Friday, December 26, 2008

NY, NJ Counties Rank Highest in Property Taxes

No surprise that NJ still has more of the highest taxed counties than any other state. or even that Bergen, Essex and Passaic are all on national the top 10. What's interesting in the latest breakdown from The Tax Foundation is that there's nowhere to run if you work in our Metro Region. Westchester and Nassau lead the pack in taxes with Rockland and Fairfield counties close behind. NJ continues to rule the top 20 as well. Illinois has the only out of area county(#15).

Tax Foundation Senior Economist Gerald Prante and Analyst Mark Robyn use newly updated Census data from the 2007 American Community Survey (ACS) to rank counties across the country according to various property tax measures.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Wishes With Hope...

...for a New Year of Peace and real Change.

(seems to run better on cable than DSL)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Climate Change in Washington

One of the President-elect's last announced appointments to his "Green Team" is his official science advisor: the renowned physicist John Holdren. Holdren advised the Obama campaign on climate and energy earlier this year and at one point was designated as a surrogate spokesman on those issues for the candidate. Dr. Holdren was president of The American Association for the Advancement of Science. from 2006 to 2007, and is well known for his work on energy, climate change, and nuclear proliferation. He's a passionate fighter of global warming(a term he has long maintained is misleading). Growing up in San Mateo, CA, he was a classmate of mine in San Mateo from grades 4 to High School. One of the nice guys and always the smartest!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is THIS as Low as it Gets?

At 4.74%, Zillow's update yesterday reached the lowest level for 30 year mortgages anyone around here can remember. We suspect the stampede to refinance had something to do with the bump up to 4.94 today. With the Fed rate virtually ZERO, we may have just about hit bottom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Biggest Losers -- Billion Buck Edition

Can't believe how much money you've lost in the past couple of months? Neither can we. But we're pleased to say that our misery has some serious company.

Here's The Silicon Alley's Insider's unofficial list of The Biggest Losers: 20 global moguls who have gotten creamed in the recent economic collapse.

Bill Gates, Sumner Redstone, Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffet are a few of the lower hanging losers.

Those folks are small potatoes
next to the Biggest Loser of Them All...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Timing the Housing Market? The Times Says It's Time

Realtors have been forecasting a perfect storm in recent months, and it looks like the waves are beginning to swell out there. We've seen a trifecta of record home inventories, declining prices, and interest rates hitting record lows.
Now, The NY Times has suggested that the time may be at hand to jump into the housing market. (This was their single most emailed story today) Right now, their focus is on first-time homebuyers.
If you’re hoping for a recovery in the housing market, you ought to be cheering on the first-time home buyers. When they purchase homes, their sellers are free to move on or move up, stimulating further sales. Meanwhile, first-time home buyers have the same advantage they have always had, which is that they do not have to sell their old place before buying a new one.

What we often forget is that first time buyers don't have the luxury of gambling on the market bottom. Once they can afford it, they jump in. They cannot risk losing what may be a fleeting opportunity. Once there is activity at the bottom, upper tiered buyers, who wanted to move years ago, can sell and move on. The next generation of wealth is going to be made here. At the lowest rates in years, some analysts are predicting rampant inflation ignited by all the money being printed to pay for this mess. It's only been about 27 years since 30 year mortgage rates peaked at 18%

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Top 10 Priorities for That Dream House

So what's lasting value? Here's a list of homebuyers' most sought-after features, according to the National Association of Realtors.

1. Central Air Conditioning
2. Garage with two or more spaces
3. Walk-in closet in master bedroom
4. Backyard/play area
5. Cable/Satellite TV-ready

6. High-speed Internet Access
7. Separate shower in master bath
8. Patio
9. Fencing
10. Home newer than 10 years old

If you have looked in the past and not found these features in your price range, it may be time to check again, while properties are "on sale." Be sure to consider features that will make homes more valuable in the future, such as energy-efficient construction and appliances and shorter commuting times. Features like water or mountain views, good schools, recreation opportunities and unique architecture never go out of style.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Calling All River Rats

A Great Conveniency, a Maritime History of the Passaic River, Hackensack River, and Newark Bay is a newly published book by American History Imprints. Commencing in the early 1600s with the European exploration of the local waterways, it explores how the rivers facilitated early settlement and expanded the highway network into the hinterlands.

