Saturday, March 31, 2012

How To Burn Down Your House (and why)

Richard Taylor is a residential architect whose writings often go beyond his passion for great home design:

  It was late in the day when it finally happened. A puff of smoke appeared just over the rooftop at the far right side of the house; then another appeared, near the chimney. Within moments smoke was pouring from the entire roof and flickers of orange flame began appearing in the windows.
A cheer went up from the assembled crowd as the flames grew; soon the roof weakened and began to collapse. 
A dozen firefighters stood by, cheering along with the crowd. 
 Usually, a home burning to the ground is a tragedy, a disaster, a crime – or all three. This, however, was a welcomed event that would benefit the homeowners, the fire department, and dozens of families we’d never meet....
Read to rest of the article here. Taylor is based in Dublin, Ohio and is a contributor to Zillow Blogs. Connect with him at

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Live From the Eagle's Nest

People from around the world have been watching the progress of bald eagle eggs hatching in Iowa. The eagle's nest is located in Decorah, Iowa, but a webcam provided by UStream has allowed people to watch as the much anticipated babies make their arrival.

In 2011,thousands tuned in to the Eagle Cam to see the Decorah, Iowa eaglets hatch. The eagles returned at the end of December to nest again. Since then, the Decorah Eagle Cam has had more than 11 million views.
So far two of the three eggs have hatched.

The eagle parents have been together since the winter of 2007-2008. They have since successfully hatched 11 eaglets. You can view the live webcam by visiting:


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March Update on Subprime Foreclosure Rates

The Newark area referred to in this report covers the geographic area of the Newark-Union metro area as officially defined by the Office of Management and Budget of the U.S. Government.  The official coverage area includes the following counties:
 Essex County, Hunterdon County, Morris County, Sussex County, and Union County,
(Click on chart to enlarge)

Monday, March 26, 2012

B of A's Bold Experiment to Avoid Foreclosing

Bank of America announced that they were launching a pilot program to turn defaulted owners homes into rentals…and defaulting owners into tenants. Here are the details.

* Borrowers would agree to a what is known as a “deed-in-lieu” of foreclosure, where they essentially sign over ownership of the property to the lender.

* Former owners would be offered one-year leases with options to renew the leases in each of the following two years at rents that the bank determines are at or below the current market price. * The bank began sending letters Thursday offering leases to 1,000 homeowners in Arizona, Nevada and New York.

* Borrowers would have to demonstrate an ability to pay the market rent. In other words, the former owners would have to apply to lease their homes back from B of
Will it work? If an owner has defaulted due to real honest to God hardship are they even going to qualify to lease their own homes back? Or the other common situation where an owner strategically defaults. Will a strategic defaulter want to complete a credit application with the very same bank they just defaulted on?

* Rents would be based on a BofA formula. For example, a soon to be former owner with a $250,000 mortgage and monthly payments of $1,600 could swap the house for a lease, renting the home for $900. * Borrowers selected for the program must be at least two months past due on their mortgage and face considerable risk of foreclosure.

* Bank of America is reaching out to borrowers who have exhausted other alternatives to foreclosure or who haven’t responded to earlier solicitations.

* Homeowners with second mortgages or other liens won’t be selected. Stay tuned....

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Buying Still Beats Renting in Most Markets

Trulia recently released its Winter 2012 Rent vs. Buy Index, which tracks whether it is more affordable to rent or buy a home in America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. Based on asking prices for rental units and for-sale homes on between December 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012, the index reveals the relative cost of renting versus buying for similar homes in similar neighborhoods.
Buying Trumps Renting in 98 Out of 100 Major Metros after years of home price declines and tightening rental markets, homeownership is now more affordable than renting in all but two of the 100 largest markets – even in expensive real estate markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Only in Honolulu and San Francisco is renting often a better deal than buying. However, buying a home in these markets might make sense for people who plan to stay in their next home for at least five years and can benefit from the mortgage-interest tax deduction. (Above Photo: Construction recently resumed on the last phase of the massive Four Seasons at Great Notch senior living complex on Garret Mountain on the Clifton - Woodland Park border.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunday Screening for Free Solar

