Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sad News

Both the Pitted Olive, and The Juniper Grill have closed their doors.

The Pitted Olive was a great little spot on Hampton in Saint Louis Hills, and The Juniper Grill was in Soulard. Both were fantastic restaurants, and the state of the economy has apparently taken its toll on them.

I am going to miss the Pitted Olive's Reuben!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Naming the Trains?

With the opening of the new downtown transportation center here and some planned rail and signal improvements across the state, Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation are looking for some new names for the trains that run a couple of times a day between St. Louis and Kansas City. The trains are currently called "The Ann Rutledge" and the "Missouri Mules." The new name for the passenger train service will be selected in a multi-part statewide contest.

Can you think of some apt names? If so, you can submit them here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Perfect Thanksgiving Getaway...

...or, the perfect vacation home.

Located on Hideaway Island in the Noosa region of Australia’s Sunshine Coast is this house designed by local architect Frank Macchia.

The 4 bedroom / 4 bathroom house is currently for sale, and the agents at Richardson & Wrench will be auctioning off the house on January 10th, 2009.

Check out the listing with Richardson & Wrench - here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who Wants to Convert A Firehouse?

As a teenager, I always thought it would be awesome to convert a firehouse into a single residence. Specifically, the house at Lansdowne and Donovan next to what is now LeGrand's Market. My lack of real estate knowledge prohibited me from realizing, at the time, that I wouldn't need over 10,000 square feet, but even today, I still think you could do some remarkable things in coverting an old firehouse into several residential units.

The old firehouse at 2000 Washington is up for sale. It's right next door to the Sporting News lofts and The Tudor Lofts, and other recent developments. Too bad I don't have $900,000 laying around...
So, who does? Let's start rehabbing!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Now is the Time!!!

If you have been thinking about making a move, or buying your first residence, it's time to get off the sidelines. Rates dropped like a rock today!

Conventional, 30-year Fixed rate: 5.25%
FHA, 30-year fixed rate: 5.50%

All of the past FHA closings I have had in the past few months have been in the 6.75% to 7% range. 5.50% for FHA is absolutely unheard of!

Now is the time!

Drop me a line if you are ready to make the move!

Great New Listing in Florissant!

Brand new to the market! This beautifully maintained 2BR/1BA home is nestled on a quiet block in beautiful Florissant. As you approach the home you are welcomed by the covered porch to enjoy the evenings.
Once inside the sparkling hardwood will capture your attention and lead you through the living room & dining room, with beautiful custom paint and dazzling light fixtures.

The huge kitchen located in the back of the home boasts sprakling new appliances and light fixtures.
Down the hallway are the bedrooms, with fresh paint, sizable closets, and gorgeous hardwoods.

The lower level is adorned with a huge bar that makes it the perfect spot to entertain. A lower level office, family room or additional bedroom would be perfect in the basement.
Out back, a covered patio and permanent gas grill is perfect for lazy Sundays and backyard barbeques. Updated electric, plumbing, HVAC, siding, gutters, and soffits make this the perfect home to move right in and enjoy!
This home is being offered at $109,900. If you or anyone you know is interested, be sure to contact me!

I'm Back!

Geez, what a fiasco that was. Blogger locked my account, as I was suspected of being a "spam blog." How their robots decided that, I have no idea, but the blog review process took far longer than it should have.

I am back and better than ever!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Absolutely Ridiculous

The Shady Oak theater - which has sat vacant since 2000, when it closed its doors - is being demolished. You know what's coming next...

It's being torn down so that a parking lot can take its place.

Far too many buildings that possess charm and character are demolished in our city - and cities everywhere. Surely this building could have been been adapted for re-use.

The irony of it all: one of the reasons Shady Oak closed was because of lack of parking...

Check out the Post-Dispatch article

Monday, November 10, 2008

For Sale: The Sliver House by Boyarsky Murphy

Want to spend $1.66 million and move to London? The Sliver House that Boyarsky Murphy designed and built in Maida Vale for Geoff MacCormack (who was once a backup singer for David Bowie) is up for sale.

Check it out at The Modern House Estate Agents.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Need Your Help! Vote For Me!

I have been nominated for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Top Real Estate Professional. BUT, I need your help to win!

You can vote once EVERYDAY, online until 12-31-08, at: http://www.stltoday.com/homes

In the upper hand right corner, there's a graphic that says "Does Your Real Estate Agent Rock? Vote for the 2008 Reader's Choice Top Agent." You DO have to register on the site to vote, but it's quick, easy and painless. Please help support me and vote everyday if you can. As the winner, I get the recognition, as well as $7500 worth of advertising with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!!!!!

I can't win without your help!! Vote Daily!!

I greatly appreciate it!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Federal Reserve Cut Has Little Benefit For Mortgages

From Matt McHugh at The Private Bank:

As we have seen all year, when the Federal Reserve cuts it's benchmark Fed Funds rate as it did this past Wednesday bringing that rate to just 1.0%, mortgage rates rose slightly. Contrary to consumer expectations, these two lending rates are technically unrelated, although Fed cuts do have a larger impact on the economy which will eventually affect mortgage rates, we just can't be certain what that impact will be. Over a longer term (say several months) mortgage rates should mirror changes to Fed Funds rate, so we have reason to believethat lower mortgage rates are in our future.

It is interesting to note that the last time Fed Funds was at 1.0% was June 2004. The 30 year fixed rate was around 5.5% and the 3 year ARM was just 4.0%.

A second factor also contributed to this week's rise in mortgage rates. The federal government's takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September left mortgage investors with the impression that there was explicit government backing of the debt and guarantees issued by Fannie and Freddie. Government officials have been sending mixed messages, however, raising some concern about whether the two companies really will have the long-term backing of the government. Due to the uncertainty, investors, particularly important foreign investors, have been reluctant to invest in Fannie and Freddie guaranteed mortgage backed securities. Yields required by mortgage backed security investors directly affect most mortgage rates. If the government were to unambiguously convince investors that it will stand behind Fannie and Freddie guarantees, then mortgage rates could be expected to move lower.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Going Green: Pesto Festo!

Buy your Tickets Now!$25 in advance, $30 at the door www.brownpapertickets.com/event/41757

November 8, 6:00pm-11:00pm

EarthDance is stirring up something fabulous (including pesto) for their November 8th kick-off event! Pesto Festo: A Harvest Celebration will include live music by The Buckhannon Brothers & The Grass Pack, a local foods feast prepared by several of St. Louis' best chefs, a silent auction featuring local art and eco goods, and an Inner Mission Productions film telling the story of the Mueller Farm. Caroline (and the late Al) Mueller will be honored at this event with a special tribute for keeping their family farm in organic production for over 60 years! Pesto Festo is hosted by EarthDance, The Open Space Council, and Live Well Ferguson, with all proceeds going to fund Freshman Farmies, an organic farming apprenticeship program that will be launched in 2009.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Easy Ways To Boost Your Credit

Ah yes, those 3 numbers that make up your credit score. Oh so important, especially in today's market.

Matt McHugh, of The Private Bank, had the following advice in his most recent newsletter:

A possible recession on top of a credit crunch means your credit score is more important than ever. It determines what you pay for any loan -- on a mortgage, car loan or credit card, and whether you get a job. "Buyer beware" when it comes to promisesof repairing your credit. Those commercials that offer free credit reports and free credit repair may sound tempting, but read the fine print. You can fix most of the blemishes on your credit report yourself relatively easily, said John Ulzheimer of Credit.com. Here are his top three ways to boost your score without a middleman:

1. If there is anything on your credit report that is legitimately incorrect, you can challenge it to have it removed within 30 days. (And remember, you can get a free copyof each of your three reports once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com)

2. Get your debt under control! Ulzheimer recommends this rule of thumb: reduce your debt to 10% of your credit limit and keep it below that amount.

3. Don’t use your credit report as a 10% off coupon at the mall. Meaning you shouldn’t apply for retail store specific credit cards that offer you a discount on your purchases at that store. They leave a “breadcrumb” in the form of a credit inquiry, which Ulzheimer said can lower your credit score for 12 months. Also, the interest rates on these cards are typically very high and the credit limits very low.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It's Not Impossible To Get A Mortgage...

