Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Decade - A 7 Minute review

The end of 2009 is also the end of the first decade of the century - and that makes it a good time to get some perspective on the last 10 years.

This video, courtesy of our friends at Newsweek that gives you a quick overview of the decade - it might surprise you to realize that even something as ubiquitous as the Ipod is less than 10 years old.. seems like those white earbuds have been around forever doesn't it?

Anyway, here's best wishes from our family to yours,for a better decade ahead!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kepping A Front-Loading Washing Machine Free of Mildew Smells

Front-loading washing machine.Image via Wikipedia

The front-loading washing machine is a popular home appliance choice. As compared to its top-loading counterpart, a front-loader can handle larger clothing loads, is gentler on garments, and uses about 1/3 less water. In situations where stacking the washer and dryer is needed, the front loader is the winner.

However, because its design prevents water from fully draining, a front-loading washer can be a haven for mold and bacteria if not cared for properly. I have a front loader in my second home, and even though I leave the door open after use to dry it out, there sometimes persists and odor. It's the story the salesman doesn't often talk about and is the reason why products like Affresh exist. An all natural product is which can be ordered online or bought locally.

If you own a front-loading, here's some steps to keep in-washer mildew at bay and your clothes smelling fresh.

  1. Leave the door slightly open after every cycle. This allows water to evaporate.

  2. Use low-sudsing, high-efficiency detergent. If your local store doesn't carry it, try Amazon.

  3. Every week, pull back the rubber seal and wipe the inner ring with a cloth.

  4. Clean the drain pump filter monthly, at least.

  5. Run a bleach-and-hot-water cycle monthly, at least.

Front-loaders are good products, but require special care. Follow the steps above and your washer should remain mildew- and mold-free.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Better Housing News Flashes - From 1935

75 Years ago, in 1935 a suffering housing market was being returned to normal through a new housing stimulus package based upon the creation of the Federal Housing Administration and the use of mortgage products that allowed people to pay off the debt during the term of the loan.

From the Internet Archive's Prelinger Archives comes this reminder that housing always recovers first, and that even in times that seem to be challenging financially, recovery begins when people take advantage of new programs to get the benefits of home ownership.

I hope you enjoy this film as much as I did - whether its watching the construction process, the latest amenities in the house (like the built-in ironing board and cabinets in the kitchen) or the billboard at the end showing the price, down payment and monthly payments for a new detached single family home - and remember, 75 years from now people may be just as amazed at the values in our housing market!

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Friday, December 25, 2009

A Holiday Treat - Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

Over 60 years ago, this classic song was made into a] Christmas Cartoon Classic by Max Fleischer who is perhaps best known for Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and the famous Superman comics staring Bud Collier in the role of Clark Kent/Superman.

From a kinder and gentler age, perhaps you'll find some memory of your childhood, or maybe you can show this to one of the children in your family and create some new memories.

In any case, whether Christmas is your holiday, or you just enjoy the season and the spirit of giving as I do, please enjoy.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Holiday Message

From my childhood - a Holiday message by R.O. Blechman for CBS created in 1966 - at a time when we bemoaned the commercial nature of the holiday without knowing how much more commercial it was going to get - Have a wonderful Holiday - enjoy your time with your family whether you're spending it at a traditional Christmas dinner or going to the movies and having Chinese food - This time of year is about family and rebirth - old times and new beginnings

Best Wishes to you and your family from me and mine!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Simple Explanation of the Last Federal Reserve Statement

Modern-day meeting of the Federal Open Market ...Image via Wikipedia

The Federal Open Market Committee voted last week to leave the Fed Funds Rate within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that the U.S. economy "has continued to pick up", that the jobs markets is getting better, and that housing market has shown "some signs of improvement" lately.

It's the fourth straight statement in which the Fed speaks optimistically about the U.S. economy -- a signal that the worst of the recession is likely behind us. Which doesn't mean that things are better, just that they are getting better.

Just as there was speculation about the end of the last "boom" before the impact of that end was felt, there is always a lot of conversation about recovery before its impact is completely felt. People who are struggling now may be feeling some relief, but they may continue to struggle for a while longer - though they can do so feeling that things are getting better, and should continue to do so.