Clifton's Environmental Protective Commission is sponsoring a presentation on the book by author Kenneth Olsen, a professor at MSU, scheduled for December 3 at 7:30PM at Clifton's Allwood Library(on Lyall Road off Market).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fed Aid Triggers Mortgage Drop to 5.5%

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that The Federal Reserve's attempt to stabilize the housing market set off a chain reaction across the U.S. on Tuesday, dropping interest rates and quickly spurring a burst of refinancing activity by borrowers eager to lower their mortgage costs. Some brokers said it was the most activity they've seen in at least one year, although there was no way to determine the volume of refinancing.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped by roughly half a percentage point to about 5.5%, for borrowers with good credit scores and substantial equity in their homes, say mortgage brokers and lenders.

While the initial flurry of calls came from people seeking to refinance, economists predicted lower rates also will spur some home buying among bargain-seekers. The surge in refinancing will help the overall economy by putting more cash in consumers' pockets and reducing the pressure on some borrowers struggling to make payments.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Home Affordability Hits 4 Year High

The National Realty news has uncovered a silver lining in the declining market in home sales:

With home prices decreasing and interest rates holding at historically low levels, the number of potential home buyers nationwide who can afford to buy new and existing homes has reached the highest level in more than four years, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) just released.

According to the third-quarter HOI readings, 56.1 percent of all new and existing homes that were sold were affordable to families earning the national median income of $61,500, far more than the 40.4 percent of families who could afford homes at the peak of the housing boom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tips For Bidding on Foreclosures

From The LA Times:
Foreclosed properties are piling up faster than they can be sold, but that doesn't mean buyers can snap up a great house with little effort. Quality properties in good locations now draw multiple offers when priced right. Here are some tips for extracting gems from the rubble.

Know when to lowball
If a home you want has been on the market for several weeks, it is probably overpriced, says Sean O'Toole, chief executive of ForeclosureRadar, an online seller of default data. Banks may be willing to accept a lowball offer on such properties to get them off their books, especially at the end of a quarter. The end of December is an especially good time for buyers, says O'Toole, who has bought and sold more than 150 foreclosed houses.

Be ready to compete
When an attractive -- and attractively priced -- property hits the market, lowballing can backfire, O'Toole said. Banks selling houses generally follow a formula that allows for substantial price reductions only when houses don't sell for a specific number of weeks or days. Experienced foreclosure buyers say that for high-quality homes, it's best to offer close to list price or a quick escrow, perhaps 15 days.

Here's a play by play report of a typical auction.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Treecycling Homes Without Logs

From NJ Myway:

Want a greener home? Think about wrapping it in bark.

Not so unusual in other parts of the country, but rarely seen in our neck of the woods... bark siding looks great, and signals that you are serious about recycling.

Spectrum Construction and Development is completing the remodeling on what is believed to be the first house in the state with bark siding. The pristine three bedroom home on Lake Mohawk in Sparta was purchased by a Jersey City woman as a weekend retreat.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Meltdown Slows Down Teardowns

The NY Times warns that NJ is in danger of losing it's title as our nation's number one teardown state.
That has been New Jersey’s ranking from the National Trust for Historic Preservation each year since 2002, when the trust began keeping track of how many older houses in historic neighborhoods were being demolished to make way for new and often bigger houses. In August, the trust cited 85 communities — from Alpine to Fair Lawn; from Morristown to Wykoff — where teardowns were heavily concentrated.

But since then, another trend has become a lot more noticeable — even in New Jersey. The overall economic situation and the sorry state of the housing market mean that fewer and fewer people are “throwing away perfectly good houses,” as one preservation-minded architect from Point Pleasant, Verity L. Frizzell, put it.

