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SJP Does Some Shoe Business on Perry Street Steps

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sarah jessica parker shows shoes via instagram
InstagramWith this photo shoot, Sarah Jessica Parker reportedly rekindled the ire of residents at a "Sex and the City" location.
Sarah Jessica Parker reportedly has annoyed the folks who live at 66 Perry Street, the West Village townhouse better known as Carrie Bradshaw's single gal pad in "Sex and the City."

InstagramDid Parker defy the sign to sell shoes?
The New York Post reports that Parker used the steps of the Perry Street building to display her new shoe collection for Nordstorm without the permission of the building's owner. Residents, who constantly put up with masses of "SATC" fans taking selfies in front of the building, reportedly are none too happy that SJ defied the "Do NOT go on the staircase please" sign and chain, and lined up her new shoes for a photo shoot. Pictures of the shoot are posted on the "sjpcollection" Instagram page.

Gerald Banu, president of the Perry Street Association, reportedly told The Post's Page Six, "I heard about the shoot. They didn't get the permission from the owner. The situation with 'SATC' visitors is still very intense. People who live here get upset that the sidewalks are constantly jammed."

SJ reportedly has not responded to questions about shoegate.

Meanwhile, there may be some good news on the horizon for the Greenwich Village townhouse that SJ and husband Matthew Broderick have been trying to sell for $22 million.

Broderick, who recently appeared on Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live," told host Andy Cohen and rapper T.I., "We're getting ready pretty much to hand it over for a good price."

T.I. then tried to poach the listing by saying he'd represent the property for "25 percent."

Don't worry, Fredrik Eklund, the Bravo star of "Million Dollar Listing New York," whose team is representing the property on 20 East 10th Street.

T.I. was just funning.

 

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Expect Low-Down-Payment Mortgages to Require Good Credit

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house sitting on money with...
ShutterstockGuidelines are said to be coming on a plan to offer low-down-payment home loans to borrowers with limited funds.
By Christine DiGangi

Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announced Monday plans to increase mortgage access to borrowers with good credit but limited funds available for a down payment. In a speech at the Mortgage Bankers Association annual convention in Las Vegas, Watt said the FHFA would issue guidelines for making lending to consumers who can afford only 3 percent to 5 percent down payments, according to a transcript of his remarks.

He mentioned the low-down-payment loans once, saying details are forthcoming, but the idea is part of a broader message to lenders that tight credit restrictions have prevented creditworthy borrowers from becoming homeowners. For low- and middle-income Americans to have access to affordable mortgages, lenders need to feel comfortable extending credit -- that they won't suffer the massive

With some of the changes Watt mentioned, consumers with good credit could access government-backed home loans with little money down and better interest rates than are available under current loan programs.

losses they did after the housing bust several years ago. In his speech, Watt sought to reassure lenders that this is the case, as the FHFA refines and clarifies the relationship between lenders and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Traditionally, consumers should plan to save 20 percent of their future home's value for a down payment, but that amounts to tens of thousands of dollars, which many consumers may not have at their disposal especially after other homebuying expenses like closing costs. Home prices have gone up, student loan debt has grown, but wages have remained stagnant, further complicating access to homeownership.

With some of the changes Watt mentioned, consumers with good credit could access government-backed home loans with little money down and better interest rates than are available under current loan programs. Interest rates and down payments have a significant impact on how much you pay for a home or whether you can buy one at all. You can calculate how much home you can afford by playing around with these figures, which will help you figure out a plan for becoming a homeowner in the future.

Something to highlight from Watt's speech: He repeatedly refers to "creditworthy borrowers," so while lowering credit standards is a part of the plan, consumers will still need to exhibit a positive credit history when applying for home loans. If you're not sure where you stand or think you need to improve your credit before shopping for a home, make a habit of checking your credit reports and scores regularly. (You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

 

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Top Firm Accused of Rigging Mortgage Mods, Foreclosures

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Ocwen Subprime Mortgages
The Associated PressBenjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, detailed allegations in a letter to Ocwen.
By Alex Veiga

One of the nation's largest servicers of home loans may have denied struggling borrowers the chance to fix loan problems and avoid foreclosures, New York's financial regulator has alleged. An investigation by the state's Department of Financial Services found that Ocwen Financial Corp. inappropriately backdated foreclosure warnings and letters that rejected mortgage loan modifications, making it nearly impossible for borrowers to appeal the company's decision.

