Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reverse Mortgages take aim at affluent

From The Baltimore Sun:

Once an expensive last resort for elderly homeowners struggling for financial survival, reverse mortgages are now being sold as retirement planning tools for affluent people.

Despite a softening housing market, mortgage brokers say homeowners are using them to tap into their equity to invest in stocks, upgrade their living quarters or simply pay expenses in lieu of dipping into their retirement accounts too heavily.

Federally insured reverse mortgages grew a stunning 77 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 compared with fiscal 2005, according to the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. That's 76,351 home equity conversion mortgages, which are available to homeowners 62 and older.

As the name implies, a reverse mortgage is a loan that allows homeowners to use their equity to create a lump sum of cash, a stream of monthly payments, a line of credit, or some combination of all three.

"Over the next year we're going to see better pricing on federally insured and private loans, so if you can wait, do it," said Ken Scholen, a reverse mortgage expert with AARP.

Reverse mortgages can be an expensive way to tap equity, but some of the newer products allow more flexibility in payment streams and higher loan amounts.

"It's really a changing marketplace. A year from now, the industry will be very different," said Peter Bell, president of the reverse-mortgage lenders association....

"Competition is going to be terrific for this business," said Tom Kelly, author of The New Reverse Mortgage Formula: How to Convert Home Equity into Tax-Free Income.

"Traditionally, this was only for people in desperate situations who were deciding between eating and taking their medications," Kelly said.

With the new products for higher-end homes, however, seniors are thinking about tapping only a portion of that equity. They can take out a reverse mortgage for a portion of the equity, then let market appreciation take care of bringing back the heirs' value over time.

As with all reverse mortgages, remember to study the contract details before jumping in, experts said, because there may be lower-cost and better options for tapping cash.

Mortgage counseling must be provided to all reverse-mortgage shoppers in the federal programs, and counselors in the coming year will be equipped to evaluate how new private loan offers measure up to the federal program, AARP's Scholen said.

Finally, be sure to look at selling your home and compare that with the reverse mortgage fees and interest rates.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mortgage Rates Continue to Drop

30 Year Fixed: 6.18%

15 Year Fixed: 5.91%

1 Year Adj: 5.49%

source: NAR

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Massive Preservation Grants for Morris County

Voters gave approval to ambitious projects

From The Star-Ledger:

Morris County approved $23.8 million in preservation grants for projects in 20 towns, including $3 million for the largest open-space project it has ever helped fund, to save 1,611 acres in the Troy Meadows natural area in Parsippany and East Hanover.

The Morris County Preservation Trust also will provide nearly $5 million to finance purchases of 135 acres in Mendham Township owned by two religious orders of nearly the same name.

The record $23.8 million in open space awards was financed by a voter-approved county tax of 4.5 cents per $100 of property value, generating $40 million this year, said Morris County Preservation Director Frank Pinto.

"There are not a lot of big, open parcels left in the county," Pinto said. "The remaining big parcels, which are attractive to developers, are becoming more expensive. We are facing more competition as the costs go up. Thankfully, we have more dollars."

The first deal garnered $2.6 million in county open space funding that targets 1,431 acres in Parsippany, while a second got $359,500 for a connected 180 acres in East Hanover.

Parsippany Mayor Michael Luther, who called the county funding "very exciting," said he hopes to reach an amicable agreement with Wildlife Preserves. He noted an uplands portion of the property has development potential, which concerns him.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

NJ Vernal Habitats

Here's a source for some unique NJ maps:
In conjunction with its newly adopted vernal habitats protocols, the NJDEP is providing mapping to assist in locating the vernal habitats so far identified and certified by the Department. The mapping is approximate, and will be updated and refined on an ongoing basis as more vernal habitats are certified. More detailed information on a particular vernal habitat can be obtained by contacting the Land Use Regulation Program at

Areas highlighted in green on the New Jersey state map on the site represent USGS Quadrangles in which there exist vernal habitats. If you click on area representing the quadrangle, a detailed map will appear showing specific locations of the vernal habitats in that area. The example here is in the Wanaque Reservoir region. To access other regions, click on the heading above.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pushback on NJ School Consolidation Proposals

From the Glen Ridge Paper:

Educators start new funding call

Paul Rooney is a lifelong Democrat, but after Wednesday’s Education Forum at the Women’s Club of Glen Ridge, he said he will vote for any Republican who opposes the recommendations recently submitted by the Government Consolidation and Shared Services Committee.

