Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

10 Tips for Saving Water in the Garden

10 Tips for Saving Water in the Garden

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

Published: April 5, 2011

Saving water in your garden translates to saving money on your water bill. Here’s how to become water-wise and still have a gorgeous yard.

1. Choose native plants

Native plants have had eons to adjust to the area’s normal rainfall, soil, and climate. Once established, they require little or no watering. Start your research on native plants at your local cooperative extension or botanical garden.

Websites such as or H2ouse can help you find the best species for your location. Portland-based PlantNative has a handy database of nurseries nationwide that specialize in native plants.

2. Don’t supersize plants

The bigger the plant, the more water it might require. So don’t plant shrubs genetically programmed to grow bigger than you need.

Before you buy, research at the library or online how tall and wide mature shrubs will grow. A Leyland Cypress, for instance, could grow to 20 feet in a few years, overkill if you only need a 5-foot hedge.

Also, don’t overcrowd plants: Follow label planting instructions. Fewer plants require less water. And flora that looks sparse at first will fill the area in a few seasons.

3. Pile on the mulch

Mulching around plants is a great way to reduce water loss. Mulch also cuts down on water-stealing weeds.

Natural mulches include compost, bark chips, and pine needles. Save money by spreading your grass clippings and ground-up leaves on flower and vegetable gardens. These organic mulches gradually break down and add nutrients to the soil.

Inorganic material, such as landscaping paper, rocks, and pebbles, are a more permanent option, although they can heat up too much in some climates.

4. Make paths porous

Garden paths made of porous material allow rainwater to seep into the ground and nourish plant roots, not run off into the street.

Use gravel, pebbles, non-mortared concrete pavers, or spaced bricks. Beware, however, that weeds will grow between paving materials. To keep down weeds, line the walk with landscaping paper (or even newspaper) before you pile on the porous material.

5. Lose the lawn

A green lawn is a suburban ideal that drinks more than 20,000 gallons of water each year.

You can keep those cool blades under your feet and save water by planting drought-resistant varieties. Bermuda and buffalo grass, for instance, require 20% less water than fescue or bluegrass, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Keep grass long to shade roots and retard evaporation. Mow less often; and when you do, raise the height of your mower blade to 3 inches.

6. Put thirsty plants together

To save water, group plants into watering zones. Place the thirstiest plants near the house where they can drink roof runoff. Farther out, make a “transition zone” for plants that need supplemental drip irrigation.

Farther still is a “natural zone” for native plants that can survive on rainfall alone.

7. Plant and water when it's cool

New plants and transplants need far less water if you put them in the ground in early fall or early spring when it’s cooler. By summer, they’ll have established a deep, healthy root system that needs less watering.

Water in the cool of the morning, when you’ll lose less water to evaporation than in the heat of the day. Resist watering at dusk; wet foliage during the night encourages fungus and mildew growth.

8. Do donuts

Trees and shrubs need extra water during their first couple of years to help roots take hold. An efficient way to keep roots moist is to mound several inches of soil into a donut-shaped berm. Make the berm the width of the tree–including branches.

Use a hose or bucket to fill the donut dam to the top. Water will absorb slowly instead of running off.

Another option: Attach a $25 to $30 drip irrigator bag to the tree. It looks like a plastic flotation tube and releases water slowly over several hours.

9. Follow the sun

Before you plant, get to know how–and how long–the sun bathes your garden. Determine patterns of shade and sun.

Use dry-soil plants in sunny areas, and use plants that require more water in shady areas where evaporation is slower.

10. Create the illusion of water

A good way to conserve water in the garden is to capture rain water from your roof in a rain barrel. During a moderate rainfall, a 25-by-40-foot roof can shed 600 gallons per hour.

All you’ll need is a capture system (roof gutters and downspouts), a storage system (large-capacity barrels) and delivery system (garden hose).

Also, use rainwater to fill water features, which calm your nerves and attract birds and butterflies. Use a recirculating pump to keep the water flowing; replace evaporation with your rain barrel supply.

Laura Fisher Kaiser is a contributing editor to Interior Design magazine and a former editor at This Old House Magazine.

May 31, 2011

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May 26, 2011

Affordability Reaches Highest Level in 20 Years!

Daily Real Estate News  |  May 26, 2011  |    Share

Affordability Reaches Highest Level in 20 Years 
Homes are more affordable to more families, according to the latest index for the first quarter of 2011 that shows affordability reaching its highest level in more than 20 years.

Nearly 75 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the first quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. The previous high was set in the fourth quarter of 2010 with 73.9 percent. 

