Archive for September, 2010

Congress Approves Extension of Existing Loan Limits

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Congress has approved HR 3081, extending existing loan limits through September 30, 2011 for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA loans. This means that loans will continue to be guaranteed and insurance programs will remain in place which back loans up to $729,750 in markets where the cost of living is highest. This applies to new loans as well as refinancing.

The benefit of the extension to buyers is great, as it will allow them access to affordable, long-term mortgages with fixed rates, for a longer period of time. The bill also gives the FHA more power to back multifamily loans–great news for development, renovation and mortgage refinancing, which will benefit the housing rental market.

The extension bypasses the previous 2008 extension, which would have expired at the end of 2010. The maximum for conforming loan limits in non-high cost areas remains at $417,000 for Fannie and Freddie and at $271,050 for FHA loans.

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Will the Next New Loan Modification Program Help YOU?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

There is a new loan modification program in the works, and it promises to help struggling homeowners despite income level, credit history or loan to value ratio. Sound too good to be true?

The new program plans to allow for 30-year fixed rate mortgages at the prevailing rate (which currently is between 4 and 4.5%) for those homeowners who need to refinance government-backed loans. These include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, FHA and VA loans. Approximately 30 million U.S. homeowners will be eligible for these modifications.

Will it work? This is the most liberally created plan induced to date, and we will have to see as more details become available exactly how it will work. Obviously, allowing blanket loan modifications to so many homeowners without regards to credit, income or current loan to value ratios is extremely risky for lenders, and it will be a tough battle to push the legislation through Congress. However, if this program sees the light of day it could have enormous healing consequences for the housing market.

I will keep you posted as soon as I learn more.

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How to Keep Cool Inside When its Hot Outside

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Wow, it’s hot out there! After the most unseasonal summer here in San Diego it seems Mother Nature has suddenly realized she forgot to provide one, so she is making up for it with a vengeance. If you have an air conditioning you are lucky, but regardless it is important to keep cool; don’t forget your pets either. Here are some tips to help you through the heat wave.

Stay hydrated. We all know how important it is to drink lots of water when it is hot outside. The same goes for your pets. Make sure you all have enough cold water on hand.

Keep it dark. If you keep all your blinds/shades/curtains closed during the hottest part of the day it will cut down on the amount of heat coming into your home.

Fans. Circulating the air will also keep the temperatures down. I have all the fans running in my house and it makes a big difference. If you do not have attached fans you can use the plug in kind, but any way you can circulate the air will prevent the hot air from sitting around and raising the temperature in your home.

Pets. It is important to keep your pets as cool as possible. If you have outside pets you may want to consider bringing them inside. If this is not an option make sure they have a cool, shaded place to rest and lots of water outside.

Windows. When it is this hot opening the windows can actually make your home hotter during the day. Instead, open them very early in the morning to let all the cool air in, and again later in the day when the heat starts to die down. If you do not have air conditioning you may want to consider sleeping with the windows open to cool down the house. Upstairs bedrooms can be at least ten degrees warmer than those downstairs, so leaving them open throughout the night can help alleviate discomfort and give you a cooler start in the first part of the day.

Children. Children need to be reminded to drink a lot during the day, especially if they are at school all day. I know my own children know this but likely do not follow the rule. Some schools even have limits on air conditioning usage, and will only turn it on if the temperature rises to a particular number…call and check with your district to make sure your kids are staying cool in the classroom (don’t even get me started on this one. Cutting budgets should not involve making our kids uncomfortable at school, as obviously that will only hamper performance).

Limit caffeine. Caffeine tends to raise our body temperature, so if you can limit caffeine intake during the hot days you will feel cooler.

Exercise. If you tend to exercise outdoors you may want to consider doing so either very early in the morning or in the evening. Doing so in the heat of midday can actually cause your body to overheat and make you sick, faint or cause heat stroke. If you have to do so midday make sure you have a lot of water with you and that someone knows where you will be.

Plants. Outdoor plants and vegetation need a little extra water at this time as well, but try to water them early in the morning or later in the day, as watering them in the middle of the day can actually cause them to burn.

Appliances. To keep your home cooler it is best to wait to run your appliances until the evening, as they tend to generate heat.

