Ohio residents can pay $35 to $45 a month as a hedge against declining home values. But the policies may not be a good deal for most homeowners.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Oct 4, 2011 2:21PM

© Robert Llewellyn/CorbisHere's something you wish you'd bought five years ago: insurance against falling home prices.


A California firm is selling what it says is the first insurance against falling home prices, starting in Ohio and planning to roll the product out to 15 to 20 other states by the end of next year. Several companies sell similar products.

For $35 to $45 a month for the average Ohio home, Home Value Insurance Co. will sell you an insurance policy that will pay you if your home has dropped in value when you go to sell it.


The policy has some limitations: It has a deductible if you sell within two years, and the maximum protected loss is 25%, about half of what homeowners have suffered in the hardest-hit areas.


Audits of loan servicers found major problems with how they dealt with borrowers. But Pro Publica reports that the audits themselves were problematic.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Oct 4, 2011 12:05PM

© SuperStockOne of the many problems with the federal government's loan-modification programs is that lenders and loan servicers seem to ignore the rules.


That's apparently OK with the government, according to documents obtained by Pro Publica, a nonprofit journalism website that has done a lot of reporting on problems with the government's loan-modification efforts.

A look at audits of GMAC's performance shows that the mortgage servicer made many errors, including miscalculating homeowners' income in more than 80% of the cases examined. The government auditors levied no penalties for those errors, or for denying modifications in violation of the Home Affordable Modification Program's guidelines.


We don't know how the other servicers fared because the federal government won't release the documents under the Freedom of Information Act without the servicers' permission, which all but GMAC have refused to grant.


Diane Thompson of the National Consumer Law Center called the auditors’ mistakes “appalling.” She told Pro Publica: “It suggests the government isn’t taking the auditing process seriously.”


The Treasury Department denied that its audits, performed by a Freddie Mac team, were flawed, telling Pro Publica the program is "effective and unprecedented in many ways."


Studies find link between foreclosures and stress-related health issues. Should health care be part of mortgage negotiations?

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Oct 3, 2011 1:20PM

© Tetra Images/SuperstockWe know that foreclosures are bad for the health of a community. New research indicates they may be bad for the health of individuals as well.


Considering that economic woes can be very stressful that the poor health of a wage earner is often the reason a family's home goes into foreclosure, we could guess that there would be a correlation between health problems and foreclosures.

Janet Currie of Princeton University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University looked at foreclosures and health in Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey, four states with a high rate of foreclosure.


"You see foreclosures having a general effect on the neighborhood," Currie told The Wall Street Journal. "Everybody's stressed out. There is a connection between people's economic well-being and their physical well-being."


Rat Island is nearly submerged at high tide, but the new owner doesn't plan to build. He plans to keep natural the island he had already been keeping clean.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Oct 3, 2011 11:53AM

Map showing location of Rat Island (© Microsoft Corporation/NAVTEQ)You might think that a private island off the coast of New York City would be scandalously expensive.


But Alex Schibli, a 71-year-old Port Authority retiree, got a deal: his own 2.5-acre island off the Bronx for just $176,000. It's a bit more than the $24 the Dutch paid for Manhattan in 1626, but not bad considering how much New York real-estate prices have risen in the past four centuries.

Schibli's new possession, Rat Island, is close enough to his City Island home that he can, and does, swim to it. Despite its name, there are no rats.


"I can see it from my window. My wife and I kayak around it all the time," Schibli told the New York Post. "I feel like it has always belonged to me. It’s so lovely out here. You wouldn’t even believe you were in New York."


Schibli has no plans to build on the rocky outcrop, which is fortuitous because it can be all under water during storms. If you wanted to build a home on it, you might need to be a millionaire, though bits of a cottage foundation are still visible there.


Instead, the new owner plans to keep the island as is.


"Rat Island is a flat rock, but it’s a very special rock, at least to me," he told the Post. "Some developers might build something on top of the island if they got their hands on it, but I believe it should be conserved, kept as is."

Tags: celebrity

The popularity of urban foraging, on public lands and at foreclosed homes, raises some questions about when it's OK to pluck. When in doubt, ask.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Sep 30, 2011 5:19AM

@CorbisIn the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I am here in the United States today because my earliest known ancestor reportedly was deported from the British Isles to America for stealing turnips from her neighbor's garden.


I would never do that. But apparently ,many people would.

