Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Living Outside of the Box

Shipping container architecture is a great way to build a sustainable home, but many architects and homeowners are also going a step further, and using these building blocks to build truly off-the-grid homes.
The main advantages of such homes are the ability to place them virtually anywhere, minimizing the footprint and lowering the monthly costs to virtually zero.

These sustainable shipping container cabins, built by the Canadian company Ecopods, all feature a 80-watt solar panel and a 12-volt battery, which takes care of its energy needs. The cabins also feature Sun-Mar composting toilets that can evaporate the water from the toilet waste and carry it back to the atmosphere via a specially designed vent system.
The occupants’ water needs are taken care of by a WaterMill- an atmospheric water collection device that is capable of condensing water vapor, while purifying it as well. This system first draws in moist, outside air through an air filter, which then passes over a cooling element, and is condensed into water droplets. These are then collected and pushed through a specialized carbon filter that is exposed to an ultraviolet sterilizer that eliminates all bacteria to provide drinking water.
More container living examples from Jetson Green

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

3% Down is New Again

Yesterday, HousingWire reported that both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac formally announced their 3% down options on home purchases.
Fannie Mae’s plan will be effective December 13, 2014 while the Freddie Mac plan will be available March 23, 2015.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Be Careful with Those Space Heaters -- or Check Out Some Alternatives,,,

The most popular post on TreeHugger right now is 6 Energy-Saving Portable Electric Space Heaters, as people look for ways to keep warm in a shoulder season where the apartment building furnaces are not yet delivering heat, or people don't want to heat the whole house when they think they just need one room.

  There are many ways to keep warm, including cuddling puppies in front of fireplaces..... Go to the comfort calculator on Robert Bean's site and play with it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Complaints Against Ocwen Continue to Snowball

Ocwen Financial is one of the largest mortgage servicers that operate nationally along with Bank of america and Wells Fargo. They all handle the day-to-day financial tasks involved with managing housing loans, including processing payments.

 Last week, New York State's Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky sent an open letter to Ocwen, alleging that the company had backdated potentially hundreds of thousands of letters to borrowers “likely causing them significant harm.”
In most cases, borrowers received a letter in the mail that denied mortgage loan modifications that was dated more than 30 days before it arrived,. Rather than deny the alleagations, Ocwen sent out a letter of apology.

In the aftermath of Lawksy’s letter, ratings agencies, banks and other advisory services seemed to come out of the woodwork to join in the attack on Ocwen for its business practices.

 The largest number of complains were by hundreds of homeowners who had major grievances with Ocwen's handling of their mortgage payments as well as their foreclosure processes. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/10/30/ocwen-cfpb-complaints-earnings/18120629/

Monday, October 27, 2014

Green Building Awards for 2015

BuildingGreen, publisher of EBN, has announced the winners of its annual Top-10 Green Building Products awards. The 13th annual awards recognize green building products that make fundamental transformations to “business as usual” in the design and construction industry.

 This year’s picks include products that have eliminated halogenated flame retardants, a longstanding health and environmental issue, along with a highly effective air- and weather-barrier system, chairs made from a new biobased plastic, and high-efficiency chillers using near-frictionless compressor rotors.

                                                                                                  Pictured here is
FocalPoint -- a high-flow-rate biofiltration system designed to provide the performance of natural stormwater filtration on a very small footprint.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Homeowner’s Net Worth is 36x Greater Than A Renter!

Over the last six years, homeownership has lost some of its allure as a financial investment. As homeowners suffered through the housing bust, more and more began to question whether owning a home was truly a good way to build wealth.

The Federal Reserve conducts a Survey of Consumer Finances, every three years, and just released their latest edition this past week.
Some of the findings revealed in their report:

The average American family has a net worth of $81,200 Of that net worth, 61.4% ($49,856) of it is in home equity A homeowner’s net worth is over 36 times greater than that of a renter The average homeowner has a net worth of $194,500 while the average net worth of a renter is $5,400.


