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Refinancing mortgage for shorter term can bring huge savings

Most people refinance to save money. That usually means jumping to a lower rate. But you also can save big bucks by trimming the term of your loan, possibly at the very same low rate.

Most lenders today offer the same 30-year rate on mortgages with terms of 20 to 29 years, said Karen Mayfield of Bank of the West. And most offer the same 15-year rate on loans with durations of eight to 15 years.

You may not save any money immediately, at least not in terms of your monthly payment. But you could save a bundle in interest over the shorter life of your new mortgage. Plus, you’ll build a nest egg that much faster.

The potential drawback to shorter-term mortgages is that your tax deduction for mortgage interest won’t be as large. But that’s a questionable disadvantage.

For one thing, interest is cash out of your pocket. Why spend the money if you don’t need to?

For another, mortgage interest is not a dollar-for-dollar write-off. Rather, the deduction is based on your income-tax bracket. So if you are in the 15% bracket, you’ll get back only 15 cents for every dollar in mortgage interest you spend.

Then there’s the question of whether mortgage interest will remain deductible. Granted, it’s a long shot right now that Congress would eliminate the benefit. But make no mistake, the once-sacrosanct write-off will be on the table if and when lawmakers ever reform the nation’s tax code.

So, with the deduction argument out of the way, let’s look at some possibilities using, for simplicity’s sake, a loan amount of $300,000.

Say you have a 4-year-old, 30-year mortgage at 6.5%, with a monthly payment to principal and interest of $1,896. If you refinance at 4% into a new 30-year mortgage of $288,000 (your present balance of $285,179, plus $2,821 in closing costs wrapped into the loan amount), your payment will drop to $1,375, a significant monthly savings of $521.

But you’d be starting all over again. As a result, on top of the $76,196 in interest you’ve already spent on the original mortgage, you’d be paying an additional $206,984 in interest over the term of the new loan.

Sure, most people don’t keep the same house, let alone the same mortgage, for 30 years. Indeed, the average life of a home loan is about seven years. But if you do, if this is your final castle, you will be paying for it for 34 years, not 30.

Now, suppose that instead of opting for a lower payment, you decide to shoot for the same monthly payment but reduce the term of the loan. A new $288,000 mortgage at 4% over 20 years will run $1,745 a month.

That cuts your monthly outlay by about $150 and saves a whale of a lot of interest — $130,854 for the 20-year loan at 4% versus $206,984 for the 30-year loan at 4% and $382,633 for your original loan.

Better yet, you are not starting over.

Shortening the length of your mortgage isn’t for everyone. But if you are comfortable making roughly the same payment as you are now, it is worth considering. “Do the math,” Mayfield advises.

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Find Out Which Mortgage Fits Best For You

house, mortgage, suburbs
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and switch from renter to homeowner, your first step should be to research your financing options so that you can decide which loan term best suits your needs.


The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that 85 percent of purchase home loans in June 2012 were 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, popular among both first-time and repeat homebuyers. But before you jump on the 30-year bandwagon, you should understand all the loan-term options available to ensure you’re getting the best home loan to suit both your lifestyle and financial needs.

Refinance Ratesq
Fixed-rate home loans

Fixed-rate home loans are available in a variety of terms, including 30, 20 and 15 years. Some lenders even offer less-popular 7, 10, 17 or 25-year loan terms.

"Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages are really the driving force behind homeownership in the U.S. because they offer the lowest monthly payments along with the security of stable payments," says Malcolm Hollensteiner, director of retail sales for TD Bank headquartered in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Portland, Maine.

Gregg Busch, vice president of First Savings Mortgage Corp. in McLean, Va., says there’s really no downside to fixed-rate loans because they offerfirst-time homebuyers a conservative way of paying for a home without the danger of any sticker shock from changing mortgage payments.

While the monthly payments on 30-year mortgages are lower, 20 or 15-year mortgages allows you to pay off the loan faster because of the shorter term and lower mortgage rates. Hollensteiner says the interest-rate spread between a 30-year and 15-year mortgage could be as much as 0.75 percent to 1.00 percent, while the spread between a 20-year and 30-year are usually a little closer.

"Your monthly payments will be about 28 to 30 percent higher on a 15-year mortgage compared to a 30-year mortgage," says Busch. "If you can afford the higher payments, a shorter loan allows you to build equity much faster.”

Monthly payments

Let’s consider what the monthly payments would be on a $300,000 mortgage at various fixed-rate terms:

  • 30-year mortgage at 3.86 percent: $1,408
  • 20-year mortgage at 3.65 percent: $1,763
  • 15-year mortgage at 3.16 percent: $2,095

Just five years into the loan, the difference in the loan balance between the 30-year and the 15-year loan is nearly $60,000.

Hollensteiner says most first-time homebuyers choose 30-year terms because they tend to focus more on keeping monthly payments low rather than paying off the loan balance. However, building equity more quickly benefits homeowners who wish to refinance or intend to sell in the near future.

