Archive for Financial Information


Miley Cyrus can help you save money on your home energy

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Miley Cyrus can help you save money on your home energyDancing kid courtesy of Microsoft images.

Vigorous twerking to the strains of Wrecking Ball can help you expend energy, if you’re trying to lose weight after the holidays. But Miley Cyrus’s music has also been demonstrated to save you energy—solar energy—and money on your utility bills.

Yes, a recent study has shown that playing pop and rock music to your solar panels increases their efficiency. The high frequency sounds cause vibrations that enhance their ability to generate energy, according to the trendy researchers at Queen Mary University and Imperial College London.

“We thought the sound waves, which produce random fluctuations, would cancel each other out and so didn’t expect to see any significant overall effect on the power output,” said James Durrant, Professor of Photochemistry at Imperial College London and unwitting punster.

“The key [sic] for us was that not only that the random fluctuations from the sound didn’t cancel each other out, but also that some frequencies of sound seemed really to amplify the solar cell output – so that the increase in power was a remarkably big effect considering how little sound energy we put in.”

Sorry, classical music doesn’t work. You can’t really rock out to Lizst.

So for maximum energy benefits, turn up the volume on Miley’s music so your solar panels vibrate, and then twerk like nobody’s watching.

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Chinese Purchases of US Real Estate Poised to Rise

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Growth in the number of well off mainland Chinese, an increase in overseas study by their children, a drop in US property prices, and a dropping US dollar, and a rising Chinese Yuan all create a perfect storm for the Chinese investor.

 The US represents a good value for what is considered a rapidly globalizing Chinese investor. Permanent private ownership and the market adjustment in the last five years represent a good time for people who are well funded with cash to take advantage of market conditions. The US on the whole does have some softness; in particular, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Detroit, and Atlanta are really dragging down the market. But New York, particularly Manhattan and the LA area are not behaving in the same way as the rest of the US market.

 In LA properties are still in many cases 20% below their 2007 peak and there is some room for capital appreciation. Education is also a huge driver to many of these purchases. Boston is a natural market with universities such as Harvard and Boston University in the vicinity. There is also a business connection where investors want to purchase properties where they do business.

There has also been a growing interest in commercial properties among the Chinese. It has grown substantially, because the U.S. commercial market has some stress and difficulties, and this creates opportunities. We are getting more inquiries from people who are interested in purchasing commercial property, primarily hotels, shopping centers and office buildings. We see a trend of emergence (of demand) on the commercial side. Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, LA, and San Francisco are the cities in which Chinese investors are most interested. Boston, because of the education angle, is showing promise as well There has also been an interest in golf homes especially if those homes overlook the golf course.

You can’t beat Manhattan overall, when you look at rental yields and when you look at how it’s been really restrained market over the last 10 years from a capital appreciation point of view despite everything that’s happened. Manhattan condominiums, for example, appreciated 60% between 2001 and 2010. We think that there’s still a lot of value there and a lot of stability there. If one of our clients says, “I want prime, I want stable, and I want safe,” we feel that Manhattan is very well aligned. Some of our clients have more of a “want to see more rapid appreciation,” and we think that Miami or Phoenix, as long as you buy right, is well positioned from a 3-5 year viewpoint.

The market saw some really substantial devaluation in properties, in some cases 50%+. Some very good developers (have) had some very prime properties that are selling for below construction cost. Residential real estate is our main focus. We think there’s a good opportunity for Chinese buyers who want to buy those now and do a 3-5 year flip.

The other interesting markets are the suburban parts of L.A. which still offer some very good value — places like Arcadia, Pasadena, Orange County, and Newport Beach. These areas are still 20% – and in some cases a little better than 20% — below their 2007 peaks. The market took a pretty substantial hit in 2007, but it rebounded quite quickly. Again, these are places that are well aligned with different clients we work with. The agricultural sector holds a lot of promise for investors.

The price of milk has gone way up proportionally to what price this dairy farm is on the market. According to the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report 2008 by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, a consultancy, wealthy Chinese investors have traditionally held a high proportion of their assets in real estate. In 2007, a year that saw investors diversify into other assets against the backdrop of a booming stock market, high net-worth individuals in China allocated 21% of their assets to real estate, against a global average of 14%.

 Now, the drop in housing prices and a steady renminbi have created an opportunity for wealthy Chinese to invest in real estate abroad, said Rupert Hoogewerf, CEO of the Hurun Report, a web portal that provides information on China’s wealthy. “What used to cost US$1 million now costs US$800,000,” he said. Hoogewerf estimates China is home to more than 50,000 people with a net worth of over US$10 million, and more than 800,000 with a net worth of US$1 million. But Chinese law restricts individuals from taking more than US$50,000 out of the country in one year.

