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Browse Topics > Real Estate CATEGORIES 
Are you looking for a home? Selling a home? Do you have real estate questions or answers? Tax Issues? Whatever the case, don’t keep all of your secrets to yourself, discuss with others!
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Why Renting Works in a Buyer’s Housing Market
By Morgan Korn | Daily Ticker
Americans have a lot of questions about the housing market. Has the housing market bottomed? When will home prices start rising? Should I buy or rent? Jack Otter, executive producer of CBS MoneyWatch, explores some of these questions in his new book ’Worth It…Not Worth It?’ The real estate market presents a conundrum for many Americans looking to sell their homes or become a first-time homeowner. A recent study by The Demand Institute, a division of the Conference Board, found that many Americans, despite having been financially hurt from the housing market crash, still have a strong desire to buy a home. The survey revealed that more than 80 percent of Americans thought buying a home remained the best long-term investment they could make -- even though home prices in February were near October 2002 lows. In an interview with The Daily Ticker, Otter lists the common scenarios facing homeowners and gives his smartest recommendations.
Buying versus Renting
Buying a home today could arguably be one of the best times in recent history, as the interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage has fallen below 4 percent. Otter says buying makes economic sense if you plan on staying in your job or neighborhood for at least the next 10 to 20 years. But in this job market, where employment opportunities remain scarce and individuals have to be more flexible, renting would be the ideal situation. ’I think it’s a great time to buy a house but don’t buy a house just cause you think you’re supposed to,’ Otter says. ’Buy a house because you’re going to live in it for a while.’ He notes that owning a home is akin to a piggy bank. It should not be viewed as an investment and should definitely not be regarded as a way to become rich.
Older House versus Newer House
Otter unequivocally recommends buying the older home on the market. A glut of existing homes has drastically reduced prices, which could fall further (bad for those trying to sell). Older homes have their perks -- i.e. charm, nice neighbors, a leafy lane -- and drawbacks (i.e. a boiler on life support, need for a new roof) -- but they are the best and most affordable deal for Americans wanting to own. Newer homes do come with shiny, modern appliances but less of them are being built, thus pushing up prices. Construction on new homes dropped 2.6 percent in April and construction permits fell 7 percent last month, evidence that demand in the housing market remains weak and homebuilders are reluctant to break ground on new developments.
Real Estate Broker versus For Sale By Owner
Otter says it pays to hire an expert to sell your home. Most Americans may not have the marketing expertise -- or the time -- to devote to selling their home. Real estate brokers are professionals and have the knowledge, patience and organizational skills to bring in would-be buyers. Moreover, they’re good negotiators. Yes, those who decide on the ’for sale by owner’ route may end up with a little more money in their pocket, but in this tough housing market, real estate broker fees can be discussed and haggled, Otter says.
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World’s tallest buildings
By Bethany Lyttle, Forbes.com
May 9, 2012
Few national milestones will mean more to Americans than the completion of One World Trade, the centerpiece of an effort to memorialize and rebuild after 9/11. Already the tallest building in New York City as of April 30, One World Trade’s final height will rise 1,776 feet into Manhattan’s skyline, a direct reference to 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. When construction is complete in 2013, the structure will be distinguished as the third-tallest building in the world and the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.

But until then, the record for tallest completed building on the western half of the globe goes to Chicago‘s Willis Tower, according to the official word from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats, which measures from the level of the lowest entrance to the architectural top of the building, including spires, but not including antennae, signage, flag poles or other functional-technical equipment.
The tallest building on the planet? The Burj Khalifa, an architectural marvel in the desert kingdom of Dubai. As for the rest of the top 10, Asia lays claim to all (five of them in China), save for the Willis Tower, the eighth-tallest building in the world.

China’s lion’s share of the world’s tallest buildings is led by the Shanghai World Financial Center, which towers over the Pudong district of Shanghai, China. Designed by American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, the structure tops out at 1,614 feet and features shopping malls, office space, conference rooms, and a hotel in the clouds. The 174-room Park Hyatt Shanghai, which occupies 35 floors of the building, is ranked as the second-highest hotel in the world.

Still, it’s just a matter of time before the Shanghai World Financial Center will be overshadowed by another. The Shanghai Tower, currently under construction with completion scheduled for 2014, will be the second-tallest building in the world. It will stand an astounding 2,073 feet high. Getting to its top will require racing toward the clouds in one of the building’s 106 elevators, and this will happen at speeds that will clock in at about 3,281 feet per minute.

Plans for an even taller building are under way in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom Tower has been approved for construction on a site that overlooks the Red Sea. If completed as designed, it will be the first building in the world to surpass the 100-kilometer mark. For now, here are the world’s five tallest:

No. 5: Petronas Towers 1 and 2
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Height: 1,483 feet
Use: Office

No. 4: International Commerce Centre
Location: Hong Kong, China
Height: 1,588
Use: Hotel, office

No. 3: Shanghai World Financial Center
Location: Shanghai, China
Height: 1,614 feet
Use: Hotel, office

No. 2: Taipei 101
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Height: 1,667 feet
Use: Office

No. 1: Burj Khalifa
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Height: 2,717 feet
Use: Office, residential, hotel

