Out of Work, Not out of Home

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced a new loan program available throughout 32 states and Puerto Rico. Unemployed residents of select states are getting what HUD deems “bridge loans” for residents who may be out of work and have temporarily fallen behind on their mortgage payments. The loans are part of a $1 billion initiative from HUD and will offer loans up to $50,000.

Borrowers need to be at least 3 months behind on their mortgages to qualify for these loans and states previously ineligible for federal aid, such as Wisconsin, may now benefit. Borrowers most likely to receive this benefit are most oftentimes those in a position to resume their regular payments within 2 years.

States across the country will hopefully benefit. With fewer foreclosures on the market more homeowners will likely be able to remain in their homes, putting less stress on the banks due to foreclosures.

Homeowners with a second home will not qualify, and homeowners must demonstrate a minimum 15% decline in their income before their mortgage payments faltered.

“In crafting this new loan program, HUD built on the lessons learned from Treasury’s Hardest Hit initiative to design and implement a program to assist struggling unemployed homeowners avoid preventable foreclosures. Together these two initiatives represent a combined $8.6 billion investment to help struggling borrowers and, in doing so, further contribute to the Obama Administration’s efforts to stabilize housing markets and communities across the country,” says HUD Northwest Regional Administrator Mary McBride.

Efforts, both local and federal have been made consistently throughout the foreclosure crisis to assist homeowners who may have lost their jobs and are in danger of losing their home. States’ crisis levels vary and federal programs have answered the calls through both this program and initiatives prior.

Applications will be accepted through the end of the year and not all loans necessarily have to be repaid, a numbered amount of recipients may be eligible for this program and acceptance of the funds would essentially become a gift.

“No payment is due on the note during the 5 year term so long as the assisted household maintains the property as principal residence and remains current in his or her monthly payments on the first mortgage loan. If the homeowner meets these two conditions, the balance due shall decline by twenty percent (20%) annually, until the note is extinguished and the junior loan is terminated.”

For homeowners across the nation that fit the bill this provision from HUD may be a saving grace and a way to stay in their home.

The real estate market will benefit as well, with less foreclosure homes on the market housing prices and mortgages rates will become steadier for buyers and sellers alike. If you think you are eligible for this program contact a local realtor or check out www.hud.gov.

Samuels & Associates Pitch New Fenway Developments

The Fenway neighborhood has always held a special place in the hearts of Bostonians. The smell of hot dog and peanut vendors, the nostalgia of the run down buildings and worn streets, a stroll on them is almost like taking a page from a history book. However, a local developer has a new vision for the Fenway, one that will affect Boston real estate drastically.

Samuels & Associates of Boston filed a letter of intent earlier this month for its plan of two mixed-use buildings in the Fenway neighborhood. If approved, the builders will be renovating 132 Brookline Avenue at the corner of Brookline Avenue and Kilmarnock Street, and another building at the corner of Boylston Street and Van Ness Street. The proposal calls for the Brookline Avenue location to hold 170 high end apartments and ground floor retail, and the Boylston / Van Ness location to house a 150-unit luxury apartment building with over 400,000 square feet of retail and office space included. They also plan to build a parking lot underground at the Van Ness location that would accommodate up to 500 parking spaces. Steven Samuels of Samuel & Associates has a vision to make the Fenway more similar to a neighborhood such as the Back Bay.

This wouldn’t be Samuels’s first venture into the Fenway. His company already owns 11 buildings in the area, including luxury apartments. According to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, “This is further proof that developers are still bullish on Boston”.

Boston is one of the nation’s oldest cities but developers with a new vision of these old streets are bringing new ideas and possible revenue to the city. Retailers such as Whole Foods and Target have also discussed moving into this up and coming neighborhood, part of a continued effort known as the Fenway Triangle development that has been evolving the Fenway neighborhood into a revitalized urban village.  Samuels believes that “What will make the Fenway great is good, consistent, pedestrian-friendly retail that becomes unbroken in effect”.

Fenway Triangle Development

Bostonians pride themselves on tradition, but the city does seem to be developing with the times. And according to this article, change can be a good thing. John F. Palmieri, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, released a statement concerning these changes and is quoted saying,“We’re excited that the Samuels & Associates team wants to redevelop these parcels as it will further enliven the district with a mix of uses ensuring a thriving 24-hour neighborhood”.

