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You’ll encounter special joys and hurdles when you’re alone in the deal. These 8 strategies will smooth your path to buying.

If you’re single and thinking of buying a home, you’re in great company. Solo buyers made a quarter of all U.S. real-estate purchases last year, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012. Twice as many single women bought homes as did single men. 

Buying a home as a single person is much like buying with a partner. You shop, select and finance a piece of property, as all buyers do.

But there are distinct differences when you’re alone in the deal. All the joys and burdens are yours alone. The research, the shopping, the financing and, eventually, the bills and upkeep – yep, all yours. While that probably sounds obvious, there are implications you may not have considered.

Master of his domain
Carl Toll, a single, 36-year-old network technician, bought his 1,600-square-foot Denver home in 2007, after a bad roommate experience soured him on the rental life.

“This isn’t working out,” he decided after the housemate moved out without telling him. “I want to be the master of my own domain.”

Shopping and purchasing were pretty easy, he says. He thought through each aspect of his purchase carefully. He wanted a low-maintenance home: “I didn’t want to have to replace water heaters and furnaces right off the bat.” So he looked for something built recently.

He’s not a parent, but he shopped only in highly rated school districts to help ensure the resale value of his purchase. He has enjoyed the house, the neighborhood and the sense of independence that owning his own home gives him, he says.

Getting a mortgage alone
Toll’s experience was smooth, but many solo buyers face challenges. The recession has been one of the biggest. In the early recession years, single homebuyers enjoyed a boost from federal first-time-homebuyer tax credits in 2009 and 2010.

Stacy Erickson, a 29-year-old professional organizer, bought her 700-square-foot co-op apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in 2009. “That was a really good year for people like me,” she says. “I was able to borrow some money for a down payment and then pay it all back with the tax credit.”

But by 2011, the recession hit solo buyers hard. “Single-income households are more reluctant to make big-ticket purchases in times of economic uncertainty,” according to the NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Home purchases by singles fell an “unprecedented” 7% between 2010 and 2012.

The biggest hurdle for singles is qualifying for a mortgage. “In most cases that I see, it is more difficult for a single buyer to purchase than a two-person household,” says Craig Tashjian, vice president at Fairway Independent Mortgage in Needham, Mass.

One bonus: Singles aren’t dragged down by a partner’s credit score, loans or credit card debt. Tashjian says couples often get stuck with a higher interest rate because of one member’s low credit score.

Couples, though, usually have an advantage, says Marcus McCue, executive vice president at Guardian Mortgage Co., which operates in Texas and Michigan. Not only do they have two incomes but also, when sharing overhead, “one plus one usually equals more than two, as many expenses are joint and not duplicated.”

Difficulties in qualifying sometimes lead buyers, especially younger ones, to ask parents or other relatives for financial help.

“I have seen people choose to continue renting as a result of not wanting to involve any other parties in a purchase and pay more rent than they would if they purchased,” New York real-estate agent Brad Malow says.

Shopping solo — the triumphs
Single shoppers are alone with all the decisions required to buy a home. That can be harrowing. But there’s also a special sense of accomplishment to buying a home alone.

“I was the one who had to come up with all of the financing without support from a spouse or partner,” Erickson says. “However, I was also the one who got the choices and all of the decisions. I didn’t have to worry about someone else and what they liked or didn’t like.”

Homebuying is a means of self-expression, particularly for singles, says Jennifer De Vivo, an Orlando, Fla., real-estate agent. “It’s a way for singles to express their lifestyles and values. They are able to focus on the exact communities, home styles and features that cater to their individuality with much less compromise.”

Despite the exhilaration, buying solo can be nerve-wracking without a confidant and sounding board. To compensate, singles often work more closely with their agents. In the best cases, they form a tight bond.

“I find that I become more involved, like a friend,” says Jerry Grodesky, managing broker at Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate Inc. in Loda, Ill.

Watching the satisfaction that single buyers get from tackling one of life’s major milestones on their own is rewarding for an agent, Malow says. “I have to say that the closings with these buyers just thrill me.”

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original article by: Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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Lenders look at other factors, not your credit score alone, before approving a condo loan.

Some lenders can make condo buyers with pristine credit feel like rejects. Blame it on the building.

Before making a loan to a would-be buyer, lenders comb through the building’s financial statements to see if too many condos remain unsold, or if units are mostly rentals instead of owner-occupied. Lenders also look to see if the building’s cash reserves, which help cover maintenance costs, are too low.

