Teaching appraisers Solar 101…

Here’s what appraisers need to know about solar power

California and Northeast boom in solar power projects

sunny day

Solar-power projects are taking on a bigger role in housing as more investors and innovators help make it more affordable.

Most recently, SolarCity (SCTY) announced that it has created a new investment program with Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) to finance an estimated $400 million in solar power projects in 2014 and 2015.

As a result, thousands of American homeowners will be able to install solar panels with no upfront cost and pay less for solar electricity than they currently pay for utility power.

But as solar energy has gained prominence, appraisers have been left to figure out how to properly assess the value of the technology.

“It will take a while for people to come to understand the system,” said Sandra Adomatis, SRA, LEED Green Associate.

And with the emergence of solar features in homes, the Appraisal Institute has developed a Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum, which is a new tool in green home marketing. The Addendum is a high-performance communication tool that standardizes terms for lenders, appraisers, real estate agents, and homeowners, making it easier for all parties to understand the benefits and value of the high-performance homes.

Adomatis explained that although not all appraisers are jumping on board to learn more about solar features yet, they are in the areas that solar energy is booming.

How much a homeowner will make back by having solar power features depends significantly on location, she explained. If a homeowner’s electric rate is above the regular 11 or 12 cents for a kilowatt-hour, there can definitely be value in the system.

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Is home-buying your New Year’s Resolution?

At the start of a new year, many real estate agents’ phones begin ringing with calls from potential buyers who want to get in the market. If buying a home is on your agenda for 2015, now’s the time to begin working toward your goal. Here’s a guide to the home buying experience to get you started.

The dreaming phase

We are all more connected than ever, which makes researching a new home easy and convenient. The dreaming phase — which has no definitive start time or length — means thinking about what you want in a home, exploring neighborhoods and casting the widest net possible.

This phase includes looking at photos of homes online, comparing and contrasting listings or prices per square foot and understanding the price differential between two school districts.

Dreaming happens on your terms and your timing. It doesn’t require help from a real estate agent or mortgage professional. It’s a good time for you to play around with the market, start to get the real estate bug and develop a feel for what could be a reality in the future. Don’t rush, and don’t feel pressured.

Search and discovery mode

When you feel ready to make a reality of the dreaming phase, it’s time to move the process along. Search and discovery allows you to get the facts, build your team and begin to amass a strong approach to pushing ahead. Connect with a local real estate agent and a mortgage lender to get started.

Typically, buyers meet with a real estate agent first, who then refers them to a good local mortgage professional. Connecting with an agent means asking lots of questions about how the market works, school districts and the home buying process in general.

In the dreaming phase, you don’t know what you don’t know. But during search and discovery, you’ll start gathering solid information. A mortgage professional will run some numbers and do a full review of your finances, including pulling your credit. They will marry that data with available loans in the market and teach you about the different loan options.

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Shoe lovers, eat your heart out!

America’s Three-Story Dream Closet is for Sale


Sometimes achieving your dream is a prelude to a sort of emptiness. Could that be why Theresa Roemer is selling the three-story closet she spent $500K building? The one that got her on Good Morning America? Maybe she just ran out of closet space. (UPDATE: She wants her next closet to be twice the size of this one.)

At times like these, it’s hard for a house blogger to know how to feel. On the one hand, there’s the obvious vicarious excitement one feels for the next owner of this 3,000-square-foot walk-in-with-six-of-your-best-friends closet, which has a champagne bar to help you get dressed, and a clothing database for tipsily perusing all that you own. On the other, it’s a shame to see someone ready to part with their dream; one that once, on its pristine white shelves, showcased a $2M wardrobe that included 60 Birkin bags and 75 pairs of Louboutins.



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How to keep your indoor greens healthy & happy this winter…

Even though your plant resides in a pot indoors, it’s still keenly aware of the seasons. With shorter days, drier air and cooler temperatures, winter is perhaps the most challenging time a year for houseplants.

The trick to helping plants endure the harsher conditions is simply modifying your care routine. Check out these tips to keep houseplants happy and alive this winter.

Limit watering


Considering their growth rate is significantly slower during the winter, plants do not require as much water. Test the soil by putting your finger about one inch into the soil. If it feels dry, the plant needs a good soaking. Be sure to use lukewarm water.