Many borrowers who had fallen behind on loan payments also received warning letters months after the deadline for avoiding foreclosure had passed, department investigators found. Potentially hundreds of thousands of backdated letters may have been sent to borrowers, likely causing them "significant harm," Benjamin Lawsky, New York's Superintendent of Financial Services, wrote in a letter to Ocwen released Tuesday.

"Ocwen's indifference to such a serious matter demonstrates a troubling corporate culture that disregards the needs of struggling borrowers," Lawsky wrote in the letter to company's general counsel. In a statement, Atlanta-based Ocwen blamed software errors in the company's correspondence systems for generating improperly dated letters.

The latest claims of wrongdoing against Ocwen come less than a year after the company agreed to reduce struggling borrowers' loan balances by $2 billion as part of a settlement with federal regulators and 49 states over foreclosures abuses. It's the most recent evidence that many of the same kinds of abuses that made the housing crisis and the Great Recession worse are still happening some seven years after the housing bubble burst.

Subprime mortgage lenders thrived during the real estate boom years, as many borrowers turned to a variety of nontraditional, riskier loans when they couldn't qualify for traditional, fixed-interest mortgages requiring down payments. But it all began to unravel in 2007, as defaults started to pile up. That eventually triggered a mortgage meltdown that sent foreclosures soaring and propelled the U.S. housing market into its worst skid in decades.

In the years since, companies like Ocwen have been enlisted to handle payment collection on behalf of banks and, in many cases, investors who own securities backed by bundled home loans. They also handle customer services, loan modifications and foreclosures.

Such companies have also been criticized for not helping homeowners quickly enough -- resulting in delays that lead to more fees and profits for servicers. Many have been the target of consumer lawsuits. Some mortgage-servicing companies processed foreclosures without verifying documents.

Ocwen is the fourth-largest mortgage servicer in the country and the biggest that isn't a bank. It specializes in servicing high-risk mortgages. At the start of this year, it managed $106 billion worth of subprime mortgages, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a mortgage industry tracker

The New York Department of Financial Services launched a probe into Ocwen in August amid allegations that the company overcharged struggling homeowners on a product called force-placed insurance, which servicers force borrowers to buy if they don't maintain voluntary homeowners' insurance. If mortgage borrowers don't pay up for newly purchased insurance, Ocwen forecloses on their homes.
Among its latest findings, the regulator determined that Ocwen failed to investigate the backdating of its letters to borrowers nearly a year after an employee raised questions about the practice.

The letter did not specify whether the backdating was intentional or the result of poor oversight by Ocwen. "The existence and pervasiveness of these issues raise critical questions about Ocwen's ability to perform its core function of servicing loans," Lawsky wrote in the letter.

In its statement, Ocwen said initially that its systems generated improperly dated letters to 283 of its borrowers in New York. It later said it is aware of additional borrowers, but didn't specify..
The company added that it is investigating two other cases and cooperating with the New York regulator.

"We believe that we have resolved the letter-dating issues that have been identified to date, and we continue our investigation as to whether there are additional letter-dating issues that need to be resolved," the company said.

A company spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for details on how many Ocwen borrowers nationwide received backdated letters or lost their homes as a result of the delayed warning letters. Ocwen's stock slumped $4.78, or 18.2 percent, to $21.48 Tuesday. The stock is down 61 percent this year.

Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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Best U.S. Cities to Trick or Treat

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By Alexa Fiander

Gather around you spooky ghosts and cackling witches: The best locations for scoring Halloween loot in 2014 are secret no more! Every year, the candy-loving data heads at Zillow team up to find the top 20 cities around the country for trick-or-treaters in search of the most candy on the safest streets.

