Archive for the ‘Real Estate Market’ Category

EXCLUSIVE: FSA: Please report fraud suspicions

November 22, 2011

by Sarah Davidson via Mortgage Introducer

John Hindle, acting smaller firms manager at the FSA, said reporting suspicion of fraud was “highly valuable” even if brokers had little factual evidence.

He said: “We take all fraud seriously, soft or hard, and as such we would encourage brokers to be reporting all those circumstances.

“We as investigators at the FSA very rarely get handed a well-proven case. It hardly ever happens. Investigations take a huge amount of work and we tend to start with the suspicion – it’s that kind of intelligence that is highly valuable to us.”

And Tom Spender, head of retail enforcement at the FSA, added: “It’s all about building up an intelligence profile.

“You might not have the full answer or the full case but if three or four people raise suspicions about one person that is logged at lenders, networks and with us. It builds a critical mass of suspicion that might trigger an investigation.”

Spender added that it was also far better for brokers to “self-report” than to find themselves caught up in suspected fraud where they might have been aware of a problem.

He said: “It’s much better for a broker to self-report a problem rather than for a problem to be identified to us by a lender and then we go searching.

“A lot of cases don’t proceed to a formal enforcement path and one of the reasons we take into account before deciding where we put our scare enforcement resources is whether the broker finally clicked, realized their involvement and reported it. We really take that into account and it’s very much in the favor of the broker.”

WHISTLE BLOWING

Robert Sinclair, director at AMI, said the industry had failed to help brokers think if they come clean in this type of scenario they would be safe from the authorities.

He said: “It’s that horrible feeling if you’re the broker and you get the fourth application through and then suddenly think things don’t look right. Do I keep my mouth shut, not take any more but hope I’ll get away with it or do I blow the whistle? And where does that leave me?

“Brokers don’t feel comfortable that they would be safe in that situation.”

But Hindle said: “So long as due diligence is followed with integrity then you could feel comfortable that you were doing the right thing by blowing the whistle we would expect brokers to blow the whistle in that scenario.”

Meanwhile Rob Killeen, director at London-based broker Capital Fortune, said reporting suspicions about other introducers was imperative to deter fraudsters.

He said: “If people think there has to be firm black and white evidence against them before they even get reported to the FSA then that’s the tip of the iceberg and will leave 99% of people’s behavior unchanged.”

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Killeen, who practiced as a barrister in London for 12 years prior to becoming a mortgage broker in 2005, said the reluctance to report suspected fraud reminded him of attitudes to domestic violence.

“In 2002 and 2003 the police wouldn’t make any arrests around domestic violence because if there was no firm evidence and she wasn’t black and blue then the police just weren’t interested.

“There was a huge campaign with lawyers that made sure police took those cases seriously. The result was police would get involved when there were just allegations that someone may be committing domestic violence behind closed doors.

“Mortgage fraud is very much a behind closed doors situation and brokers should be reporting sharp practices. Until we move away from that culture of acceptance, which I think we are but there’s a long way still to go, we’ll never eradicate fraud.”

WOOD FOR THE TREES

But Pat Bunton, director of operations and compliance at London & Country, raised concerns about the practicalities of reporting brokers without firm evidence.

He said: “If you are going to start saying this guy has done this wrong you need to be clear they have actually done something wrong.

“Otherwise we will just have chaos; if you suddenly ask brokers to report every suspicion they have it would be unstructured and you won’t see the wood for the trees.

“There also wouldn’t be enough resource to investigate all of those cases. But where you have clear evidence that something untoward has happened that certainly should be reported and the regulator should commit to investigating that as well.”

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Not Every Real Estate Market Is Struggling

November 22, 2011

In the Obama years, home values lagged throughout the U.S., with a few exceptions.

Venessa Wong via Business Week

Want to know how bad the real estate market is? Just drive down almost any street in the U.S. and you’re likely to see “for sale” signs lining the road. Come back a month later, it’s a good bet the same signs are still there—and quite possibly a few new ones, too. But while there’s a lot of housing pain, there’s also some good news. That’s because in some markets across the country not only have home values improved, a few have even seen double-digit growth.

So where is this miracle occurring? Believe it or not, the city that has seen the biggest increase in home value is in Florida. That’s right—the state that has seen home values plummet 52.3 percent from 2006 peak levels. Nearly 96,000 loans were modified in Florida through August 2011 under President Obama’s Making Home Affordable program. Joblessness, foreclosures, and high inventory hamper recovery in nearly every corner of the state, with rare exceptions. In this case, the rare exception is Weston, a high-income city of more than 65,000 people near Fort Lauderdale where the median home value has risen 15.1 percent to $280,000 from February 2009 to August 2011.