"With interest rates remaining at historically low levels, today's report indicates that home ownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. 

The most affordable metro housing market in the nation? Syracuse, N.Y., in which 94.5 percent of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $64,300.

Other metro cities ranking high on the affordability index were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.; Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.; Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Meanwhile, the least affordable major housing market for the first quarter of 2011 was New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J.

Source: “Housing Affordability Rises to Record Level, Tight Financing Continues to Constrain Sales,”National Association of Home Builders (May 25, 2011)

May 23, 2011

What does the letters at the end of some REALTORS names mean???…..

Coco Jensen has earned her GRI, ABR, ePRO and will be getting her Associate Brokers license in June….
Daily Real Estate News  |  May 17, 2011  |   Share

More Real Estate Pros Focus on Training
REALTORS® have been focusing more on training to help them better meet the needs of clients in a housing market with unique challenges, according to the 2011 National Association of REALTOR® Member Profile.

The study’s results are representative of the nation’s REALTORS®, who account for more than half of the approximately 2 million active real estate licensees in the U.S. The typical NAR member has 12 years of experience; nine out of 10 say they are certain they will remain in the business.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said the survey shows strong growth in professional training. “REALTORS® bring value to home buyers, sellers and investors with their experience and expertise, and 35 percent currently hold at least one out of six certifications in specialized training. That is up from 24 percent in 2010 and 16 percent in 2009,” he said. “The most popular area of training for NAR members, driven by the large share of distressed homes on the market, is the Short Sales and Foreclosures Resource Certification, held by 21 percent of REALTORS®, up from 12 percent in 2009.”

The second most popular REALTOR® certification is e-Pro, held by 11 percent of members to help them better serve the online needs of clients, followed by REPA (Real Estate Professional Assistant), 5 percent.

Paul Bishop, NAR vice president of research, said NAR members also are completing classwork to qualify for designations. “Thirty-six percent of REALTORS® have obtained at least one professional designation, up from 34 percent in 2010,” he said. “These designations give NAR members additional expertise in a variety of topics, helping REALTORS® serve the specialized needs of their clients.”

The most popular designation is GRI (Graduate REALTOR® Institute), held by 21 percent of respondents; ABR® (Accredited Buyer Representative®), 13 percent; CRS® (Certified Residential Specialist®), 10 percent; and Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES®), 6 percent. Smaller shares hold one of 13 other designations.

The market has been tough for many REALTORS®, with the median income declining 4.5 percent to $34,100 last year, which followed a 3 percent decline in 2009. Members licensed as brokers earned a median of $48,700 in 2010, while sales agents earned $24,900.

NAR members in the business for two years or less earned a median of $8,900, while those in the business for 16 years or more earned $47,100. Sixteen percent earned a six-figure income, reflecting the entrepreneurial aspect of REALTOR® businesses.

Fourteen percent of REALTORS® work fewer than 20 hours per week, 30 percent work 20 to 39 hours per week, 41 percent work 40 to 59 hours and 15 percent work 60 hours per week or more.

Median REALTORS® household income, which includes business income, any secondary income and spousal or partner income, was $91,700, which is above the national median of $50,000.

Members said the most important factor keeping potential clients from completing a transaction was difficulty in obtaining a mortgage, cited by one-third of respondents. “This underscores the importance of mortgage availability to creditworthy home buyers, and the need to return to the safe, sensible underwriting standards that were in place before irresponsible lending led to the boom and bust cycle,” Phipps said.

“As we reform lending policies, it’s important to not throw the baby out with the bath water. The problem isn’t with responsible home buyers making low downpayments, but rather the consequences of risky mortgages that should never have been introduced to the market,” Phipps added.

The survey shows the typical NAR member is 56 years old and works 40 hours per week; 57 percent are women, who account for 50 percent of brokers and 63 percent of sales agents. Three percent of all REALTORS® are under 30 years of age and another 4 percent are 30 to 34 years old; 22 percent are 65 or over.

Most members are sales agents: 57 percent; 28 percent are brokers, 17 percent broker associates, 4 percent appraisers, and 1 percent other (some hold more than one license). Eleven percent of members have one personal assistant, while 3 percent have two or more personal assistants.

There are two sides to every real estate transaction – one each for the seller and the buyer. Among REALTORS® members, the median number of transaction sides handled in 2010 was eight, equivalent to four full transactions, up from seven transaction sides in 2009.