Great article from the Washington Post:

"Despite market mess, it's not impossible to get a mortgage"

WASHINGTON - Credit squeeze, credit freeze, credit system seizures: Everybody knows how severe and painful the global financial breakdown has been - with banks unwilling to lend even to other banks.

But what about mortgages and real estate? Can you still get a home loan with less than a 20 percent or 30 percent down payment? Or with a credit score below 720? Absolutely. It would be a big stretch to label housing the sunny side of the market at the moment, but there's a lot more light there than in most other financial sectors. Consider these facts:

• There is no shortage of money available for home mortgages, no freezing of credit to purchase or refinance a house. Why? Because the American mortgage market effectively has been federalized - at least for the time being. More than 90 percent of new loans now are being made through the Federal Housing Administration insurance program, plus Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA is owned by the federal government, and Fannie and Freddie are operating under federal conservatorship. All three have unfettered access to global capital markets at rock-bottom costs because their borrowings are fully guaranteed by the Treasury. Ginnie Mae, which is FHA's pipeline to the bond market, recorded an all-time high of $29 billion in new mortgage-backed securities issued in August.

• Loan terms and credit underwriting standards have been toughened up, but you can still put down 3 percent (3.5 percent after Jan. 1) on an FHA-insured mortgage and 5 percent on certain Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan programs with private mortgage insurance. FHA's credit standards are generous and forgiving - the agency exists to help people with less-than-spotless credit histories. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have raised their credit score requirements over the past year, but buyers and refinancers with scores in the upper 600s can still qualify for loans carrying reasonable rates and fees.

• Despite the global financial system's quakes, mortgage rates not only remain low by historical standards but have actually declined recently. For the week ending Oct. 8, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, average 30-year fixed rates dropped to 5.99 percent and 15-year mortgages averaged 5.71 percent. Freddie Mac said 30-year rates dropped to 5.94 percent.

• Maximum "jumbo" loan amounts through FHA, Fannie and Freddie in high-cost local markets on the West and East coasts continue to be $729,750 through December. In January, the high-cost maximum is projected to dip to approximately $625,000.

• Home prices - pushed by foreclosures and short sales - have rolled back to 2003 and 2004 levels or lower in many of the former boom markets. As a result, growing numbers of buyers are coming off the sidelines, making offers and writing contracts. The pending home sales index jumped by 7.4 percent based on purchase contracts signed in August, according to the National Association of Realtors. The heaviest increases - pointing to higher closed sales in the coming two to three months - were in California, Florida, Nevada and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Housing and mortgage leaders say consumer worries about the stock market have obscured positive developments under way in real estate, where pricing pain and downsizing have been facts of the life for the past two and a half years.

David G. Kittle, president and CEO of Principle Wholesale Lending Inc. and incoming chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, says "the mortgage market has never shut down" despite the global financial crisis. Money is "clearly available as long as you can qualify for it" with at least a modest down payment and decent credit history.

Matt Vernon, a national retail mortgage sales executive for Bank of America, said, "we've got more than enough liquidity" to handle mortgage demand. "We are open for business." Most of the bank's production is now funded through FHA, Fannie and Freddie.

On the front lines, mortgage company owner Jeff Lipes, president of Family Choice Mortgage near Hartford, Conn., says "I don't think consumers really know how free-flowing capital is right now in the residential mortgage market. There are no shortages, no breakdowns. People ought to be aware of that."

Bottom line: Scary as the news has been about stocks and banks, this is not the case for mortgages. Besides shopping at large national lenders, check in with local banks and credit unions who may be originating loans for their own portfolios - not for Fannie, Freddie or FHA. Many of them are healthy, have plenty of cash to lend, and may be surprisingly competitive on terms and rates compared with the big boys.

September Home Sales Up 5.5%

Good news!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit

Because I feel this is a great deal, I wanted to provide another posting regarding the bill that was passed:

Educate yourself. Read about the new first time home buyer tax credit for buying your new home.

1. Who is eligible to claim the $7,500 tax credit?
First time home buyers purchasing any kind of home—new or resale—are eligible for the tax credit. To qualify for the tax credit, a home purchase must occur on or after April 9, 2008 and before July 1, 2009. For the purposes of the tax credit, the purchase date is the date when closing occurs.

2. What is the definition of a first-time home buyer?
The law defines "first-time home buyer" as a buyer who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. For married taxpayers, the law tests the homeownership history of both the home buyer and his/her spouse. For example, if you have not owned a home in the past three years but your spouse has owned a principal residence, neither you nor your spouse qualifies for the first-time home buyer tax credit. Ownership of a vacation home or rental property not used as a principal residence does not disqualify a buyer as a first-time home buyer.

3. How do I claim the tax credit?
Do I need to complete a form or application?Participating in the tax credit program is easy. You claim the tax credit on your federal income tax return. No other applications or forms are required. No pre-approval is necessary; however, prospective home buyers will want to be sure they qualify for the credit under the income limits and first-time home buyer tests.

4. Does the credit have to be paid back to the government? If so, what are the payback provisions?
Yes, the tax credit must be repaid. Home buyers will be required to repay the credit to the government, without interest, over 15 years or when they sell the house, if there is sufficient capital gain from the sale. For example, a home buyer claiming a $7,500 credit would repay the credit at $500 per year. The home owner does not have to begin making repayments on the credit until two years after the credit is claimed. So if the tax credit is claimed on the 2008 tax return, a $500 payment is not due until the 2010 tax return is filed. If the home owner sold the home, then the remaining credit amount would be due from the profit on the home sale. If there was insufficient profit, then the remaining credit payback would be forgiven.

5. Is there any way for a home buyer to access the money allocable to the credit sooner than waiting to file their 2008 tax return?
Yes. Prospective home buyers who believe they qualify for the tax credit are permitted to reduce their income tax withholding. Reducing tax withholding (up to the amount of the credit) will enable the future home buyer to accumulate cash by raising his/her take home pay. This money can then be applied to the down payment. Buyers should adjust their withholding amount on their W-4 via their employer or through their quarterly estimated tax payment. IRS Publication 919 contains rules and guidelines for income tax withholding. Prospective home buyers should note that if income tax withholding is reduced and the tax credit qualified purchase does not occur, then the individual would be liable for repayment to the IRS of income tax and possible interest charges and penalties.

6. What types of homes will qualify for the tax credit?Any home purchased by an eligible first-time home buyer will qualify for the credit, provided that the home will be used as a principal residence and the buyer has not owned a home in the previous three years. This includes single-family detached homes, attached homes like townhouses and condominiums, manufactured homes (also known as mobile homes) and houseboats.

7. Instead of buying a new home from a home builder, I have hired a contractor to construct a home on a lot that I already own. Do I still qualify for the tax credit?Yes. For the purposes of the home buyer tax credit, a principal residence that is constructed by the home owner is treated by the tax code as having been "purchased" on the date the owner first occupies the house. In this situation, the date of first occupancy must be on or after April 9, 2008 and before July 1, 2009.

In contrast, for newly-constructed homes bought from a home builder, eligibility for the tax credit is determined by the settlement date.

8. What is "modified adjusted gross income"?
Modified adjusted gross income or MAGI is defined by the IRS. To find it, a taxpayer must first determine "adjusted gross income" or AGI. AGI is total income for a year minus certain deductions (known as "adjustments" or "above-the-line deductions"), but before itemized deductions from Schedule A or personal exemptions are subtracted. On Forms 1040 and 1040A, AGI is the last number on page 1 and first number on page 2 of the form. For Form 1040-EZ, AGI appears on line 4 (as of 2007). Note that AGI includes all forms of income including wages, salaries, interest income, dividends and capital gains.

To determine modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), add to AGI certain amounts such as foreign income, foreign-housing deductions, student-loan deductions, IRA-contribution deductions and deductions for higher-education costs.

9. If my modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is above the limit, do I qualify for any tax credit?
Possibly. It depends on your income. Partial credits of less than $7,500 are available for some taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds the phaseout limits. The credit becomes totally unavailable for individual taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income of more than $95,000 and for married taxpayers filing joint returns with an AGI of more than $170,000.