A survey of the 1,000 largest cities nationwide by online real estate marketplace Zillow for Businessweek.com identified the markets with the biggest gains and losses in home value, ranking Weston the best-performing city since Obama took office. In contrast, the U.S. median home value fell by 9.9 percent over the same period.

What’s behind Weston’s success? Ines Garcia, an agent for EWM Realtors in Weston, describes the city as “Broward County’s cul-de-sac.” “It’s like driving into a gated community: the landscaping, the manicuring all around the city,” she says. “We were very lucky. Weston was one of the last communities to fall and one of the first to recover.”

Other winners: Arlington, Mass., where the median home value increased by 14.8 percent since February 2009; Brookline, Mass., at 13.6 percent; and the D.C. suburbs of Burke, Va., at 13.5 percent, and Vienna, Va., at 12.8 percent, Zillow data indicate.

Of course, the winners are far outnumbered by the losers. The city with the worst-performing market in the survey is only 50 miles from Weston in Homestead, Fla., where the median home value dropped by 48.8 percent since February 2009. Rounding out the bottom worst-performing markets: former manufacturing city Pontiac, Mich., with a 47.4 percent decrease, and New Jersey capital Trenton, at 46 percent.

While those in depressed housing markets hope for solutions from the White House, “I don’t see how any President is responsible for the housing market in a particular area,” says Steven Blitz, director and senior economist at ITG Investment Research in New York. The federal government and national housing policies have a limited impact on a local level.

OBAMA ACCOUNTABLE?

The Obama Administration, the inheritor of a collapsed housing market and financial crisis, has tried to help the hardest-hit housing markets through refinancing and loan modifications. Yet individual markets are influenced heavily by local conditions, such as jobs, school districts, and population growth. Both the best-performing market, Weston, and the worst, Homestead, are in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, for instance. As housing trends at their core are hyper-local, it makes it difficult to even craft regional solutions. Developing a catch-all national policy is even more challenging.

“The foreclosure prevention efforts by the Obama Administration have helped to slow the bleeding when it comes to foreclosures but have done little to help get the housing market off life support,” says Daren Blomquist, a spokesperson for RealtyTrac.

To stimulate buying, the housing industry has called on the federal government and lending institutions to facilitate mortgages to qualified home buyers. Rather than address housing specifically, says Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, a research group in Washington, “the single most important thing that needs to be done now is get the economy back on track. Nothing can help housing more than putting people back to work.” The U.S. unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job creation in the D.C. area, for example—driven by the government—helped nine cities in the capital region rise to the list of top 25 housing markets in Zillow’s research. The unemployment rate in the D.C. metro area was 6.2 percent in August, estimates the BLS.

“Housing will rise with jobs and income. Anything that improves confidence in the future trajectory of jobs and income will raise the arc of growth for housing,” says Blitz.

ONE METRO, MANY MARKETS

Weston, following patterns in the rest of the country, saw the median home value peak in 2006 at $478,000 before plunging. The median value bottomed out in May 2009 at $235,600, according to the Zillow Home Value Index, and has since climbed steadily.

By August 2011, the unemployment rate in Weston was down to 7 percent from a peak of 8.3 percent and the median home value had only recovered to $280,000, well below the peak. Still, among cities it was the best housing rebound in the last two and a half years. The foreclosure rate in September, about 1 in 338 housing units, remains far above the U.S. rate, though it is down 60.7 percent from a year earlier, show RealtyTrac data.

Helping this meticulously landscaped planned community—which offers bike trails, golf courses, scenic lakes, highly ranked schools, a low crime rate, and active homeowner associations—was a rebound in demand from young families, according to Susan Penn, an agent at EWM Realtors. The median household income is $78,030.

Weston also experienced an influx of middle- and upper-class immigrants from Venezuela and other parts of South America. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the city’s foreign-born population increased to 43.9 percent in 2010 from 37.1 percent in 2006.

As Weston recovered some housing value, Homestead, a city only 50 miles south, was less fortunate. A Miami suburb and agricultural area with an Air Reserve Base, Homestead has struggled since being devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It has a poverty rate of 29.4 percent and median household income is $36,279 (lower than both the Florida and U.S. medians), according to 2009 Census data.

