Bad Air?

The American Lung Association released it’s 2010 “State of the Air” report and SLO County was listed as one of the worst in the country for Ozone. According to a news site the data was thrown off by a sampling station in the Eastern most part of the County plus other samples being taken when the wildfires were happening in Santa Barbara County.

What I thought was interesting are the details the report contained about how much of the County’s population has respiratory problems.

Total Population (SLO County): 265,297
Under 18: 49,431
Over 65: 38,323

Pediatric Asthma: 4,653
Adult Asthma: 18,160
Chronic Bronchitis: 9,359
Emphysema: 3,670
Cardiovascular Disease: 78,385
Diabetes: 19,440

Read the full report here

Light, Bright and Airy Home Staging Tips

Spring has sprung, which means Real Estate Selling Season is here!!  This is a special time of year when buyers come out of the woodwork to buy houses- make sure that your’s is ready to make a great impression on them!  Here are some easy tips to get you started for a great sale:

  • Clean, Clean, Clean
  • If your interior needs paint, warm neutral colors will appeal to broadest audience (Try to avoid pinks, purples and bright blues).
  • Tidy up and refresh your yard
  • Depersonalize your kitchen and your walls (too much stuff in your kitchen and on your walls detracts from your home to buyers)
  • Most houses shouldn’t spend tons of money on remodeling before selling, usually some quick simple changes can give the “refreshed” look that is most important.

If you think you may need home staging help -Bids from us are free,  and you may be surprised that staging may cost far less that you had imagined.  Happy Home Selling!   Feel free to contact me directly with questions.

Next Best Thing To Being At The Beach

Hopefully this video will let you escape to the beach, at least for a few minutes.  View it at full screen with the audio turned up a bit to get the full experience!

I took this High Definition movie today with the new Kodak Playsport video camera. As you’ll see in the video, the camera is waterproof. I made a rig this past weekend to mount it in the sand. Worked like a champ!

Housing Data

Stronger than expected housing data let mortgage rates slightly higher last week. Existing Home Sales rose 6.8% in March and total housing inventory dropped to an eight-month supply. First-time buyers accounted for 44% of existing home sales in March, and distressed homes accounted for 35% of sales. Sales have been above year-ago levels for nine straight months, and inventory has trended down from year-ago levels for 20 straight months. March New Home Sales were even better, jumping 26.9% from February to the highest monthly rate since last July. This marked the largest single-month increase in new home sales since 1963. The South and Northeast posted the strongest gains, with sales in the South rising 43.5%, 35.7% in the Northeast, 4.3% in the Midwest and 5.7% in the West. The chief economist of the National Association of Realtors credited the federal homebuyer tax credit for the strong March housing data. Currently, the 30-Year Fixed sits at 4.750% (4.898% APR) and the 15-Year Fixed is at 4.250% (4.504% APR). There is a Fed meeting on Wednesday this week, and we will also see first-quarter Gross Domestic Product numbers on Friday.

The Census Bureau today released its Residential Vacancies and Homeownership data for the first quarter of 2010. Homeownership in the US declined to 67.1% in the first quarter of 2010, equaling the rate recorded during the first quarter of 2000. The recent number is 0.2% lower than one year ago. The rate hit its all time high mark of 69.2% in both the second and fourth quarters of 2004. Seniors continue to have the highest rates of ownership while the greatest decrease is among the youngest homeowners. The current rate of 80.6% is among the highest rates recorded in the last five years by persons over the age of 65 while the rate of homeownership for persons under 35 years of age was 38.9%, the lowest recorded for that age group in the five years for which the census provided data.

Target Coming To San Luis Obispo

Work has begun on San Luis Obispo’s long awaited Target Store on Los Osos Valley Road. If all goes smoothly, they hope to open the 140,000 square foot store by July 2011. Other positive shopping news for the city include the newly opened T.J. Maxx store in the Irish Hills Center where Linens `n Things was located. It will share the 56,000 square foot building with New Frontiers, the health food grocery store that is moving from Foothill Blvd to the former Circuit City space this summer. Old Navy also just completed an extensive $1 million makeover in the same center. Exciting Stuff!!!!!

Zillow Zestimates, +/- 20%

Zillow has always been a sore subject with some Realtors with their zestimates of home values not being accurate.  Well Zillow now is being open just how accurate they are.

According to this table, Zillow isn’t too accurate with their zestimates for SLO County home values. They do better with other counties but SLO County is one of the worst.  A whopping 42% of homes are more than 20% off of their zestimate.  So for example, a home that zillow says is $400K, may only be worth $320K (or less).  Only 18% of their estimates are within 5% of the actual sale price which, to me, makes zillow zestimates pretty worthless.