These factors — which have nothing to do with a potential buyer’s finances — can put a chokehold on a loan.

A lot of condo buildings don’t make the grade. At national lender EverBank, for instance, roughly 30% of condo mortgage applicants encounter a roadblock due to the building’s finances. “A perfect borrower can’t fix a bad project,” says Tom Wind, executive vice president of residential and consumer lending at EverBank.

Shaky condos have been popping up more frequently over the past two to three years, even in luxury buildings, says Zeke Morris, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. Real-estate agents say they’re also prevalent in other markets, including Houston and Miami.

In general, lenders say they view condos as riskier purchases than other homes. Much of that stems from condo-association fees. If existing owners are behind on those payments or many units remain unsold, monthly fees are likely to rise to help cover costs.

At some point, lenders argue, those expenses could rise to a level where an owner can no longer afford to pay the fees and walks away from the property, leaving the lender with the outstanding mortgage. That’s why, currently, it is almost impossible to get a mortgage — regardless of your wealth — if more than 15% of condos in a building are behind on dues, says Jeff Gennarelli, president of Bridgeview Bank Mortgage Co., based in Lombard, Ill.

But luxury buyers have alternatives besides paying all cash for the condo. One is private mortgages, loans that lenders hold on their books rather than sell to the government. They tend to be larger than traditional loans, require larger down payments and are often offered only as adjustable-rate mortgages. Rates are also generally higher than traditional mortgages.

Private loans are sometimes the only source of financing for condos sold in luxury hotels and in buildings where more than 20% or 25% of the units consist of commercial space, like restaurants and shopping malls. They’re also common for a condo in a new building where a certain percentage of the units are still owned by the developer.

To find such a loan, borrowers should consider a community bank or other local lending institution where they have a lot of assets or where they have been banking for years, though an existing relationship isn’t always required. Or they can ask mortgage brokers who may know a lender willing to fund such a loan.

The opportunity for profit is partly why these lenders take on the risk when others won’t. Whatever leniency they offer on a building’s finances they often make up for by imposing strict lending requirements, including high credit scores, says Eddie Hoskins, president of First Florida Financial Group, a Fort Myers, Fla.-based mortgage broker that arranges such loans.

Some points to consider when applying for a condo loan:

Get an early start: Buyers should ask lenders for the list of criteria the building will need to meet; then real-estate agents can provide those answers when potential buyers shop for properties.

The type of building: Some condo buildings have a greater risk of not being approved for financing. Jonathan Cherry, senior mortgage banker at Wyndham Capital Mortgage based in Charlotte, N.C., says buyers who want to avoid financing complications might want to stick to mid- to larger-size buildings that are mostly owner-occupied.

Large down payments: With a private mortgage, borrowers often need to make at least a 20% to 30% down payment if it’s a primary residence. If it’s a second home, they could need to put down at least 40%. For investment purposes, cash is among the few options, since a mortgage may be impossible to get.

Rising costs: With adjustable-rate mortgages, rates could be low now but rise in a few years, thereby increasing the monthly mortgage payment. And borrowers could still end up with rising condo dues if the other owners in the building hit hard times.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: AnnaMaria Andriotis of The Wall Street Journal

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When we were building our new construction home, the driveway almost seemed like an afterthought. With everything else so close to being finished, we walked around with a can of orange spray paint imagining the ideal path from the street to our garage doors.

So, if not in our experience, then generally speaking, the driveway occupies an important place in overall home and property design. When planning your driveway, there are several things to consider:

Budget
Sometimes money plays a big role in decision-making on materials. As you are thinking about budget, be sure to factor in the varying long-term costs associated with different types of driveways. While a paver driveway carries relatively high upfront costs, maintaining one isn’t expensive. Gravel, on the other hand, is perhaps the least expensive to install but requires the sort of regular maintenance that doesn’t come cheap. Before deciding on a material, make sure you understand what the driveway’s total cost will be over its anticipated lifetime.

Curb appeal
As viewed from the street, your driveway can make a big impression on the look of your house. And certain materials complement certain architectural styles more than others. A gravel driveway would make a nice visual accompaniment to a farmhouse cottage, whereas a herringbone-pattern brick driveway would better suit a colonial-style residence. In short, think about what your choice of driveway will add to, or take away from, curb appeal.

Climate
Some driveway materials may not be appropriate for the climate where you live. For instance, asphalt endures freeze-thaw cycles better than concrete. And heavy rainfalls can negatively affect driveway surfaces that are more prone to erosion, such as gravel and pea stone. Snow, humidity, rainfall and temperature changes are all factors that ought to influence your final decision. Do your homework.