Lower-income areas and exurbs were generally hit harder by the recession. In Homestead, unemployment skyrocketed to 11.7 percent in August from 6.3 percent in February 2009, estimates the BLS. By August, the foreclosure rate remained high at 1 in 125 housing units and the median home value was 66.7 percent below peak at $76,600.

According to Zillow Senior Economist Svenja Gudell, under current conditions the median U.S. home value will likely fall another 3 percent to 5 percent and not reach trough until 2012 at the earliest. “We need to identify creative solutions,” such as repurposing foreclosed homes as rental housing, refinancing loans, and loosening credit, which involves many players, says Lubell of the Center for Housing Policy.

The Obama years have been bad ones for housing, yet government was not alone in breaking the housing market—and it cannot be alone to fix it.

Click here to see the 25 best- and 25 worst-performing housing markets under the Obama Administration.

 

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Re-Stringing the Housing HARP

October 25, 2011

David Reilly, Wall Street Journal

The government’s latest move to bolster housing marks yet another transfer from savers to borrowers.

Such transfers have been the norm since the Federal Reserve instituted its zero-interest-rate policy in late 2008—shifting funds away from the likes of depositors, bondholders and pension funds to debtors. The latest iteration came Monday, when the Federal Housing Finance Agency unveiled changes to a program meant to make it easier for underwater homeowners who are current on payments to refinance into a lower-rate mortgage.

The thinking is that this will reduce defaults. Or as FHFA said, "Such refinances bring benefits to borrowers, to housing markets, and to [Fannie Maeand Freddie Mac] and taxpayers."

Missing from that winners’ list: investors who finance housing markets by purchasing mortgage-backed bonds. They will fund this new effort. Here is how: As homeowners refinance, investors who bought mortgage bonds will be given back their money and will have little option but to reinvest at far lower yields. The transfer is the difference in yield.

Just how big that will be isn’t clear as it is tough to tell how effective the program will be. The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, led to refinancings by 894,000 homeowners in about two years. Estimates for how many borrowers could now take part range from 500,000 to three million, while FHFA said it is "very difficult to project the number of mortgages that may be refinanced." Some mortgage bonds traded lower Monday on news of the plan.

Granted, prepayment risk is inherent to mortgage bonds. There is also likely to be little sympathy for bondholders having to give up money to shore up housing. But that ignores that the government is picking winners and losers. Effectively, it is deciding some losses on some things are acceptable, say on 401(k) retirement plans, yet aren’t on others, namely housing.

The government also potentially undermines its own effort to create a housing-finance market independent of Fannie and Freddie. Many mortgage investors may choose to reinvest elsewhere, ultimately shrinking the pool of lenders available to fund that market. In the short term, the Fed may well take their place. That isn’t the basis, though, for a functioning mortgage market underpinned by private capital.

Another unsettling wrinkle: The FHFA is adding an incentive for borrowers to refinance into shorter-maturity mortgages. But in many cases, this will mean a borrower’s monthly payment, including principal repayment, won’t decline. It may actually rise. That undermines the notion that these borrowers are unable to meet monthly payments and need government assistance.

Banks may also benefit depending on how FHFA decides to limit the risk that they could be forced under some circumstances to repurchase shoddily underwritten mortgages.

The biggest issue, though, isn’t necessarily with HARP or similar programs. It is that both parties in Washington are studiously avoiding any real effort to overhaul housing finance and decide what to do about Fannie and Freddie.

 

 

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Lake Erie “Mod Pod” Listed for $19.5M; Was Drop Ceiling Inventor’s Shangri-la

October 24, 2011

Laura Vecsey, Zillow

Dobermans released every two hours to patrol the property. Underground streets lined with a restaurant, bars and a barber shop. A private beach and marina sculpted into the shores of Lake Erie. Helicopter pad. Rotating garage floor made of marble so no one had to back out that rare Ducati.

These are just a few of the unique features found in the Waterwood Estate, a fascinating Ohio property owned by the late Don Brown, an inventor who gave the world the drop ceiling.

“It takes four-and-a-half hours to show this property,” said Scott Street of Sotheby’s, the listing agent for the Waterwood Estate, which is now listed on the Vermilion real estate market for $19.5 million.

The property sits on 160 acres, boasts three-quarter miles of frontage on Lake Erie and contains a series of “pods” connected by glass corridors that were navigated by scooters and golf carts.

