Saturday, February 28, 2009

Shooting in Burbank

The Toluca Woods/Lake part of Burbank is one of the nicest, most peaceful neighborhoods in town. However, early Wednesday morning, a woman was shot dead in the doorway of her home on Jacaranda. The shooters were caught shortly thereafter and have already been arraigned. Here's the Burbank Leader article. I've been told that this was an organized crime-related event. How sad for the victim, her family, and the community.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Boots-on-the-ground perspective for the end of February

Here's my perspective on our local market. Inventory is very, very low for single family homes under $600,000. I'm seeing properties go under contract in a short amount of time -- a few days, even -- and often in multiple offers. Of course "under contract" is relative when you're talking about REOs and short sales, but you get the picture.

I attribute this to favorable loan conditions for first-time buyers. FHA loans ask for only 3.5% down (which can be a gift from a relative) and let the seller contribute to closing costs. Interest rates are low. And there's an $8000 tax credit for first time buyers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tax Deductions and Home Ownership

Friend and client Cathy DeFrancesco sent me this online article from H&R Block. It's great because it reminds first-time buyers, and other home owners, about all the tax deductions they can take:
First-Time Homebuyers in 2009 to Reap Recovery Act BenefitsHomeownership Could Unlock Variety of Additional Deductions
February 23, 2009: 02:31 PM ET
Taxpayers on the fence about buying their first home may want to consider the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's tax credit that could mean up to an $8,000 break on their taxes. Not only will this tax credit lower a taxpayer's tax liability by the amount of the credit, but these first-time homebuyers may reap additional benefits when filing their tax return now and for years to come while they own the home.
According to Amy McAnarney, executive directory of The Tax Institute at H&R Block (NYSE: HRB), many first-time homeowners aren't aware they may be eligible to itemize deductions for the first time. "Homeownership is the key that could unlock thousands of dollars of tax savings," McAnarney said. "The taxpayer's joy from signing on the dotted line can extend to recognizing all of the additional tax deductions they can claim on their taxes -- if only they know how."
The benefit of the Recovery Act credit can be received now because taxpayers who have purchased a home in 2009, or who will do so before Dec. 1, 2009, can claim this credit on their 2008 original or amended return. Taxpayers, who purchased a home in 2009 and already claimed the $7,500 credit that was part of the Economic Stimulus Act, should amend their 2008 return to claim the additional credit, up to $500. "The Recovery Act is doing its job of trying to stimulate the housing market," said McAnarney. "This is one credit where taxpayers can reap the benefits almost immediately."
To qualify for this year's first-time homebuyer credit, the homebuyer must not have owned a home in the previous three years and the home must be the primary residence. Unlike last year's credit, if the property remains as the homeowner's primary residence for at least three years, then the payback requirement is waived. However, if a taxpayer bought the home in 2008, when the maximum credit was $7,500, the payback provision still applies and the credit must be repaid to the government over 15 years starting in 2010.
There are also a number of other tax benefits to consider in owning a home. For example, owning a home makes a taxpayer more likely to itemize deductions on Schedule A. Possible tax deductions to consider when itemizing include:
-- Mortgage interest
-- Real and personal property taxes
-- Charitable contributions
-- State and local income taxes
-- Loan origination fees
-- Qualified medical and dental expenses
-- Employee business expenses
-- Tax preparation fees
-- Investment interest and expenses

There is something in the Recovery Act for existing homeowners, as well. The Act also includes increased tax credits for energy-efficient improvements such as qualified new furnaces, windows and doors to existing homes. The amount of eligible credit was increased from 10 percent of the equipment cost to 30 percent. The credit applies to 2009 and 2010 tax returns, with a lifetime cap of $1,500.

Friday, February 20, 2009

So. Cal home prices fall to 2002 levels -- not really

Today's L.A. Times has an article stating that So. Cal. home prices have fallen to 2002 levels. Well, maybe if they're measuring all So. Cal. counties. But that's not true here in most of the San Fernando Valley. I just ran the sales data from all multiple listing services from Jan. 1 to Feb. 20 for Burbank, Toluca Lake and Studio City. Here's the dope:
Burbank Avg. Sales Price:
2 beds = $471k
3 beds = $520k
4 beds = $712k
Toluca Lake Avg. Sales Price:
2 beds = $617k
no data for 3 and 4 beds (I think due to short inventory/long time on market)
Studio City Avg. Sales Price:
no data for 2 beds
3 beds = $696k
4 beds = $1344k
I really love the L.A. Times, but I wish they would better qualify some of the information they print.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gosh, I have such deep and abiding faith in Bank of America

