Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Waiting for a $300k house in the Burbank area? You might have to wait awhile.

If you're waiting to buy a Burbank home that's selling for 40% less than last year's median price, you might have a long wait. There was a flurry of sales activity in the area over the last few weeks, and just about all of the decent stuff is gone. Examples:

The top left home is 1910 Bonita. It's a 3+2, 1950 sf., 6136 sf lot, remodeled with guest house. It listed at $569,000 and went into escrow a few days later after having multiple offers.

The center home is 530 Cambridge. It's a 2136 sf., 5+2, 7400 sf lot home in the Jefferson school district. It listed at $679,000 and went into escrow a few days later after having multiple offers.

The bottom home is 1024 E. Orange Grove. It's a 3+2, 1153 sf, 7750 sf lot home that listed for $579,000 and yes, it went into escrow a few days after listing with multiple offers.

Those aren't the only ones that sold really quickly in December, but I got tired of cutting and pasting. Are there also single family homes for $300,000 that I'm not including? Not that I know of -- it seems like the $450k-$650k is the going price for a local homes below 2000 sf. Has the area reached it's "price discovery?" Are increased sales due to a dearth of listings? Have the lower interest rates made a difference? Will we continue to see prices decline? What do you think?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

There will be no posts here for a few days. I hope you and yours have a merry and happy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

NBC wants news

Earlier today, I received a call from an NBC Nightly News producer. He was looking for a Realtor whose business has increased since the recent mortgage interest rate cuts. He wanted to interview me and clients of mine who are now hot on the trail to buy a new home since rates have gone down.
Problem: most of my buyer clients are still too scared to make a move right now, regardless of the low interest rates. The one couple I have that are eager to buy now 1) has already written an offer on a short sale and 2) are leaving for a month in India tomorrow.
I'm hoping that my buyer clients will feel differently after the new year -- these rates are pretty spectacular. I'm also hoping that housing inventory will rise -- right now, if a home in my area is priced well, it sells right away.
On another topic, how about this old-school NBC logo?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moritorium on evictions following foreclosures

The L.A. City Council just approved a new law that puts a one-year moritorium on banks evicting tenants when they foreclose apartment buildings and houses used as rental properties. The law was proposed after Countrywide pressured tenants in foreclosed apartments to leave their units in violation of L.A.'s tenant protection rules (which, yes, are labyrinth, but generally give tenants 60 days to vacate. Most people, including L.A. landlords, agree this is fair). Apparently, the law was proposed after the banks complained that they did not understand that tenant protections applied to them. Well, of course the poor banks didn't understand. Why, oh why, should normal laws EVER apply to the banks?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Santa comes to mortgage holders

You've probably heard this more in the past few days than The Little Drummer Boy: it might be time to buy or refinance, because mortgage interest rates are going D-O-W-N. There are predictions that the rates will go to 4.5%, and lender Dana actually had a rate last Friday below 5%.

For both buyers and re-fi'ers, you'll need to qualify and the loan can't be over $625,000. For re-fi'ers, you'll need equity in your home.

Here are the questions to contemplate if you're contemplating refinancing: First, how much will it cost me to refinance? Many banks and most lenders will charge closing costs. Second question: how much will I save by doing this? Obviously, if you already have a 5.125% 30-year fixed interest rate, you'll definitely want to hold off on refinancing until rates go to 4.5%. However, if you're paying over 6%, it might be worthwhile to start the process now.

I will be attempting to refinance my own mortgage later this week with Bank of America; I'll blog about how it goes.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Board-ups in Burbank

Rumor has it that the Von's on San Fernando in Burbank will be closing soon. It was kind of crummy, but now the only grocery store for the area will be the kind-of-crummy Ralph's across the street. No word on what might go into the space. So, at least for awhile, there will be more parking for Zankou Chicken.

And while Kohl's has made a deal to take over a lot of empty Mervyn's, the Burbank Mall Mervyn's isn't one of them. So, soon, Burbank is going to be awash in giant, empty retail spaces. Do you think the Burbank City Fathers and Mothers could persuade Whole Foods to give Burbank another try? Or should these spaces just all lease out to Korean and Armenian churches? I'm kind of worried that all of these board-ups will lead to blight.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Answer to condo/loft glut: lease 'em, don't buy 'em

Here's an article in today's LAT that says many of the recently rehabbed condo/loft building developers are now leasing their units because they have been unable to sell them in the current market. You don't say. The article says it is happening in downtown L.A. and to a lesser extent, Hollywood and the SFV. Wow. What a surprise. I have been wondering for a long time when this trend was going to end -- this is not a city like NY or San Fran where mixed-use happened because there was no other kind of use -- people have tended to live where they worked in those cities because, well, for many decades there was no other viable place to live or way to get to other housing. They didn't move downtown from the suburbs because for many decades, there were no suburbs. Our current move-into-an-urban-area-from-the-burbs trend is the reverse of what has occurred in the past.

While I think urban living is a fabulous idea for many, I also think the market for buyers has been more limited here due to there being no schools and few essential services (grocery stores) available anywhere close to the condo/loft communities.

And this trend also tells me that developers, inspite of whatever research they may do, are as susceptible to fads as anybody else.

But hey, if I was 25 and had lots of money, I bet a downtown loft would be a really cool place to live!

Monday, December 08, 2008

CSI: Real estate and private mortgage insurance

For many years, buyers who put less than 20% down on a home have had to pay private mortgage insurance. This is a percentage fee, tacked on to a monthly mortgage, that protects the lender against default on the loan. The loans are insured. And "pmi" isn't inexpensive for the borrower.
I'm sure this has occurred to many of you before this, but: if there was so much insurance on mortgage loans, why are lenders in such trouble from all the defaults? Where did this insurance money go? Who collected it? Where is it now? Why hasn't it helped stabilize the real estate market? Does anybody know?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

4.5% interest rate? Believe it.

