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News And Mortgage Reports
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Rents Are Rising, and Not Only in Pricey San Francisco

2015-02-23 13:28:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Renting Vincent Besnault/Getty Median monthly rents rose in January, and in a lot of places you might not expect. Along with the usual hot West Coast housing markets such as San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, the metros with the biggest year-over-year increases included Denver, Kansas City (Mo.), Nashville (Tenn.), Birmingham, (Ala.) and Portland (Ore.). The new data shows the spread of rising rents -- and decreasing rental affordability is likely to follow. Zillow, the online real estate site, reported last year that renting is now half as affordable nationally as buying, on a monthly basis. "Since 2000, rents have grown roughly twice as fast as wages, and you don't have to be an economist to understand why that is hugely problematic," said Stan Humphries, Zillow's chief economist. "The rental market used to be, and should remain, a stepping stone to homeownership. But given how widespread rental affordability problems have become, the rental market could be acting more like a barrier to buying." Check out Zillow Research for more information about the January Real Estate Market Reports. Zillow  Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments

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'Up' House Set to be Auctioned

2015-02-05 11:04:00

Filed under: News, Foreclosures Getty ImagesA developer offered Edith Macefield $1 million for her house. She turned it down and the building went up around her. Edith Macefield's circa 1900s farmhouse in Seattle, which became famous when Macefield refused to take $1 million from an urban developer planning to tear it down, may be going on the auction block, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The current owner reportedly owes $185,956 on the property, and unless he pays the debt, the property will be auctioned at 10 a.m. on March 13. Macefield received worldwide attention in 2006 when she refused to sell her 1,000-square-foot home, which stood in the way of a commercial development. So the developer of Ballard Blocks built a five-story office and retail building around her. Disney/Pixar Disney capitalized on the Macefield buzz and tied balloons to the house in 2009 to promote "Up," a film about a man who uses balloons to lift his home out of the way of development. (Don't remember? See the trailer here.) Macefield, who was more a homebody than an anti-development protestor, died in 2008 at 86. She left the house in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle to the new building's construction superintendent, Barry Martin, who had been kind to her during construction. Martin sold it to Reach Returns in 2009, which provides real estate coaching. According to a foreclosure report, Reach Returns owner Greg Pinneo must pay the money he owes on the property, or it will be auctioned. The Post-Intelligencer said one possible solution is that the owner of Ballard Blocks will buy the site and incorporate it into the new building, which was designed to someday expand onto the property. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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U.S. Foreclosures Drop to a Level Last Seen in 2006

2015-01-15 05:00:00

Filed under: News, Foreclosures, Home Equity Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock The inventory of distressed U.S. properties has fallen to the lowest point since 2006, before the financial crisis sent foreclosure filings, default notices, property auctions and bank repossessions soaring, according to RealtyTrac, a housing data company. RealtyTrac's new Year-End 2014 Foreclosure Market Report shows that U.S. foreclosure filings were reported on 1,117,426 properties in 2014, down 18 percent from 2013 and down 61 percent from the peak in 2010. The number represents the lowest annual total since 2006, when 717,522 properties had foreclosure filings nationwide. The report also shows that 0.85 percent of all U.S. housing units -- one in every 118 -- had at least one foreclosure filing in 2014, the first time since 2006 that the annual foreclosure rate had fell below 1 percent of all housing units. Stabilization Forecast The numbers show "a foreclosure market that is close to finding a floor and stabilizing at a historically normal level," said Daren Blomquist, a RealtyTrac vice president. However, the housing market isn't doing cartwheels just yet. After 27 consecutive months of decreases, U.S. foreclosure starts in December increased 6 percent from the previous month and 14 percent from a year ago -- the second month in a row that showed increases. December foreclosure starts increased from a year ago in 26 states, including Massachusetts (up 323 percent), New Jersey (up 262 percent), Nevada (up 194 percent), Missouri (up 88 percent) and New York (up 33 percent). Blomquist said that a year-end surge in foreclosure starts and scheduled foreclosure auctions indicates that lenders in some markets are gearing up for "a spring cleaning of deferred distress" properties in the first half of 2015. This could flood some local markets with distressed sales and impact home prices. This recent uptick largely reflects failed attempts to rescue distressed properties, rather than new loans going bad, he said. "Many of these properties have been in mediation, loan modification, efforts to try to prevent foreclosure. Unfortunately for some of these homeowners, none of those solutions stuck, so they're finally going into foreclosure ... casting a lingering shadow on the housing market." Permalink | Email this | Comments