Maintenance
Each material has its own maintenance requirements. For instance, asphalt requires resealing every three to five years. If you live in a place where plowing snow is necessary, a gravel drive will require replacement of moved material each spring. Is the maintenance required of a given material such that you can do it yourself, or will you need to contract someone to handle the work? A smart driveway design will take these questions into account.

Durability
What kind of traffic will your driveway be getting? Will there be lots of heavy trucks on it, or just passenger cars? Some materials are durable, others more finicky. And what’s the grade like? Gravel and pea-stone drives with a pitch are prone to erosion. Also, how long will the driveway be expected to last — 20 years? 40 years? And what kind of maintenance is required to maximize lifespan?

Whatever material you decide to use for your driveway, make sure you take time to lay it out right. If you’ll need space for guests to park, make sure to allow for that.

Once the rough grading is done, take a test drive into the garage from the street (and back the other way) to make sure it tracks comfortably for your biggest vehicle. You don’t want to swipe off your side-view mirror!

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.468.5753

Original Article By: Jennifer Noonan of BobVila.com

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Here’s just how seriously you should take the radiation emanating from your granite counters, among other potential home hazards.

Every now and then a news report gets people worked up about hidden dangers lurking in their homes. Should you be afraid that the radiation coming from your granite countertop or the flame retardants in your furniture are trying to kill you?

Granite countertops
A beautiful granite countertop can make any kitchen pop. Yet every once in a while people go into panic mode, freaking out about the fact that granite is a rock that can have some radioactive elements and could potentially give off radon, which can be harmful in high concentrations. But while the very mention of the word radiation is enough to stoke fears, you don’t really need to worry about this one. The EPA says that radon is more likely to come into your house from the soil than from your kitchen counters (and granite isn’t a very porous stone to begin with, meaning it doesn’t give out as much radiation as others).

Furthermore, any buildup of radon in the kitchen or bathroom is unlikely, as those rooms tend to have good ventilation systems. “It is extremely unlikely that granite countertops in homes could increase the radiation dose above the normal, natural background dose that comes from soil and rocks,” the EPA says.
Fear rating: Extremely low
Precautions: Be more worried about legitimate dangers in the kitchen, such as food safety and keeping sharp objects and cleaning solutions away from kids.

Particleboard and formaldehyde

Particleboard-based furniture may be great for furnishing your place on a budget. But pressed wood products such as particleboard tend to contain formaldehyde resins in the adhesives that hold the wood particles together. Formaldehyde is a surprisingly common volatile chemical, but it’s definitely not good for you. Luckily, good ventilation and keeping heat and humidity to a minimum can reduce the amount of formaldehyde released from furniture.

Fear Rating: Low
Precautions: Check what kind of adhesives furniture manufacturers used to make your products. Since the 1980s, when the EPA restricted the maximum allowable formaldehyde emissions from this kind of furniture, many companies have made efforts to substantially reduce the amount of the chemical in their production.

Flame retardants

A recent study found that 85% of couches tested in California contained flame retardants that have not been evaluated for human safety.

Couches in California are required to have flame-retardant properties, but some scientists worry that the chemicals used to prevent flaming sofas might be linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological issues — not to mention that these flame retardants aren’t necessarily present at levels in which they are effective at fire prevention.

No decisive link to health problems has been proved. The problem is that the replacements for pentabromodiphenyl ether, which the EPA banned from new products after 2005, haven’t been fully tested, according to study author Heather Stapleton of Duke University. Stapleton says that she and her colleagues are pursuing long-term health studies. The presence of these chemicals in the air outside the couch is worrying — especially as the same kinds of foam are currently used in baby mattresses and supplies.

Look for a label that mentions Technical Bulletin 117 — if it’s there then your couch probably has flame retardants. If it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t flame retardants, it just means that you don’t know for certain.
Fear rating: Medium
Precautions: Stapleton says that people worried about the dust should wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, to reduce chances of ingesting any toxic chemicals. Removing dust by cleaning regularly can help, too, but Stapleton cautions that vacuuming and dusting can cause some particles to become airborne.