Today, rates for conforming loans dipped under 5%. Experts say the interest rates may go as low as 4.5%. This is the lowest rates have been since I've been in real estate.

This is great news for buyers, and also great news for home owners: If this happens, refinancing may save you a lot of money. Caveat: you have to have equity in your home, and otherwise qualify.

I'm sure you know this, but the questions to ask your lender are: 1) how much will it cost to refinance? and 2) how much will you save on your mortgage payments per month if you can get this low rate.

I hope this is helpful. Of course, please let me know if you'd like a referral to a great lender.

Open Saturday, 12/6, 1-4 pm: 1321 Virginia, Glendale

I'll be holding 1321 Virginia in Glendale open this Saturday, December 6, from 1 to 4 pm. Yes, it is this gorgeous. You can see more pictures on the "Featured Listings" page of my website at www.judygraff.com. Here are the details: 3 beds, 2 baths, guest house with 3/4 bath, pool, spa, 1825 sf house, 14616 sf. lot (yes!), a/c, gorgeous hardwood floors, big kitchen, fireplace and more.

Here's the mls description: Gorgeous Spanish home in Northwest Glendale! This home has it all - 3 large bedrooms with crown molding, remodeled bath with dual vanity, distressed hardwood floor and recessed lighting, open living room with dramatic fireplace and coved ceiling, formal dining room with stain-glass window and coffered ceiling, lovely tiled floors in kitchen and breakfast room. Other amenities include a guest house, pool and spa, awesome covered patio overlooking the grounds, and the list goes on and on. Due to the sellers circumstances, this is a short sale listing and all terms and conditions are subject to lender approval.

Yes, it's a short sale. No, the family isn't buying it back (see below). It is listed at $879,000. Please stop by and see me!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Toluca Lake Holiday Open House

This year's Toluca Lake Holiday Open House takes place Friday, December 5, from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. All of the Riverside Drive merchants will be open and spreading lots of holiday cheer. If you haven't been to this event before, it's a blast, it's free and it's fun for the whole family.

I will be at Tamara Dahill's Salon along with husband Steve Fisher, who will be signing copies of his book, The World is Your Litter Box. Please stop by and say hello if you're in the neighborhood.

Short sale scam

Maybe I'm naive, but I just heard about this short-sale scam yesterday. Apparently, here's how it works. A seller lists his home for a short sale price. The buyer is a relative with a different last name -- so as far as the bank knows, it is certainly an arms-length transaction. The seller goes on living in the property after close of escrow, making much lower payments, through the relative on title, on the same house. The lender is none the wiser.

There is also subtle discouragement of other buyers and showings in order to further the scam. For example, the property is listed on the wrong mls, it is never available for showings, a potential buyer is told that there are so many offers in that the seller and bank will not look at any more, etc.

The vast majority of short sales are legit. But if a buyer you know encounters a difficult-to-see-buy short sale home, this kind of scam may be going on.

No wonder so many lenders are just not responding to short sales and just going ahead and foreclosing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"What is your tolerance for loss?" and a bright note

It should come as no surprise that many sellers are still quite unrealistic about what their houses are worth in the current market. Even sellers who will soon be short sellers. Our manager suggests that we ask prospective sellers who want to list high: "What is your tolerance for loss?" See, not just risk, but loss. And who says the brokerage managers aren't realistic? Okay, our manager also wants us to cold call and door-knock for new business, but still. On a brighter note, interest rates are down again and some believe they may dip below 5%!.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday morning reading: a contrarian view from Ben

Here's Ben Stein's column from today's New York Times. Now, I have to say that I love love love love love Barack Obama. And I love Ben Stein, too, but not in the same way. Ben questions Obama's choices for his economic team and also asks about how effective public works projects are in bringing the economy around. Hmmm. Interesting food for thought.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bring on the recession

It's "Black Friday" morning. AP is already reporting that a Walmart worker was trampled to death at dawn today by unruly shoppers looking for deals. Jeez, people, how much crap do you have to acquire? At what price? Is a good shopping deal worth somebody's life? Should Walmart change its slogan from "Save money. Live better" to "Save money. Live"? Sorry, but if you ask me, the recession/depression can't happen fast enough if people are killing each other over big screen tvs.

A great article about eviction from The New Yorker

Remember Addie Polk? She's the 90-year-old Akron lady who shot herself just as the sheriff was coming to evict her after her house was foreclosed. Here's the story from the Nov. 24, 2008 issue of The New Yorker. The article also explores preditory lending. Cut to the end: Addie survived, but it is unknown at present where she'll live.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another reason to be thankful -- low interest rates.

Interest rates just took a dive. A conforming 30 year fixed rate (up to $417,000) can be had today for 5.375%. It's 5.5% for loans up to $625,000.

I hope you find many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My visit to Palmdale

I spent the afternoon yesterday in Palmdale, the foreclosure capital of L.A. County. No, I was not showing property. Shameless plug: My husband, Steve, and his cat have a book out titled The World is Your Litter Box. It's a how-to manual for cats and is very funny. Anyway, I go along with Steve to all the So. Cal. Barnes & Noble signings.

I haven't been to Palmdale in years. From the press it has received lately, here's what I expected: broken-down cars by the side of the road. Lots of homeless people. Board-ups all over the city. Signs on telephone poles re name-your-price homes for sale. In short, a community in a deep, deep recession/depression.

