Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why I will no longer allow anonymous posts here

The LA Times’ James Rainey wrote a great “On the Media” column today. It’s entitled Website Comment Boards Bring Out the Inner Vulgarian. Boy, I’ll say.

I’m a frequent poster on the LA Times’s LaLand real estate blog. The blog examines the local r.e. market. Peter Viles, the blog editor, rode along with me on our local caravan back in February. Most of the posters there believe the real estate market is in the middle of a prolonged crash, and it can get a little shrill and flame-y. I admit I have contributed to the flames in the past. Lately, however, the comments have been getting very more and more childish and vindictive. For example, from yesterday: “Real estate agent…when you’re too ugly to work at Nordstroms.”

And here, a poster named Anon has continually challenged me on statistics (see my Stalker post, below), ignored my boots-on-the-ground posts on my local market experiences, and has sent in some increasingly viscious comments. Anon, if you don't like my blog, don't read it. If you want a forum, create your own blog.

I have loved the freewheeling nature of blogging and open commenting in major media outlets. But, Rainey is right. The tone of the comments everywhere is descending and beginning to seem like recess on the third-grade playground.

And, this blog is not a democracy. I started it to try to give information about my local market, promote my services and (hopefully) amuse you readers with various real estate absurdities. So, I’m not only going to moderate posts, I will no longer allow anonymous comments of any kind. As Rainey’s article says,

“Webmasters could begin to fix the problem and heighten the level of discussion by requiring folks who want to share their views to also agree to publication of their real names. If you're not willing to put your name beside that lovely screed, maybe it really isn't fully fit for human consumption.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another celebrity sighting

There was another celebrity sighting today at Aroma, Studio City's best coffee house/cafe. This time it was Moby, recording artist extraordinaire. I'm told Moby is about as small as this picture.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I have a statistics stalker! See below.

I am always amused when amateur statistics hobbyists try to tell me about the local real estate market. See the comments on "...and bad news for buyers" below.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Reading from the L.A. Times

Today's Sunday reading is actually a cartoon by Mimi Pond from the LAT's opinion section. It's about one of our favorite whipping boys, Americana!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Misquoted in Burbank Leader

I just sent this letter to the editor of the Burbank Leader:

"I am a local Realtor, and it is a privilege to be quoted by Jeremy Oberstein in the July 26 article "Local Housing Market Flailing." However, in the paragraph about foreclosures in zipcode 91505, I was quoted as saying there were 19 foreclosures out of 4,000 homes in this year's second quarter. The number should read 14,000 homes. I think you will agree that this is a very significant difference. Also, I believe I cited statistics from the first quarter only, when there were just 6 foreclosures in that zipcode. The source of my information, obtained in May, was the Los Angeles Times' own "search foreclosures by zipcode" widget available on the L.A. Times' (your parent company's) website."

Okay, I'm finally beginning to believe that "the media" is blowing this issue out of proportion, at least for our area.

Update: Jeremy sent me this return email yesterday:


My mistake. I will change 4,000 to 14,000. The stats cited were not from the 1st quarter but from the second; That is why we were doing the article this week. It was an honest mistake and one I regret making, but not a case of "the media blowing this out of proportion" as you mention on your website.It will be fixed on the Leader website ASAP.Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

The New World of Real Estate Advertising

We just received notice that the Los Angeles Times plans to eliminate the Sunday Real Estate section. I don't know whether this has to do more with the reduced revenues from the real estate classifieds, or just general cut-backs at the newspaper.

But it's a sea change for sure. Can it be much longer before they eliminate the advertising section as well? Although I don't want to see either of these go, I'll admit I'm using much, much more electronic and internet advertising than print advertising for properties. Most of my colleagues are doing the same. So I'm sure the lower profits from the real estate community lead to the decision to lower the editorial support. Still, a major metropolitan Sunday paper should have a real estate section.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yet more reading -- is this beginning to feel like homework yet?

When I did my Sunday reading post (below), I hadn't yet read the NYT article "Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Themselves Deeper in Debt." It's really interesting reading. If you can get a copy of the paper, there's a fascinating full-page graphic showing the difference in consumer borrowing and debt through the last nine decades. Factoid from the graphic: As recently as the 1970's, only 6% of American households had credit card debt!

And today's LAT front page headline article by Peter Hong is about foreclosures. Peter interviewed me on Monday for this, but I guess I didn't make the edit. Anyway, here's an interesting item:
The latest figures contained one surprise: defaults -- the first step toward foreclosure -- rose by just 6.6% in the second quarter, down from a 39%. DataQuick President John Walsh said the reason was not immediately clear. Foreclosures may be "nearing a plateau," he said, but it could also mean that lenders are "swamped and can't handle processing any paperwork." [emphasis mine].
That's what I'm seeing, too. Lenders just don't have the staff to handle work-outs, short sales, foreclosures...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Miley Cyrus invites you to Burbank

There's a billboard on the 5 Fwy north where Burbank meets Glendale. It's an ad for Disney Radio featuring Miley Cyrus. Am I the only one that thinks this looks way suggestive? Like teen soft porn? And everybody thinks Burbank is so boring.

Sunday Reading: On-Line Housing Search Tools

Here's an excellent article from today's L.A. Times about house-for-sale search engines. The writer notes that most of them ask the searcher to sign in, and several sites then forward the searcher's info to a real estate agent. Of course. They're "lead driver" sites, and they make their money by charging Realtors for the leads, or even by charging Realtors to subscribe. They have to make money somehow, right?
Not to plug my company, but I think has an extremely user-friendly site.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Avon, the local r.e. board, IndyMac and the beach

Here's 934 N. Avon. It was listed for $699,000. Not that you care, but due to a clerical mls reporting error, it was reported as sold yesterday for $547,900. Not hardly. It is in escrow and is set to close on August 5 for much more than that. And for those of you that think the local r.e. boards are useless (now, who thinks that?), it has taken me a cumulative two hours and several faxes just to get the info corrected -- and the list price is still wrong. This has been so frustrating that it's making standing in line at IndyMac look as pleasant as a day at the beach.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Good news for buyers and sellers...

