Monday, October 30, 2006


You might think that I’m referring to a folding card table that’s pulled out for poker games or to give a little extra room for a craft project. However, that is not the type of collapsible unique furniture that’s making its way into many homeowners’ abodes.

It seems that furniture that, by definition, can collapse -- fall down or fall to pieces -- would not be in favor with consumers, but how about if the furniture collapsed only when you wanted it to and the collapsing made the furniture conveniently smaller to suit your everyday needs? Presto, success!

These days, space is often a sparse commodity. Homeowners are looking for ways to fit all their possessions into their homes without cluttering their living area. Thus, the consumers are falling in love with folding items. Hampers, storage shelves, fold-up, flatten-out chairs, and even decorative vases are not viewed as cheap but rather chic.

Of course, as with any home decor, there are levels of quality. Searching for the right look and the best made product will ensure that function and style intersect appropriately. The hunt can be an exhausting experience that causes you to collapse on your couch after a long day of looking for collapsible furniture. So, here are a few places on the Internet that can let you see some options without even leaving your home.

Wine connoisseurs might find they are immediately drawn to an unusual wine barrel chair. Hand made in Northern California, it is salvaged from 70-gallon oak wine barrels. While I can’t be certain as to how comfortable this piece of furniture is, it really does make a statement. See it here.

Your next shopping stop on the World Wide Web might be

Here you’ll find some space-saving techniques as well as nifty items that collapse completely flat when not in use. A storage basket that holds up to 55 pounds can be used for a picnic or as part of your home décor in the bedroom or bathroom area. Or you can order hanging storage shelves that provide space where you need it and then collapse when you don’t need the extra storage.

A gorgeous crystal vase is definitely beautiful, but a trend that’s taking hold in many consumers’ homes is a little showy and more simplified. A collapsible vase is perfect and it holds your floral arrangement with a stylish twist. The vase is delivered to your home as flat as a sheet of cardboard. When you fill the vase with hot water you can then mold it to any shape you like. Find the vases at

Often a staple in college dorms and children’s rooms, collapsible hampers are showing up in many more places too. Umbra has a selection of natural cotton canvas collapsing laundry baskets. View them at

More desk space is frequently needed, but sometimes you want a desk to appear smaller when the extra surface-top space isn’t needed. The solution can be found at Home Decorators collection.

The Beadboard Foldaway Desk features sides that fold down and out of the way, allowing this piece of furniture to collapse to less than half the width.

Collapsible furniture can provide a creative home décor style while also giving you the versatility needed.

Published: October 30, 2006
By Phoebe Chongchua
Realty Times

Friday, October 27, 2006


High earners expect to purchase more properties in next few years

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Second, third and fourth homes are still in vogue for affluent homeowners who participated in a study by Sotheby's International Realty and Architectural Digest.

Thirty-six percent of Architectural Digest subscribers said they plan to buy an additional home in the next two years, and of those who already own three or more homes, 49 percent plan to purchase another home within two years.

Of those who already own a second home, 35 percent said they plan to buy a third home within two years.

Second homes also appear popular with younger owners -- 44 percent of survey respondents under age 45 said they may acquire a second home in the near future.

Geography is the primary driver when searching for a second home, according to the survey, but lifestyle amenities are becoming increasingly critical. About 32 percent of the participants know what amenities and characteristics they are looking for and would search in a number of locations to find what they want. Those with household incomes under $400,000 are more likely than their wealthier counterparts to indicate they would search in a number of locations to find the house that meets their amenity checklist.

What do these buyers want? The study found that waterfront property is the most sought-after amenity when buying a second home, with 75 percent of respondents choosing that characteristic. Proximity to golf courses and aquatic activities, and in-home fitness centers and media rooms/home theaters were also high on the list. Pools and large backyards were the least chosen amenities.

Regional differences were found mostly among respondents from New York and California, the survey found. New York metro-area participants are most drawn to waterfront or oceanfront properties, while Californians found this of less interest.

Also, Californians tend to be less interested in golf courses than other respondents and more drawn to in-home fitness centers.

New York-area metro participants are least interested in ski slopes, while Californians are most likely to search for proximity to the slopes.

