Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush outlines plans to help homeowners

Proposals aimed at helping those with risky mortgages keep their homes

Updated: 7 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - Offering federal aid for strapped mortgage holders, the White House outlined proposals Friday to help borrowers hard hit by credit problems and the housing slump.

The initiatives unveiled by President Bush were intended to help homeowners with risky mortgages keep their homes. Bush also was to discuss efforts to prevent these kinds of problems from arising in the future.

It was the administration’s first efforts to deal with an expected wave of mortgage defaults fueled by the subprime-mortgage crisis.

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White House press secretary Tony Snow said he could not provide an estimate of how much the proposals would cost taxpayers or what affect they would have on the housing market. He bristled at questions about why the measures had not been taken sooner. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time for backseat driving,” Snow said.

The White House said the plan was not a bailout for lenders or speculators.

One of the key elements of Bush’s plan would allow homeowners with a good credit history, but who cannot afford their mortgage payments, to refinance into mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration to keep from defaulting.

Earlier this month, Bush predicted that the ongoing decline in the housing market wouldn’t become precipitous, but would result in a “soft landing.”

He rejected any direct government aid to homeowners losing their houses to foreclosures, saying he only supported federal government help that would encourage refinancing and educate prospective home buyers about risky mortgage terms

“Anybody who loses their home is somebody with whom we must show enormous empathy,” the president said at an Aug. 9 news conference. “The word ‘bailout,’ I’m not exactly sure what you mean. If you mean direct grants to homeowners, the answer would be no, I don’t support that.”

On Friday, Bush said he planned to:

  • Urge Congress to pass legislation that would give the Federal Housing Administration more flexibility in assisting mortgage holders with subprime mortgages.
  • Pledge to work with Congress to reform the tax code to help troubled borrowers rework their loans.
  • Call for rigorously enforcing predatory lending laws and strengthening lending practices.

Foreclosure and late payments have spiked, especially for so-called subprime borrowers with blemished credit histories or low incomes. Higher interest rates and weak home values have made it impossible for some to pay or to keep up with their monthly mortgage payments. Some overstretched homeowners can’t afford to refinance or even sell their homes.

Mortgage foreclosures and late payments are expected to worsen. Some 2 million adjustable rate mortgages are to reset to higher rates this year and next. Steep penalties for prepaying mortgages have added to some homeowners’ headaches.

The economy enjoyed a strong revival in the spring although growing troubles in housing and credit markets have darkened prospects considerably since then. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 4 percent in the second quarter — the strongest showing in more than a year.

But that growth could be the best showing for some time as the economy continues to be battered by the worst housing slump in 16 years and a widening credit crisis that has sent financial markets on a roller-coaster ride in recent weeks.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

4 Ways to Fight For Your Home!

4 ways to fight for your home

If you're feeling pinched by an adjustable-rate mortgage or a falling salary, take action before the situation gets worse.

Even if you're a fiscally conservative homeowner, you may be feeling the pressure of high housing costs, particularly if you have a mortgage with a rate that's headed up or if your income has taken a hit. Here’s what to do if your home is on the line.

Spot trouble early. Assess where you stand, especially if your house payments are rising. For advice on cutting back your spending or increasing your income, consult a fee-only financial planner or a nonprofit credit counselor, such as one certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Credit-counseling services should be free or low-cost -- say, less than $50 for a session.

Try a refi. Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages are still attractive and are generally lower than fully indexed rates on adjustable-rate loans. If you can't refinance because your financial prospects are poor, you have no equity in the home or you're looking at a large prepayment penalty, you may want to try selling your home. If you can't afford a full-service agent, try one who offers a limited package of services for a flat fee. See "3 ways to pay lower real estate commissions."

Doing it yourself is no easy task -- you have to price the property aggressively, make yourself and your home available for showings, and close the deal.

Take advantage of mortgage relief, if it's available. In Massachusetts, for example, the governor mandated that homeowners in financial trouble be allowed to request extra time to avoid foreclosure. Their cases will be considered individually. In California, legislators have proposed creating a mortgage pool to assist first-time homeowners in trouble. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soon will introduce their HomeStay program, which is designed for borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages who are at risk for payment shock.

Head off foreclosure. As soon as you think you will miss a mortgage payment, call your lender to discuss your options. Besides refinancing, these may include a forbearance (you temporarily pay nothing or only a minimum amount, making up the payments either over time or at the end of the loan) or a loan modification (the lender temporarily adjusts the interest rate). The better your credit score and employment history, the more receptive the lender will be. But note that some lenders may not be able to change the terms of your loan until you're at least 30 days delinquent, and sometimes as many as 120 days past due.

If all else fails, you could try to negotiate a short sale. In that case, the lender agrees to cancel your debt in exchange for the proceeds from the sale of your home. As long as you're an owner-occupant, not an unhappy investor, lenders are likely to be receptive. Plus, they want to avoid the hassle and expense of foreclosure.

A real-estate agent can help you negotiate the deal. (Call local agencies and ask for an agent with experience or training in short sales.) You have a limited window of opportunity: Most lenders allow only three months' delinquency before they issue a formal notice of foreclosure, and state law mandates how quickly the process moves after that.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How to sell in a homebuyer's market

A real estate marketing pro shares her tips for selling in tougher conditions.

Thanks to for this article.

By Marilyn Lewis

Has it been a while since you sold a house? Things have changed in the last six months.

Angela Stamoulos, an education manager for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, trains agents to educate sellers about the changed market.

The trick these days, she says, is to distinguish your property from the large number of similar homes in the same price bracket. "These wallflowers are the big problem right now, from the point of view of sellers and real estate agents," she says.

Stamoulos' tips:

  1. Don't let your property languish while new, competitive inventory is building up. Price it right initially to give buyers a sense they are getting a value for their money and to avoid numerous, incremental price reductions that reek of desperation.