Stealing the coveted title for the fourth year in a row is San Francisco, with Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Jose rounding out the top five on Zillow's sixth annual Trick-or-Treat Index.

If your city was sweet enough to make the list this year, be sure check out the top five hottest neighborhoods that also made the cut.

BlogGraphic_TrickorTreat_Zillow_Oct2014_b_03

Neighborhood Ranking


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Monday v2

Methodology

We take data seriously here at Zillow, even when it comes to trick or treating. While wealthier neighborhoods are often known for their frightfully sweet harvest on Halloween night, we calculate the Trick-or-Treat Index using a holistic approach with four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score(R) and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on these variables, the index represents cities that will provide the most candy, in the least amount of time, with the fewest safety risks.

Want to put the list or map graphics on your website? Email press@zillow.com, and we'll send them your way!

Map_TrickorTreat_Zillow_Oct2014_a_01

See 2013 Trick-or-Treat Index results

 

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Zillow: 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rates Stay Below 4%

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zillow mortgage rate chart
Zillow*The weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest in six-hour intervals.
By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages were unchanged this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.81 percent, identical to this same time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around 3.85 percent for most of the week, dropping to 3.70 percent Wednesday before rising to the current rate.

"Last week mortgage rates experienced dramatic inter-day volatility, falling Wednesday to their lowest level since May 2013 fueled by global economic concerns and the potential threat of an Ebola epidemic," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "With little mortgage market-moving data scheduled to be released next week, we expect rates to remain stable."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 2.97 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.80 percent.

Purchase Mortgage Application Activity: Zillow predicts tomorrow's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity increased by 5 percent from the week prior. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.

What are the interest rates right now? Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state.

 

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10 Cities Where You're Most Likely to Find a Haunted House

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cape may new jersey usa resort...
ShutterstockCape May, New Jersey, holds the top spot for places in the U.S. with the most potential for finding a haunted house.
By Trulia Staff

Are you in the market for a good scare? Looking for a spooky spot? Good news -- or is it bad? -- we have you covered.

In 2012, we looked at which U.S. metros have the greatest concentration of old, vacant homes. Using that data, Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko was able to determine the cities where you're most likely to find a haunted house. With Halloween just around the corner, we decided to rejigger the numbers and see if ghosts and ghouls are on the move.

(And also to prove once and for all -- we ain't afraid of no ghost.)

Where to Find Haunted Houses

How did we come to our spooky conclusion? We used the same logic, looking at old, vacant homes. As Kolko noted then, "Old homes with creaky bones have a history of previous residents whose spirits might return, or maybe never left. Our other hunch is that ghosts would prefer not to be disturbed, so they haunt vacant homes more than homes occupied by pesky mortals."

So did we learn anything new about our otherworldly neighbors?

One city floated onto the haunting scene since 2012, but overall it seems like those pesky phantoms like to stay put. Makes sense to us; it's probably tough for even the most seasoned specter start haunting in a new town. Adding to the scare factor, the newcomer has a seriously spine-tingling name: Torrington. (Terrifying!)

And remember how we told you that ghosts love capes?

Still true. Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Cape May, New Jersey, continue to occupy the top two slots, with the most housing units that are both old and vacant. The No. 3 city for spotting the supernatural? None other than Lebanon, New Hampshire. The rest of the cities are a mix of areas that haven't seen much growth recently, including older cities like Buffalo, New York; Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Detroit that are experiencing hard economic times.

Ready to settle down in a city where things go bump in the night? Chances are, ghosts aren't going to show up in Trulia's demographic maps, so you might want to keep this list handy when you're hunting for haunted houses.

 

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Mortgage Giants Strike Deal to Loosen Credit, Regulator Says

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Obama Appointments
APFederal Housing Finance Authority Director Mel Watt, in announcing the deal, called it 'a significant step forward.'
By Marcy Gordon

WASHINGTON -- A federal regulator says government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have reached an agreement with major banks that could expand lending. The head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, announced the deal Monday at a conference of the Mortgage Bankers Association in Las Vegas. FHFA Director Mel Watt said the deal clarifies conditions in which banks could be required to buy back mortgages they sell to Fannie and Freddie for misrepresenting the loans' risks.