By Inman News

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


U.S. housing prices may decline "a little" within the next year, but any such drop is likely to be mild and inconsistent with a bursting housing bubble, according to a paper written by a Federal Reserve economist.

Based on an analysis of housing futures and options and derivatives of housing-related company shares, "market participants expect home prices to decelerate sharply or actually decline a little within the next year," wrote J. Benson Durham, an economist with the Fed's monetary affairs division. However, the anticipated drop in prices "is mild compared to some estimates of the purported overvaluation of the housing market," he added. The paper, dated September, was posted on the Fed's Web site Thursday.

Mr. Durham cautioned that deep and liquid markets needed to signal future home-price trends don't fully exist and that housing futures and options have only been trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange since May 22. Still, implied volatility on CME housing options are greater than the historical average, "which suggests that investors see more risks to home prices going forward," he wrote. That higher uncertainty, however, is "generally inconsistent with the perception of a "bubble,'" he added.

Mr. Durham also examined options on shares of certain homebuilders to gauge whether investors see upside or downside risks to home prices. Those options "are only marginally negatively skewed at the present time," he wrote. "This suggests that market participants do not, in fact, view the risks to home prices or, perhaps more accurately, to the broader housing sector as especially tilted to the downside," Mr. Durham concluded.

The paper's conclusions seem in line with the thinking of Fed officials that the sector will slow substantially through the rest of 2006 and into 2007 but is unlikely to derail the economic expansion.

In the minutes of the Sept. 20 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Fed said housing "seemed to be cooling considerably" but that the overall economy should strengthen next year "as the housing correction abated." Officials also continue to remark that higher inflation poses a greater risk than a slower economy.

Housing data had declined markedly in recent months, raising fears of a housing-induced slowdown severe enough that it would eventually require Fed rate cuts. But there have been tentative signs of stabilization of late. The National Association of Home Builders index rose in October, albeit by only one point, but nevertheless breaking a string of eight straight declines. And housing starts unexpectedly rose in September, breaking a string of three straight declines.
-- October 23, 2006

By Brian Blackstone
The Wall Street Journal Online

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


As with any resale product, the person trying to sell said product will usually try to make the product look as new as possible to ensure the highest profit available. In reviewing many of the homes on the market today, however, some sellers don't get that notion.

Don't make the mistake of the seller who, knowing full well that buyers were coming by, not only failed to do a fresh clean up, but also left his underwear on the exercise bike, a pan of crusty macaroni and cheese on the stove and debris throughout the yard.

There are some task items any seller should consider when selling a house. Even if you decide to sell "as is," a little soap and water could put a few more bucks in your pocket. With that in mind, let's look at what sellers should look at doing with any house they want to put on the market; what to do when you want to get a little more money; and how to compete with the Joneses when looking to prepare your home for sale.

Any House

  1. Next, declutter the house. Go ahead and rent a huge storage unit and fill it up. Plan this with a bunch of pre-made boxes that have lids you can tape shut and label. Take extra kid's toys to charity. Donate all clothes that are even a bit too tight or out of date. Remove excess furniture (or even cover with matching covers).
  2. Repair and paint where needed. As with most homes that have been lived in, that would be all of them. Walk through a new construction home to see what you're up against and then go and make yours look as best you can on your budget.
  3. Landscaping. Thankfully, mulch and flowering plants don't really cost a lot of money for those who are just sprucing up. Before going out and paying for a designer-created landscaping job, start with the local garden center and get some free advice on how to spruce up on a budget. Fresh, flowering plants (even in fall and winter) can make the house look oh-so much better.

Even if you're selling as-is, the above four tips are a must. Next is where we spend a little more money.


  1. Renewed color. Giving your house a makeover doesn't have to cost you a second mortgage. The first item to consider for rehab is your color selection. While the traditional advice is "go vanilla," professionally selected colors (not too bold) can make a "nice" house into a "wow" house.
  2. Flooring is one of the best moderately priced upgrades a seller can install to make a huge difference. While I like the concept of "choose-your-own-carpet" offers in home listings, think about what else it's saying: "We're too cheap to fix up the house now, so we'll let you walk through our tattered, stained carpeting and let you get it installed the weekend after we leave." Like I said, make your house a "wow" by making that first great impression with new carpet.
  3. Replacing dated items. Sometimes replacing certain items in the house is really more like maintaining your home instead of upgrading it. Items like windows, doors, light fixtures, faucets, door hardware, etc., need upgrading and replacing periodically. A walk down the light aisle at your favorite hardware store reveals this could be done on a budget. Nevertheless, there's nothing more gross looking than a brass light fixture that's chipping and rusting.