Hang in there San Diego…soon we will (hopefully) return to our normal temperatures. For now, stay cool and be careful out there!

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What’s Happening in Carlsbad

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

With Fall starting this week there are some new things happening in Carlsbad that may interest you, so check them out and have fun!

Coastal Cleanup Day September 25: This Saturday you can show how much you love Carlsbad, enjoy the beautiful Fall weather and feel great about helping keep our city clean. It is the annual Coastal Cleanup day from 9:00 a.m. until noon at Tamarack Beach, and everyone is welcome. This even it always a big hit and it’s a great way to show your children the importance of community support. Bring your own buckets and work gloves. Last year over 174,000 pounds of trash were removed! Snacks will be provided. For more information visit http://www.carlsbadca.gov/about/news/Pages/coastal-cleanup.aspx

Firehouse Open House October 9: Drop on into any of the six city fire stations from 10:00-2:00 say hello!. Get to know your local fire fighters, take a tour of the station, get safety tips, check out the fire engines and equipment and enjoy the fun kids’ activities. It’s a great way for the entire family to thank the men and women who help keep our city safe, and have a great time in the process! For firehouse locations visit http://www.carlsbadca.gov/about/news/Pages/Fire-station-open-house-2010.aspx

City Parenting Program Starts September 28: The City of Carlsbad is offering a 10 week parenting program–called Parent Project– starting September 28. The program is geared toward parents who have children between 11 and 18 who are difficult to control, strong-willed or have listening issues. This award-winning program will take place on Tuesday nights from 6:00-9:00 p.m. and will be held at the Carlsbad Senior Center (799 Pine Avenue). The cost is $25 for a single parent or $35 per couple; active military parents are free. Contact 760-931-2167 for more information or to register.

There will also be a course offered in Spanish during the same time period at Jefferson Elementary School. Contact Jovita Barria, 760-434-9099, for more information or to sign up.

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Buyers Need to Seek Protection from Short Sale Fraud

Friday, September 17th, 2010

The Department of Real Estate (DRE) sent out short sale fraud alerts this week to lenders and brokers, urging them to beware of short sale fraud and the inherent consequences involved for everyone, from buyers to agents, brokers and lenders. If you are considering purchasing a short sale property, even if you are working with an agent, read on to make sure you know the right questions to ask in order to protect yourself from paying money you DO NOT HAVE TO PAY. There were several popular scams pointed out in the DRE’s letter.

1. Requiring buyers to pay for a short sale negotiator outside of escrow if they want to proceed with the purchase of the property. In this scam buyers are told that doing so will assure that they are represented to the best ability in dealing with the bank. It should be noted that a “short sale negotiator” is one who supposedly can negotiate on the sellers’ behalf with the lenders–a technique that can work in some situations but one that I personally have never used.

A buyer should NEVER agree to paying for a short sale negotiator “outside” of escrow, meaning that the fee for the negotiator is not submitted to escrow nor included in the HUD statement; this is considered fraudulent. The lenders involved must know all costs involved in the sales transaction by both parties. There is potential liability for all parties involved, and the buyer could be charged with lender fraud. Lack of knowledge is not an excuse for fraud. Note that although paying for a short sale negotiator IS allowed, it must be done correctly with appropriate paperwork filled out and presented to the lender at the start of the transaction. If you are purchasing a home and you are asked to pay such a fee, make sure to discuss this with your agent or his/her broker in order to protect yourself.

One more thing is notable in these situations: a strong listing agent should be able to negotiate with the lender without the use of a separate negotiator. However, even some top agents prefer to use them because the negotiations are typically time consuming. Also, the good negotiators could have established connections with certain people in the loss mitigation departments, which could speed up the lender acceptance period. Discuss this with your agent and he or she can strike up a conversation with the listing agent to assure your interests are represented in the best way possible.

Lastly, keep in mind that any short sale negotiator MUST be licensed by the DRE or be an attorney. This is another area where a fraud has run rampant–negotiator businesses have popped up all over, run by unlicensed people, so be careful and demand to know who the negotiator is and whether or not he/she is licensed.