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Buying a home won’t get much cheaper
By Les Christie @CNNMoney May 3, 2012: 11:48 AM ET
Several housing experts are predicting that this year will be the last chance for homebuyers to cash in on the weak housing market.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Buying a home may never get any cheaper than this. Several housing experts are predicting that this year will be the last chance for bargain hunters to cash in on the best deals of the weak housing market.
With home prices down 34% nationally since 2006 and mortgage rates at historic lows, homes have never been more affordable -- but it won’t stay this way for much longer.
Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services (PNC, Fortune 500), said he expects home prices to flatten out by the third quarter and start climbing by next year.
A number of factors will help bolster the housing market, he said, including a decline in the number of foreclosures and continued job growth. In addition, homebuyers will have better access to mortgages as they get their finances in order and improve their credit scores.
Some economists, like Trulia’s Jed Kolko, expect home prices to pick up even more quickly. Trulia’s data shows that the national average for asking prices already increased 1.4% in the first quarter of 2012, compared with the last three months of 2011.
Mortgage payments at lowest level in decades
’This is a strong indicator that we will start seeing home price indexes, like the S&P/Case-Shiller, start to report home price increases this summer,’ he said.
Prospective homebuyers who’ve been sitting on the fence shouldn’t worry if they aren’t quite ready to make the leap. Analysts are predicting that the initial price gains will be modest, at least, in most markets.
Hoffman, for example, is forecasting a 2% increase in 2013 compared with 2012. Meanwhile David Stiff, chief economist for Fiserv, predicts that prices will turn in the last quarter of 2012 and will rise 4.2% for the 12 months through September 2013.
Foreclosures start to fade. One major factor that will drive the trend is the cooling of the foreclosure crisis. Stan Humphries, chief economist for Zillow, said that the percentage of mortgage loans 90 days or more late, a good predictor of future foreclosures, is ’falling fast.’
That percentage dropped 15% year-over-year to 3.1% through the end of 2011, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. And the decline is accelerating: More than 70% of the decline came in the last three months of the year.
Before things slow down, however, buyers should brace themselves for a temporary spike in the number of foreclosures as banks start expediting the processing of hundreds of thousands foreclosures that were stuck in the system following the robo-signing scandal. That backlog should move more quickly now that new guidelines for processing foreclosures have been outlined in the $26 billion foreclosure settlement.
Many of the bank-owned properties currently coming out of the foreclosure pipeline are being snapped up by investors who are fixing them up and renting them out -- often to those who were displaced by the foreclosure of their own home. That has helped to lift prices on foreclosed properties, according to Alex Villacorte, the director of analytics for Clear Capital, which specializes in housing market valuations.
Home buying much cheaper than renting
’That could have a significant impact on the market overall in terms of providing a rising floor to home values,’ he said.
In some markets hit hard by foreclosures, the turnaround in prices is already underway. Phoenix recorded an 8.4% jump in home prices during the three months ended April 30, compared with the three months ended January 31, according to Clear Capital.
’It’s crazy,’ said Tanya Marchiol, founder of Team Investments, a Phoenix real estate investing firm. ’Stuff I was selling six months ago for $60,000 to $80,000 is now $90,000 to $110,000.’
Miami saw a 4.6% increase quarter-over-quarter through April, and Tampa, Fla., was up 4.4%, according to Clear Capital.
Goodbye 3.8% mortgage. In addition to home prices, mortgages could also move higher.
Mortgage rates have been at or near historic lows for much of the past six months. The average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage has not topped 4.5% since July 2011 and this week, it hit 3.84%, a new low.
But rates aren’t expected to remain at these record-low levels much longer. As the economy continues to recover, rates will move higher, said Doug Lebda, CEO of LendingTree, the online lending site. Although, he said, they will ’stay very reasonable.’
The Mortgage Bankers Association is forecasting that the 30-year fixed will hit 4.5% by the end of the year.
Greater demand for loans will help fuel the increase, according to Lebda.
6 Ways to get a great mortgage deal:
Even though mortgage rates have been cheap, borrowing for home purchases has been sluggish. The Mortgage Bankers Association estimates that homebuyers will take out mortgage loans totaling about $415 billion this year, an increase of less than 3% compared with 2011. Next year, however, it forecasts that amount will almost double to $706 billion.
As housing markets stabilize and prices stop falling, homebuyers will be even more confident about buying, said Humphries.
’People can now see the light at the end of the tunnel,’ he said. ’And that can be enough to get them off the fence.’
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America’s 10 most polluted cities, 2012
By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com
April 26, 2012
While dangerous pollutants still threaten the health of millions of Americans, the United States has made great strides in clearing the air, according to the American Lung Association.

In its annual State of the Air 2012 report, the organization said that between 2001 and 2010, ozone levels dropped 13%, year-round particle pollution declined 24% and short-term particle pollution 28% thanks to the Clean Air Act.

Particle pollution includes things like dust, metals, smoke, exhaust and acids, like nitrates and sulfates. Ozone, meanwhile, is created when a chemical or fossil fuel, like coal or gasoline, is partially burned and the unburned hydrocarbons, when combined with ultraviolet light, form a gas.

Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, which included the promotion of the use of natural gas and low sulfur fuel, have resulted in 23,000 fewer premature deaths in 2010, averted 1.7 million asthma attacks and prevented 4.1 million lost work days, according to The Environmental Protection Agency.

But pollution still takes a great toll on public health. More than 4 out of 10 Americans, 127 million people, live in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution, the American Lung Association said. The result: increased incidents of all sorts of health problems, especially asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease.

