Posts Tagged ‘real estate market’

Zillow: 30-Year Mortgage Rate Rises To 3.86%

November 29, 2011

by Natalie Tadena, WSJ

Real-estate website Zillow Inc. (Z) said Tuesday its real-time rate on 30-year fixed mortgages rose slightly in the last week.

Zillow said the 30-year fixed mortgage rate on its Mortgage Marketplace is at 3.86%, up from 3.8% a week earlier. The company said the 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered between 3.82% and 3.85% for most of the week and peaked at 3.93% on Monday before dropping to the current rate.

Many mortgage trackers have reported low rates lately, as worries about European debt pressure yields on U.S. Treasury bonds. Mortgage rates tend to follow the yields. Zillow said this is the fifth-consecutive week the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has stayed below 4%.

"Talk of a possible third round of economic stimulus and some optimism around progress in European Union debt purchase plans spiked interest rates on Monday," said Erin Lantz, director of Zillow Mortgage Marketplace. "However, that spike has already been offset as of Tuesday morning, and we expect continued volatility as we await news from Europe and the Federal Reserve in the coming weeks."

Tuesday, Zillow also said the rate for a 15-year fixed home loans is 3.21%, up from 3.16% a week earlier. The rate for a 5-1 adjustable-rate mortgage is 2.68%, up from 2.57%; a 5-1 ARM has an initial rate that applies for the first five years of the loan and then adjusts annually.

 

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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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Wholesale is Part of the Solution … and Ready to Grow Again

October 25, 2011

John Walsh, via Mortgage Professional

The mortgage industry has dealt with sweeping changes over the past few years significantly impacting the mortgage broker and wholesale lending. As a result, the wholesale origination model has been largely redefined. Although many brokers and lenders have left the business, the wholesale channel now has a well-defined regulatory framework with higher-quality and better-skilled mortgage professionals to advise borrowers on their most important financial decision. This is why I believe the mortgage broker will thrive in the coming years.

I see a compelling future for wholesale lending, one that plays a vital role and guarantees that borrowers have access to the most competitive rates and an array of responsible program options. In the absence of wholesale, there is no doubt that consumer choice would be significantly reduced, as the mortgage marketplace would be dominated by a handful of large national lenders. The mortgage broker-to-consumer option helps guarantee healthy competition in the marketplace.
Additionally, mortgage brokers provide borrowers with access to a mortgage professional who will act as their partner, trusted advisor and advocate throughout the lending process. Mortgage brokers are knowledgeable about multiple products from various lenders and can help borrowers navigate the myriad of options to find the loan that is best suited to their needs.

Wholesale lending plays a critical role in ensuring that the mortgage industry does not become too heavily reliant on a select few large lenders, so that borrowers will continue to have plenty of mortgage options for any purchase or refinance transaction. In the coming years, mortgage brokers and lenders need to be committed to ethical behavior, responsible lending, ongoing training and the highest levels of customer service. Together, we must continue to improve, practice responsible lending, and advocate for this important channel and solution for borrowers.

 

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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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America’s Biggest Landowners, 2011

October 24, 2011

Daniel Fisher, Forbes.com

The media business must be nerve-wracking, what with its up-and-down fortunes and constant threat of being outflanked by the next iPad-delivered Internet service. Maybe that explains why Liberty Media’s John Malone pours so much of his extra cash into land.

Earlier this year Malone passed fellow media mogul Ted Turner to become America’s Biggest Landowner with 2.2 million acres, thanks to a giant investment in New England timberland. It capped a quick ascent for the cable-television magnate, who joined the list of the nation’s land barons last year, shoving aside ranchers and timber magnates, some of whom have owned their acreage for generations. He entered the list at No. 5 after buying New Mexico’s 453-square-mile Bell Ranch in 2010, then passed Turner earlier this year after buying 1 million acres in New Hampshire and Maine from private equity firm GMO Renewable Resources.