“Just six months ago,” said Stacey Ruhle Kleisch, who is president-elect of the American Institute of Architects’ New Jersey chapter, “it was ‘the sky’s the limit’ with my clientele. Whenever possible, it was, ‘Tear it down, and make something new.’ ”

But that is definitely “grinding to a halt,” said Ms. Kleisch, whose firm GK&A Architects is based in Rutherford. “Now, it’s, ‘Let’s see what choices we can make to save money, immediately, and over the life cycle of a home.’ ”

It is certainly not as if the bulldozers had gone quiet around the state. Last summer, for instance, a frayed but once-grand 1910 colonial on Park Street in Montclair went down abruptly after a developer bought it. The new colonial now under construction — at 4,200 square feet, slightly smaller than the old house, but outfitted with a full array of modern technological conveniences — is being marketed by Rhodes Van Note & Company for $1.85 million.

Peter Primavera, a vice chairman of the Urban Land Institute in New Jersey, says that although he perceives a lull in teardown activity, that does not translate into a halt.

“When the stock market is up,” Mr. Primavera said, “old houses go down. Now, things are bad on Wall Street and fewer houses are being taken down. But the overall dynamic is still in place of people wanting to build new, big McMansions when they have the money to do so.”

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Green Areas Lower Health Gap Between Rich and Poor

From The Lancet via The Washington Post:

Health inequalities between rich and poor people are much lower in areas that have lots of green space, such as parks, forests and playing fields, a large British study finds.

In areas with the most green space, the health gap between the richest and poorest people was about half as large as that in the least green areas -- an incident rate ratio (IRR) of 1.93 in the least green and 1.43 in the most green. IRR is a measure of how much higher the rate of death is among the poorest, when compared with that among the richest.

The difference in IRR for circulatory disease was even larger -- 2.19 in the least green areas and 1.54 in the most green. The study was published in this week's special issue of The Lancet, which focuses on social determinants of health.

"This study offers valuable evidence that green space does more than pretty up a neighborhood; it appears to have real effects on health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously," Dr. Terry Hartig, of the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University in Sweden, wrote
(graphic from 19th Century map of Northern Essex Co.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Montclair Makes Forbes Latest Top 10

It may not be a boom, but, given regional problems, it's a good market to be in. Montclair joins Berkeley; Bedford, Texas, and Kennesaw, Ga. on their list of suburbs with the best conditions for sellers. Among the highest in median sales prices at $672,000, Montclair also has the lowest percentage of price declines(27%).

Forbes looked at the suburbs in the country's 75 largest Census-defined metro areas based on the last 90 days of sales activity. Since a metro area can contain hundreds of suburbs, they narrowed it to those cities with an inventory of at least 75 homes on the market.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How New Jersey Voted

In case you're thinking of moving to a town with politically compatible neighbors,
The Star Ledger has compiled a Red Vs. Blue map for this week's Presidential Election.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Appealing Time to Lower Your Property Taxes

The current issue of Realtor Magazine has some practical advice for the majority of homeowners who have seen their property's value decline as their tax bills continue to rise:

If, after a review with a residential broker or appraiser, a home’s assessed value seems out of line with current market values, the home owner should undertake an investigation to determine what might have caused the incorrect valuation. Here are some steps for your client to follow:

1. Arrange a visit with the local tax assessor and request a complete copy of the home’s tax records. Property record cards are public records and are universally available.

2. Pay particular attention to the market comparables listed on the property record card. These recently sold homes are the basis for the assessor’s valuation of your client’s home. Visit those houses or view them online, and compare them to the client’s house.

3. Take the appropriate equalization ratio and multiply the market value you believe appropriate for the home by that rate. If the number is lower than the current assessment, your client should file a tax appeal.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NJ Landfills Comvert Methane into Energy

From The Huffington Post:

The Kearny site
is among 21 landfills in New Jersey where methane gas produced by decomposing garbage is used as fuel to generate electricity, according to the state Board of Public Utilities.

One of New Jersey's leading environmentalists envisions the state's landfills someday making more use of the sites by installing wind and solar power to supplement methane.

