Thinking of Renovating your Bathroom?

Here are some ideas of WHAT NOT TO DO!

(Sent by my niece's husband. Thanks, Pierre!)

Hope I made you laugh!


Looking for a Fun Christmas Outing?

We recently heard about the lights on 34th Street in Baltimore and went to check it out.

It was so much fun! It is one block of the city (in Hampden) that really goes all out decorating their houses. You will see some unique things here that you are unlikely to see anywhere else! They've been doing this for 65 years!

For more information, you can go to their website HERE.

It appears there will be carolers on Saturday!

I highly recommend this as a fun excursion for the whole family. A little piece of Baltimore that most people never see.

I bet you'll see things here that you've never seen before....

Like Christmas Ravens...
Pouring Beer...

Pink Flamingos...

More Inflatables in Less Space than you can imagine...

Crabs made out of bicycle parts and tools...

Beer Angels...

Snowmen made out of bicycle wheels...

A Christmas Tree made out of hubcaps...

A Creche made out of records....
A wreath made out of wine bottles...

An LP Tree...

And so much more!


You should go!

Merry Christmas!


Housing - So Much More Affordable - What does it mean?

Whenever housing is more affordable (as it is now), it's a really good thing - not only for homeowners but for everybody. A few years back if a buyer purchased and financed a typical 90% loan of $350,000 at 6%, the payments would have been about $2098/month. Today the same home might cost $270,000, and with an interest rate of 3.5%  would run around $1212/month. That's about a 58% drop! Imagine, $886 per month more in disposable income each month. 

That translates into more buying/spending power which helps speed economic recovery for many years. The combination of lower prices and interest rates may have added as much as 12-15% to a homeowner's take home pay. A very big and happy number! 


"Sandy Don't Come Here - Go Home"

That was a sign I saw on a condemned building in Union Beach NJ.

Recently I had the privilege to participate in the disaster relief effort in New Jersey and witness first hand the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. A good sized contingent from our church traveled up to East Brunswick, New Jersey and the Union Beach neighborhood. To the North we could see the Manhattan skyline. Looking South to these neighborhoods what we saw was simply overwhelming. Words cannot describe the staggering losses people have suffered. We worked to clear debris and remove drywall in homes damaged by the seawater surge. In some areas water was close to 6 feet above street level. Mold is a big problem, so we removed carpet and opened walls to allow the drying process to start. We saw lots homes that were damaged that had not even been helped yet. So many will be condemned due to mold and rot if they are not rescued soon. 

It was heartwarming to speak to residents who were so appreciative of our help. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is for them to carry on. Homes and business have been lost, and they couldn't have been more kind and gracious to us. Tragedy often brings out the very best in people. That spirit was certainly on  display in Union Beach. 

Here are some photos that give some sense of the damage.

Waiting for our assignments with the Manhattan Skyline on the horizon .

Islamic Relief USA was there as well.
My camera reversed the lettering on his sweater!
They said they were the Smurfs, and we were the Bees.

Tearing it up!

Complete devastation

All that's left

Only the foundation and the rubble remain

High water mark is over my head!

"Warren Buffett Just Made a Huge Bet on the US Housing Market"

What a headline! Warren Buffer just bet on the housing turnaround by accelerating his purchases of real estate brokerages in the US and Canada. Operating as Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, he is looking to position himself to take advantage of the coming housing recovery. I wonder what he sees that most homeowners in the US haven't yet realized? Clearly he is bullish on the home market rebounding and plans to take advantage of that opportunity. Are you with him? I am. 


Hanging pictures drives me crazy!

This looks like a pretty nifty device to help hang pictures properly every time. I've watched the videos and it looks pretty simple and easy. Has anyone ever used this tool personally? I'd love to hear any reviews. 


Reduce Your Mortgage Faster! Save for College or Retirement!

Low home prices mean reduced mortgage amounts. Low interest rates save you even more. How about taking it to the next level and pay off your mortgage even faster? Here are some ideas I picked up in a recent Toronto Star article. 