Malone blamed heritage, not nerves, for his love of the asset whose supply will never increase. As he told Forbes writer Monte Burke in March: “My wife says it’s the Irish gene. A certain land hunger comes from being denied property ownership for so many generations.” Turner, contacted by The Land Report magazine for its annual list of the nation’s largest landowners, said he was happy to hand over the title. “I consider John a good friend and have great respect for him,” Turner said.

This list of powerful landowners is compiled by Land Report researchers with the assistance of Fay Ranches, a Western land brokerage, the list includes the usual family timber dynasties as well as the owners of the King Ranch in Texas , once considered unimaginably huge but now, at 911,000 acres dwarfed by the holdings of Turner and Malone.

No. 2, of course, is Turner, the CNN founder who began buying ranches in the 1970s and now controls 2 million acres in New Mexico, Colorado , Montana , Florida and several other states. If $1 billion separates the men from the boys in terms of raw wealth, the new land barons can judge themselves by the number of Rhode Islands they own. Turner has almost three, including the spectacular Vermejo Park Ranch straddling the border of New Mexico and Colorado which is nearly as large as the Ocean State all by itself. Malone credits his fellow media magnate for giving him “this land-buying disease.”

At his customary spot in the Top 5 at No. 3 is Archie “Red” Emmerson, whose Sierra Pacific Industries boosted its holdings to almost 1.9 million acres this year. The forest products company , now entering its third generation of Emmerson management, is the second largest U.S. timber producer and works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve species on its land. Emmerson and his father, Curly, began their march into the ranks of big time landowners in 1949 when they leased a California sawmill. Emmerson later borrowed $460 million to buy 522,000 acres in northern California, holdings that have since spread into Washington .

At No. 4 is recent entrant Brad Kelley, a Tennessee cigarette magnate who poured the profit from the $1 billion sale of his company into 1.7 million acres of land in Florida, Texas and New Mexico. Below him by half a million acres is the Irving family of Canada, who own a little less than 1/20th of the state of Maine (plus a bunch more in Canada). The descendants of thrifty Scottish immigrants, the Irving’s are in lumber for the long haul; they’ll plant some 28 million seedlings in their forests this year.

Here are America’s five largest landowners:

#5 Irving family Owns: 1.2 million acres in Maine.

These Canadian descendants of a Scottish sawmill operator are secretive and all business. They’ve amassed roughly a 20th of the state of Maine and will plant 28 million seedlings this year to keep the timber coming.

#4 Brad Kelley Owns: 1.7 million acres in Texas, New Mexico and Florida

This Nashville, Tenn., farmer’s son sold his Commonwealth Brands cigarette company for $1 billion in 2001 and began investing in land. Big time. The Land Report estimates the tightlipped Kelley owns 1.7 million acres. Most recently he’s reported to have bulked up his holdings with ranchland in the Big Bend region of Texas.

#3 Archie "Red" Emmerson Owns: 1.87 million acres in California and Washington

In 1949 Emmerson and his father, Curly, leased a sawmill and built the business into Sierra Pacific Industries. Red borrowed $460 million to buy 522,000 acres in California, a position since increased to almost 2 million acres. When he was briefly the nation’s largest private landowner, Red joked that Ted Turner "will probably go out and buy more land." He was right, but Emmerson is close behind.

#2 Ted Turner Owns: 2 million acres in New Mexico, Colorado, Montana , Florida and several other states.

An ardent conservationist, Turner began buying ranches in the 1970s and revived the nation’s bison herd to 55,000 head on his ranches across the upper Great Plains. No regrets about losing the title as the nation’s No. 1 land baron to John Malone: "I consider John a good friend and have great respect for him," Turner said.

#1 John Malone Owns: 2.2 million acres in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Maine and New Hampshire.

The cable-television billionaire was outed as one of the nation’s largest property owners by The Land Report two years ago and dramatically increased his holdings last year with the purchase of New Mexico’s 453-square-mile Bell Ranch. Now he passes longtime No. 1 Ted Turner with the purchase of 1 million acres of timberland in New Hampshire and Maine from an investment firm.