  1. If you get a lot of activity -- visits and second showings -- don't respond instantly to an offer. Tell buyers you'll allow a couple of days to give adequate time for multiple house hunters to view your home. Even in this difficult market, Stamoulos says, well-priced properties are bid up over the asking price.

  1. Educate yourself about your local market. Ask agents for these statistics, including comparisons from last year:

  • Inventory. The number of homes currently on the market.

  • Days on the market. The length of time properties are staying on the market.

  • Average sale price. This is helpful information, but it can be skewed by, for example, numerous high-end properties sold. The average price in your market may still be $350,000, just as it was last year, but today $350,000 may buy a lot more house.

  • Median price. This is the price at which half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

  • List-to-sell ratios. This ratio, expressing the list price of homes over the selling price, will reveal drops in prices. Ratios are given for periods of time -- say, a month or a quarter -- showing the effect of price reductions on time on the market.

  1. Find the agent who can expose your property to the most buyers:

  • Ask whether the company is part of a larger company or network. How many agents does the company employ to promote your property to buyers? The more the better.

  • Use Alexa Internet to compare agencies' Web-site traffic. Be sure to compare local -- not national -- Web sites when checking local offices of national companies.

  • Learn about the agency's overall marketing strategy. Do they use newspaper ads? E-mail? Their Web site? What's their marketing plan for your property?

  • To screen agents, interview several, asking each for their market data and their interpretation of local trends.
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Thursday, June 21, 2007


6 tips for making a smooth move

Shipping all of your belongings to a new home isn't cheap, but you can save thousands of dollars by doing some work yourself, including packing and unpacking. If you want professional help, your first move should be to find an honest and qualified company.

By Kiplinger's

The keys to a successful move:

1. Don't throw darts at the Yellow Pages. There are better ways to find a reputable mover. Start by visiting the Web site of the American Moving and Storage Association and click on "Why You Should Use a Certified Mover." Next, vet several outfits that serve your area by looking up their complaint records at the Better Business Bureau's Web site. Get bids from at least three companies.

2. Full-service will cost you full freight. Although hiring a professional interstate mover is still the easiest way to transport your family belongings, it is also usually the costliest. A typical household move over a distance of, say, 1,200 miles -- including the cost of loading, unloading and hauling goods that weigh about 8,000 pounds -- will run you $3,000 or more. The good news? You may save money by moving between October and May, because rates drop by about 10% during the offseason.

3. Movers may tip the scales in their favor. When you hire a full-service van line, insist on going with the driver to a weigh station twice: once to see the van's weight when it's empty and a second time to see its weight after it's been loaded. Otherwise, the company may fudge the weight measurements and charge you more than your fair share.

4. Pack Mom's china yourself. And while you're at it, pack all your own boxes if you can. Interstate movers charge an additional $900, on average, to pack and unpack your belongings for you. One caveat: Prices for packing tape have tripled and prices for cardboard boxes have risen about 20% in the past two years. You can save on packing supplies by buying from or, whose prices are usually 10% to 20% below what moving companies and office-supply stores charge.

5. Save money and leave the driving to them. You can save as much as 50% on an interstate move by renting from the do-it-yourselfers (U-Haul, Ryder and Penske, among others). But who really wants to drive a 15-year-old rental truck? Now there's another option: Household-freight companies such as ABF U-Pack Moving, Broadway Express and Door to Door will do the driving for you. The company leaves a crate or trailer outside your house; you pack the boxes and load them into the crate, and you unload them after the move. Moving the contents of a three-bedroom home the 1,900 miles between Columbus, Ohio, and Scottsdale, Ariz., would cost an estimated $2,984, including gas, if you rented a U-Haul truck. A comparable move would cost $3,057 with ABF U-Pack -- only about $75 more. By comparison, having Allied Van Lines do the driving for you, without its optional packing service, would run at least $6,090.

6. Unload some of the cost on the Internal Revenue Service. You may be eligible for an income-tax break for moving expenses when you take a new job, if your new workplace is at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old workplace was. You may take the deduction even if you do not itemize.

-- By Sean O'Neill, Kiplinger's

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5 tips for a better open house

If you're committed to holding an open house, here's how to do it right.

By Melinda Fulmer

1. Clean and repair your home. It should go without saying, but clean your house as if you were going to eat off the floors. Also, consider making minor cosmetic repairs and upgrades such as touching up paint and planting fresh flowers.

2. De-clutter. Put away the ceramics collection, toys and things lining the bathroom and kitchen counters. A crowded house makes it look smaller and makes it harder for buyers to imagine it as their own, says Gail Mayhugh, a professional home stager and owner of GMJ Interiors in Las Vegas.

3. De-personalize. Take down family photos, trophies and other personal touches, even that book on your nightstand. Buyers need to imagine the house as a blank slate, ready to be occupied and personalized by them, Mayhugh says.

4. Consider holding an early viewing just for the locals. For instance, if you are having an open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., invite your neighbors from noon to 1 p.m. It will make them feel good and allow the agent to focus on the most interested parties when the real open house starts.

5. Promote heavily. Make sure your open house is listed on the MLS and on other Internet sites such as, Expo or Post lots of pictures, send out fliers, put up lots of signs and advertise in your local paper.

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Reinventing the Family Room

Reinventing the family room

(Thanks to for this article)

The hottest new thing in homes is a computer room with stations for parents and children. It's not without problems -- would you believe noisy kids and snooping parents? -- but it has increased family time.
By Kate Goodloe, The Wall Street Journal
(c) Dylan Ellis/Getty Images

The Lucido family used to spend a lot of weekday time apart -- kids in the toy room, mom Kelli working upstairs. So when they moved to a new house in Oakville, Mo., in December, Lucido says she came up with a fix: a whole-family home office, with mom-and-me desks and a new laptop for her 7-year-old. It's the "heart of the house," she says.