Watt said the agreement in principle is "a significant step forward" that will help make more mortgage credit available without harming Fannie and Freddie's finances. It's currently hard for banks to know

An expansion of mortgage credit could help boost the housing market, which has recovered only gradually since the Great Recession.

whether they'll have to buy back loans, Watt said. That can make banks skittish about lending to borrowers with less pristine credit.

An expansion of mortgage credit could help boost the housing market, which has recovered only gradually since the Great Recession. Big banks in recent years have paid billions of dollars in settlements to resolve government claims of misleading Fannie and Freddie about risky home loans and mortgage securities that they sold before the housing market collapsed in 2007.

Watt also said his agency is working with Fannie and Freddie to develop new guidelines that would allow some creditworthy borrowers to make lower down payments than currently required. Details on the guidelines and the new requirements for banks to buy back mortgages will be issued soon, he said.

The FHFA will set a minimum number of loans linked to misrepresentations by the seller banks or inaccurate data that would require them to be repurchased. That means a pattern of problems must be established, Watt said.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, worth about $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 percent of new mortgages. The two companies don't directly make loans to borrowers. They buy mortgages from lenders, package them as securities, guarantee them against default and sell them to investors. That helps make loans available.

The government rescued Fannie and Freddie at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 when both veered toward collapse under the weight of losses on risky mortgages. Together they received taxpayer aid totaling $187 billion. The gradual recovery of the housing market has made the companies profitable again, and they have repaid the government loans.

 

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Existing Home Sales See Fastest Pace Yet This Year

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Home Sales-Ahead of the Bell
Nick Ut/AP
By JOSH BOAK

WASHINGTON -- U.S. homes sold in September at their fastest clip this year, a sign that the housing market is shaking off a slowdown that began in the middle of 2013.

The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.17 million. Still, the sales rate has dropped 1.7 percent over the past 12 months.

Investors have retreated from the market over the past year. Their departures are being offset by existing homeowners who are upgrading to more expensive properties or downsizing after having raised their children. First-time buyers comprised just 29 percent of sales, well below their historic average of roughly 40 percent.

The figures suggest that the sales decline that began last year has ended, although home-buying is unlikely to surge back to their historic averages.

"The worst is over, but don't expect a rapid rebound in activity or prices," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Rising prices through much of 2013, weak income growth and tighter credit standards have priced out many would-be buyers. Median home prices rose 5.6 percent over the past 12 months to $209,700.

Many homeowners are still coping with the fallout from the meltdown in home prices that began roughly seven years ago. And prices continue to recover from the depths of that housing bust, although that growth has slowed after climbing at double digit levels in many cities last year.

Median household incomes have yet to completely rebound and remain below their 2007 levels after adjusting for inflation. Limited income gains have cut into the cash flow and down payment savings needed to purchase a home. The federal regulator overseeing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is considering an option for lower down payments, so that more people can qualify for a mortgage.

Lower Rates Draw Buyers

More buyers may also return the market after the average 30-year fixed rate mortgages dropped below 4 percent last week, down more than half a percentage point from the start of 2014. Still, average rates were as low as 3.34 percent In January 2013, and there are few signs that home sales will surge any time soon.

September sales improved in the South and West compared to the prior month, ticked up slightly in the Northeast and fell in the Midwest, according to the Realtors' report. The share of purchases by investors fell to 14 percent from 19 percent a year ago.

The Realtors have projected that 4.94 million existing homes will be sold this year, down 3 percent from 5.09 million in 2013. Analysts generally associate sales of roughly 5.5 million existing homes with a healthy market.

A separate Realtors index tracking the number of signed contracts to purchase a home slipped in August, falling 1 percent compared with the prior month to 104.7. Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

Construction data suggests a shift away from home ownership toward renting.

The Commerce Department reported last week that housing starts rose 6.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.017 million homes, with almost all of the gains coming from the building of apartments.

Apartment construction has surged 30.3 percent over the past 12 months, almost three times the rate of growth for single-family houses.