’We’ve been paying for this pollution for a long time,’ said Janice Nolen, the national policy advocate for the ALA.

The ALA report ranked cities by particle pollution, both short-term and year-round, as well as by ozone levels.

Many of the cities with the dirtiest air are located in the sunny valleys and basins of the West, where pollutants can stagnate and cook into photochemical smogs.

As a result, California lays claim to many of the most polluted cities. Bakersfield, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, claimed the top spot as the most polluted city in the United States for 2012 for both types of particle pollution and was third in ozone levels. Los Angeles continues to be the worst city for ozone pollution, thanks to its heavy traffic and trade ports.

Those looking for the cleanest air can look no further than Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M., which took the top spot for air purity in all three categories, according to ALA’s report.

10. Philadelphia
Population: 6,533,683
Cardiovascular cases: 1,660,434
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 16
The City of Brotherly Love was once an industrial powerhouse, with heavy industries like steel, manufacturing, textiles and machinery.

Many of the factories are gone now and Philadelphia has much more of a service economy now. The industries that remain are subject to much stricter controls, according to Linda Rebarchak, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Over the past few years, for example, continuous air monitors have been installed over many of the city’s smokestacks to measure emissions. The monitors have helped to alert officials and factory managers to any problems in the systems, she said.

9. Louisville
Population: 1,427,483
Cardiovascular cases: 358,161
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: Not in top 25
Like many cities with air pollution problems, Louisville sits in a valley where air can stagnate in the summer heat.

’In the 1970s our air was pretty bad,’ said Thomas Nord, spokesman for the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District.

Through stricter regulations governing auto emissions, the city has managed to cut its ozone levels by about 15% since 1999.

8. Cincinnati
Population: 2,172,191
Cardiovascular cases: 534,359
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 21
The Southern Ohio city has been stepping up its efforts to improve air quality over the past few years by launching several different programs, according to Megan Hummel, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency.

It has retrofitted hundreds of old diesel engine school buses and replaced dozens more to reduce harmful emissions.

7. Phoenix
Population: 4,192,887
Cardiovascular cases: 981,249
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 19

Phoenix’s intense sunlight can cook emissions into a smog soup. But efforts to cut tailpipe emissions have helped cut back ozone levels in the city considerably.

’We’ve had a long-term vehicle emissions inspection policy for about 25 years,’ said Mark Shaffer, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

But nothing can help the area deal with its never-ending supply of dust -- a factor that helps put Phoenix in sixth place for year-round particle pollution.

6. Pittsburgh
Population: 2,447,393
Cardiovascular cases: 702,228
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 20
It’s been decades since Pittsburgh’s nickname, Smoky, was appropriate. As big steel exited the city’s industrial landscape, the pollutants belching forth from the city’s coke ovens and blast furnaces have almost all disappeared.

Nowadays, the economy is driven by the service and tech industries. Yet, it still remains a major transportation hub and diesel engines power much of the truck, train and boat traffic that moves through the area.

As a result, harmful emissions are a particular problem. The city has a high rate of lung diseases, especially emphysema with nearly 43,000 cases and cardiovascular disease with more than 700,000 cases, according to the American Lung Association.

5. Fresno, Calif.
Population: 1,081,315
Cardiovascular cases: 231,750
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 4
Fresno is the biggest city in California’s San Joaquin Valley and produces a lot of the surrounding area’s air pollution.

The biggest culprit: traffic. A busy Interstate runs the length of the Central Valley and provides a steady stream of cars and trucks. Much of the smog drifts South to cities like Visalia and Hanford, but there is also a phenomenon known as the ’Fresno Eddy,’ said Jaime Holt, chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality District.

’It’s kind of a whirlpool that pushes back some of the pollution back into Fresno air space,’ she said.

There’s also few public transportation options so most everyone drives. And with a sky-high unemployment rate -- 17.3% in February -- many of the passenger cars are old.

4. Visalia, Calif.
Population: 442,179
Cardiovascular cases: 89,570
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 2
Lying just south of Fresno, the skies of this small city bear the brunt of some of the pollution produced by its larger neighbor.

But Visalia can’t blame it all on Fresno. Agricultural lands surrounding the town depend heavily on irrigation and many of the pumps bringing water to dry farmlands burn diesel, which produces both particle pollution and ozone.

’Over the past few years, most of those diesel pumps have been switched over to electricity,’ said Holt of the Valley’s Air Quality District.

Air quality has also improved, she said, because the agency has used federal and state grants to pay residents to replace wood-burning stoves and fireplaces with gas or electricity.

3. Los Angeles
Population: 17,877,006
Cardiovascular cases: 4,109,426
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 1
One of Los Angeles’ biggest pollution problems is its ports.

’Forty-three percent of all the imports in the country come through here,’ said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. ’Once the cargo comes in, it gets put on a truck, moved to warehouses and taken to trains. Almost everything is powered by diesel.’

There have been several efforts made to cut back on this diesel-related pollution. One is the voluntary slowing of ships as they come into port, starting from about 24 nautical miles out. By doing so, the ships burn less fuel and produce lower emissions.

2. Hanford, Calif.
Population: 152,982
Cardiovascular cases: 31,019
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 5

This small metro area should boast azure skies but, too often, the polluted air from Fresno, its neighbor to the North, drifts in, said Jaime Holt, chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality District.

It doesn’t help that many of the local residents are also driving older cars that often produce much higher levels of the components that create smog.

