Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lenders Gain More Acceptance Over Short Sales

Lenders are increasingly becoming more accepting over short sales as they seek more solutions to help struggling home owners avoid foreclosure, according to a recent article at

"Foreclosure sales are pretty devastating," Faith Schwartz, executive director of Hope Now, a resource for cash-strapped home owners, told "We'd much prefer a [loan] modification, but if [home owners] don't quality, then the next best alternative is deed-in-lieu or short sales."

Short sales and foreclosures increased in 2010, but in 2011, short sales continued to climb even more (increasing 26,000 nationwide) while foreclosures dropped by 255,000, according to Hope Now data.

Banks are realizing that a short sale is far more preferable than a foreclosure in most cases. For one, banks tend to make more money off of a short sale vs. foreclosure: The average price of a foreclosed home in the second quarter of 2011 was $164,217 compared to $192,129 for a short sale. Also, foreclosures tend to be more costlier to a lender in legal and administrative resources too.

Neighborhoods also tend to benefit more from a short sale than a foreclosure because short sales tend to sell for less of a discount and, unlike a foreclosure, they don’t often sit vacant, which can make them prime targets for vandalism and depressing nearby property values, housing experts say.

Source: “Increase in Short Sales Give Market a Little Breathing Room,” (Dec. 29. 2011)

Positive Market Report Sends Housing Stocks Soaring

Good news spread Thursday for home builders, home improvement companies, and mortgage lenders, as stocks ticked up after the National Association of REALTORS® released a new report showing that pending home sales in November reached their highest level in a year-and-a-half.

Pending home sales — a gauge for the future of the market — increased 7.3 percent in November to a reading of 100.1, NAR reported in its index. (A reading of 100 is considered healthy for the real estate market.)

Analysts are predicting that 2012 will mark a turnaround for the real estate market, after years of a drastic slowdown in activity.

Stocks inched up on Thursday for several home builders. For example, Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., saw the biggest rise in shares following Thursday’s report, with shares increasing 9 cents, or nearly 7 percent, to trade at $1.39. Also, homebuilders D.R. Horton Inc. saw shares rise 45 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $12.65; Lennar Corp. added 77 cents, or 4.1 percent, to $19.75; and PulteGroup Inc. gained 28 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $6.24, the Associated Press reported.

Also, mortgage companies also saw an increase to their stocks. For example, Bank of America shares increased 11 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $5.40 on Thursday while Huntington increased 16 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $5.63; and Wells Fargo shares jumped 55 cents, or 2 percent, to $27.66.

Source: “Housing Stocks Up on Pending Sales Report,” Associated Press (Dec. 29, 2011)

Buyer vs. Seller on Home Prices

Housing analysts are expecting home prices to stabilize in 2012, but that doesn’t mean that buyers and sellers won’t continue to be at odds over home prices in the new year.

While buyers are feeling good about the housing market and saying its a great time to buy, seller sentiment is falling to record low, a new report by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows. Sellers say they are unhappy because they’re unable to snag the prices for the home that they want.

According to the MBA report, a large gap is occurring between home buying and home selling that isn’t expected to narrow for at least the next five quarters.

From 1992 to 2005, seller sentiment remained high — between 40 percent and 60 percent, according to the report. However, since 2005, seller sentiment has decreased to 7.6 percent. Meanwhile, home buyer sentiment has remained high despite unemployment and economic conditions. Nearly 80 percent of American households say now is a good time to purchase a home.

As home values have dropped over the last few years, many sellers are refusing to budge on their prices to reflect current market traditions. One reason why: Some sellers are underwater on their homes. About 20 percent of home owners nationwide are considered “underwater,” owing more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth. Also, some sellers are realizing there may be a benefit in waiting to sell or to keep the home on the market holding out for a higher price, notes the author of the report, Gary Engelhardt, a Syracuse economics professor. “This could hold prices high enough to drive a substantial wedge between the existing buyer and seller. And a poor jobs market with limited mobility, a key driver of housing-market transactions, may exacerbate this,” an article at HousingWire notes about the report.

Source: “Buyers, Sellers Continue to Butt Heads on Home Prices,” HousingWire (Dec. 29, 2011)

Mortgage Rates End the Year Near Record Lows

Home buyer affordability continues to be pushed higher due to mortgage rates remaining at record lows, Freddie Mac reports in its weekly mortgage market survey.

"Mortgage rates ended the year hovering near historic lows in an already affordable housing market,” Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement. With affordability so high, Nothaft notes “it's not surprising then that over 5 percent of households in December plan to purchase a home over the next six months, the highest share since May,” according to The Conference Board.

For the ninth consecutive week, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, the most popular choice among home buyers, have been at or below 4 percent. In fact, only twice this year did 30-year rates average above 5 percent, Freddie Mac reports.

Here’s a closer look at rates for the week ending Dec. 29.

