Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cutest house of the week -- in Atwater!

I showed this home at 4122 Edenhurst ($495,000) in Atwater today.  Even though it's not large, it was totally impressive -- completely redone, yet period details intact and freshened up.  It has a cute (not permitted) guest unit, too and a lovely green backyard.  And the neighborhood...!  I don't show there very often, but I'm going to pay A LOT more attention to it from now on.  Atwater has totally come around in the last few years, the residential homes have been spiffed up and there's lots of pride of ownership evident now in the area.  The home prices are less than what you'd find in similar areas.  It has cool restaurants, golf courses and horse stables nearby (I stepped in a road apple) and a bike path now runs along the L.A. River.  Well, okay, it still has LAUSD schools, but it also has its very own Costco (what more could you want, right?).  If you work downtown, in Pasadena or even the east SFV, it's really well-located.  It would be a great option for those looking for homes in the $450k-$600k range.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

U.S. to lower the size of mortgage it will guarantee - but I don't think that's going to have too much of a negative impact

Here's an article from today's L.A. Times about lower loan limits that will go into effect at the end of September.  While many of my colleagues are wringing their hands over this change, I'd like to point out three things. 1) The limit is reducing from $729,750 to $625,500.  So any loan amount over $625k will now need to have jumbo financing. Therefore this will really only impact home buyers, and home prices, between those two loan amounts only -- that's only a price spread of $104,000+.  2) Jumbo rates are at an all-time low. 3) Yes, many of the areas I serve have high home prices; but a greater amount of neighborhoods have home prices that don't exceed $600,000 in the first place.  So will there be wide-spread harm? It remains to be seen, but I doubt it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Questionable mls pictures on otherwise cute homes for sale

This is 916 N. 6th Street in Burbank.  It's currently for sale at $549,000.  Although it's not my listing, I've been in this home several times over the years. In spite of the creepy Alice-in-Wonderland-with-a-knife, it's really nice -- it has 3 beds in 1481 square feet and lots of original details have been preserved.  Only one bathroom, though.  This house and the two next to it (one of which I sold) were built by the same builder in the late 1920's and it's in a great Burbank hillside neighborhood.  The current owners are selling this at a loss.  Now, I know weird listing pictures are nothing new at all, but for the sake of marketing, don't you think this interior picture of Alice (there are four angles) should have been left out?  Somehow, weird interior pics just don't make me want to buy otherwise splendid character homes.  Other shots show Frankenstein's monster in the living room, skeletons, etc.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Burbank - Toluca Lake townhouse of the week

This unit is located at 330 N. Maple #D in Burbank and the pictures don't quite do it justice.  It's a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath, with a large bonus room that leads directly to a common parking garage.  The bonus room would make a great office, media room, etc.  Plus, this is in a great location -- it's just down the street from Warner Bros and close to all Toluca Lake restaurants, Starbucks, etc.  The master bedroom is large and sunny and -- oh, I'm gushing.  Plus, the HOA is $309.  Oh yes, the price is $369,000 but I bet the owner would listen to all offers.  Seriously, although the decorating needs some updating, this has lots of potential.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How the short sale at 2012 W. Verdugo in Burbank is going

We are now two months into the short sale process on 2012 W. Verdugo in Burbank and maybe, just maybe, we're getting close to approval.  The short sale package, including an accepted offer, went to both BofA (1st lender) and Chase (2nd lender) in late July.  Subsequently, the banks put my seller through several paperwork hoops.  They also had a full appraisal done about 3 weeks ago.  Usually, banks have just had a Realtor (not the listing agent) do a broker price opinion, but I'm told that more and more frequently they are ordering appraisals now.

At any rate, the banks finished their collection processes a couple of weeks ago and submitted the packages to their investors for approval.  I'm hoping we'll hear something this week or next week.  Keep your fingers crossed...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Houses of the weekend, or not

I've seen a bunch of new properties in the San Fernando Valley in the last few days and here's my take on them.  In some cases, here are my clients' takes on them, too.