Keeping up with the Joneses

At some point you have to look at what the neighbors are doing and keep up or you'll lose out. If everyone in the neighborhood is ripping out the old and installing the new (kitchen, bath, carpet, doors, etc.) then you may be forced to do the same thing long before you're thinking of putting your home on the market. My wife and I are facing that right now with the kitchen. It's starting to show its age, which means before we put the house on the market in a few years, if I want the best buyer (or any buyer for that matter) the kitchen cabinets need an upgrade.

Redo, Remodel, Relax

As you look around the house, making your list of things to change before putting the house on the market, remember to create some time to enjoy your new digs before selling the place. If a sale is on your horizon and you must redo the landscaping before putting the house on the market -- do it early so you can drive home to the professionally designed flowerbeds and floral creations a few months or years before selling it to someone else.

While you want to repair, paint, remodel and add on to your house because it adds value to your home, every homeowner should especially do it because they want to enjoy the changes as well.

Published: October 20, 2006

By M. Anthony Carr
Realty Times

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Moving to an area with lower housing costs often doesn't pay off for low-income Americans, according to a study to be released today by the Center for Housing Policy, a nonprofit research group based in Washington.

The study, which looks at families with low to moderate incomes in 28 metropolitan areas, found that transportation costs in places with cheaper housing are often so high that they wipe out the savings from lower rent or mortgage payments. Such places tend to be farther from employers or short on public transportation, which makes commuting costlier.

The study found that housing and transportation costs combined eat up an average of 57% of annual income for "working" families, which the study defines as those with incomes of $20,000 to $50,000 a year. The combined costs ranged from 54% of income in Pittsburgh to 63% in San Francisco; in 25 of the 28 metro areas, the combined total was within three percentage points of the 57

The findings contradict the common notion that many people would be better off financially if they moved from areas with high housing costs, such as California, to states like Texas or Georgia, where housing is much cheaper.

The median house price in San Diego, at $613,000, is four times that of Dallas. But the study found that working families in San Diego spend 59% of their income on housing and transportation, only slightly more than the 57% they spend in Dallas. Families in Dallas spent just 26% of their income on housing, compared with 31% in San Diego, but the Dallas families spent more on transport.

The study also found that moving to an inexpensive outer suburb, but continuing to work near a city center, often backfires. Typically, a move that adds more than about 12 miles to a one-way commute will result in a rise in transport costs that outweighs the savings on housing, the researchers found.

The data on housing and transport costs for working families come from the 2000 U.S. Census. Since then, both housing and transport costs have jumped, but Barbara J. Lipman, research director at the Center for Housing Policy, said the results are still valid. Housing and transport costs have grown by roughly similar amounts.

The center is an arm of the National Housing Conference, a nonprofit group that favors more spending on affordable-housing programs for low- and moderate-income people. The conference is funded by groups including the MacArthur Foundation and mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

-- October 12, 2006

By James R. Hagerty
Wall Street Journal Online

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


To help move at least some of the unsold houses glutting local markets, lenders are beginning to look "back to the future" for financing techniques that worked in the tough times of the 1980s.

One creative technique is known as a mortgage rate "buydown." Rather than lower the asking price on a house by thousands of dollars, a seller can offer a discounted rate package that lowers' purchasers' effective interest costs and monthly payments during the early years of their loans.

The most popular form of buydown in the 1980s was a "3-2-1" on a fixed rate 30 year mortgage. During year one of the new purchaser's mortgage, the seller agrees to pay 3 percentage points of the interest rate on the mortgage note. During the second year, the sellers pays 2 percent, and in year three the seller pays 1 percent. After that, the purchasers pay the full note rate.

To see how this works in practice, and why it can be a triple win -- for the seller, buyer and the realty agent -- consider this example. Say a seller has had her house on the market for months at $210,000 with no serious offers. She could cut the asking price, say to $200,000, to stimulate some bids. Or, more creatively, she could advertise a "3-2-1" buydown -- essentially subsidizing any qualified purchaser's mortgage payments during the first three years.