The economy isn't without threats, however, and the Fed identified several, including:

  1. Tight credit conditions for consumers

  2. Businesses are reluctant to hire new workers

  3. Lower overall housing wealth

The impact of each is obvious. Without more liquid credit, larger purchases like homes, cars, and business equipment may be stalled (or at least slowed) even though the demand or need for those purchases is growing. Until more people are employed, many families will be more conservative in their spending, delaying some of the benefits of the recovery. And finally, with less equity in their homes, people have a harder time releasing that equity for education, purchases, or opening new businesses. At least in our market area, since our price adjustments have been very moderate in comparison to the national averages, people have not lost as much housing wealth as in other parts of the country.

The message's overall tone remained positive, however and inflation appears to be held in check.

Also in its statement, the Fed confirmed its plan to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent "for an extended period" and to honor its $1.25 trillion commitment to the mortgage bond market. That plan -- due to expire at the end of March 2010 -- should be noted by today's homebuyers. Fed insiders estimate that the program suppressed rates by 1 percent through 2009.

Mortgage market reaction to the Fed press release is negative. Mortgage rates aincreased after the annoucnement.

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is January 26-27, 2010.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Fannie Mae Makes it Tougher for Buyers - Again!

Being approved for a mortgage is getting tougherFannie Mae raised the bar for mortgage applicants last weekend. Getting approved for a home loan just got harder, as if loan liquidity weren't already the biggest problem facing home buyers.

In its official announcement, Fannie Mae says the updates minimize long-term lending risks. If that's the case, this won't be the last guideline change Fannie Mae makes -- especially with loans defaulting at an above-normal clip.

The immediate changes are major. The first pertains to credit scores.

Effective December 13, 2009, the bulk of Fannie Mae's loans require a 620 credit score minimum. There are very few exceptions. As a result, buyers with damaged credit may need to make repairs to their credit to qualify.

A second relates to loans with private mortgage insurance.

Homeowners whose loan-to-value exceeds 80 percent now have a choice:

  1. Pay higher mortgage insurance premiums month-after-month

  2. Pay a one-time fee paid at closing to compensate for higher risk

Both options result in higher consumer loan costs. This change probably has less impact since rates are so low, the monthly increase will probably be bearable for buyers, though it does result in less "bang for the buck" in the new loan - since the total payment is the target for most buyers, the increase in the amount of PMI means a decrease in the portion of the payment needed to handle the actual loan.

A third change concerns maximum debt-to-income ratio. Fannie Mae will no longer approve loans with debt ratios exceeding 45 percent except with very strong assets and very high credit scores.

In no case whatsoever may debt-to-income exceed 50 percent.

There are other changes, too, including the elimination of seldom-used mortgage products and additional risk-based fees for "expanded level" mortgage approvals. These updates affect just a small part of the population.

The National Association of REALTORS took a lot of heat from people who thought their ad campaign "There's Never Been a Better Time to Buy a Home" was too optimistic. However, the ad campaign may have been nothing but the truth. Home prices are rebounding, mortgage rates are low, and -- for 5 more months at least -- there's a federal tax credit for qualified buyers. You don't have to buy a home now, but with mortgage guidelines sure to tighten in 2010, now may be a better time than later.

The best "deal" won't matter if you can't get qualified on your mortgage.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Simple Real Estate Definitions :APR

APR on Reg ZAPR is an acronym for Annual Percentage Rate.  It's a government-mandated calculation meant to simplify the comparison of mortgage options.

A loan's APR can always be found in the top-left corner of the Federal Truth-In-Lending Disclosure.

Because APR is expressed as a percentage, many people confuse it for the loan's interest rate.  It's not.  APR represents the total cost of borrowing over the life of a loan.  "Interest rate" is the basis for monthly mortgage repayments.

The main advantage of APR is that it allows an "apples-to-apples" comparison between loan products. 

As an example, a 5.000 percent mortgage with origination points and fees will almost certainly have a higher APR than a 5.500 percent mortgage with zero fees.  In this sense, APR can help a borrower determine which loan is least costly long-term. In other words, the APR is an artificial index that can be compared to determine which loans have higher or lower APRs, thus indicating the higher or lower cost to the consumer.