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The 5 Biggest, Best Homeowner Tax Breaks

2015-01-09 09:51:00

Filed under: News, Advice, How To Cassandra Hubbart, AOLLeaving off deductions you're eligible for, such as mortgage interest and property taxes, is leaving money on the table. Homeownership can pay off big time if you itemize your deductions. Use these five tax breaks to cut what you owe Uncle Sam: 1. Home Office Do you work at home? Collect a tax break either by using the simplified method explained below or doing some complicated calculations to claim your exact home office expenses. When you opt for the simplified method, you get $5 per square foot and can claim up to 300 square feet of office. (That's a $1,500 deduction!) The Fine Print: You can't deduct a home office just because you head in there after dinner to read AOL and answer emails from co-workers. You have to use your home office "substantially and regularly to conduct business." Your home office doesn't have to be in your home. A studio, garage, or barn can count as a home office. Where You Claim it: Form 8829 Where You Read About it: Publication 587 Business Use of Your Home 2. Energy-Efficient Upgrades Energy-efficiency home upgrades you made in 2014 can potentially cut your tax bill by up to $500, thanks to the residential energy tax credit. This tax credit lets you offset federal taxes dollar-for-dollar. You may be able to claim up to 10 percent of what you spent in 2014 on such items as insulation, a new roof, windows, doors or high-efficiency furnaces or air conditioners. The Fine Print: There's a $500 lifetime cap (meaning you have to subtract any energy tax credit you used in prior years). Where You Claim it: Form 1040, Form 5695 Where You Read About it: Form 5695 Instructions 3. Mortgage Interest Deduction This is the mother lode of tax deductions. You typically can deduct the interest you pay on your home loan of up to $1 million (married filing jointly). You have to use your mortgage to buy, build or improve your home. Using a home equity line or mortgage for something else, like paying college tuition? It's generally OK to deduct the interest on loans up to $100,000 (married filing jointly) as long as your home secures the loan. The Fine Print: An RV, boat or trailer counts as a home if you can sleep and cook in it and it has toilet facilities (if you're not sure what "toilet facilities" means, watching a couple episodes of the TV show "Buying Alaska" will enlighten and entertain you). Second home loans count toward the $1 million loan limit. Where You Claim it: Schedule A Where You Read About it: Publication 936 Home Mortgage Interest 4. Property Tax Deduction The property taxes you paid to the state, the county, the city, the school district and every other government entity that reached into your pockets last year are usually deductible on your federal tax return. If your mortgage lender paid your property taxes, look on your annual escrow statement to see the exact amount paid. The Fine Print: You can't deduct assessments (one-time charges for things like streets, sidewalks and sewer lines). Keep a record of the assessments you paid. When you sell your home, you can generally use the cost of those assessments to reduce any tax you owe on your sale profit. Where You Claim it: Schedule A Where You Read About it: Publication 530 Tax Information for Homeowners 5. Private Mortgage Insurance Did you put down less than 20 percent when you bought your home? If you did, your lender probably forced you to buy private mortgage insurance. Those monthly premiums are tax deductible, if you can clear a few hurdles. (See The Fine Print below.) If you have a Veterans Affairs, Federal Housing Administration or Rural Housing Service loan, you likely paid upfront mortgage insurance premiums at the closing table (they might have called it a guarantee fee). The deduction for those is pretty complicated. You get to deduct a part of that upfront premium each year. To figure out how much to deduct, you first check to see which is shorter: The length of your mortgage 84 months (seven years) If your mortgage lasts more than seven years, you divide the cost of that upfront mortgage premium by 84 months and then multiply by the number of months you paid it (so 12 months for a full year) to get your deductible amount. If you mortgage lasts seven years or less, you divide by the number of months it lasts and multiply by the number of months you paid it. The Fine Print: You have to have gotten your mortgage in 2007 or later. When adjusted gross income is more than $100,000 (married filing jointly) you start losing the private mortgage insurance deduction and it disappears completely when your adjusted gross income is more than $109,000. Where You Claim it: Schedule A Where You Read About it: Publication 530 Tax Information for Homeowners What About Everything Else? What about all the other home-related expenses you paid, but can't deduct, like your new deck or the pipes you replaced? Hang on to those invoices and receipts by scanning them (receipts fade over time) and storing them in a file or online. When you sell your home and you're figuring out if you owe federal tax on the profits, you may be able to subtract the cost of the improvements you made from your home's selling price. Tax laws are complicated and the devil is in the details. This article contains general information, so it may, or may not, apply to your situation. A tax professional or tax software can tell you how the tax rules apply in your circumstances. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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3 Reasons for Military Homebuyers to Be Thankful This Year