 According to Hoogewerf, the restrictions mean buyers are predominantly traders, or those with businesses that export overseas. These people have stockpiles of US dollars and the savvy to navigate real estate overseas. “Investing abroad generally means a combination of increased opportunity and a perceived increase in risk at home”, said Michael Pettis, a professor of international finance at Tsinghua University. Last year, China saw a large influx of hot money and a record trade surplus of US$290 billion.

 Although much of this cash is now moving in the opposite direction, the flow is not as strong as that which brought it in. This leaves experts to infer possibilities from other trends. While it’s still too early to tell whether these prospective US homeowners herald a shift in Chinese spending and investing habits, it is worth monitoring the movements of small business owners, said Pettis. “They’re the ones that have the best sense of what’s going on at the ground level,” he said. “It’s good to watch what they are doing.” To investors from China: If you are interested in touring Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, or New York for these kind of real estate deals, please contact Dennis Kolodin at 602.315.9292 or .

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10 Steps To Cut Your Real Estate Taxes: Talking Down Your House

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 More homeowners are appealing their tax assessments. Here’s what to do if you get a tax-bill shock.

 Local assessors, sometimes part-timers with little training, too often guesstimate a home’s assessed value. That number is then multiplied by the tax rate to determine your annual real estate tax bill. “Do not assume an assessor is necessarily an ‘expert.’ Assessors are often elected officials lacking any special skills,” warns the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) in a handy guide, How to Fight Property Taxes, downloadable from its website for $9.95.

What makes that bad situation even worse these days is that some state and local governments have raised real estate tax rates to compensate for falling house values and/or weak sales and income tax revenues. So a too-high home assessment becomes even more painful.

Higher tax bills, the greater information available on the Web and the growth of special low-price appeals services are all leading more folks to challenge their assessments.

Is it worth fighting? Peter Sepp, executive vice president of the NTU, estimates that 20% to 40% of those who appeal win some reduction. Billionaire Tom Golisano saved $100,000 last year by appealing the $6 million assessment of his Mendon, N.Y. estate to a state court, which cut the assessment in half. “The New York system is very unfair to taxpayers,” says Robert Jacobson, Golisano’s attorney.

You’re more likely to save hundreds than thousands, but here are nine steps to take when your next tax assessment arrives in the mail.

1. Pin down the basics

First, determine the assessment base, which is usually (but not always) stated on the bill or in an accompanying pamphlet. In some localities properties are assessed at a fraction of market value. A too-high assessment representing 80% of your home’s value might look reasonable if you wrongly assume it’s 100% of the value.

Next, determine the assessment date. Your home’s worth as of that date–not its current value–is what’s significant. Some areas have three- or five-year revaluation cycles. Your house, now worth $400,000, might show a $500,000 assessment, based on 2007 values. You can still appeal this year’s bill, but understand you’ll be fighting over what your home was worth back then, not what it is worth now. Even more confusing, some areas phase in multiyear assessments, meaning your annual assessment could–legitimately–be rising, even while your actual property value is falling. You can always appeal a current tax bill assessment, but you usually can’t go back and fight over last year’s bill.

 2. Act quickly

Deadlines and rules vary, and most are not taxpayer-friendly. You might have only 25 days after getting your assessment notice to file an appeal and then only a few days until the hearing. Meanwhile, pay your bill on time; an appeal won’t ordinarily delay the due date.

3. Get your property record

Your assessor’s office has filing cabinets (or a computer) stuffed with “tax cards” for each property. “It’s a gold mine of information,” says Richard Michaud, a real estate lawyer with Bernkopf Goodman in Boston. Even if the assessor has put information on the Web, you’ll usually get more details by visiting the assessor’s office.

Check that all information is correct, including the square footage, number of bathrooms and fireplaces, and the quality (or depreciation factor) used to value your home. If you find factual mistakes, go in for a friendly chat and ask the assessor to correct it. “Your tax assessor isn’t your enemy. He’s an official trying to do his job. Often you can work these issues out very informally,” says Michaud.

4. Be a nosy neighbor

While you’re at the assessor’s office, get your neighbors’ property tax cards if you can. Assessments are always available as public records, and often the cards are, too.

You have a good chance of reducing your tax bill with an appeal if your house is assessed for more than what similar, nearby properties sold for or are assessed for. If all the neighbors have made improvements, and you haven’t, make sure your assessment is lower. A drive-by assessor might have judged all the houses as being of equal value, unaware that only yours still has the original lime-green bathroom fixtures, no central air and a wet basement. Think like a buyer trying to talk down the price of your house.

Another resource: The real estate agent who sold you your house might put together a list of comparable property sales (not listings) for you in hopes of a future referral.