Adjustable-rate mortgages

Most adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) available today are Hybrid ARMs with a fixed-rate period of five, seven or 10 years. ARMs have an initial fixed interest rate that is usually much lower than fixed-rate loans. According to the latest data from HSH.com’s weekly Market Trends newsletter, the interest rate spread between the overall average rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (conforming, non-conforming and jumbo) and 5/1 Hybrid ARMs is more than a full percentage point.

"If a first-time buyer is not planning to stay in their home longer than the fixed term or is not maxing out their ability to handle their mortgage payments, an ARM might be an option," says Jeff LaMonte, senior vice president for retail sales and business support with Bank of America in Bakersfield, Calif. “If borrowers fully understand the loan and can afford to make the highest possible payments after the loan adjusts, they may be willing to take the risk in order to save on their initial mortgage payments.”

Monthly payments

Given the lower interest rates, monthly payments on an ARM are going to be a few hundred dollars less than a 30-year fixed. The monthly payments on a $300,000 mortgage with a 5/1 Hybrid ARM rate of 2.80 percent would be $1,233 for the first five years and then would adjust each year after.

Of course, the downside of any ARM is that your monthly payments may increase after the fixed-rate period expires. Today, most ARMs are capped at about 5 percent (the interest rate can only rise by five percent over the life of the loan). In the example above, the interest rate could rise to a maximum of 7.80 percent, increasing the monthly payment by nearly $1,000.

Now that you understand which mortgage terms are available on the market today, consult with a mortgage lender to discuss your individual financial circumstances and which product is right for you.

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Existing Homes Sales and Prices Rise

When it comes to existing-home sales and the national median home price, rates are on the rise.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales, including single-family, townhomes, condos, and coops, grew by 2.3 percent for the month of July. Single-family home sales increased 2.1 percent. Existing condominium and co-op sales rose 4.3 percent.

All regions posted gains in existing-home sales for the month except for the West, which was unchanged from the month prior.

The national median home price rose by 9.4 percent over July 2011. It is now reported at $187,300. This is the fifth consecutive month of year-over-year gains. Median prices rose in all four regions across the nation.

The NAHB reports, “The last time there were five back-to-back monthly price increases from a year earlier was in January to May of 2006.  The July gain was the strongest since January 2006 when the median price rose 10.2 percent from a year earlier.”

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said housing affordability conditions are very good. “Mortgage interest rates have been at record lows this year while rents have been rising at faster rates.  Combined, these factors are helping to unleash a pent-up demand,” he said.  “However, the market is constrained by unnecessarily tight lending standards and shrinking inventory supplies, so housing could easily be much stronger without these abnormal frictions.”

Not all housing sectors posted gains, however. The National Association of Home Builders reported a drop in new housing starts. “Nationwide housing production edged down 1.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 746,000 units in July, according to newly released figures from HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau.”

The NAHB also reports, though, that July saw a rise in the number of permits builders pulled. This indicates builder confidence that the months to come will bring with them ready and willing buyers.

"Our latest surveys confirm builders’ increased confidence about future home buyer demand, and that’s reflected in today’s permit numbers," agreed NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

He says, “Increasingly, housing is re-emerging as a traditional and much-needed source of strength in local economies as builders are able to put more of their crews back to work. But two things that are slowing this process considerably are the challenges that builders continue to face in accessing credit for viable new projects and the difficulty of obtaining accurate appraisals on new homes.”

Homes do appear to moving fairly quickly off the market. NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said pricing is the primary factor in determining how long homes stay on the market. ”Correctly priced homes, regardless of price range, are selling quickly these days,” he said.

"Fully one-third of homes purchased in July were on the market for less than a month, and only 21 percent were on the market for six months or longer.  Sellers should carefully consider a Realtor’s ® advice about marketing their homes," Veissi said.


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U.S. home prices continue upward move in June


U.S. home prices bounced higher for a second month in June, according to an index released Tuesday which showed the strongest back-to-back monthly advance in the more than decade-long history of the price gauge.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite index registered a 2.3% advance in June, matching upwardly revised gains in May and taking the year-on-year move to positive territory for the first time in close to two years with a gain of 0.5%.

All 20 cities managed monthly gains, including a 6% surge in hard-hit Detroit and a 4.8% advance in Minneapolis. 

Prices in the second quarter gained 6.9% compared to the first quarter. 

“We seem to be witnessing exactly what we needed for a sustained recovery; monthly increases coupled with improving annual rates of change. The market may have finally turned around,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Even with the gains, prices have still fallen a long way from their 2006 peaks — roughly 31%.

The Case-Shiller index is unique in that it measures prices on a three-month rolling basis, so June’s figures include transactions in April and May.

Other house-price measurements have shown even stronger moves. CoreLogic reported a 2.5% year-on-year gain, and a measure of prices on mortgages bought or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac showed a 3.6% gain.

Sales activity has been climbing even more rapidly than prices, with the three-month average of new home sales up 21% compared to the same period a year ago. 

Near-record-low mortgage rates and a slowly improving jobs market have helped contribute to the improving housing picture. There also is less distressed activity, which helps keep prices higher.