30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged3.95 percent, with an average 0.7 point, inching up from last week’s all-time record--a 3.91 percent average. A year ago at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.86 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.24 percent, with an average 0.8 point, also up slightly compared to last week’s record 3.21 percent average. Last year at this time, 15-year rates averaged 4.20 percent.
5-year adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 2.88 percent, with an average 0.6 point, increasing from last week’s 2.85 percent average. Last year at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.77 percent.
1-year ARMs: averaged 2.78 percent, with an average 0.6 point, slightly up from last week’s 2.77 percent average. A year ago, 1-year ARMs averaged 3.26 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

What Had the Biggest Impact on Housing in 2011?

The “government, the mortgage industry, and forces of nature all shook the housing market in 2011,” according to a recent Time magazine article, which highlights the key issues that had the greatest impact on the real estate market this year--and what’s expected to have a major impact in the new year as well.

Here are a few of the issues that the Time magazine article by Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist, notes as having some of the greatest impact:

1. The robo-signing scandal

The issue: Banks were accused of approving numerous foreclosures without proper reviews when a robo-signing scandal first broke in October 2010, continuing well-into 2011.

The fallout: Banks slowed their processing of foreclosures greatly in 2011, making sure to take extra precautions. Regulators and states are working on a settlement with banks over the scandal — one that could include reducing loan balances of current home owners, if approved. Once a settlement is in place, housing experts predict the pace of foreclosures to pick up in 2012.

2. Natural disasters

The issue: A series of natural disasters wreaked havoc on real estate in 2011, from tornados, floods, and hurricanes. The National Flood Insurance Program was pushed into the spotlight, a program still financially strapped after Hurricane Katrina. The program’s insurance premiums were not fully covering insurance claims in disasters this year, according to the Time magazine article.

The fallout: For home owners living in flood-prone areas, “you can’t get a mortgage if you don’t have flood insurance,” the Time magazine article notes. “Without NFIP, housing markets in these areas would skid to a stop.” NFIP recently received an extension until May 2012 but experts say the future of the program still remains uncertain.

3. The conforming loan limit

The issue: In October, the government lowered the conforming loan limit for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as those insured by the Federal Housing Administration from $729,750 to $625,500 in most areas. The real estate industry urged the government to keep the conforming loan limits higher. In November, the government raised the loan limits back up for FHA loans, but they left out Fannie and Freddie loans.

The fallout: “Mortgage lenders are willing to charge lower rates for loans that are backed by Fannie or Freddie; with a lower conforming loan limit, a small number of loans that used to qualify for federal backing no longer do,” the Time magazine article notes.

Read more about the key issues for the real estate industry in 2011.

Source: “5 Events That Really Mattered for Housing in 2011 -- and Beyond,” Time Magazine (Dec. 29, 2011)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Obama Pledges to Refinance Millions of Mortgages at Today's Rates

Housing got only a brief mention in President Obama’s highly anticipated jobs speech Thursday night. But it was a pledge that some pundits say is finally a step in the right direction. Others say it’s likely to have little impact.

Obama told Congress that his administration is going to work with federal agencies to refinance millions of homeowners’ mortgages at today’s record-low rates.
With those rates now near 4 percent, the president says the move could “put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket, and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.”
While the specifics have not been released, it’s expected that the program will make homeowners with government-backed mortgages eligible for new, lower-rate, lower-payment loans even if they are underwater or have bad marks on their credit as a result of financial hardship.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a paper just one day before Obama’s speech outlining the impact of such an extensive refinance program.
The agency analyzed a “stylized large-scale mortgage refinancing program” that would relax current income and loan-to-value restrictions for borrowers who wish to refinance and whose mortgages are backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Federal Housing Administration.
CBO concluded that the specific program analyzed is estimated to lead to an additional 2.9 million mortgage refinancings, resulting in 111,000 fewer defaults on those loans and estimated savings for the GSEs and FHA of $3.9 billion on their credit guarantee exposure.
Offsetting those savings, however, CBO says federal investors in the mortgage-backed securities holding those loans – including the Federal Reserve, Treasury, and GSEs – would experience an estimated fair-value loss of $4.5 billion.
Based on these figures, CBO says the estimated cost to the federal government for a refi program of this magnitude would be $600 million.
For private investors, the costs run significantly higher. CBO says they would experience an estimated fair-value loss of $13 to $15 billion. Most of that wealth would be transferred to borrowers, the report notes.
CBO concludes that the benefits of a 4-percent-rate, government-led refi boom would be “small” relative to the size of the housing market, the mortgage market, and the overall economy.

Fannie and Freddie Detail New HARP Guidelines

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have released highly anticipated guidelines for the revised Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).