In an effort to eke out more quality time, some families are designing group home offices in which parents and kids can work together. Some are renovating existing rooms, installing desks and adding laptop ports for every member of the family, while others are ordering them as custom-built options in new homes. In its new Menifee, Calif., development, Capital Pacific Homes has a model outfitted with an "education space"; the bright-yellow room can fit up to eight stools and has desks that adjust to adult and kid heights.

Results are mixed. Some families say the shared workspaces help facilitate intergenerational bonding, with parents learning about YouTube and kids getting their first taste of Excel spreadsheets. But others say the new spaces are counterproductive -- after all, it isn't easy talking to clients when your kids are doing vocabulary drills in the background. And kids say it's hard to concentrate with parents interrupting their Web searches to give them unsolicited grammar lessons.

For Shannon and Fred Converse of Norwalk, Conn., a shared office has meant more time with their 13-year-old twins -- and more noise when they're trying to work. Since they converted their formal dining room into a space for everyone to work in together, the Converses say they've gotten to know each other a lot better. But when the parents, who own a tutoring business, are on the phone with clients, Eli and Jacob often erupt into cheers over computer-game victories, creating a "kind of hairy" situation, Shannon Converse says.

Eli says his parents can be a distraction, too: He recently wrote out a homework assignment, only to discover he had inadvertently copied down a transcript of his father's phone conversation instead of the schoolwork. Now, he tries to do at least some of his homework in his bedroom. "It's a lot quieter there," he says.

Credit: John Hartman

Interior designers say the family home office is in part a backlash against the McMansion-fueled sprawl in recent years that ceded separate bathrooms, libraries and entire wings of the house to children -- essentially cutting them off from the rest of the family. In a September survey by the American Institute of Architects, the shared office was named the most popular "special-function room," with home theaters second.

But in a BlackBerry world, it's also a way for parents who take their work home with them to not lose touch with -- or sight of -- their kids. About 20 million people did some work from home in 2004, with about half simply taking work home from the office, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nancy Stack says she and her two teenage daughters spend hours some evenings in their family's Corona del Mar, Calif., home office, with three computers, two printers, custom workstations for the girls and a mahogany desk for Nancy Stack.

Nancy Stack uses the room to make conference calls to doctors and researchers for the nonprofit foundation she runs; 10th-grade Natalie is studying European history and 17-year-old Alex is researching saints for a religion course.

While she says the arrangement has "brought us closer together," she says it has also led to some tensions. When her older daughter started updating a MySpace page in the office, Nancy Stack objected to language and pictures other users posted on the networking site -- and banned her kids from using it. Without the room, Nancy Stack says, she "wouldn't have known about it."

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Friday, June 15, 2007

5 steps to a profitable home purchase

Inman News

5 steps to a profitable home purchase
Jun 15, 2007, 5:00 am PDT

Editor's note: Robert Bruss is temporarily away. The following column from Bruss' "Best of" collection first appeared Sunday, July 16, 2006.

"I can't believe the mortgage company approved me to buy a condo in such bad shape." That's what I overheard a young lady tell her breakfast date at the coffee shop I like to visit on Saturday mornings. The place is always very busy. The tables are close together so it's hard not to overhear conversations at the adjoining tables.

Burying my head in the newspaper, I then heard her say, "But my dad remodels kitchens so I know he will make it a beauty." I wanted to tell the guy, "Marry her, she's on her way to a real estate fortune!" But I kept quiet and looked away.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

Then she went through a list of condo fix-up work she plans to make, such as fresh paint, new carpets and several decorating ideas. At that point, the guy changed the topic. If they marry, she will obviously be the real estate tycooness in that family.

HOW TO FIND A PROFITABLE HOUSE OR CONDO. If you are a typical house or condo buyer, you probably want to purchase a new or resale residence in near-perfect, "model home," move-in condition. That's fine.

But expect to pay full retail market value. That is not the way to make a profitable home purchase.

If you want to profit from your home purchase, as that young lady will, buy a house or condo needing profitable improvements. Extreme cases are called "fixer-uppers."

To be polite, some listing agents call them "tired homes." Having bought and sold many profitable residences over 40-plus years of investing, here are my top five criteria for buying a profitable house or condo:

1. ASK HOW MUCH THE SELLER PAID. The longer I'm involved with real estate investing, the more important I think this key question is. I wish I started asking it many years ago when purchasing investment properties.

Even if you find a house or condo in excellent condition, before making a purchase offer, ask your buyer's agent, "How much did the seller pay for this home?"

Most buyers don't ask this vital question. Your buyer's agent might be shocked. Just explain the reason you need to know is to discover how much negotiation room the seller has so you can buy the property. Your agent will be thrilled to learn you plan to make a purchase offer.

For example, if you learn the seller paid $100,000 for the property many years ago, and the comparable home sales prices in the vicinity indicate it is worth $300,000 today, that seller has lots of negotiation room. However, if your buyer's agent checks the public records and discovers the seller paid $250,000 for that house last year, the seller doesn't have much negotiation room for you to buy a profitable house at a below-market purchase price.

2. ASK WHY THE SELLER IS SELLING. This is a controversial question for a home buyer to ask. Only the smartest buyers dare ask it. Knowing the seller's true motivation for selling is critical if you are to buy a profitable house or condo.

Often the listing agent doesn't know the answer. Be sure to communicate to your buyer's agent, who will then tell the listing agent, "I need to know so my buyer can make a purchase offer that meets the seller's needs."

Sometimes, you won't be told the truth. For example, if the reason for the home sale is a divorce, the listing agent might be reluctant to reveal that fact. However, I've found that to be important information so I can make a purchase offer providing cash to satisfy both sellers.

Or, if you learn the home is in foreclosure and the lender has scheduled a foreclosure sale in three weeks, you better be prepared to purchase fast before the seller loses the house.

I recall one situation several years ago where I asked the nasty listing agent why the sellers were selling a home I really wanted to buy for my personal residence. He arrogantly replied, "It's none of your business. Just bring a cash offer."