That's not what I saw. At all. The major shopping area had tons of traffic, busy franchises, and no board-ups. Lots and lots of people out and about, and none of them looked particularly troubled. In short, I saw a thriving community. (And yes, the Barnes & Noble was busy all afternoon and we sold out the stock.) Now, I'm not saying that area is not ground zero for foreclosures. I'm just saying. Perhaps I need to wait a year for the blight to set in?

Why aren't more troubled homeowners seeking assistance?

HUD Secretary Says Programs Are Ineffective
Two government programs intended to help hundreds of thousands of borrowers avoid foreclosure are having negligible effects, a top Bush administration official acknowledged Wednesday. One program will be revamped immediately, and the other possibly in the near future.
“The response has not kept up with the need,” Steven C. Preston, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said to the National Press Club. “Many Americans who should be getting help are not getting help.”

The FHASecure program announced in August 2007 has helped only about 4,000 delinquent borrowers, Mr. Preston said. The other, Hope for Homeowners, has received just 111 applications from distressed homeowners since it was introduced on Oct. 1. He outlined changes intended to encourage more participation in the Hope for Homeowners program.

Under the new rules, lenders would be allowed to take a smaller loss. New loans can be made for 96.5 percent of the home’s current value, rather than the previous 90 percent. Even with the changes, borrowers would still have to pay back half of any appreciation to the government if they sell the house or refinance."

Bizarre. Thanks, Dana Dukelow, for this article. Why aren't more distressed homeowners seeking assistance?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Burbank smells like death?! Wha???

Curbed L.A. asks why a particular portion of Burbank smells like death. Huh? As always, the responses are very amusing. I think it's due to all the condo and loft developers who have starved to death in the last few months.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Are local home prices down 21%? Or 41%?

Here are some new statistics on our local housing market from today’s L.A. Times. Be careful when reading this article: It appears that while sales prices in the region (not sure how “region” is defined) are down 41%, L.A. County’s drop is 29%, and its median sales price is now $355,000. And, homes in the top third of the market have fallen 21%. Quite a wide swing in stats, I would say. Here are the relevant quotes from Peter Hong, the article’s author:

"Los Angeles County's median home sales price was $355,000, down 29% from a year ago.”

"Low prices did drive sales up 56% from a year ago. But a market bottom remains elusive, and a rebound in prices is not on the horizon." (Yes, I know this is not good news.)

"Last month's Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which tracks home sales by price tiers, showed that Los Angeles-area homes priced in the bottom third of the market had fallen 42% from their peak prices by late last summer -- but those in the top third had dropped 21%."

Mr. Hong also points out that foreclosed homes have dragged down the average price. Here’s how that works. If the majority of homes on the market are foreclosures with their lower prices, the majority of sales will be foreclosed homes with their lower prices as well.

Now, more real estate news from today’s Burbank Leader. The news is good for sellers as the average home sales price in Burbank inched up to $544,166 in October. For Glendale, it went up to $673,365 – close to double the county average.

Jeremy Oberstein, the article’s author, also cites a market index for both cities. It is based on a month-to-month ratio of new listings, active listings and days a house is listed as available on the market. Burbank’s market index for October is 0.41, and Glendale’s is 0.32. An index higher than 1.20 indicates a healthier market for home sellers, while a figure less than 0.80 reflects a more advantageous market for home buyers. I have emailed Mr. Oberstein and asked about the source of the index data.

Here are the relevant quotes from the Burbank Leader article:

"In Burbank, the average sale price for a home inched up to $544,166 in October, slightly higher than September’s figure and 11.3% less than the same point in 2007."

New Conforming Loan Limits

Starting soon, conforming loan limits will drop to $625,500 from $729,000 for L.A. County. Still pretty good, in my opinion. And interest rates are good this week and still in the band between 5.5% and 6.75%, depending on the size of the loan.

I'll list the new FHA guidelines once they're set.

As always, thanks to lender Dana Dukelow for this info!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The fires hit home

One of my favorite escrow officers is Margie Dansby at Intervalley Escrow. Margie has been a wonderfully calming prescence during otherwise difficult situations, and has been a very creative problem solver.

Margie lost her home in the Sylmar fire this weekend. I can't imagine how terribly she must feel. My thoughts and all good wishes are with her.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday reading from L.A. Times

This article by Matthew DeBord appeared in today's L.A. Times Opinion Section. The title and subtitle just about say it all: "The Gang's All Here - The dream of owning a house turns into reality shock when the neighborhood is home to drug turf wars and bikers." Mr. DeBord and his family purchased a home in Glassel Park last year and were "following a particular gentification script." They had some expectations that this marginal neighborhood was slowly improving -- yes, they did due diligence and checked it out before they bought -- but they found that the Avenues gang is still firmly entrenched there. And it probably will be for years to come.

The article is touching and true. It puts the lie to the idea that if a locality's homes obtain "correct price discovery" then wonderful people will flock to buy homes there and magically turn the area into a dream neighborhood. No, they won't, necessarily -- some neighborhoods will still be degraded, regardless of attractive home prices. Gangs, crime and blight move in and become impossible to get out. And the community stays a less desirable place to live, no matter what the average home price is. Hats off to DeBord and his family for having the heart, guts and sense of humor to stick this out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Finally -- an easy-to-read chart on mortgage workouts

Confused about the plethora of mortgage workout programs? Me too. Finally, here's an easy-to-read chart that details specific programs, eligibility, restrictions, etc. Please feel free to cut, paste, and send this on to anybody who may be having difficulty paying their monthly mortgage. Thanks for this, C.A.R.

Fire in the Valley

We're watching the news and a large portion of the north SFV is burning. If you are being affected by the fires, and if I can help you in any way today, please don't hesitate to phone me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's not just us.