 

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For Sale: Don Johnson's Sprawling Montecito Farmhouse

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don johnson's swimming pool
Courtesy of The Agency via ZillowThe home Don Johnson and his wife are selling in Santa Barbara County has a reverse-osmosis swimming pool.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Opening Night Concert And Gala - Arrivals
Getty ImagesDon Johnson, right, and wife Kelley Phleger

By Emily Heffter

This Montecito view home is about as far as you can get from the vice beat in Miami. Actor Don Johnson bought this sprawling California farmhouse last year for $12.5 million but decided to sell it when he and his wife found another property with space for their horses.

The home they are selling -- it comes on the market for $14.9 million today -- is set on 2.5 acres but requires them to board their horses. The property has a pool and meandering trails, all with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.

Previous owners remodeled and updated the original 1959 property, which had also been expanded by the previous owners before that. Each renovation seemed to come with more amenities. The home has a one-bedroom, one-bath, two-story guesthouse, a reverse-osmosis pool, an organic vegetable garden, a gym, a media room and a glass solarium where Johnson liked to drink his coffee in the morning.

"They really love this house," said listing agent Kathrin Nicholson of The Agency. The children's bedrooms open up to view terraces, and the property includes an in-ground trampoline, a music room and an open family room that connects by glass doors to the patio by the pool.

 

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6 Home-Maintenance Musts for Autumn

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rain gutter full of autumn...
ShutterstockClearing rain gutters of leaves now will pay off later -- but it must be done cautiously and by hand.
The following post is by BrightNest:

1. Change your linens and move your mattress. Strip and vacuum your mattress and machine wash all of your bed linens, including your comforters, duvets, bed skirts and pillows. Then, turn your mattress front-to-back and end-to-end -- flipping your mattress prolongs its life by evenly distributing the wear. For more tips, read: Maintain Your Mattress.

2. Inspect your windows. Start by cleaning your windowpanes, then your drapes or blinds, and finish with the window tracks (a vacuum with a hose attachment works best for this last job). If your windows are older, you likely have weather stripping to help seal your windows and keep cold drafts and moisture at bay. Inspect this weather stripping to see if it's torn, damaged or needs to be replaced. Proper weather stripping can reduce your energy bills by as much as 30 percent! For a step-by-step guide to cleaning your windows, read: Inspect and Maintain Your Windows.

3. Inspect your exterior doors. For each exterior door, check the weather stripping that runs along the bottom and side of it for any cracks, leaks or wear. Close the door and place your hand along the bottom and sides of it. If you feel a draft coming through, you should replace your weather stripping. For extra insulation, purchase a few draft stoppers, which cost about $5 at your local hardware store.

4. Check your gutters. During the fall and winter, your gutters are filled with leaves, rainfall and snowmelt, so the clearer they are now, the better you'll fare come winter. Break out a ladder (always practice proper ladder safety) and remove all dirt and debris from your gutters by hand. For a step-by-step guide, read: Gutter Cleaning.

5. Clean and store patio furniture. It's always a good idea to clean your patio furniture before you store it inside for the winter. Different types of patio furniture require different cleaning techniques, so to learn how to properly clean your type of patio furniture, read: Clean Your Deck/Patio. Tip: Remove any stains from your furniture cushions before putting the chairs into storage, because if a stain sits on the fabric all winter, it'll be more difficult to get out.

6. Clean light fixtures and dust ceiling fans. It doesn't take long for dirt to create a film on your light fixtures and a layer of dust to form on the blades of your ceiling fan. To clean your glass light fixtures, denture tablets are actually one of the most effective products. To remove dust and dirt from your ceiling fans you simply need a ladder, canned air and all-purpose cleaner.

 

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As Mortgage Rates Dip Below 4%, Refinancing Looks Good Again

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refinancing
ShutterstockA stock market rally on Friday suggested that the moment to refinance at rates below 4 percent might be fleeting.
By Josh Boak and Alex Veiga

A sudden plunge in mortgage rates last week raised an urgent question for millions of Americans: Should I refinance my mortgage? Across the country, homeowners and would-be homeowners eager for a bargain rate fired off inquiries to lenders. The opportunity emerged from the tumult that seized financial markets and sent stock prices and bond yields tumbling.

