Some positive real estate news out of Washington

Obama 2008I’ve been reading about some great proposals that have found their way to Congress and hopefully will offer a lift to the current housing market.

The first is the reintroduction of down payment assistance.  The Nehemiah program, which was banned in October, was the oldest and largest provider of down payment assistance.  This program, like others, would help buyers purchase homes with some monetary assistance.  Bill H.R. 600 has been introduced into Congress that would help reinstate this program.  Scott Syphax, who is the CEO of the Nehemiah Corporation of America, said this, “With foreclosures on the rise and banks maintaining their stranglehold on credit, we commend Congressman Al Green for recognizing the important role down payment assistance can play in the market’s recovery. Through H.R. 600, DPA offers a simple solution that can empower thousands of worthy families to take advantage of depressed home prices therefore reducing the glut of homes on the market. Further, it does so without spending a single government or taxpayer dime according to the Congressional Budget Office. Creating opportunities for sustainable homeownership will be a cornerstone to strengthening a crumbling housing market and breathing life back into the economy. As the Obama Administration takes the reins tomorrow, we call on Congress to reach across the aisle and prioritize broadening opportunities for responsible homeownership in America by reinstating DPA.”  This could be very useful to many buyers out there.

The National Association of Realtors is hoping that all buyers, not just first-time buyers, will be eligible for a tax credit without having to repay it over time.  An evaluation was done saying if this was the case, America could see an increase in home sales by over 550,000.  The current $7500 tax credit must be repaid over 15 years.  The chief economist of the NAR, Lawrence Yun, said this new incentive could significantly reduce inventory and stabilize home prices.  He said, “The bigger the incentive, the faster housing can help pull the economy out of recession. The cost to the Treasury would be far less than the additional costs of a prolonged recession with insufficient housing stimulus.”  More on this can be read here.

Lastly, while NAR is hopeful that the Obama administration will push to jump start the housing market, they are going to continue to push for more reform.  The first is proposal H.R. 384, which is a bill called the TARP Reform and Accountability Act.  It hopes to make mortgages more available, by enacting a buy-down program to decrease interest rates and preventing foreclosures. 

NAR is also supporting the tax credit for all home buyers, and hoping to extend the deadline to purchase through December 31, 2009.  Right now, in order to qualify, first time buyers must have purchased between April, 2008 and June, 2009.  Other reforms that the NAR is pushing for can be found here.

These are all great reforms that Realtors are pushing for in Washington.  If you have any questions about this news or comments, please contact me online.

What’s in and out for home design

The International Builders show was held last week in Las Vegas.  Panels were held by top design experts as to what was now “trendy” and what was now “out.”  Here is a list of what’s not so popular anymore, according to consumer preferences.


Less popular features:
1. Fireplaces: Numbers of fireplaces in homes have been on the decline in the past few years. 
2. Carpet: Hardwood flooring seems to be the number one request by buyers in terms of flooring.  17% of new homes contain carpet throughout the entire home.
3. Living rooms: As long as there is a space for gathering, such as a family room, living rooms are being wasted or extra space, and not needed as often as they once were.
4. Desks in the kitchen: Spaces like this can become cluttered too quickly.  Consumers are preferring their own office space or larger desks near the family room where they can watch their kids.
5. Skylights: Only 10% of new homes built will contain skylights in the coming year.
6. Updated kitchens: I was surprised to learn that granite counters are becoming less desirable.  Turns out that laminate counters last a lot longer and are easy to maintain in the long run.  

More on what’s falling out of style can be found here.
 And so what seems to be the newest trends in home design?  These items are becoming more popular.
1. Lighting used as art: Lighting can be both functional and decorative.  View some examples of great pieces at Lightcrafters.
2. Outdoor living space that is an extension of the indoors: Some patios go so far as to include fireplaces, TVs, audio equipment, and artwork.
3. Decorative “natural” pieces: Since so many consumers are concerned with saving the environment, a lot of design and artwork is focused on tree designs, for example.
4. Going green: Water-efficient appliances like dishwashers and washing machines are becoming more and more trendy.  Other examples include LED lights under kitchen cabinets.
5. His and hers: Forget just closets and vanities.  Some homes are offering his and hers garages!
6. Car lifts: With lot sizes becoming smaller, consumers are looking to get the most out of their space by storing one car on top of another or descending one into a basement space as you need it. 
7. Large windows: Aside from adding in natural sunlight and decreasing energy costs, large windows can serve as the focal point of a room.
8. Wood: I love seeing homes with original woodwork that has been around for hundreds of years.  Wood in both light and dark stains is becoming more popular around doorways, baseboards, and even on ceilings.
9. Mirrors: shaker-mirror-doubleThe easiest way to make a space look larger is to put a mirror in the room.  You can almost double the size of a room in one simple step.  A decorative mirror can also be the new focal point of a room.
10. Electronics: You can’t turn around without a new electronic device on the market these days.  You’ll find iPod docking stations in kitchens and baths now.  TVs of all sizes can be found throughout the home, many of them mounted in the space.
Trends from the Builders Show can be found here.