When Brown and his wife, Shirley, were killed in a plane crash in 2010, their two living sons (their third son, Kevin, died in a speed boat race in 1989) decided to sell the sensationally unique property. But to who?

So far, Street said the listing has attracted a ministry group and a group of Colorado helicopter pilots have expressed interest in turning the property into a fly-in, fly-out resort (Waterwood comes with an FAA-approved helicopter pad). Then there’s a couple who, perhaps like the octogenarian Browns, wants to grow old in an amenity-laden house.

“This was a very forward-thinking house when it was built in 1990 in terms of systems and functionality,” said Randal Darwin, vice president of CB Richard Ellis, the firm brought in to help market Waterwood.

“It was 20 years ahead of its time because of its features and unique characteristics. Mr. Brown literally broke the mold on this house. I know he had the white brick specially fabricated for this project and when it was done, he had the molds destroyed so no one else would ever use them,” Darwin said.

These few details only begin to tell the story of Brown’s Waterwood Estate. One other important fact? The listed size of Brown’s dream house is off — by about 30,000 square feet.

The Inventor and the Architect

“They’ve got the square-footage listed wrong,” said architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen. “It’s not 38,000 square feet. It’s 60,000 square feet. The underground floor is the same size as the main floor. They forgot to count that.”

Jacobsen would know about the true size and intricacy of the Brown estate. The world-acclaimed architect was hired by Brown to deliver the visionary design, just as Jacobsen has done for more than 400 private homes for clients that included Jackie Onassis, Meryl Streep and members of the Mellon family. But the collaboration ended when the secretive Brown fired Jacobsen.

“We were a year-and-a-half into the project and he sacked me. I’ve never been fired before,” Jacobsen said from his Washington D.C. office, still bemused about the turn of events.

“He kept a secret of his life. He thought everyone wanted him. He’d say, ‘Hugh, jealousy is a terrible thing.’ I asked him, ‘Don, do you think I’m jealous of you?’ I think he was offended,” Jacobsen said.

At 81, Jacobsen has been at the forefront of American architecture for sixty years, ever since he attended Yale and apprenticed with Philip Johnson. The rich and famous are Jacobsen’s clients. He delivers uniquely landscaped structures that reference the Quaker-simple lines of the American barn, smokehouses and farmhouses. He has won many awards and published three books cataloging his work, but his first look at the Waterwood Estate came when he saw listing photos after the property was put up for sale.

“About two months before he died, after 20 years since I’d heard from him, he called and said,  ‘I guess you’d like to see the place.’ I said, yes, I’d like to see it. My homes are like my children. But then he died in the crash,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen used his trademark “pod” style design to give the design more flexibility and allow it to evolve as Brown wanted other things added. The entire home is a series of 20 castle-like concrete buildings connected by glass corridors and each structure is topped with a slate pyramid.

Marble, Glass, Polar Bears and Dobermans

On the lower level of the house, there are a series of streets built to scale and named after streets in cities like Georgetown, Paris and Savannah.

“There were five bars in the house, one with a full-mounted polar bear. There’s a barber shop with a pole where Don would go every morning for a shave. At one end of the house, he had cages that would open every hour on the hour and two Dobermans trained to run the perimeter of the property would run out. The next hour, another pair would take off,” Jacobsen said.

He also used tons of sand and dirt from the lake shoreline, where cliffs were graded to build a beach and the harbor, to shape hills into the flat, Midwestern terrain. From the road, the house is not visible behind those hills. But from the lake, boaters can see the modernist white castle.

If it sounds wild, Jacobsen disagrees.

“No, it’s not wild. It’s your dream. This house is the house of an inventor. It has a space where, inside eight white columns, there are chairs and a couch. This floor lifts up through the ceiling to a pergola so guests can look out over the lake. The floor also goes down to the ground floor, where there’s a piano so the family can sing Christmas carols,” Jacobsen said.

“Near the main entrance, there is a 10-by-10-foot room behind the closet. You slide the door, remove the clothes’ pole and there’s a fully decorated Christmas tree. The room had its own air filter and air conditioner to keep the dust off the ornaments. He was so embarrassed about having a fake tree he had it sprayed so that it smelled like pine needles,” he said.

What amuses Jacobsen is that despite being fired, his plans were fully executed. Brown brought in another renowned and innovative architect, the late Hideo Sasaki.

“Don told Sasaki, ‘Don’t change Jacobsen’s plan.’ And they didn’t change a thing. Sasaki would call and tell me,” Jacobsen said.