 

Microwaves

Microwaves have been in our homes long enough to inspire lots of fear mongering, worries and urban legends. Rumors that microwaving plastic will poison your food, or that the radiation will disrupt pacemakers, have been around for years. According to the FDA, most of this is nonsense. No, you shouldn’t use some plastics in the microwave — because they could melt —but you can solve that problem by checking the bottom of the package to see what’s allowed; if the item is microwave-safe, there is sometimes a symbol (a box with wavy lines inside it) that indicates it is safe for microwave use. Pacemakers used to be affected by microwaves, but are now shielded. And you’re not going to get radiation injuries from a microwave; it just isn’t powerful enough to do any damage.

Interestingly, the FDA does warn about erupting hot water. Apparently, heating water in a clean cup for a long time can cause the water to get superheated. It reaches temperatures above the boiling point without the distinctive bubbling of a rolling boil. When anything is added to the water, or it is shaken, then it can erupt, causing burns.
Fear Rating: Medium
Precautions: Check labels, and don’t heat that cup of water for tea for too long.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics

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Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

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If you’re justifying home renovations thinking that you’ll recover the costs when you sell, you may want to recalculate.

Homeowners who want to remodel will find both joy and sorrow in the 2013 Cost vs. Value Report, recently published by Remodeling Magazine.

The joy comes from the report’s finding that remodeling projects overall could be expected to return a higher percentage of their cost at resale in 2013, reversing a six-year decline in the recovered value of such investments. Every project on the national list posted a higher return in 2012 than it did in the prior year. The sorrow is that while returns are higher than they were, they’re still far short of 100%.

The complete list included 22 midrange projects, ranging from a $1,137 steel entry door replacement to a $152,470 second-story addition, and 13 upscale projects, ranging from a $2,720 garage door replacement to a $220,086 master suite addition.

Best return

In the mid-range category, the least costly project — that steel entry door replacement — posted the highest return at 85.6%  of the cost.

Other midrange projects that returned 70% or better were an attic bedroom, basement remodel, wood deck addition, garage door replacement, minor kitchen remodel, vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning mid-range project was a home office remodel, which recouped just 43.6%.

In the upscale category, the highest-returning project was a fiber-cement siding replacement, which recaptured 79.3%. Other upscale projects that returned 60% or better were a garage door replacement, foam-backed vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning upscale project was the master suite addition, which recouped just 52.1%.

Money-losers

And in those figures also lies the sorrow. That steel entry door replacement was the only project in the midrange or upscale category that achieved at least an 80% cost recovery, nationally. The home-improvement projects returned only a 60.6% national average. That’s not much of an incentive, financially speaking, for home improvements.

Replacement projects generally were a better investment than remodeling or room additions. Cost-and-value-recapture percentages varied widely on a regional basis.

Contractors agree with the positive outlook

Remodeling contractors have high expectations for 2013, according to a fourth-quarter 2012 survey by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Des Plaines, Ill.

The survey found remodelers reported better business conditions, more inquires, more requests for bids, more conversions of bids into jobs and a higher value of total jobs compared with the prior quarter.

Tom O’Grady, chairman of the NARI strategic planning committee and president of O’Grady Builders, a remodeling company, in Drexel Hill, Pa., said in a statement that remodelers were anticipating major growth in their businesses.

“Many (remodelers are) saying that their clients are feeling more stable in their financial future and their employment situations; therefore, they are spending more freely on remodeling needs,” O’Grady said.

The 2013 Cost vs. Value Report is a snapshot of generic projects and shouldn’t be applied to individual homes. Instead, homeowners should get estimates from local remodelers and discuss home values with a local real estate professional.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marcie Geffner, HSH.com

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The housing market seems to be turning a corner, with prices ticking up thanks to reduced inventory and a decline in foreclosure sales. But problems looming in the broader economy could roil this housing rally.

 

Will the housing recovery last? That’s the question some economists are asking, given the plodding growth in the economy, as well as the looming “fiscal cliff,” which threatens to raise taxes and cut jobs.

Tight inventory in many markets and a decline in foreclosure sales have lifted prices, and record-low mortgage rates eased some buyers off the fence, but weak job growth, lousy credit and the large number of buyers with little or no equity could conspire to flatten out the rebound, making this one of the longest, most excruciating recoveries in housing history.

That’s possible even if Congress manages to stave off the “fiscal cliff” in January that would take away the Bush-era tax cuts and raise taxes for most Americans.

“It’s clearly not sustainable,” says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist for real-estate analytics firm CoreLogic. “Real incomes are not growing. We are at the same level we were in the mid-1990s. [The recovery] is not sustainable until incomes recover.”

