Thursday, March 28, 2013

Understanding Alternative Energy Technology

In recent years, new energy technologies designed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels have started appearing in homes. As they become more popular, you’re more and more likely to encounter homes equipped with systems like geothermal and solar panels. Here’s a primer on those and other lesser-known technologies so you can better explain the different types of systems to your clients.

Solar energy.
Solar panel systems come in a wide array of configurations, including panels that mount on a home’s roof and panels that mount on poles outside the home.
Grid-tie solar systems connect to the local electrical utility’s grid to power the home at night, or at times when the home is drawing more electricity than its solar system can produce. In some areas,

grid-tie systems allow the homeowner to sell power back to the utility when their system produces a surplus.

Off-grid systems are designed to provide a home’s electrical supply without the need for a connection to the power grid. Such systems include a battery bank that recharges during the day and provides power for the home at night. These systems are ideal for remote properties.

The high cost of home solar systems once put them out of reach of many homeowners. But in recent years, solar leasing and power purchase agreements (PPAs) have made solar a much more affordable option.

Solar lease agreements allow a homeowner to rent solar systems and avoid the high upfront costs. In a power purchase agreement, the homeowner lets the provider install a solar system on their home and then purchases the electricity generated by the system from the provider. The availability of solar leasing and PPAs varies depending on the home’s location, but both are seen as more affordable options than purchasing a solar system, which can run well into five figures.

You may have also heard of “passive solar” systems which use the sun’s light directly to provide home heating or hot water. Passive solar systems do not generate electricity, but they can be employed to reduce a home’s overall energy use.

Geothermal energy.
A geothermal system employs special pipes that are buried deep underground where the earth’s temperature is constant. Depending on the location, that temperature typically ranges from 50°–60°F, which is warmer than the outside temperature in the winter and cooler than the outside temperature in the summer.

Therefore, a geothermal system can be used both to cool a home in the summer and to warm a home during winter.

When used for home heating, the system works by circulating fluid through the underground pipes to absorb heat. The warmed fluid returns to the surface where it is used to heat the home. There are different types of geothermal systems, but they all employ a similar process of heat exchange.

In the summer, the process is reversed—the fluid absorbs heat from the home at the surface before being circulated underground, where the cool earth acts as a heat sink, cooling the fluid.

Like solar, the upfront cost of installing a geothermal system has been a barrier to widespread adoption of the technology. However, new companies that provide specialized financing have sprung up, putting such systems within reach of homeowners interested in reducing their energy use.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tips to Enhance Your Curb Appeal


curb appeal
Whether you’re prepping your home for sale, or just want it to look good, don’t forget about the exterior — especially the front yard and door!
Here are some great tips from home stagers and curb appeal experts on how to best showcase your home’s first impression.

Walk to the curb

The first order of business: walk to the curb or street and look at your home from the road.
This will probably be the buyers’ or the buyer agent’s first, real-live impression of your house. Take the time to review the way your front yard looks. Does the front door look fresh and inviting? Is the landing or porch neat and tidy? These are the details that can make a huge difference for that ever-important first impression.
And if you sense something’s off, clip home improvement ideas from books, magazines or professionals who can really help you maximize the appeal of your home and get it ready for the market!
One professional, Michelle Molinari, has the perfect way to consistently spruce up exteriors of listings. She adds flowering white flowers to yards in Louisiana because they “always look great on photos,” she said.
Molinari also recommends a layer of mulch to finish out garden spaces and — a fun little tip — she suggests coordinating the mulch color with the roof color. The match will make the entire front appear more complimentary to the eye.
In lieu of green grass in the U.S. Southwest, xeriscaping is used because of the way this water-conserving method makes use of natural landscape items like rocks and desert-friendly plants.

The money shot: Your front door

One big item: Don’t forget the front door!
A brightly painted front door and decorative house numbers lend to this home’s curb appeal.
Some home stagers recommend using the same exterior color for the front door, but I prefer to a color to complement exterior house colors. For instance, a Tudor-style house with cream walls and grey trim would be great with a hydrangea blue on the door. A gray wall Colonial with white trim would look stunning with a black door. Most of the paint manufacturers have suggested exterior combinations (walls, trim and doors) to help sellers determine which color works well with the exterior paint colors and style of their house.
In addition to the front door, potted plants and tables and chairs are great additions for a front porch. For the smaller landing, Karen Eubank of Eubank Staging in Dallas, Texas suggests a pot of rosemary by the front door. What a great way to have potential buyers enter your home after taking a nice whiff of rosemary at the door, signaling their welcome.