Both GSEs have posted details of the program modifications and procedural changes on their respective business sites for mortgage servicers to follow (Fannie’s, Freddie’s).
Among the key program revisions, the GSEs have eliminated or raised the loan-to-value (LTV) cap, and relaxed representation and warranty stipulations – changes that officials expect to at least double the number of homeowners with a HARP-refinanced mortgage. Since the program was launched in 2009, just under 900,000 borrowers have participated.
Negative equity typically excludes a homeowner from refinancing through traditional channels. Removing previous LTV ceilings will allow homeowners who are severely underwater due to plummeting property values to take out new loans at today’s lower interest rates. There are, however, some LTV conditions depending on loan type.
There are no LTV restrictions for fixed-rate mortgages with terms up to 30 years, including those with terms of 15 years.
For fixed-rate loans with terms between 30 and 40 years, LTV is limited to 105 percent. Likewise, a 105 percent LTV cap has been placed on adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) with initial fixed periods of five years or more and terms up to 40 years.
Any borrower with an LTV ratio below 80 percent is not eligible for a HARP refinance. However, both GSEs do offer assistance to these borrowers through their traditional refinance programs.
As previously announced, across the board, the original mortgage must have been sold to Fannie or Freddie prior to April 1, 2009 to qualify for a HARP refi.
In the October notice announcing their intent to modify HARP to increase participation, the GSEs said they would “waive certain representations and warranties” on loans
refinanced through the program. Analysts said at the time that depending on what exceptions would be made, such a move could spark increased competition among lenders to refinance borrowers through HARP.
In Tuesday’s guidance, the GSEs provided specifics on which liabilities would be lifted and noted that the rep and warranty adjustment is one of the most important components of the new program.
The lender will not be responsible for any of the representations and warranties associated with the original loan.
The lender is also relieved of the standard underwriting representations and warranties with respect to the new mortgage loan as long as the data in the case file is complete and program instructions are followed for collecting information on income, employment, assets, and fieldwork.
The lender is not required to make any representation or warranty as to value, marketability, or condition of the subject property unless they obtain a new appraisal.
Lenders will, however, be held accountable for any fraudulent activities.
Administration officials are hoping that eliminating the risk associated with reps and warranties – whether transferred from the original loan or on the new loan – will spark healthy competition among lenders to help homeowners get into the program. And Fannie and Freddie are making it easier for the competition to flourish.
The GSEs are modifying their policies to allow lenders to solicit borrowers with Fannie- and Freddie-owned mortgages for a refinance. The only condition is that the lender “simultaneously applies the same advertising and solicitation activities” to borrowers of both GSEs, and for loans both owned or securitized by the GSEs.
In the new guidelines, the GSEs detail specific language that must be included in any borrower solicitation material.
Regarding program eligibility as it relates to delinquencies, the borrower must not have been behind on their payments at all within the most recent six-month period, and had no more than one 30-day delinquency within the last year.
The GSEs are also removing the requirement that the borrower (on the new loan) meet the standard waiting period following a bankruptcy or foreclosure. The requirement that the original loan must have met the bankruptcy and foreclosure policies in effect at the time the loan was originated is also being removed.
The new HARP program has been extended through December 31, 2013.

Distressed Commercial Properties Level Off

Are better days ahead for commercial real estate? A new report by Real Capital Analytics shows the number of distressed commercial properties is plateauing and expected to continue to do so in the new year. Distressed properties — which include commercial properties that are in default, foreclosure, or repossessed by lenders — had totaled $171.6 billion in October 2011, a decrease from topping off at $191.5 billion in March 2010, according to Real Capital Analytics.

“The real test of the distress plateau is likely to be seen in 2012 and 2013, when about $300 billion in loans comes due each year,” according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

At $41.9 billion, the office sector continues to have the largest number of distressed commercial properties. But that number has been steadily declining — about 11.8 percent less than its peak reached in October 2010.

The apartment sector has the second-highest level of distressed commercial properties with $35.6 billion in troubled loans, according to the Washington Post article. Land and other property types have about $29.8 billion in distressed assets.

The metro areas with the largest number of commercial properties in distress is Manhattan, in which the total volume of distress properties stands at $11.8 billion, followed by L.A.-Orange County with $10 billion. Meanwhile, Houston has the lowest at $111 per capita.

Source: “Amount of Distressed Real Estate Could be on Way Down,” Washington Post (Dec. 26, 2011)

Gov’t Reviews Proposals for Foreclosure-Rental Program

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) received more than 400 proposals on how it should handle the high number of foreclosures that are plaguing many markets across the country. The proposals suggest various ideas on how the FHFA can go about turning thousands of repossessed homes that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own into rentals, in trying to curb losses, stabilize neighborhoods, and prevent further drops to housing values.

Fannie and Freddie service more than half of all U.S. home mortgages so any foreclosure-to-rental program could have a significant impact on the housing market, real estate experts say. The FHFA received more than 4,000 submissions during its call for proposals — however, only about 10 percent were deemed valid, the agency said.

“FHFA is proceeding prudently but with a sense of urgency to lay the groundwork for the development of good initial transactions in early 2012,” Corinne Russell, an FHFA spokeswoman, told Bloomberg. FHFA has declined to discuss specific submissions or a timeline for the program.

But proposals for the foreclosure-rental program reportedly documented joint-venture partnerships, sales, and auctions.

As of Sept. 30, Fannie Mae has 122,616 foreclosures with a carrying value of $11 billion — costing Fannie $733 million to maintain in the third quarter alone, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Meanwhile, Freddie Mac owns 59,6161 foreclosures, costing it $221 million to operate and manage in the third quarter.

Source: “Deutsche Bank Offers U.S. Plans for Renting Foreclosed Homes,” Bloomberg (Dec. 27, 2011)

3 Cities Where Prices Appreciated the Most in 2011

Some cities saw big increases in home prices this year. The ones that saw the largest levels of appreciation often had the lowest foreclosure rates in the country, or did not peak midway through the past decade.