24 hour neighborhoods and trendy stores will certainly increase foot traffic for the Fenway area. As the economy and real estate market begins to pick up once again, these developers are giving new life to the Fenway district.

Blighted Properties Exposed on New Website

During the real estate crisis that plagued much of the nation, many homeowners have suffered the loss of their homes. Most have fought to stay and pay their mortgages. However, there are also select property owners that have purposely let their investments fall to the wayside while the market has dipped. The property owners discussed in this article have avoided the upkeep of their homes while in the process of foreclosure or bankruptcy. This lack of maintenance or the reasons behind it are not news, however, a new tactic to handle these “blighted properties”, pioneered by Mayor Tom McMahon of Reading, PA, has made headlines.

Enforcing Property Maintenance

Until now, it has been a difficult task to enforce property owners to maintain their dwellings. Once the property is back into the hands of the lender the maintenance or tearing down of the property can resume, but that often takes months. Property owners in the neighboring area will see their homes depreciate in value during the interim.

Reading, PA Mayor Tom McMahon has come up with a unique strategy to handle this issue. In “Owners of Blighted Property Shamed Online”, McMahon discusses his idea. Rather than continue hitting a wall trying to work with irresponsible property owners, McMahon has turned to publicly shaming them by posting these decrepit houses on a new web site deemed the Reading, PA Wall of Shame. Complete with the name and address of the owner, this site contains photos of these properties, some even have cartoon bubbles mocking how damaged they are. To a few, this may seem to be an extreme approach; however, what is the best way to enforce property maintenance in a shaky market?

Reading, PA Blighted Property Wall of Shame

Many certainly understand and condone his position. A rundown property can affect an entire neighborhood’s resale value. For homeowners who have managed to pay their mortgages and maintain their homes, this can be an extremely frustrating scenario.

Neglected Properties Depreciate Neighborhoods Nationwide

“We are ramping up our focus on irresponsible property owners that are bringing blight into our city neighborhoods,” McMahon said in a statement Monday after touring one property. This one town has around 60 properties McMahon terms as “blighted” and he would like to see the number brought down. 10 of these properties are currently in court proceedings. The other 50 will simply continue to sit in their devalued state until a settlement has been made in the courts.

Most of us know that pushing paperwork in the courts takes a long time, and the more depleted a property becomes, the more a neighborhood will suffer. McMahon’s approach is unique, and definitely brings attention to these blighted properties, though residents have yet to see the results.

Potential or Location in Greater Boston?

The Boston real estate market is one of the oldest markets in the nation and with a wide variety of housing available and neighborhoods that range from multimillion dollar estates to economical fixer uppers, many Boston-based homebuyers need to stop and ask themselves this one essential question: In a buyer’s market, is the potential of a property more valuable than its location?

In Potential, Potential, Potential Rona Fischman examines this very issue. As many neighborhoods are up and coming in the greater Boston area, are buyers better off paying more for an established location and perhaps sacrificing home size, or is your dream home in a less than desirable location worth the risk?

Location, Price Point, and Sacrifices

In each instance many variables apply and as Fischman points out, you can generally tell what to expect from a property by examining what the developers have left behind. Case in point, the examples Fischman gives of a modest ranch home in Newton and a fixer upper in Somerville.

The modest ranch in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, is surrounded by homes that have been developed and turned into multi-million dollar investments. Why was this house the one stone unturned? Digging deeper, the lot on which this house is situated was not quite big enough and would not permit a two family townhome (as the developer would want to build), in fact the lot permitted the modest type of home it already housed, revealing that the maximum possibilities, (and earning potential) for this home have already been reached – this also serves as a reminder to perform ample due diligence during the purchase process.

Potential, Maximize Your Dollar, Forfeit Curb Appeal?

In her second example Fischman discusses a home in Somerville, a suburb of Boston that is evolving into a desired area, for among other reasons, expected updates to public transportation. Many homes in this area are old, run down and need extensive work. Because of the foreseeable convenience of public transportation, new schools are being built and people are beginning to move into the area. Though the location is not yet comparable to Newton, Wellesley or any other established area, the potential is building, and is far from reaching its limit.