Not wanting to do business with him, I never made a purchase offer on that house. Later, I learned the sellers were very wealthy and were retiring to Palm Springs. I could have made a low-down-payment offer and they probably would have carried back a mortgage on very attractive terms.

3. LOOK FOR "THE RIGHT THINGS WRONG." This used to be my primary criteria for buying a house or condo at a bargain below-market purchase price. Although this reason is still ultra-important, it is no longer as important as the first two criteria.

That condo buyer who sat at the table next to mine a few weeks ago, understood this rule even if she didn't have it on her profitability list. By purchasing a condo needing a kitchen renovation, she was acquiring an almost instant profit opportunity, especially since her father is in the kitchen remodeling business.

"The right things wrong" mean profit opportunities. Often, all that is needed are a coat of paint and new wall-to-wall carpets. Additional profitable examples include new light fixtures, new appliances, fresh landscaping, and bathroom updating.

Examples of the "wrong things wrong" or unprofitable improvements include a new roof, foundation repairs, new plumbing or wiring, and new windows. The reason these obviously necessary updates are unprofitable is they add less market value to the home than they cost.

4. DEDUCT FROM MARKET VALUE FOR THE COST OF REPAIRS. Most sellers of houses and condos are well aware if their home needs repairs or updating to current market value standards. There are two ways for buyers to handle this.

One is to offer a low purchase price to compensate for the obviously necessary repairs. However, such an approach often upsets the seller who doesn't realize how much it will cost to bring their home up to neighborhood standards.

A better approach is to offer close to current market value, based on recent sales prices of nearby comparable houses or condos, but then list and ask for credits for necessary repairs, such as a new roof, foundation repairs, landscaping, and new plumbing or wiring. This method is often more effective because the seller then realizes all the work their "fixer-upper" needs.

5. ASK THE SELLER FOR AFFORDABLE FINANCING. Although home mortgage financing is easily available today, you might be able to do better in the right circumstances by asking the seller to carry back a mortgage for you. This can be especially valuable if the seller owns the home free and clear with no mortgage, you plan to immediately renovate the house to increase its market value, and you expect to refinance or sell the home after the improvements are completed.

To illustrate, if you offer a retiree seller a 5.5 percent interest rate on a carryback mortgage, that's better for you than is easily available at the local bank. However, be sure there is no prepayment penalty so you can refinance when you complete renovations to increase the home's market value.

As the old saying goes, "It doesn't hurt to ask." There is no easier mortgage lender than the home seller. My experience is retirees are especially anxious to finance home sales because they usually can't obtain such a high yield with the safety of a mortgage on their former residence if you fail to make the payments and they have to foreclose. By obtaining easy seller financing, you just increased your purchase profit even more.

SUMMARY: If you ask the right questions, your house or condo purchase can become a profitable investment. Whether you plan to keep your home purchase a short time or for many years, look for the "right things wrong" and the extra bonus profit opportunities, such as seller carryback mortgage financing.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

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Friday, June 8, 2007

New Housing for Detroit: Village Estates homes have tax break

New housing for Detroit
Village Estates homes have tax break

June 6, 2007



Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick joined community leaders Tuesday to celebrate plans to build more than 120 town houses, ranch-style condominiums and single-family homes in northwest Detroit.

Supporters say the development -- called Village Estates -- could help revitalize the area south of 7 Mile and east of the Southfield Freeway. The project is a collaborative effort between the Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Fellowship Chapel, and Herb Strather, president and chief executive of Strather & Associates, the developer.

"Don't move, just improve right where you are," Anthony said during the groundbreaking ceremony.

Anthony added that the residential units will cater to a broad range of people including recent college graduates, senior citizens, business professionals and retirees.

Amandla, a community development company Anthony started, is working with Strather to develop the $40-million housing project, which is being financed with private money. Prices for the properties range from $170,000 to $267,000. Special features include a 42-inch flat-screen television, a fireplace and an alarm system.

The development is bounded by McNichols to the south, Outer Drive to the north, Oakfield to the west and Biltmore to the east. Village Estates will be in the same area as Fellowship Chapel.

It could take 2 1/2 years to complete the housing development, said project manager Darlene Strickland of Strather & Associates.

"The City of Detroit stands ready to assist you and support you in every way possible," Kilpatrick told the leaders.

Kilpatrick added that the city will help in "making sure people can afford to live in the new village."

Amandla's residential units have the same tax-exempt status as churches, and residents will not have to pay taxes for 12 years, Anthony said.

Fellowship Chapel was the first phase of a community project spearheaded by Anthony. He started the project about five years ago to have a community constructed around his church.

"So this was a vision that started years ago," Anthony said. "The second leg is now the Village Estates, this housing development."

Like other developers, Strather is offering an incentive for purchasing a unit. The first 20 buyers will get a 2-year, prepaid lease on a Ford Fusion.

"We want to make it more affordable, so we're going to put the car in the garage with the key, and you won't have to make auto payments," Strather said.

(Thanks to the Detroit Free Press for this article)

Friday, June 1, 2007


Thanks to for this article!

Real-estate moguls know there's good money in environment-friendly buildings. Here's how the little guy can play, too.

By Fast Company

If the workplace is any indication, you could almost believe corporate America really cares about the environment.

Goldman Sachs (GS, news, msgs), Hearst, IBM Corp. (IBM, news, msgs), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, news, msgs) and Toyota Motor (TM, news, msgs) all have made the move into "green" buildings.

Bank of America (BAC, news, msgs) plans to build a 52-story eco-skyscraper near New York's Times Square, and Accenture (ACN, news, msgs) has leased green office space throughout the country.

Sustainable construction is one of the fastest-growing segments of the already-red-hot commercial-building industry. An estimated 5% of all new U.S. commercial construction received the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification last year. And by 2010, 10% of all new commercial construction will be sustainable, according to McGraw-Hill's (MHP, news, msgs) 2006 Smart Market report. (The green trend in home construction is still in its infancy, although that's bound to change.)

