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Zillow Mortgage Marketplace: 30-Year Rates Fall Under 4%

2014-09-02 15:39:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Economy, Selling Zillow*The weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals. By Lauren Braun Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages fell 12 basis points this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.96 percent, down from 4.08 percent at this same time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around 4 percent for most of last week, peaking at 4.09 percent on Monday before easing back down to the current rate on Tuesday. "Mortgage rates stayed below 4 percent for much of last week on news of a potential European Central Bank plan to implement a stimulus program similar to the Federal Reserve's that has kept rates low in the U.S.," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "We expect rates to remain flat in this holiday-shortened week, as any bright spots in domestic economic data will likely be overshadowed by concerns about the European economy." Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 3.04 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.81 percent. Purchase Mortgage Application Activity: Zillow predicts tomorrow's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity increased 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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Frank Lloyd Wright School May Lose Degree Program

2014-09-02 14:03:00

Filed under: Design, News The Associated PressIn this May 1960 file photo, Mrs. Olgivanna Wright, wife of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, stands by one of the architecture school buildings at Taliesen West in Scottsdale, Arizona. By Terry Tang PHOENIX -- The future of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture has divided the institution named for the iconic designer. The quest to keep its accreditation status has some school board members concerned the degree program will end, while its foundation denied the school is in danger of closing. The Scottsdale-based Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which operates the school, announced last week that it would not independently incorporate the school as a way to stay accredited. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in 19 states, changed its bylaws two years ago to prohibit accreditation for schools that operate as divisions of a larger organization. Without accreditation, the school would be unable to offer a Master of Architecture degree, which offers students the chance to learn from those who once worked with the legendary architect. The foundation's decision has shaken the school's Board of Governors, who say the program may have to shut down when its accreditation expires in 2017. "The school could continue but it would not train architects that could become licensed. I'm not sure what value it would bring to them or to the profession," said Maura Grogan, board chairwoman. Foundation President and CEO Sean Malone disagreed, saying the possibility of the school closing in the future was not "grounded in fact or reality." He said he understood the board's desire to try separating the school from the foundation to meet the new accreditation criteria, but it wouldn't have been feasible. "It was determined that it just wasn't appropriate to do that and simultaneously be committing long-term funding at well over $1 million a year," Malone said of the foundation's financial support. Wright, who died in 1959, designed 1,141 architectural works. More than one-third of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are in a National Historic District. His Taliesin estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and one in Scottsdale, dubbed Taliesin West, became laboratories of sorts for student apprentices. Approximately 20 students are enrolled at the Wright School, which was initiated in 1932. They divide their time between Scottsdale and Wisconsin. Besides education programs, the foundation also oversees preservation, restoration and tourism related to Wright-designed buildings. Since 2012, Wright officials have considered other options to keep its accreditation, such as jointly partnering with another institution. "It's my understanding the foundation has looked into this in the past and has not found suitable partners," Grogan said. "I'm unclear what has changed at this point." Malone said the school has already received "significant interest" from a number of institutions nationwide. "I've heard suggestions that partnering with somebody else is in essence the definition of closing the school -- which is completely inaccurate," Malone said. "There are no plans, intentions or willingness whatsoever to close the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture." Grogan said she is hopeful that the board and the foundation can come to a resolution. Now, the sides agree that the school provides a unique learning environment. "To sit in a dining room and overhear conversations from four or five generations of people all debating, arguing, sharing and laughing -- it's a very, very special place," Grogan said. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Gilded-Age Mansions on Sale Across America's Rust Belt

2014-09-02 12:31:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Lifestyle, SellingBy Emily Heffter In America's manufacturing heyday, wealthy barons of industry built stately mansions across the Rust Belt. Today, they're available at various price points and in various conditions. Here's a look at some opportunities to live like a Vanderbilt.  Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Construction Spending Hits Highest Level in Over 5 Years

