Thursday, February 25, 2010

There Are No Jeans in the Pyramid Club

Having a great time teaching the CSM class for SMMI at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia. The room is awesome, the venue is great (52nd Floor of the Mellon Bank Building), and the dining is very classy.

Too classy in fact to allow our lovely students to wear jeans in the dining room. However the lovely folks at the Pyramid have been kind enough to set up a special room for us to dine privately. Gotta give them credit for keepin' it classy while they keep it real !
Thanks Guys!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Best And Worst Cities For Commuters (2010 Edition)

The Best and Worst Work Commutes 2010According to the Census Bureau, 2.8 million people commute to work 90 minutes or more each day, in each direction.

Now, your daily commute may not be as long, but time spent in cars, trains and buses is time away from work and from family. Drive-time can affect a person's Quality of Life and it's one reason why Forbes Magazine's Best and Worst Commutes is worth reviewing.

Measuring travel time, road congestion and travel delays in the 60 largest metropolitan areas, Forbes ranks city commutes from best-to-worst with Salt Lake City topping the list and Tampa-St. Petersburg finishing it.

The Top 5 Commutes, as compiled by Forbes:

  1. Salt Lake City, Utah
  2. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York
  3. Rochester, New York
  4. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin
  5. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York

The bottom 5 are Tampa-St. Petersburg, Detroit, Atlanta, Orlando, and Dallas-Forth Worth.

Long commutes shouldn't deter you from moving to a particular city, but the potential commute should be consideration. Before making an offer on your next home, make a rush-hour commute to work from your potential new neighborhood. Then imagine doing it every day.

You can read the complete Forbes list of Best and Worst Cities for Commuters on its website.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mortgage Rates Spike On The Federal Reserve's January 2010 Meeting Minutes

FOMC January 2010 MinutesMortgage markets reeled Wednesday after the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its January 26-27, 2010 meeting. Mortgage rates in New jJersey are now at their highest levels since the start of the year.

The Fed Minutes is a follow-up document, delivered 3 weeks after an official FOMC meeting. It's a companion piece to the post-meeting press release, detailing the debates and discussions that shaped our central bankers' policy decisions.

The Minutes is a terrific look into the Fed's collective mind and, yesterday, Wall Street didn't like what it saw. Specifically, the report disclosed that:

  1. The Fed plans to break support for mortgage markets after March 31, 2010
  2. Raising the Fed Funds Rate will be a key part of the Fed's strategy to tighten monetary policy
  3. The fundamentals behind consumer spending strengthened modestly

Furthermore, the Fed Minutes said that there is a growing risk of "higher medium-term inflation". Inflation, of course, is awful for mortgage rates.

Overall, the Fed's economic optimism appeared stronger after its January meeting as compared to its December one. A stronger economy should lead to better job growth and higher home prices throughout 2010.

Mortgage rates were up yesterday but they remain historically low. And many analysts think that after March 31, 2010, rates will rise even more. Therefore, if you're buying a home in the near-term, or know you'll need a new mortgage, consider moving up your time frame.

Every 1/8 percent makes a difference in your household budget.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Mortgage Approvals Are Getting More And More Scarce

Federal Reserve Quarterly Lending Survey 2007-2009

The economy's improving but lending standards are not. Nationally, banks are making mortgage approvals harder to come by.

Underwriting guidelines are tightening.

The data comes from the Federal Reserve's quarterly survey to its member banks. The Fed asks senior bank loan officers around the country to report on "prime" residential mortgage guidelines over the most recent 3 months and whether they've tightened.

For the period October-December 2009:

  • Roughly 1 in 4 banks said guidelines tightened
  • Roughly 3 in 4 banks said guidelines were "basically unchanged"

Just 2 of 53 banks said its guidelines had loosened.

Combine the Fed's survey with recent underwriting updates from the FHA and generally tougher standards for conventional loans and it's clear that lenders are much more cautious about their loans than they were, say, in 2007.