Existing construction is getting an eco-lift too. Developers such as Hines and the Durst Organization, and some real-estate investment trusts (REITs), are snapping up half-empty office buildings and renovating them according to green standards. That can often bring 3% higher rents and a 7.5% increase in a building's value, according to the McGraw-Hill report.

On average, green buildings save 10% of utility costs each year -- and sometimes much more. Genzyme's (GENZ, news, msgs) corporate headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., spends 42% less on energy and uses 34% less water than a similar traditional building would. Even more important, as sustainable materials and technology improve, green construction will become more cost-effective, says Charles Lockwood, an environmental and real-estate consultant in Southern California and New York.

More from MSN Money and Fast Company

Crystal ball © Randy Allbritton/Photodisc/Getty Images

on this latest real-estate boom? The easiest opportunities may lie in REITs that have made a substantial commitment to new or renovated green buildings. In a sign of just how hot this phenomenon is, however, two of the biggest, greenest REITs, Arden Realty and Equity Office Properties Trust, have been swallowed up by GE Real Estate and Blackstone Group, respectively.

But there are still promising names out there. Liberty Property Trust (LRY, news, msgs) has 21 green buildings in its portfolio of about 700 properties and says that number will rise quickly as the trust renovates more of its existing properties and takes on more new green projects. Liberty has enjoyed the nice run-up that all REITs had in the past year thanks to the strong commercial-building market. But Fauzia Rashid, a co-manager of Fred Alger Management's Spectra Green Fund (SPEGX), expects Liberty's green investment will help it continue to perform well even if commercial building starts to slow down.

Video on MSN Money

Jim Jubak
The best 'green' stocks
If you've got the patience, companies that specialize in energy efficiency are your best bet among environmental stocks, says MSN Money's Jim Jubak. They aren't as flashy as uranium or ethanol stocks, so prices are still reasonable.

For investors who get a bit woozy at the thought of betting solely on the vagaries of the commercial-real-estate market, a mutual fund with green-building holdings might be the safer way to go. The Spectra Green Fund, unlike many of its socially conscious counterparts, has consistently outperformed the Russell 3000 for the past three years.

The fund, which among other things invests in clean-energy stocks, is putting a small percentage of its assets in green REITs. Rashid also likes to invest in the building segment through the back door, focusing on the supply and equipment manufacturers that green builders rely on, such as Johnson Controls (JCI, news, msgs), the maker of devices that measure and monitor energy output. At about $96 a share, Johnson Controls has jumped in the neighborhood of 40% in the past year. And that's a nice neighborhood to be in.

This article was reported and written by Walecia Konrad for Fast Company.

Thursday, May 17, 2007



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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sleezy Home Improvement Scams

Thanks to

Spring's the time homeowners get to work -- and shady contractors come of out of the woodwork. Here's how to smell a suspicious deal.

Article IndexBy
Like most homeowners, you probably spent the winter months talking about the home improvements you'd like to make. Now that spring is here, it's time to act on those remodeling impulses. After all, spring is a time of renewal, change and new beginnings.
Unfortunately, it's also a time when shady contractors come out of the woodwork to prey on innocent homeowners. "Some are actual scam artists, while others are just incompetent or unethical," says Ellis Levinson, a consumer reporter and the author of the book "Hiring Contractors Without Going Through Hell."
The good news is that you can protect yourself against these scams. In fact, many scams are easy to detect if you take the time to become an educated, savvy consumer. "Compare prices, call references and research the project you're undertaking in advance," says Bruce Johnson, the author of "50 Simple Ways to Save your House." It seems simple, but many people find this process overwhelming.
Levinson calls it emotional laziness. "It's amazing to me how much time people will put it into buying a TV because it's fun. But when it comes to remodeling a kitchen, people have no time. They see it as drudgery," Levinson says. Ultimately, he says, doing the research to protect yourself is much easier than paying for the consequences.
To help you differentiate a scam from the real deal, Bankrate has compiled a list of the most common remodeling scams. Beware of the following key phrases, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
'I just happen to be working in your neighborhood' This happens when contractors appear at your home unsolicited to inform you that they noticed some problems with your home's (insert: chimney, driveway, windows, plumbing, etc.) while working on a neighboring home. For example, a contractor might say he or she was on the roof of your neighbor's home and noticed missing shingles on your roof. This may be the case, but often no repair is needed.
More important, legitimate, established and reputable contractors tend to find enough work through word-of-mouth referrals that they don't need to be going door to door to attract customers. Be especially skeptical if the contractor drives a vehicle with no company name, no phone number or with out-of-state license plates. "Do not let these people enter your home," Johnson warns. "Often they want to be invited inside to see if something is worth stealing."
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Also, be sure to ask for proof that he or she is insured, licensed and bonded. "Homeowners that check out contractors beforehand and research their credibility are usually more satisfied with the job than if they abruptly chose a contractor," says Jeremy Zidek, communications coordinator for the Better Business Bureau in Alaska.
'I have materials left over' Sometimes contractors will offer a discount for the job under the pretense that they have extra materials and want to use up their supply. Good contractors order just enough supplies to meet the needs of each job, as often the price for supplies is included in the contract.
If a contractor has materials left over from a previous job and is making them available to you, he either didn't finish the job or is cheating the previous customer. Or he didn't have a previous job but has materials to make it look like he did.
'I need cash upfront'This contractor will take your money and disappear before or (even worse) after your project gets under way. It can be frustrating trying to chase after him, getting him to come back and finish the job or hiring someone else to clean up a messy work site. Don't ever pay in full for a project before any work has been done.
Video: Make sure your home improvements pay off
However, you may be expected to pay a down payment. "The contractor may not want to block out time in his busy schedule without some money upfront," Levinson says. He recommends creating a payment schedule with the contractor at the start -- wherein you pay a sizable portion only upon completion of a project. Johnson swears by the one-third theory.