Here's how it would work, according to an active proponent, Joseph Lipes, president of Connecticut-based Family Choice Mortgage Corp., who ran the numbers for Realty Times. The sale would be for $210,000, not $200,000. Assume the going 30-year fixed mortgage rate is 6.5 percent. The purchaser applies for a 95 percent ($200,000) mortgage.

In year one, the purchaser's 6.5 percent rate would be subsidized down to 3.5 percent by the seller, creating a monthly payment of $898.09 for the purchaser, instead of the full $1,264.14 principal and interest. The seller's outlay for the subsidy would come to $366.05 a month, or $4,392.56 for the full year.

In year two, the purchaser would be paying at a 4.5 percent rate or $1,013.37 a month. The seller's contribution would be $250.77 per month or $3,009.20 over 12 months.

In the third year, the purchaser would be paying at a 5.5 percent rate, or $1,135.58. The seller would contribute $128.14 a month for a total of $1,542 for the year.

During the course of the three years, the home seller would pay a total of $8,999.44 in rate subsidies, according to Lipes. "So rather than have the sellers lower their sales price from $210,000 to $200,00" -- which might not strike potential purchasers as all that interesting -- "the sellers keep their price at $210,000 and pay $8,944.44 for the three year buydown," a savings of more than $1,000.

"As long as the house appraises for $210,000, it's a win" for the seller, the buyer, and even the realty agent who's commission will be slightly higher because of the higher sale price. Even more important for the Realtor: the house gets sold, in part because the buydown concept can be very attractive to certain purchasers, especially those with tight budgets that will be stretched in the first several years paying for new furniture, appliances and the like.

Lipes points out that Fannie Mae guidelines permit purchasers to qualify for the mortgage at the "bought-down" rate -- 3.5 percent in this case -- provided it's a primary residence and the purchaser has a 660 FICO score minimum (680 for self-employed individuals.) On sales of second homes or investment properties, the rule requires qualification at the full note rate.

Lipes says, "Buydowns have no hidden pitfalls such as negative amortization loans, payment-shock ARMs or others." It's all straightforward, easy to understand, and most important of all in sluggish markets: It's a novel approach in the eyes of many potential buyers today, and it really works.

Published: October 9, 2006

By Kenneth R. Harney
Realty Times

Monday, October 16, 2006


You have the new home, the new community, the new school district. Your home has all of the newest bells and whistles. But does the most basic of human needs meet high standards?

Water quality is not uniform in the United States. Drinking water quality is dependant on safe sources, competent processing, and ongoing monitoring by regulator, and out of those dependencies, you essentially have three drinking water choices. You can install a well on your property. You can use tap water from a local water company. Or you can rely on bottled water. Not all choices are equally available everywhere.

Let's start with well water. It may be a good option if you can install a well that produces healthy water. However, will you monitor it often enough to make sure that it does not become contaminated? Many people do not monitor enough. And you need to understand that a person with well water depends not only on his or her own on site activity to preserve water quality, but on activity of neighbors as well. And that might not be easy to regulate.

If public tap water is available, that might provide you with an option. The benefit of tap water is that in many places you are going to receive a product that is administered by professionals. There are water quality engineers who on a regular basis will be evaluating the treatment of the water that your family is drinking, the quality of the distribution system, and ultimately the quality of the end product.

The federal EPA has strict standards that are applicable to water from the tap. If water providers fail to meet certain quality standards, they can be fined and in rare instances, even have criminal penalty exposure.

Every year, many public water providers in the United States are required to provide reports relating to the quality of the water. If you want to know how good or bad your water is, you can ask your water provider for the most recent report. Most of this information is also available online.

The interesting thing about these reports is that they are intended to instill public confidence. However, in many instances if you review the report you will find that while the water quality may be legally acceptable, sometimes it is just barely legally acceptable.

For example, you might find that there are very high levels of pesticides in the water. Perhaps they are still within the "safe" range, but the levels may be high and persistent. You might also find that there are bacteria or microbe problems associated with the water.

In these instances, the question you have to ask yourself is whether you are satisfied with water that just barely meets safe levels. Personally, I would rather not have any pesticides in my tap water. I would run rather not have a high level of bacteria in my water. And I would rather not have any microscopic organisms in my water that can make me ill.