Some markets have yet to hit bottom, says Robert Shiller, the Yale economist who first warned of the looming crisis in real estate, and who — with Carl Case — created the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Home prices have yet to turn positive in markets such as Milwaukee, Atlanta, Philadelphia and even New York City.

Shiller, for one, is still reluctant to call the recent improvement in the market a solid recovery.

“The question is how strong is it, and will … this rally fizzle or not? And I don’t know the answer to that,” Shiller said in a recent interview with NPR. “But I point out that this is the fourth time we’ve had a rally since the crisis ended.”

A good start
Still, there’s no question that the overwhelmingly negative news about the housing market has turned positive.

Existing-home sales jumped 11% in September from the same time a year earlier, while the median home price of $183,900 was 11.3% higher than a year ago — the seventh straight month of year-over-year increases, according to the National Association of Realtors.

With sales increasing, the supply of for-sale housing has dwindled to a healthy 5.9-month supply, down from the 8.2-month supply last summer. Of those homes on the market, far fewer are foreclosures, which typically sell for 20% to 30% less than traditional listings.

“When properties come on the market they move fast,” says Gary Bauer, a broker and blogger in Denver. “It’s not uncommon in the price ranges up to $750,000 for a new listing to get multiple offers.”

While new-home sales dipped slightly in August, the median price of a new home surged 11.2% to $256,900, the biggest one-month increase ever recorded. Prices have climbed 17% over the past year and are at the highest level since spring 2007, according to the Commerce Department, fueling some talk of a growing bubble.

It’s true that homebuilders are feeling more confident. New single-family home starts ticked up 5.5% in August from the previous month.

Add to that rising consumer confidence and record-low mortgage interest rates in recent weeks, and it’s easy to see why so many are starting to think the housing market has really turned the corner.

Too much excitement?
Of course, some things are missing for a robust and sustained rebound, including meaningful job growth, pay increases and enough affordable inventory in some markets.

Tight inventory helped pushed the NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index (based on signed contracts) down 2.6% to 99.2, despite being 10.7% higher than the same time last year.

Prices have yet to rise enough to make selling viable for those who bought in the past seven years, Khater says.

About 10.8 million, or 22.3%, of homes financed with mortgages were in negative equity at the end of the second quarter, according to CoreLogic. And 45% of all homes have mortgages with an 80% loan-to-value ratio, giving homeowners little to put down on another house.

Moreover, many foreclosures that would have wound up with a for-sale sign in front are being sold in packages to investors as rentals. While that’s good for propping up prices near term, this affordable inventory won’t make it to individual buyers.

And despite the record-low mortgage rates of late, qualifying for a loan can still be tough.

Paul Diggle of Capital Economics pointed out the growing gap between the NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index and its monthly sales figures in a recent housing report. As many as 15% of contracts don’t make it through to closing, he says, in part because of today’s tight lending environment.

But the real driver of the recovery, Khater says, needs to be jobs. Without meaningful growth in jobs — job creation that outpaces population growth — and stronger pay raises, the recovery could fizzle out.

“The economy is fundamentally very weak,” he says, “and that could keep the malaise out there for an extended period of time.”

Especially, he says, if Congress fails to push off the spending cuts and tax increases due to take effect at the beginning of next year. That could send the country back into a recession.

The road ahead
Of course, analysts say, there’s a chance that legislators could extend those cuts to keep the economic recovery on a firm footing or replace them with something else to help low- and moderate-income Americans.

But the economic uncertainty will keep many buyers on the sidelines, says Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics at Clear Capital. Debt-ceiling brinksmanship pushed down consumer sentiment 14.3% last year, the largest amount since the end of the recession, and uncertainty over taxes could “throw a wrench into the recovery.”

The Federal Reserve did its part recently by announcing a third round of monthly mortgage-backed securities purchases, a stimulus designed to increase employment and keep mortgage rates low so more people will want to buy homes.

If consumer confidence can survive the weak economic news, Clear Capital predicts a strong market through the start of the spring buying season.

With prices rising in most markets, growing numbers of people who already own a home may be nudged into moving up to a larger one. First-time buyers will still need to be making enough money at their jobs to qualify for loans.

But with the large number of low-down-payment FHA loans available, and lower mortgage rates bringing down the cost of homes, would-be buyers won’t have to spend as much to get one.

Indeed, Diggle sees the high home-contract cancellation rate as a positive rather than negative for the housing market in the months ahead. The cancellations, he says, “reflect would-be buyers’ willingness to buy increasing at a faster pace than the bank’s willingness or ability to lend.”

In other words, you have an eager pool of buyers who might have less than perfect credit — good news if credit loosens a bit.