"We see landfills as potential New Age energy plants because you can combine all three and create a steady source of power _ and not everybody wants a windmill in their backyard," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.(graphics from

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Signs of a Resurgent Housing Market

Leave it to a journalist for the top site for political trends and surveys, RealClear, to provide an upbeat analysis of today's Real Estate Market:

By Dennis Byrne:
Is it possible that the housing market has turned?

Blamed for just about everything bad that has happened recently to the economy, housing sales, I dare say, are showing signs of picking up. At the risk of being considered a lunatic, I say this for reasons of systematically gathered data, personal experience and common sense.

First the data, which hasn't and won't get as much attention they deserve, considering the fact that everyone has been blaming the dismal housing market for as far back as recent memory can take us. The good news is that the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing-home sales--including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops--for September jumped 5.5 percent higher over the previous month. They are 1.4 percent higher than September 2007. That's the first time that sales have risen compared to a year earlier since November 2005.

Could this be a turnaround? Let's look at another NAR measure: its "pending sales of existing homes" index most forward-looking barometer of residential sales because it records a sale when a contract is signed, rather than at closing, which can be months later. In August, the latest month available, it rose 7.4 percent over July. More significantly, that's 8.8 percent higher over August 2007. These are the kinds of numbers that should be on the front page over every newspaper in the country--but they weren't
. Read On...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bloomfield & Paramus Companies Charged in Foreclosure Scam

Attorney General Anne Milgram today announced the filing of lawsuits charging a total of 37 mortgage loan providers, mortgage industry employees, lawyers and other defendants with consumer fraud and civil racketeering for using predatory “foreclosure rescue” schemes to persuade desperate homeowners to sign over their homes.

The state alleges that the defendants obtained at least $13.5 million worth of fraudulent loans to further their foreclosure rescue schemes. In addition, the state alleges that defendants stole at least $3 million in homeowner equity.

The state’s lawsuits are against Vest Financial LLC, formerly of Paramus, along with 16 other defendants who include the head of the Paramus town council, and JP Global Property Management, Inc., of Bloomfield, along with 19 other defendants. Five defendants are common to both complaints.
The defendants are charged with consumer fraud and civil racketeering.

The two complaints allege the defendants victimized 48 homeowners, taking advantage of their financial woes and fear of losing their homes by persuading them to take part in sale/lease back schemes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

FHA Redux, Bigger & Better

The U.S. housing agency created in the depths of the Great Depression is once again doing a brisk business helping stabilize the mortgage finance market.

Demand for loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration is soaring, after years of being overshadowed by subprime, interest-only, no-doc and other inventive mortgage types.

Through July, the number of FHA loans in New Jersey already is 80 percent higher than in all of 2006, according to the Philadelphia office of the FHA.
This spring, the FHA increased its loan limits to provide relief to struggling homeowners and the tight housing credit markets. In southern New Jersey, the FHA loan limit is about $450,000, while upstate, where prices are higher, the limit is above $750,000.

Most of the new interest is coming from distressed homeowners seeking to refinance their existing, mainly non-FHA loans - especially adjustable loans resetting at higher rates. Of 22,666 FHA loans in New Jersey through July, 13,597 were for refinancings by existing homeowners.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Home Sizes Shrink to Lure Buyers

Home builders are reducing the size and options available, according to Daily Real Estate News to appeal to buyers with less money to spend and who are facing a harder time getting financing.

Los Angeles-based KB Homes had shrunk its homes from 3,400 square feet, selling for $450,000, to 2,400 square feet selling for $300,000 to appeal to buyers. Now, it's shrinking its homes yet again--1,230 square feet priced at about $200,000

“We're getting back to more the way things were historically, kind of undoing the excesses, not just from a price perspective but home size and (fewer amenities)," says Nishu Sood, a Deutsche Bank analyst.