3833 Ridgemoor, Studio City (pictured above) is a 2 bed, 2 bath + den in the hills for $549,000.  It has been listed for awhile.  The setting is gorgeous and green and I love the organic look of the wood siding.  But the house seems a little precariously pitched against the hill.  There are some signs of displacement and the floors slope, which is not uncommon in this area.  But that's not what my clients were looking for.

14312 Califa, Sherman Oaks but really Van Nuys is a 3+2 plus bonus room for $569,500.  This area is tricky, as are many SFV areas -- the major artery streets look beaten up and a little scary, but once you get off those and into the residential areas, the neighborhoods get very nice and peaceful.  Anyway, this house has been professionally redone and looks really nice.  It may be a flip.  We were a little put off, however, by the Realtor's flyer -- "On the Market Three Days and Already has Offers!"  That's really not what first-time buyers want to see, especially when, as in this case, it's not true, as the agent later confirmed.

12414 Albers, Valley Village is a 3+2 for $598,000.  Great neighborhood and a nicely updated done house with a great floorplan.  Some of the countertops and other finishes look like they're from the last remodel.  Nothing wrong with that, just saying. 

5732 Wilkinson, Valley Village is a 3+2 with a pool for $579,000.  This was my clients' favorite.  It has really pretty light wood floors, a custom remodeled kitchen and a stand-alone fireplace separating the living room and dining area.  The backyard is all tile, and while the pool looks recently redone, the yard slopes towards the house.  Needless to say, this is bad for drainage -- the last thing you want is a pond of water up against your foundation.  Fixable? Very likely, but for a price.

11641 McCormick in Valley Village is a 3+2 for $519,999.  It, too, has been nicely redone and just had the price reduced.  However, the location is really less than ideal.  You can hear the 170 Fwy, there is plane noise overhead, and you can see North Hollywood High (yikes! teenagers!) at the end of the street.  The backyard needs to be sodded, too.

One of the houses had a bidet (!) but I can't remember which one.  If a bidet is on your housing wish list (is it? be honest), call me and I'll put my memory hat on.

My house of the week, however, is another Burbank townhouse at 230 Bethany #119.  It's an REO and is listed for $347,000.  It has two huge patios, and nobody above or below it.  Plus, a bonus room has been designed to be a third bedroom or den.  This is a very popular complex in Burbank and in my opinion, this is a killer price for a unit this nice in this location.

 More later!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Colfax Elementary in Valley Village is too good for its own good

This article by Cathy Flynn just appeared in the North Hollywood/Studio City Patch.  Also, I just noticed that a former Valley Glen elementary school is now Ararat Charter.  Anybody got any info on that?

Colfax Reaches 910 API and Closes Its Doors to New Enrollment

This highly sought school becomes a little too popular.