As far as supply goes, inventory should grow as more homeowners gain equity in the next year or two. CoreLogic says that just a 5% jump in annual home prices would be enough to get a significant number of those underwater homeowners into an equity position.

Still, that might not happen, he says, at least not in the next year. Local Market Monitor predicts values in the U.S. will remain relatively flat in the next year, with a larger increase — up to 7% — in the next 36 months.

“It seems as if we have a long recovery in order, given the slow economic growth and pace of hiring,” says Ingo Winzer, president of Local Market Monitor.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

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Home prices have edged up in Washington, DC, making the president’s mansion slightly more valuable than it was 4 years ago.

 

What’s happened to the value of your house in the past four years?

In Washington, D.C., home prices have edged up slightly. And that means President Barack Obama can say that his house, at least, is better off now than it was four years ago.

The White House is now worth about $284.9 million, or about 1.5% more than the $280.8 million in was worth in 2008, MarketWatch reports. If homes in the area continue to increase in value, then the White House’s worth could rise an additional 1.1% in the next year to $288 million. MarketWatch got the data from real-estate site Zillow (Z -1.45%).

So why is the D.C. area doing so well when other parts of the country are not? Washington is home to four sectors that have done extraordinarily well even in the housing downturn: health care, government, education and military, Zillow CEO Stan Humphries told MarketWatch.

A recent report found that D.C. home prices rose 4% in the third quarter from a year earlier, The Washington Post notes. Sellers there are getting about 98% of their asking prices.

But the White House still hasn’t reached the value hit during the years of President George W. Bush. In June 2006, the building was worth $299.9 million.

My question: Has Zillow figured the White House’s mysterious renovation into its value calculations? The mansion has wrapped up an $86 million, two-year project that appeared to build something deep underground, The Associated Press reports. No one in the federal government will talk about it, though.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Kim Peterson

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For years it was assumed that renters were simply less civic-minded. But low tenant turnout may be due to something far easier to overcome: the cumbersome registration process.

 

With time running out in some states to register to vote in the presidential election, see if you know which of the following questions is more crucial for renters:

A) Will you take the time to vote on Nov. 6?

B) Are you registered to vote?

The answer is “B.” The distinction is particularly important for tenants, who have just as much of a stake in election outcomes as do homeowners. (Even if Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said in 2010 that the nation’s founders were on to a good idea in allowing only property owners to vote, “because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community.”)

For years, the massive population of tenants — one-third of Americans and climbing — has turned out at a markedly lower rate than homeowners. In the 2008 presidential election, for example, 52% of renters voted, compared with 68% of homeowners, a sizable gap that, if closed, could turn elections. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using census figures shows that if tenants voted at the same rate as homeowners, an additional 11.2 million tenants would cast ballots in the upcoming November election.

For years, the reason for low tenant turnout has been chalked up to demographic factors, such as lifestyle or income — really just a polite way of saying, “Renters don’t care.” That’s because the demographics of tenants tend to mirror the demographics of those with low voter-turnout rates:

Lower income: The median income of tenants is about half the median income of homeowners, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Low-income citizens register and vote at lower rates. In 2008, according to census data, 80% of people with incomes of more than $100,000 were registered and 73% voted; only 64% of those with incomes of less than $20,000 were registered and 52% voted.

Less education: People with less education are less likely to own a home, and voting trends again correlate. In 2008, only 50.5% of eligible voters with less than a high-school diploma had registered to vote, compared with 64.1% of those with a high-school diploma and 81.2% of those with a four-year college degree, according to census data.

Younger: The 2008 election saw near-record youth turnout, which was credited with helping to secure victory for President Barack Obama. Even so, among 18- to 29-year-olds, only 51% of eligible voters went to the polls, compared with 69% of those between the 45 and 64.

More mobile: Tenants are far more likely to move than homeowners. Because of that, theorists have surmised, they are less likely to put down roots and become civically engaged.

Oops, I completely forgot to register
But evidence is mounting that it is the last point — the fact that people move — that is key, and that past assumptions about why tenants don’t vote may be incorrect.

Political scientists who have been re-evaluating reams of voting data have found that whether a tenant votes is less about political will and more about the cumbersome and at times elusive process of registering.

Think about it: The last time you moved, which tenants obviously do far more frequently than homeowners, at exactly what point in the unpacking process did you jump and say: “I’ve got to go re-register to vote at my new address!”

