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


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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.

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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.