2014-11-24 06:18:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Financing Getty Images Mortgage credit is thawing, VA loans are booming and interest rates remain within striking distance of all-time lows. For military homebuyers, there's much to be thankful for this year. They are a demographic group that continues to embrace both the opportunities and challenges of homebuying. The homeownership rate among veterans and service members is 81 percent, compared to about 65 percent for the nation as a whole, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It's tough to predict what shape the housing market will take in 2015, with both home prices and rates almost certainly on the rise. But this Thanksgiving, there are a few key trends for which many military buyers can give thanks. Here's a look at three big ones. VA loan resurgence The historic VA home loan program celebrated its 70th anniversary in June. But in many ways its zero-down mortgage option is more important than ever. Veterans and active military members have turned to VA loans in record numbers given the tight conventional mortgage market. During an uneven year for many buyers, VA purchases increased nearly 13 percent year-over-year in 2014 (the VA's fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs. These are more flexible and forgiving loans when it comes to things like credit, debt ratios and assets. It can be tough for many veterans and military buyers to build the kind of financial profile and nest egg needed for conventional financing. VA lenders often are looking for a FICO score around 620. Conventional lenders may set the benchmark more than 100 points higher, then also require at least a 5 percent down payment. Those can be tall hurdles to clear. Credit thawing But there's also positive news for military buyers wanting to take a hard look at conventional mortgage options. Signs continue to point to an overall relaxing of credit requirements as the economic outlook improves. Credit availability in the conventional mortgage market jumped 12 percent in September compared to March 2012, according to a Mortgage Bankers Association index. At the same time, conventional buyers had an average 755 FICO score in September, a four-point drop from last year's average, according to mortgage software firm Ellie Mae. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also unveiled plans recently to open lending to borrowers with as little as 3 percent down. The FHFA regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant government-sponsored entities that purchase two of every three new mortgages. "These loans will be underwritten more conservatively and will likely come with higher mortgage insurance costs," David H. Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, told Bloomberg News. "History has shown that these loans, when properly underwritten, perform well." Interest rates After a stretch of historically low interest rates, many economists and housing experts expected the party to end in 2014. Heading into this year, the chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, Lawrence Yun, predicted rates would hit 5.4 percent by year's end. Instead, global political issues, a stop-and-start recovery and other factors combined to keep rates down. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.43 percent in January, according to Freddie Mac. For October? Try 4.04 percent. Forecasts for 2015 vary, but it's likely the average rate will near 5 percent, if not top it. "The impact of rising interest rates on affordability will be minimal as long as job creation keeps pace," Yun, the NAR economist, said earlier this month at the trade group's annual convention. "Furthermore, if the credit box slowly begins to open up, that will also mitigate the impact of rising rates." To be sure, buying a home isn't the right fit for every veteran or military member. Military service can come with frequent relocation and unique financial strain, both of which can make homebuying untenable or flat-out undesirable. But for those eyeing a home purchase on the horizon, there's a lot to be grateful for this year. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Zillow: 30-Year Fixed Mortgage at 3.82%

2014-11-18 21:03:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Refinancing 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 fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.82 percent, down from 3.90 percent at this same time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around 3.85 percent for most of the week before falling to the current rate. "Rates remained flat for most of last week, but dipped slightly early Monday on news that Japan fell into a recession in Q3," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "Despite incoming inflation and home sales data, we do not expect rates to move dramatically this week." Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 2.99 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.82 percent. Purchase Mortgage Application Activity Zillow predicts tomorrow's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity to increase by 4 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.  Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments

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House of the Day: Michigan Victorian With Lighthouse

2014-11-17 13:05:00

Filed under: News, Buying, House of the Day ZillowThis Bellevue Island home with three bedrooms is on the market at $415,000. By Emily Heffter The lakeside community of Lake Orion was a popular weekend getaway for the wealthy of Detroit in 1900, when this Victorian home was built. In its heyday, Bellevue Island had an amusement park with an old wooden roller coaster. Now the quiet community about an hour outside of Detroit is known more for its great school district. The sellers raised two daughters in the three-bedroom, two-bath home while restoring its unique features and have it on the market at $415,000. "They brought it back to life over the last 20 years," said Leslie Mihalak, the RE/MAX listing agent. Most notable are the home's two copper-topped towers: A five-story working lighthouse on the lakefront side serves as a hidden fort, accessible via ladder from one of the bedrooms. On the land side of the house, a second tower looks like a windmill. The owners painted the original cedar shake siding a raspberry color, and the bottom of the house is constructed of fieldstone. Inside, the home is modernized with an updated kitchen, granite countertops and wood floors. There are beautiful views of the lake, two docks and a patio.  Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments

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House of the Day: Ivy-Covered 'Castle' in The Hamptons

2014-11-14 07:56:00

Filed under: News, Buying, House of the Day Zillow"The Castle" in Southhampton, New York, would stand out even if it didn't have a turret. By Emily Heffter The upscale village of Southampton, New York, is an oceanfront enclave of shake-sided beach mansions and 1920s stucco homes. So this red-brick historic home for sale at $4.3 million would stand out, even if it didn't have a turret. Locally known as "the castle," this 1911 home at 143 Herrick Road, Southampton, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The home's owner, William Sofield, is a world-class designer who bought the home for $830,000 in 1999 and restored it carefully. He updated all the systems but decorated the interior in the arts-and-crafts style of the home's era. There is no stainless steel or white marble in the kitchen -- he instead used white, retro appliances. The home is on the small side for the area -- less than 3,000 square feet -- and is covered in ivy, so that it just peeks out of surrounding greenery. There are two bedroom suites on the main level. In the turret, the master bedroom has a free-standing soaking tub. The gazebo poolhouse is perhaps the home's most distinctive feature, with carved windows and doors. The 0.43-acre property is landscaped with gardens and brick walkways, with a heated gunite pool. Harald Grant of Sotheby's International Realty holds the listing.  Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Jon Stewart Triples Money on Tribeca Duplex Deal

2014-11-14 01:14:00

Filed under: News, Celebrity Homes, Selling Zillow Comedian Jon Stewart just sold two loft units in this Tribeca building for $17.5 million. APJon Stewart Funnyman/pundit Jon Stewart has unloaded his duplex loft in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood for $17.5 million in a private deal. And a good deal it was for "The Daily Show" host, who bought the units in 2005 for $5.8 million, a year after the building went condo, reports The Real Deal. In true Stewart style, the duplex on 161 Hudson St. was officially owned by the Stanley Monkey Trust, named after Stewart's pit bull named Monkey and cat, Stan. The condo, in a prewar building with just 24 units, features three-direction exposures and 600 square feet of terrace and 1,200 feet of private roof. Actor Jeremy Piven reportedly also owns a condo there. The New York Post says Stewart owns two lakeside properties in Red Bank, New Jersey, worth a total $7 million. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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We Can Build Toward an Energy-Efficient Future, If We Want To