5. Use the Web

You can search for all the houses on your cul de sac on or and compare basic stats (size, number of baths) and the assessment and sales histories–a particularly useful exercise if your locality hasn’t put such data online. Warning: The value estimates on these sites tell you what you might sell your house for today and are irrelevant for your appeal. Boards can throw out the data you submit if it postdates the assessment date.

One new Web service, ValueAppeal, charges $99 (refundable if you don’t win) for online help putting together an appeal package, including up to 15 comparable property sales. Before you pay you plug in your address to see if you’re one of the 25% of folks who ValueAppeal estimates can save $300 or more a year by appealing. (If not, the service won’t take your money, giving it an 80% success rate, claims founder Charles Walsh.)

6. Consider hiring a pro

If you’re not intimidated by local bureaucrats, you can argue the initial appeal yourself (typically in front of a local board). At the other extreme, if big dollars are at stake or you fight all the way up to court, you’ll likely need a lawyer.

In between are various services that file a large number of appeals. Some don’t require any payment up front from you; instead they collect a share (usually 50%) of the first year’s reduction in taxes. That’s not a bad deal if the assessment will affect your bill for three or more years.

Or you could find a local pro who specializes in your area and knows the detailed (and possibly quirky) criteria that affect assessments there. “The system is nuts,” says Sheila Anderson, who does appeals in Florida for residential and commercial clients. “If you don’t know what’s in the pages and pages of criteria that affect how you are assessed, you could be blindsided,” she adds.

7. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

If the facts don’t support your case, an appeal could actually lead to a higher valuation of your property. Perhaps the assessor has listed your lot as larger than it is but missed your addition. Be aware that an appeals board will likely ask what improvements you’ve made to the property, whether or not you ever filed for a building permit. You’ll be under oath when you answer.

8. Search out exemptions

You might also get your tax bill reduced by finding an exemption you qualify for and aren’t getting, such as a homestead exemption for a principal residence. Also common are exemptions for low-income seniors and veterans. Marc Soss, a tax lawyer in Sarasota, Fla., returned from service in Afghanistan and found he was eligible for a one-time $1,500 combat rebate on his real estate taxes. Separately he filled out an application, as a disabled vet, to get $5,000 chopped off his assessment, translating to $70 a year in savings. “Most people are completely unaware of these breaks,” says Soss.

9. Work to reform the system

After a partial victory knocking $400 off the annual tax bill on her family’s one-story stucco Odessa, Fla. home, Sara Cucchi, a former industrial engineer and now stay-at-home mom, is applying to be on her county’s appeals board. “I want the system to work the way it’s supposed to work,” she says.

If you are over 65 and live in your own home in California, check for parcel taxes on your property tax bill. You may be able to file for an exemption from such parcel taxes, typically levied by school districts.


Disclaimer: We are a real estate company. Please consult a legal and tax expert before using any of these strategies.

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Central Corridor Condo Market Shows Signs of Revival

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When Michael Hauer decided to buy a home, the 25-year-old looked for something with architectural flair close to his midtown-Phoenix office.

 In December, he chose a 734-square-foot condo in One Lexington, a high-rise on Central and Lexington avenues.

Once called Century Plaza, the steel-and-glass former commercial building went through bankruptcy during the housing collapse, and the new owner cut condo prices by about half.

Less than a year after One Lexington restarted sales, more than 70 percent of its 145 units are sold or under contract.

Hauer thinks his new home is a good investment at $181,950 plus a $299 monthly HOA fee (based on his unit's square footage), which he'll start paying at the end of the year.

Such luxury-condo developments, meant to capture buyers wanting an urban lifestyle with access to Metro light rail and Phoenix's burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene, are showing signs of life after the housing crisis sent several such properties into bankruptcy.


Dennis Kolodin, a Phoenix broker who specializes in urban properties and lives in a midtown-Phoenix high-rise, said he's starting to see an uptick in interest for high-rise and urban-living options.

"The urban-condo market in Phoenix is relatively small and relatively new," he said. As the economy picks up, he says, "it seems like some major pieces are now in place for development to continue along light rail and in downtown Phoenix."

Mini urban mansions

Just down the road from One Lexington at Central Avenue and Palm Lane (just north of the Phoenix Art Museum) is another luxury development that went through months of financial turmoil but is back on the market under new ownership.


Chateau on Central is a development of 21 luxury townhomes that looks like miniature brick castles, complete with turrets. These Queen Anne Victorian-style townhomes boast 5,200 square feet of living space or more on five floors.

slideshow Chateau on Central


The homes went on the market for $1.389 million to $2.459 million in December (plus a $575 monthly HOA fee), when the new developers unveiled two model homes decorated by the Scottsdale design firm Est Est.