10. Can you give me an example of how the partial tax credit is determined?
Just as an example, assume that a married couple has a modified adjusted gross income of $160,000. The applicable phase-out to qualify for the tax credit is $150,000, and the couple is $10,000 over this amount. Dividing $10,000 by $20,000 yields 0.5. When you subtract 0.5 from 1.0, the result is 0.5. To determine the amount of the partial first-time home buyer tax credit that is available to this couple, multiply $7,500 by 0.5. The result is $3,750.

Here’s another example: assume that an individual home buyer has a modified adjusted gross income of $88,000. The buyer’s income exceeds $75,000 by $13,000. Dividing $13,000 by $20,000 yields 0.65. When you subtract 0.65 from 1.0, the result is 0.35. Multiplying $7,500 by 0.35 shows that the buyer is eligible for a partial tax credit of $2,625.

Please remember that these examples are intended to provide a general idea of how the tax credit might be applied in different circumstances. You should always consult your tax advisor for information relating to your specific circumstances.

11. Does the credit amount differ based on tax filing status?
No. The credit is in general equal to $7,500 for a qualified home purchase, whether the home buyer files taxes as a single or married taxpayer. However, if a household files their taxes as "married filing separately" (in effect, filing two returns), then the credit of $7,500 is claimed as a $3,750 credit on each of the two returns.

12. Are there any circumstances for which buyers whose incomes are at or below the $75,000 limit for singles or the $150,000 limit for married taxpayers might not be able to claim the full $7,500 tax credit?
In general, the tax credit is equal to 10% of the qualified home purchase price, but the credit amount is capped or limited at $7,500. For most first-time home buyers, this means the credit will equal $7,500. For home buyers purchasing a home priced less than $75,000, the credit will equal 10% of the purchase price.

13. I heard that the tax credit is refundable. What does that mean?
The fact that the credit is refundable means that the home buyer credit can be claimed even if the taxpayer has little or no federal income tax liability to offset. Typically this involves the government sending the taxpayer a check for a portion or even all of the amount of the refundable tax credit.

For example, if a qualified home buyer expected, notwithstanding the tax credit, federal income tax liability of $5,000 and had tax withholding of $4,000 for the year, then without the tax credit the taxpayer would owe the IRS $1,000 on April 15th. Suppose now that taxpayer qualified for the $7,500 home buyer tax credit. As a result, the taxpayer would receive a check for $6,500 ($7,500 minus the $1,000 owed).

14. What is the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction?A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what the taxpayer owes. That means that a taxpayer who owes $7,500 in income taxes and who receives a $7,500 tax credit would owe nothing to the IRS.
A tax deduction is subtracted from the amount of income that is taxed. Using the same example, assume the taxpayer is in the 15 percent tax bracket and owes $7,500 in income taxes. If the taxpayer receives a $7,500 deduction, the taxpayer’s tax liability would be reduced by $1,125 (15 percent of $7,500), or lowered from $7,500 to $6,375.

15. Can I claim the tax credit if I finance the purchase of my home under a mortgage revenue bond (MRB) program?
No. The tax credit cannot be combined with the MRB home buyer program.

16. I live in the District of Columbia. Can I claim both the DC first-time home buyer credit and this new credit?
No. You can claim only one.

17. I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I claim the tax credit?
Maybe. Anyone who is not a nonresident alien (as defined by the IRS), who has not owned a principal residence in the previous three years and who meets the income limits test may claim the tax credit for a qualified home purchase. The IRS provides a definition of "nonresident alien" in IRS Publication 519.

18. Why must the money be repaid?
Congress’s intent was to provide as large a financial resource as possible for home buyers in the year that they purchase a home. In addition to helping first-time home buyers, this will maximize the stimulus for the housing market and the economy, will help stabilize home prices, and will increase home sales. The repayment requirement reduces the effect on the Federal Treasury and assumes that home buyers will benefit from stabilized and, eventually, increasing future housing prices.

19. Because the money must be repaid, isn’t the first-time home buyer program really a zero-interest loan rather than a traditional tax credit?
Yes. Because the tax credit must be repaid, it operates like a zero-interest loan. Assuming an interest rate of 7%, that means the home owner saves up to $4,200 in interest payments over the 15-year repayment period. Compared to $7,500 financed through a 30-year mortgage with a 7% interest rate, the home buyer tax credit saves home buyers over $8,100 in interest payments. The program is called a tax credit because it operates through the tax code and is administered by the IRS. Also like a tax credit, it provides a reduction in tax liability in the year it is claimed.

20. If I’m qualified for the tax credit and buy a home in 2009, can I apply the tax credit against my 2008 tax return?
Yes. The law allows taxpayers to choose ("elect") to treat qualified home purchases in 2009 as if the purchase occurred on December 31, 2008. This means that the 2008 income limit (MAGI) applies and the election accelerates when the credit can be claimed (tax filing for 2008 returns instead of for 2009 returns). A benefit of this election is that a home buyer in 2009 will know their 2008 MAGI with certainty, thereby helping the buyer know whether the income limit will reduce their credit amount.

21. For a home purchase in 2009, can I choose whether to treat the purchase as occurring in 2008 or 2009, depending on in which year my credit amount is the largest?
Yes. If the applicable income phaseout would reduce your home buyer tax credit amount in 2009 and a larger credit would be available using the 2008 MAGI amounts, then you can choose the year that yields the largest credit amount.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going Green: Better Life - Locally Produce Cleaning Products

Great new line of household cleaning products that are environmentally friendly. Locally made in St. Louis, and available at Local Harvest and Whole Foods.

From the Better Life website:

"We make Better Life green cleaning products because we want a better life. For our kids, pets, dads, moms, and especially Mom Earth. Our natural household cleaning products are safe on all surfaces. Especially the one we live on."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Absolutely Gorgeous House

Spylce contributed their design skills to the renovation and addition of a 1970’s house in Vancouver, Canada that produced this contemporary suburban home.

From Splyce:

The existing main floor plan, which consisted of a maze of small, dark rooms and dead-ended corridors, was opened up to bring in natural light and create a flow and continuity to the space. Design decisions were heavily influenced on the existing landscape and the desire to physically and visually connect the interior spaces with the lush expanse of garden. To help facilitate this indoor/outdoor relationship, the new layout is organized around a distinct north-south axis with glazed doors at each end, offering not only views and access to the landscape, but effective cross ventilation when opened. Defined by new framed walls, the axis also serves to divide the main public and private functions of the home. Intimacy and light levels can be further manipulated by means of three 3′ x 8′ panels that slide the full length of the house along this line, allowing the user to close off or open up spaces as they wish. Clad with coloured steel sheets, these panels also serve as large magnet boards creating an ever-changing display of family postings and artwork.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Wedge Set To Open Soon...

The Wedge, a rock and roll pizza bar which will serve pizzas designed by chef Blake Brokaw, and have live music in the upstairs performance space, The Iggy Ziggy Room, should be open any day. They were set to October 8th, but permits and licenses delayed the opening. It's located at the corner of Bates and Virginia.

It should be a great venue, and a perfect spot to saunter over to after a delicious meal at Iron Barley. I am certainly excited to check it out, as I drove delivery in high school for Virginia Auto Parts, which was located just a few blocks down Virginia. If I had a dollar for how many times I passed that intersection, or stopped in the 7-11 that is catty corner from the building, I wouldn't be typing this right now!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

100k+ at Obama Rally...

Regardless of your political beliefs or stance, it's quite a sight...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Demolition?

Just what we need in Downtown Saint Louis - another demolition. The Preservation Board has confirmed that the Roberts Brothers are seeking to demolish the buildings at 919 and 923 Locust. The reason? So that a driveway and lobby can be provided for the Hotel Indigo that the Roberts Brothers will be opening in the St. Louis Design Center building.

Isn't this a terrible idea? Or, is it just me?

The buildings they want to knock down could be re-developed rather easily. On top of that, the current state of the economy doesn't necessarily provide a good basis for knocking things down. Certainly we wouldn't want to knock another historic building down and build nothing in its place - as is what happened with The Skyhouse.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Interesting Take on the Downtown Schnuck's

A member over at the Urban St. Louis forums - gsp9993 - provided some interesting and insightful information about the proposed Schnuck's slated to open downtown, at Ninth and Olive:

I attended a focus group with 11 other downtown dwellers and workers on the new Schnucks concept a few weeks ago. We reviewed the drawings of the new store and listened to the concept. The new Schnucks store is not a grocery store, but rather a larger version of City Grocers. The footprint and services were almost identical, except larger with a small pharmacy. Schnucks seems to be focusing on prepared food and catering and a large portion of the timeframe was spent on questioning the downtown workers on their breakfast, lunch and catering needs. Groceries seemed to be a necessary evil to maintain the Schuncks name. No one in the room was thrilled and at the end of the session the concept graded very poorly by all members of the group.