The new KB Homes aren’t just smaller, they are more efficiently designed, says Steve Ruffner, president of KB Homes. "You could have a three-bedroom, 2,500 square-foot single-story home and all you had was wide hallways and bigger rooms. It wasn't really giving [buyers] the utility," Ruffner says.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

RIP Liongate

Without warning, the 8 year struggle by Bloomfield environmentalists to make a nature preserve from a 5.7 acre grove of trees came to an end a few days ago. Current plans call for the addition of 38 townhouses to the flood-prone landscape -- once described by Mayor McCarthy as "a pristine wilderness." A raucous post mortem between residents and the property's former owners has been the lead topic on NJ,com's Bloomfield forum. Despite the availability of grant monies to purchase the property, the former owner'ss family claims the town never made an offer. Neighborhood groups claim otherwise. Stay tuned....

Monday, October 06, 2008

NJ Foreclosures Approaching 1,000 Per Week

From Blue New Jersey:
Home foreclosures are rising in New Jersey, from 23,000 two years ago to 34,457 last year - and they are on pace to hit 50,000 this year, lawmakers were told Monday.
"That's far more than double in two years," Banking and Insurance Commissioner Steven Goldman told a joint meeting of the Assembly financial institutions and housing committees.

The Commissioner did try to find a silver lining with all of the difficult economic news:

Goldman said, "I am pleased to report that our state-chartered banks are doing relatively well. Our state banks here have steered clear of the risky, exotic loan products."

Goldman said foreclosures and past-due loans in New Jersey are below the national average, noting that sub-prime mortgage loans - considered a root of the global illness - "represent about 10.5 percent of all loans in New Jersey.

This testimony came as part of a busy day in the Assembly where 9 hearings were held, many bills were heard and legislation dealing specifically with the foreclosure issue was passed out of committee:

The New Jersey Home Ownership Preservation Act establishes a $30 million fund to pay for emergency loans, counseling services and efforts by nonprofits to buy foreclosed properties and return them to productive uses.

The bill also would give homeowners facing foreclosure six months to renegotiate the terms of their mortgage or find new financing.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Re-Inventing WP

From The Herald:

Welcome to Woodland Park.
That could be the greeting at West Paterson's border after voters answer a referendum on changing the municipality's name in November. It will be the fourth time in 20 years that residents have considered a new name.

Three times before, West Paterson voters rejected new names: Woodland Park in 1989, West Park in 1995 and Garret Mountain in 2001. This year's drive resurrects the first alternate name of Woodland Park. But unlike the previous campaigns, the Committee to Change the Name of Our Borough appears to be operating very quietly.

"Woodland Park" better represents the borough as "a community of parklands, wooded areas, and the flowing Passaic River," according to the committee's leaflets. Supporters of the movement said they want to drop the association with the neighboring city of Paterson to avoid being confused as a neighborhood within the city. Others believe the current name may hurt property values.

The bulk of the 877 signatures filed with the petition were collected from residents of the borough's newer town house developments, including Wedgewood Knolls, and Garret Heights.

The next question may be whether to call the residents "Woodlanders" or "Parkers."
If Woodland Park rings familiar, it maybe because of the 2,610,000 Google references to similar entitie -- including The Seattle Zoo illustrated in our graphic.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Home Values Rise in Some NJ Neighborhoods

Click on Map for larger view. Zillow has come up with some surprising figures that indacate numerous exceptions to the the downmarket trend. Comparing the first half of '08 to '07, Upper Montclair, Verona, W. Orange, Milburn, and the Caldwells have risen the most. Also parts of Newark.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Controversial Cleanup Plan for Phosphorescent Passaic

(click on picture to enlarge)
Wastewater treatment plants that discharge phosphorous into the Passaic River may soon be buying and selling credits to one another for that right, according to a report in The Record.

Scientists from Rutgers University partnered with Cornell University economists to develop a phosphorous trading program for the nearly two-dozen municipal sewage plants that flush effluent into the upper Passaic River every day. The trading model will be presented to the public at the third-annual Passaic River Symposium at Montclair State University on Oct. 16.

NJ Sierra Club director Jeff Titel has blasted the proposal:

It is a scam a Bush Administration shell game that will lead to more pollution in the Passaic River. Instead of the DEP enforcing the Clean Water Act the sewer plants get to trade pollution so human waste could be part of NJ"s pay to play system.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Distressed Homes Bringing Investors Back Into Market

From The International Herald Tribune:
For a growing number of investors, the spate of home foreclosures across the United States — a result of the mortgage crisis and drop in real estate values — is creating extraordinary buying opportunities for distressed properties, not to mention a flood of how-to books, seminars and infomercials on finding the right deals.