For example, in Charleston, W. Va., home values soared nearly 18 percent over the first 10 months of the year, the largest rise among the 384 metro areas tracked by CoreLogic.

AOL Real Estate recently profiled cities that saw the largest price appreciation this year. The top three are:

1. Charleston, W. Va.

Home value change January to October: +17.95 percent

2. Holland-Grand Haven, Mich.

Home value change January to October: +11.89 percent

3. Bloomington, Ind.

Home value change January to October: +11.82 percent

See which other cities made the list.

Source: “Biggest Home Price Increases of 2011,” AOL Real Estate (December 2011)

Read More

10 Cities Where List Prices Soared Last Month

Pending Home Sales Rise Again

Pending home sales continued to gain in November and reached the highest level in 19 months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 7.3 percent to 100.1 in November from an upwardly revised 93.3 in October and is 5.9 percent above November 2010 when it stood at 94.5. The October upward revision resulted in a 10.4 percent monthly gain.

The last time the index was higher was in April 2010 when it reached 111.5 as buyers rushed to beat the deadline for the home buyer tax credit. The data reflects contracts but not closings.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the gains may result partially from delayed transactions. “Housing affordability conditions are at a record high and there is a pent-up demand from buyers who’ve been on the sidelines, but contract failures have been running unusually high,” he said. “Some of the increase in pending home sales appears to be from buyers recommitting after an initial contract ran into problems, often with the mortgage.

“November is doing reasonably well in comparison with the past year. The sustained rise in contract activity suggests that closed existing-home sales, which are the important final economic impact figures, should continue to improve in the months ahead,” Yun added.

Pending home sales are not affected by the recently published rebenchmarking of existing-home sales because the index uses a different methodology based directly on contract signings, and is adjusted for seasonality.

The PHSI in the Northeast rose 8.1 percent to 77.1 in November but is 0.3 percent below November 2010. In the Midwest the index increased 3.3 percent to 91.6 in November and is 9.5 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 4.3 percent in November to an index of 103.8 and remain 8.7 percent above November 2010. In the West the index surged 14.9 percent to 121.2 in November and is 2.9 percent higher than a year ago.

Source: NAR

Monday, December 26, 2011

Real Estate Outlook: Existing-Home Sales Rise

Mortgage debt is up. Defaults, which had been on the decline, were also on the rise in November. This latest report comes from Standard & Poor’s/Experian indices.

The default rate had dropped to 2.08 percent this October from 3.06 at the same time last year. Second mortgage defaults were also down, dropping to 1.29 percent from 1.8 percent a year earlier.

Yet, defaults were up for the month of November for five major metro markets that are tracked.

Los Angeles led the pack at a November increase to 2.53 percent from 2.15 the month earlier.

The Miami market saw a default rise to 4.47 from 4.16 percent in October.

"These are two markets where we have seen some recent weakness in other housing statistics," said David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee for S&P Indices. "Again, while there may be some cause for concern if this upward trend continues. Other recent housing statistics point to the same relative weakness, so these statistics align with the overall current picture of the economy." The year over year decline in mortgage defaults currently stands at around 34%.

"Nationally, consumers continue to gradually improve their financial condition," said Blitzer. "Debt-service ratios, the proportion of disposable income that goes to paying debt, continues to decline."

With these improved financial conditions, consumers are returning to the market. Existing-home sales rose in November according to the National Association of Realtors. These sales rose 4.0 percent from October. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said more people are taking advantage of the buyer’s market. "Sales reached the highest mark in 10 months and are 34 percent above the cyclical low point in mid-2010 - a genuine sustained sales recovery appears to be developing," he said. "We’ve seen healthy gains in contract activity, so it looks like more people are realizing the great opportunity that exists in today’s market for buyers with long-term plans."

Sales could be higher if not for contract cancellations that still plague the market. Cancellations are the result of changes in employment status, failed home inspections, decline mortgage applications, and appraisals coming in below contract prices.

Regionally, the largest rise was seen in the Northeast, where existing sales rose 9.8 percent. This is 7.7 percent above year ago levels.

The Midwest saw a 4.3 percent rise, gaining double-digits of 15.7 percent over last year.

The West rose 3.6 percent in November and the South was up 2.4 percent.

Keeping pace with the good news of existing-home sale rises, the latest U.S. Commerce Department reports that the production of new single-family homes was up 9.3 percent in November.

"While we still have a long way to go back to normal, the latest numbers are one more indication that housing is slowly turning the corner," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "In scattered markets across the country, buyers who have long sat on the sidelines are starting to take advantage of today’s very attractive prices and interest rates, while others are making the move to a new apartment. This nascent trend would be stronger if not for the very restrictive lending environment that continues for both building and buying new homes."

Published: December 26, 2011

Source: Carla Hill Realty Times

Gardening: It’s bloomin’ early

FOR some years now, we have had reports of a wide variety of springtime plants coming into flower in the autumn and early winter.

And this year has probably been amongst the most exceptional, with November having been one of the mildest on record.