During his lifetime, Don Brown never allowed the property to be photographed. It was a sanctuary for his family, lacking for nothing. Now, with the house listed for sale and photographs to prove its splendid fruition, the architect who designed Don Brown’s house is curious.

“He was building his dream, he had money and he hired me. We bought the furniture, the art, we did the landscape, then I was fired. I’d like to see it, but I’ve  never paid my own airfare to see a home I built for a client,” Jacobsen said.

And if you’re wondering whether the home has a drop ceiling, it does — in a workshop.

 

 

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Persevere, Don’t Abandon Your Dream

October 18, 2011

PJ Wade, Yahoo Real Estate

Are you letting global uncertainty extinguish your real estate dreams without full consideration because money is an issue? Sometimes balancing livable compromises against researched options can help you achieve more than you may have believed possible.

Your future should not be entirely defined by what is affordable. When it comes to where you’ll live and how, concentrating on finances alone may short-change you in the long run.

One long-time reader is living proof that adapting your finances to achieve your dreams is a powerful alternative to designing your life around a lack of money.

When two people close to Tina Lowe (identity protected) died prematurely, Lowe promised herself she would not to spend her life sitting at a desk. She wanted to retire at 60 and start enjoying life.

“Friends and family couldn’t understand how I was doing it, but I did it anyway because that is what I wanted to do,” said Lowe, explaining how she achieved home ownership and early retirement without the million dollars that pundits say is essential to a successful future.

Lowe was almost 50 when her 30-year marriage ended, leaving her financially vulnerable. For a few years, Lowe held down two jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, a move to a small, less expensive apartment on the outskirts of town allowed her to quit the part-time weekend job.

Lowe invested time and effort in learning about money. She took advantage of her employer’s shared-contribution program and a loan from a friend to build up her Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). She also invested time in learning all she could about pensions, indexing, RRSPs, and, later, Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA). From company seminars to reading anything she could find on the principles of investing, Lowe made sure she fully understood how money made money. By the time Lowe left work at 60, her RRSP fund totaled almost C$50,000.

Economic volatility did not shake Lowe’s determination to leave work on schedule. Meticulous planning and appreciation of the rewards of a simple lifestyle maintained her commitment. Creative back-up plans added security.

When Lowe noticed an advertisement for a condominium that could be carried for about what she was paying in rent, she revived the dream of home ownership that had been abandoned in favour of early retirement. Once again Lowes began researching diligently. She learned how condominiums work and what gave them sustainable value. When she discovered that prices increase with the number of amenities, square footage, and the higher in the building you are, she decided to buy at a smaller unit on a lower floor and in a less “lux” building. Lowe bought the location and neighborhood she loved and saved thousands of dollars. Lowe discovered a south-facing, self-contained fifth-floor, 344-square-foot unit with a balcony. Since the small building was free of fancy amenities, monthly maintenance fees remain affordable. The unit increased in value over her pre-construction purchase even before she moved in.

“It will be tight because it has been since day one, but I’m doing it,” said Lowe emphasizing that not smoking or owning a car stretches her income further. “It is important not to let anyone put you down or discourage you. When I first found this place, I had been to [a] real estate seminar and they got me going. Then I had one family member really put me down. Finally, a friend who is an accountant thought it was a good idea and encouraged me, and I thought, ‘I can do this.’ You must use knowledge to survive. It is very tight—I am not going to kid anyone, but I am still very happy I retired at 60.”

Knowledge is power. Take the time to understand which costs may become a challenge in the future. You may decide a part-time job will supplement investment or pension income. Consider housing like co-operatives where contributing skills and “sweat equity” may make the important affordable difference. Perhaps teaming up with friends or relatives will increase your buying power.

Continuing with income-generating projects will be increasingly commonplace, both out of interest and necessity.

Developers realize that they are creating new communities within the subdivision or high-rise they build. Some perceptive developers create work-live options that will provide services for residents while creating income streams for owners.

Churches, legions and other non-profit organizations have become community-builders in a “bricks and mortar” sense of the word by developing housing for their congregations, members and neighbors. Often this housing is below market value.

Communities involve varying numbers of people, but their strength lies in individual resilience, self-actualization and freedom. Property ownership is one outward symbol of these marks of individuality since no two properties – even condominiums, row houses etc. – are identical.

Over the past 20 years, the national home ownership rate has risen steadily. Although low interest rates, increasing disposable incomes, and stable employment conditions are credited with that improvement, the future still holds potential for growth. The wish for continued control over one’s home and life keeps increasing numbers of Canadians intent on investigating their all their options.