Bottom Line 
The Fed study found that homeownership is still a great way for a family to build wealth in America.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Immigration and the Housing Market

There are many hot topics right now and immigration is definitely one of them. The history of immigration starting around 1600 shows us the United States has been a country that always received immigrants. Several organizations have done research on the impact immigrants can have on housing demand. Let’s look at some of those results:

 Research done by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in 2012 states: “Assuming net immigration of 1.2 million (the low end Census Bureau projection for 2010) persists for 10 years, the model estimates that after 10 years new immigrants will: account for close to 3.4 million US households occupy more than 2 million multifamily units and more than 1.2 million single family homes account for more than 900 thousand homeowners”
The Research Institute for Housing America also projects “that from 2010 to 2020 immigrants will count for over one-third of the growth of homeowners and over one-quarter of the growth in renter households.”
 For those looking for local data, a research study performed by AS/COA and Partnership for a New American Economy, provides an interactive map showing “the net change in a county’s immigrant population from 2000 to 2010 and the corresponding effect on median home values.”

 Bottom Line, if we look at the conclusions made by multiple sources, we see that they agree that immigrants will revitalize less desirable neighborhoods and support the housing market. Each group is seeking greater economic opportunities just like the immigrants in past decades that came to United States.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How To Raise a Family of 4 in a 1,200 sq. Foot Home

Written by y Katherine Marinko for Treehugger: 

 Living in a small house doesn't have to be a battle against lack of space, but rather requires a certain lifestyle adjustment, at which point it becomes wonderful.

 The house that I live in with my husband and two children is small. At 1,200 square feet, it is considerably smaller than the average family home in North America, which measures 2,800 square feet in the U.S. and 2,000 in Canada.(continued)

Friday, August 08, 2014

How FICO Changes Will Increase Homebuyers Odds for Mortgage Approval

DailyFinance.com has a good explanation of some major changes in the way the all important FICO scores are being calculated by the three major credit reporting companies.
Mortgage applications with borderline FICO numbers are frequently avoided by lenders, often unfairly. 
According to The Wall Street Journal, of the 106.5 million consumers with a collection on their report, 9.4 million had no balance. Those 9.4 million American won't be penalized under the new credit-score system. 
Unpaid medical bills will now carry lower weight compared to non-medical debt going to collections. "The median FICO score for consumers whose only major derogatory references are unpaid medical debts is expected to increase by 25 points," according to FICO's release on the new model.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Where 100+ Experts Say Home Prices are Headed

Today, many real estate conversations center on housing prices and where they may be headed. That is why we like the Home Price Expectation Survey. Every quarter, Pulsenomics surveys a nationwide panel of over one hundred economists, real estate experts and investment & market strategists about where prices are headed over the next five years. They then average the projections of all 100+ experts into a single number.


The results of their latest survey(Via Keeping Current Matters)
  • Home values will appreciate by 4.6% in 2014.
  • The cumulative appreciation will be 19.5% by 2018.
  • That means the average annual appreciation will be 3.6% over the next 5 years.
  • Even the experts making up the most bearish quartile of the survey still are projecting a cumulative appreciation of 11.2% by 2018.

Individual opinions make headlines. We believe the survey is a fairer depiction of future values. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mortgage Rate Predictions

Many of our readers ask us where interest rates are headed over the next several months. While no one has a crystal ball, we did want to share what some experts are saying on the subject.

Freddie Mac
“In the next few months, mortgage rates are likely to remain at their current, low level, but will not remain there for long. As the Federal Reserve is expected to ‘taper’ its purchases of long-term Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, and as economic growth picks up, long-term yields will gradually rise. Fixed-rate mortgages are expected to be higher in six months, and may even approach 5 percent a year from now.”
National Association of Realtors

“Mortgage rates could move suddenly higher in anticipation of rate increases, much as they did last summer when refinance and transaction activity was high. Steady purchase transaction volume and lower refinance volume could mean that mortgages rates may adjust in a more gradual fashion. In either case, as the economy improves—and today’s data clearly suggests it is improving—the overall trend for mortgage rates is up, not down.”
Fannie MaeProjects the 30 year fixed mortgage rate to be 4.3% by the end of the year.
Mortgage Bankers AssociationProjects the 30 year fixed mortgage rate to be 4.7% by the end of the year.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Males a Neighborhood Click