"The most I will ever give somebody upfront -- after I have called references and checked him out -- is one third of the money," he says. He pays another third when the project is halfway done. "Their profit is in their last payment; that's what going to keep them on the job."
'I have a special offer that's good for today only' If a contractor is offering a "special deal," ask him to legitimize what he is offering. Though this is a common sales technique, you can ask for documentation of this bargain -- a flier, for example, that the contractor has mailed or delivered in the past. Or one from another contractor at a higher price.
"Anytime a contractor puts pressure on a homeowner to act quickly about making a remodeling decision, that's a red flag," Zidek says. Remodeling decisions should be made carefully, not hastily.
'I can help you finance the project' Sometimes a contractor will suggest you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows. This could indicate a home-improvement loan scam, as the contractor may be getting kickbacks from the lender.
Video: Make sure your home improvements pay off
Homeowners may believe they're financing a small remodeling project loan, when in fact they're signing for a much larger loan, if not completely refinancing their home. Never finance through your contractor without shopping around and comparing loan terms.
'I want to use your home as a model'The scam centers on the idea of using your home as a vehicle, or "show home," to advertise their services in return for a hefty discount.
Established contractors should have completed enough previous projects that they won't need your job as a demonstration.
Still more scams Though any part of your home could be a target, many scams tend to center around driveways, roofs, chimneys and furnaces:
Driveway sealant scam. If a contractor offers to seal your driveway for a heavily discounted price, find out what materials will be used as sealant. Cheap, inferior substances may look great initially but will wear off in three months.
Chimney repair. These scam artists often lure their victims via advertisements in local newspapers offering gutter cleaning at a cheap price. Once the work is performed, they claim the chimney is in dire need of structural repairs. To provide so-called evidence of this, they will make it look like the chimney is in a state of decay by removing bricks and mortar from the chimney. Note: There might be decay if you burn a lot of wood and don't get your chimney inspected every year. Another chimney scam is when a contractor says there's a threat of carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney is not repaired immediately. This is a serious concern, so if you are unsure about whether to trust this person, get a second opinion from a reputable contractor.
Hot-tar roofing. Contractors often use substandard materials. You may not realize you've been duped until heavy rains cause the roof to leak. "If you're having major work done, ensure that your contract has a holdback clause where you withhold the final payment until 30 days after completion of a project," Levinson says.
Furnace repair. Once they inspect your furnace, they may claim it is leaking dangerous gases or is about to explode. Ask your utility company to come and inspect your system. Also be wary if they tell you the unit is too small or needs a complete overhaul. When choosing a contractor, always get several estimates on the needed repair.
Duct cleaning. Only in very unusual circumstances do ducts need to be cleaned. The scheme is called a "blow and go" because the scam artist will use a small vacuum cleaner with no special filters to stir up the dust, pollen, mold and other contaminants instead of removing them. Duct cleaning can be necessary if there is mold in the house or if the heating or air conditioning has been running with inadequate or nonexistent filtering. If you change filters regularly, your ducts don't need to be cleaned.
This article was reported and written by Alana Klein for

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


How long does it take to sell a home?
There is no easy answer-some homes sell in a few days, other may take several months.
Recognizing the key factors influencing a sale can give you significant control over market time.

The proper balance of these factors will expedite your sale:
Location is the single greatest factor affecting value.
Neighborhood desirability is fundamental to a property’s fair market value.

Buyers compare your property against competing properties.
Buyers interpret value based on available properties.

The real estate market may reflect a seller’s market or a buyer’s market.
Market conditions cannot be manipulated; an individually tailored marketing plan must be developed accordingly.

Property condition affects price and speed of sale.
Optimizing physical appearances and advance preparation for marketing maximizes value.

The more flexible the financing, the broader the market, the quicker the sale and the higher the price.
Terms structured to meet your objectives are important to successful marketing.

· If the property is not properly priced, a sale may be delayed or even prevented.
· Keller Williams Realty’s comprehensive market study will assist you in determining the best possible price.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Keller Williams Realty Annual Client Appreciation Event!

We are having a private showing of Shrek 3 on Saturday, June 2nd at 10:00 am at the Emagine Theatre at 39535 Ford Rd. in Canton. You must RSVP By May 22nd: 734-266-9000
Doors OPen @ 9:30 am. Come Early for best seats! Please Present Your Postcard As Your Ticket!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


14041 Warwick

Sunday, April 22, 2007

2 pm- 5 pm

Come see this Lovely, Adorable 3 bedroom, 2.1 bath, Brick , Bungalow!

Call listing agent for directions or more information: 734-742-2155

Friday, April 13, 2007

Think You're Ready To Buy a Home?

Get your house in order before you start shopping. Here's what you need to do, and when.By Liz Pulliam Weston