One solution to that problem is a recently instituted smog check program called ’Tune in, Tune up’ run by the Air Quality District.

The state agency sets up in a big empty parking lot and gives free smog tests. ’The cars that can’t pass get a $500 voucher for a major tune up,’ said Holt.

1. Bakersfield, Calif.
Population: 839,631
Cardiovascular cases: 173,566
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 3
Bakersfield sits in a bowl surrounded on three sides by the Sierras and the California coastal ranges. Air drifts down the valley from other cities and lingers, allowing pollutants to build up, according to Jaime Holt, chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality District. Making matters worse, the sun bakes the air, causing photochemical smog. And the dry weather adds dust particles to the mix.

But there have been efforts to clean up Bakersfield’s act. Regulations governing emissions from surrounding oil and gas producers that took effect in 2003 have helped to significantly reduce pollution in the area, said Holt.

Area farmers have also changed many of their practices. They now refrain from cultivating when the ground is too dry, for example, in order to reduce dust. And regulations limiting residential use of fireplaces and wood stoves have also helped.

’We have some crystal clear days here now, where you can see snow in the Sierras,’ said Holt. ’But then they can go away for weeks at a time.’

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10 Ways to turn off a homebuyer:

What a difference a couple of years makes.

Back in 2007, homebuyers would beg to purchase your house. They would even bid more than the asking price for the privilege to do so.

Today ... well, not so much. Once the real estate bubble burst and foreclosures poisoned the housing pool, buyers suddenly regained the upper hand. But instead of buying, they’re waiting, convinced that housing prices will continue to drop.

What’s a smart seller to do in this environment?
We assembled a coast-to-coast SWAT team to address the crisis: Chad Goldwasser of Goldwasser Real Estate in Austin, Texas; Terry Cannon, a buyer’s agent and broker with Oregon Exclusive Buyers Realty in Salem, Ore.; and Julie Dana, the New York-based ’home stylist’ and co-author of ’The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell.’
They suggest 10 buyer turnoffs that sellers should avoid at all costs.
’If you do all the staging correctly and have a good agent, the house will hopefully only be on the market a few weeks,’ Dana says. ’Then you can go back to living your life.’

1. Dirt
Hands down, our panel agrees: Nothing turns off a buyer quicker than a dirty house.
’The No. 1 biggest mistake is not getting the home in the best possible condition. That’s huge,’ says Goldwasser. ’I won’t even represent sellers at this point unless they are fully aware of how important it is to get their home in the absolute best condition that they’ve ever had it in.’
Goldwasser recommends that sellers go the extra mile, from steam-cleaning tile and grout to replacing carpets.
’If the carpets are old and smelly, you should put in new,’ he says. ’If they’re relatively new, you should at least have them shampooed.’
Cannon agrees that grime can derail any showing.
’The home should be neat and clean and free of all debris,’ Cannon says. ’If it reeks of cats or the kitchen sinks and counters are so filthy that it almost looks like the food is moving, I won’t even want to come in.’

2. Odors
Buyers, it’s said, buy with their noses. Make sure your home smells fresh and inviting.
’Odors are a big one, especially kitchen odors,’ says Dana. ’I advise my clients not to cook fried food, fish or greasy food while the house is on the market.’
Some pet owners mistakenly believe pet smells to which they’ve become accustomed help make their abode homey. Nothing could be further from the truth.
’If you’re a dog person, you tend to think everyone else is a dog person,’ says Goldwasser. ’But the truth is, 50 percent of the population hates dogs and doesn’t want to be near them. ’Pets in the home? You have to deal with that.’
Dana advises her clients to eliminate all traces of pets, not just pet odors. It’s important to get rid of pet paraphernalia and have a ’pet plan’ to make sure the animals are not around when the house is shown.
’A lot of times, people will leave pet items out -- dog dishes, cat litter boxes, etc.,’ Dana says. ’That immediately turns off a buyer because they wonder, ’What has that animal done in the house?’ Also, some people really don’t like dogs. The minute they walk in and see this big, old dog bowl, they immediately won’t like the house.’
The same rules hold true for smokers: Remove all ashtrays, clean all curtains and upholstery, and consider smoking outdoors while your home is on the market.
“Pets in the home? You have to deal with that.”
’Interestingly, next to the kitchen, the smelliest room in the house is actually the living room,’ Dana says. ’That’s typically the room that has the most fabric, so that is where odors get absorbed.’

3. Old fixtures
Want buyers to roll their eyes? Leave old fixtures on your doors and cabinets.
’You need to change out old fixtures in your house,’ Goldwasser says. ’New cabinet hardware and doorknobs will probably cost all of $400 or $500, but it makes a huge difference.’
The same holds true for dated ceiling fans, light fixtures and kitchen appliances.
’Homes that have old fans, lights, ovens, microwaves, ranges and dishwashers can really turn a buyer off,’ says Goldwasser. ’Sellers will say, ’Oh, the buyers can take care of that.’ Well, yes they can, but it’s going to impede you from getting the highest price possible for your home.’

4. Wallpaper
Your grandmother may have had it in every bedroom. Your mom may have loved it as a room accent. But today’s buyer wants no part of wallpaper.
’Wallpaper is a definite no-no,’ Dana says.
Wallpaper is a pain to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer’s to-do list, Dana says.
’Wallpaper is extremely personalized. You’ve spent hours looking over books to pick out the wallpaper you want,’ she says. ’What are the odds that the person walking in the door will also like that wallpaper that you picked out?’