Try a new window

From summer to winter, the angle of the sun changes, so place your plants near a different window for the season. You can also wash the window glass, inside and out, to help let in more light. Don’t forget to rotate the plants every so often to make sure they receive light evenly on all sides.

No food necessary

Because plants grow very little during the winter, fertilization is not necessary during these months. It’s best to withhold food until spring, when the days are much longer and the sun is stronger. Resume weekly feedings closer to spring to give plants a boost.

A good cleaning

Dusty leaves can clog pores, making it difficult for plants to fully absorb essential nutrients. Using a damp cloth, wipe the leaves to get rid of any dust or debris. A thorough cleaning will also help get rid of any unwanted pests.

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FHA remains a great financing option…

New FHA administrative fee defeated in Congress

CMLA lead opposition to costly 4bp fee on mortgage lenders


A provision in Senate Bill 2438 that would have allowed the Federal Housing Administration to charge a 4 bp administrative fee has been formally dropped from the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

The provision contained in the Senate bill would have assessed the fee on lenders, costing $40 for every $100,000 borrowed.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had been negotiating to get the proposed hike into the House version of the spending bill, but after the alarm was raised by the Community Mortgage Lenders Association and others it was dropped, HousingWire has confirmed.

“[CMLA] is pleased to have succeeded in blocking additional costs for borrowers seeking FHA-insured mortgages next year and the lenders who will originate those loans. Mid-sized and small community-based lenders help many consumers, particularly first-time buyers, to realize their homeownership aspirations with FHA-insured mortgages,” said CMLA Chair Paulina McGrath said. “The last thing that those consumers, and the lenders who serve them, needed were additional fees that increased the cost of their home loans. We are proud to have taken a principled stand opposing these fees, for the benefit of consumers and the mid-sized and small lenders who serve their financing needs.”

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Marsala: It’s not just for chicken this year!

Over the past month, some of our favorite paint manufacturers have announced their top colors for the new year. Kelly Moore touts the vibrant blue of its Coast Surf, Sherwin Williams goes preppy and powerful with Coral Reef, Benjamin Moore brings on the soft organic tone of Guilford Green and Pittsburgh Paints flaunts bold and bohemian Blue Paisley for 2015.

Meanwhile, Pantone, the design industry’s color authority, has chosen its own Color of the Year for 2015: Marsala, an earthy reddish-brown shade.

Marsala “has an organic and sophisticated air,” says Pantone’s Leatrice Eiseman. The color imparts “a vintage but neutral feel, which evokes pleasant memories.”

Eager to apply this hot new color to your interior? Here are a variety of ways to incorporate it.

As an accent

A splash of Marsala’s earthy hue may be just the trick for freshening your interior space. Consider a pillow, lamp or side chair to put you right on trend for the new year. Marsala’s soft lipstick-like shade is effortlessly set off by gray, white and navy blue backdrops.

Source: Zillow Digs

As an anchor

With a more neutral interior, Marsala can be used to anchor a space by incorporating an area rug or upholstered wall in a room. The rich, yet unpretentious shade can warm a space that may otherwise feel uninteresting.

Source: Zillow Digs

Dear First Time Homebuyers We’re on your side!

Realtors push for more policies to boost first-time homebuyers

NAR: Congress, White House must do more for housing

stormy congress

Congress and the administration must address key policy issues in order to facilitate a healthy real estate market that serves current and future homeowners and drives the national economy forward, the National Association of Realtors told the U.S. Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing on Monday.

“The housing market hasn’t been this unwelcoming to first-time buyers since 1987,” said 2014 NAR Conventional Finance and Lending Committee Chair Mabel Guzman, broker for AT-Properties in Chicago. “Tight credit, high fees and low inventory have combined to make it prohibitively expensive for millions of responsible, creditworthy prospective buyers to own a home. If this is the direction that the housing market is taking, we’re headed down the wrong path.”

While home prices and sales, as well as household wealth, are all up from a year ago, constrained access to mortgage credit for minorities, young buyers, and low-and moderate-income earners remains a serious problem, Realtors argue.