Even though there is turmoil in the financial markets, there are still loans to be had with small down payments. A buyer needs only 3% down for a conforming FHA loan and the seller can contribute up to 3% in closing costs. Other loans can be obtained with only 5% down.

And, interest rates are down a little bit. They are still fluctuating, but nobody expects much of a rise there over the next few weeks.

"Stated income" loans are also still possible. These are loans for people who don't get a regular paycheck, are self-employed, or small business owners, etc. A buyer needs 2 years' worth of tax returns and good credit to qualify.

So, if you need to buy a home now, you might find the lending possibilities to be broader than you thought.

...And not so good news for buyers

No, there's no news here about IndyMac or Fannie or Freddie. The news is that there are actually quite a few less listings in the east San Fernando Valley than there were at this time last year. According to the local mls's, we're down about 25% from the amount of listings we had at this time last year. (This is not true for Santa Clarita; the amount of listings are way up.) Traditionally, this part of the summer is slow for new listings. It will likely be worse in August and get a little better after Labor Day. But I think that sellers are reluctant to sell now if they don't absolutely have to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Australia + Burbank = Wha?

This is a bad picture, I know. But can you read the sign? It says Australian Immigration Service and it's on Magnolia Blvd. here in Burbank. Why is this here? Are Australians clamoring to move to this country, specifically Burbank? If so, why? What do we have, except our just all-encompassing wonderfulness and Zankou Chicken, that they don't have in their own country? Can we get them to bring some koalas with them?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lenders aren't listening. What a surprise.

For your Sunday morning reading pleasure, here's an article from the New York Times' Business section. No, it's not about Fannie, Freddie or IndyMac. It's about how impossible it is to get in touch with your lender to arrange a work-out on your mortgage. The article is long, but it contains lots of anecdotes, and I've heard stories like this from several people here. I've already blogged about how long it's taking to arrange a short sale, especially with Countrywide -- same thing here. The lenders are just not equipped to deal with what's going on.

Also for your reading pleasure, here's today's NYT Ben Stein's column. It's about applying investing advice to your love life. Why didn't I get this guy before?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Longest escrow ever, or when bad escrows happen to good sellers

Here’s the story of my client, Marc, who was caught in the crossfire of this transitioning market. Marc bought 1210 N. California (pictured above) in Burbank in 2002. Subsequently, he and his fiancée bought a home in a new development in February 2007, with a closing set for June 2007. They planned for the sale proceeds from 1210 to cover much of the cost of the new house.

So far, so good. The r.e. market was still humming along at this point, and we put 1210 on the market in March 2007 for $780,000.

By early summer 2007, we had lowered the price twice and had negotiated three low-ball offers. No sale. Marc refinanced 1210 to cover the down payment of the new house, and the new place closed as scheduled. A qualified buyer for 1210 soon appeared and we opened escrow with a purchase price of $700,000 in mid-July. The buyer wasn’t putting much down, but neither were any other buyers at this time.

Then August 2007 came, and the real estate lending market screeched to a halt. The buyer of 1210 couldn’t get a loan. Neither could anybody else. Marc was now making two mortgage payments, with no end in sight. What to do?

Marc rented the house to the would-be buyer on a lease-option deal. The buyer would then pursue getting a purchase-money loan in early 2008. Why the wait until then? Because we all hoped the lending market would loosen up by then.

Spring ’08 came, and the buyer began to work on getting another loan. The lending market had indeed loosened up. Sort of. Loans still aren’t that easy to get, and this particular one was no exception.

And, by this time, housing prices had come down. The house re-appraised at $630,000. Although he wasn’t happy about the price reduction, seller Marc is a realist. He didn’t want to be stuck paying two mortgages forever. Plus, he and his fiancée just wanted to get on with their lives. The Realtors involved (me, my brokerage and the buyer’s agent and brokerage) shared some of the pain by reducing our commissions (gulp).

The almost-a-year-long escrow finally closed last week. My seller took the hugest hit, obviously. I think this story is instructive as an excellent example of the pain absorbed by individual sellers in this new real estate market.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

News on our old friend 2304 N. Sparks

Remember this house? It's a short sale which has been on the market for a very long time. It had an HGTV-redone kitchen. I blogged about it here last February and got in trouble for doing so by the listing agent. My bad. And when Peter Viles of L.A. Times blog LaLand rode along with me for caravan, he blogged about it, too.

It's in escrow, and here's the skinny. The buyer's agent is in my office, so that's how I got this info. The selling price is $485,000 -- way less than the $699,000 it originally listed for. There were apparently several offers. I was told there were offers on it back in February -- for $550,000, no less -- though I don't know why they weren't acted upon then. But short sales are taking a very long time to get approved these days.

The buyer is an investor who put down a lot of cash. I'm told he plans to have a relative with school-age children move in so the kids can go to Muir, the middle school.

Friday, July 04, 2008

No posts for a few days

I will not be blogging for most of the week. But I hope to return next week with a post about the longest escrow ever and another about selling junk- and trash-filed houses.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Short sales and Countrywide

The latest that I've heard on short sales is that it's taking Countrywide over 12 weeks to approve them. This info is from a Realtor colleague with 4 short sale properties where Countrywide has the 1st note. In other words, if you make an offer on a short sale property, don't expect to hear anything for, uh, awhile. OMG, why? Apparently, Countrywide is completely backed up on processing these -- I'd say they're more likely overwhelmed.