2014-09-02 10:38:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Economy, Selling John Raoux/AP By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON -- U.S. construction spending rebounded strongly to hit its highest level in more than 5½ years in July as private construction increased and state and local government outlays surged, in a further sign of vigor in the economy. Construction spending increased 1.8 percent to an annual rate of $981.31 billion, the highest level since December 2008, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. July's percentage increase was the largest since May 2012 and reflected gains across all categories, with the exception of federal government. It followed June's revised 0.9 percent decline. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending increasing 1 percent after a previously reported 1.8 percent drop in June. Construction spending in July was buoyed by a 3.4 percent jump in state and local government projects, which lifted outlays to their highest level since June 2012. The increase in state and local government outlays, which was the largest since April 2013, offset a 1.1 percent drop in spending by the federal government on construction projects. Private construction, the largest portion of construction spending, advanced 1.4 percent to its highest level since November 2008. Private residential construction spending gained 0.7 percent as housing starts rebounded. The housing market recovery is back on track after stagnating from the second half of 2013 in the wake of a spike in mortgage rates and higher home prices amid a stock shortage. Part of the increase in private residential construction spending reflected home improvements. Investment in private nonresidential structures such as factories and gas pipelines jumped 2.1 percent in July to its highest level in five years.  Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Media Room Design Is About More Than the Technology

2014-09-02 10:27:00

Filed under: Design, News, LifestyleBy Christine Tusher Technology is only one aspect of media room design. The right furnishings also are key to creating a space in which family members will want to gather to enjoy TV, music, video games and digital media together. A media room can be the hub of the house, "so it's important to make sure it's comfortable and that nothing is too precious," says interior designer Julia Buckingham of Buckingham Interiors + Design. Whether you're opting for a full home theater setup with a projection TV, or a more low-key approach that simply allows you to enjoy multimedia devices as a family, you'll want to create a versatile space that will function well even as technology evolves. Plan enough seating. Once you've tricked out your room with a TV and a sound system, you'll want to make sure you have enough seating. Furniture manufacturers often say how many people a sofa or sectional will seat. Buckingham says pieces with 20- to 22-inch cushions are ideal, as they give each person enough room without having to sit on a seam. Sectionals are a good choice when trying to maximize seating, she says. "The sectional is really the very best in terms of comfort and offering a large amount of seating." (How to Arrange Your Room for TV and People Too) Contemporary Living Room by Chicago Interior Designers & Decorators Buckingham Interiors + Design LLC To break up the bulk of a sofa or sectional, Buckingham likes upholstering the piece in two fabrics, as she did in this space. "I'll usually cover the back of the sectional in one fabric -- maybe the fabric has some sort of fun pattern -- and then I'll do the seat cushions in a complementary pattern," Buckingham says. Contemporary Living Room by New York Interior Designers & Decorators GDG Designworks Find the right coffee table or ottoman. Whether you opt for a coffee table or an ottoman, Buckingham recommends leaving an 18-inch gap between the piece and your seating to keep the space easy to navigate. "Coffee tables are among the most difficult pieces to select, because they're so personal," Buckingham says. "I recently worked with a client who insisted on sitting in front of every coffee table, because she wanted to make sure there would be no bend in her leg when she put her feet up." (How to Pick Out a Coffee Table) Contemporary Home Theater by Seattle Architects & Building Designers Paul Moon Design It's also a good idea to use a piece with an accessible storage area so you can keep the top surface clear of remotes, magazines and coasters. "I've been using a lot of coffee tables with two levels, so there will be the top level and there will also be a lower shelf," Buckingham says. Contemporary Family Room Choose a practical rug. The right rug not only adds pizzazz, but it also dampens sound coming out of the speakers, helping to improve acoustics. Many people don't want to shell out big bucks for a custom rug, so Buckingham will choose a stock size --such as 8 by 10 or 9 by 12 -- and work with the furniture to fit it into the space. "I like the rug to come about halfway underneath the sofa, particularly if they have a wood floor," Buckingham says. "I just think that too much rug makes it feel wall-to-wall, and I don't like that look." (11 Area Rug Rules and How to Break Them) Contemporary Family Room by Portland Interior Designers & Decorators Maven Interiors Rug materials are also a big consideration for Buckingham's clients, many of whom enjoy snacking in front of the TV. "Wool gets people nervous, because it's more expensive, but at the end of the day, if you spill something on it, wool is emollient and will repel liquid," Buckingham says. Include sufficient storage. Game consoles and other components can look like clutter when left out for everyone to see. Though Buckingham loves built-ins like this one, she says a media cabinet or console placed 20 to 26 inches below the TV can keep devices out of sight while maximizing wall space. (New Strategies for Hiding the TV) Contemporary Home Theater by Toronto Interior Designers & Decorators Robyn Clarke + Co Light it right. Varied lighting sources can go a long way toward creating ambience and improving the view of the television. "I really like to have overhead lighting, particularly canned LED lighting," Buckingham says. "It gives a glow without the glare. You really need to have a soft-feeling light to really maximize the definition on the television." She also likes to incorporate multiple lighting sources, like a chandelier that creates a focal point or eye-level lighting for those who might not be interested in watching TV. After all, the media room is today's version of the family room. You'll want your whole family to feel welcome -- whether they're knitting or watching reruns of "Seinfeld." More: How to Get That Built-in Media Wall You Really Want Where to Put Your Flat-Screen TV Tell us: Where do you watch movies and TV?  Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Home Prices Gain but at Slower Pace in July