Rates on long-term mortgages tend to track the 10-year Treasury yield, which fell below 2 percent for the first time since May 2013. Accordingly, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage, mortgage

"It gets people excited. It gets mortgage bankers excited. It gets prospective buyers excited."

giant Freddie Mac reported, dipped below 4 percent to 3.97 percent -- a tantalizing figure. As recently as January, the average was 4.53 percent.

Ultra-low rates do carry risks as well as opportunities. Charges and fees can shortchange refinancers who are focused only on the potential savings. And falling rates are often associated with the broader risk of an economic slowdown that could eventually reduce the income that some people have to pay their mortgages. Yet the tempting possibility of locking in a sub-4 percent rate has a way of motivating people.

"It gets people excited," said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America. "It gets mortgage bankers excited. It gets prospective buyers excited."

The drop in rates could finally give homeowners like Issi and Amy Romem of Mountain View, California, the chance to refinance.

Amy Romem bought the condo at the peak of the housing boom for $400,000, using an adjustable-rate loan with an initial 5.875 percent rate that would reset after 10 years. The reset would amount to an extra $400 a month on the condo, which the couple now rents, Issi Romem said.

"Seeing rates go down even more is something I wasn't expecting," he said. "It reminds me that I need to do this now, before interest rates do go up."

Before last week, many bankers, lenders and borrowers had assumed that home loan rates would soon start rising closer to a two-decade average of 6 percent. That was based on expectations that the Federal Reserve would start raising its key short-term rate next year -- a move that would likely lead to higher mortgage rates, too.

But that assumption fell suddenly into doubt as stocks plunged Monday and Wednesday amid fears about global economic weaknesses, the spread of Ebola and the threat of the Islamic State militia

"It's likely to be the last time we see these rates for a generation, if ever again."

group in the Middle East.

Seeking safety, investors poured money into U.S. Treasurys. Higher demand drives up prices for those government bonds and causes their yields to drop.

The yield on the 10-year note traded as low as 1.91 percent Wednesday before ending the day at 2.14 percent. A stock market rally on Friday helped lift the yield to 2.20 percent. That suggested that the moment to refinance might be fleeting.

"It's likely to be the last time we see these rates for a generation, if ever again," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com.

Even a slight drop in mortgage rates can translate into significant savings over the long run. For a median-priced home worth $221,000, a 0.5 percentage point decline in a mortgage rate would produce savings of $50 a month, according to a Bank of America analysis.

Still, it takes time for the savings to offset the costs of refinancing.

"There's no free lunch in this," noted Gary Kalman, executive vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending.

Lenders typically charge fees for paperwork on the loan and to pay for a home appraisal and title insurance, among other costs.

"You want to make sure the interest rate you're getting is dropping enough that it more than offsets whatever fees you may be paying," Kalman said.

Refinancing from a 5.5 percent rate -- which some borrowers still have -- to 4 percent would save $180 a month on a $200,000 mortgage. But the fees - averaging around $2,500 -- mean it would take about 14 months to break even.

Research done this year by economists at the University of Chicago and Brigham Young University found that 20 percent of eligible households failed to refinance when rates first made doing so profitable in late 2010. They essentially cost themselves $11,500 in potential savings.

Those who missed those late rates last year now have a second chance.

"When you get these little boomlets like we see now, most of that is what drives refinancing activity," said Bob Walters, chief economist at Quicken Loans.

While applications for refinancing were rising last week at Quicken, Walters added, it's unlikely that many would-be home buyers will be able to benefit. It can take buyers months to mobilize, because they need to first find a suitable house in the right neighborhood. That makes it hard for them to immediately snap into action when rates drop, though it might coax them into looking.

"It's a bonus if rates are lower," Walters said, "but it doesn't dictate the decision."

Boak reported from Washington, Veiga from Los Angeles.