Bottom line - Schunks is probably stalling or revisiting its concept. In my opinion, they may tank the project. The comments from the group were brutally honest and may be too much for Schnucks to continue its plans for downtown. Even the sub sandwich that they unveiled was ordinary at best. At the focus group meeting, it was evident that Schnucks's downtown concept was directed to downtown workers, not residents. Very late in the session, the subject of hours was addressed and we were all shocked that they were possibly not considering longer hours on weekends and evenings. Everyone in the group associated the Schnucks name with groceries. The presented concept strayed from the Schnucks brand name and would not influence their buying decisions. Several members begged for a tradional grocery store for downtown. We left thinking that this was not planned and would never happen.

Of course, this is just one person's opinion, but I found the comments rather intriguing...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Slay Letter to April Ford-Griffin Regarding McKee

In the past I have mentioned the antics of Paul McKee, the owner of McEagle Properties, the force behind Winghaven. McKee has been steadily buying and hording properties in North St. Louis.

I stumbled across the following on Saint Louis Patina:

Among the many matters discussed by speakers at the Saturday rally against Paul McKee was a letter that April Ford Griffin, alderwoman of the 5th ward, received on October 3. After a standard opening, Slay states the following:

I strongly support more private investment in the 5th ward as long as it creates quality jobs and improves the quality of life for the people who live in the 5th ward.

Any development must reflect the ward's diversity. It would be beneficial if it includes both affordable housing and market rate housing.

Any major redevelopment plan will not go forward until and unless there is public input, which includes open dialogue among the developers, the residents and elected officials.

I will not support eminent domain for owner occupied properties.

I will not support a redevelopment plan that does not have community support expressed through the community's elected representatives.

I will oppose Old North St. Louis being part of a major redevelopment plan unless the residents want to be included.

My administration will not sell LRA holdings as part of a major redevelopment plan unless the community supports the plan through their elected representatives.

Anyone who owns property in the 5th ward must take care of it by meeting codes to ensure public safety and health.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vote Proposition "M" on November 4th

This proposition encourages that the next priority corridor for Metro after the County extensions be the Northside-Southside Connector - a vital link to the region's light rail network. Proposition M will be on the St. Louis County's November 4th Ballot Initiative to expand Metro's light rail network and improve maintenance on its existing public transit facilities. The estimated $80 million in annual revenues generated by the measure will also prevent drastic cuts in both bus and Metrolink service in the County and City that are projected to go into effect in 2009 if Metro is unable to replace its funding cuts.



People and organizations that support Proposition "M":

Focus St. Louis
St. Louis Business Journal
St. Louis Post Dispatch
St. Louis RCGA
St. Louis Cardinals
Paraquad Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
Associated General Contractors of St. Louis
American Planning Association
BJC Health Care
Citizens for Modern Transit
St. Louis County Municipal League
City of Creve Coeur
City of Florissant
City of Moline Acres
Directions Saint Louis, LLC
Loop Trolley Company
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Greater St. Louis Alliance for Change to Win
Jobs with Justice
Missouri Growth Association
Missouri Progressive Cote Coalition
North County Inc.
St. Louis Labor Council
St. Louis Realtors Association
Service Employees International Union Local 1
Service Employees International Missouri
Kansas State Council
SSM Health Care
The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis
University of Missouri St. Louis
Washington University
Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County Executive
Kathleen Kelly Burkett, Chairperson, St. Louis County Council
Hazel Erby, St. Louis County Council
Mike O'Mara, St. Louis County Council
Barbara Fraser, St. Louis County Council
Coleen Wasinger, St. Louis County Council
Joan Bray, State Senator
Margaret Donnelly, State Representative

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Pageant: #4 Concert Venue in the World

From STLToday.com:

Say what you will about St. Louis’ concert scene and whether it’s a just a secondary market, but it never seems to effect the Pageant.

The Delmar Loop concert venue ranks at No. 4 on the Top 100 Worldwide Club Venues list, printed quarterly in Pollstar magazine (the Bible of the music touring industry).

Year to date, from Jan. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2008, 117,075 tickets were sold to Pageant concerts.

The Pageant has consistently ranked as a top concert club most quarters since its opening.

Here’s the listing of the top ten. Get more information at www.pollstar.com

1. 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, 153,175
2. The Fillmore, San Francisco, 131,225
3. House Of Blues, Dallas, 129,295
4. The Pageant, St. Louis, 117,075
5. House of Blues, Chicago, 115,952
6. House Of Blues, Anaheim, 115,076
7. The Wiltern, Los Angeles, 110,605
8. Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, 109,399
9. Rams Head Live!, Baltimore, 101,438
10. Ancienne Belgique Brussels, Belgium, 99,121

No More Piles of Paper !!

When it comes to complaining about newspapers littering the front of my house, I go into old man mode and rant about the constant barrage of newspapers that seem to get thrown in my yard. The Suburban Journal, The Kirkwood-Webster Times, The Post-Dispatch....we even get two or three in the mailbox that appear magically.

Good news is here - Surburban Journals will be changing to a subscription based model. For $19.99 a year, readers will continue to receive "The Journal."

Considering that I complain about the free Post-Dispatch newspapers we are now getting during the week, you can certainly count on me not opting to pay for The Journal.

We just love to kill trees, don't we?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Great Cuts Opening Downtown

Those that know me know that I love my $9.99 Great Clips and SuperCuts haircut. My wife likes to make fun of me, but graying hair doesn't take much work to cut.

Great Cuts - which seems to be a clever hybrid of the above two stores - is planning on opening a shop at 1301 Washington Ave. It's slated for a November 2nd opening.

Should be a great service for downtown dwellers and office workers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Urban Eats Cafe

Pretty cool new cafe in the Liermann Building at the corner of Meramec and Virginia in the Dutchtown neighborhood. They have paninis, wraps, flatbread pizzas, coffee, wine, and even free wi-fi!

I spent a good majority of my high school years driving delivery for Virginia Auto Parts, which was located right down the street before moving, and it's cool to see new businesses and development going on in the Dutchtown neighborhood!

3301 Meramec
St. Louis, MO 63118

Pie, Anyone?

Sugaree Baking Company, which has never offered walk-in retail sales, will begin selling 6- and 10- inch deep dish pies from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. My wife and I were close to using Suragee for our wedding cake - and if their pies taste as good as their cake - you will definitely want to head to Dogtown to pick up a pie!

Sugaree Baking Co.
1242 Tamm Ave.
Saint Louis, MO 63139

Friday, October 10, 2008

Quite An Integration of Vision

I don't think I could have even dreamed this up - and I used to make some pretty sweet Lego structures!
This is the new headquarters of the Basque Health Department in Bilbao, Spain.
I think it's amazing how the structure seems to fit perfectly next to the old buildings that adorn it on either side. Pretty spectacular.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Contemporary Fireplaces from Focus

I've always been obsessed with fireplaces. Maybe it was the constant fire burning in my home as a child, or the fact that I was fascinated with watching newspaper burn so fast after tossing it in. At any rate, Focus has some absolutely amazing fireplaces.

Ever since founder and designer Dominique Imbert set up his workshop in 1967, Focus has been hammering, forging, welding, and sculpting their fireplaces in southern France. Today, they have a whole range of freestanding and built-in fireplaces that will find their way into thousands of contemporary homes around the world.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Calvin Klein Launches New Home Furniture Collection

Calvin Klein has announced they will introduce two designer furniture lines this spring – ‘Calvin Klein’ and ‘The curator collection by Calvin Klein Home.’

The latest additions to the Calvin Klein Home line will consist of modern, timeless pieces in keeping with the Calvin Klein brand aesthetic. The full line will debut at the High Point Market in late October, and will appear in stores in January 2009.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's Not An Abod, But...

