Housing: It’ll get worse

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer
Jun 12th, 2008

Hard hit cities like Sacramento, Phoenix and Las Vegas are set for more steep losses. Some real estate experts are bracing for price drops of as much as 50%.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — With home prices plunging by more than 30% in some markets, bargain-hunters are ready to pounce.

But it may pay for buyers to wait. Many housing experts say that the worst-hit metro areas have even farther to fall, and could see total drops of as much as 50%.

“The housing boom was unprecedented in U.S. history,” said Michael Youngblood, a portfolio analyst with FBR Investment Management, “and the correction will be as well.”

Click here for full article

Toxic Black Mold

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

by Clark “Sparky” Beardslee

The Basics
Mold spores are everywhere and cannot be avoided. They float in through your open windows and doors, or come inside by riding on your clothing or your pets. Real problems in homes and buildings rarely occur unless there has been intense flooding, usually in basements, sometimes from leaky roofs, or where there has been an extensive plumbing problem.
If spores land on a moist or damp surface, usually in a poorly lit area — they can grow.
So the key to mold control is moisture control. Water-damaged areas must be dried within twenty-four to forty-eight hours to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Health Risk
Most people have a natural immunity to antigens present in mold, but some are more sensitive than others – and a moldy home is not a healthy home. At-risk individuals are mostly infants, the aged and asthmatics being treated with steroids. The highest level of danger is for those with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis or cystic fibrosis and those undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that adversely affect the immune system.
The most common health concerns include symptoms similar to hay fever. Others may experience respiratory difficulties or skin and eye irritations. There are some reported extreme reactions, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determining the level of health risk is mostly a factor of looking at the individual and assessing whether they fall into one of the risk groups. However, exposure to mold is not a desirable living condition and it should be removed, just like you would also throw away moldy bread without eating it.

The Cleveland Incident & the CDC
There has been a widely reported case regarding the deaths of some Cleveland infants between 1993 and 1994. Some articles say eight infants died. Other articles say ten died. One article even says that forty-five died.

The cause of death, according to these articles, is that the babies died of acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage that was traced back to water damage in their homes and the subsequent infestation by the mold species Stachybotrys ChartarumIn.
The articles also say that the cause of death was determined in a study done by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) web site says something different. They say that “this remains to be proved” and that no one really knows what causes acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage.
The cause of death may have been the mold, as the articles claim. However, the claim that the CDC identified that as the cause of death is not true. So, to paraphrase Fox Mulder of the X-Files, “the truth is still out there.”

Differing Opinions and Lawyers
There is some disagreement on the seriousness of the mold issue. Some say it is an expanding problem because modern homes — with air conditioning, heating, and energy-saving insulation – are much more airtight and susceptible to infestation than homes of the past.
Others say the problem has always existed and the current frenzy is an invention by attorneys so they can mine this latest “pot of gold” with expensive lawsuits. It has become a major profit center for attorneys, inspectors, laboratories, and test-kit developers.
As one lawyer states in a recent Time magazine article, “For science to prove something, it has to be 100% certain. In a civil lawsuit, it only has to be proved 51%.”

Identifying Molds
Some molds can be identified by their growth patterns, but that requires an expert. Even experts make errors based on a visual inspection, because growth patterns of different molds can appear similar to one another. To correctly identify a mold species requires a sample that can be examined in a laboratory by an experienced technician using a microscope.
The most important thing is to remove the mold.

However, if someone has a health problem that may be caused by the mold, you may want to identify it. Wearing rubber gloves, take a piece of scotch tape, lift some spore samples from the mold, and seal it in a Ziploc bag. Then you have something you can take to your doctor or a laboratory.

There are lots of mold-testing laboratories available on the web. It’s become a “hot” industry in the last couple of years.
The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. Some rarer molds, such as Stachybotrys, may be more dangerous but its spores are only found in two to five percent of homes and only a small percentage of those homes provide an environment for growth.

Mold Growth and Cleanup
Mold flourishes in dark, damp places that are poorly ventilated and in areas where water collects. This provides an environment for ever-present dormant mold spores to collect and grow. The first step in mold clean-up is to eliminate the source of moisture.
No one should attempt to clean mold or mildew without wearing rubber gloves. Sensitive people should wear a dust-resistant facemask or carbon filter respirator.

If the mold patch is less than a foot square, it can be removed with a chlorine bleach solution (one cup of bleach in one gallon of water). Never mix bleach with other cleaning materials, period. It is difficult to tell what cleaning materials contain ammonia, and bleach mixed with ammonia creates a toxic gas.
The mold should come off with simple gentle scrubbing. Do not scrape a mold that has dried because this could release mold spores into the air, where they can circulate through your air-conditioning or heating system and land elsewhere.
Once you have washed away the mold, the area should be dried completely. Make sure to remove or repair any sources of excess water, such as leaky plumbing or a faulty roof.
Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.
If the moldy area is larger than two feet square, you should seek professional assistance or call your local government health agency for guidance.