Sixty-eight percent of REALTORS® are compensated through a split commission arrangement, 18 percent receive all of the commission and another 3 percent receive a commission plus a share of profits; 11 percent received some other form of compensation. Eight out of 10 members work as independent contractors for their firms. Three out of four REALTORS® receive no fringe benefits, although 20 percent are covered by errors and omissions insurance; only 5 percent receive health insurance.

Seventy-eight percent of NAR members focus on residential sales and 72 percent have secondary real estate specialties. Sixteen percent also offer commercial brokerage, 14 percent relocation services, 14 percent commercial property management, 9 percent counseling and 8 percent land development. Smaller percentages were also in residential property management, residential appraisal, international, auction or commercial appraisal.

Residential brokerage was listed as a secondary business for 10 percent of respondents who have other primary specialties.

One-third of respondents belong to one or more of NAR’s affiliated institutes, societies or councils; the most common is CRS (Council of Residential Specialists), identified by 12 percent.

Only 6 percent of members report real estate is their first career; most bring expertise and experience from a wide range of other fields. Previous full-time careers include management, business or financial, 19 percent; sales or retail, 16 percent; office or administrative support, 9 percent; and education, 7 percent. Twelve other categories were each 5 percent or less; 14 percent were other.

REALTORS® use technology daily or nearly every day – it’s key to their success: 92 percent use e-mail, 90 percent use computers, and 72 percent use smart phones with wireless e-mail and Internet capabilities. Less frequently used technologies on a daily basis include GPS devices, instant messaging, digital cameras, and PDAs without phone capability.

Sixty-two percent of NAR members have a personal website, operational for a median of 6 years, and nine out of 10 report their firm has a Web presence. Half of the respondents use social or professional networking sites and 10 percent have a blog.

The median-sized firm has 29 licensees with one office, the same as in 2009. Four out of 10 members are affiliated with an independent, nonfranchised firm, 33 percent with a franchised subsidiary of a national or regional corporation, 21 percent are with an independent franchised company, and 5 percent with a nonfranchised subsidiary of a national or regional corporation. Respondents have typically been with their firm for five years. Eleven percent of REALTORS® report their firm was bought by or merged with another during the past two years.

Ninety-one percent REALTORS® are homeowners. In addition, they often invest in real estate and own other homes in addition to their primary residence – 43 percent own at least one investment property and 16 percent own at least one vacation home. In addition, 10 percent own at least one commercial property.

NAR members are active in the political process – 92 percent participated in the last national election and 85 percent voted in the last local election. They are well-educated, with 48 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree; 15 percent are fluent in other languages.

The 2011 National Association of REALTORS® Member Profile is based on a survey of 54,758 members which generated 8,303 usable responses, representing an adjusted response rate of 15.3 percent. Income and transaction data are for 2010, while other data represent member characteristics in early 2011. The study can be ordered by calling 800-874-6500, or online at The profile costs $19.95 for NAR members and $149.95 for nonmembers.

Source: NAR

May 16, 2011

“Is the glass half empty… or half full?”

"Is the glass half empty… or half full?" That question is one many people are debating when it comes to our economy – yes, the economy is still sluggish… but the slow recovery has helped home loan rates improve. So what developed last week…and what was the impact on home loan rates? Let's take a deeper look.

First, on the inflation front: 6.8%…that's the current year-over-year rate of Producer or Wholesale inflation. And that is hot – very hot! And while Producer or Wholesale inflation doesn't always get passed onto the consumer as evidenced by the relatively benign Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation readings, at some point one of two things must happen.

  • Businesses who are burdened with increased costs must pass the increase to the consumer by raising prices, thus boosting consumer inflation.
  • If businesses aren't in a position to raise prices because of weak consumer demand, they must absorb the increased costs…thereby lowering earnings and the ability to expand, thus furthering the present slow economic growth.

The takeaway here: One of the Fed's goals for their second round of Quantitative Easing (QE2) was to create inflation and avoid deflation in the hopes of strengthening our economic recovery. It appears that they have been somewhat successful in this goal, as the risks for deflation have somewhat abated. But remember, inflation is the arch enemy of Bonds and home loan rates. If inflation continues to heat up, this could hinder further improvement in home loan rates.

It's also important to note that inflation in China is also on the rise, and inflation abroad becomes inflation here in the US as we import so many items from China. China's buying of our debt has helped keep our home loan rates relatively low for a long time. Home loan rates would likely move higher if China not only slows buying, but were to start selling some of their near $900 Billion worth of U.S. government debt holdings.

And speaking of our debt, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are increasingly dismissive of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's warnings that Congress must raise the debt limit prior to August 2nd or risk economic "catastrophe." This will be an important development to watch in the weeks to come.