I just returned from a week in Paris. Yes, I know; I'm a lucky, lucky person and we had a great time. Anyway, when I was last there eight years ago, I saw maybe one real estate office the entire time I was there. And now, there's a real estate office on every block. With beautiful pictures of apartments and flats for sale in the window. And they're not cheap -- studios in nice neighborhoods seem to be listing for $450,000 and up. I read that real estate has increased in price in Paris by 79% since 2005! I also understand that the Paris real estate market has slowed quite a bit (I have no knowledge of lending, title or mortgage issues there). So we're not the only country/state/city that had a real estate run-up and is now having problems, it seems.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Gorgeous Spanish in Adams Hill

My colleagues, Daina and Stacy, just listed a gorgeous Spanish in the Adams Hill neighborhood on the border of Glendale and L.A. The home has 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2365 square feet, a back yard, a view, and has been completely remodeled. The address is 3291 Romulus, L.A. 90065 and the listing price is $844,500. You can visit my website for more pics and info: http://www.judygraff.com/, and then visit the featured listings link. Please contact me if you'd like to arrange to see this beauty.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Realtor-take on the election

This is my third presidential election as a Realtor. How do these elections effect the market? Like everything else, hope is good and uncertainty is bad, and not just for home prices. No, I don't believe that prices will begin to turn around after tomorrow. But if the general zeitgeist is positive, buyers feel better about purchasing. For this reason and many others, I support Barack Obama. I don't expect his election will bring us rainbows, unicorns, and a Dow at 20,000; the economy is still going to be tough for the foreseeable future. But I think there's no doubt that his message has been one of hope and positive change. And I expect him to continue to deliver that message if he is elected.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday reading plus comments. Yes, from the NYT Business Section.

Here are two great articles from today's New York Times' Business section. Gretchen Morgenson wrote the first, titled Was There a Loan It Didn't Like? about a senior mortgage underwriter's experiences at WaMu. As you might expect from the title, the underwriter, Ms. Cooper, was pressured by higher-ups to approve any and all loans, regardless of what the loan applications and packages looked like.

I take issue, though, with a couple of statements in the article. First, mid-way through the article and Ms. Cooper's story: "Although Ms. Cooper couldn't see it, the wheels were already coming off the subprime bus." C'mon. Everybody who thought about this process at all figured out in advance that many people would eventually not be able to pay back their huge debts. This is why usury laws have existed throughout history. Also, "Hidden fees meant brokers could easily make between $20,000 and $40,000 on a $500,000 loan." Huh? How hidden could fees be when they're thoroughly itemized at closing? And all states require complete itemization as part of their consumer protections. And $20k to $40k? The standard origination fee is 1%, and that would be $5,000. Yes, there are garbage fees like processing, document fees, etc., but I've never, ever heard of them amounting to more than 2% of the loan. But whatever; it's a great article anyway.

The second article is by my new favorite economic columnist next to Ben Stein, Robert J. Shiller. Titled Challenging the Crowd in Whispers, Not Shouts, and it's about the group-think that led the Fed, prominent economists and other major financing institutions to ignore the mortgage market meltdown until it was too late. The article's tag says, "A taxi driver seemed to sense what economists didn't." Uh, yeah.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Say it ain't so, Pete!

Those of you who already read LALand know this already -- blog host Peter Viles will be leaving at the end of the week. Peter has been great for the LA Times, great for blogging (I have been a frequent commenter), and great for the local dialogue about real estate (well...lots of bitter dialogue, anyway). Good luck, Peter! You'll be missed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gorgeous Hollywood Hills listing

My colleague Dan has just listed this immaculate beauty at 3167 Lake Hollywood, in the Cahuenga Pass area of the Hollywood Hills. It's a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1500 sf (taped) 1937 traditional with loads of upgrades, and includes a sunroom/den, dining area, terraced backyard and more. The owner has meticulously maintained the home, too, and added features like central heat/air, a retrofitted foundation, and a newer roof (4 years old). And it's listed for $799,000 which is an incredible price for the area -- this is an area of $1 million+ homes, folks. And it's not even a short sale or REO! Contact me if you are in the market for a home like this and we will arrange a showing.

Eban Schletter's Witching Hour

Tonight and tomorrow at 8:00 pm, the Steve Allen Theater will present "Eban Schletter's Witching Hour." Eban himself and lots of special guests will perform material from his CD, "Witching Hour," and it promises to be loads of spooky fun. (The show debuted last year at Largo.) And admission is only $10! I haven't seen the show yet, but hope to either tomorrow night or next year. The Steve Allen Theater is located at 4773 Hollywood Blvd. Eban Schletter is, obviously, a music composer who works a lot in tv. He and his wife, performer Kris McGaha, are also past clients of mine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New jumbo conforming loan limits will be lower

As you may know, loan limits are now as follows: conforming loan limits are $417,000, and jumbo conforming limits are $729,750. These limits will expire soon. The last day to lock a rate at these limits is December 1; the last day a loan can fund at these rates is December 10 (thanks, Dana). The new limits have not been confirmed yet, but it looks like the jumbo conforming limit will drop to $625,000.

And more news from FHA: the minimum downpayment will rise to 3-1/2% from 3%. Right now, FHA interest rates are over 7%. Yikes! Are they trying to kill us?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Countrywide rides to the rescue. Or not.

In case you didn't see the paper today, Countrywide plans to cut the interest rate on some of its option arm loans to 2.5%, and possibly even reduce the principal on others in order to help people stay in their homes. I think these efforts should help some people from losing their homes to foreclosure, and that's a good thing.

And, as we all know, the holders of California mortgages now have to actually try to contact homeowners before they're foreclosed and try to do workouts, which is also a good thing and has led to a drop-off in foreclosures.