Conclusions & Homeowners Insurance
Once a mold appears, all it generally takes to prevent health problems is a little bit of bleach and water – and maybe a blow dryer. There are exceptions, however – and those exceptions should be treated seriously.
When mold growth is massive or hidden behind walls, professional help is required. Clean-up costs can range between $10,000 and $50,000 for a moderately sized home.
One result of the recent trends toward lawsuits involving black mold is increased homeowner’s insurance premiums. Another effect is that insurance providers are asking states to allow them to exclude mold coverage in policies.

The Benefits of a Walkable Neighborhood

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

Here is an article from wisebread that weighs in on the benefit of a walkable community. I am always fascinated at the idea about being about to walk to school, work, the grocery store, nightlife, etc. from home; yet I live in Orange County, and there is not that many communities that allow this. Yet with the rise of reurbanization and new apartment complexes located nearer to conveniences, this could be the future, and help our wallets with less gas being churned.

“When I lived in Honolulu, Hawaii, I walked practically everywhere because my family did not have a car. The grocery store was a block away, and the beach was less than a mile south. Nearly everything we needed was within walking distance because Honolulu is a fairly densely populated city. Before my family moved to California, we heard from my aunt that not having a car in California is like not having legs because you have to drive almost everywhere. Unfortunately, this is certainly true in the exurbs of Southern California and many suburbs in the Bay Area. As a result, we now drive almost everywhere.

I think there are quite a few benefits to live in a highly walkable neighborhood. One obvious reason is that you can save quite a bit of money and time on transportation. When I visited my inlaws in Southern California last winter, I felt like we spent hours and hours inside of cars. Most of the trips were small errands like going to the grocery store or getting lunch, but they seemed to take a very long time. When I told an aunt that my commute to work each day is 9 miles each way she said to me, “That’s not a commute! That’s going to the grocery store!” Understandably, it does not make sense to walk when the nearest grocer is so far away, but the cost of driving so much really adds up especially when gas is topping $4.50 a gallon here in California.”

Click here for full article and discussion

Where are they heading?

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

This week the news certainly has been confirming our worst fears as homeowners; thousands are left with no other option than to give up their homes, and pack up all their dreams of living in their own homes in paradise (sunny, southern California). With the largest drop in home prices in the nation, and with foreclosures at its record, the California real estate market does not hopeful for the next year, and maybe even longer (too many are predicting too many things to be sure).

But where are all these people going? Are they packing up, leaving town, and looking for new markets to enter that are easier on the wallet, such as the mid-west. Or are their families into apartments? Could it be a mixture of both?

California, on average, adds over 25,000 in population each year; but will that change now due to our drastic crunch (only time will tell). Will there be more urban developments, allowing families to move into rental units that are closer to their jobs, lessening the strain on gas, even though that means not owning their dream house. Maybe in this economy it is their only hope to live in the Greater Los Angeles area, where so many people call home and find work to bill pay the bills.

I have been looking in the re urbanization of Orange County (since that is where I live) and I feel that there is a lot of room for improvement. More apartment units that are in reasonable walking distance to local food markets, jobs, and entertainment. A better transportation system could be implemented. I’m not saying to imitate Europe, but there is so really good models to benefit from. More cost-efficient ways to live that help our wallets, and that help our environment.

Today’s market may not be the best for home builders-just check the financial news and you will see their predicament. Yet it may be the time for apartment owners/developers to seize the opportunity and make living more affordable for those who can not afford a house in the suburbs, and 200 bucks on gas a week to drive to work.

If you have any thoughts about the apartment housing industry, or the real estate market, send me a comment, and let us know what you are thinking?

Housing downturn is a jolt to upscale Temecula

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From LA times, staff writer Scott Gold

For almost 20 years, they’ve been painting the town red in Temecula.

Atop onion fields and grazing pastures, they’ve built a parade of 4,000- and 5,000-square-foot houses — palaces, many of them, with turrets and faux backyard grottoes, with six-car garages and children’s playrooms larger than the average Manhattan apartment.

Today, they’re painting the dirt green.

“Here’s one now,” code enforcement officer Jean Voshall said as she pulled her hulking pickup up to the curb in a gated community called The Fairways.