However, APR is not without its shortcomings.

First, different banks includes different fees into their APR calculations.  By definition, this spoils APR as a choose-between-lenders, apples-to-apples comparison method, though the total cost to the consumer is still accurately determined.

More importantly, when calculating APR, "life of the loan" is assumed to be full-term.  When a 30-year mortgage pays off in 7 years or fewer -- as most of them do -- APR comparisons are rendered less accurate. It is possible that a loan with a lower APR might be more expensive if the loan is not carried to the full term and would have had a higher APR if the shorter term had been used in the original calculations.

In other words, APR is just one metric to compare mortgages -- it's not the only metric.  The best way to compare your mortgage options is to review all the loan terms together and determine which is most suitable.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2 Days to Thanksgiving - Do You Have Menu?

Planning a Thanksgiving Dinner?Thanksgiving is Thursday. If you're cooking for group (or a crowd) and you haven't yet put your menu in order, click on through Bon Appetit's Thanksgiving Menu Planner.

Answer 3 basic questions and Bon Appetit serves up a list of dishes and their respective recipes.

  1. For how many people are you cooking?

  2. How much time do you have to cook?

  3. What's your style?

The dishes range from the simple (Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Whipped Cream) to the sophisticated (Herb Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Gravy). There's even a menu for vegetarians.

It's not too late to host a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Bon Appetit can get you moving in the right direction.

Or if you're a lucky guy like I am, maybe someone else will be cooking and all you'll need to do is show up, be thankful, and eat! What ever you're doing though - be thankful for what you have - its probably much more than some others have. And if you really want to be grateful - how about helping some one else? All you need to do is to click on the link to the right and change the world for someone by making a small donation - maybe give up a couple of movies so a little girl can go to school - or don't - its your choice.
I've already made mine.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Should I consider a 15 Year Mortgage?

Comparing 15-year mortgage rates to 30-year mortgage rates

For today's home buyers and homeowners that can manage the higher monthly payments, 15-year fixed rate mortgage rates look attractive as compared to comparable 30-year products.

The 15-year/30-year interest rate spread is near its 5-year high. As a result, the savings afforded by the 15 year mortgage is at its 5 year high also.

Despite lower rates, however, homeowners opting for a 15-year fixed mortgage should be prepared for its higher monthly payments. This is because the principal balance of a 15-year fixed is repaid in half the years as with a standard, 30-year amortizing product.

As compared to 30-year terms, 15-year products repay 3 times as much principal each month. It is this difference which makes the payment so much larger.

Versus a 30-year, 15-year fixed mortgages have a few downsides worth noting. The first is that, because 15-year mortgages are heavy on principal and light on interest, homeowners who itemize tax returns may have to claim a smaller mortgage interest tax deduction at tax time. Balanced against that of course, is the benefit of making much larger principal payments and retiring your debt earlier.

Another negative is that the sheer size of the payment. If you run into fiscal trouble down the road, the only way to reduce the monthly obligation is to refinance into a 30-year product and that costs money to do.

In other words, be sure you can manage the payments over the long-term before you opt for a 15-year term. If you can manage it, though, the rewards are tangible.

At today's rates, a 15-year fixed and 30-year fixed costs $230 extra per $100,000 borrowed.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Help Change the World..

I'm not the greatest person to participate in fundraising activities.

Don't get me wrong I'm a very charitable guy, but I tend to be the guy who makes the donation more than the guy who asks for them . I always feel like I'm imposing on someone when I ask them to support the fund raising efforts of one of the causes that are important to me like the American Cancer Society, or Easter Seals, or the Lupus Foundation, so when I am asked to be part of a group making the effort to raise money , I am reticent about asking others for their help. Maybe its a character flaw, but that's just how it is. This time I'm making an exception to that behavior because my friend Rocky Turner has allowed me and my son Hal and daughter-in-law Jennifer the privilege of helping Rocky in her constant efforts to raise money for children in Kenya.