Waiting for great times to return is not a strategy, it’s a tragedy. Put your money to work for you in even the smallest ways. Think before you spend—“What else could I do with that money?—so you keep more of what you earn and continually move dreams closer to reality.

Remember, the impossible may take a little longer, but you can make it happen with perseverance. Today’s Local Market Conditions Report.

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Something Great for the Kiddies!

October 18, 2011

Level Architects: House with Slide[s]

via Design Boom


‘house with slide’ by level architects | all images courtesy level architects

Yokohoma-based atelier level architects has completed ‘house with slide’, a three-story family residence that features a continuous circulation route that utilizes both stairs and the playground equipment. Circumscribing the volume of the house, the playful layout places the living spaces at the core of the house with a number of access points along the course.


living area on the second level

Since the circulation is placed at the outer edge of the design, the interior is largely lit using
vertical openings in the roof. a centrally-placed courtyard with sliding glass doors illuminate
the living room with natural daylight while creating a small play area for the children of the house.
rounded corners of the layout encourages the light to wash around edges to further light the space.


slide exit into the living space


(left) stairs up to the top of the slide

(right) slide

third floor hall way connecting the stairs and slide


living room with light courtyard


(left) light courtyard

(right) washroom with roof light

entrance and slide exit to the right


(left) library

(right) slide and hallway

exterior


circulation diagram

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Go Green–with Architecture

October 18, 2011

David Lachapelle, Design Boom

Natural Architecture

The natural environment still manages to fill us with a sense
of awe and amazement. despite the amount of scientific
knowledge mankind has gathered, nature still holds great
mysteries that we may never be able to unravel.
this complexity has continually daunted man. in frustration, we
try to control nature by enforcing order. as a result,
we have distanced ourselves from the earth, even though
our survival is completely dependent on it. we are now trying
to regain our close connection to nature.

There is an emerging art movement that is exploring mankind’s
desire to reconnect to the earth, through the built environment.
referred to as ‘natural architecture’, it aims to create a new,
more harmonious, relationship between man and nature by
exploring what it means to design with nature in mind.

The roots of this movement can be found in earlier artistic
shifts like the ‘land art’ movement of the late nineteen sixties.
although this movement was focused on protesting the
austerity of the gallery and the commercialization of art,
it managed to expand the formal link between art and nature.
this has helped develop a new appreciation of nature in all
forms of art and design.

The ‘natural architecture’ movement aims to expand on ‘land art’
by acting as a form of activism rather than protest. this new
form of art aims to capture the harmonious connection we
seek with nature by merging humanity and nature through
architecture. the core concept of the movement is that
mankind can live harmoniously with nature, using it for our
needs while respecting its importance.

The movement is characterized by the work of a number of
artists, designers and architects that express these principles
in their work. the pieces are simple, humble and built using the
most basic materials and skills. because of this, the results
often resemble indigenous architecture, reflecting the desire
to return to a less technological world. the forms are stripped
down to their essence, expressing the natural beauty inherent
in the materials and location. the movement has many forms of
expression that range from location-based interventions to
structures built from living materials. however all of the works
in the movement share a central ethos that demonstrates a
respect and appreciation for nature.

These works are meant to comment on architecture and provide
a new framework to approach buildings and structures.
they aim to infuse new ideas into architecture by subverting
the idea that architecture should shelter nature. instead,
the structures deliberately expose the natural materials used
in the building process. we see the branches, the rocks and
all the materials for what they are. we understand that these
structures won’t exist forever. the materials will evolve over
time, slowly decomposing until no evidence remains.
these features are intentional, provoking viewers to question
the conventions of architecture. the designers aren’t suggesting
that architecture must conform to their vision, they are just
providing ideas that they hope will inspire us all to rethink the
relationship between nature and the built environment.


‘la tonnelle’ by gilles bruni and marc babarit, 1996


‘ash dome’ by david nash, 1977


‘organic highway’ by mikael hansen 1995


‘bridge in moasi, china’ by edward ng, 2005


‘clemson clay nest’ by nils-udo, 2005


‘weidendom’ by sanfte strukturen, 2001


‘reed chamber’ by chris drury, 2002


‘running in circles’ willow and maple saplings, patrick dougherty, 1996


‘toad hall’ by patrick dougherty, 2004


‘fog pad’ by n architects, 2004


cover of ‘natural architecture’ by alessandro rocca, published by princeton architectural
press, 2007 – all the images featured in this article are taken it.