2. Credits to buyers for non-recurring closing costs used to pay negotiators: An offshoot of the above scheme, this works when the buyer is asked to allow the seller to credit the buyers for non-recurring closing costs. Although the credit is duly noted and the lender notified properly during escrow, the credit is then used to pay for a short sale negotiator. This is fraudulent, as the lender is not aware that money is being paid to a short sale negotiator. If you have a similar situation you can always ask your agent to look into it, or you can simply call the escrow officer and ask for a copy of the estimated HUD to see how it is spelled out. Be aware of listings where it states that the buyers must request credit for non-recurring closing costs and where there is a short sale negotiator involved.

3. Short sale flipping: This scam is usually carried out by listing agents, who will typically submit a fraudulent offer on a short sale to the lender, with a low price that is undervalued. The “buyer” is usually not a true buyer. Once the offer has been accepted and the home sold, the agent then turns around and lists the home for a much higher price. The actual scheme is more detailed, but you get the idea.

4. Buyers and sellers receiving credits “outside” of escrow: In some transactions there may be credits outside of escrow, such as when the buyer and seller agree on a sale of personal belongings (like furniture). The main point here is that all credits must go through escrow (escrow must be made aware) in order to avoid the potential for the appearance of fraud.

The bottom line is to be wary of any request to pay for anything outside of escrow–always make sure you ask your agent to assure that escrow is made aware of all credits and payments that are negotiated with the seller. Most importantly, trust your instincts.

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Fabulous Encinitas Restaurant Unlike Any Other

Friday, September 17th, 2010

I had the pleasure of dining this week at The Greenery in Leucadia (Encinitas), and I have to say that if you want to sample a lunch that I guarantee will be one of, if not THE, healthiest, freshest and best tasting you have ever eaten, you need to plan a visit.

The Greenery is an all natural, organic, raw, vegan restaurant. Now, before you roll your eyes and move to find another blog to read, give me a moment to explain. Most people think of those who adhere to a raw diet sitting down to a plate full of carrot slices, some nuts and some raw leafy greens…boring and definitely not something you would get your family to eat, right? But if you truly understand the raw diet and actually taste what can be created with a little bit of know-how, you will be AMAZED.

Melissa and Chris Carrier, the owners of this restaurant, make all dishes fresh daily, with organic produce. For lunch everything is pre-packaged and you choose your items from the refrigerator. I tried the “burger,” which consists of a sprouted buckwheat bun topped with a veggie walnut patty, sun dried tomato ketchup, mac/pine nut “cheese,” mustard, carmelized onions, lettuce and tomato. It was so tasty I ate the whole thing, plus the fresh greens salad made with kale and a delicious creamy dressing. My husband had the pizza, his favorite, which is made on a butternut squash crust, with fresh marinara, sun dried tomatoes, and mac-pine nut “cheese” topped with kalamata olives, leeks and red bell peppers.

Some other offerings may include Vegetable Curry, Pad Thai, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and a Cream Cheese Sandwich. Aside from the incredible flavor of these dishes, you will likely notice you feel better after eating this “live” food. It is so beneficial for your body and provides natural energy.

One last thing, although we were full we wanted to try one of the homemade desserts. Skeptical as to whether a raw vegan dessert could actually satisfy a sweet tooth, we were pleasantly surprised by the scrumptious Banana Cream Pie. It had an almond-date “crust, with almonds and dates inside, loads of fresh bananas, and a creamy topping made from fresh coconut. I have to tell you that my sweet tooth was satisfied, and to think that it was actually good for me! There is no refined sugar, preservatives, chemicals, frying, cooking, fats, dairy or processed foods used in any of the dishes. But you will never miss them one iota…trust me!

Menu items may change daily, but there are a few staples that are usually available. Dessert items vary daily as well. Prices are reasonable, with a typical item costing between $8 and $12. I recommend going with a friend and sharing a few items so you can sample all the different flavors. Dinner is served from a menu and made to order.

The Greenery is located at 133 Daphne Street, in Encinitas, on the corner of Daphne and Highway 101 directly behind Mozy Cafe (the entrance is on Daphne). The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday, 11:30-3:00 for lunch and 5:30-8:30 for dinner. Be warned that weekends are crowded, so plan accordingly. The number is 760-479-0996. To learn more you can visit their website at http://www.greeneryrawcafe.com/. Bon appetite!