You may know Rocky because she's married to Jeff Turner and is busy raising 6 kids, or because she has achieved so much recognition for her work with Mothers Fighting For Others, or maybe because she's just a really smart and beautiful person. Doesn't matter how you know her or if you're just hearing about her for the first time. She does stuff that some people just talk about, and other people just dream about. She works hard to make a difference - a real difference for real people.

One of those people is Irene Mwihaki, the newest member of our family. Our family has taken on the task of raising money to help her obtain an education. According to Rocky:

Irene is an extremely bright girl. She had the highest marks of all the
girls entering HS this term. She is determined to make herself proud this
school year.

I've never been to Kenya and know embarassingly little about the country. So I took a few minutes to find out what life might be like there. According to, life in Kenya is challenging beyond our expectations

A 2005 report by the United Nations ranked Kenya as 154th out of a list of 177 countries, in terms of life expectancy, literacy levels and overall gross
domestic product. Just three years earlier, the country had ranked 134th. For
comparison, Uganda was ranked at 144th, and Tanzania was 164th. Both are immediate neighbors of Kenya.

But we're struggling too right? Our economy is terrible weak, and everyone is feeling a pinch - but even at its worst is it this bad?

So is making a donation to Irene going to help? Surely going to school is basic. Even the poorest child in the US has that opportunity.

School fees are often out of reach for poor families, leaving each generation to continue trying to find work while lacking the education to advance. Cultural biases towards women create further limitations for the growing number of female-led households.

I look at Rocky's pictures of Irene and I see a pleasant bright eyed young girl who should have a great future in front of her. After all if you are smart, hard working and pleasant, shouldn't you have a reasonable chance be able to achieve happiness if not greatness? My Grandparents and Great Grandparents left countries where they could not achieve to come to this country. That's just not possible for everyone. But because they did, their children and their children's children had the chance to achieve and succeed. Irene deserves that too.

So help me show the power of community on-line, where a small donation from a lot of people can make a huge difference in a person's life. I'm going to depart from my norm and ask you to make that small donation. If you can, just click on the widget on the side of the page, and gove whatever you can - if you can't make a small donation, feel free to make a larger one - and if you don;t have $5 or $10 or $20 (or more) to give, forward this post to someone who might - take a minute to make a real difference in somone's life - a real some one - a smiling bright eyed girl who lives in a poverty stricken country who shouldn't be forced to loose that smile or waste the intelligence that is so obvious when you look at her eyes.

Honor your loved ones and your life by helping someone today- Please... Make a difference in the world with a little donation by making a big difference in this little girl's life -

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Home Buyer Tax Credit is Extended and Expanded!

The House Financial Services committee meets. ...Image via Wikipedia

In my last market statistics post , I mentioned that an extension of the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit would be a real incentive for people to continue buying even in this traditionally slow time of year.

Congress must have been paying attention (or I tripped on something that other people agreed with!) and the $8,000 Tax Credit was extended this week. In addition, people who have owned their homes for 5 consecutive years (out of the last 8 years) can now get a $6,500 tax credit when they buy a new home.

With the threat of higher rates in the first quarter of 2010, and affordable houses all over the Philadelphia marketplace (which includes South New Jersey and the surrounding counties) , now may be that perfect moment - if people don't get too complacent about the housing market and assume that they'll still be able to reap the maximum benefits from the convergence of rate, price, and tax credits. I guess the only way to find out what the public's reaction will be is to wait and see -
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Philadelphia and Surrounding Counties Market Statistics

Boat House Row in PhiladelphiaImage by reeltor99 via Flickr

As Congress discusses a 6 month Extension of the First Time Home buyer Tax Credit with an additional credit for repeat home buyers, the results of the initial credit seem to be obvious when we look at the Pending Sales Market statistics from September for Philadelphia and surrounding counties.

Pending Home Sales
Sept 2009 Sept 2008 % Change
Philadelphia 1287941 36.77%
Bucks 58241440.58%

With such substantial increases in the pending sales for all five counties, its obvious that our housing market has recovered substantially. Though its tough to know exactly how much the tax credit influenced this, logic tells us that it has had a substantial impact. When we add to this the decrease in inventory, we see what would be defined as a recovering real estate market.