Making mortgage payments for 20 to 30 years can take a huge bite out of your budget, even with low interest rates. A $300,000 mortgage at 3.29 per cent, amortized over 30 years will cost $161,300 in interest.
Yet it’s surprisingly easy to reduce your amortization – and the amount of interest you’ll pay.  When you’re mortgage free, a big part of your budget will become available to help achieve your other financial goals.
Here are three ways to become mortgage free faster:
1. Make a lump sum payment
A lump sum payment, or prepayment, reduces your outstanding principal.  The sooner you can make a prepayment, the less interest you’ll pay over the long term.
Coming up with a large lump sum - up to $75,000 on a $300,000 mortgage - is next to impossible for most people. But even a small sum – from a bonus or tax refund, for instance – can reduce your overall interest amount.
2. Increase the amount of your payments
Most mortgage lenders allow you increase your payment by 10 to 100 per cent, but there may be a fee if you change it again during the calendar year.  This option is easier than coming up with a large lump sum. 
Paying an extra $100 a month on a $300,000 mortgage at 3.29 per cent over 30 years will save you more than $11,000 and reduce the amortization by 3 1/2 years.
3. Make more frequent payments
Financial institutions offer a number of payment options. If you decide to make more frequent payments, make sure you choose an accelerated option.  Accelerated bi-weekly payments can save you thousands in interest charges because you’ll make the equivalent of one extra monthly payment each year.
There is very little extra savings if you just switch to a more frequent payment without taking the “accelerated” option.
On the same $300,000 mortgage as above, a bi-weekly payment will save $289 in interest over the life of the mortgage. On the other hand, with an accelerated bi-weekly payment (an extra $50 per payment) you’ll save more than $18,000 over the life of the mortgage.
You can save thousands in interest by paying off your mortgage as fast as your budget allows. Contact your mortgage lender for your payment options and any penalties or fees you may be required to pay.
Best of Luck!

Great New APP! And It's FREE!

If you are tired of the outdated information you keep getting from Those-Big-Name-Real-Estate-Sites, then this is the app for you!
  • Current and accurate information
  • Direct from the MLS
  • In real time
  • Delivered right to your phone

No more finding the perfect home on the internet, only to find it went under contract two weeks ago.

You can find the listing information on any home instantly on your own cell phone. It's awesome!

To sign up, just Click Here. You will be able to input your phone number (which is only used to send you the app!), and start finding great, ACCURATE information immediately!

This is technology at its best!



What the Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors Has to Say About the Current Market

According to Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors, the first half of 2012 is the best half year we have seen in five years.  Although credit standards are still too strict (in Yun's opinion), there are plenty of buyers that are swooping in and taking advantage of the prime opportunity to buy while both interest rates and home prices are still low.

Yun notes that that there has been an uptick in investor purchases. He also says the greatest opportunity in the coming months will come from the increased cost of rental housing which will cause more people to consider purchasing. 

There is also a pent-up demand for home ownership among the three million immigrants that come to the United States each year. Normally the immigration traffic creates one million household formation each year, but that hasn't occured in the past few years. This suggests that many coming to this country have taken up residence with family until the housing market improves.  

As is also the case with many college students who, for the past five years, have elected to move back home rather than seek out their own households. 

It seems that we are finally working our way back to a healthy housing market.


Psst - I have also heard that home values officially bottomed this past January/February. Good to know.

Catching the Green Wave

I am constantly aware of the need to be more green in all we do. Since I was born (I won't tell when) the earth's population has doubled! That is a big number, and living on the Eastern US Seaboard where there are millions and millions of people, going green is critically important. 

Here is an interesting article about the greening of new home construction. It contains some ideas you can apply in your existing home - at very little expense. One thing we can encourage legislators in Maryland to do is change building code to require 6" exterior walls instead of the 4" walls currently used. R20 walls should be the norm here. They have been in other areas of the country for over 20 years. We are really lagging behind! 

Sunwest Development is a construction company in St George, UT, that builds beautiful, quality homes. I like to be on their email list, because they send out good information. 

Click Here to Read about the Greening of Construction

Just in Time for Father's Day!

I just read this great article, "5 Priceless Real Estate Tips From My Dad"

This really is a terrific article. Practical advice, clearly stated. 



Who's Your DaDa!?

My wife tells me that she once heard a teacher's goal is not to teach until someone understands, but to teach until there is no possibility of misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, sometimes when we think we are teaching something very clearly, we find we actually are not. Take my son-in-law, for example. He worked very hard to teach his little daughter to say DaDa. He did a great job! She learned the word, she's just a little confused as to the meaning. 