Can a school be too good?
With all the news these days of failing schools, falling test scores and high school graduates who are not prepared for college, the schools that are doing well make the headlines, are celebrated, and publicized as a goal for other schools to emulate.
And then there’s Colfax Charter Elementary School in Valley Village.
It used to be a well-kept secret that Colfax was a great little gem of a school – kind of like Carpenter without the bucks. The school is diverse, with a very active parent base. Its charter dictates that its core academic curriculum be integrated with arts, science and technology, and Colfax’s graduating students easily excel at the middle school level along with high-performing private and public elementary schools that are much more affluent.
Three weeks ago, API (Academic Index Report) scores were announced and Colfax hit an astounding 910 (anything over 900 is considered very impressive). But Colfax is not hanging up its banner to publicize the good news.
Colfax has reached its capacity, and new students – even if they live in the Colfax district – are now being turned away and forced to go to nearby Riverside Drive Elementary School in Sherman Oaks.
In 2008, with just over 500 students, Colfax became an affiliated charter, which means that they are still a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, but they have flexibility in instructional programs and budgets.
Ten years ago, Parents Association of Colfax Elementary (PACE) had an annual budget of about $3,000 to pay for capital projects and extracurricular activities. Today, the budget has increased 100 fold to nearly $300,000. Parents collectively pay for classroom aides, extra science and math programs, a working farm (with both plants and farm animals), violin and keyboard instruction, chorus, orchestra, visual arts, theatre, dance, a computer lab and laptop carts.
Early this year, principal Susana Gomez-Judkins could see that Colfax was filling up. A well-publicized first day registration in April attracted a line of about 80 families rushing to enroll their children for the fall. More families registered in the following months. A preschool class for special needs children was relocated to Riverside Drive to make room for the additional enrollees. Late spring, an LAUSD redistricting committee closed the option areas that Colfax shared with nearby Carpenter Community Charter School in Studio City, Riverside and Rio Vista in Toluca Lake. But on Aug. 31 – exactly one week before the start of the 2011-2012 school year – Colfax had reached its capacity limit.
“We would love to take everyone in the area and accommodate all the kids,” says principal Gomez-Judkins, but she is adamant about keeping the school small.
She is reluctant to consider constructing additional buildings or bungalows for the school.
“It would impact the ability for us to provide a quality program.” She notes that the original charter dictates that Colfax serves approximately 500 students, yet that number has mushroomed to its current population of 647.
“Obviously we have an obligation to serve all the neighborhood kids,” Gomez-Judkins states, and she finds it heartbreaking to turn away children who live walking distance from the school. Yet she must abide by the policy of  “last one in, first one out” when it comes to enrollment.
Although it may at first glance seem like a ruthless task, Gomez-Judkins is actively pursuing families who have lied about their residency and actually live outside the Colfax district. A spot taken by someone who should legally be going to a different school prohibits someone else who rightfully lives in the area from being allowed to attend.
This has sparked occasional rumors from parents who speculate that other students may live outside the area. Gomez-Judkins intends to keep inaccurate rumors from turning into a witch hunt by having parents tell her directly.
“It’s not hearsay, it’s not a rumor, it’s not some other person told me,” Gomez-Judkins advises. “If you have first-hand knowledge about it, don’t gossip about it with your friends. Tell the front office and don’t tell anyone else. That limits the witch hunt mentality.”
An example would be if they were invited for a play date and the house was in Van Nuys. Gomez-Judkins has been known to knock on the door of the home listed on the enrollment form and ask to see the child’s toothbrush.
The principal used to have a hard time playing bad cop in kicking out the families who lied on their application, but now she feels like it’s a necessary evil that’s required to protect the families who deserve to be enrolled.
The cap will have an even greater affect on next year’s enrollment because overcrowding may prompt the necessity for fewer kindergarten classes.
Gomez-Judkins suspects that Colfax grew more popular when it became an affiliated charter.
“But Riverside Drive is now an affiliated charter. Carpenter is an affiliated charter. Sherman Oaks Elementary an affiliated charter,” the principal states. “Increasingly there are more options for people to pursue in the affiliated charter area. There are a lot of great things going on in the local schools. Colfax doesn’t have to be the only one drawing in these kids. There are a lot of other schools looking for those families to change their school communities.”
Perhaps it will be just a matter of time before Riverside Drive Elementary becomes the hot new affiliated charter school and they, too will need to cap their enrollment and send students off to yet another public school.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Refinancing a bubble?

The following editorial appeared on the opinion page of today's L.A. Times.  I think it's worth printing in its entirety, and my take is at the bottom:

Rock-bottom mortgage interest rates offer borrowers the opportunity to free up a significant amount of cash by refinancing their loans and lowering their monthly payments. Unfortunately, that option isn't available to millions of borrowers because plummeting property values have left them owing more than their homes are worth, rendering them ineligible for a better loan. Others are trapped by poor credit ratings or restrictions imposed by their second mortgages. The Obama administration, which has tried without much success to help some of these borrowers refinance, is looking for ways to enable more of them to do so. There are trade-offs, but it's an effort worth making.

At issue are several trillion dollars' worth of mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that charge interest well above today's prevailing rate. Enabling these borrowers to refinance could save them hundreds of dollars a month. It also would help more of them avoid foreclosure, reducing the amount Fannie and Freddie lose to defaults. That's good for the taxpayers, who are covering the companies' losses. Cutting the borrowers' payments, however, would necessarily trim the revenue collected by Fannie, Freddie and the investors who purchased securities based on those mortgages — potentially by billions of dollars.