When Pulitzer Prize writer Tina Rosenberg recently wrote a short piece for the NY Times on the elements that can make an urban or suburban neighborhood come together for it's residents, it stimulated a range of comments that provide much food for thought:
"America is synonymous with big business and the success of neighborhood is highly relevant to small economies. Small economies with many small enterprises, would obviously make an ideal answer for an excellent neighborhood.... 
I have lived in several cities in the U.S. and abroad, but the best for neighborhoods that I have found is definitely Seattle. Its neighborhoods are walkable and center around shopping streets that are seldom more than a few blocks from where most people live. This tends to be more characteristic of the middle class neighborhoods than working class neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, but in most parts of town it is easy to live without a car. Developers and city planners would do well to follow Seattle's example..... 
Our most recent Streetfilm on The Better Block has been an enormous hit. Watch them celebrate their 4th anniversary with innovative crosswalks, music, art and pop=up shops! https://vimeo.com/95573182 .... 
The most effective change is from the ground up. I remember years ago as a graduate student working in Bushwick, the pride some local residents showed in a vest pocket park they built with their own hands -- at a time when NYC had no money to support this kind of work.... 
Great article. This seems like a real trend in America - medium size cities like Memphis becoming much more walkable, more lively, more desirable. The next generation has little interest in car ownership because they realize the obvious: your quality of life is far, far better when you live in a place where you don't need a car. The number of those places is only going to keep growing..... 
A wonderful idea! When I was a Civic Club President in a neighborhood near Sharpstown in Houston, a bunch of us brought telescopes out to a vacant lot. We set them up and kids could look at the moon and stars. It was a great event and, counting snacks, we pulled it off for less than $50..... 
Surprised the author didn't provide a list of resources or links to more placemaking organizations who are a catalyst and support for exactly these types of initiatives, such as Build a Better Block, http://betterblock.org/ Parking Day, http://parkingday.org/, and Projects for Public Spaces, http://www.pps.org/, among many, many others...... 
Did anyone else notice the actions are non partisan? I strongly suspect that the groups have members of all parties that reach compromises as well. The problem is the inherent threat it poses to elected partisan politicians whose power is being challenged. Too bad local residents don't try to use the same methods to influence the governance and instead fall back on political bickering. It is one reason I enjoy our small rural community. Local projects of all kinds are completed by people who leave their politics at the door.... 
he people who participate can create an ambiance in which with a minimum of effort or monies transform dysfuntion areas into a viable and productive community. Youthful passion can either be posiive or negative; destructive or can create a viable attitude which helps most get out of these tragic circumstances. This could lead to a change to positve cultural values. Why not ry these approaches where possible?..... 
These are all good points, but if cities weren't plagued by such unattractive education options (lousy/mediocre public schools vs astronomically expensive private schools), then I wonder if many people would want to live in the suburbs in the first place."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Celebrating and Reflecting on Home Ownership

National Homeownership Month actually started as a week-long celebration of homeownership during the Clinton administration in 1995. In 2002, President George W. Bush proclaimed June as the National Homeownership Month. Here is an excerpt from his proclamation:
“Homeownership is an important part of the American Dream…A home provides shelter and a safe place where families can prosper and children can thrive. For many Americans, their home is an important financial investment, and it can be a source of great personal pride and an important part of community stability.” 
“Homeownership encourages personal responsibility and the values necessary for strong families. Where homeownership flourishes, neighborhoods are more stable, residents are more civic-minded, schools are better, and crime rates decline.” 
“During National Homeownership Month, I encourage all Americans to learn more about financial management and to explore homeownership opportunities in their communities. By taking this important step, individuals and families help safeguard their financial futures and contribute to the strength of our Nation.”

Sunday, June 08, 2014

What to do With Those Clippings? Nothing!

...or almost nothing. Scotts has a vested interest in selling you lawn and garden fertilizers and nutrients, but even Scotts goes out of it's way to make the case for leaving your lawn clippings on your lawn.
"It's a question we all face when mowing: Should I bag my clippings or leave them on the lawn? In most cases, the answer is easy: Leave the clippings on the lawn! Leaving the clippings will save you time and energy, and it will return valuable nutrients to the lawn."

If you have leftover clippings, another good option is to mulch your garden with same. Says Scotts:
"Grass clippings can also be collected for use in a compost pile or as mulch, unless you recently applied a weed control product to the lawn."