At first glance, the house looked like so many others in Temecula: five bedrooms, mushroom-colored stucco walls, a seven iron away from a dapper golf course where two men prepared to tee off. A closer look at the lawn, however, revealed that it was dead and crunchy — and had been spray-painted green.

The paint came courtesy of neighbors, in the hope that it might be less evident to passersby that the house was empty — foreclosed and left to the elements, with no running water, no electricity and little chance of new occupants any time soon.

For more of the article, click here

Tips for Graffiti Prevention

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To step up graffiti prevention efforts, consider the following:

1. Keep up the neighborhood
Make every effort to keep the appearance of a neighborhood clean and neat. Remove litter and trash, fix broken fences, trim landscape, and ensure all lighting is working properly. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, “an exterior appearance that suggests apathy and neglect attracts vandals.”

2. Remove graffiti promptly
Rapid removal of graffiti is an effective prevention tool. Data shows that removal within 24 to 48 hours results in a nearly zero rate of recurrence. Most Keep America Beautiful affiliates credit the reduction in graffiti in their communities to rapid removal.

3. Encourage citizen reporting
Educate the public about the impact of graffiti vandalism and provide a way for them to report graffiti. In many cities, an 800 number, a dedicated telephone line, or a web site is established for this purpose. Respond promptly to reports of graffiti vandalism.

4. Enforce anti-graffiti laws
Ensure that any existing anti-graffiti laws are being enforced. Law enforcement dedicated to tracking and apprehending graffiti vandals is a strong deterrent. A survey of arrested taggers found fear of getting caught was the top response when asked what would get them to stop tagging.

For a guide to developing local anti-graffiti laws, visit the National Council to Prevent Delinquency web site.

5. Educate Youth
Use the Graffiti Hurts curriculum and video to incorporate graffiti education and prevention into classroom activities, after school programs, and youth group activities. Keep Waco Beautiful, for example, has a mentoring program where high school students teach 4th and 5th graders about graffiti.

6. Use an “adopt-a-spot” program
A handful of communities provide citizen volunteers with graffiti cleanup kits to keep an area they have adopted graffiti free. These programs improve awareness and engage citizens in graffiti prevention. Get the contents of a graffiti cleanup kit.

7. Create a paint-brush mural
Use a community mural to restore a wall chronically hit with graffiti. Graffiti vandals rarely tag a paint-brush mural, and they are a great way to get the community involved in graffiti prevention. Murals can involve local artists, youth and community volunteers, and the local paint store, which may be willing to donate paint and brushes. Download a step-by-step guide for creating a mural.

8. Control Access
Make changes to build-in graffiti prevention:
* Incorporate natural deterrents, such as landscaping. Shrubs, thorny plants and vines will effectively restrict vandal access.
* Plan or add lighting to promote natural surveillance.
* Use fences, controlled entrance and exits, rails, and other barriers that discourage through traffic.
* Limit access to roofs by moving dumpsters away from walls and covering drainpipes to prevent vandals from scaling them.
* Use graffiti hoods to buffer freeway signs.
* Incorporate metal baffles on sign poles, similar to squirrel baffles on bird feeders.

9. Employ graffiti resistant surfaces
To vandal proof targeted areas use:
* Graffiti resistant materials or coatings. The city of Tucson, AZ, for example, requires that walls of new buildings be constructed of or painted with graffiti resistant materials.
* Sacrificial coatings, which allow graffiti to be washed off. Sacrificial coatings must be re-applied after each graffiti clean-up.
* Textured surfaces, which are less attractive to graffiti vandals.
* Dark colored or colorful surfaces; neither of these provide a good canvas for a graffiti vandal.

10. Monitor graffiti-prone locations
Get the support of law enforcement to step up police monitoring of locations that are frequently hit by graffiti. A few communities are using some type of security camera in areas that are frequently graffitied. Also consider organizing a Neighborhood Watch to keep an eye on targeted sites.

11. Employ curfews
A national survey of police agencies found that the vast majority felt curfews were an effective tool to control vandalism, graffiti, nighttime burglary, and car theft. Most jurisdictions with curfews had them in effect for several years. A survey of 800 cities conducted by the National League of Cities found curfews effective for curbing gang violence as well.