For those of you who are following the progress of my Bank of America home re-finance: I got through to BofA yesterday and they now say it will take 60+ days to wrap up the re-fi. Mind you, we applied for this on January 6 and received a loan commitment on January 15. We've long since turned in income documentation and the other paperwork the bank asked for. And we have plenty of equity and aren't asking to take any cash out. I asked the kind person why it was taking so long and she told me, "Bank of America is hiring and training new people." So good to know. You'd think they might have wanted to do that before promoting re-fi rates below 5%. But what do I know about the inner workings of a giant multinational banking institution?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How the stimulus bill helps home owners

The recently-passed national Stimulus bill contains good news for home buyers. If you're a first-time buyer, or haven't owned property in three years or more, you are entitled to an up-to $8000 tax credit. Also, the jumbo-conforming loan limits in expensive areas have been raised to $727,000. This is good until December 31, 2009.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Best of Burbank - vegetables

I know that produce isn't particularly real-estate related. But I recently discovered Gefer Farms, at 822 N. San Fernando, in Burbank and can't stop going on about it. Here's the place to save money on fresh produce -- it's way cheaper than Ralph's across the street. There are great booze deals, too. This medium-sized market caters to a largely Armenian and hispanic clientele and is a sister market to Golden Farms in Glendale. It also has a full meat market and sells other food and groceries, too. Three bunches of radishes for $.99! Two pounds of bananas for $1.00! I ask you, does life in Burbank get much better?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday reading -- from the L.A. Times and The New Yorker

The business section of today's L.A. Times contains two excellent consumer-oriented articles about foreclosure and loan modification. The first, Headed for Foreclosure? Here's What to Expect has definitions and a foreclosure timetable. The second, Common Loan Modifications Offered by Banks, delves into the types of loan modifications offered (warning: principal write-down is rare).

This week's The New Yorker offers one of the best articles on the mortgage meltdown crisis that I have read. It focuses on Florida, and is titled The Ponzi State, but the situations described are applicable to California and elsewhere. George Packer is the author. Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to read the article, but here's an abstract. The article is unique in that it profiles several different individuals that have been hurt by this downturn that haven't been much written about before, including folks that have never owned a home and state officials.

Friday, February 13, 2009

...And here's a status on my foreclosure escrow

I represent the buyers in their purchase of the house at right, 1101 N. Catalina in Burbank. It's a foreclosure, and here's how the escrow is going: fine, so far. My buyers had put in an offer when it was already under contract with other buyers. That first escrow fell apart at the last minute, and we had a signed deal three days later. That's pretty quick for a bank (Wells Fargo) to turn that around. Of course, it was a pretty clean offer and my buyers are pre-approved for a conventional loan. The only thing that was delayed was the assignment of an escrow company. That took 10 days when it usually happens upon acceptance. I'll continue to provide updates on this process.

And by the way, there has been no word since the 5th on my refinance. GRRRR!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Status on my Bank of America refinance

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that my husband and I are refinancing our home through BofA. We are not asking for any cash from our equity; we just wanted to take advantage of the great rates. We applied last month, got a great rate, and it seemed super simple. It was supposed to close tomorrow.

Well, no. Frustration has set in. Earlier this week, it appeared that all of our supporting documentation (tax returns, etc.) had been lost. It took six phone calls and about an hour and 20 minutes to straighten that out. I just received my "welcome" phone call -- a month after I applied -- and it was my second "welcome" phone call today. Apparently, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Oh yes -- BofA will assign a processor this week. Since the late closing is their doing, they will mercifully extend our rate lock.

More news when there is some.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Zillow says values haven't declined as much as reported

From today's L.A. Times, here's a story from Zillow says the median home values in Los Angeles and Orange counties may not have fallen quite as much as is often reported. Hmm, you don't say!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Burbank building permits are not good until the end of time

Much to the dismay of local developers, Burbank City Council recently voted to stop extending the expiration dates of building permits. This means that a project that was permitted, oh, say, during the Reagan administration, but was never built, will now have to go through the permitting review process again. Read the Burbank Leader story here. Most of the developers who are affected by the vote had approved plans from two to three years ago (the permits are good for at least a year) but could not get the necessary financing to begin construction.
I say, good. (And yes, I'm a NIMBY: I'm delighted that a planned huge apartment complex will now not be built behind my house.) I know of several previously-approved projects that would not have been in keeping with the neighborhood character, would have added additional traffic to the surrounding streets, and are of questionable need anyway. Times change and communities do, too -- and I think it's worthwhile to reexamine permitted, unbuilt projects to make sure they will be a good fit in the future.
Also, as my friend Ellen Dimler stated so succinctly in the Leader article: "The power of one council must not extend indefinitely.”