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Homes of the Future!

October 13, 2011
A Look Ahead at New Homes of 2015

By Erika Riggs, Zillow

If you had asked someone in the 1960s what the home of 2015 would look like, chances are they imagined something akin to The Jetsons’ home complete with Rosie the Robot and other space-age appliances that dressed and fed the family.

But, rather than space-age technology, the biggest thing that is expected to change in future single-family homes is the size.

“Homes will get smaller,” says Stephen Melman, Director of Economic Services at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in Washington D.C. “We asked builders, ‘what do you anticipate the new home size would be by 2015?’ ”

According to the results of the study, surveyed home builders expect new single-family homes to check in at an average of 2,150 square feet. Current single family homes measure around 2,400 square feet, which is already a decrease from the peak home size in 2007 of 2,521.

While the decrease in home size has a lot to do with the recession, many believe that the real estate changes will stick around even after the economy and home values get back on solid ground.

z_greatroom_v2

This Sherman Oaks, CA home has a great room, encompassing dining, living and family rooms.
Photo: Zillow

“Although affordability is driving these decisions, smaller homes are a positive for builders,” said Melman. “It allows for more creative design, more amenities, better flow. It’s an opportunity to deliver a better home.”

z_control4-7-screen_v2

Home digital control panels can help manage security and energy consumption.
Photo: Control4

Other things that make up the home of 2015? No more living room. According to the survey, 52 percent of builders expect the living room to merge with other spaces and 30 percent believe that it will vanish completely to save on square footage. Instead, expect to see great rooms — a space that combines the family and living room and flows into the kitchen.

Expect to see more:

  • spacious laundry rooms
  • master suite walk-in closets
  • porches
  • eat-in kitchens
  • two-car garages
  • ceiling fans

Expect to see less:

  • mudrooms
  • formal dining rooms
  • four bedrooms or more
  • media or hobby rooms
  • skylights

Many of these changes reflect a desire for builders and consumers going green. Smaller space means more efficient heating and cooling. Ceiling fans distribute heat evenly while skylights, on the other hand, release heat.

However, as builders look to go green, they’ll be installing energy-efficient windows and compact fluorescent and LED lighting, as well as water-efficient appliances and plumbing.

Additionally, many new homes will have the baby boomer population in mind with walk-in showers, ground-floor master bedrooms and grab bars.

“A bigger share of the new homes will be purchased by people 55 or 65 and older,” said Melman. “They’re more likely to have more cash for a down payment, but they’re empty nesters, so they don’t need five bedrooms.”

 

 

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Buying Distressed Properties

October 13, 2011

By Matt Sailor, How Stuff Works

After huge upheavals in the housing market throughout the 2000s, the market showed signs of leveling off by late 2010 and early 2011. Still, despite hopeful economic indicators, as of 2011 a full third of all houses on the market were distressed properties — those whose owners have defaulted or are about to default on their mortgages . Largely because of desperation on the part of the owners of these properties, and their lenders, distressed homes can be much cheaper than comparable homes for sale. There are a few basic types of distressed properties.

In a short sale, a property is headed for foreclosure, and the owner of the home tries to sell the house for lower than what is owed on the mortgage. The lender takes a hit on the price to avoid foreclosure and cut its losses. When prices in the area have plummeted so far that it would be nearly impossible to sell the house for the value of the mortgage, short sales give lenders and homeowners a way out of the loan agreement.

At a foreclosure auction, banks and other lenders auction off properties that have been repossessed from owners who defaulted on their mortgage loans. Auctions are held at public facilities like courthouses and are best left to investors with large amounts of cash to spend. Individual buyers should usually steer clear, since all bids have to be backed up with a check in-hand for the entire sale price . Even more frightening is the fact that houses at auction are usually purchased site unseen.

An REO (real estate owned) foreclosure is what people are usually talking about when they describe a property as a "foreclosure." This is a bank- or lender-owned home that you purchase directly from the lender in a process similar to typical home sales.

All distressed properties have the same basic advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, a distressed home will typically be priced significantly lower than it would be sold for if it weren’t distressed . But these houses won’t necessarily be dirt cheap. Widespread foreclosures drive down prices of non-distressed homes, so you might not need to seek out distressed homes to get a bargain . On the down side, distressed homes take more time and effort at virtually every stage of the process, require a large amount of paperwork and frequently need major repairs . Read on to learn when you should go for it, and when you shouldn’t, when it comes to distressed property purchases.

