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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fund raisers for a unique food pantry…

This is a time of the year when there are numerous fund raising activities going on. There are a couple of fundraising activities in the local Huron Valley area that are particularly worthy of note because of the unique charity that they support.

Our area, like most areas in the country these days, has quite a few families who are dealing with hardship and are unable to properly feed the family. We are blessed to have the Community Sharing Outreach Center Food Pantry in Highland to help those families with free food. Carolyn and I always ask the attendees at our annual Real Estate One Christmas party to bring food to donate to the Food Pantry and always have several bags to take in after the party.

Some time ago the people at Community Sharing noticed that some of their supported families were sharing what little they had with their family pets, because they couldn’t afford to feed them either. So, the Community Sharing people started a Pet Food Pantry, which they believe is unique in MIchigan and maybe in the country. Local vets and pet owners in the community immediately began supporting the effort to help feed family pets. Peter Barnes and Julie Hass, owners of Veterinary Care Specialists became especially committed to seeing this effort succeed and have spearheaded a couple of local fund raising efforts.

A committee was formed to create a calendar for 2012 that features the pets of local business owners, each of whom donated to have their pets featured in the calendar. Carlos Allison of The Digital Document Store in Milford donated the printing of the calendar and several merchants agreed to carry the calendar. All of the proceeds from the sale of the calendar go directly to support the Community Sharing Pet Food Pantry. Calendars are $6 each or $5 apiece for 10 or more.

The next fund raiser is upcoming – getting your pet’s picture taken with Santa. This event will be held on Dec 3rd and the 10th at the Pettibone Creek Powerhouse, aka. the Milford Powerhouse, at 225 West Liberty St in Milford (Google Map that, so you can find it). This event is also sponsored by Veterinary Care Specialists and supported by Friends of the Powerhouse. For a donation of pet food or cash, you’ll get a nice picture of your pet with Santa and the digital file of that picture. You can take that picture file to The Digital Document Store (DDS) in Milford and they’ll turn it into Christmas cards for you to send out. DDS owner, Carlos Allison, will donate 10% of the proceeds from each specially priced card printing order to the Pet Food Pantry.

To find out more about the Pet Calendar and the Santa Paws pictures with Santa event
s, visit my web site – – and click on the pictures for both on the right hand side of the home page.

If you’d like to support this worthy and unique cause, please send donations to Community Sharing Outreach Center, PO Box 405, Highland, Michigan 48357. Let them know if your donation is for the Pet Food Pantry only and let them know that you heard about it here and/or on my Move to Milford web site. If you are local, buy a calendar at any of these locations and then plan on getting your pet’s picture taken with Santa on the 3rd or 19th of December – it’s fun and supports a great cause.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Try a little empathy...

“Wise sayings often fall on barren ground, but a kind word is never thrown away.” (Sir Arthur Help) from the Jack’s Winning Words Blog.

How often have you heard a Realtor spout off about their real estate knowledge and experience when all that the would-be seller is looking for at the time is a kind word about the situation that is forcing the sale?

In today’s market, in many parts of the country, expressing some empathy and sympathy with short sellers or foreclosed clients is more helpful than spouting off a list of certifications and experience with distressed sales. The Realtor will get the chance to prove the value of that training later. For the moment, trying a little understanding and kindness when dealing with these situations seems to be the better approach.

Let’s face it, these sales are almost always off on the wrong foot already; and, statistically, the prospect for actually making the short sale before the place is foreclosed is below 50%. A long, frustrating process lies ahead, so taking the time on the front-end to establish a relationship based upon understanding and empathy is a much better start. The seller not only needs someone to sell their house, they often need someone to commiserate with, too.

In fact, many of the calls that I get about these situations result in only the one meeting. We determine during that meeting if trying a short-sale is even worth the effort. Sometimes things are too far gone and the fporeclosure process is already well underway. In those cases, having a good cry and then facing up to the need to move on when the foreclosure process has run its course is the best that the owner can do. Whether the owner can proceed to try a short-sale or not, having a meeting with a Realtor and getting a good assessment of their situation is worthwhile. At least they will have a better understanding of the process that they are facing and the options that they may still have.

So, give me a call. We'll meet. We'll talk. We may have a good cry. Maybe we'll pray about it. In the end, you'll know where you stand, what your options are, and that someone else cares.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nibbling at the bullet and letting Citigroup off the hook…

The new HARP 2.0 rules that go into effect soon are certainly helpful for many homeowners who wan to stay in their homes, but who would like to refinance at current low mortgage rates; however, they do little to actually stimulate the housing market. The big bullet that is yet to be bitten is getting the banks to swallow the lost housing equity in this market and free up more homes for sale.