12. Provide alternatives
The Institute for Law and Justice, Inc. manual on safe neighborhoods suggests diverting graffiti criminals to positive alternatives. The effectiveness of this approach is largely undocumented, but consider some of the following to encourage youth in more positive directions:

* Youth Centers – A 2002 Colorado study recommends establishing centers for youth to gain leadership skills and to express themselves in a variety of ways. The centers teach responsibility and provide a safe place to have fun.
* Arts Programs – A 1999 U.S. Conference of Mayors study found that youth participating in arts programs exhibit improvements in academic performance, conflict resolution, team building and decreased frequency of delinquent behavior. Get a YouthARTS Tool Kit, developed through Americans for the Arts, and create an arts program to address youth crime.
* Community Programs – Community programs encourage youth to take control of their lives, make good choices, and provide a substitute for vandalism. Seattle Public Utilities has developed two such programs, ArtWorks and Panels for Progress.
* Youth Involvement – Involve youth and schools in graffiti prevention efforts, such as cleanups or mural projects. Keep Houston Beautiful initiated a mural series where they paired groups of neighborhood youth with professional artists to design and paint a mural on a chronically tagged wall.

What About Legal Walls?

Legal walls are largely ineffective as a deterrent or graffiti prevention device. Communities that have tried legal walls, or areas that permit graffiti, find them ineffective. Over a dozen cities in California, Illinois, and other states have all found them to be a failure.

Legal walls send a mixed message – sponsoring graffiti in an effort to rid a community of graffiti. Community records indicate they may work at first, but after a period of time, the surrounding areas also become covered with graffiti. Data also shows no decrease in arrests for graffiti in cities where there are legal walls.

About Graffiti Hurts
Graffiti Hurts® – Care for Your Community is aimed at educating individuals about the consequences of graffiti in their communities. The fact is, graffiti is harmful to everyone — homeowners, businesses, schools, and you.

Graffiti clean up alone costs the U.S. over $8 billion annually. And, research shows that graffiti results in more graffiti, vandalism, and crime in suburban and urban communities.

Through the Graffiti Hurts® kit of resources, communities can get educated about graffiti and build local partnerships to prevent and remove it.

We hope you will help keep our communities clean and explore positive ways for artistic expression that support individual talent and instill community pride.

U.S. Mortgage Malaise Deepens

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

Taken from Forbes.com, written by Maurna Desmond

Lenders foreclosed on U.S. mortgages in the first quarter at a rate that hasn’t been seen for nearly three decades, with high-quality loans failing even faster than subprime. The data, released Thursday, was an ominous sign that a housing recovery probably is not in the wings.

The Mortgage Banker’s Association said foreclosures surged 70.7% in the quarter, with 0.99% of outstanding U.S. mortgages entering the process in the first three months of 2008 versus 0.58% during the same time last year. The latest number was the highest rate in 29 years.

For the whole article click here

Calif. home price down 24%, nation’s worst

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First American LoanPerformance says California is again the nation’s worst housing market with prices falling at a 24.37% annual rate as of late April. California has held this dubious distinction since May ‘07.

Following California in April price tumbles: Florida at -17.11%; Nevada at -16.61%; Arizona at -15.78%; and Ohio at -13.41%.

National best was Utah, up 4.13%, and Montana, +4.12%. Only 17 of the 50 states and District of Columbia showed price gains in the year, according to FALP’s math that tracks “paired sales” — gains or losses on individual homes.

To check out more, and to see what others have to say about it, check out Lasner’s blog on real estate.

Is It the End of 6% Real Estate Commissions?

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This week the Justice Department reached an antitrust settlement with the National Association of Realtors that is meant to spur competition and bring down the standard 6% commission that comes with each real estate transaction. Basically, the NAR is no longer able to withhold the information on multiple listing services from discount online brokers such as Redfin and ZipRealty. Will consumers like us see a huge deduction in real estate transaction prices soon?

For more visit Wisebread

Foreclosures and Sinking Prices…

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

Foreclosures and sinking prices maybe what it takes to rebound the housing slump, but it will not be anytime soon that is for sure.

Robert Sheridan of RISMedia, states that “We’re in a mess of our own making and it’s time to own up to it. Prices need to fall, credit needs to flow (more responsibly this time) and everyone – from homeowners to industry professionals – needs to lower their short-term expectations. We won’t be hearing any good news until we come to grips with the bad. We’ll get through this, of course, and the cycle will start again. When it does, I hope hindsight makes us much, much wiser.”

The truth is that many are not wanting to see prices fall for another two years, but it may take that long for a turnaround, and I think that this crunch will make us “much, much wiser,” and something good will come out of this mess. People who I talk to, who are not actively involved in the real estate industry, claim that it will bounce back fast, and we have already seen the worst; yet they miss the signs, decreasing home prices each month, and increasing activity of foreclosures.

Yet decreasing home prices, and increasing foreclosures, might be what jet starts the home market once more, argues a news article from Bloomberg. “In some regions, such as San Francisco, sinking prices may already may be helping the housing market recover.” Banks do not want to hold on to the properties, so they put it on the market very quickly, and with that comes low prices that will help the market adjust.

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