Today's Philadelphia home buyers and would-be refinancers face a bevy of new borrowing hurdles including:

  • Higher minimum FICO scores
  • Larger downpayment requirements for purchases
  • Larger equity positions for refinances
  • Lower debt-to-income ratios

So, if you're on the fence about whether now is a good time to buy a home, or make that refi, consider acting sooner rather than later. It doesn't necessarily matter that mortgage rates are low, or that there's an up-to-$8,000 home purchase tax credit for households that qualify. With each passing quarter, fewer and fewer applicants are eligible to take advantage.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

7 Ways To Protect Your Credit Score For Better Mortgage Rates

As mortgage lenders tighten approval standards in Pennsylvania and nationwide, the importance of a good credit score is rising. Credit scores not only make the difference between a mortgage approval and mortgage turn-down, but they also play a large role in determining your actual mortgage note rate.

In the 3-minute piece, the NBC Today Show talks about 7 ways that homebuyers ruin their credit -- often by accident. Some of the highlighted mistakes include:

  • Closing open credit cards
  • Making appliance buys on credit prior to closing
  • Asking creditors to lower credit balances prior to closing

In general, a 740 FICO will insulate a borrower from the higher costs and/or rates associated with low credit scores. Below 740, though, every 20 points adds to the damage. Watch the video and apply what you can to your own situation. The more you know, the more you can save.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

The True Picture: Half of all Foreclosure Issues in Only Four States

Foreclosures concentrate on 4 statesForeclosures stories dominate the national housing news. It seems at least one foreclosure-related story makes its way to the front page or the nightly news every week.

But for as much as the foreclosure filing statistics can be astounding -- over 300,000 homes were served last month alone -- the prevalence of foreclosures depends on where you live.

As reported by RealtyTrac, just 4 states accounted for more than half of the country's foreclosure-related activity last month.

  • California : 22.7 percent of all activity

  • Florida : 14.9 percent of all activity

  • Arizona : 6.7 percent of all activity

  • Illinois : 5.7 percent of all activity

The other 46 states (and Washington D.C.) claimed the remaining 49.9%.

However, just because foreclosures are concentrated geographically, that doesn't make them less important to homebuyers in Philadelphia, Palmyra and around the country. There's been more than 1.4 million foreclosure filings in the last 12 months and that's a figure that can't be ignored.

Distressed properties now play a role in one-third of all home resales.

Therefore, if you're in the market for a foreclosed home, here's a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Properties are usually sold "as-is" and may not be up to living standards. Be sure to physically inspect the home before buying it.

  2. Buying a home from a bank is rarely as streamlined as buying from an individual homeowner. Be prepared for delays and long closings.

  3. Foreclosures aren't always listed for sale publicly. Ask your real estate agent how to access the complete foreclosure inventory.

In order to use the federal homebuyer tax credit, you must be under contract for a home by April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010. That doesn't leave much time to find a bank-owned home and make it to closing. In Philadelphia we also face specific issues regarding the time needed for settlement because the deed obtained from the foreclosure sale often takes a longer time to record than in other counties. So if you're serious about buying foreclosures, it's probably best to start your search soon.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Pending Home Sales Predicts A Stronger Spring Market

Pending Home Sales (June 2008-Dec 2009)After the snow storm this weekend, its hard to think about the spring market, but that is what we're entering, and the condition of the market is of interest to potential home buyers and sellers in Philadelphia and Surrounding areas. One of the indicators is the Pending Home Sales Index which rose slightly in December, climbing 1 percent from November.

A Pending Home Sale is a home that is under contract to sell, but not yet sold. It's a figure compiled by the National Association of Realtors® using sales data from over 100 regional listing services and more than 60 large brokerages around the country.

Because each pending sale is a true measure of sales activity, the Pending Home Sales Index is purported to be the most reliable forward-looking indicator for housing.

Recent data supports this hypothesis.

After Pending Home Sales plunged 16 percent in November, Existing Home Sales fell by 17 percent in December. Based on the most recent Pending Sales Index, therefore, we can expect January's closed sales to be similarly level.

For home buyers in Philadelphia and Palmyra , this is all a bit of good news. Home prices are based on the supply-and-demand balance that exists between buyers and sellers. When buyers outnumber sellers, like they did through most of 2009, home supplies dip and, in fact, the national home inventory nearly halved during the 12 months ending November 2009.

With fewer homes for sale, multiple-offer situations were almost commonplace and home values rose as result.