I’ve seen a number of proposals that hinge on getting the government more involved in the process. Most of them have the government ending up owning the homes temporarily and then eating the losses. To my way of thinking this is just a way to disguise yet another bailout of the big banks. They got themselves into this mess with their loose (some might even say reckless) mortgage lending practices and their greedy practices of monetizing the loans in pools of investment bonds. They need to feel the pain of those mistakes, perhaps by cutting out the outrageous bonuses that they hand out to the very clowns that got them into the mess in the first place.

I read yesterday in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek that Citigroup has recently been handed yet another sweetheart settlement deal by the SEC regulators. Citigroup agreed to a settlement of $285 Million in an SEC complaint that they knowingly created and sold to investors a complex financial instrument based loosely upon earlier Citigroup mortgage pool bonds. Basically it was a bet on a bet. The thing that the SEC alleged is that the Citigroup people not only knew that this was a sucker bet (it was designed to fail), but they also put their money on the failure – they bet against their own investment. Of course it did fail; however, from the fees and winning bet on its failure Citigroup made as much as $700 Million.

If true (which Citigroup did not have to admit in the sweetheart deal with the SEC) I’d certainly like to know where this betting window is. It’s like being able to enter a nag in the Kentucky Derby, talking up its chances to drive up the betting line, betting against it and winning big when the nag loses. So what if you get fined $285 Million, if you made $700 Million? That is, after all, capitalism at its finest.

How are these things related? Well they both have home mortgages at their core. Both illustrate the government casting about for answers or direction, yet unwilling to take on the corporate corruption that is at the center of much of the mess that we are in. Government at its most basic level is supposed to represent the governed – the people. Our system has devolved to the point where it represents those who can afford to buy the attention of the politicians – special interest groups (who most often bully rather than buy that attention) and wealthy corporations. They are too big to fail or too loud to ignore. In either case their voices and demands most often drown out the voices of regular people.

Given the place where we are at right now, there is little hope that real solutions to the current housing crisis are forthcoming from Washington. Instead, we will likely see the slow process of correction play out in the form of continued high foreclosure rates and short sales. The only group that apparently is not too big to allow to fail in the eyes of our politicians is that group mentioned in the front of the U.S. Constitution, “We the people…”

Monday, November 14, 2011

How does life strike you?

“Happiness depends more on how life strikes you than on what happens.” (Andy Rooney) from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

I liked Andy Rooney, even if he was considered to be a curmudgeon; and I certainly agree with this quote from him. Stuff happens, some of it good and some of it bad; and, it’s how you perceive things (how it strikes you) that makes the difference in life. If you are the laid-back type, who can role with the punches that life doles out; you’ll probably be around to see many more of them that the type that fights and rants and rages at every adversity.

My wife and I kid all the time about me being a laid back kind of guy (which I am not). Just her poking me about a rant that I might be on helps me stop and relax a bit and see the humor in the situation. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see any good or humor in a particular situation. And sometimes the most humorous thing to see is yourself on a rant about something meaningless that you can’t change anyway.

As I get older I’m getting better at controlling my reactions to things that I can’t control anyway. Perhaps that is one of the secrets of life or at least of prolonging life. So, be happy and see the humor in life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Entering the slow season off a lull...

Recently, the NAR chief economist, Lawrence Yun, said the housing market is being excessively constrained. “A combination of weak consumer confidence and continuing tight lending criteria held back home buyers…” Yun was commenting on the reports that pending homes sale declined in September, down 4.6 percent from the month prior, even though they are up year-over-year as compared to September of 2010.

The report indicated that the largest decline was seen in the Midwest, which fell 6.2 percent for the month. The South and Northeast were a close second and third, falling 5.5 and 4.7, respectively. The West held up the best in pending sales for September, declining only 2.1 percent.

Yun cited the usual suspects – tight lending practices and buyer fears about the economy – as well as the confusing U.S. monetary policies and Fed actions that have actually served to hurt the market by lowering the lending limits before jumbo rates are imposed.