“Persistent news of rising house prices should start convincing prospective home sellers that it’s not just a buyers’ market. And when Americans become more comfortable with selling their home, they also become more comfortable with buying another one,” said Jonathan Basile of Credit Suisse in a note to clients.

Blitzer sees “significant turn” for housing market

The pattern is “clearly going upward,” says David Blitzer, who oversees the Case-Shiller home price index for Standard and Poor’s.

Michelle Meyer of Bank of America Merrill Lynch sounded a more cautious tone.

“We believe that prices will soften heading into year-end, reflecting seasonal adjustment challenges, greater distressed inventory and a weakening economy. We have found the bottom, but it will be choppy recovery,” she said.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, an indicator of consumer confidence fell to a nine-month low in August. 

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Will Short Sales Hit Home Prices?

Could a new government program to help distressed homeowners wipe out recent gains in home prices?

On Tuesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced new guidelines that are supposed to make it easier for homeowners to sell their home in a short sale. In a short sale, a home sells for less than the borrower owes on the mortgage. In addition, the new guidelines, which kick in on Nov. 1, allow homeowners with a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage to pursue a short sale even if they haven’t fallen behind on their mortgage payments but have a hardship, such as a job loss or divorce.

Consumer advocates say change will help some of the borrowers who’ve been unable to sell the estimated 11 million American  homes worth less than the value of their mortgage, according to CoreLogic. However, not all homes would qualify in this new program.

And while the changes provide new hope to distressed homeowners, experts say they could negatively impact home prices in neighborhoods that get an influx of new short sales. A rise in short sales will result in “downward pressure on home prices until we clear out the majority of these distressed properties,” says Jack McCabe, an independent housing analyst in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Home prices had been rising in recent months, a trend experts say is due to the limited inventory and the smaller number of distressed properties on the market. In July, median home prices were up 9.4% from a year prior, according to the National Association of Realtors. That marked the fifth back-to-back month of year-over-year increases in home prices — the longest streak since 2006. Inventory was down 24% from a year prior. And distressed sales—including short sales and foreclosures—accounted for 24% of July sales, down from 29% a year prior.

For its part, the NAR says it’s called for an expedited short sales process to help boost inventory. The FHFA says it expects short sales to settle at market prices and that they’ll help avoid foreclosures and long vacancy periods that result in declines in home values.

Still, data suggests that the impact on homeowners who aren’t in distress could be lower home values in the near term. Even if short sales fly off the market, they’ll likely go at a discounted price. According to the NAR, short sales sell at prices that are 15% lower than regular home listings on average.

Instead, the benefits for homeowners could be bigger in the long term. “It’s a better idea to clear out the backlog of distressed homes rather than delay the process in the name of supporting [home] values,” says Brad Hunter, chief economist at Metrostudy, a housing market research and consulting firm.

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Gardening 101

Gardening 101

Gardening can be intimidating. You may not think you have a green thumb (I used to think I had a brown thumb), be unsure of how to start, or where to start. Plus, it also depends on the space you have. First, let’s tackle the where to garden. Some of you may be in high rise apartments, homes, dorms, or out in the country. Regardless of where you live, you definitely can get a mini (or large) garden going. Here are a few ideas of where to plant… 

Tin and pots

Lacking space, but want an herb garden? Try planting your herbs in some tin cans or terra cotta pots. Make sure to poke holes on the bottom so water can leak out.

Metal containers


Raised beds

Not much ground to plant on or have a balcony? Try your hand at some metal containers or find a vintage wooden box and add some casters. Instant raised beds!

Into the ground

Got some ground? Then, plant straight in it. You might want to go to your local nursery to find out if there is anything you need to add to the soil to help get it ready for planting. We have really clay like dirt here so I had to buy good planting soil and mix it in to get my ground ready. 

Raised wheels

Are you ready to get serious and grow your own produce section? Make some raised beds (and maybe add some wheels to make it moveable). My husband made ours (we used this as a guide), but your local hardware store might have some ready made ones available. If you anticipate possibly having any gopher/mole problems, put a 1/4” wire mesh on the bottom to protect your garden. We didn’t do that in the beginning and started having problems a year later, so we had to take all the dirt out of each bed, put down the mesh, and put all the dirt back in. It was a good arm and back workout! We also have one raised bed with wheels so we can move it around.






We have grown tons of stuff… various herbs, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, swiss chard, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, root vegetables, beets, peppers, and so much more. We have typically done a winter garden and a summer garden. We live in Southern California so we did research on books that were for our specified area. This book has been really helpful for us, but you might want to consult your local garden store for some resources based on your area. We are by no means professional gardeners. We make tons of mistakes and get better every year, but we enjoy the process. Here are a few tips that have been helpful for us…

1. Read up on what you are planting. Ben was the diligent one to do research on what we were planting and how to plant it. There is so much to know and having a garden can get costly, so make sure you study a bit, so you can really take care of your investment.

2. Space plants appropriately. At first I thought you just throw the seeds anywhere and they will grow. No siree. Plants need room to grow, especially vegetables. My husband makes a chart of how far to space everything out. It really makes a difference. As far as my floral garden, I like gardens that look messy and the plants tumbling over each other, so I do plant my flowers a bit closer, but I still give them plenty of elbow space too.