The study of the timing of natural phenomenon such as when certain plants flower or come into leaf is called phenology and it has become more important in recent years, as the concerns about global warming/climate change have been increasing.

The studies are based on the fact that the various activities of plants are controlled by light intensity, day-length or temperature, with some plants being influenced by more than one of these factors.

Well, nature seems to have given us an early Christmas this year because I have had reports that the snowdrops are out in Beaumont Park, there is a forsythia in flower in Shelley and I have recently seen a winter aconite in flower in North Yorkshire, one month before it should.

I have a Narcissus ‘White Cheerfulness’ in flower in my garden that does not normally flower until late February and there are signs of tulip and bluebell foliage that you would not expect until March.

So, despite the ravages of last winter and the poor late summer this year, nature, as always, is throwing up some surprises that we can have little control over and we should just enjoy the fleeting moments of pleasure and hope that the plants will not suffer for getting out of bed too early!


Bedroom sets and bedroom furniture sets

In planning of buying a bedroom sets, you have to shop around for the best brand which offers durability, fashion and has a wide array of designs. A furniture set for the bedroom can include wooden bedroom furniture complete with a bed, a dresser or chest drawers, and one or two night stands or bedside tables. In buying bedroom furniture, one need not worry about buying mismatched pieces. These bedroom sets can either have the antique, the modern and eclectic designs which you can use depends on the theme you have in mind for your bedroom and for your whole house as well. Do not forget to include the bed sets too in buying since it will affect the overall impact of the design you have.

Does It Work?: Furniture Fix, EZ Moves, Half Time Drill Driver, Clean Step Mat, Swivel Store

Promises, promises.We all want to believe products' claims that they'll make our home lives easier. But as the Does It Work? testers have learned, promises and reality don't always match.
For this story, Akron Beacon Journal food writer Lisa Abraham, consumer reporter Betty Lin-Fisher and home writer Mary Beth Breckenridge put five home products to the test. Here's what we found:
Furniture Fix
Maybe you've tried the trick of putting plywood under the cushion of a sagging seat to firm it up. Furniture Fix works on the same principle, except it's plastic and provides a little more give than rigid plywood.
Furniture Fix is a set of interlocking plastic panels that slide under a seat cushion in an upholstered chair or couch. Each box contains six panels, or enough to support one seat. For a regular-size couch with three seats, you'd need three sets.
We tried out one set on a co-worker's aging sectional sofa, where one particularly well-worn seating area sagged and tended to cause the sitter to lean to one side.
The Furniture Fix made the seat noticeably firmer -- maybe even a bit uncomfortably firm, although not as hard as the board we also tried. And we still found ourselves leaning.
"I think it's an improvement," Betty said, "but I wouldn't spend $15 on it."
Considering we'd need at least two and perhaps three to shore up the sagging portion of this particular couch,

we'd be looking at an investment of $30 to $45.
That's still considerably cheaper than new furniture, but we thought it was a little pricey for a solution that's less than ideal.
Betty: It depends.
Lisa: It depends.
Mary Beth: It depends.
EZ Moves
Somehow I missed the physics lesson that explained why certain materials reduce friction and make heavy things easier to move across a surface, but apparently the makers of EZ Moves paid closer attention.
EZ Moves are plastic pads that are placed under furniture legs to make the furniture easier to slide. Each pad has a foam insert with a felt backing that can be used on hard-surface floors to prevent scratching.
We tried the pads on Betty's heavy sleeper sofa. Without the EZ Moves, it took all three of us working together to move it across her carpeted floor.
With the EZ Moves, each of us could move it alone. Even Betty's 11-year-old daughter managed to move the couch by herself with the help of the EZ Moves, albeit with considerable effort.
I thought the plastic was a little flimsier than the furniture-moving glides I already had at home, but the pads still seemed sturdy enough to hold up to repeated use.
We all liked the lifting tool that comes with the glides, which uses leverage (see, I did remember something from physics) to help you lift a corner of a heavy piece of furniture so you can slide the pads underneath
It might even come in handy for cleaning under furniture, Betty noted.
Where we disagreed a bit was on the value
"It's a little pricey at $19.99, but it does what it says," Betty says.
Lisa and I disagreed. "I don't think $19.99 is unreasonable for that package," Lisa says, especially considering that it included the lifter and eight pads.
Betty: Snap it up.
Lisa: Snap it up.
Mary Beth: Snap it up.
Half Time Drill Driver
This device works with a power drill to let you switch bits quickly.
It's a hinged gadget that fits into the drill's chuck, allowing you to drill a hole with one bit, flip the device and drive a screw with another bit.
We barely had it out of the packaging when our male colleagues started offering opinions.
When we tried it out, the whine of the drill drew guys to it like moths to a flame.
Note to single women: Looking for a man? Ditch the perfume. Go for the power tools.
It didn't take us long to recognize a problem: The Half Time Drill Driver puts the base of the bit a good 5½ inches away from the drill. Add on the length of the bit, and you have a real challenge trying to drill a perpendicular hole or keep a screw from wobbling as you're driving it.
Beacon Journal maintenance guru Ed Grohosky took one look at the construction of the Half Time Drill Driver and voiced his doubts that it would hold up to hard use.
Both he and photographer Mike Cardew noted that a quick-change chuck would let you change bits just as quickly.
Betty: Skip it.
Lisa: Skip it.
Mary Beth: Skip it.
Clean Step Mat
This doormat's highly absorbent fibers are supposed to trap water and dirt instantly, so you can just walk across the mat and not even have to stop to wipe your feet.
It didn't quite work that way, at least in our test.
Each of us muddied our shoes, walked across the mat and then walked onto plain newsprint we'd spread on the floor.
All three of us left dirty prints on the paper, indicating the mat hadn't done its job.
One thing I'll say for the mat is that its mix of dark brown, tan and white fibers did a good job of hiding the mud once it had dried. But as Lisa pointed out, that color scheme made the mat look dirty in the first place.
What's more, as Betty discovered, drying it in a clothes dryer takes quite a long time.
Lisa's comment pretty much summed up how we felt: "I see no benefit to it beyond a regular doormat."
Betty: Skip it.
Lisa: Skip it.
Mary Beth: Skip it.
Swivel Store
Organizing freak that I am, I had great hopes for this swiveling spice rack the first time I saw it advertised. It promises to hold spices -- or pill bottles, craft supplies or whatever else fits in it -- in just a 4-inch-wide space.
The unit has two racks that you pull forward from the base and then swivel to access.
But you need 4 inches of clearance on either side of the unit so you can turn the racks. Devoting that much cupboard space to storing 20 spice bottles didn't strike any of us as a good use of space.
The plastic used to make the Swivel Store seemed flimsy to us, and the pull-out racks were a little wobbly.
"That, to me, feels like it's rockin' 'n rollin'," Lisa said.
I liked the side rails that kept the bottles from tumbling off the racks, but we discovered the racks were too narrow for some larger spice bottles.
The unit was also just a smidgen deep to fit within the frame of Betty's cabinet, although we were still able to close the cabinet door completely.
Betty: Skip it.
Lisa: Skip it.
Mary Beth: Skip it.