None of the units has sold yet.


Prices are about half of the townhomes' original asking price of $2.8 million to $4.5 million in 2007.

MSI West Investments bought the 21-townhouse development for $7 million last year after its financer, Mortgages Ltd., declared bankruptcy.


Each home has four floors plus a basement, a private four-person elevator, a two-car garage, a top-floor terrace and balconies.


There are no shared community amenities, such as gyms, swimming pools or cigar clubs, at Chateau. Joe Morales, a real-estate agent with Arizona Great Estates-Realty One Group, said that's because luxury buyers prize privacy over shared spaces. All the townhomes are zoned as work/live spaces, so buyers could set up professional offices in the basement or on the first floor.


Morales said he may seek a light-commercial buyer, such as a high-end restaurant or law firm, for the largest townhome: an 8,252-square-foot corner property on Central Avenue, currently listed at $2.459 million.

Sell vs. rent

One Lexington and Chateau on Central are bucking a trend. Other developers are putting rental signs on luxury and high-rise urban properties built during the height of the market and meant to sell as luxury condos. The 44 Monroe building in downtown Phoenix and West Sixth, formerly called Centerpoint in Tempe, are two such properties whose units will be leased rather than sold.


Two years ago, Daly, the Phoenix broker, conducted bus tours, taking dozens of urban-living enthusiasts to see high-rises and new condo developments around the Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe city centers. The economy put many of those developments, and his tours, on hiatus.


Today, Daly said he's getting more inquiries from out-of-towners looking for investment properties and second homes. And Valley residents are asking when his tours will resume.


"Right now, it's just a matter of time and energy," he said. "I think we'll be firing them up again in the next two to three months."


For Hauer, an architect in training with Gabor Lorant Architects, the clean lines of the contemporary One Lexington building won out over some older downtown high-rise properties he considered.

Remaining units at One Lexington (owned by the Macdonald Development Corp.) range from $165,400 to $981,900 for a two-story, 2,846-square-foot penthouse.


"The finishes were a big part of it," Hauer said, listing the Caesarstone countertops, stainless-steel Bosch appliances, bamboo floors and modern kitchen cabinetry.

The building's amenities include a pool, gym, community room, parking and a small dog run, which comes in handy for Hauer's longhaired Chihuahua, Margarita.


Hauer said he also enjoys sitting on his small 14th-floor balcony, looking north over the stunning midtown Phoenix skyline and the distant mountains, reading his iPad.

"That's the icing on the cake," he said.






Read more:





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Low Cost Ways to Fix Your Home for Sale

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Real Estate Corner…

Q. We’ve purchased a new house, and are selling our existing home. We don’t have a lot of money to fix up our existing home before selling it. Do you have any inexpensive suggestions?


A: The typical realtor response is, “floors and paint” but there are several other low cost things that you can do.




  •  Deep-clean the house and “make it sparkle


  •  If your master bedroom looks drab, add new linens, pillows, and shams to spice up the bedroom and add a little color.


  • Buy a bright colored shower curtain and rug to perk up a dull bathroom.


  • Re-grout if your bathroom grout is chipped or discolored.


  • Eliminate clutter. Remove photos, knickknacks, refrigerator magnets and other personal items.


  • Organize your cabinets and closets.


  • Clear off kitchen and bathroom counter tops. Put away appliances.


  • Arrange your furniture so it focuses on your home’s strongest feature (it may be a view, a garden, flowers, or a painting).


  • Remove excess furniture.


  • Create a “model home” look, clean, attractive with well-place items.


  • Dress up your rooms with attractive area rugs and framed prints.


  •  Install new light fixtures if they’re damaged or unappealing.


  • Paint your walls in neutral tones. Paint the front door if needed.


  • Trim bushes and make sure the outside landscaping is neat and clean.


  • If you are in the market for a buying or selling a home and need competant and caring representation, contact us at 602.315.9292 or

Three Quick Ways to Improve Your Credit

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Yes, there are ways to improve your credit but before you do, please ask the opinion of your financial adviser.These tips come from a local company, Andorra Credit Repair. If you want more information on how to improve your credit, log on to


  • FICO, Who Cares…? A poor FICO score means paying higher interest rates on everything from mortgage rates, auto financing to department store credit cards. It's all in the numbers. Over thirty years on a $150,000 mortgage, you will save an extra $70,000 by paying an extra 2% on your mortgage. That's almost $200 per month for thirty years!


  •  Did you know… The three major credit bureaus have no responsibility of verifying any information that goes o to your credit report. That's right! Inaccurate, erroneous and unverifiable items can be added without your knowledge. Contact the credit bureau if this should happen to you.