 

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Lady Gaga Reportedly Buys a House With a 'Batcave' in Malibu

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exterior lady gaga malibu house
Courtesy of The AgencyThis entertainment-friendly house across from Malibu's Zuma Beach reportedly was just purchased by Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga Seen At LAX
APLady Gaga
By Catherine Sherman

TMZ reports Lady Gaga has made her first California home purchase: a 6-acre estate across from Malibu's Zuma Beach. The home was listed for $24.95 million this summer by The Agency's Santiago Arana. Property records show it was recently purchased under a trust for $22.5 million.

"This beautiful estate was inspired by traditional homes in the South of France offering breathtaking views," the listing description stated. In addition to a prime beachfront location, the home has an 800-bottle wine cellar, home theater, bar and a 1960s-era two-lane bowling alley -- all accessible by a "secret door" from the living room.

The bowling alley has been called the "batcave" because of the home's seller, Dan Romanelli. As the founder of the consumer products division at Warner Bros., he's behind the toys and apparel linked to the "Batman" movies.

In 2010, Gaga leased a home in Bel-Air, but the singer been known to keep quiet about her real estate purchases.

The listing agent was unable to comment on this sale.

 

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A Case for Energy Efficient Housing

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Photo courtesy of Trent BellThis home cost about $175 a square foot to build and is close to net zero with the addition of more photovoltaic panels.
Years ago, it was difficult to build a very energy efficient house because there was a lack of technology and materials -- such as extremely energy efficient insulation and triple-pane windows. The cost for solar panels was also high and subsidies were non-existent. Today this is not the case.

We know how to build houses to substantially reduce the use of fossil fuel and energy costs. You might then ask: Why aren't all houses built to a much higher energy standard? There are several answers to this question.

People aren't being forced to build more efficiently because the codes are not that stringent. Although they have improved over the years, most municipalities have a long way to go to be encouraging

"The up-cost for a very energy efficient house should be $0."

people to build low-energy or net-zero houses.

Another reason given for not building to higher energy efficiency is the cost. Homeowners wrongfully assume that it will cost a great deal more to build a more energy efficient house. In 2010, Habitat for Humanity built a house in Vermont to Passive House standards, using a tiny bit of energy and at a minimal cost. Many other houses have also been built in this country and around the world that are moderately priced and extremely energy efficient.

According to architect Phil Kaplan of Kaplan Thompson Architects, who designs many energy efficient houses in New England, "the up-cost for a very energy efficient house should be $0." He says, "If you increase window quality, increase insulation, reduce air infiltration, you reduce the cost of mechanical systems." When designing a house, Kaplan also designs the mechanical systems to make sure that he gets the right efficiencies in the completed house.

John Colucci, vice president of sales and marketing at Westchester Modular Homes, says the up-charge is minimal. He claims that a modular home may cost 3 to 5 percent more for a house that is 50 to 60 percent more efficient than the typical home. A house that is net-zero energy may cost up to 10 percent more. He points out that in the factory they are able to build a very tight house with

There is an assumption that very energy efficient houses are not particularly attractive.

advanced framing and extra insulation.

Tessa Smith of the Artisans Group, a Passive House designer/builder says: "We see a zero upgrade in our custom energy efficient homes in which spending more on insulation gets recouped by less expensive but sophisticated mechanicals, and by buying better windows, which we would anyway in this type of house.

"In our production-oriented houses (that are equally as efficient as our custom homes), we see an upgrade of between 5 to 10 percent (compared to a normal tract home) and a payback of around 6 years, depending on the project. The windows and mechanicals on these less-expensive houses are more energy efficient, of higher quality, and more expensive than the cheapest windows and mechanicals than you would normally find in a tract house."

The Artisan Group currently has a Passive House under construction that will cost $135 a square foot.

Nobody can say exactly what the return on the additional investment will be for all houses -- it varies with the products and systems used, location and the efficiency achieved. Everyone I've interviewed, with a very energy efficient house, however, agrees that their heating and cooling bills are substantially less than those of their neighbors with less-efficient houses.