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Akron Beacon Journal

In battle to save Bonny Doon vineyards, scientists try tricking bacteria

Every grapevine in the 28-acre Bonny Doon Vineyard had to be ripped from the earth and torched in 1994. New vines might have faced the same fate the following year. Instead, owner Randall Grahm, numb from years of battling an incurable plague, sold his whole vineyard of dead and dying Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne grapes.
But that was just the beginning of a statewide killing spree by a new duo behind Pierce's disease: the sap-sucking insect known as the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the vine-choking bacteria Xylella fastidiosa. Together, they drained more than $30 million out of Northern California's $3 billion-a-year grape industry in the late '90s. The wine industry retaliated with millions of dollars of pest-management and protection measures -- in a battle it's still fighting.
Now, scientists have come up with a new and cheaper tactic: Confuse the germs as soon as the sharpshooter delivers them into a healthy vine. And it couldn't come at a better time for Grahm, who just bought land for a new vineyard in Bonny Doon.
Though Xylella and other sharpshooters have been in California since the 19th century, glassy-winged sharpshooters sneaked in during the 1980s, hopelessly infesting 12 southern counties warm enough to host them.
The strong fliers and heavy swarmers have shot up the state ever since, siphoning sap from plants along the way. Their crosshairs are on almonds, stone fruits and citrus. But grapes are where they

cause the most damage.
Sapping the vines
They carry their partner in crime, Xylella, in their mouthparts and deliver it as they tap into a new vine. Once inside, the bacterium spreads through the plant's veins, and within a year clogs its plumbing so it can't get enough water.
"The unique thing about Pierce's disease is that it kills plants," said Larry Bettiga, a viticulture adviser at UC Davis. "You can't deal with that."
Grahm, speaking from experience, agreed: "Once the vines are infected, there's nothing you can do."
Every winery in Bonny Doon was affected in the mid-90s. Some wine growers thought their time in California was up, Grahm said.
But by the late '90s, the California Department of Agriculture had launched full-scale pest-management programs that included spraying insecticides, monitoring sharpshooter activity, reaching vintners and farmers through outreach campaigns and inspecting all nursery plants shipped around the state -- the likely route glassy-winged sharpshooters used to get into California in the first place. Seventy percent of the state's nurseries are in areas infested with glassy-winged sharpshooters.
"Prevention is really critical," Bettiga said. "It's very difficult to eradicate an insect once it becomes established."
But the intensive pest-management program caused costs to soar.
Tricking the bacteria
So, scientists are now investigating less costly methods of managing the sharpshooters and the spread of Pierce's disease. Steve Lindow, a plant pathologist from UC Berkeley, is using something similar to a Jedi mind trick: Convince the bacteria they've already caused disease.
But to stop these microscopic killers, scientists had to do some criminal profiling.
When Xylella get into a grape vine, they're released in the vascular tissue -- the plumbing of the plant that pumps water up from the roots. From there, the bacteria use the tissue as "hallways" to invade the whole vine. They then start exploring and munching on the plant.
"We think that the exploratory phase involves rather promiscuous movement of bacteria," Lindow said. But as they spread from place to place, there are only a few bacteria in each area, he said.
This is key, he said, because when Xylella populations start to get big, they run into each other and switch tactics.
Each bacterium sends out a molecular beacon constantly, similar to the ping of a submarine's sonar. When many cells are stuck in part of the hallway at once, they're aware of each other because they can pick up the pings.
Then they mob up.
"It's kind of a switch -- a lifestyle switch," Lindow said. In a mob, they make themselves sticky -- to each other and to a spot -- so they can be sucked into a sharpshooter, their getaway car.
Restoring Bonny Doon
Lindow and his team of researchers realized that this beacon is the bacteria's glaring weakness -- without it, they wouldn't make it into their next sharpshooter or kill the vine.
So, the researchers engineered transgenic grape vines to make the same beacon.
If the vines constantly produce the signal for clumping, the arriving bacteria will get confused and act as though they've already infected the plant. They won't explore. They'll stay right where they landed and wait for their getaway insect -- even though they didn't pull off a heist.
Lindow thinks they'll start seeing results in fields in the next few years, but in the meantime, he'll also explore additional methods of treating Pierce's disease.
For Grahm, it's all good news for his effort to restore the essence of Bonny Doon wine.
"You can capture the distinctiveness of a site in the wine itself," he said. "Bonny Doon wines need to come from Bonny Doon."