  • Is it a good idea to pay off old Collections and Charged Off accounts?
    If you pay off a Collection account that has been on the credit report for 5 years (it will fall off by itself in two years whether you pay it or not) you will update the DLA (date of last activity) and it will stay on your credit for an additional 7 years. This generally will lower your credit score for the short term.
    However, if you pay off a Collection or Charge Off account that is 12-24 months old you can dramatically improve the credit score.

For any real estate questions, please contact us at 602.687.9933 or .



NACA:Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America: Reducing your Mortgage Payment

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A couple of people that we know have had success with this program. It may not be for everyone. With any program like this, please seek the advise of your financial planner, attorney, or other professional having to do with these kinds of matters.


From their website:

Click here for their video

The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America ("NACA") is a non-profit, community advocacy and homeownership organization. NACA’s primary goal is to build strong, healthy neighborhoods in urban and rural areas nationwide through affordable homeownership. NACA has made the dream of homeownership a reality for thousands of working people by counseling them honestly and effectively, enabling even those with poor credit to purchase a home or refinance a predatory loan with far better terms than those provided even in the prime market.

Investing in working people

The NACA homeownership program is our answer to the huge subprime and predatory lending industry. NACA has conclusively shown that when working people get the benefit of a prime rate loan, they can resolve their financial problems, make their mortgage payments and become prime borrowers. NACA’s track record of helping people who have credit problems become homeowners or refinance out of a predatory loan debunks the myth that high rates and fees are necessary to compensate for their "credit risk."

Started in 1988, NACA has a tremendous track record of successful advocacy against predatory and discriminatory lenders as well as providing the best mortgage program in America with $10 billion in funding commitments. NACA is the largest housing services organization in the country and is rapidly expanding by growing its existing 30+ offices, headquartered in Boston, MA, opening many new offices nationwide, and expanding the services it offers its membership. NACA’s confrontational community organizing and unprecedented mortgage program have set the national standard for assisting low- and moderate-income people to achieve the dream of homeownership.

NACA – America’s Best Mortgage Program
The incredible NACA mortgage allows NACA Members to purchase or refinance homes with:

  • no down payment,
  • no closing costs,
  • no fees,
  • no requirement for perfect credit,
  • and at a below-market interest rate.



Everyone gets the same incredible terms, including the below-market interest rate, regardless of their credit score or other factors. NACA also provides free, comprehensive housing services. NACA counsels Members into the extraordinary NACA mortgage using character-based lending criteria that takes each Member’s circumstances into account to determine whether they are ready for homeownership and what they can afford. This is in contrast to risk-based pricing where people are often given loans they cannot afford while brokers and others make tremendous fees and profits.

Property renovation and foreclosure prevention
NACA also provides property renovation assistance and Membership Assistance for NACA homeowners. NACA’s Home and Neighborhood Development ("HAND") Department addresses repair issues, and where appropriate provides rehab assistance throughout the renovation process. NACA’s Membership Assistance Program (MAP) provides comprehensive counseling for Members who are delinquent on their home payments, including establishing payment agreements and providing financial assistance to help Members avoid foreclosure.

Innovative technology
The NACA program has developed state-of-the-art mortgage software for web-based counseling, processing and underwriting., called "NACA Lynx", which is the envy of the mortgage industry. This is a paperless system that allows for character lending, loan processing and underwriting to be done on a very large scale.

Powerful national advocacy
NACA has revolutionized mortgage lending with its mortgage services and advocacy. NACA’s organizing department continues the aggressive advocacy against predatory lenders and the fight for economic justice. NACA is a high-profile organization, with its program and advocacy featured in the national media, including the Wall Street Journal, Prime Time Live, Boston Globe, Washington Post, major news outlets, and local networks nationwide.

NACA’s committed staff and contacting NACA

Our staff of hundreds of dedicated staff is committed to working with you to access this incredible mortgage product and to advocate for strong neighborhoods and economic justice. We are always looking for qualified staff—see our current job listings for details. To keep updated on NACA services, campaigns, and relevant legislative happenings, sign up by clicking Contact Us. NACA\'s History


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The Hottest Remodeling Trends for 2011

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You'll get the most out of your dollar by keeping an eye on what shows up in high-end homes. It’s the difference between Harvest Gold and rich wood.

 If you want to get the maximum value from your remodel when you sell your home, you need to pay attention to trends. But not just today's fads: what's more important is what will be hot when it's time to put your house on the market.

Home improvements, after all, start to date the moment they're completed. How fast their value slides may depend on your ability to forecast what will appeal to future buyers.

