Rethinking seasonal home sales…

Winter Real Estate Blues are a Thing of the Past

Mike Wheatley, The Seattle PI, November 25, 2011

The way things used to work was that real estate agents would often recommend against winter home sales, and advise their clients to take their properties off the market over the winter months in order to “freshen things up” and get the home ready for spring when more buyers would be on the lookout.

But that was the old way of doing things. According to Sam DeBord of SeattleHome.com and Coldwell Banker Danforth, any agent advising this practice now is making a serious error. If you want to sell your home, you should leave it on the market at all costs.

These days, freezing cold weather, holidays and a lack of daylight hours are not stopping prospective buyers from getting out there and searching. 90% of buyers actually do their house-hunting online anyway, and many more are quite happy to drive around neighborhoods they’re interested in and seek out listed homes, come wind rain or shine.

Also – and this is very important for anyone desperate to sell – during winter there will be significantly less competition.  So even though there are traditionally less home sales in winter than other seasons, when these are equated to the reduced inventory on the market, it’s likely that your home still has the same chance of being snapped up as it would in warmer weather.

So the moral behind this story is a rather simple one. If you really want to sell, then sell!

TARP on the Lookout: The Federal Government Shuts Down Mortgage Relief Scams

You may not have heard of it, but it’s watching out for you: TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The federal government created TARP to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse and to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen its financial sector. Signed into law by George W Bush in 2008, TARP was a response to the subprime mortgage crisis. While its success has long been under questions, TARP has in fact seen some success lately. To date, “of the total $700 billion bailout money, banks, other financial institutions and U.S. carmakers received $413.4 billion, of which, about 77% (nearly $317.6 billion) has been recovered by the government” (see article).

Along with focusing on helping struggling financial institutions, TARP also acts as a kind of consumer watchdog. This week, TARP shut down hundreds of shady relief sites that advertise on large search engines. To bolster their efforts, Google has since suspended relationships with 500 advertisers and agents linked to the online mortgage fraud scams that advertised on its search engine and Microsoft, for its part, cut off 400 advertisers this week. Purchasing certain search words like “foreclosure assistance” and “loan modification,” these groups seek out distressed homeowners as they search online for guidance (see article).

These scams can target homeowners in a number of ways: they can require up-front fees for supposed assistance and, in extreme cases, they advise borrowers to cease paying their loans and cut communication with their lenders. Often claiming to be associated with government agencies, these scams can lead to thousands of dollars in losses and credit issues for homeowners who fall prey to them.

Should you be searching for assistance with your loan, be wary of what you find in your searches. Make sure to do your due diligence and check out any groups claiming to offer help. Consult your Realtor, lender or banker before committing to anything and always be wary of anyone requiring money up front.

For further assistance, the government has set up a hotline to answer questions and offer guidance to distressed homeowners; for more information, call the Hope Hotline at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) or go online to http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/pages/default.aspx.

Take note – Your water bill will be a bit higher from here on in.

Water bills are going up

Delores Fox Ciardelli, Pleasanton Weekly, November 8, 2011

Water bills are going up for residents in Zone 7, which includes Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and the Dougherty Valley portion of San Ramon. A 5% increase approved Oct. 19 should translate into an additional $1.88 to the monthly water bills of typical households.

Board members said the raise in rates will ensure reliable service and establish funding for infrastructure investments. The district is also setting aside fund for water-quality improvements such as taste- and odor-control projects and demineralization to reduce water hardness.

The rate increase was necessary, in part, to maintain Zone 7’s 40 miles of pipeline, nine municipal wells, three water treatment plants and a groundwater demineralization facility, all of which were built more than 40 years ago.

“In this period of tight budgets, Zone 7 continues to maintain a high level of service while achieving cost-efficiencies in operations and maintenance,” Board President Sandy Figuers said.

Efficiency measures include a soft hiring freeze, employee benefit and cost-of living wage concessions and lowered costs of outside contracts by using more-house resources. The district has also reduced chemical costs by participating in the Bay Area Chemical Consortium.

The board considered raising rates up to 10% but decided on the 5% to help out its ratepayers in these difficult economic times. All of the board members emphasized that, while nobody likes a rate increase, a minimal level was necessary to avoid a spike next year when still the economy may be bad.