3. Not all plants need the same amount of water. Again, this goes back to reading up on what you are planting. Our first year we grew tomatoes, we thought it was good to water them every other day, then we went to a garden show and listened to a professional tomato grower speak, and he said they really only need deep watering once or twice a week! We did that the following year and got so much better results.

4. Pay attention to the sun. For us, we have found that most things we have planted require full, all day sun, so you will want to plant according to the amount of sun your plant will need.




Again, we aren’t garden geniuses and these things are just basic things you may have heard already, but we just enjoy growing plants and vegetables for our family and encourage you to give it a shot. Having a garden (small or big) is wonderful and gives us yummy food on the table. Plus, gardening is just another way we like to make memories together as a family. Everyone is involved. It is all a learning process and you will learn something new every season. Not everything we have planted turned out great, but get a good garden book and read up on the basics and give it a go. I think gardening is a learn by trial and error thing and you will just get better every year! 


Happy gardening!!!

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The World’s Most Livable Cities


Melbourne, Australia: World’s Most Livable City


When you move, do you ever reference one of the many ‘best of’ city rankings? Having just returned from two of the four current ‘most livable’ cities, I’d have to agree that they’re quite amazing. The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released it’s list of the world’s most livable cities, based on stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. Surprisingly none of the typical popular urban centers such as London, Paris or New York made even the top 25. Instead, Australian and Canadian cities snagged seven of the top ten spots:

According to The Economist, the survey works like this,

The concept of liveability is simple: it assesses which locations around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions. Assessing liveability has a broad range of uses. The survey originated as a means of testing whether Human Resource Departments needed to assign a hardship allowance as part of expatriate relocation packages. While this function is still a central potential use of the survey, it has also evolved as a broad means of benchmarking cities. This means that liveability is increasingly used by city councils, organisations or corporate entities looking to test their locations against others to see general areas where liveability can differ.

2012 Rankings:
1. Melbourne, Australia
2. Vienna, Austria
3. Vancouver, Canada
4. Toronto, Canada
5. Calgary, Canada
6. Adelaide, Australia
7. Sydney, Australia
8. Helsinki, Finland
9. Perth, Australia
10. Auckland, New Zealand
18. Tokyo, Japan
26. Honolulu, US
31. Hong Kong, China
53. London, UK
56. New York, US
102. New Delhi, India
140. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The survey ranks a total of 140 cities. According to the report, those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density:

This can foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure… Global business centres tend to be victims of their own success. The ‘big city buzz’ they enjoy can overstretch infrastructure and cause higher crime rates. New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are all prestigious hubs with a wealth of recreational activity, but all suffer from higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems than would be deemed comfortable.

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Fresh Picks for August 28th!

Check out this week’s fresh pick charmers by clicking here! Or select them individually below.  

4439 E BARKER Way 



3765 Gondar Ave 



3472 Tulane Ave 



3122 Stevely Ave 



215 Atlantic Ave 201 



700 E Ocean Blvd 1805 



7820 E Tarma St 



If you would like to take a look at any of these available properties or if you have any real estate questions please feel free to contact me.

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Price your house to sell quickly

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A first-quarter survey of homebuyers and sellers done by HomeGain.com, a real estate services website, revealed that 76 percent of homeowners believe their home is worth more than the list price recommended by their real estate agent.

Homebuyers usually have a better grasp of current market value in the area where they’re looking to buy than do sellers who own and live there. Buyers look at a lot of new listings. They make offers, know what sells quickly and for how much, and what doesn’t and why. HomeGain reported that homebuyers still think sellers are overpricing their homes.

Your home is worth what a buyer will pay for it given current market conditions. This may not be the same as your opinion of what your home will sell for, or what you hope it’s worth. Relying on emotion rather than logic when selecting a list price can lead to disappointing results.

The prime opportunity for selling a home is when it’s new on the market. This is when it is most marketable. Buyers wait for the new listings. Usually, listings receive the most showings and have the busiest open houses during the first couple of weeks they are on the market.

This is the opportunity to show your house off to advantage with a list price that attracts buyers’ attention. Listings that sell today are priced right for the market. Buyers need to feel comfortable that they are getting a good deal.

Buyers won’t overpay if they feel home prices are still declining, and in some areas of the country, they still are. In areas of strong sales, buyers may shy away from multiple-offer situations if they feel the recovery is fragile and that prices may slide further before stabilizing. Even in areas where home sales have been strong in the first half of 2012, local practitioners wonder how long the uptick will last.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: When selecting a list price, it helps to understand how real estate agents and appraisers establish an expected selling price or price range for your home. They research the recent listing inventory for homes similar to yours that sold. The most recent sales give the best indication of the direction of the market.

They analyze these comparable sales giving more value to your home for attributes that it has that the comparables don’t, like a remodeled kitchen. Value is subtracted from your home for features it lacks when compared to the sold comparables, like an easily accessible, level backyard.