The bottom line is that, on the glass half full side of things, home loan rates still remain near some of the best levels we've seen this year. If you have been thinking about purchasing or refinancing a home, call or email me to learn more about why now is a great time to benefit from today's historically low rates. Or forward this newsletter on to someone you know who may benefit.

  Forecast for the Week  

This week, Thursday will be an especially busy day when it comes to economic reports. Be sure to look for:

  • A double dose of housing news, first with Tuesday's news about Housing Starts and Building Permitsfor April, followed by the Existing Home Sales Report on Thursday.
  • Job news with Thursday's weekly Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims Report. Last week's Initial Claims were 434,000, above expectations of 423,000 and solidly above the 400,000 mark. Staying below 400,000 is so important in order to put a dent in the stubbornly high unemployment rate.
  • Manufacturing news with Thursday's Philadelphia Fed Index, which is considered an important indicator of the manufacturing industry.

Remember: Weak economic news normally causes money to flow out of Stocks and into Bonds, helping Bonds and home loan rates improve, while strong economic news normally has the opposite result.

As you can see in the chart below, Bonds and home loan rates were unable to improve past an important technical level and on the hot inflation news. I'll be watching closely this week to see if Bonds and rates can break through this resistance and improve.


Chart: Fannie Mae 4.0% Mortgage Bond (Friday May 13, 2011)
Japanese Candlestick Chart
  The Mortgage Market Guide View…  
May 11, 2011

It’s not all doom and gloom for the houseing market…read on!

REO Inventory Reaches All-Time High
The national inventory of REO properties rose in March to a record high of 2.2 million. Foreclosure starts also increased by 33 percent month-over-month, according to the March Mortgage Monitor report by Lending Processing Services Inc.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the housing market. The report revealed a significant increase in foreclosure sales, which is helping to chip away at the swelling inventories that are battering many markets.

Also, delinquencies continue to decline, which is a sign of fewer foreclosures brewing in the pipeline. Delinquencies fell more than 11 percent in March from February — the lowest level since 2008 and a nearly 20 percent year-over-year decline, according to Lender Processing Services Inc. The total U.S. loan delinquency rate, which is for loans 30 or more days past due (but not in foreclosure), is 7.78 percent.

States with the highest percentage of loans where home owners have fallen behind are Florida, Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Georgia.

On the other hand, states that boast the lowest percentage of delinquent loans are Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Source: “Banks Build Record Foreclosure Inventory,” RISMedia (May 5, 2011)

May 10, 2011

Existing-Home Sales Rise in Most States

Existing-Home Sales Rise in Most States 
Existing-home sales continued to recover in the first quarter with gains in 49 states and the District of Columbia, while 22 percent of metropolitan areas saw prices rise from a year ago, according to the latest survey by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Total state existing-home sales, including single-family homes and condos, rose 8.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.14 million in the first quarter from 4.75 million in the fourth quarter, and are only 0.8 percent below a 5.18 million pace during the same period in 2010.

Also in the first quarter, the median existing single-family home price rose in 34 out of 153 metropolitan statistical areas from the first quarter of 2010, including four with double-digit increases; one was unchanged and 118 areas showed price declines.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home prices are all over the map. “The reading of quarterly price data can be volatile because they are based on the types of homes that are sold during the quarter. When buyers principally purchase distressed properties in a given market, the recorded prices will be very low, which is what we’re seeing now in much of the country,” he said. “Annual price data provides a better guide about the direction of the market in those areas.”

Distressed Sales Put Pressure on Prices

The national median existing single-family home price was $158,700 in the first quarter, down 4.6 percent from $166,400 in the first quarter of 2010. The median is where half sold for more and half sold for less. Distressed homes typically sold at a discount of about 20 percent, accounted for 39 percent of first quarter sales, up from 36 percent a year earlier.

Yun said lower priced homes have seen the best sales performance. “The biggest sales increase has been in the lower price ranges, which are popular with investors and cash buyers,” he said. “The preponderance of sales activity at the lower end is bringing down the median price, so what we’re seeing is the result of a change in the composition of home sales.”

Although sales are slightly below a year ago, the volume of homes sold for $100,000 or less in the first quarter was 8.9 percent higher than the first quarter of 2010, creating a downward skew on the overall median price. 

The share of all-cash home purchases rose to 33 percent in the first quarter from 27 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

More Investors in the Market

Investors accounted for 21 percent of first quarter transactions, up from 18 percent a year ago, while first-time buyers purchased 32 percent of homes, down from 42 percent in the first quarter of 2010 when a tax credit was in place. Repeat buyers accounted for a 47 percent market share in the first quarter, up from 40 percent a year earlier.