Numbers add a punch

Last, but not least, don’t neglect the house numbers or lighting. House numbers are best seen with dark numbers on a light background and are very important when selling! Ensure there is enough light to read them comfortably from the road. And if the front of the house is hard to see from the road, place another set of numbers closer to the road so buyers don’t miss the house!
Hopefully all of these tips will help your home make a great first impression!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Existing Home Sales Hit 3 Year High, Home Prices Rise:


U.S. home resales (the largest segment of the housing market) hit a three-year high in February and prices jumped, adding to signs of an acceleration in the housing market recovery.

The National Association of Realtors said on Thursday existing home sales increased 0.8 percent to an annual rate of 4.98 million units last month, the highest level since November 2009. The January sales pace was revised upward to 4.94 million units from the previously reported 4.92 million units.

The median home sales price in February rose 11.6 percent from a year ago to $173,6000.

In a separate report, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that New Home Starts rose. Building Permits for new construction approached a five-year high.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Consider these 4 things before signing on the dotted line

There are a lot of things to consider when buying a home. Making a list of must-haves should be the first step in the home buying process, but what about those items beyond the “must-haves?” Once you’ve found a home you think you want to buy, there are still some things you should think twice about before closing. Buyer’s remorse is real, and many new homebuyers find themselves facing its effects, and you don’t want to be one of them.

Consider these 4 things before signing on the dotted line:

  1. Is the home too expensive for you? The amount you can qualify for and what you can actually afford can really be two different amounts. You constantly hear about people being “house poor,” meaning that they spend so much money on their mortgage every month that they have little money for anything else. If this is your first home, it’s important to think about the expenses you haven’t had to pay while renting that you may incur when purchasing a home. There may be sacrifices that you have to make as far as your budget goes. Are you prepared to make them? Don’t establish your home buying budget on what your lender says you can afford. Center it on what you honestly know you can afford and stick to it.
  2. Is the location right? A good location should be toward the top of your list of “must-haves.” However, a good location doesn’t necessary mean it’s the right location for you and your family. Do you want or need space to play? Does the location make sense for your work commute? Are the schools in the location good schools you want to send your children to? Do you want to be near stores and other conveniences or would you prefer to be closer to the suburbs? Are you part of an HOA, and are you okay with that? If you compromise on your location, give it serious thought.
  3. Are you purchasing the home with intent to sell or refinance it within a short period of time? This was how so many people got in trouble and upside down in their homes in the first place – buying homes they couldn’t necessarily afford after the short-term financing terms changed, and assuming they would be able to sell or refinance the house. If you are purchasing a home, and you’re not an investor or contractor, plan on purchasing a home you and your family could live comfortably in for at least 5 years.
  4. Are you unsure about your job security? While this economy can be unpredictable, and job security is becoming more and more a thing of the past, if you are trying to get into a home because you are concerned that an upcoming layoff might disqualify you for a home loan, maybe you should put off purchasing a new home until you are no longer concerned about an interruption of income. If you’re confident in your current career, can get work with another company easily, or have a large cushion of savings that could handle a temporary interruption of income, then proceed with the purchase. However, if you are seriously concerned about the short-term stability of your job, seriously consider whether purchasing a home is right for you.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Is it time to move or improve?


4 factors to consider before committing to a large renovation project

<a href="" target="_blank">Dining room addition</a> image via Shutterstock.
At some point, you may find that your home doesn't work well for you anymore. You may need more space or a reconfiguration of the floor plan. The decision to remodel or move can be relatively easy in some cases and difficult in others.

In one example, homeowners in Berkeley, Calif., needed more space for their growing family. They looked at more expensive houses to buy instead of facing the hassle of renovating. They discovered that they couldn't afford to buy a larger home in a prime location. But they could afford to add enough space to their home to make it work for them. Luckily, their home was already in their preferred location.

Since they owned one of the smaller homes in the neighborhood, they could afford to invest in an expansion without overimproving for the neighborhood. They intended to stay in the home indefinitely.

Another couple with children, living in an Oakland, Calif., neighborhood they liked, talked to an architect about redesigning the space in their home to make it more user-friendly for their family. The plan didn't give them exactly what they wanted. However, it would be an improvement over the existing floor plan, but at great expense. The plan didn't include an expansion of the living space, so the owners would have ended up with a very expensive home for its size. It would have been overimproved for the neighborhood. They wouldn't have recouped the investment when they sold unless the property appreciated enormously over a decade or so.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Before you make a commitment to a large renovation, take a look at homes for sale in areas where you'd like to live that offer the space and amenities you want or need. Depending on the projected cost of the renovation, it may be less expensive and easier in the long run to sell your current home and buy one that better suits your current lifestyle.