It’s difficult for sellers to step back and take an attitude of detached interest in their home. But it’s essential to do so if you want to sell successfully in this market. For example, your home could actually sell for less, not more, than a comparable sale because you added a swimming pool in an area where most homebuyers would rather have a yard with a generous lawn.

If the comparable sale information suggests that the value of homes like yours is declining, select a list price that undercuts the competition to drive buyers — and hopefully offers — to your home. You can take a more aggressive stance on pricing if the comparables show that prices are moving up.

If there is high demand for homes like yours, you may receive more than one offer. But don’t list too high. It’s better to stay in the range shown by the comparables and expose the house to the market before accepting offers. The market will drive the price up if it’s warranted.

THE CLOSING: Don’t rely on rumors circulating in the neighborhood about how high a home sold. Prices tend to get inflated when passed from one person to another. Select your list price based on hard facts.

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Housing recovery brightens Fannie Mae economic outlook


Housing remains a bright spot in an economy where consumer spending dropped nearly a percentage point in the second quarter and a looming year-end fiscal cliff is haunting the financial markets, Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group said Tuesday.

The group released its August 2012 Economic Outlook, which shows housing doing well with residential investment projected to contribute at least 0.2 percentage points to real gross domestic product in 2012. If that does occur, it will be residential real estate’s first contribution to annual GDP since 2005.

The expected increase in home sales is supposed to come in at 9% above 2011 levels. Inventories also dropped over the past 12 months, leading to a smaller supply and a gradual uptick in homebuilding in certain markets.

While housing may be brighter today, Fannie Mae’s chief economist Doug Duncan remains cautious about the remainder of the year.

"The July data hasn’t changed our forecast for slow growth in 2012, but we’re increasingly focused on the looming ‘fiscal cliff’ near year-end," Duncan said. "The debt ceiling debate, as well as current legislation that could create a drag of more than 4% on GDP in 2013, may spur further caution among consumers and businesses alike. On the bright side, we continue to see positive trends in the housing sector, which is showing signs of a durable, long-term recovery."

The economy itself remains shaky with inflation-adjusted consumer spending falling nearly a percentage point in the second quarter — the first spending drop since last August. Those factors were offset by stronger July retail sales and the strongest jobs report in five months with 163,000 positions created last month.

Duncan suggested consistent job growth could lift the ailing economy and the confidence of small businesses, but risks to the overall economic outlook remain on the downside.

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Price gains lift 400,000 homes above water

Zillow sees improvements in negative equity rates in 29 of 30 largest markets

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Home price increases helped more homeowners regain some equity in their homes during the second quarter, according to an analysis by Zillow.

Zillow’s Negative Equity Report estimates that 30.9 percent of homeowners with mortgages owed more than their homes were worth at the end of June, down from 31.4 percent at the end of March. That translates into 15.3 million underwater homes — about 400,000 less than three months before.

The report — which compares Zillow’s automated home valuation “Zestimates” for individual homes with actual mortgage loan balance data from TransUnion — showed all but one of the 30 largest markets tracked by Zillow saw a quarter-over-quarter improvement in their negative equity rate.

Metro areas seeing the greatest quarter-to-quarter percentage point decreases in the negative equity rate were Phoenix (-3.9 percentage points, to 51.6 percent), Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (-2.7 percentage points, to 43.7 percent) and Las Vegas (-2.5 percentage points, to 68.5 percent).

Among those 30 markets, only Philadelphia experienced an increase in its negative equity rate, which was up 0.4 percentage points from March to June. But the city’s 25.4 percent negative equity rate was still well below the national average. Charlotte, N.C. (-0.2 percentage point, to 36.4 percent) and St. Louis (-0.5 percentage point, to 30.2 percent) also failed to best the 0.5 percentage point improvement in the negative equity rate seen at the national level.

Metro area Q1 2012 negative equity rate (homes with mortgages) Q2 2012 negative equity rate (homes with mortgages) Difference in rate from Q1 to Q2
United States 31.40% 30.90% -0.50%
Phoenix 55.50% 51.60% -3.90%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 46.40% 43.70% -2.70%
Las Vegas 71.00% 68.50% -2.50%
Boston 22.00% 19.60% -2.40%
San Jose 22.70% 20.30% -2.40%
San Francisco 30.70% 28.50% -2.20%
Riverside, Calif. 53.40% 51.20% -2.20%
Orlando, Fla. 53.90% 51.90% -2.00%
Sacramento, Calif. 51.20% 49.30% -1.90%
Chicago 41.10% 39.20% -1.90%
Denver 29.00% 27.10% -1.90%
Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas 30.70% 28.90% -1.80%
Seattle 39.60% 37.80% -1.80%
San Diego 35.60% 33.90% -1.70%
Tampa, Fla. 48.30% 46.60% -1.70%
Detroit 49.80% 48.30% -1.50%
Los Angeles 30% 28.60% -1.40%
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. 39.90% 38.70% -1.20%
Cincinnati 31.50% 30.30% -1.20%
Washington, D.C. 32.40% 31.30% -1.10%
Pittsburgh 16.70% 15.60% -1.10%
Portland, Ore. 34.30% 33.20% -1.10%
Cleveland 33.90% 32.90% -1.00%
Atlanta 55.20% 54.40% -0.80%
Columbus, Ohio
34.20% 33.40% -0.80%
New York 21.30% 20.70% -0.60%
Baltimore 31.40% 30.80% -0.60%
St. Louis 30.70% 30.20% -0.50%
Charlotte 36.60% 36.40% -0.20%
Philadelphia 25.00% 25.40% 0.40%

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2,500 Bicycles Coming to Long Beach Via Big New Bike Share Program


A privately-funded bike share program will be rolling out in Long Beach early next year, and will make 2,500 bicycles available at up to 250 kiosks around the city.