Advocates say that the public would come out ahead because the reduced payments would be more than offset by the reduction in defaults and the benefit to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office agreed in a recent report based on one possible implementation of a refinancing plan. Even so, it's not a slam dunk. Some barriers to refinancing, such as those posed by second mortgages, are stubbornly hard to overcome; that's one reason the existing refinancing program for "underwater" borrowers has helped only a fraction of the number anticipated. Nor would the program do much for those most at risk of foreclosure, given that borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments aren't likely to be eligible.

Nevertheless, the government should try to enable more people whose property values have plummeted to refinance. These borrowers are caught in a trap not of their own making; if not for that trap, Fannie, Freddie and investors would have seen their revenues cut long ago. Lowering more borrowers' monthly payments won't cure all of the housing market's many ills, but it will brighten those households' financial outlooks. That will boost consumer spending and avert some foreclosures, helping the communities hit hardest by the housing slump. 

I agree that underwater homeowners should be allowed to refinance.  The alternatives -- either short sales or foreclosures -- only drag down property values for all the other non-underwater neighbors.  Plus, the end result is the same -- no, the investors won't see the profits they were promised, but they wouldn't either if these homes are short saled or foreclosed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New, improved loan fraud through independent "loan coordinators"

A lender told me the following story yesterday: a buyer came to him for a purchase money loan on a particular property.  The buyer had an independent "loan coordinator" working with him in addition to his own Realtor.  Sufficient documentation, including several Wells Fargo bank statements, paycheck stubs, and verification of employment were turned into the lender with the loan application.  Everything was proceeding along just fine.

Then, one of the lender's staff did the last minute check to make sure the bank statements matched the bank records.  They didn't.  The Wells Fargo bank statements were forgeries.  Excellent forgeries, says the lender. 

Needless to say, the loan didn't go through.  The lender says that the independent "loan coordinator" wanted to know exactly what triggered the denial.  The lender thinks the loan coordinator wants to know how to do his job better next time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meet the new neighbors in Glendale -- coyotes!

Residents in North Glendale got a somewhat unwelcome surprise when a family of coyotes moved into an abandoned, fire-damaged house on Brockmont Drive.  Read about it here in the L.A. Times.  As many as seven coyotes may be living in the house, and some of them are in teenagers.

The powers-that-be in Glendale are currently deciding how to deal with the coyote family, which while making all the neighbors a bit nervous, has not caused any real harm...except for the fact that the teenage coyotes stay up late at night partying and playing music by Howlin' Wolf and Three Dog Night at peak volume.  Also, the Acme Supply Company truck has been seen outside the house delivering dynamite and other items used by at least one "wily" coyote to catch roadrunners.

There is no indication in the article about whether the coyotes plan to rehab/remodel the house and whether or not they've applied for any building permits.  The coyote family has not yet rsvp'd for the annual Brockmont block party, but if they come they plan to bring their special rodent kabobs.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

House, er, townhouse of the week in Toluca Lake

This is 4354 Cartwright in Toluca Lake.  The picture doesn't quite do it justice.  It's a 2 bed, 3 bath, 1380 sf. with an attached direct-entry 2-car garage, a loft and four -- yes, four -- decks or patios.  Two of the decks are roof-top and have views.  The building is mid-block away from busy streets and is in a nice residential neighborhood.  You can even walk to Firenze! Or the BMW dealership on Lankershim! Or St. Charles!  And if all that isn't enough, it just had a price reduction to $349k.  And the hoa is a low $230 a month.  I'm very impressed by this townhouse complex -- so much so that my husband and I made an offer on another unit here for ourselves last November (alas, we were outbid.)

Now for the bad news: it's a short sale.  But if you're willing to wait out the process, you'll have a really nice unit.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tune in "Professional Grade" on HGtv and watch Ross and Tracy remodel their bathroom!