Finally, and certainly no surprise, he cited uncertainty about employment and the stubbornly high unemployment rate as another factor. The old “no job, no problem” lending days are long gone, seemingly replaced by the new attitude of lenders – “good job, so what – show me the money.” Lenders are demanding higher down payments and certainly much more documentation about a buyer’s wherewithal.

One thing that he didn’t cite is that the seller side is contributing to the problem, too. So many homeowners are underwater that the normal flow of homes into the inventory pool from people who want to move has just about dried up (at least in this area). These are people who would normally be selling to downsize in retirement or perhaps selling to take a new job or maybe even selling to move up the housing ladder. They are all stuck right now; so, they are selling or buying. The lack of good, move-in-ready inventory from those types of sellers is also restricting the market by giving would-be buyers much less to choose from.

The Fed seems to be casting about looking for ways to help get the housing market re-energized, but to little avail so far. A part of the reason is that they are also trying to keep their buddies in the banking industry whole. Remember that these are the clowns who created the free-lending environment and the monetized pools of mortgages that helped precipitate the housing bubble and subsequent crash. Just about everything from raw bail outs to new lending programs are still designed to protect those same bankers/investors. After all, they make the big campaign contributions and as John Arbuckle used to say, “You get what you pay for.”

One simple way to kick start the housing market, and likely help the economy overall in the long run, would be to force the banks/investors to write down the lost value of the loans that they are holding and refinance at the current value. Right now they are holding those loans on their books as assets at the old value of the loan. That equity value is gone for them and the homeowners involved.

Currently it’s a standoff between the homeowners and the banks to see who blinks first. Most of the time it’s the homeowner who blinks, because he either has to sell or can’t afford to service the loan at the old value. Only then does the bank “recognize the loss”, which is has known about all along. There are avenues available through regulations or changes in accounting practices that could force the banks to recognize those losses now and let everyone get on with life. Would that be painful? Yes. Does it have to be catastrophic? No. There are ways through bank capital requirements policy and federal tax policy that those losses could be softened for the banks. Yes, they would still be losses and the banks are fighting to avoid that with all of their lobbying money.

So, as we enter the Holiday season, which generally signals a slowdown in real estate business, we are faced with another season where a lump of coal is al lthat is slated to show up in our stockings. It doesn’t have to be that way, but first we’ve got to get mean old Mr. Scrooge (the banks) turned around somehow. Anybody know any good ghosts?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October is in the books...

I finalized the local area sales report for October last night and published the figures on my Web site , so another month in 2011 is in the books. It “felt” like October was dong a little better as we were going through it, so I decided to look back and see how it compared to September of this year and also compare it to October of 2010. I would look at August numbers too, except that August is a “last minute rush” sales month as people try to get into houses before school starts.

The sales for three of the townships that I track were as follows:

Milford –

October 2011:

20 sales (45% distressed), with an average sale price of $180,990, at an average price of $85/Sq Ft

September 2011:

14 sales (43% distressed), with an average sale price of $174,815, at an average price of $93/Sq Ft

October 2010:

14 sales (36% distressed), with an average sale price of $188,366, at an average price of $86/Sq Ft

I didn’t keep the same statistics back before 2010; however, I did keep enough to be able to discern the number of sales in Milford in October for the last few years – 19 sales in 2009, 18 in 2008 and 11 in 2007.

So, perhaps the feeling that things are getting better has merit. Sales are up in Milford, even if a significant portion of them involve distressed homes. That is just an unfortunate fact of life these days.

Highland –

October 2011:

20 sales (50% distressed), with an average sale price of $160,303, at an average of $78/Sq Ft

September 2011:

32 sales (37% distressed), with an average sale price of $180,575, at an average of $91/Sq Ft.

October 2010:

11 sales (55% distressed), with an average sale price of $114,036, at an average price of $81/Sq Ft

So, Highland is doing significantly better than last year; although sales were down a bit from September of this year.

Commerce –

October 2011:

33 sales (52% distressed), with an average sale price of $172,916, at an average price of $84/Sq Ft.

September 2011:

44 sales (42% distressed), with an average sale price of $203,000, at an average of $98/Sq Ft

October 2010:

29 sales (45% distressed), with an average sale price of $187,220, at and average of $74/Sq Ft.

So sales cooled a bit in Commerce Township from September to October for this year, but did better year over year as compared to last year.

To see all of the statistics for these and the other 6 townships that I track, go to my Move to Milford web site and click on the “What has sold in the area” choice.

Although the statistics that I tracked changed over the years, there is sales data there going back 4 years for some of the markets.