2014-11-14 00:05:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Lifestyle Courtesy of Sergio PucciThe futuristic Casa Iseami in the jungle of Costa Rica is totally off the energy grid. Whether you view the recent deal that President Obama brokered with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions as a long-overdue breakthrough or "irresponsible" and "expensive," here's a fact: We already have the cost-effective know-how to achieve its goals by changing the way we use energy in our homes -- and do it in style. Under the agreement announced on Nov. 12, the United States would substantially cut emissions by 2025 (26 to 28 percent less than in 2005). One of the ways this can be done is by transforming our dependence on coal and oil to solar and wind power. About 40 percent of the energy used in this country is used to heat and cool buildings -- and we have the technological means to drastically reduce our dependence them for that. Courtesty of Sergio Pucci Casa Iseami's large exterior overhang allows natural light to pass through to the seating area below. Many countries, particularly those in the European Union, already are working to meet their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997. This means a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20 percent increase in renewable energy and a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020. It's becoming the norm for homes there to be built to meet these standards. The rising cost of energy in many countries also motivates homeowners to build houses that are less reliant on fossil fuel. Some houses are built in locations where there's simply no access to fossil fuel, so must be designed to use less energy to operate or even become self-sufficient by creating energy. My book, Prefabulous World, profiles some of the most energy efficient and "green" houses in 20 countries, including the United States. Most homeowners who live in very energy efficient houses report their energy bills are half to a fraction of that of their neighbors. Jeff Armstrong, an architect and homeowner of a LEED Platinum house (see the slideshow below) in Ontario, Canada, reports his house consumes about half of the energy used by a similar-size house for space and water heating. Another very energy-efficient house, Casa Iseami (pictured above), built in the deep tropical jungle of Costa Rica, is totally off the grid. Researching these homes was an opportunity to explore some of the innovative methods and materials being used to save energy and conserve resources in other countries. We can learn from Often people assume energy-efficient and prefab homes to be unattractive. But those conceptions couldn't be further from the truth. those ingenious and creative technologies developed for these homes. The following are just a few of the methods and materials: One of the most important ways to reduce the need for heating and cooling is to have very efficient insulation. One excellent example of a new technology is Aerogel that was used in a house in the Netherlands -- the Energy Neutral Residence. Aerogel insulation was developed for NASA and is one of the lowest density materials on earth but a highly effective insulator. It is four times more efficient than fiberglass or foam. Yankee Barn Homes in the United States uses a polyisocyanurate insulation in their panels. It offers high R-value per inch and fire resistance. The Laurel Hollow house in East Hampton, New York. was built using these panels. This same insulation was used in The Morris Island House in Ontario, Canada. That house was certified LEED Platinum and showed to be quite airtight on a blower door test (1.5 ACH at 50 Pascals). A house In Ebeltoft, Denmark -- Villa Langerkamp -- incorporates a "solar comb façade": a thin honeycomb-like pattern which passively helps to heat and cool the house. Several houses in the book, including this one, have retractable blinds, which can minimize heat gain in the summer and reduce the need for air conditioning. The Elsternwick house in Melbourne, Australia, was built using a steel frame, structural insulated panels (or SIPs) and modular construction. The steel frame made the construction very strong, the SIPs made it very energy efficient and the modular construction allowed this house to be completed in just three weeks. Concept Bio Architect Frèdèric Michel used a patented fabric on awnings on the south façade of his Evolutive Home, which absorbs and reflects 97 percent of the sun. One of the most unique and interesting houses I found while researching this book is a house in Dobling, Austria, built like a solar tube. This house was built to passively maintain a comfortable interior environment for the occupants while being very energy efficient. Often people assume energy-efficient and prefab homes to be unattractive. But those conceptions couldn't be further from the truth. As you can see in the photos below -- all of the houses I profile are prefab, very energy efficient, have healthy interior environments, use environmentally friendly materials and are still attractive. Most of the houses are architecturally designed and very well thought out, with consideration toward blending with the neighborhoods where they're located and the aesthetics of their owners. I hope that readers see how easy it is to build a beautiful house that requires less energy to operate and uses fewer resources. The world has a limited amount of resources available to us. If we squander them, we are hurting our children and our children's children. Reducing energy consumption in construction can have a significant effect on overall energy usage in this country. We have the knowledge and ability to reduce this number substantially. I hope anyone considering building a house in the future will use prefabricated methods and techniques and materials that reduce wastage and energy. I have been so inspired by the houses in Prefabulous World; I hope readers will also be inspired to consider some of the methods, materials and systems in this book for their own homes. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Mortgage Rates End Unchanged Despite Massive Market Volatility 20 Feb 2015 21:51:00
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