent Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2010

6 Surprising Facts About the Buyer Tax Credit

The homebuyer tax credit is not as simple or straightforward as you might think. Here are some nuances that will affect homebuyers who plan to use it.

*To qualify for the move-up tax credit, a home owner must have occupied the same principal residence for five of the last eight years consecutively.

*Buyers can elect to claim the credit on either their 2009 or their 2010 tax return, whichever is best for them. Buyers who claim the credit in 2009 can’t file electronically because the Internal Revenue Service hasn’t put the required forms on line. The wait for a refund is three or four months.

*The home can be a mobile home or travel trailer that is fixed to land owned or leased by the home owner. A mobile home or travel trailer that is actually mobile doesn’t qualify.

*The home can’t be purchased from a close relative, including a parent, spouse, child, grandparent or grandchild.

*A buyer who earns no taxable income or doesn’t owe any federal income tax can qualify for the tax credit and file a tax return just to claim it.

Source:, Marcie Geffner (01/21/2010)
Housing Components Don't Last Forever

Many aspects of a home last little more than a decade. Home buyers should be especially vigilant about inspecting these household components because they have a relatively short lifespan, says the National Association of Home Builders.

Aluminum roof coating: 3-7 years
Enameled steel sinks: 5-7 years
Security systems: 5-10 years
Carpet: 8-10 years
Smoke detectors: fewer than 10 years
Faucets: 10-15 years
Garage door openers:10-15 years
Air conditioners: 10-15 years
Asphalt: 12-15 years
Termite-proofing during construction: 12 years

Source:, Marcie Geffner (01/22/2010) Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

White House Lost Value in 2009

The estimated value of the White House has dropped 5.1 percent—from $308 million to $292.5 million—in the last year, according to real estate Web site Zillow.

Homes across the United States declined in value by about 5 percent, so the 132-room mansion is following the national trend. The 5.1 percent decrease in the value of the White House is an improvement over its 7.2 percent decrease in 2008; and the nationwide 5 percent drop is a major improvement over the 11.9 percent average decrease in 2008. The White House, designed by an Irish architect and built in 1792, totals 55,000 square feet and sits on 18 acres.

Source: CNN.Com (1/21/09)
10 Inexpensive Ways to Wow Buyers

Now is the time for home owners contemplating a spring sale to spruce up their properties in anticipation of what Mike Larson of Weiss Research calls a potentially vibrant home-selling season. "If you have been beating your head against a wall, this is going to feel a lot better,” he says.Here are 10 cheap ways to make a property more attractive to shoppers:
Improve first impressions. Touch up the paint on the front door and other areas that buyers see first.

Clean up the landscaping. Trim the hedges and trees and plant some annuals in the flowerbeds.

Paint the interior. A coat of light yellow or cream with contrasting white woodwork looks fresh and clean.

Refurbish the floors. Buff the hardwoods. Install new carpets – or at least get them professionally cleaned.

Take care of the big problems. If the house needs a roof or the front stoop is crumbling, get them fixed.

Buy warranties. Putting appliances under warranty gives homebuyers a secure feeling.

Improve energy efficiency. New windows or improved insulation tells a potential buyer the seller is on top of things plus they come with tax benefits.

Replace light fixtures. Updated fixtures, especially at the entrance way and in the foyer, create a good first impression.

Buy a stove. Home owners whose kitchen isn’t top of the line can jazz it up for a few hundred dollars by buying a new stove, which gives the room a fresh feel.

Tidy up the bathrooms. Get rid of mildew, replace caulking, and replace stained sinks.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, Luke Mullins (01/21/2010) Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.
Secure a Lender Quickly for Tax Credit

Home buyers who are eager to close the deal before the tax credit expires should be prepared to deal only with lenders who will respond to the need for speed.

Even buyers without A-plus credit should be able to get a loan. "If you go to enough lenders, you can typically get a loan even with a low credit score. The terms, of course, are not as attractive," says Spencer Rascoff, chief operating officer of

Another possibility is to propose a lease-purchase deal or land contract to the seller. If the deal is structured properly, both buyer and seller could walk away winners.

Source:, Jean Chatzky (02/15/2010)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Understanding your credit opens the door to home-buying success

(ARA) - With many signs pointing to the beginnings of a recovery in the housing market, potential home buyers can still find plenty of selection, low prices and low interest rates. If you're thinking of buying a home, now might be the right time, but before you contact a real estate agent or apply for a mortgage, your top priority should be checking your credit report to see if your credit is in good shape.

Credit - specifically misuse and misunderstanding of credit - spurred the housing crisis, many experts agree. The consequences have included tighter standards from lenders and the need for borrowers to better understand how to use credit wisely.

Interest rates remain low and those with good credit will be better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities currently available in this unique housing market. A good credit report and score can open doors for you in the real estate world, and empower you to secure the best loan and terms possible before you ever tour a single house. Being preapproved for an affordable mortgage can help you move quickly to secure a deal when you find the home of your dreams.

If you've already assessed your finances to determine how much mortgage you can afford, you're ready for the next step - making sure your credit is in top shape to help you get the best possible loan.

Understanding your score and what it means

Lenders consider your credit score and your current credit report when deciding whether or not you're a good credit risk. Your credit score is a number generated by using statistical models that factor in elements from your credit report. The number can change when information on your credit report changes and it's calculated at the time a lender requests a copy of your credit report. Different lenders may use different scoring methods, so your score may vary from lender to lender.

Because credit scores are objective and are based on the information in your credit report, they are fairer than the old opinion-based ways of determining a person's risk level. Your score is a prediction of your likelihood to repay debt responsibly, based on your past credit history and current credit status.

Before you begin contacting potential lenders, check out your credit report, which can be accessed online at Web sites like

Know what's on your credit report

Your credit report is the other major piece of information a lender will consider when deciding whether or not to give you a mortgage loan. Your credit report is basically a summary of your financial behavior, including how you've used credit in the past and how well you manage repaying debt. The information on your report comes from creditors, public records and other reliable sources, which report it to the credit bureaus through automated processes.

Credit reports generally include personal data such as variations on your name, your driver's license number, Social Security number, birth date, current and past employers, and current and past addresses. You'll also find a listing of your credit accounts, when each account was opened and your payment history for each. If you've been involved in court action like bankruptcy or monetary judgments, this information will likely appear on your report as well.

Your report will also show past requests for your credit reports (inquiries) that might come from lenders, insurers, employers or stores. Too many inquiries on your report might make potential lenders think you are trying to overspend, so think carefully before applying for new credit; inquiries stay on your report for two years.

Because your credit report changes every time you use credit, it pays to enroll in a credit monitoring product. Web sites like make it easy to track both your score over time and monitor your credit report, ensuring you know what's on your report before a potential lender looks at it.

Buying a home is likely the largest investment you'll ever make - one that will impact your credit for many years to come. Before you jump into the process of applying for a loan to buy a home, it pays to understand credit, review your report and know your score.

Courtesy of ARAcontent. Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.