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California May Help YOU Keep Your Home

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

If you are a Californian and you are having difficulties with your mortgage, you may be in luck. Starting November 1 a new program entitled Keep Your Home will go into effect. The program offers principal reductions (essentially loan modifications), money for “catching up” with your payments, payment subsidies and money for relocation assistance if those are not possible, but you will have to meet the criteria to be eligible for this program.

Eligibility/Types of Assistance

* Payment Subsidy: You must be in “imminent danger” of foreclosure, due to job loss, short-term financial troubles or illness. These homeowners can obtain up to $1500 or 50% of the value of their monthly mortgage payment, whichever is less, for up to six months.

* Mortgage Reinstatement: If you have missed one or more mortgage payments you may be eligible to obtain up to $15,000 or 50% of the delinquent amount, whichever is less, in order to reinstate your mortgage and avoid foreclosure. Caveat: in order for this option to work your lender MUST agree to match the monetary assistance dollar-for-dollar. That means that if you are eligible for the entire $15,000 your lender must agree to reduce your mortgage by $15,000. In essence it is similar to a modification and is a great way to prevent foreclosure, but it remains to be seen whether lenders will follow through.

* Negative Equity Reduction: If you are upside down (owe more than your home is worth in the current market) you may be eligible to receive up to $50,000 towards reduction of the principal balance on your mortgage, to bring it closer to the market comparables and avoid foreclosure. Caveat: Here the lender must also agree to match this number, meaning it will reduce the principal balance of your mortgage by the same amount.

* Must move: For those homeowners who cannot afford to remain in their homes there is still hope. If you agree to work with your lender on a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure, you may be eligible to receive up to $5,000 in order to help ease your move to another residence that you can afford. The money is paid through your loan service provider and is granted on a one-time only basis.

* Note that for any of the above means of assistance to apply you must meet the following criteria:

–Home must be in California

–Home is your principal place of residence (no vacation homes)

–Income restrictions must be met

–Homeowner must sign an affidavit stating that your income will allow you to make modified payments on your mortgage, that you are behind on payments or in danger of imminent default, etc.

–The property cannot be vacant, abandoned or in need of major repair

–You must not have taken cash out of your home in a cash out refinance

The state has allocated $700 million toward this program (where this money comes from in a state that is in financial trouble I haven’t a clue, but regardless the money is there). All in all it is clear that the state of California is trying to promote homeownership that is sustainable, while at the same time preventing foreclosure rates from skyrocketing and home sales prices to plummet. These ideas are a positive step in the right direction and we will see where the program goes after November 1. For more information visit the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) website at http://keepyourhome.calhfa.ca.gov/. You can also call (916)373-2585.

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Fall Home Maintenance Tips

Friday, September 10th, 2010

It’s back to school time and my house is so QUIET! There are no more excuses, and no better time than now to address home projects that were put off during the summer. This is a great time of year to make sure your house is safe and running as efficiently as possible. Here is a Fall homeowner checklist:

1. Chemicals: Go through your stash of cleaners and chemicals and make sure they are all still good. If you have younger children, place them all in a locked cabinet. If you keep all your cleaners under your kitchen sink as I do, this is a great time to pull them all out and check for any water leaks. Believe me, this saved me a few years ago. My sink had a slow leak and I had no idea until I pulled everything out to clean the cabinet.

2. Smoke alarms: Check all smoke alarms and change the batteries.

3. FIre Extinguishers: Keep a dry-chemical fire extinguisher on each level of your home. I also keep one in the garage. If you already have one you need to check the charge at least annually.

4. Carbon Monoxide Detectors: These should be installed near bedrooms and by your furnace. They are inexpensive and run on batteries, which you should also check at least annually.

5. Dryer Vent: Your dryer vent hose and outside vent should be cleaned to avoid fires, at least once a year.

6. Furnace: Should be serviced annually to avoid maintenance issues.

7. Rain Gutters: Fall is a great time to make sure all your gutters are clear of debris and free of leaks that could direct water down the sides of your home.

8. Sprinklers: After a hot summer it is important to make sure your sprinklers are operating correctly. Not only does this help with your water bill, but also helps the environment. Sprinkler heads are easily broken by car wheels, dogs, lawnmowers, etc. Also make sure to scale back your watering time on your automatic sprinklers once the heat subsides.