I’d love to hear your comments about what you think is “in” and “out.”  Please post a comment or visit me online.




The best time to buy…

I happened upon a great article about the best time to buy, well, anything.  Here’s some tips on when to buy those important items for your home at the best price!

1) Air conditioners: Since they’re most used throughout homes from May-September, the best time to purchase these are in the winter.  Demand drops the most, and so do the prices.

2) Major appliances: New models hit the floors in September and October.  So to get last year’s models at a huge discount (so the stores can make room for the new ones), those are the best months to purchase.

3) Furniture: Now!  New inventory usually hits the stores in February, so January is the perfect month to buy that new couch or bedroom set you were eyeing.  July is also a great month as new inventory comes into stores in August.

4) Gas grills: Like air conditioners, grills get the most use (especially in Illinois) ducredit-cards_69ring the summer months.  If you can hold off until winter, you’ll get the best deal when it’s cold.

5) Linens and bedding: Like clothing, bargains can always be found on styles from last season.  Most retailers and catalog companies will sale their linens in January, to allow time for the new styles and colors to come out in spring.

6) Real estate: The National Association of Realtors says spring is key, because more homes come on the market to choose from and the grass is greener for stronger curb appeal.  As anxious sellers try to get rid of their homes, you might have a lot of success negotiating to your benefit during the winter months.

7) Vacuum cleaners: Most new models arrive in stores in June, so to get the best deals, April and May is the best time.  Just in time for spring cleaning.

More tips can be found in this article.
For additional information on this or other real estate news, please visit me online.


Will rising oil prices affect your home value?

Back between 1960-1990, when the Baby Boomers were younger, families with children made up more than 50% of American households.  When 2000 came around, that figure was at 33%.  In 2025, it’s expected to be as low as 25%.  A result of this is that the boom in housing prices during that 30-year period will start to slow down (if we haven’t noticed that already) and become more urban.

A shift will start to form over where new homes will be located as well as seeing a lot more different designs in homes.  Some families will still prefer large homes and luxury cars, but that number will start to dwindle as oil prices increase, Baby Boomers retire, and different needs are formed between the generational sets. 

Warren Karlenzig listed the top 10 U.S. cities being the most prepared for an oil crisis in Major US City Preparedness for an Oil Crisis.  In order of ranking:

1. San Francisco, CA
2. New York, NY
3. Chicago, IL
4. Washington, DC
5. Seattle, WA
6. Portland, OR
7. Boston, MA
8. Philadelphia, PA
9. Oakland, CA
10. Denver, CO

It’s so great to see Chicago so high on the list.  The reason for these 10 is that they all have strong transit systems, well-organized city centers, a high use of public transportation, and a high degree of different real estate uses (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.).

If commuting to work becomes too expensive, home prices could be negatively impacted.  With a new change in Washington and a stronger shift in energy conservation by individuals, hopefully the oil prices won’t affect the Chicagoland area for quite some time.

More information can be found in this article.

For additional information on this or other real estate market news, please visit me Online.


Beware of new computer virus

A new computer virus has just been released which is already affecting over 9 million users.    Here’s some information to keep your computer safe.

The worm is called Downandup, Downadup, Kido!, or Conficker and it’s hacking into computer systems via your USB port.  I’m attaching a screenshot of what might appear when you plug in a drive to your computer.  null-81169921-1232555026The top entry, under “Install or Run Programs” is the one that will install the virus.  It would probably be the default version that would pop up when you plug in the drive. 

In order to avoid this from happening to you, turn off your AutoPlay or AutoRun feature on your computer.  If this pop-up box does appear, just go ahead and remove the drive.  You’ll want to browse the drive manually for the files you need, which should prevent you from becoming infected. 

If you have Windows XP, TweakUIcan help you turn off your AutoPlay feature. 

If you’ve already been infected, use your anti-virus software to fix it.  If that doesn’t work, try F-Secure’s removal tool.

More information on this harmful virus can be found on Yahoo!’s Tech page here.

Tips for buyers and sellers for a great 2009

Even though the mortgage rates have dropped considerably and buyers are getting some great deals, there are some negatives.  First of all, the credit crunch has made it a lot harder to get low down payment programs and to qualify for extremely low rates.  Plus, buyers that got adjustable-rate mortgages are probably starting to feel the pain from those increased payments.