Current Home Inventory Sept 2009 Sept 2008 % Change
Philadelphia 9,704
10,559 -8.10%
Bucks 4,0114,262-5.89%

So what does this mean for the next 6 months?
  • With a tax credit extension, motivation for first time home buyers will continue
  • A tax credit for repeat buyers will increase motivation for a new group of buyers
  • Shrinking inventory generally means competition between buyers for more desirable homes and possible upward pressure on prices.
  • Though the tax credits are significant, the 6 month window is still a limited window off opportunity.
  • The limited opportunity provides substantial additional motivation for buying even at a time of the year which is traditionally slower because of the retail market.
So though there is still uncertainty about the unemployment numbers, and we have not seen a great resurgence in consumer confidence yet, it does seem that in the house buying arena, there are substantial reasons for potential home buyers to get off the fence and take action now to benefit from the combination of affordable prices, low mortgage rates, and tax benefits that may not be extended again in the more active spring market.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Charging Your Phone(s) Without the Clutter

The Powermat ChargerTired of "wire clutter" where your mobile phones, MP3 players and gaming devices compete for outlet space?

The Powermat may be your solution.

The Powermat is a 12-inch long wireless battery charger that's conspicuously missing "plugs". Instead, it uses magnetic induction to safely recharge up to 3 devices at once.

Just place your phone(s) on the pad and they charge automatically.

The Powermat debuted at the 2009 Consumer Electronic Show and was reviewed in video. The reviewers had many positive comments on the Powermat, but highlighted some negatives aspects, too. Give a look and see what you think.

Powermat retails for $99 on and is usually shipped for free.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Can You Still Catch the Buyer's Market?

Existing Home Supply September 2009The national housing supply fell to a 2-year low last month, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

At the current sales pace, existing home inventories would sell out in 7.8 months -- 30 percent faster versus November 2008.

For a 10-month window, that's a major housing supply reduction and it helps to explain why multiple-offer situations have been so common lately.

Moreover, the same report from NAR showed sales activity reaching its highest point since July 2007, too.

If you're looking for evidence that the long-standing Buyers Market is ending, this month's Existing Home Sales report might be it.

Even median sales prices -- typically dragged lower by distressed and foreclosed properties -- declined at its slowest pace in a year. The market may have turned a corner.

Home prices are rooted in the basic economics of supply and demand.

  • When supply outweighs demand, home prices fall
  • When supply lags demand, home price rise

Since March 2009, the market has been moving in the right direction. Low mortgage rates, ample housing supply and a first-time home buyer tax credit fueled buy-side demand so that home prices are now rising in many U.S. markets.

If home supplies stay on this path into 2010, expect home prices to rise even more.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Day! Phillies Win & The Senate Moves Towards a Tax Credit Extension

Robin Roberts A WhiZ Kid!Image by reeltor99 via Flickr

Its hard to decide what to write about this morning. Last night the Phillies faced the Yankees in the World Series for the first time since 1950 (when the Whiz Kids took on the New York Team) and they won - even though the game was in New York. That's really exciting for a city where sports are such an important part of our history and our culture, not to mention that it was an auspicious start for a historic series, the first World Series repeat in the team's history.

If that weren't enough, there was news yesterday that the Senate had reached agreement on extending the $8,000 first time homebuyer's credit until June of 2010 - with a potential $6500 tax credit for people that had bought and owned homes for 5 years or more. In our city, where prices are moderate, first time home buyers are a major part of the real estate market, and those amounts are significant to home buyers that news is incredibly good.

We have already seen the real estate market improve every quarter of this year to date, stimulated by the tax credit, great mortgage rates, and moderate prices. Though the lack of mortgage liquidity negatively impacted the attempts of some buyers to gain entry to home ownership, on the whole , the true worry was whether the gains in the market would be sustainable - with the extension of the tax credit through the spring, that question would be answered.

Now the next question for buyers is whether they will be smart enough to act early and avoid the inevitable upward pressure on price that such activity should create, and whether the mortgage market will increase credit liquidity amid the signs of economic recovery.