9. Closet cleaning: Usually known as “Spring cleaning,” I like to go through my closets at this time of year as well. You can make it a fun project and get the whole family involved. I have my kids put clothes that no longer fit them into boxes, and then we drop it off at a charitable center. It makes them feel they are helping others.

10. Air/Heating Filters: After the summer heat subsides you need to clean or replace your air/heating filters…before the colder weather sets in and you need to use your heater. This keeps your units running efficiently and prevents danger.

I hope this list helps you in getting organized and ready for cooler days. If you have any questions about other things you may want to check to keep your home in tip-top shape before selling, please feel free to give me a call.

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Terry Jones/Koran Burning Update

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

AP posted a story at about 1:30 PST today that Terry Jones has agreed to refrain from burning copies of the Koran, in exchange for a promise from the property owner of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in NY to refrain from building a much debated Muslim mosque there. One crisis averted.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

For those of you who have not heard or don’t watch or listen to the news (more power to you), Pastor Terry Jones, the Pastor of a small congregation in a small town, is planning on hosting a book burning festival on Saturday, September 11. The books to be burned are copies of the Koran, the holy text of the Muslims, in a protest against terrorism.

Now, aside from the fact that this is downright disrespectful to an entire religion (noting that the majority of people of Muslim faith are pacifists), there are several problems with this idea:

1. Disrespect can beget more hatred and even violence. While Mr. Jones thinks he is making a statement, the fact that there have already been over 100 death threats on his life and that he now packs a gun proves a point: if you are trying to upset the small majority of extremists of any faith this is the way to do it. If terrorists can blow up two skyscrapers and three planes, killing thousands of people, surely they can kill one prejudiced clergyman. The problem is that people who do not think rationally will not just attribute this act to one Pastor and a few congregants who need psychiatric help, but will instead consider it an American act. Boy I shiver to think what might happen following the bonfire.

2. Freedom of expression can teach the wrong lesson. As an American I value my freedom of expression immensely. The first amendment should be treated with awe, and following it should be done with respect. If you are against extremists you can protest against them, and try to help change laws and treaties to fight violence and hatred. But by burning the Koran you are stating that you really just don’t give a hoot about other peoples’ freedom of expression and religion. There are bad seeds in every religion, but that doesn’t mean we should set the congregations on fire!

3. Respect for the military: Perhaps most importantly, the threat to our military men and women in countries that are home to extremist groups is too risky to outweigh making a stupid point by burning holy texts. General David Petraeus has warned the PR-happy Pastor that the little book barbeque could put our troops in danger. This is a very real possibility and should overshadow his quest to have his 15 minutes of fame…or should I say infamy.

4. Destruction of future knowledge. Why anyone would want to destroy books is beyond me. Sure, there have been many books I personally did not enjoy, but I just give them away or donate them to the library. Each book is filled with knowledge. If we destroyed books we would be denying history–people will study the books of today and yesterday to shape the future and analyze the past.

5. A note of hypocrisy. I am no expert on religion or the Bible, but did Jesus not say that people should love their enemies? The Jewish faith also talks of acceptance even in the face of disagreement. Here is a Pastor who is not preaching the word of his Lord and Bible.

6. Day of respect. Other than Memorial Day I cannot think of a date more worthy of respect than September 11. In honor of all those who innocently died, all the families and loved ones who were left without them, and in tribute to the jolt to national security and safety in America, this day should be sacred no mater what your beliefs. The terrorists did not distinguish by race, religion, color, sex, handicaps, sexual orientation. People died from all walks of life, all faiths (even Muslims, Mr. Pastor). Terrorists have tunnel vision and whatever is in the way is destroyed. Burning holy texts on this day is flat out disrespectful to those who died in vain, and to everyone who respects the memory of such a tragic day in history.

The bottom line is this: you have to anticipate the consequences of your actions and weigh your decision on the possible outcomes. Burning copies of the Koran can cause retaliation (violence, terrorism, death, destruction), shows disrespect, teaches nothing but ignorance, eschews hatred and puts our military in imminent danger. It seems like the scale is heavily weighted on one side; on the other side there is media attention and your little personal vendetta against a bunch of terrorists who can not see such an act for what it is: stupidity on the part of one man and some crazy followers. This is NOT endorsed by America and it is NOT what America stands for.

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