There is an assumption that very energy efficient houses are not particularly attractive. But evidenced by the houses I've seen in this country and around the world -- this is definitely not the case. (Just see some of the beautiful houses that have been built to high standards in my recent book -- Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe.)

Global warming is generally accepted today as a scientific fact. It is caused by the entrapment of gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuel. Forty percent of that fuel in this country comes from the heating and cooling of houses and other buildings. I believe the environmental and financial savings pose a strong case for building a very energy efficient or even zero-energy home.

The photos in the following gallery are from Prefabulous World and Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid.

 

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Muhammad Ali's Childhood Home Set for Restoration

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Ali's Childhood Home
The Associated PressBoxing great Muhammad Ali's childhood home in Louisville, Kentucky, as it appeared in 2012.
Ali Humanitarian Awards
APMuhammad Ali
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The owner of Muhammad Ali's boyhood home has partnered with a restoration specialist in a venture to completely restore the Louisville, Kentucky, residence to its original condition. The Courier-Journal reports Nevada-based real estate investor Jared Weiss, who brought the property two years ago, has joined with Lawrence, Kansas-based 19th Century Restorations to restore the home.

Dan Reidemann, who is CEO and founder of the restoration company, told the newspaper that the effort would cost about $250,000. The hope is to finish it in enough time to hand over the keys to the boxing great on his 73rd birthday in January.

Work is set to begin on the small white house with a sagging front porch overhang in western Louisville by the end of October.

 

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Sean 'Diddy' Combs Drops Price on Swanky Manhattan Condo

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sean diddy combs condo
ZillowSean 'Diddy' Combs' condo high above Manhattan is in one of New York City's most luxurious buildings.
W Hotels Worldwide and IMS Engage at W Hollywood
AP{Sean 'Diddy' Combs
By Emily Heffter

Is no one interested in a see-through piano and amazing views of the park? Sean "Diddy" Combs has dropped the price on his swanky Midtown Manhattan condo. The platinum-selling rapper and music producer is still the King of New York, trying a second time to sell the sky-high apartment. The price is now $7.5 million, down from just under $8 million.

Combs, who also has homes in Miami and California, is reportedly looking for a place he can host his famous parties without making too much noise for the neighbors.

The condo is on the 66th floor of the Park Imperial, one of New York City's most luxurious buildings (see the slideshow below). It has floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park, and, if you need a break from that, black-out shades. The two-bedroom, two-bath space is built for entertaining, with a piano room, wet bar and a corner living room with a 90-inch flat-screen television.

The entry and master bathroom are marble, and the sleek eat-in kitchen offers New York views with breakfast.

 

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Ted Turner Lists Private Island for Sale at $23.8 Million

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st phillips island dock
Courtesy of Plantation ServicesThe dock on media magnate Ted Turner's private island, St. Phillips, a 4,680-acre property on South Carolina's coast.
Ted Turner's private, breathtaking island off the South Carolina coast is creating quite a buzz, now that he's listed it for $23.777 million. "My phone's been ringing off the hook," says Chip Hall, who is co-listing the barrier island with Lee Walters, both of Plantation Services.

Some of those calls are actually from buyers eager to grab the whole, or part of, St. Phillips Island -- 4,680 acres of totally private creeks, moss and white-sand beaches. The island also has a five-bedroom/five-bath main house, and separate caretaker's quarters.

"My family and I have owned St. Phillips Island along the South Carolina coast for many years now," Turner said in a statement released by Hall. "While we have enjoyed the island and made so many memories there, we, unfortunately, are not able to visit as much as we would like. Therefore we have chosen to sell the property, in an attempt to pass on St. Phillips Island to another family who will enjoy this natural oasis as much as we did."


Turner bought the island in 1979 for an undisclosed sum, says the The Wall Street Journal. It is protected under a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy that permits the construction of 10 additional residences.

Hall says the value of the island, reachable only by boat, lies in its "natural maritime forest, the long white beaches along the ocean, the location and the total privacy."

"It is a perfect place for a modern-day Robinson Crusoe," Hall says -- a Crusoe with $24 million.

 

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