Buying a home is a complicated process, and it can be particularly daunting for the first-timer.
The following timeline starts one year before you hope to start seriously shopping for a home. This is an ideal; you can arrange your finances and buy a home in less time, if necessary, but you'd be smart to walk through all of the steps in order. The more time you give yourself for this process, the better.
A year out (or as soon as possible)
Get your credit reports. Errors on your reports can force you to pay a higher interest rate on your mortgage or even torpedo your chances of getting a loan. You can get free copies of your reports from the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- at Look for accounts that aren't yours, collection accounts for debts you don't owe and negative marks (other than bankruptcy) that are older than seven years.
You should be able to dispute errors with the bureaus and get them removed, but if the bureaus or the creditors balk, you may need to hire an attorney. (The National Association of Consumer Advocates can refer you to lawyers with knowledge of the credit-reporting and debt-collecting laws.) Don't leave yourself in the position of having to pay a bogus collection account to get the loan you want or paying unnecessary interest because of credit-report errors.
Get -- and improve -- your FICO credit scores. Your credit scores, which are three-digit numbers used to gauge your creditworthiness, help determine the rates and terms you can get for a loan. There are hundreds of different credit-scoring formulas, but the one used by the vast majority of mortgage lenders is the FICO.
Video: Buy your first home in a year
The only place you can buy your FICO scores for all three credit bureaus is A package of three scores and three credit reports costs about $50. You can learn more about credit scores, how they work and how to improve them at MSN Money's Your Credit Rating Decision Center, and you can get a copy of my best-selling book, "Your Credit Score: How To Fix, Improve, and Protect the 3-Digit Number That Shapes Your Financial Future," which was published in a second edition in February 2007 (end of shameless plug). Three keys to better credit: Pay all your bills on time, pay down your credit cards and other revolving debt, and don't open (or close) any accounts while you're in the market for a mortgage.
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Consider a credit-monitoring service. Normally, I think these are a waste of money for folks who aren't at high risk of identity theft. But given how important your credit and credit scores will be in buying a home, you might appreciate the early warning if a collector tries to post a bogus debt.
Deal with your debt. Most people needn't pay off their student loans, auto loans or other generally low-rate debt before getting a mortgage. What you want to eradicate is "toxic" debt: credit card balances and payday loans. These are signs you're living beyond your means. If you don't get your overspending problem fixed before you buy a home, your problems will likely just get worse because homeownership typically involves plenty of big costs (property taxes, insurance, maintenance, repairs, improvements, decorating). Get your act together before you house shop.
Save, save, save. Stop eating out. Drop your cable-TV subscription. Do everything you can think of to put as much money aside as possible, using your desire to be a homeowner as a motivator. (Read "Could you stop spending for a month?" for inspiration.) In today's market, it's best to have at least a 5% down payment; boost that to 10% and you'll have even more financing options. Ideally, you'll also have enough left over after you get your mortgage to cover the payments for two or three months.
Put your bills on automatic. A single 30-day late payment can knock 100 points off your score, and it can take many, many months to recover. Make sure every bill gets paid on time. If you don't have a reliable bill-paying system, consider using automatic debits, so payments come directly from your checking account, or an online bill-payment system's recurring-payment feature.
6 months out
Sort through your mortgage options. A lot of people are losing their homes today because they didn't understand what kind of mortgage they had or they accepted bad advice. The low teaser payments that allowed them to buy a more expensive house have jumped skyward, leaving them unable to pay. It's up to you to understand the risks of the different types of mortgages and to select the right one for your family. My 2 cents: Stick with traditional, fixed-rate mortgages. If you can't commit to a 30-year version, at least use a hybrid loan with a rate that's fixed for as long as you plan to own the home.
Start calculating how much house you can afford. Once you've settled on a type of mortgage and have a rough idea of your down payment, you can start using online calculators like this one at to see how much house you can buy. Consider buying less home than the absolute maximum you can afford; if you keep your housing expenses (mortgage, taxes and insurance) to 25% of your gross income, you'll be able to live more comfortably and have money left over for things like retirement savings, vacations and the kids' college educations.
Research all the costs of owning a home. Your mortgage will be just the start. You'll have to pay property taxes and insurance on the home. There may be homeowners- or condo-association fees as well. You may face higher utility bills, and you'll take on maintenance and repair costs as well. Decorating your new house can cost a pile of money as well -- have you shopped for window coverings lately? Your home-owning friends and a friendly real estate agent or two can help fill you in so you know what to expect.
Adjust your savings strategies. What you've learned so far may inspire you to boost your savings. A bigger down payment, for example, can result in a larger home or a lower mortgage payment. Or you may simply want to build up your emergency fund so unexpected home expenses don't knock your finances off the rails.
3 months out
Reduce your credit utilization. The FICO scoring formula is sensitive to how much of your available limits you're using on your credit cards and other revolving lines of credit. The less, the better. It doesn't matter if you pay your balances in full every month; the figure the scoring formula typically uses is the balance that shows on your most recent statement. Try to keep that balance below 30%, or even lower. If you can't -- because you charge a lot for work-related travel, for example -- make a payment before the statement's closing date to reduce the balance reported to the bureaus. Just be sure to make a second payment after the closing date, so you don't get reported as late.
Don't open or close any accounts. Until the mortgage process is completed and you've moved into your new home, continue to avoid actions that could potentially harm your credit, such as opening credit accounts or closing old ones.
2 months out
Get an idea of the mortgage rate you can expect. Order a fresh set of FICO credit scores -- don't worry, checking your scores doesn't ding them -- and talk to some mortgage lenders about what rates you might qualify for. (You'll find current national averages here.) Don't apply yet or give permission for your credit to be pulled; you just want to get a feel for what you can expect.
Understand the effect of mortgage-shopping on your score. You want to get the best rate and terms possible, which means you'll need to shop around, but how does that affect your credit score? Here's the lowdown: Every time you give a lender permission to check your credit, a "hard inquiry" appears on your credit report, and that can ding your score a bit. Fortunately, the FICO scoring formula lumps all mortgage-related inquiries made within a specified period and counts them as one. (The period used to be 14 days, but the most recent versions stretch that to 45 days.) Furthermore, the scoring formula ignores any inquiries made in the previous 30 days. So you want to do your serious mortgage shopping in a fairly concentrated period of time, typically after your offer on the home you want is accepted.
Get approved for a mortgage ahead of time. Pre-approval, in which a lender gives a commitment to make you a loan, is different and more valuable to sellers than pre-qualification, which merely gives you an idea of the size of the mortgage you might afford without making any commitments. You don't have to get a loan from the lender that offers you a pre-approval letter. Getting a pre-approval does involve giving permission for a hard credit inquiry, but the small potential ding on your credit is worth it because you'll be in a stronger position with sellers.
Consider a mortgage broker. Once your offer is approved, you can shop for a mortgage on your own, but if you want a lot of hand-holding through this process or your credit is particularly troubled, you might benefit from the services of an experienced, ethical mortgage broker. Get referrals from family and friends; you can also get a referral from the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.
Begin researching neighborhoods and look for an agent. Check Internet listings, attend open houses and find an experienced guide to help you refine what you're seeking.
Once you've found your home and your offer is accepted
Shop for a mortgage. There are thousands available, and sorting through the possibilities can be overwhelming. That said, you may want to include some of the biggies (Washington Mutual, Countrywide and Wells Fargo are three biggest mortgage lenders in the country) as well as online brokers such as LendingTree and E-Loan. You'll need to move fairly quickly to secure the loan, because the full approval process typically takes four to six weeks.
Arrange for an appraisal, a home inspection and a walk-through. The appraisal is required for your loan to be approved. An inspection isn't necessarily required, but don't skip this essential step, which can alert you to serious problems before the deal closes. The walk-through is usually done within 24 hours of the deal closing, so you can make sure that the home sellers have performed any agreed-upon repairs and the place is in move-in condition.
Get homeowners' insurance. Mortgage lenders require this coverage, and you'll need to prove you have it at closing.
Confirm how much money you'll need at closing. "Closing" is when you sign all the paperwork and pay agreed-upon amounts, which can include your down payment and your share of legal fees, paperwork costs, property taxes and title insurance.
Enjoy your new home!
Liz Pulliam Weston answers reader questions on MSN Money's Your Money message board.