Some of you may remember my slight obsession with possibly getting an Abod. I just so happened to run across something else that would work as an alternative to what I'd like to do - the Igloo Satelitte Cabin.

Designed to provide safe, reliable accommodation in remote areas, the Igloo Satellite Cabin has been used for over 25 years in conditions ranging from the tropics to polar icecaps. Units can be flown by helicopter fully assembled, and often fully equipped, to locations inaccessible by road transport. Igloos are ideal short-term accommodation for exploration and research, as well as an attractive alternative for eco-tourism.

Each wall and floor panel is a composite of fiberglass and polyurethane insulation with an R rating of .904m2K/W. Windows are double-glazed polycarbonate panes, which are shockproof. Floor panels have a non-skid surface, and are bolted to wall panels and to each other. Each cabin has two ventilators, one in each door and top cover.

Igloos can be lengthened to six or more metres by adding sets of extension panels, or interlinked by tunnels to provide a complete weatherproof base. All Igloos are customized to suit specific requirements and are available in a range of colours and configurations. Basic assembly tools, bolts, sealant tie-down lines, assembly instructions and brochures are supplied with each order.

So who wants to buy one and build an underground tunnel linked to mine?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Saint Louis Science Center Ranked #5...

Most of you would guess I am not a reader of "Parents" magazine, as the only two "kids" I have are furry and bark a lot. However, Parents, in their ranking of the Ten Best Science Centers, named our city's Saint Louis Science Center #5. Good to see our town's Science Center (which is of course located next to the best high school in all the land!) getting some recognition.

Why I Love Keller Williams

In the past month or so, I contemplated switching brokerages and moving over to another big name firm in the area. I was even at the office and ready to sign. However, after realizing that the grass isn't always greener on the other side, I stayed with Keller Williams, and I am 100% confident that I made the right decision.

The reason why? Well...

It's obviously no secret that the real estate market has been taking a beating over the past year. And, while I can't say I have been affected, I certainly know many agents and brokerages that have. I know several agents who have left the industry, and some brokerages have shut their doors.

Throughout it all, Keller Williams has been able to excel. I believe the main reason is that unlike other Real Estate companies, Keller Williams was designed to reward agents for working together, in order to serve our clients better, which in turn has allowed KW to outpace the industry:

-While the National Association of REALTORS® has shrunk by 6 percent, Keller Williams has only experienced a 2 percent adjustment in agent count!
-While other companies and offices are selling out or closing their doors, we opened 25 offices in the last 12 months!
-While other companies are raising fees and charging their agents more in order to keep the doors open, the vast majority of our offices are profitable!
-And, while agents with other companies worry about their financial security, we have given back more than $32 million in profits to our agents over the last year!

As we watch our competitors, particularly those that answer to Wall Street, take on billions of dollars of debt, we are proud to say that our company has not one dollar of financing debt and we remain strongly, soundly profitable.

If you are an agent that has been thinking about making a change, I'd love to chat with you and show you how Keller Williams can help build your business!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Not Necessarily About Real Estate...

It involves Saint Louis though :) I found it interesting that St. Louis was the most tuned-in market in the country when it came to the Vice Presidential Candidate debate this past Thursday night. The national average was 33.2, and St. Louis led the way with 52.1. Senator Obama's Chicago showed just a 30.1, while McCain's Phoenix didn't watch at all really, registering a 24.8.

Was St. Louis just THAT interested in the debate? Was it because it was at Washington University? Did you tune in?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rumor Has It...

...that Dominic Galati, of Dominic's on The Hill, and Dominic's Trattoria in Clayton, will open Gio's Ristorante and Bar at 701 Market St, the former home of Dierdorf and Hart's. It's set to open in mid-November.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top 10 Real Estate Trends You Have to Know

HGTV has recently rolled out FrontDoor, which is essentially just a fancy name for their real estate section of their website. They had the following list on there recently:

Like Wall Street, the real estate industry is feeling the painful effects of loose lending practices and bad mortgage loans. Now, more than ever, prospective homebuyers and sellers should be aware about what's happening with the housing market -- and where it's headed -- in order to make smart decisions. In addition to understanding what fueled the current financial crisis and the government's bailout of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, get familiar with FrontDoor's top 10 trends in real estate.

1. Homes in foreclosure reach record highs

While some markets have started to show improvement, the number of homes in foreclosure continues to rise to unprecedented levels. According to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association, a record 1.2 million homes were in foreclosure in the second quarter of 2008. This number is expected to reach 2 million by the end of the year, analysts say.

2. Home prices continue to fall

But because real estate is local, the rate of decline varies on your market. And in some high-demand markets, prices are still climbing, though at a slower rate. According to the Case-Shiller Index -- a survey of home prices in 20 major metropolitan areas -- prices nationwide fell 15 percent in the second quarter of 2008 compared with last year. Despite the national numbers, some regions are starting to make a comeback. Some say the trend in falling home prices will mean lower divorce rates because a couple is less willing to sacrifice their equity.

3. Borrowers will have a harder time getting a mortgage

During the housing boom, mortgages were easy to come by -- too easy to come by. Risky lending practices have come back to bite companies who profited from millions of bad loans, and many mortgage companies (including industry giants Countrywide, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and financial giants Lehman Brothers and AIG have fallen apart. As a result, U.S. banks have tightened their lending standards, limiting non-traditional loans such as interest-only mortgages and getting rid of subprime mortgages.

4. Bad real estate agents will get weeded out

In the past, homes practically sold themselves, and enterprising people became part-time real estate agents. Nowadays, home sellers are looking for premium service and expertise from Realtors in exchange for the 6 percent commission. And savvy buyers want an agent who offers insight and knowledge not available on the Internet. So be selective -- only the best Realtors will succeed in this market.

5. Mortgage rates are still at historic lows.

After the government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, rates of 30-year fixed rate mortgages plunged from 6.35 percent to 5.93 percent in a week, the biggest weekly drop in more than 28 years. However, some analysts believe mortgage rates will rise if the government has to borrow money to finance Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But remember before the 1990s, interest rates were in the double digits.

6. Urban areas are making a comeback

The U.S. experienced a mass exodus to the 'burbs after World War II, but homebuyers are now regaining interest in downtown areas. Urban core homes are often more expensive per square foot than their suburban counterparts, but many buyers are willing to pay a premium to avoid long commutes and urban sprawl.

7. Bigger is not always better

While the size of the average American family shrunk from 3.1 people in 1974 to 2.6 people in 2004, the size of the average American home increased from 1,695 square feet to 2,349 square feet. However, many homebuyers looking to save money on utilities, taxes and maintenance are now foregoing McMansions and instead opting for smaller homes.

8. Buyers are going green

Eco-friendly attributes such as radiant floor heating systems, Energy Star rated appliances and on-demand water heating units are all the rage with homebuyers right now. For sellers, promoting your home's green features will give you an edge in the competitive market.

9. Technology and social networking are changing how we buy and sell homes

Listings, home valuations and other information previously only available through real estate agents are now available on the Web. Because of this, agents have had to rethink their roles in the real estate world and adapt to the times. For buyers and sellers, more technology means alternatives to the traditional route of selling through an agent, such as home swapping and online auctions.

10. Flipping is out, buying and holding is in

Falling prices and a large inventory of unsold homes mean there are more potential bargains out there. Real estate investors are taking advantage of current conditions, knowing that a down market is the best time to get a good deal.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Great Article on the Financial Crisis

Mortgage Success Source's Barry Habib posted the following on LoanToolbox's Message Boards:

Hi everyone. Crazy times. Whatever the political posturing, a plan needs to be passed. Credit markets are frozen and banks are going bust every day. This is not totally because of "toxic" mortgages. This has a lot to do with FASB 157, also known as "mark to market."

Each day lenders must mark their assets to the marketplace. It's like you having to appraise your home everyday and if your neighbor was under duress because they got very ill, divorced, lost their job and was forced to sell their home quickly they may have sold it super cheap. Now, does that mean your house is worth that super cheap price? Clearly not. Why? Because you are not under duress. You have the time to sell your home and get a more normal price, which more accurately reflects true market conditions. But "mark to market" does not allow for this, which creates a vicious cycle.