2014-09-02 09:01:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Economy, Selling Michael Dwyer/AP By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices rose in July but at a slower rate compared with earlier this year. The moderating price increases could help support sales. Real estate data provider CoreLogic said Tuesday that prices rose 7.4 percent in July from July 2013. That was slightly below June's year-over-year increase of 7.5 percent and far below a recent peak of 11.9 percent in February. Prices rose 1.2 percent in July from June. But CoreLogic's monthly figures aren't adjusted for seasonality, such as increased buying that occurs in warm weather. The smaller price gains should make homes more affordable. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.1 percent last week, the lowest in a year. And the number of available homes rose 3.5 percent in July to the most in nearly two years. A greater supply tends to limit the bidding wars that inflate prices. Greater affordability has helped housing recover over the spring and summer after sales and construction fell earlier this year. Sales of existing homes rose for a fourth straight month in July to their strongest pace in nine months. And a measure of signed contracts also increased in July, suggesting that final sales will rise further in coming months. Home prices rose in 49 states in July from the previous year but fell in Arkansas, CoreLogic said. Michigan experienced the biggest price gain, at 11.4 percent. It was followed by Maine, at 10.6 percent; Nevada, 10.6 percent; Hawaii 10.5 percent; and California, at 10.5 percent. Prices in 11 states and Washington, D.C., have now completely rebounded from the housing bust and reached new highs. Those states are: Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont. Some mixed signals have emerged about the housing market. Home construction jumped 15.7 percent in July to an eight-month high as developers broke ground on more single-family homes and apartment buildings. But sales of new homes fell that month, which could limit future construction. Housing helped boost the economy in the April-June quarter, when growth reached an annual rate of 4.2 percent. Housing had subtracted from growth in the previous two quarters.  Permalink | Email this | Comments

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First-Time Homebuyers Can Save Big With New FHA Program

