Friday, October 31, 2008

Going Green: Pesto Festo!

Buy your Tickets Now!$25 in advance, $30 at the door

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 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

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


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

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.