The new bike share will be the result of The City of Long Beach teaming up with Bike Nation, and was approved Tuesday night by the Long Beach City Council.

From a media release issued by the City of Long Beach:

“This state-of-the-art Bike Share program will serve local residents, businesses and visitors,” Mayor Bob Foster said. “Bicycling is helping to promote business growth as well as a healthy, active lifestyle. And this new partnership will continue to move us forward to becoming the most bicycle friendly city in the nation.”

It’s no secret that’s Long Beach’s goal; it’s the city’s current “vision,” as articulated similarly by Bike Long Beach.

Here’s how the Bike Nation bike share will work in Long Beach:

The system is made up of self-service kiosks where individuals can rent and return a bicycle anywhere within a network of stations. Stations are located in close proximity for quick trips where users live, work and visit. The usage fees for the bicycle share system are incentivized for quick turnover and trips of less than 30 minutes in duration with a single 24-hour membership priced at $6, with discounts for three-day ($12), weekly ($25), monthly ($35), yearly ($75) and yearly student/senior rentals ($50).

And more about the bikes and kiosks:

The bikes are chainless and feature active GPS technology and airless tires, helping reduce the need for on-road service. The kiosks are modular, portable, wirelessly connected and solar powered so that monitoring and load balancing is easily managed.

Recently Bike Nation launched a program in Anaheim, hailing it the West Coast’s first bike sharing system. In April of this year, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Bike Nation would be setting up a $16 million L.A. program with a whopping 400 bicycles at 400 kiosks, starting late 2012.

Long Beach’s new bike sharing program is expected to launch in February 2013. It will begin in Downtown, and roll out to other neighborhoods. Kiosks will be located in “hubs” that are determined to meet the most need, and connect riders with Metro’s Blue Line and local buses.

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Bob Vila’s ‘Must-Do’ Projects for August

It’s August, the summer is in full swing, and the living is easy. Well, sort of. As every homeowner will agree, there’s always something to do around the house or the yard to keep things looking good and performing well.

This month is the ideal time to tackle some upgrades on your home’s exterior; simple, inexpensive things that you can accomplish on your own to boost the curb appeal of your home — its resale value.

And with the days growing continually shorter, the time to start is now. Here are my five “must-do” projects for August:

Update your front entry

Improving the entrance to your home is a relatively easy thing to do. Add some color by painting the front door in a fresh coat of gloss paint, or strip it down to the natural wood. Consider container gardens or shutters to provide additional interest. And replace outdated exterior wall sconces with more stylish models. If you are looking to do the latter, here’s all you need:

Materials and tools

  • New exterior wall light fixture
  • Wire nuts (if not included)
  • Multi-head screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Lightbulb
  • Electrical tape (optional)


  1. Turn off the power. You will need to go to the main circuit breaker of the house to shut off the power to the existing light fixture. Don’t think that having the light switch “off” is a sure-fire way to cut the power entirely. It’s not!
  2. Remove the old fixture. The existing fixture will be attached to the wall with either a mounting cover plate or exposed screws. If the former, lift the plate off to reveal the mounting screws. Loosen and remove the screws while holding the fixture in place until you disconnect the wires.
  3. The mounting bracket. Chances are the old light fixture was affixed to the wall with a crossbar mounting bracket. You should replace it with the mounting hardware that came packaged with your new fixture. Depending on the style of lantern, the crossbar is either a 4-inch circle of metal with several holes cut in it, a 4-inch by 1-inch metal plate with several holes, or two 4-inch by 1-inch metal plates connected in the center to form a cross.
  4. Wiring 101. Connect the wires according to the manufacturer’s instructions: white (neutral) to white, black (hot) to black and green (ground) wire to the bare copper wire from the junction box. Use plastic wire screws to keep wire connections secure. (You can also choose to secure connections with electrical tape.) Pack all the wires back inside the outlet box, making certain not to loosen connections.
  5. Installing the new lantern. Attach the lantern to the crossbar with the mounting screws provided, or position it onto the protruding screws and affix the hex nuts packaged with the lamp. Secure tightly. Depending on the contour of the wall siding, you may need to put a bead of clear caulking along the top and sides to prevent water from seeping behind the fixture. (Another option is a foam mounting block cut to fit the contour of the siding.)
  6. Power on. Turn the power back on at the circuit breaker and test out your new fixture.