A 2008 survey done by Pricewaterhouse Coopers and the Urban Land Institute projected that the real estate market should start rebounding in 2010, with values starting to appreciate again.  That’s all fine and dandy, but what should buyers and sellers do NOW?

While we are in a transition year, the one between the beginning of the slide heading into what we hope is a large incline, here are some tips that can help buyers and sellers for 2009.

1) Put as much down as possible and finance as little as possible.  Past years have lent to advice on getting a low interest rate and financing as much as you could, but with loans harder and harder to obtain, buyers with cash will stay ahead of the game.

2) Negotiate deals with sellers as much as possible.  While a flat screen TV or new carpet may be a great incentive, any concessions worth money will be your best bet.  Try to get a year of homeowner’s dues paid, or even closing costs.  If you can get money for repairs or money to go towards property taxes, you’ll be much appreciative.

3) Research and budget.  Make sure you have a budget in mind before you speak to a mortgage lender.  Do not let them talk you into purchasing a home for more than you think you can afford.  This is what got so many homeowners into trouble in the past few years. 

4) Watch the foreclosure lists.  helpful_tips_bannerBanks are going to be under a crunch to get rid of all the extra homes that aren’t making them any money.  They’ll have to unload a lot quicker than they thought and for a lot less money.  This could be a great opportunity to score a deal.

1) As I mentioned in a post last week, repositioning seems to be the key now.  You have to price your home right from the beginning.  This is a not a market to test out the waters and see what kind of buyers you get from being overpriced and waiting it out.  The first 30 days on the market will get you the most attention, so make sure you’re priced correctly from the start.

2) With the competition getting stronger, curb appeal is still very important.  I’ve had many clients drive by a home and decide to not even go inside once they’ve seen the outside.  The inside could look like the Taj Mahal, but buyers will miss out if the outside isn’t an equal match.

3) Don’t overdo your remodeling.  You might not make as much money in this market or recoup your expenses by redoing your entire kitchen.  Talk to me or an agent about what you’re planning to do before listing it.  I could save you money!

Please let me know if you need some more tips, or are ready to buy or sell in this market.  I still say that now is the time to buy to get a great deal.  I can be reached via my Web site.

History in the making, progress on the way?

I had to write on President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration tomorrow.  With this history changing event, here’s hoping that the new administration will take corrective measures to fix the troubled housing market. 

During Obama’s campaign, he spoke about making the housing industry one of his top priorities once he was elected into office.  He knew that homeowners have lost 20 percent of the value in their homes and they were having a hard time keeping up with their mortgage payments.  He campaigned on helping homeowners stay in their homes and trying to avoid raising taxes. 

One of his goals was to instruct the secretary of HUD and the secretary of the Treasury to to modify mortgage terms, create a universal tax credit, and make sure that loan disclosures were completely accurate. 

Realtors are finding that one of the problems keeping inventory levels up is the delay many banks have to negotiate offers on homes that have already been foreclosed on or are in short sale situations.  So if banks moved a little quicker and didn’t sit on hot offers, the market might turn around in a faster manner and we could move some of the inventory out.

The National Association of Realtors is hoping that Obama will also focus on the stimulus plan that includes conforming loan limits for areas with higher housing costs, homebuyer tax credits (not just for first-time buyers), and a federal buy down of mortgage interest rates.

Obama spoke to Realtor magazine in the fall and said that he wanted to create a $10 billion foreclosure prevention fund that will help homeowners facing foreclosure to renegotiate their terms with their current lenders or list their homes for sale. 

Analysts are predicting that with the new Obama administration and Congress being controlled by the Democrats, that Washington will begin to focus on reform in the housing industry.  Here’s hoping!!

For comments on this blog or any other questions, please contact me at my Web site.barack-obama-for-president

Be open-minded in today’s market

I read a great article in today’s Sun Times.  It focuses on Chicagoland sellers, and how they must be open-minded about “repositioning” their homes for the changes in the housing market.  For example, let’s say Seller A lists his home for $200,000 and he has the nicest, newest, most immaculate home in the neighborhood.  He’s priced just under the comps to get a quick sale.  Then, within the next 2 weeks, Seller B and Seller C and Seller D all decide to list their homes too.  They live in the same neighborhood as Seller A.  They list their homes at $190,000, $195,000 and $198,000.  Now Seller A is probably not in the best position to sell.  Seller A needs to look at “repositioning,” gauging a seller’s motivation to find the right price point.