2014-08-31 12:14:00

Filed under: News, Buying The HAWK is estimated to save buyers with an FHA-average $180,000 mortgage $9,800 over the life of a 30-year loan. By Kirk Haverkamp With their low down payments and credit requirements, FHA mortgages experienced a surge in popularity as other lending dried up in the wake of the housing market crash. More recently, however, they've lost some of that luster as a series of fee increases have made them a less attractive option than they were a few years ago. Now, the FHA is trying to restore some of their appeal by giving borrowers an opportunity to scale back some of those fee increases through a pilot program called FHA HAWK. Standing for Homeowners Armed With Knowledge, it will enable first-time homebuyers who receive housing First-time homebuyers who participate in housing counseling and education programs are 30 percent less likely to default or be delinquent on their loans than those who do not. education and counseling to reduce the fees they pay for FHA mortgage insurance. Here's how it works: First-time homebuyers who want to take advantage of the program sign up for and participate in a three-part education and counseling program from a HUD-approved nonprofit housing agency. In return, the upfront premium charged for FHA mortgage insurance will be reduced from 1.75 percent of the loan amount to 1.25 percent. In addition, they'll also get a 0.10 percentage point reduction in their annual mortgage premium, which presently runs as high as 1.35 percent. If they keep up with their mortgage payments for 18 months, with no 90-day delinquencies, they'll receive a further 0.15 percentage point reduction starting in the 25th month of the loan. The pilot program is scheduled to begin on Oct. 1, 2014 and last for four years. It's estimated to save buyers with an FHA-average $180,000 mortgage $325 a year, or $9,800 over the life of a 30-year loan. Getting an Education on Your Mortgage: The FHA says it is undertaking the program to expand access to mortgage credit for underserved borrowers. According to its figures, first-time homebuyers who participate in housing counseling and education programs are 30 percent less likely to default or be delinquent on their loans than those who do not. The education and counseling elements will be provided in three parts. Prospective borrowers must undergo a minimum of six hours of pre-contract education and counseling that must be completed at least 10 days before a purchase agreement is signed. They must undergo another hour of counseling after the contract is signed but prior to closing the loan, and a final hour of post-purchase counseling within the first year of owning the home. The education element of the program may be provided in a group or classroom session, through online instruction or other formats. Counseling will be tailored to borrowers' unique circumstances or financial challenges. Depending on the agency providing the service, borrowers may have to pay for their education and counseling sessions. The National Association of Realtors estimates these could run as high as $300-$500 for the whole program, although these could be subsidized or reimbursed, according to the FHA. Actual fees will be set by the individual agencies providing education and counseling services, subject to FHA guidelines. The program is being introduced in two phases. During the first phase, the program will be limited to select lenders and housing agencies who have been invited to participate. In the second, the program will be opened up to all FHA-approved lenders and HUD-approved housing agencies who wish to take part. The lists of approved lenders and counselors chosen for Phase I of the program has not yet been released. Names and contact information for HUD-approved housing counselors who will be eligible for the program can be obtained on the HUD website. For FHA-approved lenders in your area, visit the HUD Lender List page; most major banks and many local banks and mortgage brokers are FHA-approved. In the lead-up to getting a mortgage, it's also important to know what condition your credit is in. Checking your credit reports at least several months in advance of looking for a home can give you time to correct any mistakes or address problems that could be hurting your credit. Checking your credit scores during this period can help you gauge your standing, and determine whether you'll be able to qualify for an FHA loan, or if you need to take some time to work on improving your credit. You can check your credit reports for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can use a service like Credit.com to monitor your credit scores every month for free. Kirk Haverkamp is chief staff writer and editor for MortgageLoan.com. He covers the mortgage and personal finance industry from both a consumer and industry perspective, and provides guidance for consumers on how to approach the sometimes intimidating process of obtaining the right mortgage and personal finance products for their needs. Permalink | Email this | Comments

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'Professional Tenants' and How Not to Fall Victim to Them