Why is this so bad? Because as lenders mark down their assets the amount that they have loaned previously becomes much riskier in relation to their assets. For example, say a bank has $1 million in assets and say they have $15 million in loans outstanding. Their ratio is an acceptable 15 to 1. But should they take a paper write down of $500 thousand due to "mark to market" requirements, their ratio suddenly changes to 30 to 1. This is because their assets are now only $500 thousand after taking the paper loss, while their loans outstanding are $15 million. And at 30 to 1 this bank is viewed as a risky investment. So the stock price starts to get hit, it becomes harder to borrow, and most importantly harder to make money. The bank is then forced to sell some of its loans to reduce its ratio...at cheap prices. And this makes the vicious cycle continue.

And a quick look at the holdings of these loans show that 95% are problem free. Additionally, the Credit Default Swaps (CDS) that are used with the pools of mortgages, are relatively safe. But this requires a bit of understanding. You see, when a pool of mortgage loans is put together it isn't just A paper or B paper etc., it's everything. It’s got some A paper, B paper, C paper, and even what looks like toilet paper. An "A" investor buys the whole pool but because they are an "A" investor their safety is greater because they can avoid the first 20% (an example) of defaults. So they own the whole pool but are sheltered from the first batch of defaults, and for this they get the lowest rate of return. As you can figure from here the more risk investors want to take, the higher the return. So the investments are relatively safe, but the accounting rules currently place undue pressure on the banking institutions.

Now add to all this the opportunistic shorting done on the financial stocks, much of it illegal because those shorts did not legitimately borrow shares (called naked shorting), and you exacerbate this whole problem. Thank goodness for the recent temporary ban on shorting in the financial sector. As for the plan the government is the only one who can step in to do this. And they have to do this. And they will do this. The nauseating political posture from both sides is just part of the process.

This is not easy to understand for the general public. In fact most politicians don't get this either. That's why it is a difficult yet critical bill for them to vote on.

Once this is done it will take some time but the markets will stabilize. As for our industry it will take a bit of time but we will make it through this. Rates will remain attractive and the influx of credit availability will help the housing market gradually improve. This ultimately will be the medicine needed to fix our industry. We just need to be patient. Those who can stick it out will be handsomely rewarded.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Going Green: Green Homes Renewable Energy Festival

WHAT: Green Homes & Renewable Energy Festival; Green House Tour

WHEN: Festival - Saturday, Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; House Tour - Sunday, Sept. 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

WHERE: 3600 block of Grandel Square in mid-town St. Louis

COST: Festival admission and parking is FREE; House Tour tickets $10-$15

SPONSORS: Produced by the EarthWays Center and Missouri Coalition for the Environment; presented by AmerenUE. Major sponsors: Herb'n Maid; KDHX-FM 88.1-St. Louis Community Radio; KTVI-Fox 2; Laclede Gas; Metro; Lucky You Productions: Missouri Botanical Garden; Riverfront Times; St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District; U.S. Green Building Council-St. Louis Regional Chapter; Wind Capital Group

INFO: greenhomesstl.org; (314) 577-0220

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Next Little Thing?

The New York Times has an awesome article about the "small house movement" - that being, as the New York Times best describes it: minimizing one's footprint - structural as well as carbon - by living in spaces that are smaller than 1,000 square feet, and in some cases, smaller than 100.

It's a super read, and certainly begs the question - how much space, is too much space?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zillow.com® Launches Home Page Featured Listings for National and Regional Real Estate Brokers

Real estate Web site Zillow.com announced today the launch of a new advertising platform for national and regional real estate brokerages that features local for sale listings right on the Zillow.com home page. Using Zillow's ad serving technology, the listings are customized to the user's most recent search of homes -- down to the neighborhood or ZIP code, home size, price range and attributes. For a national or regional brokerage, this means exposure for their listings to the more than eight million visits that come through the Zillow.com home page every month.

Called Home Page Featured Listings, these ads use innovative ad serving technology developed by Zillow engineers to match sponsored brands' for sale listings to a buyer's search preferences for homes on Zillow. The Zillow home page features three graphical ad units at a time -- two sponsored by national brands and one sponsored by a regional brokerage. Because the ads are targeted to a user's most recent search (versus their geographic location), advertisers are able to target all buyers, including those who may be relocating or purchasing a second home.

"At Zillow, we recognize that in today's challenging housing market, national and regional brokerages need performance-based online advertising solutions that deliver real results for their agents and sellers, while strengthening brand awareness," said Greg Schwartz, vice president of ad sales at Zillow. "Zillow's new Home Page Featured Listings are another example of our commitment to providing high value, high return advertising solutions for real estate advertisers."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fletcher House

This super cool house is a rehab of an existing house and garage by a team of graduate school architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania including Todd Bennett, Amy Campbell, and Ross Findly.
Check out a lot more details at 100K House.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Keller Williams Ranks Highest With Buyers

A new first of its kind study was done and found that Keller Williams ranked highest with Buyers. Unforunately, due to licensing issues, I can't say who actually performed the study, but it was a highly reputable company. I know, I know - it sounds squirelly, but it's true! If you are interested in hearing more about it, send me an email!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Seizure of Fannie and Freddie...

Great article from The Realty Times...

The dramatic seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the federal government has had no downsides for real estate -- although it could ultimately cost taxpayers billions if the companies' loan portfolios continue to bleed red ink. So how does that all sort out for individual home buyers, sellers, builders and real estate professionals?

Here's a quick overview with a Washington perspective: Fannie and Freddie provided -- and will continue to provide -- liquidity to the American home mortgage market … that is, plenty of money for qualified buyers and refinancers.

They're not going away. Only their top brass pulling down eight figure annual salaries and $100,000 country club membership perks are going away.

And most lamented of all in the corridors of Capitol Hill, the two companies' notoriously generous political action committees, which put $3 million into the campaign coffers of carefully selected congressional and Senate leaders in recent years, are going away.

Ironically, although Fannie and Freddie claimed that they lowered mortgage rates, the reality is that the biggest impact they ever had on ordinary folks' interest rate quotes was when the feds busted in and took them over.

Rates dropped anywhere from half a point to three quarters of a point within the first week, slashing hundreds of dollars off monthly principal and interest payments for thousands of home buyers and refinancers who rushed to lock during the free fall.

Government rule of the bankrupt companies is likely to extend through 2009 -- or as long as it takes for Congress and a new administration to figure out how to reconstruct them.

In the meantime, it should be pretty much business as usual for new borrowers. But don't expect federally-run Fannie and Freddie to get out front and innovate with lower downpayments or easier underwriting standards.

Anyone needing a really low downpayment or more consumer-friendly credit to buy a house will need to turn to FHA, not Fannie or Freddie. Between now and January 1, FHA will be able to do 3 percent down loans of up to $729,750.

After January 1, FHA will offer 3 and a half percent downpayments on maximum loans of $625,500. Fannie and Freddie will have the same upper limit for high-cost areas, but won't be able to come close on downpayments or credit standards.

Bottom line: Weep not for Fannie and Freddie, who drove themselves into bankruptcy. Instead, raise your glass and toast FHA. It's been around since the Depression, its leaders aren't paid millions, and for many home buyers it's going to be the only game in town.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mortgage Rates Drop Like A Rock

Interest rates for the 30 year fixed rate dropped nearly half a percentage point overnight this week in reaction to the announcement that the U.S. federal government is taking control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

A brief synopsis of why rates have come down so quickly:

Mortgage interest rates are determined by the price and yield of bonds issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These agencies issuebonds to raise cash (investors purchase the bonds) which they use to purchase mortgages from U.S. lenders. The yield (rate thatFannie/Freddie have to pay on the bonds) represents the agencies' cost of funds, ie. If they need to pay more to entice investors tobuy bonds, they will need to charge more to the U.S. consumer (conversely if they can pay out less, they will charge less.)

In the past 12 months, speculation about the financial solvency of these agencies has spooked investors who deem Fannie/Freddieand the whole U.S. mortgage mess as a risky investment. So...Fannie/Freddie have needed to pay more to entice investors. Paying more means charging more, and hence the rates have been relatively high. Now that the federal government is officially behind Fannie/Freddie, these agency bonds are deemed to have considerably less risk. So investors are excited again, and with investors rushing to buy bonds, the agencies don't need to pay so much to attract investors,and the agencies can charge less to consumers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Staging: Worth the Cost

I've repeatedly told clients that staging your home is worth the money invested. Most Sellers tend to ignore my advice, but I can see where it would be tough to invest the money if you haven't personally seen the benefit.