5. Popcorn acoustic ceilings
Times change, and with them home decor styles. Acoustic popcorn ceilings, once the must-have for fashionable homes in the ’60s and ’70s, now badly date your space.
If you can’t stomach the cost or the mess to remove the overhead popcorn, be prepared to credit a buyer in certain markets in order to close a sale.
’The popcorn acoustic ceiling is a major, major turnoff to buyers these days,’ says Goldwasser.

6. Too many personal items
Psychologically, when buyers tour a home, they’re trying it on to see how it fits, just as they would a skirt or a pair of pants. If your house is cluttered with too many personal items, it’s like the buyer is trying on those clothes with you still in them. A fit is unlikely.
’Anything that makes your house scream ’you’ is what you don’t want,’ Dana says. ’I tell all my clients that how we decorate to live and how we decorate to sell are different, and right now, we’re decorating to sell.’
Sellers should try to eliminate personal items, including family photos, personal effects and even unique colors, she says.
’As soon as you have family photos, buyers get very distracted. ’Oh, did I go to school with him? What do their children look like?’’ she says. ’Suddenly, you’re selling your family, and you’re not selling the home.’
If you really want to hook a buyer, Dana offers a tip: ’I try to place a mirror strategically so that people can actually see themselves in the home, so they can actually picture themselves living there.’
“I tell all my clients that how we decorate to live and how we decorate to sell are different.”

7. Snoopy sellers
Realtors and buyers alike generally bristle when the seller greets them at the door for a showing.
’It’s so annoying,’ Goldwasser says. ’They will want to walk around with the potential buyer and put in their two cents’ worth. It’s not good. Normally, there are one out of 10 sellers where it’s OK to have them there, and that’s because they know what is up with the property and how everything works.’
Goldwasser makes a point to shoo his sellers away from showings when he’s the listing agent.
’They like to think they know what they’re doing, and that’s fine,’ he says. ’But when you’ve sold thousands of homes and you have a system, you know how to get people the maximum value for their home. That’s why they hire you, right?’

8. Misrepresenting your home
Misrepresenting your house online in the Multiple Listing Service is a sure way to really upset buyers and their Realtors.
One of Cannon’s buyers loved a home she saw online. When he drove by to take a look, he was surprised to find acres of ramshackle mobile homes across the street.
’Sellers are going to paint the best picture they can,’ he says. ’Some listings I’ve looked at and wondered how in the world they got that gorgeous photo without showing all the junk that’s around it. When you get there, you wonder why didn’t they just be upfront?’
9. Poor curb appeal
Much is made of curb appeal, and for good reason: It’s your home’s handshake, the critical first impression that lasts with most buyers.
’You have to totally trim and edge your yard to get it into the most immaculate condition you can,’ Goldwasser says. ’It’s a big mistake to not freshly mulch the beds and trim the trees. Every little detail counts.

’To not power-wash the exterior or leave mud dauber and wasp and bird’s nests in your eaves and above your doors? You’ve got to be a fool to do that.’

10. Clutter
Whether inside or out, less is more when it comes to clutter.
’I usually start in the closets,’ Dana says. ’Your closets should be half-full with nothing on the floor. Why? Because most people looking for a house have outgrown their previous house. Showing them that you’ve still got room to grow gives them a reason to buy.’
Kitchens and built-in bookshelves should showcase spaciousness by following the rule of three. For kitchens, there should be no more than three countertop appliances. Meanwhile, bookshelves should be divided into thirds: one-third books, one-third vases and pictures, and one-third empty.
The home office should be very generic so any type of professional can imagine living there, Dana says.
’Otherwise, it can be a distraction: ’What does he do for a living? How much money does he make?’’ she says.
Dana’s tip for toddler parents is to pack away extraneous ’kiddie litter’ and keep a laundry basket handy.
’When you get that phone call one hour before a showing, toss everything in that basket and take it to the car with you and your kids, and you’re all set,’ she says.
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American’s brace for nest foreclosure wave.

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio (Reuters) - Half a decade into the deepest U.S. housing crisis since the 1930s, many Americans are hoping the crisis is finally nearing its end. House sales are picking up across most of the country, the plunge in prices is slowing and attempts by lenders to claim back properties from struggling borrowers dropped by more than a third in 2011, hitting a four-year low.
But a painful part two of the slump looks set to unfold: Many more U.S. homeowners face the prospect of losing their homes this year as banks pick up the pace of foreclosures.
’We are right back where we were two years ago. I would put money on 2012 being a bigger year for foreclosures than 2010,’ said Mark Seifert, executive director of Empowering & Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a counseling group with 10 offices in Ohio.
’Last year was an anomaly, and not in a good way,’ he said.