Living Room With Bali Blinds

Simple living room in basic color tones. Asian style interior design, rich with natural light from wide windows and have balance from the green plants and the wall-picture. Sometime rich of natural light brought some problem for the furnishing, so bali blinds can solved that problem, because it can reduce the massive light that come to your living room. Bali blinds are made from wood strips, it is about 1 to 2 inches wide that held among one to another with cotton chords, it is look like wood curtain.

Small Office Furniture:- An Excellent Office Furnishing Option.

The requirement for telecommuting is rising now, therefore the necessity for a small office. The office should reflect a person’s personality and style. It should additionally be absolutely functional. The home office furniture should be organised having the office decor under consideration. It’s got a different feel and a different sound than a cheap economy vehicle. Just like shutting the vehicle door of a luxury auto.

Tip two : The drawers in wood small office desks and filing drawers should slide smoothly. You’ll be ready to tell quality handiwork if the drawers slide out and in smoothly without binding. Some corporations may not offer guaranties at all, thus getting shot of them as a shopping option. Keep under consideration, that many times the maker may offer their own guaranty whether or not the retailer doesn’t. Will you need furniture installation? Furniture installation could be a long and complex process, particularly when handling commercial office furniture. In addition, once your furniture is set up in your office you could have specific requirements like a hole drilled in your corner PC desk for your PC cords to go thru.

The reality is, of all of the retail industries furniture is among the most marked up. With web sales, for both armed forces and products, at a new high, many entrepreneurs or self employed employees are spotting a rise in purchasers. While this is nice, it can make keeping correct records hard. As someone that is in command of managing a business out of your house, this means you can professionally manage your business, while not having to have a massive quantity of space. Here is where some pieces of modern office fittings can offer help.

The key rule in planning an office cubicle is that form follows function. So long as the cubicle fits into the general function of the office generally, the inside design should be one that most nearly fits the individual that will occupy it. Once the action of each cubicle is determined, there are lots of designs that fit it and used office furniture that may be installed for the function. There are 3 points to consider at that point : the wall configuration, the storage, filing and work-surface design, and the colours and material for the walls and used office furniture.

Master Bedroom, A Hotel Suite Like Retreat

The concept of hotel suite room is a multi purpose space interior design, it is like home within home. Not only for sleep but you can do any activities of you without leaving the bedroom. Masculine, yet elegant looks in walnut and dark brown tones which applying at wall, furnishing, and fabrics. Designer is Trish Beaudet.

Study Finds 38% of Homes Purchased in 2011 Bought with Cash

Despite record low mortgage rates, 2011 has seen a surprisingly high level of cash home purchases, according to the real estate research firm Hanley Wood Market Intelligence.

Jonathan Dienhart and Ken Lee, two analysts with the company, say between tight lending standards and a desperate search for yield by investors, cash purchases of homes – particularly for distressed properties – became even more common in 2011 than last year.
Dienhart and Lee analyzed data collected through Hanley Wood’s Housing IntelligencePro, and shared their findings in a blog post.
The two discovered that 38 percent of homes purchased in 2011 were bought with all cash. That’s up from 34 percent in 2010, and double the 19 percent rate in 2006.
According to Dienhart and Lee, this trend is likely to continue in the near term. They note that cash-paying investors are responsible for an increasing share of home purchases nowadays as prior homeowners abandon the ownership market and head back to rentals.

Economists Don't Foresee Home Price Appreciation Until After 2013

Home prices in the U.S. are expected to post a decline of 1.57 percent for the fourth quarter of 2011, after falling 0.4 percent through September, according to more than 100 economists and housing experts surveyed by Zillow.