The most motivated sellers need to sit down with their Realtors every 2-3 weeks to look at the most recent data, even the homes that haven’t yet sold.  For less motivated sellers, every 60-90 days is standard.  Data must be collected in as near a time frame as possible.  Going out more than 90 days might not be the most accurate given the current conditions.

Once the data is viewed, the sellers must determine how they want to proceed.  Lower their price?  Sit tight and be patient?  Some sellers offer incentives like paid closing costs for buyers or throwing in a new TV or appliance.  Repairs might have to be made if you’re not willing to drop your price.  Others might decide it’s best to just take their home off the market.  This market is not meant for sellers just to pick a price and see what happens.  There’s too many other motivated sellers out there.

Key points to consider:
1) Make sure your home is in showing condition at all times.  You could lose that one buyer because you forgot to put yesterday’s laundry away. 
2) Make sure your photo is in its best condition when your Realtor comes to take photos.  Virtual showings are driving the buyers to come physically see the home.  If it doesn’t show pretty online, you could miss out.
3) Be patient!  Homes are taking a lot longer to sell than they did in the last few years.  Market times have rapidly increased, so even though your neighbor’s home sold in 3 weeks 3 years ago, that’s no longer the case.

To read the entire article, click here.

For more tips, or to get a free market analysis on the best price for your home, visit my Web site.

Federal tax credits for energy efficiency improvements

unclesam_2hIn my post earlier this week I was talking about improving air quality in your home.  Many of my posts have included tips on saving money while also making your home energy efficient.  Well, great news I saw today is that the government is now offering Federal tax credits for improvements to your home that make it more energy efficient!  So now you get another bonus on top of saving money on your regular bills.

These home improvement credits are for improvements placed in the home from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.  Unfortunately, at the current time, no improvements made during 2008 are eligible. 

The Energy Star Web site offers full descriptions of what’s covered and the maximum credits.  They will also link you to the IRS page for more detailed information. 

Types of improvements that are eligible include: insulation, exterior doors and windows, skylights, metal and asphalt roofs, HVAC units, water heaters, and solar energy systems.  As a reminder, all these items have to be rated as energy efficient, which tends to cost more than the standard models.  Energy Star lists this disclaimer: **Please note, not all ENERGY STAR qualified homes and products qualify for a tax credit. These tax credits are available for a number of products at the highest efficiency levels, which typically cost much more than standard products. If, for whatever reason, you decide not to purchase a product covered by the tax credit, you may still consider purchasing an ENERGY STAR product. ENERGY STAR distinguishes energy efficient products which, although they may cost more to purchase than standard models, will pay you back in lower energy bills within a reasonable amount of time, without a tax credit.

In 2009, if you purchase a Hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, or fuel cell vehicle, you may also be eligible for a credit.

Please consult with a certified accountant to get full details as well as check out the above Web site.

Ready to sell your home?  Purchase another?  Visit my Web site.

Improving air quality in your home

coughingAs the temperatures in the Chicago area plunge to new lows again this week, we’ve talked about how best to save money in the winter months.  This post is going to be about working on saving money while still improving the air quality in your home.  Sometimes saving money means poorer air quality circulating throughout your home. 

As temperatures drop, many of us spend more time indoors than outdoors.  Studies have shown that indoor air is up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and asthma has been on the rise for the last 20 years.

In order to improve indoor air, steps need to be taken to filter it to remove the impossible to see particles, adjusting the indoor temperature to create a consistent environment, and maintaining a nice level of humidity so the air isn’t too wet or too dry.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends indoor air temperatures between 68 and 75 degrees.  They also recommend a humidity level of between 30 and 60 percent.  Try to be consistent with temperature, rather than having cold or hot spots in different areas of the house.  A programmable thermostat can still help maintain this temperature while you’re gone, therefore saving money.  With warmer thermostat settings, air can tend to dry out, causing dry skin and cracked drywall.  This is where introducing a humidifier can be helpful.

You’ll want to set your humidifier and de-humidifier (if you have both) to work in concert, rather than against each other.  Try to find products that release low or no volatile organic compounds into the air. 

If you are doing upgrades to your home this winter, the Illinois Department of Public Health also has recommendations for allowing items to dry or sit before other items are installed.  From their Web site: “Dry” furnishings and materials such as carpeting, tile, textiles and wood products, when appropriate, should be allowed to “air-out” for a minimum of three days before installation, or until there is no noticeable odor or irritation. “Wet” materials, such as adhesives, glazes, caulks and paints, should be used sparingly. “Dry” furnishing materials should not be installed until “wet” materials have been allowed to dry.

Feel free to contact me at my Web site if you have further questions.