"You'll probably never see anything like this in your lifetime again," said Gene Hacker, a broker for Century 21 Allstars in Brea, California, which specializes in bank-repossessed homes, or what are known in industry lingo as REO's, or real estate owned.

"With the rental market as strong as it is, and prices as low as they've been," he said, "this is as good as it gets." Indeed, Hacker has managed to profit nicely by sifting through the detritus. In the last three years, he has acquired three dozen or so foreclosed homes at discounted prices, mostly in North Carolina and Texas, which he has since resold or rented out. And he has seen a budding interest among clients looking to do the same.

For them and others, there is no shortage of inventory. During August, for example, one in every 416 households, representing 303,879 homes, received a foreclosure filing (which could cover anything from a default notice to actual repossession of a house). That was a 27 percent jump from August 2007, according to a recent report from RealtyTrac, which follows home foreclosures.

"We are, by almost anybody's estimation, at the highest level of foreclosure activity this country has ever seen," said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president of RealtyTrac, which is based in Irvine, California. He cited a recent report by the Center for American Progress, a research institute in Washington, estimating that nearly 0.6 percent of all housing units in the United States are bank-owned, the same ratio as in 1930, during the Great Depression. (Though not a panacea, the government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced this month, could help to slow the rise in foreclosures.)

With many stock portfolios in the doldrums, many investors have been turning their attention toward the widening foreclosure real estate market as an investment alternative. Distressed properties can typically be bought at discounts of 20 to 30 percent or more from their peak prices, according to market experts. Homes in stable areas where there was appreciation in the past can be especially good investments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wall and Main

Don't count on on the proposed near trillion dollar "bailout" of our financial institutions to do much for stressed out homeowners.
From today's NY Times:

“We are literally spending hundreds of billions of dollars on subsidies for financial institutions,” said Christopher Mayer, a professor of real estate finance and vice dean at the Columbia School of Business. “This won’t do anything to help the housing market. This plan is about buying mortgage-backed securities, not mortgages, and there is a big difference.”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Congress Debating Flood Insurance Program

The U.S. flood insurance program would be temporarily extended for seven months under legislation introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass).

The extension would give the lawmakers time to work out deep disagreements over the troubled program, which expires at the end of the year.

It was unclear whether the Senate would agree to the extension. Congress has been unable to agree on whether to add wind damage coverage to the 40-year-old flood insurance program, and whether to forgive its $18-billion debt from Katrina.

Source: Reuters

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Out the Volt

It's here! Well almost. The long awaited Chevy Volt electric car from GM should be available to all by 2011 at "competitive" prices in the 50k range. For all the specs and hype, check out their website.

The Volt is radically different than any on the road today. Although agreement about definitions vary, GM doesn’t not consider it a hybrid. Current hybrids cars, such as the Prius, are defined as parallel hybrids, meaning they have a small electric motor that moves the car when it is going slowly, but when speed or acceleration increases, a gasoline motor kicks in. The Volt, however, is considered an extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV). It has a very powerful all-electric 161-horsepower 45KW (100 KW peak) motor that is the only engine to power the car at all times. This engine should be capable of moving the car from 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds, and have a top speed of at least 100 mph.

Here's another take with more pictures from

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Time to Lock & Load?

After one of the biggest one week drops in 30 year rates(5.75%) we've seen in a long time, many financial advisors are saying that this may be the best time to get in the game. Brian Brady, who proclaims himself America's #1 Mortgage Broker chimes in:

Longer-term, mortgage applicants may find mortgage rates higher than they are today. The realization that SOMEONE has to pay for this bailout will hit everyone, after the election, and treasury bond yields should rise, pushing the MBS yields, and mortgage rates, higher as well. Not a rosy picture.