Guess right, and the remodel you do today can look almost as cutting edge five or even 10 years from now. Guess wrong, and you've just spent thousands on the avocado green, shag-carpeted, conversation pit turn-off of the future.

To navigate this minefield, keep in mind the following:

High-end homes drive the remodeling market. About 90% of the growth in remodeling industry over the last decade was, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, fueled by high-end homeowners (defined as those with houses worth $400,000 or more in 2003 dollars).

The trends hatched in this market tend to percolate down to the middle market, said remodeling expert Jim Lapides of the National Association of Home Builders' Remodelors Council, and eventually are incorporated into the new-home market.

So, if you want to know what will be in vogue in your neighborhood five years out, tour some open houses in more affluent communities to see what's happening there now.

Boomers are big, but GenXers are growing. Boomers own more of the housing stock and spend more on remodeling than other groups. But the cohort just behind them — those born from 1965 to 1974 – is coming on fast, according to Harvard's housing center.

While aging boomers may be looking to downsize and make their lives easier, midlife GenXers might be looking for more space to handle growing families. If you want your house to appeal to the largest number of buyers, you may have to think about features that appeal to both groups.

 Durability is key. Investing in quality materials can pay off if they hold up well over the years, said interior designer Juliana Catlin, past president of the American Society of Interior Designers and owner of Catlin Interiors in Jacksonville, Fla.

A cheap surface might show so many gouges and dings after five years that a buyer will insist you pay for replacing it, while a well chosen stone or tile surface could still be adding value a decade from now.


Consider the next buyer. One of the big trends in remodeling, particularly among GenXers, is making a personal statement, said Joan Stephens, chairman of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and owner of Stronghold Remodeling in Boise, Idaho.

These homeowners don't want their kitchens or baths to look like anyone else's; they might invest big bucks in, say, custom glass-tile designs or bold-colored countertops.

But Catlin worries these personal statements will date quickly and alienate future buyers."You have to think how it's going to translate for the next owners," Catlin said. "You may love your dark green countertop, but the next owner's favorite color could be yellow."

That's why Catlin advises homeowners who care about resale to choose more neutral colors for floors, countertops and other hard surfaces, using easily changeable paint and accessories to infuse personality.

Catlin also cautions against structural changes that can permanently devalue your home, like eliminating a bedroom or removing a tub from a bathroom (thus converting it from an all-important "full" bath to a three-quarters version).

 Another tip: make your remodel more timeless by matching it to the style of your home. "A cottage-style home looks better with a cottage-style kitchen," Catlin said. "A Mediterranean kitchen looks better in a Mediterranean home."

Be particularly cautious of any remodel that's a sharp contrast; an ultra-modern kitchen can look great if the rest of your house is sleek and uncluttered, but can look like a space ship landed if the rest of your home is shabby chic.

 In the kitchen

Highly polished granite and stainless steel were the hot trends in the 1990s — so much so that now there's a backlash among high-end homeowners. Instead of gleam, remodelers are going for warmth, Stephens said Color is hot right now, as in bright-red enameled stoves. But color trends are tricky to navigate, so a more conservative but still trendy choice might be panels that help refrigerators and dishwashers blend in with the cabinetry.

Higher-end appliances are also in big demand, Lapides said. Remodelers may not spend $6,000 on commercial-grade appliances, but they certainly want an upgrade from the entry level.

Stone countertops are still popular of course, but more homeowners are becoming wary of the drawbacks, said Vince Butler, chairman of the Remodelors Council. (Granite and other natural stones can be permanently stained by cooking oils and etched by common cleaners.) Butler said he is installing more synthetic or engineered stone countertops and seeing renewed interest in "solid surfaces" like Corian.

 "It may not have the eye appeal [of granite] but I think as people live with it, it may be easier to take care of," Butler said.

 Some, though, wonder if the monster/gourmet kitchen trend might begin to peter out, particularly among homes designed to appeal to older boomers.

"I think in the future people are going to be tired of cooking," said syndicated columnist and former builder Tim Carter, whose site focuses on remodeling as well as new construction issues.

 "It doesn't make much sense to invest $100,000 in a (kitchen remodel) if you don't cook that much."

 For the frugal: The good news is that minor kitchen remodels actually seem to pay off better at resale time than major redos, at least according to Remodeling Magazine's annual Cost vs. Value survey.

 Someone who spent an average $14,913 refacing cabinets, replacing laminate countertops and installing new cooktop, oven and sink in 2005 would recoup an estimated 98.5% of the cost on average if the home sold within a year, whereas someone who spent $81,552 on an upscale, tear-everything-outand- replace-it remodel would recoup 84.8% on average.