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In 2011, the ’robo-signing’ scandal, in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly reviewing individual cases, prompted banks to hold back on new foreclosures pending a settlement.
Five major banks eventually struck that settlement with 49 U.S. states in February. Signs are growing the pace of foreclosures is picking up again, something housing experts predict will again weigh on home prices before any sustained recovery can occur.
Mortgage servicing provider Lender Processing Services reported in early March that U.S. foreclosure starts jumped 28 percent in January.
More conclusive national data is not yet available. But watchdog group, 4closurefraud.org which helped uncover the ’robo-signing’ scandal, says it has turned up evidence of a large rise in new foreclosures between March 1 and 24 by three big banks in Palm Beach County in Florida, one of the states hit hardest by the housing crash
Although foreclosure starts were 50 percent or more lower than for the same period in 2010, those begun by Deutsche Bank were up 47 percent from 2011. Those of Wells Fargo’s rose 68 percent and Bank of America’s, including BAC Home Loans Servicing, jumped nearly seven-fold -- 251 starts versus 37 in the same period in 2011. Bank of America said it does not comment on data provided by other sources. Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank did not comment.
Housing experts say localized warning signs of a new wave of foreclosure are likely to be replicated across much of the United States.
Online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac estimated that while foreclosures dropped slightly nationwide in February from January and from February 2011, they rose in 21 states and jumped sharply in cities like Tampa (64 percent), Chicago (43 percent) and Miami (53 percent).
RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore said the ’numbers point to a gradually rising foreclosure tide as some of the barriers that have been holding back foreclosures are removed.’
One big difference to the early years of the housing crisis, which was dominated by Americans saddled with the most toxic subprime products -- with high interest rates where banks asked for no money down or no proof of income -- is that today it’s mostly Americans with ordinary mortgages whose ability to meet payment have been hit by the hard economic times.
’The subprime stuff is long gone,’ said Michael Redman, founder of 4closurefraud.org. ’Now the folks being affected are hardworking, everyday Americans struggling because of the economy.’
Until December 2010, Daniel Burns, 52, had spent his working life in the trucking industry as a long-haul driver and manager. When daily loads at the small family business where he worked tailed off, he lost his job.
Unable to cover his mortgage, Burns received a grant from a government fund using money repaid from the 2008 bank bailout. That grant is due to expire in early 2013 and Burns is holding out on hopeful comments from his former employer that he might get his job back if the economy recovers.
’If things don’t pick up, I will be out on the street,’ he said, staring from his living room window at two abandoned houses over the road in the middle-class Cleveland suburb of Garfield Heights, the noise of traffic from a nearby Interstate highway filling the street.
Underscoring the uncertainty of his situation, Burns’ cell phone rings and a pre-recorded message announces that his unemployment benefits are due to be cut off in April.
A bit further up the shore of Lake Erie, Cristal Fell, who works night shifts entering data for a trucking company in Toledo, has fallen behind on her mortgage a second time because her ex-husband lost his job and her overtime was cut.
’Once you get behind it’s so hard to catch up,’ she said.
Fell, a mother of four, hopes the economy will gather enough speed to help her avoid any risk of losing her home. Her ex-husband has found a new job and she is getting more overtime, so she hopes she can catch up on her mortgage by the fall.
Burns and Fell are the new face of the U.S. housing crisis: Middle class, suburban or rural with a conventional 30-year fixed mortgage at a reasonable interest rate, but unemployed or underemployed. Although the national unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3 percent from its peak of 10 percent in October 2009, nearly 13 million Americans remain jobless, meaning many are struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments.
Real estate company Zillow Inc says more than one in four American homeowners were ’under water’ or owed more than their homes were worth in the fourth quarter of 2011. The crisis has wiped out some $7 trillion in U.S. household wealth.
’We’re seeing more people coming through who have good loans with reasonable interest rates,’ said Ed Jacob, executive director of non-profit lender Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago Inc, which provides foreclosure counseling. ’But in many households only one person works now instead of two, or they had their hours cut.’
’The answer to the housing crisis now is job creation.’
Zillow expects the resurgence in foreclosures this year, combined with excess inventory of unsold, bank-owned homes will contribute to a 3.7 percent national decline in prices before the market hits bottom in 2013 and stays there until 2016.
’The hangover from this crisis will far outlast the party of the boom years,’ said Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries.
Getting through the remaining foreclosures and dealing with the resulting flood of homes on the market in the wake of the bank settlement is a necessary part of the healing process for the U.S. housing market, he added.
According to leading broker dealer Amherst Securities, some 9.5 million homes are still at risk of default and in February it said it expected to see the uptick in foreclosures start to hit in March and April.
There is other evidence that many of the foreclosures that did not happen in 2011 will happen this year.
A January report by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project in New York found that in the first half of 2011 the number of 90-day pre-foreclosure notices in New York City outnumbered court foreclosure actions by a ratio of 14 to one, indicating that while proceedings were initiated against many homeowners, they were left incomplete.
’Now the banks have a settlement, foreclosure numbers for 2012 are going to be high,’ said NEDAP co-director Josh Zinner.
A recent survey by the California Reinvestment Coalition, an umbrella group of nearly 300 non-profit groups in the state, of member agencies found 75 percent of respondents expected increased demand for their foreclosure prevention services in 2012 but more than a third had to scale back services because of funding cuts.
’Funding is a major concern given what our members expect for this year,’ said associate director Kevin Stein.
All this has non-profits intensifying calls for the Federal Housing Finance Agency to drop its opposition to allowing the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac it regulates to reduce principal for underwater homeowners.
Principal reduction involves reducing the amount borrowers owe in order to make a loan modification affordable for struggling homeowners. Republicans and the FHFA oppose principal reduction because of the risk of ’moral hazard’- that homeowners who do not need help will seek to abuse largesse and have their mortgages reduced too.
ESOP in Ohio engages in ’hits’ on Chase branches -- they say Chase is the least accommodating major bank when it comes to working with struggling homeowners -- where they try to hand letters to bank mangers calling on chief executive Jamie Dimon to lobby FHFA head Edward DeMarco for principal reductions. A Chase spokeswoman said the bank has made ’extensive efforts’ to work with homeowners, helping 775,000 borrowers stay in their homes since early 2009, avoiding foreclosure ’more than twice as often as we have had to foreclose.’ Housing groups like ESOP maintain, as they have throughout the housing crisis, that unless the FHFA embraces widespread principal reduction, many more under water borrowers face losing their homes.
’Until banks engage in meaningful principal reduction as a matter of course,’ ESOP’s Seifert said after a recent protest at a Chase branch in Cleveland, ’this crisis will not end.’
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See America’s Best-Kept secret neighborhoods:

The real estate website Trulia recently released its Winter 2012 Metro Movers report, which examines all property searches made by homebuyers and renters to see where they hope to buy and rent next.

Topping the list of the most popular places for online house hunters is the Palm Bay-Melbourne –Titusville metropolitan area of Florida. Despite the foreclosure backlog, more people want to move to Florida than leave. Of them, the majority of long-distance seekers of central and east coast Florida properties are from New York City. Meanwhile, Chicagoans dominate long distance searches for properties on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the report says.

More than one-third of property searches nationwide originate from more than 100 miles away. Out-of-towners tend to search in well-known neighborhoods such as TriBeCa in New York, Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, and Georgetown in Washington, DC.

“Finding the best place to live in a new and unfamiliar place can be tough. House hunters naturally start their search in a city’s famous neighborhoods but don’t know to look in the neighborhoods that are favored by locals,” said Jed Kolko, Trulia’s Chief Economist. To help prospective homebuyers and renters, Trulia is offering the “inside scoop” on where locals want to live — places that are often overlooked by out-of-towners. According to Kolko, some of these best kept secret neighborhoods have seen recent gentrification or redevelopment; others have been quietly upscale neighborhoods for decades.

What follows are five desirable neighborhoods that tend to fly under the radar in their major American cities.
New York, NY
Most Searched-for Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Secret Neighborhood: Hunters Point, Long Island City, Queens
Secret Neighborhood’s Median Sales Price (from Nov. ’11 – Jan. ’12): $628,203

This sub-section of Long Island City is located one subway stop across the East River from Manhattan, so it’s only about a five-minute ride from Grand Central Station. As such, while the borough of Queens might sound remote to those unfamiliar with New York, the once-industrial and working class ‘hood of Hunter’s Point has been gentrifying for years now.

Los Angeles, CA
Most Searched-for Neighborhood: Hollywood Hills
Secret Neighborhood: La Brea/Hancock Park
Secret Neighborhood’s Median Sales Price: $847,625

Out-of-towners might not know the area names, but they recognize this scene: The palm tree-lined Windsor Boulevard in Hancock Park is nearly as familiar a sight as the Hollywood sign visible as you drive the road. Definitely not a bad location — Beverly Hills is just to the west and Silver Lake is situated not far off to the east.

Chicago, IL
Most Searched-for Neighborhood: Near North Side
Secret Neighborhood: West Town/Wicker Park
Secret Neighborhood’s Median Sales Price: $315,500

Wicker Park, a neighborhood of the West Town community area, was Chicago’s Polish Downtown but is now a center of hipster culture, dining, and nightlife. Adding to the Wicker Park appeal is a park with a different name: Humboldt Park.

Seattle, WA
Most Searched-for Neighborhood: Greenwood
Secret Neighborhood: Sunset Hill/North Beach
Secret Neighborhood’s Median Sales Price: $365,000

This peaceful and verdant area, located on the Puget Sound with views of Shilshole and Elliott Bays, is a haven for hikers, photographers, and lovers of the outdoors.

Miami, FL
Most Searched-for Neighborhood: Coral Way
Secret Neighborhood: Key Biscayne
Secret Neighborhood’s Median Sales Price: $885,000

The village of Key Biscayne is located on its own island south of Miami Beach and across Biscayne Bay from Miami. The island was better known as the country’s largest coconut plantation for the first half of the last century, and it wasn’t developed for residential use until 1951. But the population has boomed in recent years with the addition of condominium complexes, and after concerns about population density arose a charter was approved in 2007 to allow voters to approve of future land use. It’s now a tropical residential and resort community.
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14-Year-Old Buys Distressed Home