Of course for this week in Philadelphia,more people may be worrying about whether the Phillies can sustain their early lead this evening in New York, and then Saturday and Sunday night when they return to Philadelphia ;-)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Housing Starts Post 8th Gain in 9 Months

Housing Starts September 2009Housing Starts on single-family homes gained last month, marking the 8th time that's happened this year.

A "Housing Start" is a home for which the foundation has been excavated and, considered alongside other key market metrics, September data suggests that the housing market stabilization is complete.

Momentum in housing is overwhelmingly positive:

Despite the positive news, the press is calling September's Housing Starts data a "bummer". Citing a drop in monthly building permits, the media purports that housing will slow in the months ahead.

The conclusion may be right, but the rationale may be wrong.

The probable cause for fewer permits isn't that the housing market is overdone. It's that home builders are choosing to exercise caution given the pending expiration of the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit and a still-growing number of foreclosed homes.

It's unclear what housing demand will be beginning in December and the last present a builder wants for the holidays is an excess of inventory.

It makes sense that building permits are down, in other words. In our marketplace, where new homes are not the most significant part of the housing inventory, unlike primarily new home communities like areas of Nevada, a Florida, the increase or decrease of housing starts may be less significant in any case.

Looking back at February of this year, there's a host of signs that housing is on the path to recovery. Now, that path won't be a straight line and there's bound to be setbacks, but September's Housing Starts is not one of them.

Housing Starts are up 40 percent on the year. WHich does indicate that ate the very least we have passed the bottom of this contraction.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everybody Thinks the Real Estate Market has Recovered

Philadelphia Skyline SouthImage by reeltor99 via Flickr

Well maybe not everybody, and maybe not quite recovered yet, However a consensus of several major real estate groups says that 2010 is the time for the expansion of the real estate market. According to several studies, the market of 2009 will mark the end of the real estate "contraction" and next year will mark an expected increase of almost 10% with a projected total of 5.403 million units closed in 2010 compared to an estimated 4.929 million units registered in 2009.

The compilation of housing forecasts released was released earlier this week on Real Estate Economy The Web site , operated by former NAR economist David Lereah presented the September housing forecasts of the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Homebuilders, the Mortgage Bankers Association, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and then calculated the consensus (mean) prediction for each major housing measure for the group as a whole.

Of course the impact of foreclosures on the market, and the renewed activity of investors and home buyers looking to take advantage of the well priced inventory, combined with the $8,000 tax credit have positively impacted the market this year. Local tracking indicates that each quarter this year so far has seen increases in sales activity. However the tax credit is currently due to end in November, and if it is not extended, the impact on the marketplace will have to be seen to be judged.

The article goes on to say "At present, the housing sector is experiencing a recovery in home sales and housing starts. Both measures are meaningfully above their January cyclical lows. Home price movements are also improving. Home price declines on a year over year basis have decelerated in monthly reporting, while home prices have increased in recent months on a monthly basis." In our local market area, where prices were not reduced as drastically as some parts of the country, this impact is good news for homeowners and a caution for home buyers that want to take advantage of the current combination of low rates and attractive prices.

In the meantime, as things seem to get brighter, we can't forget that miracles do sometimes happen. After all the Phillies are in the World Series for the 2nd year in a row!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

The Phillies Make History!

I'm not a real baseball fan.

I lost my taste for baseball in 1964 during the Phillies famous meltdown and never really recovered. But last year the Phillies captured my imagination and when they won the world series in game 5 I was there (for both parts of the game on both nights)

It was an interesting experience. I had been at an NBA final in 2001 when the Sixers played the Lakers, and at the Superbowl in Jacksonville when the Eagles played the Patriots, so last year wasn't the first time I saw a Philadelphia team try for a championship. It was however the first time I actually saw them win one. It was exactly like the other two times, except that last year, in the world series there wasn't a sense of sickening loss at the end of the game. It just felt good!

Now, for the first time I can remember, the Phillies have won the National League championship for a second year in a row. In fact, according to Wikipedia, its the first time in the team's history that they ever won two pennants in a row!