So, lock those loans at application. While the current 30-year fixed rate loan offering, with 1% origination fee, is 5.75%, for a conforming loan (6.02% apr), the risk of those rates popping up to the 6% level far outweighs the reward of holding out for 5.625%.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lose Your Home, Lose Your vote

Michigan Republicans think they have found a new way to "re-foreclose" African American voters.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

... volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident of the city or township.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Drilling Through Reality

Since this election appears to be coming down to who's got the biggest drill, it is interesting to see from this graph what an impact it will have.(click on graph for larger image)

Graph from: Architecture 2030

Monday, September 08, 2008

Little Orphan Fannie

Regarding the necessity of taking over floundering Fanny, there is rare agreement from economists on both sides of the political spectrum. Robert Kuttner puts it in context:

Criticism was limited to the right and left. The Wall Street Journal and libertarian think-tanks regularly warned that Fannie was getting too big and too speculative with an implicit government guarantee. A few progressives like your faithful writer objected that FNMA's true purposes were being perverted and the system was being put at risk so that insiders could get very rich.

In virtually none of the coverage of the Bush administration's latest emergency action, did anyone bother to tell the back story. Fannie Mae, nee the Federal National Mortgage Association, (FNMA) began life as a government invention. It was born "nationalized"--and it worked beautifully until it was privatized.

FNMA was part of the New Deal's trinity of housing agencies--the other two being the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the FHA-agencies that Roosevelt created in order to literally create the modern mortgage system. Before the New Deal, there were no long term, self-amortizing mortgages. The loan was due and payable at the end of the term--usually five years--and if you couldn't persuade a bank or savings-and-loan to roll it over, you lost the house. After foreclosures exploded during the Depression, Roosevelt invented a whole new system. FNMA's job was to buy approved mortgages from banks, to replenish their working capital, so that they could make more mortgages. As the biggest buyer, FNMA also maintained standards.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Nimby Gets Windy

Hannah's blowby has whetted our appetite for the growing potential of wind energy.
Our previously mentioned visionary from Wayne has just had his dreams of a backyard wind turbine rained on by a nervous town council. Details and an extended debate on the subject can be found here.

At the same time, comes news of a micro-windmill technology than seems analogous to "bathtub gin" for a backyard(or windowsill) underground movement that may steal the breeze out of sight of the neighbors.

The gear-like turbines can be linked to fit just about anywhere and a row of eight turbines costs just $150 for now (prices may decrease once the turbines are mass produced). Early tests indicate that turbines arranged within a surface area of one square meter and a wind speed of 5 m/sec generate 131 kWh/yr.

Friday, September 05, 2008

NIMBY Gets Windy

Hannah's blowby has whetted our appetite for the growing potential of wind energy.
Our previously mentioned visionary from Wayne has just had his dreams of a backyard wind turbine rained on by a nervous town council. Details an an extended debate on the subject can be found here.

At the same time, comes news of a micro-windmill technology than seems analogous to "bathtub gin" for a backyard(or windowsill) underground movement that may steal the breeze out of sight of the neighbors.

The gear-like turbines can be linked to fit just about anywhere and a row of eight turbines costs just $150 for now (prices may decrease once the turbines are mass produced). Early tests indicate that turbines arranged within a surface area of one square meter and a wind speed of 5 m/sec generate 131 kWh/yr.

Foreclosures Up In North Jersey

This map from shows the rate of foreclosure activity by zip code in Bergen and Passaic Counties from January 2008 through May 2008. Click on map to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pedaling Homes In A Biker's Market

From The Huffington Post:

With gas prices high, bicycles flying out of stores and a buyers' market for houses, a handful of real estate agents around the country are touting the two-wheeled appeal of their listings.

Some even show houses exclusively by bike, wheeling through the neighborhood with potential buyers to show off bike lanes and bike-focused businesses and repair shops.

...Real estate agents and industry surveys indicate that home buyers are placing more importance on cutting their gas bills and commute times and that homes near urban centers, and subway, train and bus stops are selling faster than those in the distant suburbs.

"Living out in the suburbs just isn't a big deal anymore," says Matt Kolb, a bike agent who owns Pedal to Properties, a Boulder, Colo., firm. "People want to live, work and go to school within a six blocks radius _ that's changing the way they look at property."