May we all try to communicate clearly and well, whether we are talking about real estate, or discussing who is who.


Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I just read THIS GREAT ARTICLE that I found really interesting!

In 1960 a twenty year study was begun of 1,500 people. At the end of the study, 83 were millionaires.

The study found these characteristics common between the millionaires:

  1. They were persistent
  2. They were patient
  3. They were willing to handle both the “nobler and the pettier” aspects of their job
  4. They had an increasingly noncompetitive attitude towards the people with whom they worked
  5. Their investment activities — aside from their main career — consumed a
    minimum of their time and attention.
I find this very interesting, particularly as I watch my daughter and her husband create their own livelihood out of their passion and skills. When my daughter graduated University with a double major in English and French and a minor in Editing, I never thought she'd be making her living as a Graphic Designer!

PS - Here's their website!

How Hard is it to Get a Loan?

  • "Why is it so difficult to get a loan these days?"
  • "What is wrong with lenders that they won't lend?" 
  • "Can I get a loan in this difficult market?" 

All good questions that I hear regularly. This is a great article (a little long but certainly worth the read) that answers these questions and more about our current lending market. It was sent to me by one of the excellent lenders I refer regularly. If you are thinking about purchasing a home and are wondering about what to expect when you apply for a loan you'll want to read this. Especially the last three paragraphs. If not, pass it on to someone you know who might be thinking of buying. It is an excellent example of reality being much different that what is reported in the media. 

Bottom line - you can get a loan. Here's how you do it.

Click Here

Doing One Thing at a Time

My business is such that I could literally run 24/7 and still not get it all done. I live my life on call and I never know when someone will pop up with a referral. I love it and am always ready to spring into action. That's the good side. 

The bad side is it's easy for the lines between business and personal life to blurr so much that boundaries completely disappear. That situation isn't healthy nor is it conducive to good business. Nobody can run all the time and ever hope to be good at anything. I work hard at making sure the saw is sharp and there is good balance in my life. It isn't easy.

I thought this blog by Tony Schwartz addressed our modern reality and reaffirmed some age old principles that apply no matter what.

I'd like to share them with you.


The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time


A Matter of Timing - For Cherry Blossoms and Real Estate!

Recently our daughter-in-law Megan came to town. She had meetings in DC, so she flew in a couple of days early to visit with us. She really wanted to see the Cherry Blossoms in DC. She was coming the last weekend in March, so her timing was good. We knew the blossoms would peak early this year, with our early Spring and all, but still thought she would be okay. Peak Bloom (as determined HERE) would be ending just 2 days before she was scheduled to arrive. 

She arrived late Friday night. Saturday was spent in Historical Ellicott City and Columbia, and Saturday night - it rained. It rained pretty hard. 

Sunday morning my wife and Megan took their cameras and went on a "Girls Trip" to DC to see the Cherry Blossoms.

IF it hadn't been for the rain - it would have been fine. But they ended up getting lots of interesting pictures of cherry blossom petals that were everywhere BUT on the cherry trees. They had a lovely morning taking pictures of the petals and almost bare trees. 

All ended well - but they thought about all the tourists who plan ahead, book vacations, and make their best guesses in an uncertain future (when exactly are those trees going to bloom?), and then, fully committed, come to DC after it is all over. OR - before it even begins. It's all a matter of timing.

I can see a correlation with Real Estate. There are all sorts of articles floating around right now about how NOW is the best time to jump in and purchase a home. But so many people are afraid of making a mistake - and with good reason! They've seen friends and family who overpaid for a home right before the "bubble burst." And we've all seen the repercussions of that.

But - prices are down right now and loan rates continue to be the lowest they've been for years. Home buying affordability is at a 40 year high. Interest rates will go up at some point – I expect to see that happen in the next 8 -10 months. I believe now IS a good time to buy. Every day we hear positive reports about our economy. The good news stories far outweigh the negative and that’s a sure sign things are turning around.

Like the Cherry Blossoms, timing is key! You don't want to wait for the market to solidify and for prices and mortgage rates to rise before you make your home purchase. You want to make that move now, while you can still get some great deals and terrific financing.

Best of Luck!