Zone 7’s operating budgets for this fiscal year and for 2012-13 are $2.2 million and $2.5 million, respectively, less than for 2010-11, the board reported.

Keep Your Home California program expands…

In 2010, the federal government named California as among the top 18 states hardest hit by the market downturn. In an effort to curtail Californians losing their homes, the government created what is now the Keep Your Home California program, which was developed in collaboration with numerous community partners, foreclosure counselors, housing advocates and others directly involved in helping struggling homeowners.

Recently, Keep Your Home California has expanded its eligibility to different types of distressed homeowners. It has officially expanded its service to include aid to homeowners who raised cash through refinancing, who have second homes and who have been unemployed longer than six months. They have also extended the limit from six months to nine months for financial aid to those with mortgages of up to $3,000. For homeowners who received cash for refinancing their homes, they are now eligible for a reduction in their loans by $50,000 in order to help make their monthly payments more affordable with the Principal Reduction Program. Also available is a $5,000 stipend to help those relocating after opting for a deed in lieu or short sale through the Transition Assistance Program.

$2 billion strong, this program has already helped nearly 8,000 homeowners and Keep Your Home California is looking to make that number even larger. According to The Press-Enterprise,  “almost 50 mortgage servicers now participate and together they represent more than 85 percent of mortgages in the state” (see article). Business Wire quotes “This expanded eligibility will allow more families to qualify and receive greater assistance,” said Claudia Cappio, Executive Director of the California Housing Finance Agency. “We are continuously evaluating our experience so far and making adjustments like these based on the initial results of the Keep Your Home California program” (see article).

Since the program’s inception, it has been steadily increasing its aid potential with greater funds and an extended reach. In order for homeowners to be eligible, their lenders must be participating in the program so that along with more funds, Keep Your Home California is seeking to expand its lender participation.This program is not just about handing out cash, however, as it offers counseling, financial events and other resources to help educate distressed homeowners about their options.

Should you have any questions about this program, look here:

888.954.KEEP(5337) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, or visit their site here.

Holiday House-Selling: Tips to Listing Your Home in Winter

So Winter is sometimes considered not the ideal time to list your home, but there’s still much opportunity for attracting buyers out there. Here are some tips to turning a holiday listing into a successful sale:

1) Keep your home in tip-top shape.

Now this advice for any time of year, but with the harsh Winter conditions it’s even more critical that you pay attention to the greenery, lawn, gutters, and any other portion of your home that is exposed to inclimate weather. Make sure to rake the leaves and keep driveways clear of any falling tree debris. Should it snow, take extra care to shovel the pathways so that buyers can tour your house safely.

2) Tone it down with the holiday decorations.

This is not to say that you should forgo any of the fun of holiday decorations, but think about white lights instead of color. Consider keeping the plastic reindeer in the shed this year. On the interior, keep the nutcrackers, mistletoe and granny’s life-size elf doll to a minimum. Anything that makes the home seem too themed can distract from the buyer’s vision of themselves in the home.

3) Think cozy.

Staging a home in winter should appeal to those parts of colder weather that make home the place to be. According to Loren Keim, a  professor of real estate at Lehigh University. “If you have a vacant house in winter with the heat turned down to 50, chances are someone will make a very low offer,” he says. “And if you can leave at least a few pieces of furniture behind, it has more of an impact.” Make the home a refuge from the outside and an inviting space that will make the buyer want to stay and enjoy a hot chocolate.

4) Keep it light.

Natural light is a selling point for any house; unfortunately there’s not a lot of it come Wintertime. To offset the gloomier weather, opt for extra lamps and ensure when buyers come through that all lights are on and window shades open. Also keep a few lights on when you’re not there; potential buyers are driving around all the time and a dark, empty house is far less appealing than a glowing one.

Should you keep these tips in mind, listing during the Winter season doesn’t need to be unseasonable. In fact, there’s nothing like cold weather to make people want to stay at home; make sure you do everything you can to make sure that it’s yours they decide to stay in!

You’ll feel like a movie star in this home theater!