Ask Your Realtor

There are many questions buyers must ask themselves before buying their first home. Know yourself, know your bottom line, and most importantly, know a good realtor. For some, the risk of buying a home in a growing neighborhood is not worth the safety of living in an established locale. For others, a beautiful home in a slightly less affluent area is more desirable. A good realtor familiar with your market can help you and your family find the right balance and maximize your investment.


One of the many perks of being a New England resident is the surroundings. From Boston to New Hampshire to Maine you’re surrounded by natural beauty in the landscape. In between paved lots and developed land there are a plethora of trees, mountains and coastal views as far as the eye can see. Not to mention a large amount of building resources at one’s fingertips, from granite to rich native woods such as birch, maple and pine. So why are so many housing and decoration materials imported? And, if we choose to be a “locatect”, where would we even begin? In What I Did For Local, Sarah Pinneo attempts these questions.

Buying Habits

Pinneo begins the article by stating she simply feels the “imported is best” frame of mind is old fashioned and something many of us need to grow out of. She gives the example of the Venetian windows Isabella Stewart Gardner had imported for her Boston home. Imported materials were once a sign of wealth. However, the times are beginning to change. Imported materials are cheaper than ever, it is actually sometimes more expensive to buy locally produced materials.

Why Buy Local?

Pinneo points out that supporting local business is an indirect result of being a locatect, and with the New England economy in its current state, now is a better time than ever to begin your journey.

Where the Buying Process Begins

Though it is catching on, many don’t know where to buy a granite countertop made in New England. Ironic, Pinneo notices that as a resident of the Granite State she has never seen a showroom feature New Hampshire-made granite countertops. Her advice is to consult older people of the community, who may be more in touch with their surroundings, and be willing to experiment with much smaller businesses. Consumers would be hard pressed to find locally hand carved maple stools at their neighborhood Ikea.

Increase the Value of Your Home

Pinneo points out that although there are some limitations, such as limited color palettes, beginner locatects must be open-minded. One bonus is local materials have adapted to thrive in the environment in which both you and them are present, and will likely retain their appearance once incorporated into your local home. Valuable, sturdy building materials may increase the market value of your property.

What About Those Large New Condominium Developments?

As Boston turns green, and developers strive for LEED certification of their buildings, to both attract environmentally conscious buyers and to act in a more sustainable way, it should be noted that sourcing all construction materials locally is a key mechanism for developers to gain points towards their LEED certification – the Macallen Building for instance, South Boston’s greenest large-scale condominium building developed by Pappas Properties sourced many of its materials locally in New England.

If locatecture helps the New England economy, environment and builds a stronger house, why wouldn’t we hop on the bandwagon? Pinneo sure does make this sound like an appealing real estate trend to watch.

Gulf Real Estate Market Surviving in Wake of Oil Spill

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest disasters the United States has ever had to face. Wildlife, fishermen, and the boating industry have all been drastically affected by this devastating event, but how has the real estate market in the Gulf region weathered this occurrence?

Surprisingly well, according to a survey conducted by Beaches of South Walton. Though a small percentage of travelers to Florida and other Gulf of Mexico hotspots have changed their vacation plans after the spill, this study found that a mere 1 in 20 tourists are seeking alternate accommodations.

For property owners, this is a sigh of relief-for now. Though the spill is not a deal breaker for most, it is still a slippery slope for property owners. Marketing Gulf properties for either purchase or rental when an estimated 12,000-19,000 barrels are still pouring into the Gulf each day may become more difficult as the oil continues to spread. The real question for property owners on the Gulf is not only how to attract customers, but how to keep them returning, season after season.

Real estate author Christine Karpinski, has a few tips on how to maintain an honest and profitable relationship with your seasonal renters:

1. Talk up your properties, and keep information current. Updating listing photographs as often as possible and discuss beach conditions honestly. Emphasize attractions in the area and offer incentives for positive customer reviews once their trip has been completed.

2. Offer incentives such as free meals or gas cards.

3. Make cancellation and refund policies less rigid – if you have faith in your properties then the client will as well!

4. Though it may seem like the right thing to do, do not slash prices and devalue your property. Many realtors are offering a “clean beach guarantee”, make yours with terms that are both fair to you and your seasonal renters.

