September 2010 Archives

September 24, 2010

Who's Buying Houses? First-Timers!

Here's a trend arrow that's pointing upward: The percentage of home buyers who are entering the market for the first time has gone up, from around 35% between 2003 and 2007 to 41% between 2007 and 2009.

Apparently the homebuying public knows a bargain when it sees one! The stats may also be an indicator that, even as serious doubts have been raised about the value of a home as an investment, buyers are remembering that, when all's said and done, a home is a place to live, where you can settle in for the long term without worry about your landlord's plans for the place. If you love it, and can afford it, getting obsessed about how much you could sell it for is an unnecessary exercise.

For more reportage on studies of first-time buyers, see the article, "First-timers grow to 41% of homebuyers," in "Lansner on Real Estate," by the Orange County Register.  And for help buying that first home, check out one of our bestsellers: Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart. 
September 20, 2010

Last-Ditch Ways to Scrounge Up Down Payment Money

Are you among the prospective homebuyers who's checking statements from your every bank account, and shaking every piggy bank, thinking, "There must be more here -- or somewhere?"

Every dollar counts in the quest to put together a down payment, especially now that the lending industry has gone back to requiring 20% down in most cases (though government-backed loans are available with less.)

It is, in fact, possible that you've lost track of some of your money -- and might want to take a look at Consumer Reports October 2010 issue, which contains an article called "Where to find lost loot."

For example, they suggest checking out, a collaborative effort between state governments and various financial institutions. By entering your name, you can search for reports of unclaimed accounts or life insurance proceeds.

Your forgotten 401(k) plans might turn up at Matured savings bonds can be located at

This is when it actually pays to have been forgetful or careless in the past! Happy hunting.
September 13, 2010

Real Estate Ads: An Editor's View

Yes, I can get a bit nitpicky about words, and have been known to deliver tirades to anyone within earshot about my mixed horror and triumph upon finding a typo in, say, The New York Times. Okay, so we've gotten that little disclaimer out of the way.

Now, about the real estate ads. I've been receiving postcards from a local real estate agent, whom I've never met, excitedly telling me about houses she has just sold. The card enticingly tells me:

Originally price upon request

 Huh? When did she last look at the copy on her postcards? (It's got other errors, too, such as "Please call me for a complementary appointment." But getting the complimentary/complementary distinction right is becoming so rare that I'm too bored to dwell on it.)

These postcards are going straight into my file of "Real estate agents never to hire." She may have other fine skills, but if I were selling my house, I'd want someone whose ads wouldn't inspire snickers. And sure, potential buyers can look past the spelling, but carelessness about typos is often an indicator of carelessness in other matters -- like, say, about double-checking the address before you place an ad.

Sound like an unlikely error? It's not. My neighbors' agent put the wrong address on newspaper ads for their first open house. Oops, better luck next week.

I also see regular typos and other problems in our neighborhood free weekly newspaper, which has a thick real estate section.

Like in last Friday's edition, where one ad by a respected agent, which was headlined "Just Listed!" and "Open Sunday," gave plenty of glowing information about the house, including its street address, but failed to mention what city it was in. We're in an area where househunters may be searching in Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, El Cerrito, and Albany, so mentioning the city -- or better yet, the neighborhood -- is more than relevant for people who've narrowed down their search.

Or how about this one: "Quiet, Sunny Backyard w/A Jumble of Flowerso Great Location."


Anyway, may I recommend that before you hire a selling agent, you check his or her listing ads, to make sure they're clear, complete, and accurate? Then, even after hiring someone, insist that you cast your eyes upon every written word concerning your property that will be made public. Even the best real estate agents can miss something, or be mistaken about a factual matter. You don't want your ad to appear in my next blog entry!
September 10, 2010

Househunting Decisions Overwhelmed You?

There are some people who buy a house practically on impulse (sort of like I did just a few months back), and others who ponder the possibilities, do their research, and in a few cases, find themselves looking and looking but never taking the leap.

For the latter category, I recommend reading Karen Aho's article on, called "How to Avoid an Endless House Hunt." And yes, she did quote me correctly regarding the couple who offered to buy the house I recently sold, who hadn't been able to find a single place they agreed on in a year of hunting. I wonder about them sometimes. Let's hope they've since found the place of their mutual dreams.
September 7, 2010

Homeowners: Lower Interest Rates With a Cash-In Refinance

If by chance you've come into a bit of money lately, and are wondering where to invest it, Jack Guttentag offers a suggestion: a home refinance where you pay down a chunk of the loan balance and then reap the rewards of your lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratio in the form of a lower interest rate on your new mortgage.

Get the details here. Guttentag also provides a calculator letting you figure out your rate of return -- perhaps even leading you to decide that it's worth transferring funds out of other underperforming investments for this virtually no-risk strategy.