However, our office's short sale expert tells me that banks are largely paying lip service to these loan modifications. For example, I'm told that many loan servicers will now take calls from distressed homeowners and promise a workout, but then not ever follow up. And the banks are not staffing up to meet these new challenges, even though they've had ample time to recognize the problems in the housing market and prepare for workouts. So, is this all just a game? Will banks have title to most of the residential real estate out there by the end of the decade? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A new task, uh, undertaken

Awhile back, I sold a property and represented both the buyers and sellers on the transaction.

I received an urgent message from Mr. Buyer this week. He had torn down the old house on the property and is building a new one. But. When his contractor began to dig the foundation, they came upon a box. With a funeral crematorium label on it. Yup. Buried cremated remains.

The sellers had sold the property after their elderly father had died there, but had said nothing to me about this. Sure enough, the remains are Dad’s. The sellers had not mentioned this to anybody because they had tried to dig him up, but couldn’t find him. They presumed he was down so deep that his remains would never be disturbed. I retrieved the box from the contractor, told Mr. Dad that I was pleased to be helping him to his next resting place, and shipped the box to the sellers. Everybody involved, (including Dad, I hope) is happy now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And even more statistics -- here's California Association of Realtors' Economic Outlook

Once a year, California Association of Realtors gives an economic outlook presentation to Dilbeck Real Estate. Here is this year's presentation, which was given today. It's a pdf file, and it's 92 pages long, but there are some great charts and graphs here (info courtesy of Dataquick). If you are unable to open this, contact me and I'll get a hard copy to you.

Wait! I was wrong!

Yesterday's post reported some real estate sales statistics. Today's Dataquick numbers show a median sales price in the county of $360,000, and a year-over-year price dip of 22%. The other numbers are state-wide. Sorry!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Headlines and Bad Foreclosure Realtors

Okay, first the headlines from the LAT: Sales were up 65% last month over September 2007. This is largely due to the number of bargains and foreclosures that are on the market. And the median price in the county is now $308,500 -- that's what? Down 25% from last year? Or more? We are still seeing more price stability in many neighborhoods, though, such as Burbank, Toluca Lake, Studio City, etc. Yes, prices have come down, but not by 25%.

And, thanks to the new California law that requires lenders to contact home owners before they foreclose, there are now 61% fewer Notice of Defaults filed than there were last quarter, and 45% less Notices of Trustee Sales. So you're right if you think there's less inventory out there.

Unfortunately, the downturn in the market has not attrited out the lousy Realtors. Here's how not to sell your foreclosure or trust sale: list with a Realtor that doesn't return calls, doesn't give property status, doesn't list things correctly in the mls, doesn't bother placing pictures on the mls, and doesn't give correct lockbox or combo code information. I attempted to show four short sale or REO properties in Altadena this weekend; two houses we tried to see are listed with Reators like this. So if a short sale or foreclosure is on the market in the current climate for over 70 days and you're wondering why, it's likely because of the Realtor.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The NoHo Show!

As you know, North Hollywood is chock full of smaller theaters and even has its own arts district. You may have seen theater there, and many of you may have been members of theater companies and have pursued acting careers. C'mon, admit it! You may also have friends and family doing that even now. So, for your viewing pleasure, here's a delightful YouTube spoof of the North Hollywood theater scene, The NoHo Show! There are four webisodes so far, and I certainly hope there will be more. Kudos to friend Ellen, who is laugh-out-loud funny as Lori.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Multiples! Still!

This is a picture of 600 E. Walnut in Burbank. It listed six days ago for $699,000 and is now pending after multiple offers! So multiple offer situations still do exist, but they are increasingly rare. This home is such a likely candidate because it was completely spiffed up for sale, has five bedrooms, 2400 square feet, and loads of character, obviously. Although I must say I'm surprised, with all the bad economic news, that any buyer was willing to pull the trigger in the last few days. This home is right next door to a home I sold on 6th last year, and one house away from another character home that I blogged about a few weeks back. That home listed as a short sale for $499,000, which I thought was really low. I would imagine that it, too, has multiple offers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dab of FHA news

Here's a little FHA news: a 3.5% downpayment will soon be required. That's up from 3%. Also, the mortgage insurance on FHA loans will be going up .25%. Not deal breakers, but still...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Houses under $300,000? Yes.

I showed several homes yesterday in northwest Pasadena -- under $300,000! Yes, they were fixers (ranging from light to not-so-light). They were all under 1100 square feet. All but one were on regularly-sized lots, and yes, they all had roofs, floors, doors and windows, were in regular residential neighborhoods, and none were on busy streets. Yes, most were short sales or REOs. But I was surprised at how many real bargains are out there, and I think there will be more bargains like this to come.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Countrywide is going to do workouts. Finally.

Finally, Countrywide is going to help some of its mortgage holders modify problematic mortgages. Read the L.A. Times story here. This is something that they should have been doing, not just pretending to do, a year ago. And of course, it took legal action, in the form of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, to get Countrywide/BofA serious about doing this. This will be too late for some people who are in deep financial trouble, of course, but in California alone, there are apparently over 125,000 Countrywide mortgages that may be able to be modified in order to keep people a) in their homes and b) making their loan payments.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rates and Loan questions

To those of you who asked about rate and loan info, here's the skinny, courtesy of Dana Dukelow at Metrocities Mortgage:

Conforming loans (up to $429k): Even though some lenders are advertising 5% down loans, it is hard to get mortgage insurance for anything under a 10% down. The good news is that today's 30-year fixed rate is running at about 5.875%/1 pt.

Junior jumbo conforming loans (up to $729k): a rate of 6%/1 pt. is possible with A+ credit and 20% down. Less down, less credit is going to be higher.