As community gardeners harvest their season's bounty, thieves are brazenly carting off tomatoes, plums, peppers and cucumbers by the bagful from plots others have lovingly tended. So far, no thieves have been shipped off to new countries.


"Last August someone stole every pepper in the garden," longtime gardener Joanie Freedom said in The New York Times. "We’ve lost not only ripe veggies but whole plants and garden ornaments to these folks who want to take an easy way around growing their own. I caught a woman taking all of our honeysuckle blossoms because it was cheaper than buying them in Chinatown."


When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, gardeners are often inundated with more than they can eat, and many are happy to share — at least with those who ask.


Neighborhood Fruit, based in San Francisco, was created to help people find and share fruit. It provides a way for those facing a too-abundant harvest to share the wealth. It also provides tips on where to find fruit growing in public places that is free for the taking, though the rules vary city by city. It even has a mobile phone application and a video on fruit-gathering etiquette.


With the real-estate crisis has come a new type of urban foraging: taking fruit and vegetables planted by the previous owners of foreclosed homes, figuring that the lenders won't care.

Tags: gardening

Contracts to buy homes declined in August but were up over last year. At least one analyst says things are better than they look.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Sep 29, 2011 10:54AM

© moodboard/CorbisThe number of pending home sales fell in August, for the second month.


Trot out the usual suspects: Economic uncertainty, unemployment and tight lending standards are keeping many would-be homeowners out of the market.

The National Association of Realtors reported that contracts to buy existing homes fell 1.2% from July to August, though the level was 7.7% above that of August 2010.


Mortgage rates hit a new low Thursday, 4.01% for a 30-year mortgage, the lowest rate since 1951, but few buyers are able to take advantage of those rates to buy homes or refinance.


"We continue to experience a pattern in which financially qualified homebuyers, willing to stay well within their means, are being denied credit – a factor in elevated levels of contract failures," Lawence Yun, chief economist for the NAR, said in a news release. "The unnecessarily restrictive mortgage underwriting standards are attenuating the housing recovery and are a risk factor for the overall economy."


He predicted that about 4.9 million used homes would be sold this year, but that 5.5 million could be sold if more buyers could get financing. The number of homes sold in a good year is about 6 million.

The largest decline in pending home sales, 5.8%, was in the Northeast, where home shopping was curtailed by Hurricane Irene. That rate was 1.3% above August 2010.


Trulia finds that real-estate search traffic peaks on Mondays. Sundays are the busiest days for mobile searches.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Sep 28, 2011 7:42PM

© Comstock /Getty ImagesWhen do people search online for real estate?


Sundays and Mondays, real-estate website Trulia says, based on its analysis of three months of searches.

Reflecting the increasing use of smartphones and tablets in real-estate searches, Trulia reported that the peak use of mobile devices is on Sundays. This may show that people are apt to be out driving around looking at homes and neighborhoods, using their mobile devices to find homes in their desired neighborhoods or to find details on homes they drive past.


On Mondays, however, the bulk of the traffic came from desktop and laptop computers.


The Trulia "Insights" blog explains: "After a weekend of endless open houses, people who are trying to find their dream home are still on what you could call a 'house-hunting high' once Monday hits. Back at the daily grind in cubeland, many are itching to keep their search alive."


The search traffic peaks at 9 p.m. Mondays.


I may be looking at real estate after midnight, but most shoppers are not – unless they are in Washington state, where people search later into the night.

Tags: buying

One analysis finds the French capital has the highest real-estate cost per square foot. An analysis of luxury properties finds Hong Kong the most expensive.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Sep 28, 2011 1:12PM

We've all read stories about foreigners snapping up U.S. real estate we could never afford, classifying properties we see as expensive as bargains.


Compared with what they're paying at home, those $1,000-per-square-fo​ot condos may be a bargain, at least for some international buyers.

Credit Sesame, an online consumer-credit service, analyzed a variety of home price data and came up with a price per square foot for real estate in 34 cities around the world. The analysis found the most expensive real estate in Paris, where the average price per square foot is $3,287. The cheapest real estate was in Santiago, Chile, at $160 per square foot. The median price

was $890 per square foot, or what you'd pay in Athens, Greece.


In the U.S. cities it analyzed, Credit Sesame found the highest price was in New York, where real estate is $1,069 per square foot. The lowest price was in Houston, at $54. The median price was $158, and you can find that in Chicago. You can see other U.S. and world cities on a chart.



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