5 Remodeling Projects Under $10,000

Thanks to

5 remodeling projects under $10,000
You don't have to add a room. Simple things like windows and landscaping may give you more bang for your buck.By Alex Markels, U.S. News & World Report

So you've decided not to trade up after all. Even more, you don't want to dump a lot of money into fixing up your house if its value -- and your equity -- are likely to be flat or even falling in the next few years.
That said, you can still add to your home's resale value (and your happiness) with a budget-minded remodeling project. True, of the top 10 projects for increasing your home's value for the dollars spent, "there's really only two or three that you can do for under $10,000," says Sal Alfano, editorial director at Remodeling magazine, whose annual "Cost Versus Value" report ranks the projects with the biggest payback.
But while adding a bathroom (about $30,000), a sunroom ($50,000) or a master bedroom suite ($95,000 and up) will return about 70 cents for every dollar invested, Alfano's latest analysis finds that you may get more bang for your buck with lower-cost improvements, such as replacing the windows ($10,000), siding ($9,000), or the kitchen cabinets and appliances ($17,000), which will yield some 88 cents on the dollar.
Of course, you might not get quite as much enjoyment out of new vinyl siding as you would from, say, a new bathroom with a sunken tub and Jacuzzi jets. "But you'll increase your curb appeal and lower your maintenance," says Alfano, "which will definitely add to your happiness."
Here are five remodeling projects, each of which can be completed for about $10,000, and all of which can help make you feel better about staying put:
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A basic bathroom makeover
Unlike adding a bathroom, which between plumbing and all the rest runs $30,000 and up, a basic makeover can be done for a third of the cost and offer more bang for the buck, especially if you have two bathrooms (which is considered about average for a three-bedroom home).
Start by upgrading your old toilet to a low-flow model. Then add new tile, such as glass varieties that can give the illusion of depth in a small space. (Ideas and examples are at Starting at about $5 a square foot, these popular tiles can also be used to accent lower-cost ceramic tiles.
"Maybe the bulk of the room is just plain ceramic vanilla, but then you splurge on metallic blue glass for the border and it creates a stunning effect for not much money," says Alfano.
A deck is a simple way to add space
Adding an outdoor deck is perhaps the most affordable way to expand your home's footprint, and it's an especially good idea if you need to keep up with the Joneses.
"If everyone else in the neighborhood has one, it's probably a good investment to have one too," says Alfano.
Thanks to weatherproof composite materials that have largely replaced traditional redwood decking, the days of warped timbers and messy annual coats of sealant are long gone. That said, decks made from the most popular composites -- like plastic-and-wood Trex -- typically cost more than wood (about $14,000 for a 16-by-20-foot finished deck). By simply cutting back on square footage, you can easily stay under $10,000.
"Just make sure it's bigger than your average stoop (about 6 by 8 feet)," says Alfano. "Then you at least have enough room for a barbecue and a couple of lounge chairs."
A garden fit for a queen
Landscaping is perhaps the cheapest, most underrated way to improve a home's curb appeal. But instead of simply resodding a weed-infested yard, consider planting an English garden of flowers, trees and stone (you'll find design ideas at
Or, if you live in an arid climate, try ornamenting your yard with desert plants, which can reduce water consumption by 60% (see examples at
Do-it-yourselfers can usually install a medium-size garden in a weekend or two, and the impact is almost as immediate. "For one thing, you won't have to mow the lawn the next weekend," says Alfano.
New windows will brighten your outlook
It's amazing what new windows can do for your perspective and for your home's curb appeal. In recent years, vinyl models have dramatically improved in quality while falling in price. Although they come in only a few basic colors -- mostly white, black and beige -- they never need repainting, and their double- and even triple-pane glass makes them vastly more efficient than older windows, especially those framed in poorly insulating aluminum.
Window replacements can be done in stages. But Alfano of Remodeling magazine suggests doing at least 10 at a time, which installers can usually complete in a day.
Even better, if you install Energy Star-rated models in 2007 (examples at, you can take advantage of a $500 federal tax credit that will nearly cover the cost of the first two windows.
Sprucing up your kitchen
A kitchen remodel for under $10,000? It's doable if you head for the nearest Ikea megastore, where a set of 18 replacement cabinets will run you about $4,000 and up. Add $3,000 for installation and about $1,500 for new Formica countertops, and you'll transform your kitchen for about the cost of a fancy Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Another option is to reface your existing cabinets, leaving shelves in place but laminating exposed surfaces and replacing the doors, which can cost about a third as much as new cabinets but yield much the same result.
If you're content with your cabinets, consider investing your money in new high-efficiency appliances (you can find a list of top-rated models at Alfano says that will both improve your home's marketability and reduce your electric bill.