Yahoo! Real Estate has a great article on the matter here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sweet Flooring...

Cobbleblock™ & Cobblewood™ Flooring: fabricated from antique beams, sliced cross-grain, sanded & triple oiled. And, they come in Pine as well...Pretty amazing.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I'd Sure Have To Throw A Lot of Stuff Away...

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

-William Morris

Going Green: GreenFiber Insulation

If you are contemplating doing some insulating before the winter months hit, GreenFiber Insulation would be a great product to employ. It can be used in attics, floors, and walls of new construction or reinsulation. As with all insulation, it provides great thermal performance, fire-resistance, and sound control. And - the best part - it consists of 85% recycled content.

Recently, I did a "blow-in" insulation in some walls in a home I was rehabbing that had a room where there was no insulation in the walls - It was super cold in the winter, and lost a lot of the cool air being pumped in in the summer. It was super easy - you just drilled some holes in the drywall, stuck the hose in the hole, and "blew" the insulation in. GreenFiber was used, and it worked perfect.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rumor Has It...

Word on the street is that Ruth's Chris will open a location at the Hyatt in Downtown Saint Louis...

Pi to Multiply?

Word on the street is that fairly new pizza place, Pi, might soon be opening another location in the Central West End. Sauce says that the plans calls for a two-story restaurant with space for private parties, seating for over 100 on the elevated terrace out front, and a menu full of Pi's signature cornmeal-crusted pizzas.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Innovate + Real Estate: Leviton Triplex Outlet

How cool is this? I think I might be spending a Saturday switching out all of our outlets soon....

Friday, September 5, 2008

Awesome Re-Use: Skateboards to Stairs

What an absolutely awesome idea for a set of stairs. Apparently, the Roarockit Skateboard Company runs a school in Leaside, Toronto teaching their method. I think this would be an awesome set of stairs leading to a contemporary finished basement.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

White Lie? No - Green Lie

I've written about tankless water heaters before, and while my opinion is that the main benefit is "on-demand" hot water, the other benefit that is touted is always the Green concept that it is reducing energy consumption, thus lowering your bill.
However, the Los Angeles Times had an article that claimed energy bills aren't always reduced. You can read about it here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Credit Unions: Good Source for Mortgages?

I generally refer my clients to a lender I have worked with since being in the business. I love working with them, know that things are going to happen in a timely manner, and that I will have control over the entire closing and period leading up to closing. The worst thing that can happen is to get a call the day before closing from a lender that says, "we can't fund this loan."

However, there was a great article in the New York Times about Credit Unions having some pretty solid deals on mortgages. Read the article here.

Posts to Resume...

My apologies this blog has been lacking lately. It is still your source for all things Real Estate in Saint Louis and beyond. Regular posts will resume!

If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to email me or call me!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Where the Hell Are You Matt?

Sorry I have been MIA. I have been in Austin, Texas at Keller Williams Mega Camp. It's a KW National Real Estate conference, and the topic was the shifting market. I took away some amazing information, and met come real estate agents that do some insane business!

I'm looking forward to implementing the ideas for both my buyers and sellers. If know you anyone looking to buy or sell, send them my way!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Former Carrolton Subdivision

Carrolton subdivision, in Bridgeton, MO used to be a nice little neighborhood. Then, in 1989, Lambert Airport decided they needed to expand, and started buying houses.

The last family moved out last year, and the subdivision is a collection of empty spaces, vacant houses, and charred remains.

The Post-Dispatch wrote an interesting article on Monday, and the blog, 56 Houses, has been documenting the saga. They are both interesting reads.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rumor Has It...

Monarch co-owner will open a new restaurant in the CWE in the space formerly occupied by Balaban's. The tentative date for opening is October 15th.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't Forget About the Garage

Oftentimes, people's garages become the step-child of their home - where all of the junk and clutter collect. Sellers will assume it's not a big deal when they go to sell, and they have the garage full of junk.

There's a couple problems with this assumption - first, your garage is an extension of your home, and it should clean, well-kept, and put together just like your house. Second, Buyers will see your garage full of stuff, and many actually like to park a car there. If your garage is filled to the gills with junk, it will come across that there isn't any storage space inside the actual house, and put up a red flag to some Buyers.

Click Here to check out a great article about not overlooking your garage!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Composite Decking Has Its Downfalls

Having a deck is at the top of a lot of homeowners 'want' lists. I prefer the look and beauty of natural wood, but many people are big proponents of composite decking. While it certainly doesn't take the maintenance that wood does, it has shown that it isn't impervious to rotting, and it hasn't been around long enough to know what the true lifespan is.

Click Here to check out a great article about the two.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ed McMahon Saved From Foreclosure...

...by The Donald. Yes, Donald Trump has agreed to purchase McMahon's house and let him continue to live in it. McMahon was facing foreclosure in the next two weeks after defaulting on his $4.8 million loan with Countrywide. He has said he hasn't been able to work becuase of a neck injury.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Great List From Roost

You may remember awhile back I posted about the description of homes in the MLS, and the list Roost came up with for the top adjectives used.

They are back, this time with a Top 2o list of what words Buyers are searching for when narrowing their home search.

I will be perfectly honest in that the list surprised me somewhat...the Top 10:

1. Pool
2. Garage
3. Hardwood
4. Waterfront
5. View
6. Basement
7. Tile
8. Deck
9. Condo
10. Shop

"I wouldn't bet the house will sell when you use these words, but it can't hurt," says Roost chief marketing officer, Drew Izzo.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More On the Foreclosure Front

RealtyTrac®, the leading online marketplace for foreclosure properties, today released its July 2008 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report™, which shows foreclosure filings — default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions — were reported on 272,171 U.S. properties during the month, an 8 percent increase from the previous month and a 55 percent increase from July 2007. The report also shows one in every 464 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing during the month.

“Bank repossessions, or REOs, continued to be the fastest growing segment of foreclosure activity in July, posting a 184 percent year-over-year increase — compared to a 53 percent year-over-year increase in default notices and an 11 percent year-over-year increase in auction notices,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “The sharp rise in REOs, combined with slow sales, has resulted in a bloated inventory of bank-owned properties for sale. RealtyTrac now has more than three quarters of a million properties in its active REO database, a number that represents approximately 17 percent of the inventory of existing homes for sale reported in June by the National Association of Realtors.”

Nevada, California, Florida post top state foreclosure rates: Nevada continued to document the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate in July, with one in every 106 households receiving a foreclosure filing during the month. Foreclosure activity in Nevada was up 15 percent from the previous month and 97 percent from July 2007, pushing the total number of properties with foreclosure filings to over 10,000. Bank repossessions in Nevada were up 384 percent on a year-over-year basis, while default notices were up 59 percent and auction notices were up 31 percent.

One in every 182 California properties received a foreclosure filing in July, the nation’s second highest state foreclosure rate, while one in every 186 Florida properties received a foreclosure filing, the nation’s third highest state foreclosure rate.

Despite increasing foreclosure activity, Arizona’s foreclosure rate dropped from the nation’s third highest in June to fourth highest in July. Foreclosure filings were reported on 13,350 Arizona properties during the month, a 3 percent increase from the previous month and a 127 percent increase from July 2007. One in every 195 Arizona properties received a foreclosure filing, a rate that was more than twice the national average.

Other states with foreclosure rates ranking among the top 10 were Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado, Utah and Virginia.

California, Florida, Ohio report highest foreclosure totals: Foreclosure filings were reported on 72,285 California properties in July, the highest total among the states. The state’s foreclosure activity increased 5 percent from the previous month and was up 85 percent from July 2007. On a year-over-year basis, bank repossessions in California were up 427 percent, while auction notices were up 67 percent and default notices were up 34 percent. However, default notices declined 4 percent from the previous month.