The following event will be from 9:00AM to 1:00 PM this Sunday at St. John's Episcopal Church at 55 Montclair Avenue, Montclair.
On March 25th, GreenFaith - an interfaith environmental coalition - and AP Solar will join us to offer homeowners the opportunity to be screened for a zero-cost solar installation that would provide them with discounted electricity. There will be a monitor set up in the Parish Hall and interested homeowners can have their home screened via satellite photos to see if their roof appears to be suitable for solar. For every home that successfully goes solar through this Solar Screening Event and related on-line registration, GreenFaith will make a $200 contribution to St. John's. This offer is open to all New Jersey homeowners - so invite your friends to join us

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Has Sprung for Mortgage Rates

With the home-selling season about to begin, a new headwind —higher mortgage rates— has emerged. In the past week, the average 30-year mortgage tracked by is 0.15 percentage point higher, adding nearly 1.8% to a typical monthly payment. Our Zillow mortgage calculator for 30 year loans on the right is springing from its low of 3.67%, barely two weeks ago, to the 4% mark. Government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are also raising their charges to guarantee mortgages, adding to costs.
Higher rates will have come too recently to be reflected in the latest mortgage applications data. But they could pressure prices and sales. Happily, the basic supply-and-demand picture for builders is good—and getting better. In the six years through 2006, single-family housing starts averaged 1.49 million.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Public House

St Patricks Day at Halligan's Public House, West Orange's legendary Irish Pub located directly across the street from the restored Edison factory/museum on Main St. The host was the legendary Tommy Halligan who welcomed us like family. Lorraine Murphy Halligan's famous all you can eat Irish buffet, including corned beef, cabbage, shepherd pie potatoes, chicken Murphy, and soda bread. At five dollars per person, it was BEST deal in the Garden State -- but we arrived after most of the shepherd's pie was finished, so Tommy apologized profusely and made everything complementary including the best draft Guinness we've ever had! The evening climaxed with a concert(video clip) by the South Park and District Bag Pipe band led by Bill McVoy. All this while watching Jeremy Lin lead the Knicks to a blowout over the Pacers. Karaoke hour ended with Tommy's rendering of the late Davey Jones' Day Dream Believer backed up by his wife and daughter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sky is the Limit for Wooden High Rises reminds us that wood is perhaps the greenest building material; it is a renewable resource that absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, which is sequestered in the wood when it is cut into building materials. But until recently its use was limited to low rise structures due to concern about the fire hazard.

It has been known for centuries that heavy timber actually performs better in fire than structural steel; a layer of insulating and fireproof char forms on the outside of it when it burns, protecting the structural integrity of the wood. (It is designed bigger than it needs to be to allow for this char layer.) The recent development of cross-laminated timber creates a building material with all of the virtues of heavy timber without the need for the big trees.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

NJ Rentals Now 4th Highest in U.S.

The NJ Star Ledger has just reported the results of a new study showing that New Jersey ranks fourth in the nation for the most expensive place to rent a two-bedroom apartment, leaving nearly two-thirds of renters in the Garden State unable to afford an apartment that size.
Thirty-three percent of New Jersey households are renters, and a family must earn an hourly wage of $25.04, or $52,081 annually, to afford the so-called fair market rate for a two-bedroom apartment, without paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing. New York is ranked number 6 in this survey at $24.68 per hour. By contrast, the average American renter earns just $14.15 per hour. Among the many reasons rents are so high in NJ: 1. Purchase price of property - higher property values than most states 2. Property Taxes - One of the highest in country 3. Gas/electric - At an all time high 4. Insurance - higher than most states

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fire Season in NJ -- Starting Fires in Order to Prevent Them

An unusually dry winter has left the forest floor especially brittle this year, so he NJ Forest Fire Service has spent recent weeks getting ready for forest fire season — the transition time from winter to spring — which begins Thursday and continues to May 15.
Burning leaves and brush early in the year stops bigger fires from developing later. So far this year, there were 10 controlled burns in northern New Jersey, 86 in the central part of the state and 24 in the south. More fron The Asbury Park Press

Saturday, March 10, 2012

NJ Housing Market is Now on the Upswing

David Matthau at NJ101.5FM is reporting that while home prices have been falling in Jersey for the past 8 months, new data indicates home sales in the Garden state have taken off like a rocket since the beginning of the year.Jeff Otteau, President of Otteau Valuation Group, says “home sales in New Jersey rose by 31 percent in January – which is the largest increase that we’ve seen in more than 3 years -it seems to indicate that the housing recovery is officially underway.”