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Future is Now for 3D Home Construction

LLoyd Alter (via FACIT) makes the case that we're much further along in using 3D printers in home construction than futurists have projected:
The 3D printed, digitally fabricated home is here and it is beautiful. It will also change the way architecture is done...While purists have complained that this is not strictly 3D printing in that it is not "additive", I respond that they are missing the point, which is that it is another way of taking computer generated designs and giving them 3D form, straight from computer to tool, and it doesn't use plastic or concrete, two materials that we are trying to use less of in green building.
Other experts debate and deconstruct his arguments in Treehugger's comments, but he includes a fascinating architectural slide show to back up his thesis.
 http://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/modular-design/facher's commentsit-takes-digitally-fabricated-house-next-level/

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Vertical Farming Plans Taking Shape in West

The concept of Vertical Farming is starting to spread it's ambitious wings in prominent locations from the far east to the south west.
Live Share Grow is a proposal by Brandon Martella for a combo residential tower and vertical farm for downtown San Diego. The multi-story tower is dual purpose – one side is holds residential apartments in varying sizes, while the other is a large-scale hydroponic vertical farm. Located in a popular area amidst other residential towers, offices, tourist attractions and very close to the bay, Live Share Grow would be sited to contribute to the larger community.

We hope that other cities with dreams of high rising sustainability will look into this.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Experts Predict Future Home Values

Today, many real estate conversations center on housing prices and where they may be headed. That is why we like the Home Price Expectation Survey. Every quarter, Pulsenomics surveys a nationwide panel of over one hundred economists, real estate experts and investment & market strategists about where prices are headed over the next five years. They then average the projections of all 100+ experts into a single number.

Results of their latest survey
  • Home values will appreciate by 4.4% in 2014.
  • The cumulative appreciation will be 19.5% by 2018.
  • That means the average annual appreciation will be 3.6% over the next 5 years.
  • Even the experts making up the most bearish quartile of the survey still are projecting a cumulative appreciation of 9.4% by 2018.
Individual opinions make headlines. We believe the survey is a fairer depiction of future values.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Foreclosures Decrease Nationally -- While NJ Breaks New Records in Reposessions

New Jersey was the only state to see an increase in loans in foreclosure on a quarter-over-quarter basis in the first 3 months of 2014. This is according to a new report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. New Jersey has fast become a focal point of the US foreclosure crisis. Eight % of New Jersey's loans are in the foreclosure process, the highest in the country. And there was no silver lining in the decline in loans that were over 90 days delinquent either — because this was driven by loans that entered the foreclosure process. Slower home price growth also tends to keep more homeowners in negative equity — when they owe more on their homes that their mortgage is worth.

RealtyTrac the nation's leading source for comprehensive housing data, yesterday released its U.S. Foreclosure Market Report for April 2014, which shows foreclosure filings - default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions - were reported on 115,830 U.S. properties in April, a 1 percent decrease from the previous month and down 20 percent from April 2013.

The report also shows one in every 1,137 U.S. housing units with a foreclosure filing during the month. Despite the decrease in overall foreclosure activity, bank repossessions in April increased 4 percent from the previous month, although they were still down 14 percent from a year ago.

There were a total of 30,056 bank repossessions nationwide in April. Bank repossessions increased from the previous month in 26 states and were up from a year ago in 16 states, including New York (142 percent increase), Oregon (91 percent increase), and New Jersey (58 percent increase).

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Nothing Tacky About These Living Spaces

Nothing works better than great photography to get potential homebuyers interested in a closer look at a charmingly cozy home.

Christopher Tack is a professional photographer; Malissa Tack works in 3D animation and graphic design. They have built themselves a tiny house and put their skills to work; it's not just a house but a real demonstration of their skills as designers, builders, and last but not least, tiny home entrepreneurs.

Treehugger.com has put together a portfolio of Tack's perfectly composed and photographed examples of appealing interior spaces. They're all in "move-in" condition.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Initial Reports Suggest Slow Start for Spring Housing Market

According to Morningstar Investment Research, the latest news was neither terribly encouraging nor discouraging. The good news is that the rather dramatic rate of decline in existing-home sales has been halted. By single month, at an annualized rate, existing-home sales dropped from 5.4 million units in July to 4.6 million units in March. That 4.6 million figure was nearly identical to February. Still, if this had been entirely a weather issue, the industry should have been able to do something a little better than eke out a slightly smaller decline. The year-over-year data doesn't paint a flattering picture, either.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Home Buyers Crowd the Early Spring Market

Despite media reports of tight money from lenders, purchase mortgage transactions continue to outnumber refinance transactions. according to Dan Green's latest issue of The Mortgage Reports.