NAR says that restrictive pricing policies at the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Housing Finance Agency continue to disparately impact individuals with shorter credit histories and lower down payments, making it harder for them to buy a home.

If this has a familiar ring to it, there’s a reason.

NAR estimates that in 2013, nearly 400,000 creditworthy borrowers were priced out of the housing market because of high FHA insurance premiums.

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Renters are homeowners-to-be!

Renters see Selves as Homeowners-in-Waiting

While the dream of homeownership has been sidelined for many, it appears to have not been derailed.   Freddie Mac says the responses of renters to a recent survey it conducted shows that many are struggling financially but they still hope to buy a home.  Eventually.

Freddie Mac surveyed 2,044 adults in August.  The total included 672 and the report issued by the company this week relies primarily on the perceptions of that subgroup about renting in the post financial crisis marketplace.  This is the first in what the company says will be a quarterly series of surveys “to learn about renters’ preferences towards the housing choices available to them, the constraints preventing them from obtaining housing that they think would better suit their needs, and the drivers for their decisions.”  Except for the financial situation information directly below all data refers only to responses from the survey subset of renters.

Many renters say they tend to live payday to payday; 45 percent say they have just enough money to get by and 17 percent say they run out of money for basics, like food and housing before the next payday. However, only 38 percent of homeowners indicated a similar financial hardship.

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Stay warm while staying green…

How To Heat Your Home While Staying Green

modern lodge fireplace How To Heat Your Home While Staying Green

No matter what part of the world you live in, heating costs can be astronomical during the winter or chilly months. Aside from breaking your budget, typical heating solutions are not necessarily good for the environment either.

Traditional heating methods consist of using fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas. Not only are the costs to harvest these fossil fuels high, but so is the damage they cause on the environment.

In fact, using the earth’s fossil fuels as a means of heating has a negative impact in more than one area. This includes global warming, increased risk of oil spills, air pollution, and increased amounts of acid rain, all of which are detrimental to the environment.

Fortunately, there are green, or environmentally friendly solutions for heating your home during the chilly times of year.

Your options consist of geothermal heating, pellet stoves, solar heating, and masonry heaters. Let’s learn more about each type of heating that can help you make the decision on the best way to heat your home while staying green.

modern wood stove How To Heat Your Home While Staying Green

Geothermal Heating – An Efficient & Green Solution

According to Energy Star reports, geothermal heating is the most environmentally friendly and efficient way to heat your home. This does require, however, an upfront investment into a geothermal heating system.

This type of system literally means ‘earth heat’ and uses the constant temperature of the earth to heat your home. A typical heating system uses outside air, wherein the colder the air temperature outside, the more energy is needed to heat up the inside air.

When it comes to down payments, bigger is better…

6 Reasons to Make a Bigger Down Payment on Your Home

House and Money with Pad and Pen
Andy Dean/Getty Images

Deciding how much of a down payment to make when buying a home can be a challenge — and it can make a big difference in how much your ultimately home costs. The amount of money you pay up front determines how much your mortgage payment is. If you can afford to make a down payment that is larger than average on a home, should you do it? Check out the reasons you may want to make a substantial down payment.

1. Easier Approval

Affording a large down payment is a sign of borrower strength and shows lenders that you know how to save. Since this is one of the best indicators of creditworthiness, you are more likely to get approved for a mortgage with a larger down payment. Further, if you are in a multiple-offer situation, offering the seller more money up front can be the key to outbidding other prospective buyers.

2. A Lower Interest Rate

Banks and lenders usually offer better interest rates when your loan-to-value ratio is lower. An increase in your down payment lowers this ratio and also lowers the lender’s risk. Lower interest rates can save you significant amounts of money over the life of a mortgage. (You can get an idea of how rates affect what you pay over time with this lifetime cost of credit tool.)

The other major factor in lowering your interest rate is your credit score, so make sure you know where you stand before you apply for a loan. You can see two of your credit scores free every month on Credit.com.

3. Lower Monthly Payments

A bigger down payment means a smaller mortgage amount, which means lower monthly payments. This means more money in your monthly budget for the other facets of your life and again, fewer dollars of interest paid over time.

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