Create a stone path

You can avoid the expense of a structured walkway and add visual interest to your home’s landscape by laying a more casual pathway. Choose from a full range of materials — bricks, pavers, flagstone, granite slabs, river rocks, gravel or simulated stone products like above — to design the path that fits your home’s design and matches your DIY skill set. Not interested in cutting stone to configure into a pattern? There’s no need. Plenty of designs require nothing more than a little imagination, a thoughtful plan and some basic skills.

Make a window box

A simple window box can add enormous curb appeal to a house or an apartment while providing an attractive garden view from indoors. There are a multitude of products on the market today — wood, plastic, resin and metal — that embrace a broad range of designs and price points. Feeling crafty? Make one yourself. It’s an easy woodworking project that requires minimal tools and materials. You can tackle it as a family, imparting how-to skills and an appreciation for small-scale gardening to your kids.

Consider a garden shed

If you are looking for a way to free your garage of unnecessary seasonal storage, consider the benefits of a ready-made shed. Not only are sheds a practical choice for outdoor equipment storage, many are appealing as an architectural element in the yard. But today’s sheds aren’t just for the garden. Coming in all shapes and sizes, some are perfectly suited as a standalone workshop, artist studio or home-away-from-home office.

Collect rainwater

Although serious rain shortages and extreme heat have parched many a lawn and garden this summer, you can take some initiative and responsibility by installing a rain collection system to help with future irrigation needs. A rain barrel, or some variation thereof, will allow you to keep your yard and garden well-irrigated without tapping into well water or municipal water supplies. You might want to check with your town to see if there are any restrictions on rain barrel use or size, first.

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What Do You Buy When Nothing is Perfect?

How do you decide what to buy - whether to buy - when nothing’s perfect?

Today’s “dream home” emphasis on buying real estate makes it tough for buyers whose wish list and budget do not match. If you have designer tastes and a fixer-upper budget, should you buy now, or wait until you can afford more?

That question is simple to ask. Buyers should always ask and answer this question before they start the dream home search. The problem is that this simple question has a very complex answer which is all about you. I’ve been answering it by raising relevant issues and topics in the 600 plus articles written for this column, “Decisions & Communities,” and I can always see more considerations…and more articles to write.

The real answer: Only you know what to buy and if you should buy.

To prepare yourself and your partner to answer this question with foresight - not wish you had in hind sight - there are strategies to consider:

  • When prices are going up, strategize.

    The urgency to jump into the market before real estate is financially out of reach, must be weighed against the reality that prices often reverse themselves at some stage. Decisions regarding this financial concern should include considerations like the following:

    • The “what goes up, must come down” pattern is no longer true for all neighbourhoods, particularly choice urban and recreational locations.
    • Factor in the cost of where you’ll live while you wait, and how you’ll stay ahead of inflation. Calculate how to realistically save more money toward the purchase.
    • Create a Plan B in case prices do not come down when you want them to.
  • Set a budget that expands real estate choices.

    Making sure you “tick off” all the items on your wish list, but don’t end up “house rich, cash poor” can be a challenge. Get tough, to get ahead: Before you view any houses or condominiums, put your financial ducks in a row, so nothing will get in the way of negotiating a deal when you find “it”:

    • Get your credit in order. You can check your credit rating with the main credit companies for free. Correct errors, and there will be errors, since no one cares about the accuracy of this record but you. You know about paying off credit cards and any debt you can to achieve top borrowing power, so do it.
    • Search out a mortgage broker experienced at maximizing borrowing power while minimizing borrowing costs. Time spent here will save you thousands over the years ahead.
    • Make sure you know why you “must have” the “must haves.” Often fads and trends influence this list. Concentrate on buying what’s going to be in and what can be inexpensively up-dated to follow new trends, rather than paying for renovations that are already fading from fashion. Pare the “must have” list down to “absolutely must haves” - a very short list which will probably include a specific location. With fewer limiting criteria, you’ll have more possibilities to choose from. Then, create a “value” list of features and benefits that will add value through expanded use, income potential, cost reduction, or other factors of relevance to you. Keep track of these details when viewing, so comparisons can be accurate.
    • Create a budget to cover all the costs of buying and expenses of ownership in the first year. A real estate professional will know how to crunch these numbers so you’re clear on how much cash you’ll need on closing to cover legal fees, adjusted costs like property taxes, and expenses heating, and utilities for the upcoming year. Provide your buying agent with a list of ownership costs you want to know for each property, so you can determine value and, eventually, use these figures to decide on an offer price.
  • Adapt to buy

    If you walk into a house or condominium unit and feel you’re home, put in an offer. If you don’t have this immediate “dream home” reaction, you may still discover this is an ideal property for your needs, and a great investment.