The bath

Utilitarian is out. Think spa — as in lots of space, big soaking or whirlpool tubs, multiple shower heads or even steam attachments in the shower. Dual sinks are a given in master baths, and luxuries like heated floors and towel warmers are popular with upscale renovators. Many renovators are putting the toilet in a separate room or partitioned area.

Remodelers are also shelling out, big time, for custom tile, said Butler, who runs Butler Bros. remodeling company in Clifton, Va.

 "It's the place where people are really expressing themselves," he said. "We've seen some master bathrooms where they spent $20,000 just on tile, and these are not extremely expensive homes. These are middle-class homes."

Be careful about going overboard if your primary goal is boosting resale value, however. The remodeling survey found a midrange remodel costing $10,499 would recoup 102.2% of its cost if the house sold within a year, while a more-elaborate $26,052 renovation would bring back 93.2%.

For the frugal: Adding multiple shower heads to a shower typically costs just a few hundred dollars, making it one of the most economical ways to add a spa feel. Also, try to avoid moving fixtures, since that can add enormously to a project's cost.


Wood floors are still desirable, with bamboo becoming more popular. Tile is still a good choice for kitchens and baths, although concrete is being used more often (either stained or just sealed). In addition, high-end linoleum — which sounds like an oxymoron, but isn't — is being used in more fashionable homes.

 For the frugal: Laminate flooring designed to look like wood can be less expensive and more durable than the real thing, but choose carefully: some of the products can look kind of cheesy, Carlin warned. If you have the real thing hiding under carpeting or other flooring, spring for refinishing to add real value to your home.


Contractors polled by the National Association of Home Builders said universal design — making homes more accessible for the elderly and disabled — would be one of the top future trends in remodeling (second only to the ever-rising cost of labor).

 Since most folks want to "age in place," making sure they can get around their homes as they age will be increasingly important.

 Of course, baby boomers don't want to be reminded they're getting old, so one way to tout accessible design is to point out how their parents can benefit when they visit.

"When you're selling to that demographic, you kind of skirt the issue," Stephens said.

Fortunately, most aspects of universal design involve fairly subtle changes that add little if any cost to a remodeling project.

 Wider hallways and doorways, for example, are aesthetically pleasing as well as more functional when you're maneuvering a wheelchair, walker or even a big piece of furniture. (Ever try to get a king-sized bed or monster couch through a narrow door?)

Step-in showers, with no lip or tub wall separating them from the rest of the bathroom, can add to that spa feeling, while the extra lighting that can help aged eyes also makes the house feel brighter and more desirable.

 For the frugal: Again, universal design can be incorporated into virtually any remodel. Or you can tackle projects one by one, such as replacing regular doorknobs with lever-style handles, removing thresholds between rooms and adding better lighting.

 Floor plans

Open is still in and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, design experts agree. Cooks don't want to be isolated in the kitchen, and open floor plans make even smaller homes feel roomier.

By contrast, the value of additions appears to be waning, at least according to the survey, which showed most projects that added square footage didn't pay off as well as other remodels. Carter, for one, expects that trend to continue if energy prices remain high.

 "The cost to heat and cool a home in the future is going to be staggering," Carter predicted. "If we don't have any major improvements in insulation, the only way you're going to save money on heating and cooling is by having a smaller home."

 For the frugal: Knocking down a few walls costs a lot less than adding square footage. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, though, make sure you're not destroying load-bearing walls.

Bonus rooms

Carter thinks retired baby boomers are going to want workshops and hobby rooms to pursue their leisure-time passions.

 Lapides suggests that "Costco rooms" may be on the rise, as homeowners look for ways to store "all the 10-pound bags of pretzels they bought at Costco." The extra storage might be incorporated into a space that also serves as the laundry and mud rooms, Lapides said.

 In fact, incorporating more storage throughout the house is likely to pay off, since our propensity to acquire stuff is unlikely to abate in the next decade.

 Catlin also sees more houses incorporating home offices, which traditionally haven't added as much value as other remodeling projects. One solution is to build the office into the closet of a guest room, so later occupants have the flexibility to use the space the way they want.

 For the frugal: You probably won't want to build rooms devoted to a single use, but adding shelves or cabinets can be an inexpensive way to increase a room's functionality.


The high-tech home

Movies, video games and other content increasingly will be delivered via broadband, so Carter recommends installing conduit that can help future electricians run wires from wherever the cable or satellite enters to your house to the rooms where you have your computers and entertainment centers.

 He also likes the idea of "electronics closets" to house all the home entertainment gear and minimize visual clutter. Sensors can be built into the wall above the TV screen to transmit your remote controls' signals to the gear in the closet.

 Another wiring project that's hot, Stephens said, involves putting speakers throughout the house as well as outside.