Jumbo loans (over $729k): these are really hard to get, and fewer and fewer lenders are offering them. And, lenders are frequently asking for 25% down, because this is still considered to be a declining market. However, the way to go seems to be to get a 10/1 arm, or a 5/1 arm -- if you can do it, the rates can be as low as 6%/1 pt.

What I see going forward: I hate to even try to predict it. But, surprisingly, there seems to be liquidity in the home lending system. Unlike, apparently, any other segment of our economy. My hunch is that the powers that be are going to try to shore up the real estate/mortgage system before anything else because that's where the current financial crisis began. So, and this is a guess, I would expect rates to go only slightly higher for conforming and junior loans in the next several months. But honestly, I really have no friggin' idea. I hope that's helpful.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Money to lend

Well, even though it was supposed to be raining fire and brimstone by now, several lending institutions are still making mortgage loans. Bank of America is not only making loans, they're still making home equity line of credit loans. And Metrocities, a big non-bank lender, still has plenty of money to lend, especially on conforming loans and junior jumbo loans (up to $729k). Hmmm.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No change...so far

As we all know, the bailout didn't pass. I keep waiting for the sky to fall, but so far, lenders are still making purchase money loans for real estate. BofA is still giving equity lines of credit. The phones are quiet, and that's about it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The names have been changed to protect the equity

A 3 bedroom, 1 bath, character home recently listed in Burbank. I'm very familiar with this house. I met with the owners back in December when they asked me to prepare a comparative market analysis and determine a sales price for them. They contacted me because I had sold the house next door to them a few weeks before.

The owners/sellers were originally from the East coast. She was a stay-at-home mom, and he was a top executive at a prominent local institution. They didn't really like Burbank and were thinking of returning to the East coast. They had owned the home for about two years and had done some nice upgrades to it. I told them that I thought I could get about a maximum of $700,000 for the house. They were unhappy with that price and believed the house should sell for much more.

The house is now on the market with another Realtor, nine months later, for $499,000. It is a preforeclosure short sale. The neighbors tell me that it has been vacant for a couple of months.

It appears that these folks just walked away from their home and mortgage. Knowing what I know about the sellers, I don't believe there was significant financial hardship; they just didn't want the house anymore and couldn't sell it for what they paid for it. So, they're sticking the bank with the tab, and lowering their neighbors' value/equity in the process.

This price is significantly low for the excellent neighborhood. The house may draw multiple offers and go for over the $499k; I hope so for their neighbors' home value sake.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Search the MLS BY MAP from my site

I've just added a map search feature to my real estate site at http://www.judygraff.com/. This offers many of the same features as mega-sites Trulia, Property Shark, Redfin and Zillow. To access:

  • Visit the home page of my site at http://www.judygraff.com/. Click on the "select page" box at the top right-hand corner for a drop-down menu.

  • Scroll down to MLS Map Search and click. You'll be taken to a new page.

  • Click on the link and have fun searching.

Of course, you can still conduct a standard property search from my site, as well. Just click on the "mls search" button at the left on the home page.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can't buy without selling

For many years now, if you owned a home and wanted to buy another one, the banks said fine.

Not anymore. Now, most borrower/buyers will not qualify for any loan if they own their current residence and it has not been sold yet. Why? Because their debt-to-income ratios are likely going to be too high for the banks' taste. So if you own a home and are thinking about moving up, or moving down, or whatever, put your current house on the market now and make any sale "subject to sellers finding home of choice and successful close of escrow of same."

Lending guidelines are changing by the day, so this may change as well.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Mortgages of the Future

Yesterday, Robert J. Shiller's editorial titled The Mortgages of the Future appeared in the NY Times' Business section. He calls for re-thinking and possibly re-structuring the typical 30-year mortgage into "continuous workout mortgages." These would adjust the mortgage balance and payment, automatically and systematically, in order to help homeowners continue to pay their mortgages even during harsh economic times.

I'm no economist, but hasn't this been tried many times before? Specifically, with the "negative amortization" loans that were so popular for so many years? Most folk with "neg" loans wound up owing more several years down the line than they did at the beginning of the mortgage. I guess I'd have to see one of these "continuous workout mortgages" in action before believing that this could work.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What bad national financial news may mean to our local real estate market

By now, everybody knows about the latest national financial crisis and many people are worried. What does it mean for our local real estate community? Here's my entirely subjective opinion. I think many buyers, who just took tentative steps to get into the market, will retreat again and wait for awhile. I think sellers will not put their properties up for sale if they don't have to. That leaves a market that will be mostly foreclosures (L.A.Times says 50%) plus new condo and new townhouse units (tons of new buildings are just being or have just been completed). At this point, I would not expect interest rates to bounce up -- the banks and lending institutions need to make money by lending it after all. But this Fall should be, uh, interesting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Never to early to celebrate Halloween here in Burbank

I'm sure nobody wants to be left behind in the mad rush to purchase Halloween gear. Here's Halloween Town, on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, for all of your paraphernalia needs. Several years ago, a nice casual dining establishment was planned for this spot. But the Burbank city council, in their infinite wisdom, determined that a year-round Halloween store would serve the community much better. That's right, HT is open all year, for all of your costuming and horror needs.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Good news on interest rates

...Most interest rates are at or slightly under 6% again. This probably won't last, but it's a good sign.

However, there seem to be very few new listings during the past couple of weeks. Inventory is getting shorter, which is partly seasonal, but not a good sign for buyers.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lenders are easing up on 2nd appraisals

For awhile this summer, just about every home in escrow underwent an "appraisal review" or even second appraisal. The banks didn't trust their own first appraisals in a declining market. This was problematic in that it added extra time to the escrow process, and of course, many homes were deemed over-priced that hadn't been considered so before.