“Registration itself is really the red tape and the stumbling block right now,” says Liz Kennedy, a counsel with Demos, a public policy research group that advances voter rights. “There are so many different jurisdictions that administer elections that a lot of this can be perhaps somewhat tricky to navigate.”

It isn’t until an election draws near that many people even remember that they need to re-register at their new address. Then it’s up to them to find out how, where and by when. Recent, tighter voter ID laws present further complications, while threatening to disenfranchise millions of elderly, minority and low-income citizens.

There’s still time to register to vote
Meanwhile, voters may hear or read little about legal protections afforded citizens, including those designed to help people who have recently moved.

For example, under the National Voting Rights Act, if you did not move out of your jurisdiction (for example, New York City is in one jurisdiction), you are allowed to cast your ballot at your old polling place.Furthermore, many states allow anyone who has moved within the state to vote at the new polling place, even if that person hasn’t yet registered to vote at his new address. A voter can update his address on the day of the election. Many states allow voters to register online.

Those laws alone affect millions of tenants. Within the past year, almost 20 million voting-age adults moved in this country. Of those, two-thirds moved within their county and 84% moved within their state.

“So all is not lost when people move, and they should certainly not think, ‘Oh, gee, now I can’t vote at all.’ They should instead call their Board of Elections,” Kennedy said.

States determine their own voter-registration deadlines. The earliest are 30 days before the election, or Oct. 7 for the upcoming presidential election. Eleven states, including swing states Iowa and New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia allow voters to register up to and including Election Day. North Dakota has no registration requirements.

To find voter-registration details for your state and jurisdiction, you can call the 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) hotline or go to www.866OurVote.org. You can also see deadlines and other information at VoteSmart.org.

If you register, you will vote
But back to bucking the old stereotypes about why tenants don’t vote.

It turns out that once renters register to vote, they are just as likely as homeowners — or those who haven’t moved — to cast a ballot. About 90% of registered voters show up to vote for president.

“A lot of our under-represented demographic, these groups are highly mobile. But if you look at the turnout rate among the registered voters, they turn out at the same rates,” says Youjin Kim, apolicy analyst with Demos.

A 2011 academic study of 1.8 million voter-registration records found that after about age 22, people were more likely to register only because they were more likely to have been at one address for a longer period of time. The authors found a correlation with the registration process itself, not with a lack of resources or interest.

“So the argument that the younger you are, the less ties that you have to the community, and the less interested you are, is not true,” Kim says.

A 2000 study by a political scientist at the University of California, Davis, found that while voter-turnout rates were highly affected by the act of moving, it didn’t matter how far away the voter moved. In other words, it wasn’t changing communities that mattered, but simply changing addresses. So much for the assumption that low voter turnout meant people hadn’t established roots in their community, the author concluded.

Furthermore, says Demos, when registration is uncomplicated, people vote. The five states with the highest voter-turnout rates all have same-day registration.

Just give tenants the forms?
In Madison, Wis., where half the city households are renters, one elected official introduced a novel idea to help streamline voter registration for city clerks, who were getting inundated with applications on Election Day.

Since so many people move into new apartments in mid-August, just as election season is heating up, why not require that landlords give all new tenants voter-registration application and information sheets?

As in other states, efforts have been under way to clamp down on voter registration. And Wisconsin does not ask about voter registration when drivers apply for a license, as many states do under the National Voter Registration Act. Really, though, Alderwoman Bridget Maniaci says she just wanted to reduce government costs and ease clerical workload by preventing tens of thousands of registration applications from landing on Nov. 6.

Since the law went into effect this summer, city clerks have been receiving about 1,000 applications a day, a far more efficient stream to handle. Local government provides the paperwork to landlords, who then include it in the packet of information they already provide tenants.

“We’re trying to get the forms to people so they can come in in a staggered fashion,” she says. The clerk’s staff “is able to manage that and get everyone into the poll books.”

Minnesota, which has had same-day voter registration since 1974, has the country’s highest rate of voter turnout: 75% in 2008, compared with 64% nationally.

“It doesn’t matter to me how you’re voting; it matters to me that we have accessibility for individuals to go vote,” Maniaci says. “I don’t understand how we got to the point as a country where discouraging voting is a positive policy goal to have.”

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Karen Aho of MSN Real Estate

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From what to plant to what to harvest, here’s everything you need to know to prepare your garden for autumn.

 

There’s a snap in the air, the songbirds are looking at their calendars, and trees are exploding in hues of yellow, pink and red. But don’t think that means you can spend the weekends in your jammies. Make haste while the weather is still gardener-tolerant; you’ll be happy for those shorter to-do lists come late fall and winter.