I've been a fan in Philadelphia too long to be too excited, but their success does lead me to be an optimist. I guess we'll wait and see what happens, but at least I know I'l be watching and hoping that they break another record

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Tighten Up Your Loose Towel Racks

Over time, towel racks tend to come loose from sheetrock walls. And, sometimes, they separate completely. The good news is that making repairs is easy -- it's something you can do yourself with a little instruction.

In this 2-minute video from, a professional contractor shows that with just a drill and some butterfly anchors, re-securing a towel rack can be a basic handyman job.

So, before you call a professional to rehang your towel rack, watch the video and consider making the repair yourself.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

SImple Real Estate Definitions: Escrow Account

Escrow reserve accounts collect 1/12 of the annual bill each monthAn escrow account is a designated savings account into which funds get deposited for a specific purpose.

With respect to real estate and home loans, escrow accounts are used to pay real estate tax bills and homeowners insurance payments.

Escrow accounts are managed and disbursed by lenders.

When a homeowner "escrows" his mortgage, along with his scheduled monthly mortgage payment, he must also send an additional payment to the lender equal to 1/12 of the home's annual real estate tax bill plus 1/12 of the annual homeowners insurance bill.

By sending a pro rata portion of the tax and insurance bill each month, the homeowner's escrow account will always, in theory, have enough funds to make payments in full as tax bills and insurance premiums come due.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Philadelphia's Magic Garden Dazzles South Street

I had the pleasure of attending the kickoff of a new local charity called

IMG_1021Image by reeltor99 via Flickr

Making a Progressive Philadelphia (MAPP) - the name is quite a mouthful, but its acronym is also the last name of the founder Brett Mapp. The organization wants to raise money so that they may give micro-grants to worthy organizations in the city that have financial needs too small to be addressed by most grant giving organizations. I don;t know Brett well, and was there because I was invited by my social media buddy Gloria Bell who is very active with non-profits in Philadelphia. Though I am intrgued by the organization's stated goal, and they seem like really nice people, I really don't know much about them, so you can check out the organization later if you wish to get involved with them.

What I will say though is that Brett and company really know how to choose a venue! Their event was held at Philadelphia's Magic Garden on South Street, a building and a lot that has been converted to an amazing work of art. The artist is Isaiah Zagar a 7- year old artist who has this to say about his work;
It is an impossible place, but strangely you can visit it and smile at that which you knew existed somewhere. Now you know that place is in Philadelphia, and you knew it all along, didn't you?

I have to admit , I didn't know that such a place existed, but I certainly hoped it did...and I'm really pleased that it does exist here so that we can all experience his vision,

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Is It Better to Take a 15 Year Mortgage?

Comparing 15-year mortgage rates to 30-year mortgage rates

For today's home buyers and homeowners that can manage the higher monthly payments, 15-year fixed rate mortgage rates look attractive as compared to comparable 30-year products.

The 15-year/30-year interest rate spread is near its 5-year high. That means that the cost of money during the term of your loan is much much lower if you choose a 15 year term.

Despite lower rates, however, homeowners opting for a 15-year fixed mortgage should be prepared for its higher monthly payments. This is because the principal balance of a 15-year fixed is repaid in half the years as with a standard, 30-year amortizing product.

As compared to 30-year terms, 15-year products repay 3 times as much principal each month, which accounts for the greatest part of the payment difference.

Versus a 30-year, 15-year fixed mortgages have a few downsides worth noting. The first is that, because 15-year mortgages are heavy on principal and light on interest, homeowners who itemize tax returns may have to claim a smaller mortgage interest tax deduction at tax time.

Another negative is that the sheer size of the payment. If you run into fiscal trouble down the road, the only way to reduce the monthly obligation is to refinance into a 30-year product and that costs money to do.

In other words, be sure you can manage the payments over the long-term before you opt for a 15-year term. If you can manage it, though, the rewards are tangible. Building equity in your property faster can have a number of benefits, including making a move up easier later on.