Now, lenders are easing up. Yes, there are still lots of appraisal reviews, but that's happening as a final condition before loan funding, and usually don't involve an actual second appraisal. This is great news as it removes yet another stumbling block from the process. Oh, more great news: interest rates are back below 6%. I don't know how long they'll stay that way, though.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Burbank's commitment to environmental sustainability

Burbank Public Works has just sent out a terrific, 8-page brochure on recycling and environmental sustainability projects in Burbank. The brochure includes a profile of the recycle center, info on what's recyclable in Burbank, tips for "greening up" summer parties, the last laws, refund values of bottles and cans, info on city green workshops (call the Burbank Recycle Center for details at 818-238-3900), info on the Sustainability Action Plan, ideas for natural landscaping and more. If you'd like a copy, please phone 818-238-3900. Way to go, Burbank!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Foreclosures snapped up by...bobcats

Apparently, a family of bobcats have moved into some luxury foreclosed digs in Lake Elsinore. This is from a front page story on today's LAT, but unfortunately the on-line LAT didn't supply me with a link. Sorry. Anyway, there are at least two adults and three bobcat kittens living in the house. Wildlife experts say the cats gravitate to food and water, and this particular house has a koi pond in the back yard. The experts also say the cats will move on when the kittens are big enough to travel. According to the article, the neighbors don't seem to mind the new tenants, either. Personally, I think these animals are there because the got tired of trying to time the bottom of the r.e. market and know a good Inland Empire deal when they see one.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Lancaster to refurbish foreclosed homes

Sorry that I haven't posted for a few days -- I've been wrapped up in our national political circus. Anyway, the L.A. Times reports here that the city of Lancaster is going to buy foreclosed homes, fix them up, and sell them to low income people. As we all know, Lancaster has pretty much been ground zero for L.A. County foreclosures. In the main, I think this is a very good thing. Philosophically, I think this is how a small municipality should be handling this problem.

Of course, the devil is in the details. The program has $4.1 million in funds and hopes to fix/resell up to 41 homes. So, that's about $100k per home, which includes the purchase price. If the purchase price is $80k to $100k, that's, uh, not a lot left over for more than a cosmetic fix. But this program is a step in the right direction. And many people will be happy that the money is coming strictly from the City, not from the state, county or federal government. Let's stay tuned and see how it goes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More on sober living - the Burbank City Council weighs in

If you've read this post before, you know about the controversy over sober-living facilities in Burbank. You also know where I stand on this.

According to the Burbank Leader, the Burbank City Council has asked its staff to look into ways to monitor and potentially impose stricter regulations on local group homes. State and federal laws prohibit cities from restricting members of a "family" from living together. Apparently, that family can't have more than 7 people living together without a conditional use permit.

One of the principal planners quoted in the article indicates that Burbank may tighten the definition of what "family" is.

Am I the only person who thinks this is a slippery slope and the City is vastly overreaching? Am I the only person who thinks that a municipality has no business in defining what a "family" is?

If these sober-living facilities are a hazard to the surrounding community, then this is a law enforcement issue. The solution is to put more cops on the street.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday morning reading

Okay, so it's almost afternoon. Here's a great article from today's NYT Business section about the housing bust in Merced. Three-quarters of the current sales there are foreclosures. My question to the developers of these empty REOs is: Merced? What were you thinking?

For your amusement, I bring you an LAT Opinion section cartoon by Mimi Pond. It's about grocery shopping in our very own Glendale!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bessemer just closed

My Valley Glen listing at 13523 Bessemer closed today at $630,000, just about where the sellers and I thought it would. It was listed at $659,000, and is a 2050 sf 3+2 with a gorgeous, redone kitchen, air, hardwoods, redone baths and more. It has been listed since June 17th.

This sale provides an opposing view, I think, to all of the otherwise-bad real estate news out there. I had encouraged the sellers to wait until after the summer to list the house. I had thought, wrongly, that with "such a bad market" the house would be sitting for several months during the slowest part of the year (late summer). Thankfully, the sellers didn't listen to me. We had a contract five weeks after it listed. Also, considering the news about rampant price declines in local real estate, I encouraged the sellers to lower the price after four weeks. I was also nervous about two foreclosures one street over and what those houses might do to value. Once again, they smartly declined to do so, and we shortly thereafter received the good offer that resulted in a sale. I'm not saying the market isn't bad, mind you; but perhaps all is not as dire here in the SFV as the media would have you believe.

L.A. schools, real estate, and Sandra Tsing Loh

If you've read this blog before, you know that I have harped and harped on how much value good public schools can add to a neighborhood's real estate. It's one of the reasons that Burbank real estate continues to be desireable -- the schools are great. Along these lines, my favorite L.A. humorist, Sandra Tsing Loh, has just released a book entitled "Mother on Fire" about her experiences with L.A.'s public schools. While I haven't yet read the book (can't wait!), I know that Loh has been a long-time advocate and source of info about the LAUSD magnet, charter, and plain old public school programs, and Loh's own daughters go to a magnet school in Van Nuys. Loh's website also contains several local school links that you might want to check out, as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Surprise about the Burbank Collection

I posted here several months ago about the new downtown Burbank loft development, The Burbank Collection. It's right across from the AMC theaters and above Ben&Jerry's, the new Barney's Beanery, etc. The complex features almost 200 units ranging from 1 bedrooms to 2-story penthouses and the prices used to be $400,000 to $700,000+. No more.