5. Loosen up and be prepared to accept last minute bookings, to make up for cancellations.

An overall change in approach is what will enable property owners in the Gulf region to thrive in the wake of this disaster. Climate change, natural and man-made disasters can all have a devastating effect on coastal properties. As property circumstances change, the marketing approaches of real estate owners need to evolve as well.

“Walkability”: How Walking Distance Helps Sell Homes

Regardless of whether or not you live in a quaint, rural landscape or a bustling city neighborhood, the commodities and attractions within walking distance of your home may weigh on the minds of first time home buyers more than you’d think. Recently on HouseLogic , Sacha Cohen refers to a study conducted by CEOs for Cities where the findings showed that pedestrian-friendly areas may be more sought after than those requiring residents to drive around for their everyday necessities.

Boston Neighborhood Walkability

What designates a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, exactly? For those selling homes in places where schools, parks, businesses and other amenities are within walking distance, their houses received a higher “Walk Score” in the CEOs for Cities study (PDF), whereas those houses situated so that the locals rely on public transportation or fill up their gas tank on the way to the grocery store have lower ones. By scouring through data from nearly 100,000 real estate transactions, CEOs for Cities found that 13 out of 15 markets have the easily walkable abodes ranking higher on the value scale.

For first time home buyers, this information is valuable for two reasons.

  1. You have a better understanding as to how the value of a home is decided upon
  2. You have a point of reference for hunting out properties that are more suitable for your budget

Though testing a home’s walkability score isn’t necessarily one of the first steps to buying a house, its affect on real estate market analysis is undeniable and homeowners are now looking for ways to improve the walkability of their homes in order to up the ante on the value front. Cohen links us to a few walkability tips from John Wetmore, the producer of Perils for Pedestrians Television:

  • Trim shrubbery that’s blocking the sidewalk in front of your house.
  • Pick up trash and litter to make it a more pleasant place.
  • Support initiatives in your town to build new sidewalks and repair existing sidewalks.
  • Be polite to other drivers and pedestrians when you drive.
  • Set an example by walking more by yourself or with your family.

Even if you’re not selling homes and looking to raise the bar when it comes to your property value or if you’re just starting out on the house hunt, Cohen’s raised points regarding walkability are important when it comes to the safety and value of your new or current neighborhood.

Best Places to Live 2010: Massachusetts Real Estate

The most recent cover of Boston Magazine offers readers a look into 23 of the most sought after communities and trendiest neighborhoods in Massachusetts – in short, the best places to live in Massachusetts. Through comparing the median home or condominium prices and spikes in sales since the market peak, Boston Magazine provides profiles of numerous cities and towns from various regions across the state. These 23 communities are then divvied up into the following three categories:

  1. Gold Standards, for the tried and true real estate hot spots in Massachusetts
  2. Bangs for your buck and worthwhile investments are considered to be Best Values
  3. Opportunity Knocks sheds light on the communities that have major selling points but have yet to reach their full potential on the popularity scale, largely for first time home buyers looking to settle in an up-and-coming spot

By showcasing towns based on these criteria, Boston Magazine has put together a veritable guide to Massachusetts for those taking the first steps in buying a house and those selling homes in Boston and beyond.

Real estate riches in Massachusetts: Winchester, Westwood, Brookline, Hingham, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Concord.

The cities and towns dubbed Golden Standards by Boston Magazine have been so for years for their excellent school systems, staggering property values and countless perks in the form of restaurants, theaters and historic landmarks. Buying a home for the first time in these towns can be pricey, but deals can be found amongst the property listings even if home sales statistics have dropped considerably in these areas over the past few years.

Best Values for First Time Home Buyers in Massachusetts: Jamaica Plain, Norwell, Essex, Natick, Burlington and Foxboro.

With the tax credit for home purchases inspiring house hunters to seriously consider putting a payment down, communities boasting numerous perks with low living costs are a natural fit for first time home buyers. Jamaica Plain was the city pick as one of the most desirable places to live in Massachusetts for its vibrant artistic community, sprawling green spaces and neighboring proximity to Boston proper. For those selling homes and looking to move to the suburbs, Burlington, Foxboro and Natick all made the cut as fantastic values for their affordable prices, notable local attractions and easy accessibility to major highways and public transit.