 

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Collateral Valuations Need A Green Hue

October 20, 2011

BY BRIAN C. COESTER

REQUIRED READING: Here is the scenario: A homeowner spends $20,000 turning his home from an energy-sucking abode into an efficient, cost-savings oasis. This individual installs solar panels, ultra-efficient appliances, a tank-less water heater, energy-efficient windows and blinds, and paints the roof white. As a result, the property can now reap the rewards of almost no monthly utility bills while helping to improve the environment.
But what happens when the homeowner brings in an appraiser to value all of these new features? Do not be surprised if the appraiser tells the homeowner that the house isn’t worth any more than what it was originally.
This scenario is happening more frequently as homeowners and builders ride the atmospheric green wave to make homes more energy-efficient. There is a big problem here: The mortgage industry has not yet caught up with the green wave. It is going to take the support of both the mortgage and appraisal industries to ensure energy efficiency is valuable to the market and not just to the homeowner.
Admittedly, this is still a relatively new trend. Thus, the cost of building green is relatively high, and to a certain extent, the cost outweighs the short-term benefits. The average cost of installing solar panels on a home is $35,000 – and with an average savings of $1,700 a year, it would take approximately 20 years to recoup the total cost.
Furthermore, due to the lack of comparable sales and unknown actual cost savings by appraisers, it would be relatively difficult to evaluate the home’s energy efficiency. So what needs to be done to green up collateral valuations? There are several considerations that need to be addressed.
First, utility-bill data must be available on multiple listing services (MLS). Appraisers cannot take into account information they do not have. An MLS indicating a home is "green" means nothing to appraisers, thus making it very difficult for them to make adjustments due to unknown information.
In most states, home sellers are required to put 12 months of utility bills in the addendum of the contract. Having this information available for the appraiser on the MLS would enable an apples-to-apples comparison of the subject’s home and comparable. If a home that is "green" has utility bills that total only $1,000 a year versus a typical house that averages $4,000 a year, an appraiser is able to make tangible adjustments and give tangible value to the home.
Next, mortgage-backed securities need to give better pricing to green homes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) is a step in the right direction, but conventional lenders and the secondary market need to catch on. If lenders are concerned about the qualified residential mortgage requirements and the homeowner’s ability to pay the mortgage on a monthly basis, they should also be concerned with the utility costs.
The principal-and-interest payments on home loans do not change month to month, but utility bills do. Depending on the harshness of the weather, these monthly bills can skyrocket. 
Homeowners will default on their mortgage before they will have their heat or electricity cut off. Having homeowners with lower overall utility costs will make a significant impact on their monthly ability to pay the mortgage. For this reason, homes that are built with green items should get special pricing for being lower-risk. This would give homeowners an incentive to make the green upgrades – not only for a better mortgage product, but also monthly savings and a better environmental footprint.
Go green!
Furthermore, the appraisal industry needs to recognize the benefits of green improvements. The appraisal industry is quick to adapt to what lenders want and require, but it will not make the first move to create the curve. The industry needs to ensure that the market has clearly recognized that there is tangible value in energy-efficient homes before value will be given to them. 
Currently, there are no standards for valuing green homes. This makes it difficult to place a value on the property – after all, what are you comparing it to? Until the appraisers are supported with MLS information on recognized standards for the valuation of green homes and tangible evidence that the mortgage community places weight on green homes, appraisers will not be able to do anything.
Finally, green technology needs to be easily accessible to homeowners. Of course, this is outside of the control of lenders and appraisers, but it needs to be addressed. Energy-efficient technology is still fairly pricey, but over the next two to three years, it is likely that favorable price developments will be witnessed in solar power, solar thermal, geothermal and small wind solutions, as well as energy-efficient household appliances. If the price point is friendlier to the average homeowner’s budget, more homeowners will adopt the green home solution.
None of this will happen overnight, of course, but it is coming down the road. Lenders and appraisers need to recognize that this issue needs to be resolved before tomorrow’s solutions become more commonplace today.
Brian C. Coester is CEO of Coester Appraisal Group, based in Rockville, Md. He can be reached at (888) 485-1999.

(Photo courtesy of USPS)

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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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