Keep in mind that some contaminant levels are normal, safe and acceptable. The question might be whether levels that approach the high end of a range considered to be "safe" are acceptable to you and your family. That is a personal choice that you have to make.

The next option is bottled water. There are people who seem to think that bottled water is always better than tap water. That is obviously not true. Some tap water is very good. Some bottled water is very good.

Bottled water and tap water actually are very similar in that the quality of the product is dependent on the source of the water and subsequent processing. If the water comes from a well that is in a highly industrial or agricultural area, the water might be negatively impacted. Wells can be installed to protect the water inside them, but that is not always fail safe. Mistakes happen and human error happens as well.

Bottled water companies often treat their water before selling it to the public. There are various kinds of treatment mechanisms that are available. In the end, the bottled water providers are supposed to provide you with a quality of water that more or less is the same as the quality set by the EPA for tap water.

There are some people who drink bottled water exclusively and rotate the manufacturers. In a way I think that might be a good idea. This way, even if one product is deficient on one occasion, it can be offset with water from other providers and other sources.

Finally, if you are going to rely on tap water, you might decide to engage in home filtering. According to some estimates, over 40 percent of American households treat their drinking water in one manner or another. Treatment ranges from simple pitchers that cost under $20 to sophisticated systems that can cost hundreds of dollars.

Water filtration systems can improve the taste of water. For some people, that is all that they're looking for. Other persons use filtration systems because they have health concerns.

Water filtration pitchers are inexpensive. They can help with taste and some, but not necessarily all, contaminant removal. Filters must be changed as directed.

Another kind of filtration system consists of filters that are attached to faucets installed under the sink. These filters generally rely on the same kind of technology as pitcher filtration systems.

Reverse osmosis systems force water through membranes under pressure leaving contaminants behind. They are very effective for many contaminants .

More sophisticated systems are also available. Some systems work better in treating some pollutants than others. Which means you really need to understand what is you are drinking before you purchase a filtering system.

Persons with compromised immune systems may have special concerns that impact upon the correct filtration choice. Their doctors should help them make these decisions.

In conclusion, there are numerous drinking water alternatives. Which one is appropriate for your family? It depends on the quality of the local water supply, your required level of safety, and your budgetary concerns.

There are experts in water treatment who are available to guide you through the process. Local regulators may also be able to provide guidance.

Published: October 12, 2006

By Stuart Lieberman
Realty Times

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One of the most common considerations when looking to purchase a home is commute time between home and work.

The vast majority of consumers are looking to have their homes as close to their workplaces as possible while still remaining within their financial reach. The 2004 American Community Survey (ACS), sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America, indicates that for 79% of Americans looking for a home are looking for a commute of less than 45 minutes.

The survey showed that 60% of potential buyers were looking to buy in neighborhoods that offer less commuter time. It also showed that 87% of people planning to purchase a home within the next three years are putting a high emphasis on commuter times that are shorter.

Despite the growing interest in shorter commute times, financial implications must be considered a higher priority. While it would be ideal for some to live in or extremely near the building in which you work, that’s not always a viable solution to a short commuter time. Potential home buyers are weighing all of their options and choosing the home that provides the shortest commute that they can afford.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Are you making someone else rich? If you’re paying rent, chances are the answer is yes. If making the leap to home ownership seems out of your reach due to financial resources, buying with a buddy may be your answer.

Alone, significant down payments and mortgage payments can be overwhelming and seem out of your reach. With a partner, however, these things suddenly seem doable.

Buying with a buddy has several advantages, including sharing payments as well as the cost and keeping up the home, but to keep the grass greener on both sides some pre-planning is necessary. Communication and determination of how possible future situations will be handled are vital.

What if one of you takes a job in another state? Will you sell the home? Will one partner buy the other partner out? What if one of you dies? These scenarios may seem far fetched at the time of purchase, but they are things that should be considered.
Ask your realtor about a tenancy-in-common or TIC agreement, which spells out how you will handle various contingencies.

Be sure to clearly write out a technique for resolving differences of opinion. Discussing and agreeing on a plan before purchasing a home together can mean the difference between a smooth transition and a nasty split.