Rooney, a Glen Ridge resident, was among several dozen homeowners from this borough to attend the Board of Education forum, titled “Save Our Schools — Save our Town,” which served two purposes: answering questions about the committee’s proposals, and encouraging residents to lobby against the ideas..

A study released by the New Jersey Department of Education said Glen Ridge spends about $1 million more than it needs to spend in educating its children. “I am not an alarmist by nature,” said [School District Superintendent Daniel ] Fishbein, “but leveling down education for the sake of lowering property taxes is not the answer.”

The consolidation committee had originally been interested in consolidating all New Jersey’s school districts into 21 county districts, but that idea has been shelved in favor of a pilot program that would use one voluntary county as an experiment in county-based education administration.

Ginsburg said any promise of savings from consolidation is false.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Roasting Penguins on Thanksgiving

Right wing grinches have found a new bete noir.
It's those rascally penguins as depicted in the current hit film: "Happy Feet."
According to the Media Matters story, their issue is with the "far left global warming propaganda" they found in the movie.
Don't miss the comments that follow the text version of the video clips.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Top 10 Least Affordable Markets in 2006, 3rd Quarter

We're still reading the latest from those pesky real estate bloggers:

The National Association of Home Builders has their new affordability survey out and the results are very scary for average earners in these regions. [All are in California except for the NY_NJ Metro-market at no. 10] To understand the severity of the situation, only 1.8 percent of the new housing inventory could be afforded by the average earner in L.A. Watch the middle class flee these cities as they gentrify to the extreme.

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA 1.8 percent of homes built that are affordable to average buyer
2. Salinas, CA 2.6 percent
3. Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA 3.8 percent
4. Modesto, CA 4.1 percent
5. Merced, CA 4.3 percent
6. Stockton, CA 4.8 percent
7. Madera, CA 4.8 percent
8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 4.9 percent
9. Napa, CA 4.9 percent
10. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ 5.1 percent

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NJ Improving on Foreclosures


10 States with Highest Foreclosure Rate October 2006

RealtyTrac has come out with their October 2006 numbers and the results are in. Colorado leads the way with once out of 337 homes in foreclosure. Vermont had the least amount of foreclosures in the country with only one home in foreclosure. Bet that guy has the neighbors talking for breaking the perfect streak. (Although still on the bottom 10, New Jersey is now trending towards a decreasing foreclosure market.)

The percentages are the change from October of 2005.

Top 10 States with Homes in Foreclosure October 2006

Colorado 1 out of 337 homes (117 % increase)

Nevada 1 out of 389 homes (557 % increase)

Georgia 1 out of 449 homes (99 % increase)

Michigan 1 out of 623 homes (88 % increase)

Illinois 1 out of 632 homes (144 % increase)

Florida 1 out of 640 homes (49 % increase)

Ohio 1 out of 654 homes (55 % increase)

Tennessee 1 out of 668 homes ( 99 % increase)

New Jersey 1 out of 675 homes (37 % decrease)

Utah 1 out of 718 homes (13 % increase)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NJ on Track for Mild Winter

Nov. 16, 2006 — Meteorologists at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center today released the latest U.S. seasonal outlook and reiterated once again this winter is likely to be warmer than the 30-year norm (1971-2000) over much of the nation, yet cooler than last year's very warm winter season. NOAA's heating degree day forecast for December, January and February projects a 2 percent warmer winter than the 30 year average but about 9 percent cooler than last year. (Click NOAA image for larger view of winter temperature outlook for December 2006 through February 2007. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

Meanwhile, a strengthening El Niño event continues to develop in the equatorial Pacific and is likely to continue into spring 2007. "During moderate as well as strong El Niño episodes, an increase in the occurrence of extreme cold days, especially in the Northeast, becomes less likely," said Vernon Kousky, research meteorologist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

EcoTalk on Election Results

Wonder how greem friendly candidates and issues fared last week? Click on the heading above for an 8 minute podcast on this an other hot eco-topics.Also China's dubious global warming mantle, new coal-powered plants in Kansas, and one of the best inventions of 2006,

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

NJ Residents Distrust Eminent Domain

From the AP:
Most New Jersey voters dislike the ability of government to take land from its owners for redevelopment, according to a poll released yesterday.