A BC representative came to our meeting today to talk about the big price reductions the project has just announced -- about 20% across the board. I understood that this due to two reasons. First, the existing units in escrow did not appraise for their sales prices. The buyer of one unit actually received a $200,000 write-down from her original purchase price offer! Second, according to the rep, the lender on the project is breathing down the neck of the developer. No surprise there.

Further, the rep says that the code words for buyers and their offers are "yes," and "Whatever it takes." That's what we like to hear!

Other news from this rep: the development is almost 50% sold. No units can "go" FHA until the 50% mark is reached. And, I asked about a competing development, the lovely and talented Americana. Apparently, Big A is not giving out sales figures. To anybody. Period. No surprise there, either.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

Just goes to show...

...That if a nice home, in a nice neighborhood, with a nice price comes on the market, it will be snapped up quickly, even in this market. I'm talking about 1806 N. Richard in Burbank, pictured here. This house has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1749 sf., a pool, and a music studio above the garage (about 400 additional feet). It has been well maintained and the kitchen and baths have been remodeled. But not with the highest-end finishes. It's in Jefferson school district. It listed on Tuesday for $695,000. The listing agent, who works in my office, tells me there are four offers in on it already, and at least one is over full price. She also tells me that all the would-be buyers are financially well-qualified. Dang. And I was going to show it to some motivated buyers this weekend, too.
Update 8/11/08: Here's another example of things going fast. 1535 Keystone went pending after 6 days on the market. I showed it when it had been on for 4 days and they already had two offers. It is 3 beds, 2 baths, 1354 square feet, with a fountain/grotto that you'd only see in Burbank that practically covered the entire yard. It was listed at $499k, which seems a little low, but a lot of the re-do was of questionable quality.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

New restaurant news

I just learned that Barney's Beanery is coming to Burbank!

It will open in the new Loft Collection downtown. For those of you that might not know, Barney's is a legendary Hollywood bar and burger joint. Famous for its rowdy atmosphere in the 70's and 80's, it served lots of imported beers and great hamburgers. Unfortunately, in those days it also had matchbooks printed with the message, "Faggots Stay Out." Those are long gone, thankfully. It will be interesting to see how this works out here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

934 N. Avon has sold

934 N. Avon, Burbank 91505 has just sold for $665,000. This home features lovely character details plus updates, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and over 1600 square feet. It is on the same street as Roosevelt school and is close to the best Magnolia Park has to offer. It took us about six weeks from the listing date to get it into escrow. The sales price is just what I had told the sellers it would go for when I took the listing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday morning reading

For Sunday morning reading, here's a good article from the NYT by Peter L. Bernstein. It's titled "Three Strikes Against Consumers" and discusses the housing/credit crunch, high oil prices, and high food prices. I'm happy to see a journalist from a major news outlet discussing food prices as the issue seems to have been given short shrift elsewhere.
Today's L.A. Times' Business section has an article about whether or not it's a good time to buy real estate. It's by Peter Hong.
Why am I not including a link to this? Because it's way too statistical. The figures it cites just don't jive with my boots-on-the-ground experience of the markets I serve. Nobody disputes that local housing prices have come down. But the article's blanket assertion that the county has come down 30% is just not true for all -- or even most -- zipcodes, and I think the numbers in the article really need to be better qualified. Or perhaps I should just title this post, "I don't care what John Carroll of Dataquick says."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

More on sober living in Burbank

If you've read this blog for awhile, you may remember the post and thread on Burbank's sober living houses. The neighbors close to a home on Clark were upset about its existence.

Sadly, a resident of one of the houses committed suicide in mid-July. According to the Burbank Leader, even that has fueled the neighborhood's ire about the home's existence. Some of the more interesting quotes:

"The news reignited neighbors’ fears about the proximity of the facility to their homes and to John Burroughs High and Walt Disney Elementary schools.“I am not saying this community is perfect and that they don’t belong, I just don’t understand why they have to be on that corner in the heart of America USA,” said one neighborhood resident.

And: "The suicide could have been harmful to local students, [another resident] said. “If school had been in session, kids could have walked right by and seen this happen.”


First, Burbank is now America USA? Please define America for me. The America I live in contains addicts that need help. And kids could have seen it? I don't know if the backyard, where the suicide happened, is somehow exposed to the street, but that's really unlikely. And, school isn't in session. Also, most of the high school kids I have met recently are pretty sophisticated, and I doubt this would have warped their little minds.

But more importantly, suicides happen in every community, in every socio-economic group, and in every kind of home, not just sober living facilities. If the residents of the community want to fight sober living facilities in their neighborhoods, I suggest they come up with a real reason to do so. So far, they haven't.

Friday, August 01, 2008

School and Crime Stats in One Easy Graphic

I'm not in the habit of promoting other real estate sites, but the brand new LA Life offers something really unique. The home page has an easy-to-read chart of all crime and school statistics for all Los Angeles neighborhoods. The info is presented in a numerical format, for example, (Fill in the neighborhood here) crime 2.0, schools, 5.0. Cost-per-square-foot info immediately follows the other numbers. I assume that the school stats are from the recent API scores, and I'm not sure where the crime stats come from. In my experience, these two indicators are the most important factors buyers consider when choosing a neighborhood. I am happy to note that Burbank has a crime rating of 9 (10's the safest) and a school rating of 8.5. I can't speak about the ease of property searches there. You may just have to visit my site at http://www.judygraff.com/ for that;).
Update from the website developer: Our crime statistics come from each department and are broken down to the smallest geographic area that each department puts out stats for. For instance, the LAPD will have more precise boundaries than the Long Beach PD, because the LAPD is more open with information. We then compare the areas, adjust for population, and place them on a scale with 0 being the least safe in LA County, and 10 the most safe. You are correct that the school statistics are derived from API scores, and scaled against other LA schools as well.

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.