2014-08-30 12:23:00

Filed under: News, How To, Renting ShutterstockThe Professional Tenant can leave the landlord with a worthless judgment for thousands in unpaid rent -- and a trashed apartment. I am an attorney who has practiced in landlord tenant law for over 15 years in Massachusetts, one, if not the most, tenant-friendly states in the country. I've seen the good, bad and the ugly when it comes to tenant shenanigans. I've written all about it on my Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog. Most tenants are problem-free, yet there is a certain type who make even an experienced landlord cringe with fear: The Professional Tenant. Let me give you the profile of what I mean by a typical Professional Tenant. (This is a generalization based on my professional experience.) They have history of litigation, evictions and/or delinquency with prior landlords. They have a surprising (and dangerous) knowledge of local landlord-tenant law. They often have a background in real estate, engineering, contracting or law. They have marginal to poor credit, with a prior history of collections, judgments or bankruptcies. They have gaps in rental history. They have non-existent or incomplete prior landlord references. Now the above may sound simply like a poor rental applicant, and maybe that's true. But the Professional Tenant will make a landlord's life miserable and cost them thousands in lost rent and legal fees. Here's what a Professional Tenant will do to a landlord. The Professional Tenant's Scheme Shortly after moving in, the Professional Tenant will start to complain about small issues with the rental property. Some will complain to the local board of health to have the landlord cited for Professional rental screening techniques, experience and common sense instincts will help a landlord avoid a Professional Tenant. code violations. Often the tenant has caused these very code violations -- bathroom mold is a common situation. (Most state Sanitary Codes can trip up even the most conscientious landlord.) Based on the code violations, the Professional Tenant will stop paying rent, claiming that they are "withholding rent" due to bad property conditions. Under Massachusetts law, for example, a tenant can legally withhold rent for even the most innocuous code violations and there is no rent escrow requirement. The Professional Tenant will also assert that the landlord violated the local last-month-rent and security-deposit law, and ask for their deposit back, trying to set up the landlord for a hefty legal claim. In Massachusetts, tenants can win triple damages for deposit law violations. In the meantime, months may pass before the landlord will realize that they are being set up. The landlord will have repaired the minor code issues, only to have the tenant call the board of health again and again. The landlord is forced to start eviction proceedings, only to be met with a slew of counterclaims and defenses from the Professional Tenant. The Professional Tenant will then send the landlord a myriad of document requests and interrogatories which will often delay the eviction hearing. Months and thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees later, the landlord finally gets his day in court. And the Professional Tenant doesn't show up, leaving the landlord with a worthless judgment for thousands in unpaid rent -- and a trashed apartment. How Can Landlords Avoid the Professional Tenant? Professional rental screening techniques, experience and common sense instincts will help a landlord avoid a Professional Tenant. My advice to landlords is to make screening the most important thing you do as a landlord, and do the following: Invest in good credit history checks. Follow up with landlord references for all applicants. Call the past landlords and talk to them! Check and verify employment information. Check prior bankruptcies and court dockets. Personally interview all tenants and size them up! If someone seems fishy, they probably are. Trust your instincts! Do you have your own story about dealing with a Professional Tenant? If you do, please share them in the comments! Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Charming $100,000 Homes for Sale Across the U.S.

2014-08-30 08:01:00

Filed under: News, Buying ZillowThis Philadelphia home's stunning original details include a pillared entrance, hardwood floors and decorative windows. By Sharona Ott Purchasing a home can be a big financial step. Whether you are a first-time buyer departing from the rental market or an individual entering the investment market, finding an affordable home is of great importance. Considering that the median home value in the United States is up 6.5 percent from last year and currently sits at $174,800, finding a quality home under that price may seem like an unattainable feat. Fear not, prospective homebuyers! We've rounded up homes in well-known cities across the United States that cost approximately $100,000.  Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments

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Federal Gov't Seeks More Support for Poor Borrowers

2014-08-29 14:24:00

Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Refinancing Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesA "Making Home Affordable" sign hangs inside Freddie Mac headquarters in McLean, Va. By Jason Lange WASHINGTON -- The regulator for U.S. housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said Friday it wants the two firms to provide more support to some low-income Americans taking out mortgages and refinancing their home loans. The Federal Housing Finance Agency released proposed goals for the two state-owned firms for 2015-2017 that would advance agency chief Mel Watt's aim to widen access to housing credit. The FHFA said it wants Freddie Mac, which is second only to Fannie Mae in the amount of housing finance it provides, to gradually expand the number of loans it backs for low-income multifamily buildings, such as apartment buildings, to 230,000 in 2017 from its target of 200,000 this year. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been owned by the U.S. government since taxpayers bailed them out in 2008 during a housing market implosion. The two firms don't lend money directly, but rather buy mortgages from lenders and sell them as packaged securities with a government guarantee. They back most new U.S. mortgages, and their purchases are a major driver of credit access. Under the FHFA proposal, the two firms would continue to make sure low-income families accounted for 23 percent of the firms' purchases of single-family home mortgages. However, the firms would raise the share of their purchases that back mortgages in low-income areas with large minority populations. The proposal would also have the firms increase the share of their mortgage refinancing operations that target low-income Americans. The proposal is part of the shift at the FHFA that began in January when Watt took the helm. Watt, a Democrat who was nominated to head the agency by President Barack Obama, mothballed his predecessor's plans to scale back limits on the sizes of loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Boosting support for low-income borrowers could stir controversy in the U.S. Congress. Many Republican lawmakers think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's policies to support mortgage access for the poor helped inflate the U.S. housing bubble that eventually burst around 2006.  Permalink | Email this | Comments

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