Prices are forecast to decline until the market’s bottom is reached in late 2012 or early 2013. After 2013, the panelists expect a relatively steady annual appreciation rate of roughly 3 percent through 2016, which is slightly below appreciation rates experienced during the pre-bubble years.
“There is a consensus among the nation’s top housing experts that we have not yet reached a bottom and are instead working through a prolonged bottoming process,” commented Dr. Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist.
According to Humphries, negative equity, unemployment, and low consumer confidence remain the key factors delaying a true recovery in the housing market.
Terry Loebs, founder of Pulsenomics LLC, the firm that conducts the survey for Zillow, says the latest results
suggest expectations for recovery are no longer eroding, as has been evident in past studies.
“This is encouraging,” Loebs said, “but the average survey data are still consistent with a sluggish recovery scenario where eventual price increases will be less than those thought of as normal during the years preceding the national housing bubble.”
Looking at the expected housing market performance through the five year period ending in 2016, there continues to be significant variation among the panelists regarding their individual home price forecasts.
The most optimistic quartile of panelists projects nearly 18.3 percent price growth over the next five years, while the most pessimistic quartile projects a 1.4 percent decline.
“Given the current economic climate and uncertainty around the government’s future role in housing, it’s not surprising to see such a wide dispersion in long-term forecasts,” Humphries said. “As the market starts to stabilize, we should see individual forecasts start to converge.”
In the December survey, the panelists also offered their views on last month’s increase to loan limits for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages, as well as their assessments of the likelihood that the FHA would require a federal government bailout within the next two years.
The panelists were almost equally split on the loan limit increase, with 51 percent opposed and 49 percent in favor of it. Twenty-eight percent of the 91 panelists who expressed a view indicated the likelihood of a bailout of the FHA by the federal government within the coming two years as “high” or “very high.”

Lawmaker Presses for Criminal Investigation of GSEs

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) says the civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week against six former executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “does not go nearly far enough to achieve justice and accountability for the American people.”

Brown is pressing the Department of Justice and the SEC to immediately open criminal investigations into Fannie and Freddie. The senator says authorities need to take a closer look at the GSEs’ business dealings prior to the housing collapse and their disclosure of subprime mortgage holdings.
“If the investigation uncovers illegal actions, criminal prosecution should be pursued and people should go to jail,” Brown wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC Chairman Mary Shapiro.
Brown says he’s convinced that Fannie and Freddie’s former executives took steps to pad their own pockets while hiding the extent of their mortgage risks from Congress, creditors, and investors.
Because of their “reckless disregard,” Brown says, taxpayers are now left holding the bag and on the hook for $150 billion in losses – a tab that he expects will continue to grow and will never be repaid.
Brown says the latest civil case against the GSEs’ former executives “follows a troubling pattern” for the Justice Department and the SEC. He says authorities have been “far too timid” in pursuing criminal charges against the GSEs and cites the 2003 accounting scandals at Fannie Mae that resulted in only civil penalties.
The SEC filed a lawsuit on December 16, alleging securities fraud against Fannie Mae’s former CEO Daniel Mudd, former chief risk officer Enrico Dallavecchia, and former EVP of single family mortgage Thomas Lund, as well as Freddie Mac’s former CEO Richard Syron, former EVP and chief business officer Patricia Cook, and former EVP for single-family guarantee business Donald J. Bisenius.
The SEC’s complaint says these six executives made material misstatements to the public, investors, and the media about the companies’ exposure to subprime mortgage loans in 2007 and 2008.
Both Fannie and Freddie entered into non-prosecution agreements with the SEC and agreed to cooperate in the litigation against their former executives.

Housing Market Strengthening But Long Road to Recovery Lies Ahead

The year 2011 is ending on a high note as economists anticipate some signs of recovery ahead. Prices appear to be reaching their trough, visible supply is on the decline, and banks are beginning – just slightly – to loosen lending standards, according to a fourth-quarter report from Capital Economics.

However, Capital Economics warns these positive signs do not point to an immediate recovery.
Taking into account the historic ratio between disposable income and housing prices, homes were undervalued by 23 percent in the third quarter. Homes have not been this undervalued since at least 1975.
Since 2006, prices have declined 33 percent, countering the sharp increases of the boom years. Therefore, “[i]t is
clear that prices don’t need to fall further,” Capital Economics says.
Nondistressed home prices in particular seem to have bottomed out. While home prices declined 4 percent this year, prices of nondistressed homes fell only 0.5 percent.
Having reached the bottom, however, prices will not jump far in the new year. Capital Economics predicts national home prices will remain unchanged over the next two years before seeing positive movement – a 2.5 percent increase – in 2014.
This past year has seen some positive movement in housing inventory with a 20 percent decrease in the number of homes listed for sale over the year. However, supply will remain an obstacle moving forward as the current shadow inventory is estimated at 4 million.
Demand will also continue to be an issue. However, the report notes the market has seen a slight increase in home sales, which it attributes to first-time buyers.
Banks are contributing to rising demand and supply absorption by allowing loans with loan to value ratios of 80 percent or even slightly higher, something that has not occurred since mid-2008, according to Capital Economics.
The overall economy will not help boost the housing market in the coming year as the U.S. will continue to be affected by the euro-zone crisis.
The rental market will continue to be the best-performing segment of the market