At today's rates, a 15-year fixed and 30-year fixed costs $230 extra per $100,000 borrowed.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Philadelphia Social Media Bowls Over Charity

I don't usually write about social media on this blog. I reserve it for my Blog at the Social Media Marketing Institute, or BuzzBuilderz, or REreflections. But people in Philadelphia are working hard to make things in our city better and they're using social media accomplish these changes.

Local Social Media personalities like Gloria Bell of Red Stapler Consulting worked hard to hold a local event at Lucky Strike Lanes on Chestnut Street called Twestival Philadelphia. This event was only one of a number of events held around the world , all to benefit local charities.

A Twestival or Twitter-Festival is a global series of events organized by volunteers around the world under short timescales, which bring people offline for a great cause. Twestival is run 100% by volunteers and independently from any not-for-profit; although the organizing teams do work closely to outline an achievable and measurable fundraising target.
In Philadelphia volunteers sold tickets and sponsors donated raffle prizes all to benefit Gift of Life Family House, The house is a non-profit organization that provides temporary lodging and supportive services to transplant patients and families seeking transplant treatment at Philadelphia transplant centers. During the event members of the organization, and even individuals who had received the gift of transplants participated together to make our community stronger.

As of last week local Twestivals had raised $233,960 and that does not include 40+ cities whose tallies are still not collected. Congratulations to all of those who donated time or prizes for all of these worthy causes, who proved that twitter, and facebook, and the people who populate them are more then a passing fad, and that social media has a place in the communities of the city of brotherly love.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

I can't Blog about Hank Baskett

n825553605_913828_8518Image by reeltor99 via Flickr

In a classroom today I was speaking with Kim Wood, who told me that she had just completed a post on her blog about Hank Baskett leaving Philadelphia for the Colts.

During our class on Social Media, I needed to write a blog post and was going to use that when the strict, and authoritarian Ms. Wood said I was not allowed.

Therefore this post is now over.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Long Term Trends Indicate Good News for Housing

Existing Home Sales July 2009It seems that this may be another in what is appearing to be a string of articles about the possibly recovering housing market. After years of continuous bad news, the housing market continues to surprise. Last week, the latest good news came in the form of the monthly Existing Home Sales report.

An "existing home" is a home sold by an existing owner as opposed to a developer. It's non-new construction property, and in our market in Philadelphia and New Jersey, it is overwhelmingly the largest portion of the housing stock

The data on Existing Home Sales was noteworthy for its trends:

  1. Sales volume rose over four straight months for the first time in 5 years

  2. Sales volume rose year-to-year for the first time in 4 years

  3. Median home prices fell for the first time since April

Furthermore, first-time home buyers and buyers of "distressed" homes accounted for nearly one-third of the market activity each.

But, before we declare a bottom in housing, it's important that we remember the First Rule of Real Estate -- All Real Estate Is Local, and Philadelphia and the surrounding areas have always been more resilient than most markets throughout the country.

The Existing Home Sales report is not neighborhood-specific. It lumps cities like San Diego and Saint Paul into a giant sample set and fails to account for regional differences in real estate, let alone neighborhood ones.

This is the primary reason why on-the-ground real estate agents are better sources for a market pulse versus a report from a national trade group. The national group can't know the happenings of every street and every home in a market, and our market has not had some of the issues wuth fraud found in other states, nor the huge amount of speculative building that was part of the market problems in others.

That said, however, the national data isn't completely useless.

Looking a

Real EstateImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

t the long-term patterns in the Existing Home Sales report, we can infer that ample supplies, low mortgage rates and tax credits are spurring home sales in a lot of U.S. markets. As a result, our offices are seeing more activity, both from our agencies and other firms, and we see properties going under agreement more rapidly, with multiple offer situations again being created.

Eventually, this will lead home prices higher.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Teaching Social Media In Cincinnati

Getting ready to teach another CSM class!Image by reeltor99 via Flickr

Here we are on the second day of the CSM designation course sponsored by the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS.

The class so far has been fun and we're just learning how to make a quick blog post. The participants have learned about Social Capital, Ethics of Blogging, how to use permission based marketing, and how to engage in the conversation.

At the end of the first day the class has a firm grounding in the social basis of social media. Now we're on to the second day and we all are pretty excited about the possibilities!

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