Pedal to Properties has five agents and a fleet of 48 cruiser bikes and big plans for nationwide expansion. Next year, the company will stretch into Oregon and Texas.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Northern Exposure reported that the average price of pending home sales in the Wasilla area was $248,404. These properties had been on the market an average of 60 days. Since the governor of Alaska is a graduate of Wasilla High School and reared her family in the area, it's probably safe to assume this is a good place to live. It's certainly a pretty area. If you're there, you might want to visit Lake Lucille and Hatcher Pass both of which are quite beautiful.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lessons From Floyd

Louisiana is observing the third anniversary of Katrina's wrath by preparing for Gustav. New Jersey can be thankful that the ninth anniversary of Tropical Storm Floyd finds us high and dry. While FEMA requires those who live in flood zones to purchase federally subsidized insurance, it's not a bad idea to consider it if you live in a "dry" but vulnerable location. can help you asses your flood risk wherever you live. It also suggests measures that can minimize damage to uninsured property.

Monday, August 25, 2008

BloomHo vs MonHo?

Montclair has become one of the one of the primo culture centers of New Jersey, at least partially, by certainly attracting many of New York’s most creative refugees. Higher rents and property taxes have helped reroute some of the hungrier of artists to Bloomfield. Right now, they seem centered around Bloomfield College and a downtown full of vacant storefronts,
To meet the needs of the town's growing landscape of artists, has been created to specifically promote the arts and raise awareness of the importance they play in the redevelopment of the town.
"The arts are a vital part of any creative economy in a town," says Gregory Allen, Managing Director of the Westminster Arts Center at Bloomfield College. "As the town undergoes redevelopment, we thought it important for the arts organizations to come together and emphasis all that Bloomfield has to offer.
The sparkling new website is currently hosting a virtual “Open House” inviting all Bloomfield artists to sign in and introduce themselves.{There were actually 20 arts organizations on the cropped webpage above}

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Hope for Down Payment Assistance Bill

Congressman Al Green has introduced; HR 6694 the FHA Gift Downpayment Reform and Risk Based Pricing Authorization Act of 2008.

This will bring back the FHA seller downpayment assistance programs for certain buyers within three different classifications based on credit scores. Those buyers with a FICO score above 679 will be allowed FHA seller downpayments under the current HUD guidelines.

The next group is those buyers within the FICO scores of 620 to 679. These buyers will pay a risk-based mortgage insurance premium and 1.25% of the principal will be the annual premium. Then lastly the buyers with a score of less then 620 will be subject to HUD established risk based pricing.
Among non-governmental non-profits, The Nehemiah Corporation of America has been leading the charge on this issue.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting To Know NJ

The New Jersey Association of Realtors has just put together an interactive map that will give both newcomers and natives a quick county by county overview of resources and lifestyles. It reveals statistics about average home sale prices, median household income, percentage of high school graduates, and other key demographics, all by rolling over specific county areas. It also contains marketing tools for Realtors.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Quick: How Many Houses do You Own?

Not exactly a "gotcha" question for most of us. But this famous fella's answer was: "I think -- I'll have my staff get to you...."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Solar Gets Affordable

From the NYTimes:

Companies will build two solar power plants in California that together will put out more than 12 times as much electricity as the largest such plant today, the latest indication that solar energy is starting to achieve significant scale.

The plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant. A megawatt is enough power to run a large Wal-Mart store.

At the same time new breakthroughs in Solar Energy research may solve the biggest hurdles to the mass adoption of solar. In some cases it is actually becoming cheaper than coal.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Equity Game

Just as banks have been hit with foreclosures on their mortgages to under qualified first time buyers, they're now facing longtime homeowners who are going "underwater" by maxing out their equity before seeing their once greatest asset decline in value.
The NY Times has detailed the incredible marketing campaign that transformed second Mortgages into more fashionable Home Equity "cash cows." They've now expanded their series on The Debt Trap with an interactive multimedia version their website. Ironically, it's sponsored with a banner ad for Chase.