Selling Homes in Massachusetts’ Up-and-coming Communities: Watertown, Pembroke, Melrose, Hamilton-Wenham, Sharon and more.

Steep tax rates, administrative tiffs and mediocre locations have these towns listed as up-and-coming communities for their potential and their trade-offs: Owners are selling homes at reasonable prices, great school systems and lively restaurant and seasonal scenes are the big attractions when it comes to those towns in the Opportunity Knocks category. First time home buyers shouldn’t shy away from towns like Watertown (entry only Watertown MLSl listings), Pembroke and Sharon without carefully examining the pros and cons, as the benefits of living in one of these communities on the cusp of trendy could far outweigh the pitfalls depending on what you’re looking for.

Green MLS Tool Kit Helps Find “Green” Properties

Sustainable, local, eco-friendly: These are all “green” buzzwords that have been making their mark on consumer trends in fashion, food, and now most recently, real estate. As consumers grow more and more conscious of the effects their daily spending can have on the environment, “going green” is a lifestyle choice that has begun, and will grow in prevalence, to affect real estate market analysis. In a recent post published by the National Association of Realtors, the Green MLS Tool Kit is introduced as a helpful resource for first time home buyers and realtors alike to look for green homes.

As quoted on Realtor.org:

“Realtors® are the best source for real estate information and have access to the most comprehensive data in the world,” said NAR President Vicki Cox Golder, owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associate in Tucson, Ariz. “NAR research has consistently shown that there is a considerable and growing market for green buildings. The approach of Earth Day on April 22 only underscores the fact that many of today’s consumers want homes and communities that are sensitive to the larger environment. The Green MLS Tool Kit allows Realtors® to support this growing market.”

Whether selling commercial properties or walking prospective new owners through the steps to buying a house on a greener scale, the Green MLS Tool Kit is one that will help realtors, and in turn, their eco-savvy clients, with finding the perfect green property. The National Association of Realtors continues on to discuss the merits of the tool kit, drawing attention to its suggestions for effective changes within the green home industry while introducing multiple resources for NAR members to get their MLS on the green side.

In addition to taking the wellbeing of the environment into consideration, going green has numerous cost-effective benefits that are particularly attractive to first time home buyers. Through the advantages of the Green MLS Tool Kit, more informed choices regarding aspects of green living are now integral discussion points for realtors, homeowners, and those who are seeing the industry-changing affects “going green” can have on the national real estate market.

President Obama’s Short Sale Program

Since the Obama Administration took office, it seemed that their goal was to keep home owners in their homes. Now, the strategy appears to have changed with a recent announcement from the U.S. Treasury. Recently, the Treasury revealed that it would encourage home owners to leave their properties – by paying them. It is believed that the new plan will prompt home owners that are behind on their mortgages to choose short sales, which could reduce the amount of foreclosures throughout America.

During short sales, home owners who are delinquent on their mortgages agree to sell their houses for less than the remaining balance of the loan. In return, banks and mortgage lenders agree to undertake losses (in lieu of not receiving any debt service from borrowers).

With an increase in short sales being eminent, many people are wondering what bearing Obama’s short sale plan will have on the real estate market. With the new plan coming into play, there are a few things people with a mortgage can expect.

First, fewer people may pursue loan modifications. In the recent past, big banks said that they were committed to helping struggling home owners who had defaulted on their mortgages. Yet, according to ABC News, of the 1.1 million people that have requested help from banks, only 168,000 have completed loan modifications this year. With the loan modification success rate being so low, more home owners may view short sales as a viable option.

Next, the number of foreclosures may decrease as the number of short sales continues to increase. Finally, more home buyers will choose to purchase short sale properties. Prior to the plan, home buyers and real estate agents wanted little to do with short sales because these real estate transactions involve long waits and complicated paperwork. Now, due to the increase in short sales and bargain prices, more home buyers will stop turning a blind eye to these types of properties.

While it is still too early to determine how US real estate markets will be impacted by the President’s short sale plan, it is apparent that more home owners will be persuaded to sell their homes and receive a payout than enter into foreclosure.