 On February, for the 8th straight month, mortgage lenders closed more loans for U.S. home buyers than for homeowners refinancing an existing mortgage. The market share statistic takes on added weight when we consider that nearly one-third of all home purchases are done with cash.

 According to mortgage origination software firm Ellie Mae, which handles more than 3 million mortgage applications per year, purchase mortgage closings grabbed an additional four percentage points in market share this past February as compared to the month prior, marking the eighth consecutive month during which purchase market share climbed.

Purchase loans as a percentage of all closings have increased 25 percentage points in the past 12 months. There are several reasons why today's purchase loans are gaining market share. The first is that home prices have steadily and slowly climbed nationwide, which has created an urgency among today's U.S. buyers.

 Home values are up more than 10 percent annually in many U.S. cities going back to 2011, with values are up more than twenty percent in select cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Money Magazine: Buy Now Not Later

We have often suggested that potential home buyers consider rising interest rates when thinking about the true cost of a home. Remember, cost is not determined by price alone but by price and mortgage rate. The longer a buyer waits, the higher the mortgage payment will be if rates continue to increase (as is projected by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the National Association of Realtors and the Mortgage Bankers Association). Money Magazine, in its latest issue, agreed with our analysis as they also warned their readership of the same ramification if they waited to buy a home.

 Here is what they said:
"BE MINDFUL OF RATES. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed loan is predicted to climb from the current 4.4% to 5.3% by the 2015 spring buying season, according to Freddie Mac. For a $250,000 loan, that means that a borrower who waits would pay $136 more per month and an additional $49,090 in interest over the life of the loan. Will you need a big loan? Better to act soon before rates tick up."

And the monthly increase Money mentioned did not take into consideration that prices are also projected to increase over the next year. Here is what the additional cost would be if prices rise by the 4.5% projected by the latest Home Price Expectation Survey and interest rates go to 5.3%.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Surge in Buyer Optimism

Last week, Fannie Mae released their January 2014 National Housing Survey results.  Two categories reported all-time survey highs.
  • 52% of respondents thought it would be easy for them to get a home mortgage today
  • 70% of respondents said they would buy if they were going to move
Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae explained what this may mean to the real estate market moving forward:
“A majority of consumers now believe that it is getting easier to get a mortgage. For the first time in the National Housing Survey’s three-and-a-half-year history, the share of respondents who said it is easy to get a mortgage surpassed the 50-percent mark. The gradual upward trend in this indicator during the last few months bodes well for the housing recovery and may be contributing to this month’s increase in consumers’ intention to buy rather than rent their next home. The dip in overall home price expectations, though notable, is consistent with our view of moderating home price gains this year from a robust pace last year, while positive trends in perceptions about the economy and personal finances over the next year support our view of stronger growth in the broader economy.”
With home prices projected to increase in 2014 (albeit at a slower pace than they did in 2013) and with mortgage interest rates projected to increase, it is good news that consumers are becoming more confident in their ability to buy a home if they so desire.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Higher Mortgage Rates Predicted -- Perhaps Even Higher Than You've heard

Most experts are calling for an increase in mortgage interest rates in 2014. However, some experts believe the increase will be more dramatic than is being projected. They believe rates will be closer to 6% than 5% by year’s end. The Fed announced last month that they would be pulling back some of their stimulus package which has helped the housing market by keeping long term mortgage rates at historic lows for the last few years.

 Above are the most recent projections of where rates will be at the end of 2014 by the four major agencies. However, we believe that the government is not afraid to shoot right past these levels.

Doug Duncan, chief economist for Fannie Mae, this past summer announced:
 “I don’t think the Fed ultimately would be troubled with a 6.5% mortgage rate.”

 And Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac VP and chief economist, at virtually the same time explained: "As the economy continues to improve, we expect to see continued upward movement in long-term interest rates… At today’s house prices and income levels, mortgage rates would have to be nearly 7 percent before the U.S. median priced home would be unaffordable to a family making the median income in most parts of the country.”

Only time will tell. However, we feel that rates could easily reach the 5.75-6% range by year’s end.