“The rising sales trend in nearly all states is a part of the healing process to clear off inventory. Sales need to rise before prices can firm up,” Yun added. 

NAR President Ron Phipps said strong sales of distressed homes are exactly what the market needs. “The good news is foreclosures, which account for two-thirds of all distressed homes sold, are selling very quickly,” he said. “Short sales still take far too long to get lender approval, but it appears the inventory of distressed property is peaking and will be gradually declining next year. This means the market should slowly return to balance. We are encouraged that recent home buyers are having exceptionally low default rates.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.85 percent in the first quarter, up from a record low 4.41 percent in the fourth quarter, but below the 5.00 percent average in the first quarter of 2010.

A Closer Look at Price Trends

In the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 53 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $152,900 in the first quarter, down 10.4 percent from the first quarter of 2010. Eleven metros showed increases in the median condo price from a year ago, one was unchanged and 41 areas had declines.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 0.8 percent in the first quarter to a level of 800,000 but are 7.3 percent below the first quarter of 2010. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast declined 5.0 percent to $234,100 in the first quarter from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 7.9 percent in the first quarter to a pace of 1.09 million but are 5.0 percent below a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest fell 5.3 percent to $124,400 in the first quarter from the same period in 2010.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 8.5 percent in the first quarter to an annual rate of 1.96 million and are 2.8 percent higher than the first quarter of 2010. The median existing single-family home price in the South slipped 0.6 percent to $141,800 in the first quarter from a year earlier.

Existing-home sales in the West jumped 13.5 percent in the first quarter to a level of 1.29 million and are 2.1 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West fell 4.7 percent to $197,400 in the first quarter from the first quarter of 2010.

Source: NAR
May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo – Broker’s Open! Food and Refreshments & $150 Gift Card Drawing!!!


May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Broker’s Open House in down CDA today 4-6pm. 916 Foster Ave, Drawing for $150 gift card!!!

Broker’s Open 5.5.pdf Download this file

Cinco de Mayo Broker’s Open House in down CDA today 4-6pm. 916 Foster Ave, Drawing for $150 gift card!!!

Drawing for a $150 Gift Card!
Thu, May 5, 4pm – 6pm GMT-07:00
916 Foster Ave
Coco Jensen, ABR, GRI, ePRO
May 3, 2011

Did You Know Your iPhone Could Do All of This?

Daily Real Estate News  |  May 3, 2011  |    Share

Did You Know Your iPhone Could Do All of This? 
You may be surprised to find some hidden features and shortcuts with your iPhone. The iPhone’s latest operating system, iOS 4.3, which is available for the iPhone 3GS and AT&T’s iPhone 4, has several of these little-known features. The New York Times recently featured more than a dozen. Here are a few: 

Screen grab: To take a picture of whatever is on your iPhone’s display, tap the home and sleep buttons at the same time. The screenshot will be saved and available in your camera roll library. 

Voice control: In a rush and need to know what time it is? You can program your phone so that by your voice prompt alone (e.g. “What time is it?”), your phone will tell you the time in response. You can also use your voice control setting to get your phone to dial a precise number or tell it to connect you with people or places already in your address book (e.g. “Dial the Office”). You can even use it to control music (e.g. “Play music”) or even get it to play a certain song, all by your voice. 

Save images from the Web: You may be looking at Web pages in Safari and want to save a photo you see. To save it, tap and then hold any image, which will then bring up buttons that allow you to save the image to your camera library or copy it to your clipboard. 

Search shortcut: With the first home screen open, swipe your finger to the right across the screen. A search window will appear, which you can use to bring up your contacts, apps, e-mails, calendar appointments, and media all via keyword search. You can also use it to quickly search Google or Wikipedia. (Those are the final two options given on each search result, in case you want to open up your search to Google or Wikipedia and not just limit it to what’s on your phone.) 

Give it a shake: Easily undo or erase what you just did. Shake the iPhone while you’re typing brings up the option to undo it. 

Quick access to voice prompts: Hold the home button down while the phone is locked. A “Voice Control” option will appear. It’s a shortcut to make phone calls or use FaceTime–iPhone’s video call feature–or quickly use any of the iPhone’s other voice commands. 

Learn more tricks to your iPhone. 

Source: “Tips to Take Your iPhone to the Next Level,” The New York Times (April 28, 2011)

Read more: 
Buyer's Guide: 2011 Smartphones