Perennials
Keep planting spring-flowering bulbs, all the way up until the ground becomes frozen, and prepare tender perennials for winter.

  • Holes for planting crocuses, daffodils, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs should be about three times deeper than the diameter of the bulbs. Add peat moss, fertilizer and bulb dust to the soil as you plant; then give them a good watering.
  • In milder climates, bulbs can still be divided and transplanted.
  • Before the first frost, move tender plants such as begonias, geraniums, gerbera daisies and impatiens indoors for the winter.
  • Buy hardy garden mums to plant in well-drained soil in a sunny location; fertilize now, and again in the spring. Color spots of winter pansies and flowering kale and cabbage can also be planted early in the month, or until the ground freezes.
  • Gladioluses, dahlias, tuberous begonias and fuchsias should be prepared now for winter storage.
  • Hold off on mulching perennials until the ground has frozen.

Trees and shrubs
October is a great month to shop for trees and shrubs, as they’re showing their true colors at the nursery. Planting can take place now and over the next several months, letting strong, healthy roots develop over the winter.

  • Make your last selections of trees for planting this month and later, even if you hold off on buying.
  • Tie up and prune raspberries.
  • Mid-autumn is a perfect time for planting grapevines.
  • Take hardwood cuttings.

Lawn care
In most areas, lawn care can continue until about mid-October.

    • Aerate lawns now while grass can recover easily; if you core aerate, make cores 3 inches deep, spaced about every 4 to 6 inches. Break up the cores and spread them around.
    • If your lawn needs it, thatch and follow with a fall or winter fertilizer.
    • Even if thatching isn’t necessary, your lawn will be happy for a dusting of fertilizer now to help roots gain strength before the spring growing season.
    • Overseed bald patches or whole lawns as needed.
    • Rake and compost leaves as they fall, as well as grass clippings from mowing. If left on the ground now, they’ll just make a wet, slippery mess, inviting to pests.

Watering
It’s easy to forget about watering duties in the middle of fall, but proper moisture now is key to your plants’ successful survival over the cold winter months.

  • Check the moisture of all plants, especially those in dry, sheltered areas such as under eaves and around tall evergreens.

Composting
Autumn leaves must fall — but what to do with them?

  • Rake or otherwise gather all the little fallen ones, from leaves to grass clippings to spent plants and vegetables, and either give the compost pile a good feeding or spade them directly into the ground. Exception: If your grass has been treated with herbicides, it might be safer to compost than to blend into the soil.
  • As an alternative to raking, if you have drifts of piled leaves, mow over them in the grass to break them up and make a great brown-and-green composting combo.
  • Save some whole leaves for piling around roses after the ground has frozen

Pest control
Slugs don’t slow down as the weather gets cooler; in fact, you’ll likely find them at all life stages in October, from eggs to youngsters and adults.

  • Take whatever measures you prefer — salt, slug bait, saucers of beer — to eliminate slugs. It’s best to catch them at early stages, to stop the reproduction cycle.
  • Keep the ground raked and tidied to reduce their habitat.
  • Keep staying ahead of weeds this month; they serve as homes for pests and bugs, and destroying them before they flower and seed will save you work in the future.

Harvesting
In many areas, October is the month to harvest.

  • Do a taste test on vegetables, and harvest them when flavor is at its peak. If you’d like to extend the harvest of carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, leave some in the ground to mulch as the weather gets colder. They can handle cold snaps!
  • Early in the month, before temperatures drop too much, seed cover crops such as clover, peas or vetch to enrich the soil. It will serve as a natural fertilizer, stifle weed growth and help loosen up the soil for next year’s crops.

Houseplants
If your September was mild enough that your houseplants and geraniums are still outdoors, be sure to make them cozy inside before the first frost takes a bite out of them.

  • Take geranium cuttings of 2 to 4 inches to root indoors.
  • If you treat houseplants chemically, after treating be sure to keep them warm and away from direct sunlight.
  • Fertilize houseplants now; they shouldn’t need it again until March.
  • Get poinsettias and Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti ready for well-timed holiday color. Give them a daily dose of 10 hours of bright daylight or four hours of direct sun, and 14 hours of night darkness. Christmas cacti need a cool environment of 50 to 60 degrees F, while poinsettias prefer a warmer 65 to 72 degrees. Let cacti dry out between waterings.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Sally Anderson of MSN Real Estate

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