He says “there is a seasonality to the housing market, where the greatest number of home sales typically occur from March through August…but what we’re seeing is that the rise in home sales is 31 percent above what we would have expected in January, and it tells us is that the increase is likely to continue and gain momentum as we move closer to that prime spring selling season.”

Otteau points out this is happening because “potential home buyers feel more confident in their job security today because it seems like the double dip possibility for a recession has now disappeared…also home prices have receded to 2003 levels – so home prices are at a bargain price today, and thirdly interest rates are at astounding lows…and all of that together is causing people who’ve been sitting on the fence to decide that now is the time to get back in the market.”

Friday, March 09, 2012

FHA Rates to Rise Sharply in April

FHA has recently announced that “as part of ongoing efforts to encourage the return of private capital in the residential mortgage market and strengthen the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund” a new premium structure will go into effect.

Beginning April 1st, 2012, FHA will increase its monthly mortgage insurance premium as well as the upfront mortgage insurance premium.

On June 1st, 2012, there will be an additional increase of the monthly mortgage insurance premium for the high balance areas.

Currently, the upfront mortgage insurance, the amount added to the loan amount, is 1.00%. As of April 1st the new upfront mortgage insurance will increase to 1.75%. As an example, on a loan amount of $400,000, the current 1.00% equates to $4,000. After the increase goes into effect the new amount based upon 1.75% equates to $7,000. This increase will essentially add an additional $13 to the monthly payment.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

White House Adds New Rule Changes to Stem Housing Crunch

Saying that the government “cannot fix the housing market on its own,” President Obama used his first press conference of the year to reiterate his belief that responsible homeowners “should not have to sit and wait for the market to hit bottom to get relief when there are measures at hand that can make a meaningful difference.”

The two steps from the detailed White House fact sheet announced today are:

Provide relief for service members and veterans, including those wrongfully foreclosed upon or denied a lower interest rate on their mortgages

Reduce fees for FHA borrowers looking to refinance.

The White House says these two new measures amplify policies outlined in Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address in January. The announcement comes on top of the historic settlement completed by the Federal government and 49 state Attorneys General last month, when it was agreed that five of the biggest lenders would pay upwards of $26 billion in fines and principle reductions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Fannie is Looking for Landlords

Fannie Mae will offer up nearly 2500 distressed properties in eight locations to investors who are willing to buy them in bulk and rent them out for a set number of years.

The initiative is "...designed to reduce taxpayer losses, stabilize neighborhoods and home values, shift to more private management of properties, and reduce the supply of REO properties in the marketplace," said Edward J. DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie Mae

Monday, March 05, 2012

How Pump Prices Should Pump Up Mortgage Rates

Dan Green's latest Daily Mortgage Report is warning homebuyers that interests rates are beginning to follow their tendency to tag along with the international oil market.

"When oil prices rise, they tend to take mortgage rates with them." he writes, "We've seen it time and again throughout history. The link is a natural one, too -- it's tied to inflation."

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Ground Broken for Seattle's Ambitious Food Forest Project

Plans are now finalized, and ground has been broken, in a 3 year old project to turn an seven acre lot in Seattle into a “food forest” for everyone to use. And when it’s complete, the Beacon Food Forest will be the largest such public food source in the United States. In a food forest, everything from the tree canopy to the roots is edible or useful in some way.

The entire project will be built around the concept of permaculture — an ecological design system, philosophy, and set of ethics and principles used to create perennial, self-sustaining landscapes and settlements that build ecological knowledge and skills in communities. There are many issues ti be resolved to make the project successful and sustainable. NPR's recent story on the forest has already sparked nearly 100 comments.

Seattle’s Mayor and city council have established urban agriculture as a priority, with council passing the Local Food Action Initiative, a series of actions meant to promote local and regional food sustainability and security.

You just might like their Facebook page.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Seven NJ Towns to Receive New FEMA Flood Funds

Governor Christie announced on Thursday that New Jersey will receive $21.6 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant funding to acquire (“buy-out”) and elevate properties in flood-ravaged areas in the northern and central part of the state. This was a response to widespread flood damage resulting primarily from heavy rains from Hurricane Irene on August 27 to September 5, 2011.

Phase II if the FEMA program will benefit seven communities will receive funding; specifically, Pompton Lakes, Cranford, Denville, New Milford, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Paterson, and Westwood. Funding became available to the state under a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for Hurricane Irene.

More from the New Jersey Tomato Press.

Federal disaster assistance for NJ in 2011 topped out at 275 Million.