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Questions to Ask

October 6, 2011

75 Questions To Ask Before Renting An Apartment

by Alvin, All-Swagga

Locating an apartment can be a chore.  If you know exactly what you want you’ll have to ask questions to ensure you get it.  Here are 75 questions/tips to get you moving in the right direction.

  1. How much will rent increase each year?
  2. Have breaking and entering ever been reported for one of your units?
  3. What are my options for paying the rent ex. check, cash, money order, credit card etc.?
  4. Do you have registered sex offenders living in this complex?
  5. How are maintenance request handled?
  6. Ask a random tenant, what they think of the apartment complex.
  7. How is the parking?  Assigned parking or first come first serve.
  8. I have pets how much is the monthly fee?
  9. Do policeman live in the complex?
  10. How much is the security deposit?
  11. How much is the application fee?
  12. Monthly rent; what is the late charges date? (i.e. Rent due on the 1st the 6th day of the month)
  13. Does the apartment come with pest control?
  14. What is the lease start and end date?
  15. Does apartment have AC (find out what type of system being used; turn it on during your walk thru and check vents for proper air flow)?
  16. When will I get my security deposit back?
  17. Do I get reduce rent for referring a friend?
  18. Does the front door have a deadbolt installed?
  19. Is the maintenance worker swamped with maintenance request?
  20. Will rent be higher for a short term lease?
  21. Are there washer and dryer hookups?
  22. Do other tenants look respectable?
  23. Will rental be freshly painted prior to move in?
  24. Where can I submit a complaint about management or maintenance, if I have one?
  25. Is there a community bulletin board or other way for residents to communicate?
  26. Do you have a No Alteration policy for the apartment?
  27. Are there any move-in specials?
  28. Is there a fire extinguisher in the apartment or nearby?
  29. Does apartment manager live on site?
  30. How is mail delivered to the apartment (what happens to large packages and registered mail)?
  31. What’s the average dollar amount for utility bill (gas, water, electric, and sewer)?
  32. How is trash handled for large items such as a sofa, mattress, or computer desk?
  33. Which fees are non-refundable?
  34. Where do guest park their vehicles?
  35. What personal documents will you need from me prior to signing of the lease?
  36. Can I paint the walls or ceilings?
  37. Do pipes freeze in the winter?
  38. I would like to rent month to month is there an additional fee?
  39. Is there a fee for early termination of lease?
  40. Are storage units available?
  41. How good is the cell phone reception from my apartment?
  42. Rent is collected on what day of the month?
  43. If a tenant moves out prior to the 1st of the month will tenant be charge the full amount of rent?
  44. Is there a place for tenants to wash their car?
  45. What are the seasonal challenges for this apartment (i.e. it rains and apartment floods, pipes freeze during winter)
  46. When the lease is up, will it automatically convert to a month-to-month agreement, or will I be obligated to sign a new lease?
  47. Are there enough windows in the apartment?
  48. Do windows lock properly?
  49. How many electrical outlets in each room?
  50. Is there a BBQ grill on site?
  51. What role does the landlord play if mold is found in apartment?
  52. What security features are installed for this community?
  53. Does front door have a peep hole? (rare not to have but worth checking)
  54. Does carpet need to be clean?
  55. What are the hours of operation for the fitness center?
  56. Has there ever been a fire/flood in this apartment?
  57. I’ve been locked out of my apartment is there a number to call to be let back in?
  58. Security cameras caught a break-in on tape, can the recording be used as evidence?
  59. Is subletting allowed?
  60. Are smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms installed for apartment?
  61. Is it safe to walk or run in the neighborhood at night?
  62. What freeways are the closest to apartment?
  63. Will my car insurance rates increase once I move in?
  64. Is the stove gas or electric?
  65. How many complaints have been filed against the landlord or the rental company?
  66. Can I take pictures during tour of property and apartment?
  67. Are there cracks in the walls or ceilings?
  68. Is there a sprinkler system for apartment?
  69. Is the apartment furnished?
  70. Is the water pressure normal in the kitchen and shower (also check to see how long it takes water to turn hot)?
  71. Do all doors open/close easily?
  72. Where is the trash collected?
  73. Is it difficult to add someone to the lease once it has been signed?
  74. You have furniture: How wide are your doors (make sure it will all fit)?
  75. What is the minimum credit score to rent an apartment?

 

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