By Susanna Kim | ABC News – 7 hours ago

14-Year-Old Buys Distressed Home (ABC News)
(Image credit: Courtesy Shannon Moore)
After Willow Tufano earned $6,000 from antiquing and selling items on Craigslist, the 14-year-old asked her mom if she could invest in half of a short sale in her home state of Florida.
Tufano earned the money from finding free items or deals online or at antique auctions and leftover furniture from foreclosed homes. She re-sells the items or gives them away on the ’free’ list on Craigslist. She says she could not have thrived in that business without the support of her parents and grandparents, who drive her around to pick up items.
With her saved money, she didn’t want to buy or barter for another longboard skate board or Xbox. Instead she set her sights on a three-bedroom short sale of $12,000 that was worth about $100,000 at the peak of the housing market, as reported by NPR’s Planet Money.
’If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that your age does not matter,’ Tufalo told ABC News. ’ If I can inspire another person my age, younger, that would mean the world. Whether it’s buying a house, buying a car, or whatever. If you really work for it and put your mind to it you can do what you want to do.’
Tufano’s mother, Shannon Moore, is a broker who owns several rental properties with her husband. When Tufano heard that her mother was considering purchasing the home, she asked her mom if she could buy half of it with the hope of buying the other half eventually. Florida requires a minimum age of 18 to own property.
’She’s always thinking, ’how can I skin the cat differently?’’ her mother said. Tufano helped her mom fix up the home in Port Charlotte, Fla., and even helped the new tenants find a free bed and mattress. Tufano is splitting the proceeds from the rental income with her mom and says she will use that to buy out her mom’s share.
Asked if she was considering a career in real estate, Tufano said she preferred investing. ’I’m not so sure about real estate,’ she said. ’But investing is really cool. You get to see a property that was a mess before and afterward see that it’s beautiful. I suppose with real estate you can connect with people more, but I would probably prefer investing.’

Tufano, who is home-schooled, said her favorite subject is American history, but dislikes algebra because she is ’really, really bad at math.’
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Homes of young idols:

Did you hear? The celebrity real estate world recently buzzed with the rumor that Justin Bieber had bought himself a $10.8 million home for his 18th birthday — and it was the same bachelor pad Ashton Kutcher has been renting, no less. It was almost too dreamy for a single item of gossip.

As anyone who attended high school knows, gossip isn’t always true, and TMZ soon reported that while Bieber had in fact toured that home, and two others, Kutcher may be the one who buys that house.

Speaking of high-school days and dreamboats, we present a collection of young idols and their five homes. The elder statesman of this group is 25, yet they can afford to buy luxury homes and mansions with prices ranging up to $6 million:

Miley Cyrus
Location: Studio City, Calif.
Price: $3.9 million
Beds / Baths: 5 / 7
Square Footage: 5,173

Last year Cyrus bought this mid-century modern house.
House: Realtor.com | Cyrus: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
Miley Cyrus, 19, was born during the heyday of her father, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, but has come into her own fame, performing as her Disney alter-ego Hannah Montana and as herself.

Last year, Cyrus plunked down the very grown-up sum of $3.9 million for a mid-century modern Studio City house, according to NBC New York. The private, gated and walled property features a double-sided fireplace and sliding glass doors leading out to the deck and patio.

Taylor Swift
Location: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Price: $3.975 million
Beds / Baths: 4 / 4

Swift bought this Beverly Hills home after buying two in Nashville.
House: Realtor.com | Swift: Jason LaVeris / Getty Images
At 22, country pop singer/musician Taylor Swift has already been quite active in real estate. According to The Real Estalker blog, she bought a penthouse duplex in Nashville’s The Adelicia in 2009. Last year she bought a house in Nashville for her family, and just months later it went back on the market.

Swift picked this one up in spring 2011 for $3.975 million, according to Realtor.com. Built in 1941, this feminine and gracious traditional home manages to reflect its current owner. An unidentified source told the New York Post that Swift bought this house so she wouldn’t have to stay in hotels when she was in L.A.

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart
Location: Bel Air, Calif.
Price: $5.995 million
Beds / Baths: 5 / 5
Square Footage: 4,044

The ’Twilight’ couple bought this house for just under $6 million.
House: Realtor.com | Couple: Jason Merritt / Getty Images
This modern house could be the ultimate fan headquarters for a die-hard Twihard. For a few months, it was rented by ’Twilight’ stars and real-life couple Robert Pattinson, 25, and Kristen Stewart, 21, and it went on the market around the premiere of “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” for just under $6 million, according to the listing on Realtor.com.

With its Southern California location, its fabulous views of Canyon Reservoir, its abundance of natural light and its pool and patio, it’s easier to picture buff, shirtless teen werewolves living here than pale, sparkling vampires. Whatever their reasons for choosing it, the famously private couple continue to remain mum.

Chris Colfer
Location: Los Angeles
Price: $860,000
Beds / Baths: 2 / 4
Square Footage: 2,462

Colfer of ’Glee’ bought this relatively modest house for $860,000.
House: Realtor.com | Colfer: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
In this collection, Chris Colfer’s Laurel Canyon house is the most like a non-celebrity’s first home. Built in 1963 with updates like a ‘90s-esque kitchen and what appear to be wood laminate floors, the house is quite modest for a star of a smash-hit TV series.

However, Colfer is just 21, so for that age group he’s doing quite well. And maybe the “Glee” star is too busy filming his show in nearby Paramount Studios to care about domestic aesthetics.

Demi Lovato
Location: Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Price: $2.25 million
Beds / Baths: 4 / 5
Square Footage: 4,053

Lovato bought this Spanish-style home around her 18th birthday.
House: Realtor.com | Lovato: Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images
She’s still a teenager, but Demi Lovato has packed lots of experience in her 19 years — the singer and Disney actress is also an alumna of “Barney and Friends,” and she dated fellow teen idol Joe Jonas. “Demi Lovato: Stay Strong,” a documentary about her battles with bulimia and self-injury, debuted in March on MTV.

Lovato purchased this Spanish-style home for her family around her 18th birthday for $2.25 million, according to People magazine. Lovato lives in the home’s 820-square-foot guest cottage, according to the Real Estalker blog.

To see the pictures, log onto: http://realestate.yahoo.com/promo/homes-of-young-idols.html
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