 For the frugal: Adding speaker wire is an inexpensive, if potentially messy, do-it-yourself job since you likely will be running wires through attics and crawlspaces. Adding conduit is cheap if you've already got walls torn open for other projects; otherwise, hold off.

 Have fun with your remodeling projects!


3 Ways to Maximize Social Security

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I never see myself retiring. Right now, I have energy and the passion in what I do but life may have other ideas. I may have to retire "down the road' and I would like to be prepared. When to retire is always a difficult question. The “when” to retire will determine the amount that I may yield regarding Social Security.

What are some possible strategies to maximize Social Security income returns for individuals and married couples?


1. The "Social Security do-over."This strategy is geared toward individuals who have started to take Social Security benefits early but wind up working again.

Individuals who began collecting Social Security benefits early — at age 62 — and who re-enter the work force at some point afterward can stop receiving payments until age 70. What's the upside? When this individual truly retires again, Social Security benefits will have increased proportionately based on his or her earnings.

What are the key caveats? First, a "do-over strategy" will require the individual to pay back all Social Security income previously received. Those considering this strategy must be certain that they have the savings set aside to pay it back as well as very detailed tax records on the amount of tax already paid to the IRS on those received benefits. If taxes have been paid, a tax credit or deduction may be available.

Equally important: If spouses decide to take advantage of this strategy, they should be in good health and have longevity on their side. One of the biggest risks of this strategy is if both spouses die shortly after paying back their benefits, the money that they paid back to Uncle Sam is lost as far as heirs are concerned. However, if just one spouse pays back the benefits and dies shortly after, the surviving spouse can still collect the spousal benefits.

This strategy is easier to execute than you might think. Anyone older than 62 and younger than 70 who are already receiving benefits can start by filing a Request for Withdrawal of Application.


2. The "file and suspend" approach.The second possible strategy is geared only toward couples in which one spouse is the breadwinner, and who have sufficient assets or sources of income so that only one set of Social Security benefits is needed.


This is how it might work: A husband who has worked until Social Security qualifying age files for benefits while the wife, who has stopped working well before the qualifying age, files for spousal benefits. The husband then requests from the Social Security Administration a suspension of benefits while the wife continues to receive her payments. The husband's benefits — which would be more significant in this hypothetical instance, given his "breadwinner" status — continue to grow until he decides when to start receiving benefits again. Over the long term, this can create an even greater income stream when a couple is further along the distribution stage of their retirement financial plan.


3. Restricting benefits.The third potential strategy addresses married couples in which one spouse is retired and the other is still gainfully employed, and consists of restricting benefits to a spouse.

Here's how it works: Let's say a wife stopped working and is collecting Social Security benefits calculated from her time in the work force, but her husband still has a career and hasn't begun collecting Social Security. As long as he is at full retirement age, currently age 66, he can begin to receive spousal benefits, and then when he retires, he can suspend them and collect his own full benefit.

This means that he would get half his wife's Social Security income each month while still allowing his own benefits to accrue. Then, at age 70, he would apply to stop receiving the Social Security spousal benefit and file for his own. The bottom line: This becomes free money that most Americans simply don't know about.

Obviously, it is very important to work with an accountant or financial planner when making such decisions because many moving parts need to be carefully considered.

Clearly, retirement means different things to today's generations than it did in the past. What all retirees and pre-retirees need to think about are the various tools at their disposal that can maximize their financial planning over the long run. Actively viewing Social Security as one of these tools can be a critical step in the right direction.

For any financial advice, please ask your financial planner or consultant.


For any real estate questions, you may contact us at or 602. 687.9933.

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After finding documentation problems, Wells Fargo says it's going to re-file paperwork for 55,000 foreclosures. But it's not going to issue a blanket moratorium on foreclosures.

There will probably be a temporary decrease in the number of foreclosures in the last quarter of this year. But they're go back up once the paperwork is re-filed. Wells Fargo, and all the other banks, say they're just having problems with the documentation.

Foreclosures are expected to be back up next year, for a couple of reasons. Banks are going to be re-filing their paperwork.

Those foreclosures will go through, barring any more problems with documentation. But the bigger driver behind foreclosures next year will be the fact that adjustable rate mortgages are going to adjust upward.

When you think about the fact that a lot of these borrowers were only marginally qualified to begin with and would now be faced with paying a thousand dollars more a month on a property that's lost 30, 40, 50 percent of its value since the time they bought it, it's a pretty toxic mix.

Pundits predict that foreclosures will actually peak next year. 2011 will set records for the number of foreclosures and bank repossessions of homes.

For any financial questions, refer to your lender and mortgage company. For any legal questions, consult a lawyer.

For all real estate questions, please contact us at: 602.687.9933 or