Professional Grade is a new HGtv show that runs on Saturday mornings. Here's the official blurb: Savvy and resourceful homeowners tackle a room renovation trying to achieve professional quality results on a limited budget. If they can fool a team of master contractors into thinking they spent more money than their actual out-of-pocket costs — the homeowners will win the difference.

Please make sure to record this on your DVR, because clients and Burbank residents Ross and Tracy Necessary will be the subjects of an upcoming episode.  They remodeled their master bath and did a breathtaking job.  I was on-hand for the "reveal" and shot a couple of videos of the process which you can watch, below.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Let's be careful out there in Studio City and Van Nuys

From a forwarded email:

Hi everybody:

An agent in the Studio City office forwarded this email from a friend

Monday to warn us about

a dangerous man in the area. Please read the email below with the

expectation you will take

extra precaution.

"Please pass this along to your friends, family and co-workers in the

L.A./Valley areas!

I am sending this out to friends in the area to be extra-aware. There is

a serious criminal who

has car-jacked three women in the last two weeks in the Valley (two in

Studio City and one in

Van Nuys). I was one of the victims (see below). This man was just

released from a maximum

security prison and is a junkie. He is about 6'5" tall, black hair down

to his waist (it was

in a pony tail), appears either Hispanic or American Indian, and is

suspected to be in the

North Hollywood area. Each case was a woman alone, sometimes pumping


Last Friday evening, I was car-jacked while exiting the CVS at Laurel

Canyon and Ventura Blvds.

in Studio City. Thank God, I'm OK (only a big bruise) but he got my car,

purse, keys and all my

ID. Studio City is considered a safe area, and there were lots of people

around at the time.

This was a brazen act of opportunity by a dangerous man.

Please spread the word, and take extra care. I am extremely cautious,

but let me tell you it

only took 10 seconds..."

Happy New Year! Four months early and not a moment too soon

September has always felt like the beginning of a new year to me, no doubt because this is when the new school year starts. Real estate-wise, it has always seemed like the end of one selling season and the beginning of another. After all, buyers are looking to buy because interest rates are down and homes are more affordable.  Sellers, inventory is low (actually, lack of inventory is the r.e. market's biggest problem right now, IMO) and some houses which previously had price reductions have now sold over list price.   So let's declare it a new year for real estate in Los Angeles, too. Let's pop the cork on some champagne, put the past behind us and start fresh, si? At least until the traditional Xmas slowdown...

Monday, September 05, 2011

From Sunday's L.A. Times: Read the second part of the headline first. Home prices soar (what?) AND monthly payments are more affordable

Sunday's L.A. times had a syndicated column by Lew Sichelman entitled Home prices soar in some areas as buyers opt for more expensive properties.  Lower mortgage rates are making monthly payments more affordable.  Does it seem that those are two different subjects to you? Well, the first part of the article says,
"[Prices] didn't just rise, though. They shot up by double digits, as much as 54.5% in Kansas City [Kansas City? Really?], almost 39% in Detroit and nearly 28% in Indianapolis from the second quarter last year, according to a survey of the nation's 32 largest metro areas by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Of course, house prices didn't really soar that much in a year's time. What's far more likely is that people in those places and several others bought more than the usual number of expensive properties in the April-May-June period." Okay, that explains it.  
The article then switches horses in mid-stream and discusses low interest rates. 
One consultant states, "Buyers also shouldn't worry about whether prices will continue to fall... because mortgage rates have only one way to go, which is up. Even a small jump in rates will wipe out any savings buyers might achieve by waiting for prices to drop further." And here's an interesting mathmatical take-away: " If prices remain flat and rates rise a full percentage point, to 5.5% from 4.5%, the same $200,000 house will cost 12% more each month to own, Yamano said. And if rates should spring up 2 percentage points, to 6.5%, your mortgage payment would jump 25%."  I don't think anybody needs to worry about interest rates rising today, but the article is correct: they have no place to go but up, and I think it's a good idea for would-be buyers AND sellers to be mindful of this.