Given the limited amount of homes for sale in many areas around the country, this sort of a move may require an interim move to a rental. Offers made contingent on the sale of another home won't fly in a high-demand, low-inventory neighborhood where you have to compete with other buyers.
An interim move would be no more inconvenient than staying in your house while it's being renovated, although it would be less expensive. A huge renovation, like the one described above, would have required the family to more out for six to 12 months. This means paying the mortgage while you pay for the renovation and for the interim rental.

It's not a sin to treat yourself to a costly renovation as long as you understand that what you're paying for is a lifestyle you desire, and you may not be able to recoup the costs when you sell.
Smaller remodel projects to make your home more enjoyable, like a new master bathroom or eat-in kitchen, could be a lot less expensive and disruptive than moving. And it would make your home more marketable when you do move.

Just make sure to do tasteful upgrades that will have a broad-based appeal. Ask your real estate agent to give you input. You are doing the work for yourself, but you don't want your home to be one that buyers wish you hadn't touched. Bad renovations don't increase the sale price.
Make sure that your contractor takes out building permits for work that requires it. Lenders' appraisers often don't give credit for an addition as livable square feet if the work was done without a permit.

THE CLOSING: Don't do a complete bathroom or kitchen remodel if you're planning to sell soon. You'll improve the net proceeds from the sale if you restrict your fix-up work to cosmetic improvements.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is it OK to remove gutters from a house?

By Peter Hotton

Globe Correspondent /  March 13, 2013      

Q. We live in a one-level, ranch-style home. I can no longer go through another winter of frozen gutters, ice dams, and water finding a way into our home. I would like to remove the gutters from the house. Would this solve any or all of these problems? Are there any drawbacks to removing them? Are there other solutions not so expensive? PAUL, from Winchester
A. It is possible to take off gutters without dire results, but the presence of or lack of them does not cause ice dams. The only cause of ice dams (and their leaks) is a warm roof, although in some rare cases people who have raked their roofs free of snow claim that it stops ice dams and leaks. My house, nearly 250 years old, does not have gutters on the main part, but has heavy insulation on the attic floor, good ventilation from soffit vents, and a high-up roof vent, making a cold roof, and I have not had ice dams or leaks from ice dams in the 49 years I have lived in it.
As I said, it is possible to take off the gutters, but before you do, consider these three things: 1. The position of the gutters: If water drips too close to the front of the gutter, water will overflow, causing huge icicles. If water drips too close to the back of the gutter, water will overflow, running down the wall, under the roof overhang, and into the house. Correcting these defects can help stop the ice dams and leaks. 2. There must be an overhang of 6 inches and more, to allow dripping water to clear the house. 3. There must be a clear area on the ground free of plants and usually filled with crushed stone, for the water to drip on and be absorbed into the earth, or diverted away from the foundation by a concrete platform or apron.
Any drawbacks on removing gutters? Yes, two: 1. A two-sloped roof, like a gabled roof, will allow a lot of water to run over each edge, perhaps too much. A hip roof, like mine, has four slopes from a center peak, allowing half the water to run over each edge as the edges of a gabled roof. 2. A lot of water falling on the ground may allow it to penetrate the earth and cause basement leaks.
So, Paul, these are all considerations and caveats to think of before taking off the gutters.
Echoes from the Home Show
The New England Home Show last month at the World Trade Center had the usual spiels of everything to build with, but was a revelation to the Handyman’s four days in the show, his 47th straight. Many of the booths featured good-natured spiels, not trying to sell you anything but talk about new and interesting things to make life more fun.
One area included an entire double aisle of woodworkers who talked readily about their work and the fine furniture they produced.
It was a fun show, more like a carnival. And there, in his familiar booth was our friend Joe Cavallaro, the Bulkhead Man, with a new product called the Generator Locker. With more and longer power failures in New England, Joe figured a locker, or steel “hut” would be good to keep a home generator safe and secure.  So he built one, and sold it before the show ended, he said. 
Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to end of story marker

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

4 musts when hiring a home improvement contractor


Monday, March 11, 2013

See the "Tiny House"

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Worcester Spring Home Show


Date:3/8/2013  -  3/10/2013
Address:50 Foster Street, Worcester, MA 01608
Location:Worcester, MA 
Hours:Friday, 4-8 PM, Saturday, 10 AM - 7 PM, Sunday 11 AM - 5 PM
Cost/Cover:Free with pass
Web Page:

Details:The 2013 Spring Home Show will feature over 250 companies displaying all the latest products and services for your home, condo or apartment. Remodeling ? Renovating ? Refinancing ? Looking for ways to save energy ? It’s all at the Spring Home Show.