Florida foreclosure activity in July increased 14 percent from the previous month and 139 percent from July 2007. The state posted the nation’s second highest number of properties with filings — 45,884. On a year-over-year basis, bank repossessions in Florida increased 678 percent, while auction notices were up 180 percent and default notices were up 100 percent.
Ohio’s total of 13,457 properties with foreclosure filings in July was third highest among the states despite an increase of just 2 percent from the previous month and 1 percent from July 2007. On a year-over-year basis, bank repossessions in Ohio were still up 33 percent, while auction notices were down nearly 20 percent and default notices were up nearly 8 percent. One in every 375 Ohio households received a foreclosure filing during the month, the nation’s fifth highest state foreclosure rate.

After Arizona, Michigan documented the fifth highest state total in July — 11,591 properties with filings — but the state’s foreclosure activity decreased 4 percent from the previous month and 17 percent from July 2007. The state’s foreclosure rate — one in every 389 households received a foreclosure filing — ranked seventh highest among the states.

Other states with total properties with foreclosure filings among the 10 highest were Texas, Georgia, Nevada, Illinois and New York.

Top Metro Rates in California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona: The Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., metro area registered the highest foreclosure rate among the 230 metro areas tracked in the July report. One in every 64 households in the metro area received a foreclosure filing during the month — more than seven times the national average.

Three California cities followed in the metro foreclosure rate rankings: Merced was at No. 2 with one in every 73 households receiving a foreclosure filing; and Stockton and Modesto were in a virtual tie, each with one in every 82 households receiving a foreclosure filing.

With one in every 85 households receiving a foreclosure filing, the Las Vegas metro area’s foreclosure rate ranked No. 5, followed by three more California metros: Riverside-San Bernardino, Bakersfield and Vallejo-Fairfield.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla., documented the ninth highest metro foreclosure rate, and the foreclosure rate in Phoenix took the No. 10 spot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rumor Has It....

The space that was Busch's Grove is apparently slated to become a grocery store, according to the building's new owner, Southwestern Enterprises, Inc. Ever the fancy spot, "The Market at Busch's Grove" will be led by Paul Poe, one-time CEO of Straub's Markets. Gourmet meals as well as local produce and products will grace the shelves. An October opening is anticipated.

Monday, August 11, 2008


What an amazing house and story. The house was built in 1895 on a rock outcrop in Rhode Island's Narrangansett Bay, and was abandoned in the 1940's and sat vacant until Henry Wood purchased it in 1961 for $3,600.
Great read and slideshow in The New York Times.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Going Green: Want To Volunteer?

From stlouisgreen.com:

Stlouisgreen.com is now partnering with the Cardinals to turn their red team green! Thanks to our many wonderful and willing volunteers, our efforts to raise awareness about recycling and increase the amount recycled at Busch Stadium have made a huge difference! There are still August home games left for those of you who would like to make a positive impact while watching the Cards in action for free. Grab your family, friends, or teammates and show up at the stadium to prove your St. Louis green spirit! Email us at info@stlouisgreen.com to sign up for a game or two!

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Homeowners Delusional On Value of Property"

A rather unfortunate headline, and while I wouldn't use the word "delusional," there's an awful lot of truth in the article...you have to price your home according to the MARKET!!!

It could never happen to me. That's the common attitude whether the subject is shark attacks, black market organ theft or, apparently, housing price declines. Despite plummeting values across the nation, 62 percent of homeowners believe their property's worth has actually climbed or stayed the same during the past year, according to a confidence survey commissioned by real estate Web site Zillow. In reality, the market price on 77 percent of properties has dropped and only about 24 percent have risen or held firm, the Seattle company estimates.

Complete Story

Thursday, August 7, 2008

June pending home sales tick up 5.3% !

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of pending homes for sale rose in June, a rebound from the previous month, according to a report released Thursday. The National Association of Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index rose 5.3% in June to 89 from a downwardly revised reading of 84.5 in May. The index remains 12.3% below its level in June 2007, when it stood at 101.4, but it's at its highest point since October 2007, when it was at 89.9.

Complete Story

Monday, August 4, 2008

Federal Tax Credit For First Time Buyers Signed Into Law!!!

President Bush signed into law a monumental housing bill last week in an effort to support the struggling housing market. One of the provisions which should have an immediate impact on you first time buyers out there is a federal tax credit for first-time home buyers (defined as not having owned property in the last 3 years). Remember that a tax credit is the equivalent of cash-in-hand come tax season (as opposed to a tax deduction), so this is powerful news. Here are a couple highlights of that provision:

- Tax credit is equal to 10% of purchase price, or $7500, whichever is less
- Available to eligible home buyers purchasing between April 9, 2008 and June 30, 2009
- Tax credit amount must be repaid to federal government over subsequent 15 year period at rate of $500 per year

The tax credit will effectively increase a home buyers tax refund in the filing year following the home purchase. Though the credit does not provide you with cash needed to close, it could be a big help in terms of upgrading appliances, or making improvements.

The National Association of Home Builders has created a convenient website to learn more:

This is an amazing opportunity, and if you have been thinking about Buying, now is the time. If you'd like more information, please let me know!!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Boy Oh Boy...

Homes Currently For Sale in the Saint Louis Market: 2,283

Homes Currently in Foreclosure in the Saint Louis Market: 2,780

Almost 500 more houses that are foreclosed than are for sale...yikes.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Proposition Y: MSD Wastewater Rates

On August 5th, Proposition Y will be on the ballot. This proposition relates to MSD wastewater rates, which will be increasing. The wastewater program being proposed by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is in an effort to:

-Increase wet weather capacity at plants
-Develop an understanding of system defects
-Reduce extraneous water entering sewers from inappropriate connections and defects
-Reduce combined sewer overflow events
-Eliminate constructed overflows in separate system

The wastewater program features are what is necessary in order for the St. Louis Sewer system to comply with the Clean Water Act.
The proposition allots for two different scenerios for funding: a YES vote and a NO vote.

-YES on Proposition Y would permit MSD to use debt financing and bonds (backed by sewer fees) to make the necessary system improvements. An increase in your sewer bill will be as follows:

September 2008 = 0%
July 2009 = 2%
July 2010 = 5%
July 2011 = 4%

-NO on Proposition Y would fund the system improvements through current MSD rates and increases and is essentially 100% cash funded with zero use of bonds. An increase in your sewer bill will be as follows:

September 2008 = 12%
July 2009 = 11%
July 2010 = 9%
July 2011 = 5%

A breakdown of the potential average monthly bills over a span of four (4) years for the average single-family home is included:

(Information courtesy of MSD)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saint Louis in the 10 Best For Rehabbing

From Yahoo! Real Estate:

Where are the best opportunities to buy houses at below market prices, fix them up and sell them at a substantial profit?

HomeVestors -- whose 230 franchisees in 35 states have bought and turned around more than 35,000 houses during the past 12 years -- has just come out with its top ten list for the second quarter of 2008.

Four are in Texas (Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio), along with Denver, Colorado, Charlotte, North Carolina, St. Louis, Missouri, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois and Kansas City, Kansas.

The rankings were based on the number of houses HomeVestor franchisees were able to buy and finance between the beginning of April and the end of June in dozens of markets around the country.

The HomeVestor formula emphasizes buying distressed properties well below market value, meaning houses that need to be sold quickly because of divorce, job loss, illness, death or impending foreclosure, and then renovating them and quickly reselling to rental home investors or first-time buyers.

Mark Hagen, a vice president of HomeVestors, said the top markets share certain common characteristics. They all have:

-Moderate home prices relative to the national average, and never participated in the wild inflationary spirals of the boom years….or the rapid deflation after 2006.
-Solid local economies, producing new jobs, even in the face of a national slowdown.
-Strong local demand for both single family rental units and "starter" homes for renters looking to buy.
-Prevailing rent levels strong enough to produce positive cash flows for investors.

"We call them rational markets," said Hagen. "Real estate fundamentals make sense in these areas."

Statistical data from the federal agency that monitors local housing markets backs up Hagen's point on prices in the top investor markets. For example, Dallas, number one on the list, saw average price appreciation between the first quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of this year of 3.8 percent. That compares with double-digit declines in once-booming California, Florida and parts of the Northeast.

Between 2003 and 2008, cumulative appreciation in Dallas was just 16.5 percent. Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Fort Worth and the others were all slow but steady gainers, and -- most importantly -- they continue to pump out steady gains in the midst of a national housing downturn.