The survey also found that interest in the topic remains high nearly a year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed a Connecticut city to use eminent domain to seize homes for commercial use. Several bills to restrict the use of eminent domain are pending in the state Legislature.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll asked respondents to consider four scenarios under which local and state governments might seize property; none was supported by a majority.

The least objectionable plan, found acceptable by nearly half those polled, would have "dilapidated properties" replaced by better housing and shops. Only two in seven voters said it was acceptable to raze houses and shops for a new school, while one is six said it was okay for active farmland to be taken to build a new school or ball field. Nine in 10 voters said it was not acceptable to take middle-class housing and replace it with "upscale condos and shops," said the survey, which was sponsored by the New Jersey Farm Bureau.

"This issue has staying power," said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickin son and a survey analyst for Public Mind. "In a crowded state with pressure for development, pressure for redevelopment and pressure for conservation, there is bound to be conflict."

The poll of 577 likely voters was conducted by telephone from Oct. 25 to 31 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hedging Election Bets

From the Inman News Blog:

No matter what the outcome of the elections, the real estate industry had all the bases covered. Although all the campaign spending numbers aren't in, real estate political action committees pumped at least $7.2 million into the midterm Congressional elections. Republican candidates got 57 percent of real estate PAC money and Democrats 43 percent, according to Open Secrets, which tracks campaign spending.
According to Open Secrets, the National Association of Realtors PAC was the biggest spender of any in the nation, regardless of industry. NAR spend more than $3 million, with 52 percent going to GOP candidates and the remaining 48 percent to Democrats. With more than $1.9 million in campaign spending, The National Association of Home Builders was also among the nation's top 10 PACs. Republicans were much more likely to be the beneficiaries of the home builders' largesse, taking 74 percent of that pot to 26 percent for Democrats.
The few real estate PACs that favored Democrats included -- surprise! -- Fannie Mae ($523,400 in federal campaign spending, 56 percent to Democrats) and Freddie Mac ($254,250, 52 percent to Dems).
Many of these PACs, including NAR, spent even more money on state elections.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Painting the Town Green

If you're planning on using eco-friendly paints for your next home improvement project, don't count on most latex paints to meet optimal standards.
although much better than oil based paints, even with latex paint there is potential for unhealthful exposure to certain VOCs (volatile organic compounds/chemicals). The most common definition of a VOC is any organic (carbon-based) compound that evaporates at ambient temperatures.
The folks at have many suggestions: YOLO Colorhouse, Sico's zero-VOC option, Anna Sova are just a few that have been discussed in detail. Two other brands to check out are SafeCoat and BioShield. They've also invited readers to share their experiences with finding, buying, using and disposing of low or zero-VOC paints? What works? What doesn't? Has milk paint ever entered the equation?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rising Rivers in Bloomfield

It seemed like a metaphor for yesterday's election "Wave". NNJ was hit by about 18 hours of unrelenting deluge not seen since Floyd with floods to match. With many new developments along The Third River since then, it seems to take much less rain to overrun the riverbanks. Photos were taken in Brookside Park, Lakewood Terrace, and Clark St.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Adapting to a New Market for New Construction

With the glut of unsold new homes coming on the market, one enterpreneur, Thomas V. Caldwell, is predicting a shift by investors to rentals -- telling the NY Times:
"...But smart investors, he argued, were absorbing the surplus by buying up homes that builders were now unloading at bargain prices — some for as little as $60 to $80 a square foot, which local experts say is barely enough to cover construction costs let alone land expenses.

At such prices and with interest rates still low, an investor can cover his monthly costs, maybe even earn a modest income, by renting homes for $900 to $1,400 a month while the market recovers, Mr. Caldwell noted.