    • By totalling up “value” features and benefits, you will find real estate to love, and transform into a dream. Make enough profit on this real estate, and you can afford a true dream home on your next buy.
    • Buy the best location you can afford. Ideally, the least house on the best street within your budget for the greatest appreciation in value over the shortest time. The same is true for condos, a lesser unit in the best condo, in the best location you can afford.
    • Place the greatest weight on features and benefits that cannot be changed like location, including sun orientation, and things that are expensive to change like square footage. Look for bad decor and sloppy housekeeping since these can reduce the number of interested buyers and keep the price down. Be aware of superficial “staging” and its stripped down approach that makes rooms look larger and everything look newer.
    • Buy the neighbourhood first. Decide on who you’re going to live with and where you’ll spend your time shopping. School and workplace issues are important. Find out what redevelopment is planned for the area. Many lovely neighbourhood shopping areas are threatened by “big box” development.

    Discovering your dream home can be expensive. If you get emotionally attached to the real estate before you own it, you can lose your negotiating toughness and spend more than necessary. This can also lead to drastic overspending reactions if there are multiple offers.

    Pay as little as possible, but remember that there are other cost factors to build into the offer including closing date, what is included in the price, and what the owner will pay for (survey, repairs, taxes, etc.). Make sure you have a thorough home inspection to reveal even deliberately-hidden problems with wiring, plumbing, and other expensive to repair elements.

    Concentrate on the dream of home ownership, rather than the cosmetic “staged” appeal of a particular house or condominium, and you won’t have your dream turn into an expensive nightmare.

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    Obama touts bills offering refinancing to struggling homeowners


    President Obama, fighting criticism that he was slow to respond to the housing crisis, is ramping up efforts this week to promote legislation aimed at keeping struggling Americans in their homes.He called on Congress to pass a package of bills offering more opportunities for homeowners to save money by refinancing mortgages at lower interest rates. The legislation would expand the pool of borrowers eligible for refinancing.

    Facing an uphill battle to get the backing of Congress, the administration has dispatched Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on a multi-state trip to promote the legislation. Donovan will meet Wednesday with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at City Hall, as well as with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif)., who sponsored one of three refinance bills backed by the president."There are a lot of families out there whose homes are underwater; they owe more than the house is worth because housing values dropped so precipitously. And they’re having trouble refinancing," Obama told reporters Monday. "We’re going to be pushing Congress to see if they can pass a refinancing bill that puts $3,000 into the pockets of the average family who hasn’t yet refinanced their mortgage."

    Obama wants to convince voters that his policies helped the nation rebound from the slumping housing market, financial crisis and recession. Meanwhile, Republican challenger Mitt Romney said he wants the government to let the foreclosure process run its course and find a bottom.The latest refinance campaign comes after many of the administration’s efforts to stem foreclosures and aid struggling borrowers stumbled.

    Only about 1 million homeowners have received permanent loan modifications through administration housing initiatives, which officials had hoped would modify 3 million to 4 million mortgages through 2012. There are about 11 million underwater homes in the nation.Federal bailout funds that went to the so-called hardest-hit states to develop their own foreclosure programs — California was the largest recipient — have gone largely unspent. And a $25-billion national mortgage settlement among the states, the federal government and the nation’s largest banks reached only a narrow slice of borrowers.

    This month, an administration plan to incentivize Fannie Maeand Freddie Mac to write down underwater mortgages failed. The plan, if it had succeeded, would have provided what some economists argue could have been the strongest medicine for housing.The plan would have allowed Fannie and Freddie, which own or back about 60% of the nation’s mortgages, to lower the principal for underwater homeowners as a way of reducing foreclosures. But the regulatory agency that oversees the housing finance giants ruled that principal reductions would cost taxpayers money and wouldn’t improve the ability of homeowners to avoid foreclosure.

    The latest refinancing legislation might have a tough time amid Democratic and Republican wrangling. Members of Congress are expected to weigh the legislation after they return from an August break."Frankly were it not for an election — and an interest of some members to just stand in the president’s way on everything — I think we’d see this passed easily," Donovan told The Times in an interview.

    Underwater mortgages remain an obstinate barrier to economic growth as people who remain stuck in homes that have fallen below the value of their debts are left unable to chase new opportunities elsewhere. These negative-equity borrowers are also at higher risk for foreclosures.The vast majority of underwater U.S. homeowners — 3 out of 4 — were stuck with high-interest mortgages, increasing the precariousness of their financial situations, a report last year by research firm CoreLogic showed.

    Getting those borrowers into lower-cost loans could be one of the few effective ways left of addressing housing quickly, economists said. If more people were allowed to refinance, they could plow that money back into their homes, reducing mortgage debt, or spend the extra money on goods and services, boosting the economy."Facilitating more refinancing is the best way to help the housing market and the broader economy quickly," said Mark Zandi, chief economist ofMoody’sAnalytics. "The reduction in mortgage payment is akin to $2,500 to 3,000 a year, so that is a pretty sizable tax cut."

    A bill by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is aimed at expanding the Home Affordable Refinance Program to more Fannie and Freddie borrowers and reducing costs, as is legislation by Feinstein. The Feinstein legislation also aims to expand refinancing to underwater borrowers who have privately owned loans by allowing them to refinance into loans backed by the federal government.A separate proposal by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) would try to expand refinancing to privately owned mortgages in another way: It would create a trust that issues low-rate mortgages for underwater loans and sells them to investors.

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