P.S. BIG TIP: We have learned the best time to see the Cherry Blossoms is early on a Sunday morning. The tourists aren't quite all out of bed yet, you can find parking, and you can actually walk around the Tidal Basin without becoming claustrophobic because of the hordes of people who are trying to walk with/against you! Just check ahead of time to make sure there isn't an event like a RACE planned for that Sunday morning - because that makes it just impossible!

Emotional Mistakes Homeowners Make in the Real Estate Market

I thought this was an excellent article and wanted to share it with you.


By Michael Estrin
Scripps Howard News Service,,
Posted:   03/01/2012 04:23:51 PM PST

(Link to the article is HERE)

The greatest hindrance to the sale of a home can be a seller who is seized by emotion.
Home sellers who allow emotions and sentimental attachments to overtake them during the sales process run the risk of making hasty, sometimes poor decisions.

One is to overprice the property. Getting top dollar is the dream of every home seller. But getting a buyer to pay a premium for features that are valuable only to you? That's closer to fantasy, according to Tracie Hamersley, associate broker at Citi Habitats in New York City.

Overpricing often occurs because of emotional reasons," Hamersley says. "So many sellers make the mistake of thinking that their home is special and that a special buyer will pay more because they also fell in love with the property."

The truth is prices have nothing to do with the seller's emotional affinity for the property, and according to Hamersley, it's important sellers understand that as early as possible.

Sellers who bought at the top of the market likely won't see that same price from today's buyers.

"It's a different market," Hamersley explains. "If a seller bought their home during the market's peak, they may have to face the unappealing prospect of losing money on the sale in today's market."

Another common home-seller error is going to a showing. There are a lot of legitimate reasons why a seller might want to be present for the home's showing. But having a seller there tends to
sour the experience for most buyers, according to Renee Weinberg of Petrey Real Estate in Long Beach, N.Y.

"Getting the seller out of the house is key," Weinberg says. "Whenever we take a listing, this is explained in advance."

According to Karyn Anjali Glubis, a real estate broker and owner of The Real Estate Expert in Tampa, Fla., sellers are sensitive when buyers nitpick flaws. "Sellers think that every little thing is a complaint against how they may have maintained a property," Glubis says. The reality is that observations from buyers -- though sometimes harsh -- have nothing to do with the person selling the home.

Having a seller present for an open house or the first (or even second) showing tends to stifle potential buyers from expressing opinions. After hearing negative feedback, some sellers reject offers for emotional reasons, Weinberg says.

Sellers also should be careful not to let their emotions lead them to reject early offers. The longer a property sits on the market, the worse the offers are likely to get, says Nick Jabbour, vice president of Nest Seekers International.

"Once a property is marketed, it will receive the most attention during the first two weeks," Jabbour says. "(The home is) new to the market, and any buyers that have been in the market for a home will see it come up. If it is priced right, an educated buyer, (who has) been in the market for a while (and) sees the home as a fit, will put a serious foot forward."

Sometimes early bids run the risk of spooking sellers who worry they underpriced their properties. But Jabbour says you can tell the property was priced correctly when an early offer is near the asking price, as long as the asking price is in line with the market.

Finally, when you're selling your home it's easy to take everything personally. But doing so is a big mistake, according to Fiona Dogan, a realtor in the Rye, N.Y., office of Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty.

"Sellers need to become emotionally detached very quickly from their homes," Dogan says. "By its very nature, a real estate transaction is aggressive and confrontational since the seller wants the highest price and the buyer wants the lowest."

That negotiation almost always means a buyer will point out every flaw with the property. But while hearing that information may sting a little, it's really a good sign, according to Dogan, because it means the buyer is serious.


Mortgage rates dropped back to record lows this week, despite signs the economy is strengthening.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell 6 basis points to 4.1 percent. A basis point is one-hundredth of 1 percentage point.

The 15-year fixed-rate fell 3 basis points to 3.35 percent. The average rate for 30-year jumbo mortgages, or generally for those of more than $417,000, fell 2 basis points to 4.63 percent.

The 5/1 ARM fell 8 basis points to 3.04 percent. With a 5/1 ARM, the rate is fixed for five years and adjusted annually thereafter.

A Little Known Fact About FHA Mortgages

One of the rarely touted advantages of people taking FHA mortgages today is the fact that they are assumable. What that means is, when the FHA homebuyer of today is looking to sell his home, a qualified purchaser can “take over” their loan.