“It is not a get-rich quick scheme,” he acknowledged. “But investments in real estate,” he added, “do go up over time.”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Retiree Gets Soaked by Town Council in Land Deal

From North
Ronald Leach thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- a chance to buy a sprawling, tree-studded lot in the center of the densely packed town of Ridgefield, a quiet place where he and his wife could build a retirement home.
As soon as Leach heard the borough was accepting bids for the town-owned land, he rushed into Borough Hall with a promise to pay $350,000.

The 59-year-old trucking company employee also cut a $35,000 check, the required 10 percent down payment, which he borrowed from his retirement plan.

But days later, when Leach found out his was the winning bid -- and the only bid -- he was not celebrating.
By then, he realized he had made a "stupid, stupid mistake." He had assumed he knew what lot the town was selling when an acquaintance in town said it was "next to the Community Center."

He never bothered to look at the zoning maps for the "Lot 3, Block 907" described in the bid specifications.
Leach had not submitted a bid for the beautiful, vacant corner lot next to the town's Community Center, but for the narrow, flood-prone parcel that sits on the other side of Slocum Street and straddles a creek.

The borough's response when Leach tried to back out of the deal and retrieve his $35,000 check added insult: Sorry, it was your mistake, borough officials told him before a majority of the council voted to accept his bid at a meeting in late June.
The bid specification allowed the town to keep the down payment if he were to back out of the deal.

Leach, a 20-year Ridgefield resident, accuses borough officials of being greedy and questions why they would take the retirement money of a well-meaning resident who made an honest mistake.

But Borough Attorney Stephen Pellino said that the borough is not under any legal obligation and that doing so could set a dangerous precedent. "The implications are huge," Pellino said. "We do large [street] repaving bids, and we can't just allow those people to back out of bids."

Leach refused to sign the contract that would have finalized the $350,000 deal, meaning the town still owns the lot, which has an assessed value of $560,000. The problem is, the 7,500-square-foot lot borders Wolf's Creek, and any development of the land would require lengthy and costly approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The bid specifications state that the borough may keep the winning bidder's down payment to cover the town's losses if that bidder does not sign a contract.

The borough recently advertised the land a second time, Pellino said, but there were no bidders.

Suarez said he would not comment on the matter because it could be the subject of litigation. But Councilman Robert Avery, one of two members who voted in June not to accept Leach's bid, said taking Leach's money could lead to a costly lawsuit.
"I'd rather there be a peaceful resolution of the issue instead of more expensive litigation," he said.

"That means negotiations."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Bike Ride for a Healthy Planet

Organized by Essex Greens Clean Energy Campaign, BlueWaveNJ, Bloomfield Third Riverbank Association and Cornucopia.
Photos were taken during their stop at Liongate Drive in Bloomfield.
from UPI:
Thousands of people turned out in London and elsewhere Saturday to march in support of efforts to curb global warming.
The marches were held in the run-up to the Nairobi Climate Talks that begin Monday in Kenya, Sky News reported.

The marches came on the heels of disturbing and disputed predictions that global warming could lead to a severe downturn in the world economy and even the extinction of large numbers of seafood species, Sky News said.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pending Sales Slip

From CNN/Money:

Pending sales of existing homes fall in September, as latest reading from Realtors shows continued slump.

The pace of existing home sales continue to slip in the latest reading of real estate market strength from an industry trade group. The National Association of Realtors’ pending home sales index slipped 1.1 percent in September, to a reading of 109.1, the group reported Wednesday.

A reading of 100 represents where the market was in 2001, before the home sales boom of the last few years. The index was down 13.6 percent from the sales pace of September 2005.

Every region in the nation, other than the Midwest, showed a slowdown in sales in the most recent month. Still the trade group said the index was still at historically high levels.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Human Targets for Eco Activists

The League of Conservation voters is a great site for tracking the guys with the poorest environmental voting records. With offices in most states(they're big in NY but not yet in NJ), the LCV also tracks local and national bills and issues that can have the best chances of passing.

Through the Dirty Dozen, League of Conservation Voters identifies those currently holding federal office -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike -- who consistently vote against the environment, as part of its ongoing effort to educate voters about voting records. LCV targets selected members of this list for independent campaigns in competitive races.