Activity has since slowed, however, and fewer buyers are in today's market. The supply-and-demand equation has shifted back some. In December, home supplies rose for the first time in 7 months and January will likely show the same.

The net result: Home buyers have more homes from which to choose and that can create negotiation leverage for better prices and better concessions. As people begin to take advantage of the remaining time for the home buyer tax credit though, we have been seeing activity start to increase in our offices.

With mortgage rates still low and a looming deadline on the homebuyer's tax credit, market activity should be strong between now and April. Take your time and bid right. And when you're ready, be ready. The best deals likely won't last.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Throw Out Your "Chip Clips". Get The Banana Seal.

Banana Seal in actionIf you've ever used a plastic Chip Clip and been miffed that your chips went stale anyway, you have to see the Banana Seal. Its beauty is its simplicity.

Similar to the tongue-in-groove seal created by zip-top bags, the Banana Seal creates an airtight seal on bags of all sizes. Chips stay crunchy, vegetables stay fresh, and freezer-burned food becomes a problem of the past.

The people of Banana Seal made a promotional video that shows the product in action. It's a little bit over-the-top in "sales mode", but gives some good ideas on how the Banana Seal works. Aside from the obvious refrigerator, freezer and pantry uses, the video shows how Banana Seal can be used outside of the kitchen, too.

Buy an 18-pack of Banana Seal for less than $20 from

Friday, February 5, 2010

Simple Real Estate Definitions : Short Sale

Short Sale DefinitionA "Short Sale" is when a home seller sells his home for a lesser amount than what is owed on his mortgage, and the mortgage lender agrees to accept the lesser amount in lieu of a full payoff.

By way of example, a Short Sale may be appropriate for a Philadelphia home seller whose mortgage balance is $250,000 but whose home wouldn't sell for more than $220,000. Rather than pay the $30,000 difference to the lender at the time of sale, the seller enters into an agreement with the lender by which all sale proceeds are paid to the bank and the deficient balance is forgiven.

Short Sales are a preferable alternative to foreclosure but the process still harms both parties. For one, the seller is penalized with a derogatory tradeline on credit for not fulfilling a mortgage obligation. And, two, the lender is forced to take a loss on a mortgage loan. Versus an executed foreclosure, however, Short Sale damages are relatively limited on both sides.

For this reason, Short Sales are sometimes considered "the economical alternative" to default.

The process of getting a Short Sale approved varies from lender-to-lender and can be time-intensive. Home sellers should not go at it alone -- speaking with a real estate agent about the proper protocol is usually the best place to start. And sellers should be aware of how a Short Sale on their credit can impact future borrowing.

Current Fannie Mae guidelines prevent short-selling homeowners from obtaining new mortgage financing for a period of 2 years.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Conserve More Energy With Motion-Sensored Light Switches

Black & Decker Lights Off AutoSwitchCourtesy of Black & Decker, energy-conscious homeowners in Philadelphia now have another way to conserve natural resources.

Introducing the Lights Out Autoswitch, a 135-degree, motion-detecting device that turns the lights on when people enter a room, and subsequently turns them off after everyone has left. The timer can be set at 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes.

Use it in bedrooms, home offices, children's playrooms and anywhere else a person may leave the lights on.

Best of all, the device is easy to install.

The Lights Out Autoswitch runs on 3 AA batteries and slips right over an existing toggle light switch. There's no electrical wiring or assembly required and the product ships with a 2-year warranty.

The Lights Autoswitch is available on for $23.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Interesting Homes : The Skinniest Home In The City Sells For $2.1 Million

Skinny car is wider than a houseThe next time you think you've outgrown your home, imagine what life would be like in New York City's "skinniest home". It's barely wider than your wingspan.

In Greenwich Village, there's a single-family, 3-story residence in which the interior living space width measures just 8 1/2-feet. By way of reference, that's 4 inches more narrow than the Smart Fortwo electric automobile.

Even the home's USPS street address hints at its size. Built on an alleyway, nestled between 75 Bedford Street and 77 Bedford Street, the diminutive home is officially known as 75 1/2 Bedford.

It just sold for $2.1 million.

Meanwhile, big price tags for little homes is nothing new. In 2008, the "Little House" in Toronto sold for the equivalent of $511 per square foot.

(Image courtesy: Wikipedia)