Most people believe that interest rates will return to a “normal” range (between 6.5% and 7%) in a couple of years. When you assume a mortgage, the terms remain the same. This means that a buyer five years from now can enjoy a 4 – 4.5% mortgage by assumption rather than the 6.5% – 7% mortgage they would get without it. Since most people buy homes based on how the monthly payment fits into their personal monthly budget, this is extremely impactful.

As an example, a $300,000 loan at 4% today carries with it a $1,432.25 principal and interest payment on a 30 year fixed mortgage. If offered for sale in five years, the purchaser could assume the $271,858.56 balance with the same $1,432.25 payment and remaining term of 25 years. The total payments over the 25 years would be $429,675.

Compare that to a new $272,000 loan at 6.5% for 25 years, which would carry a monthly payment of $1,836.56 (over $400 more a month than the assumption and more than $120,000 more over the 25 year term).
At 6.5% for 25 years, to wind up with the same payment as the assumed mortgage, our borrowers would only be getting $212,000…$60,000 LESS!

The point here is that, when rates go up, homes with assumable mortgages will have more value and will sell at higher prices because they are more affordable. As an additional bonus, the closing costs on assumable mortgages are significantly less (especially here in New York where NYS Mortgage Tax is such a large component of closing costs).

The borrowers must be credit-worthy of course (have good credit, qualifying income, and necessary assets to close), but they would have to be credit-worthy to get a new mortgage too!

Besides the multiple other reasons to obtain an FHA mortgage (low down payment requirements, extended income ratios, lower credit scores, and easier sourcing of funds), there is another perk. In the future, there is a good chance that you may be able to sell your home for more money because of the FHA loan’s assumability.

How Can Renters Solve the Housing Crisis?

This article highlights the current investment opportunity in real estate. Even though there is a great opportunity, these articles typically reflect the national picture. Our local opportunity is even better when you add in:
  • the stability of our regional employment
  • the Ft. Meade BRAC program (which is initially bringing in 22,000 jobs)
  • the strength of area schools
  • local income levels being some of the highest in the country 
and you have a pretty spectacular result. There are special investor loan programs available. Let me know if you'd like information on how you can profit from the housing crisis.
Full Article if you prefer -
Residential real estate is not rocket science. We know that this housing crisis is:
1. Explainable – bad lending, mad speculation, wild expectations, government meddling
2. Isolated – bad mortgages, negative equity, strategic default, government meddling
3. Temporary – demand for housing always catches up to supply eventually

Anyone with any experience and perspective will agree that this market will recover over the next 10 years, but what will this particular recovery look like? Since the root of the problem was unprecedented, the solution might be as well.

My belief is that renters are going to solve the housing crisis.

Homeownership rates have fallen by a few percentage points, which has translated into more than four million new rental households in just the past few years. According to the Census, 1.4 million of those were added between July 2010 and June 2011, showing that this trend is accelerating.

As a result, rental rates are growing at more than 5% per year, and this trend is also accelerating.

As a result of this, investors are pouring capital into American housing with a long-term mindset, kicking this trend into hyperspeed.

This crisis will not be solved by enticing home buyers. Their confidence is waiting for unemployment to come down and government to act responsibly, which could take a while.

But investors are confident right now. Why? Because they see the big picture. Rental demand equals stable cash flow. So what can be done to encourage them?

How about eliminating archaic waiting periods for investors who want to buy foreclosures? How about eliminating waiting periods for investors who paid cash and want to tap it with a refinance? Today they have to wait months to put that money back to work. Why not eliminate the overall bias against investors in FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and require big down payments to make it safe to lend, and lend?

Better yet, keep your eyes peeled for a private sector player to seize this opportunity to create America’s first national investor mortgage brand. The estimates are that half a million investor loans close every year, and who owns that niche? No one.

The Martial Arts teach you how to use the weight and momentum of your opponent against them (or so they say in the movies). This is the same thing. This drastic increase in rental demand is a by-product of the foreclosure crisis. Use it against the crisis by turning it into positive cash flow investments for those willing to be confident and take a risk in this environment.

Burn off that shadow inventory and create housing options for newly minted renters, which will, in turn, stabilize rental rates, and everybody wins. Good credit renters and buy-hold investors will be the heroes at the end of this saga.