Price Reduced! The home theater in this gorgeous custom home is just one of its many special features. This 4 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom home was completely rebuilt in 2005. Boasting traditional styling coupled with contemporary amenities and high tech features, this home was meticulously and thoughtfully designed by the current owners. With generously sized rooms and living areas, the 3825 +/- sq. ft. residence sits on an expansive 19291+/- sq. ft. lot featuring a private, oasis style backyard with pool and built-in BBQ. Close to Historic Downtown Pleasanton, this home is located in the desirable Vintage Hills neighborhood, with proximity to top rated schools, 580 and 680 Freeways and approximately 30 Minutes to Oakland International Airport.

Now offered at 1,400,000

1320 Bordeaux Street, Pleasanton 94566

Shown by appointment only.

See virtual tour.

Own vs. Rent: A Rebuttal

In an editorial responding to a question from a CNN Money reader that asked…

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — For the last three years, my husband and I have been renting a house. But I would rather buy than throw my money away on rent. Still, even though we have about $120,000 in savings, great credit and no debt, my husband is reluctant. The job he’s had the past two years took 15 months to find, and it pays a lot less than his previous job. He’s afraid buying now isn’t a good idea because of the shaky economy. What do you think: Should we buy or continue renting? — Jean J.

Contributing writer, Walter Updegrave, responded…

First things first, I want to dispel the belief that you are throwing money away on rent.

This is a self-serving notion real estate agents often spout that not only isn’t true, but isn’t a basis for making a rational decision when it comes to buying versus renting.

Fact is, when you rent, you are buying. You’re buying a service: the use of a house for a specified period of time. And as long as the rent you’re paying is in line with what others are paying for comparable digs, then you’re getting that service at the market rate.

Granted, you don’t have some of the potential plusses of ownership, such as seeing the value of your home climb over the years. But renting has other advantages. You can move more easily, and you’re not on the hook for real estate taxes and upkeep. And the money that would have gone into your house can be spent on other things or go into other assets.

___________________________________________________________________________

Here, Mr. Updegrave claims that the idea of home ownership is an agenda pushed by “self-serving real estate agents.” However, this is an extreme distortion of the facts. If Mr. Updegrave has an issue with the notion of “throwing money away on rent,” he goes on to admit that in fact you don’t have the advantages you would have should you have used your cash to purchase a home. So, in fact, the issue is not perhaps an either/or proposition, but rather a question of where your resources are best allocated.

Any professional Realtor will tell you that not everyone is in an optimal position to buy, but should one be in such a position, buying a home continues to be a solid investment, despite all the nay-saying and barrage of dismal news the media projects at us daily. One of the core institutions in our country is the ideal of home ownership; rough economies and uncertain times have done little to alter the foundation of this institution in reality, despite the doomsday rhetoric.

And if you’re looking for more proof, take it from some of our country’s top economic advisers; for instance, Warren Buffett says that his home was the third best investment he ever made (see article). The powerful lobby, NAR, says that: “The vast majority of both home owners and renters say that owning a home is a smart decision over the long term. Even in today’s challenging economy, 95% of owners and 72% of renters believe that over a period of several years, it makes more sense to own a home” (see article). In addition, Inman news points to “the results of a biannual survey, released this week by real estate search and marketing portal Trulia, [that] found that 80 percent of homeowners plan to buy another home, and that most survey participants view homeownership, and placing money in a 401(k) or other retirement account, as the best long-term investments” (see article). This data speaks also to the fact that with the current market trends, rents are skyrocketing while the cost of purchasing a home is still in decline.

Underlying the arguments for home ownership is also a quality of life issue. Buffett says that: “For the $31,500 I paid for our house, my family and I gained 52 years of terrific memories with more to come” (see article). As well, “An overwhelming majority of home owners are happy with their decision to own a home. A full 93% of owners surveyed would buy again” (see article). In the end, then, we have not only the support of financial data to show us that buying a home, when done correctly, is a solid investing decision but also the question of affect, as we are so often reminded; indeed home is where the heart is, there’s no place like home.

After the past few years, buying or renting can quickly turn into a fear-based decision; the news tells us constantly about crumbling markets, downturns and double dips. But when it comes to what is for most people the largest financial investments of their lives, it’s best to delve deeper, past the rhetoric, and look at the facts. The facts are that buying a home today is a far more accessible and sensible option than it has been in decades, what with inventories, prices and available interest rates, and that such a financial environment is the perfect opportunity to make a prudent investment in both your financial future as well as your emotional one.

To find out whether you should be buying or renting, check out this interactive chart.