With spring right around the corner the Home Show is the perfect place to shop for all your needs. Many exhibitors offer money saving show specials and discounts.

There will be demonstrations, prizes and hundreds of giveaways including daily drawings for a 55" LED TV.

You can get a Free Pass for two adults at

Event is on:Fri, Sat, Sun
Audience:All Welcome
Sponsored By:Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Central Mass. 
Submitted by:Jeffrey Davis 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New mortgage affordability rules offer hope

Current standards too strict for their own good
By Jack Guttentag
Inman News®
"What is your assessment of the new set of regulations issued by CFPB?"

My quick reaction to the hundreds of new mortgage rules recently issued by CFPB, contained in 804 densely packed pages, is that the agency has done a creditable job in an incredibly difficult situation. The rules cover a lot of territory, but those pertaining to borrower affordability probably have attracted the most attention. This article will comment on the new affordability rules, leaving other important issues for future columns.

The regulatory focus on affordability reflects our recent experience with a housing bubble -- a period of self-reinforcing home price escalation. The bubble induced lenders to liberalize mortgage underwriting rules, relax enforcement of the rules, and approve loans to borrowers who could not afford them. The bubble burst early in 2007 when house prices stopped rising and started to decline.
The Dodd-Frank bill passed in 2010 was a reaction to the excesses of the bubble period. Among other things it authorized a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which it charged (among other things) with formulating and clarifying mortgage affordability rules. Dodd-Frank also required CFPB to define "qualified mortgages," which are mortgages that lenders can make with no or minimal risk of legal liability for violating the affordable loan rules.

In my view, the Dodd-Frank approach to home mortgages was a knee-jerk reaction that was ill-advised. A nationwide housing bubble is a rare episode in our financial history. One has to go back to the 1920s to find anything at all comparable. While revamping the rules to prevent a recurrence of that event, even if it happens only once a generation, might make sense if the new rules were a standby, to be applied only when the situation demanded them, that is not the case. The new rules will take effect Jan. 10, 2014. They were ill-advised because the problem today is the opposite of the one for which the rules were intended.

When the bubble burst early in 2007, the excessive liberality in mortgage lending practice was quickly replaced by its opposite: excessive restraint. The problem today is that many perfectly good loans are not being made because of the heightened risk aversion of lenders, and the tightened affordability rules already in place.

The lender response reflects the heavy losses realized on loans made during the bubble period, plus the fines and legal expenses they have incurred in its aftermath. The tightened affordability rules by regulators and by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, issued after the bubble burst, were based on the premise that "although we should have done this five years ago, better late than never." In fact, never would have been better than late.

A central characteristic of the current affordability rules is their rigidity. A loan applicant who does not measure up on the affordability scale will be rejected, regardless of the strength of other transaction features. As an important example, I have received scores of letters from self-employed borrowers with high credit scores who were willing to put as much as 40 percent down but could not get a loan because the income they were able to document was viewed as insufficient.

Rejecting applicants who have a past record of meeting obligations and are willing to bet on their ability to afford a loan by placing substantial equity at risk is absurd. CFPB was obliged under Dodd-Frank to set new affordability rules despite the fact that the existing rules are unduly restrictive. Its implicit challenge has been to minimize the extent to which the new rules make a bad situation worse.

From all indications, CFPB has done this pretty well. It has declared that qualified loans cannot have any of the following provisions: interest-only; balloon payment; negative amortization; term exceeding 30 years; zero documentation; lender fees exceeding 3 percent of the loan amount (unless that amount is less than $100,000); or low "teaser" rate on an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). These options will either disappear, or be substantially overpriced. However, very few loans are being made today with any of these features, so that the loss is small.

Furthermore, there are several glimmers of hope that the new rules may actually alleviate some of the excessive stringency in the current market. The rule on balloon payments is subject to an exception wherein such loans are qualified if they are made by small banks in rural areas. This exception was required by Dodd-Frank and may or may not reflect an intention by CFPB to carve out additional exceptions in the future.

A further glimmer is that the new rule says that "no-doc" loans cannot be qualified, which is very different from declaring that qualified loans must be "full-doc." There is a range of documentation options between these two extremes. These include stated-income/documented assets, which was widely used before the crisis to qualify self-employed borrowers. The option disappeared in the regulatory excesses of the aftermath, which made full documentation the universal rule.

This raises the possibility that CFPB at some future time might define loans with only partial documentation as qualified if they meet certain conditions. To have a significant impact, however, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have to do the same.

The writer is professor of finance emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left at