So…you may wonder why I included Zillow Zestimates on the listing details for the new MLS Map Search  if they are worthless.  I did this because there’s a chance a GOOD realtor can use this Zillow info to negotiate a better deal for their clients. With 87% of Realtors on the Central Coast only selling 3 or fewer homes to buyers in 2009, there’s a lot of inexperienced realtors out there who may not know how to respond to an agent with good negotiating skills that presents zillow data.  Many homeowners (and realtors) aren’t educated about zillow so it may mean an experienced realtor in this market can turn zillow zestimates into thousands of more dollars for their client if the zillow zestimate is to their client’s advantage.

I’m a Fan of

I’ve used about 20 times so far. This is the travel site where you can say what you’re willing to pay for a hotel room. Captain Kirk is on the site and he hasn’t let me down in finding a good deal. I thought I’d share my tips on how to bid on rooms.

I don’t low-ball the bid so it raises the chances it won’t be accepted. If your bid isn’t accepted, you have to do something more than rebidding $5 higher. You either need to add an area in your search, or lower your required Stars (2-star, 3-star, etc).

If you are looking to stay in say the Bay Area or in Los Angeles and not particular where you stay, you have the better chance to get a good value as you can add neighboring areas if you rebid. There’s usually around 3 cities in a defined area in the bigger metropolitan areas.

Also, if you are going off-peak, you’ll have a better chance of getting a lower bid accepted. Off-peak for tourist areas are mid-week in something other than summer. For business hotels, it’s Fri/Sat.

Most of my bids have been accepted between $55-$60 for 3-star hotels. I’ve used priceline for rooms in San Diego, Los Angeles (went to a concert at the Greek theater and got a room at the Beverly Hilton for $70), Silicon Valley, East Bay, Chico, and Seattle.

Priceline will display the typical rate of a room in the area you’re looking at before you bid so you’ll get an idea if you are hitting some peak time. If the rate for a room in the Star rating you want is $170, I doubt you’ll get an accepted bid at $60. Be realistic about your bid and don’t try for the “up to 50% lower” Captain Kirk tells you. What I usually do if I bid on an area I haven’t bid before is to look at what the room rates are if you choose the hotel. If you see a $79 2-star Best Western, I’m just happy if I can get a 3-star room for the same price. My wife and I like 3-star rooms as they are cleaner and the beds are more comfortable.

Priceline adds a fee on your bid (for them) which is $10. So, to get that $79 price, you’ll need to have your bid accepted at $69.

I have found one major negative with priceline bidding though. Two times now I’ve had a bid accepted by a hotel that charges you to park. One was in downtown Seattle and the other in Walnut Creek (the Marriott by the BART station, probably the only hotel in Walnut Creek that charges for parking). Adding a $20-$25 a day parking fee pretty much wipes out the priceline bidding advantage. I called priceline to complain that parking fees should be included in the nightly rate for bidding but they said parking is like long distance phone calls and not part of the room rate.

Overall, we’ve saved a bunch by using priceline bidding. While you lose the ability to choose the particular hotel you want to stay, you do get a good deal. Give it a try!

Rate Update and Credit Scores

Economic data and a stock market milestone were overshadowed last week when the Security and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs.  On Friday, the SEC claimed that Goldman Sachs marketed packages of mortgages put together by a hedge fund that would profit if the mortgages fell in value. Goldman Sachs is accused of misstating and omitting key facts about these financial products tied to sub-prime mortgages as the US housing market was starting to falter. The hedge fund ultimately turned a $1 billion profit when the bulk of the mortgages defaulted, and the investors lost a similar amount. This will likely be the first of many law suits as the SEC examines other investment banker’s roles in the mortgage meltdown. Some names that have surfaced already include Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Bank of America. Earlier in the week, the Federal Reserve Beige Book report revealed that overall economic conditions improved in nearly all parts of the country, with many regions reporting increased activity in residential housing markets. The March Core Consumer Price Index rose at a 1.1% annual rate, indicating a very low level of inflation. March Housing Starts also exceeded expectations, rising 2% from February and 20% from one year ago, to the highest level since November 2008. This data suggesting a gradually improving economy was highlighted by the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching an 18-month high on Thursday. Currently, the 30-Year Fixed sits at 4.750% (4.898% APR) and the 15-Year Fixed is at 4.125% (4.379% APR). We will undoubtedly learn more about the mishaps at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms this week. Additionally, we will see New and Existing Home Sales and the Producer Price Index.

The tightening credit markets have led to higher qualification standards for mortgage loans, especially with respect to borrower credit scores. A few short years ago, borrowers could obtain multi-million dollar loans with poor credit history or even no credit history. Today, a prospective borrower would be lucky to find a lender that will entertain a loan to someone with a credit score below 620, and will receive far superior interest rates for scores exceeding 720. Credit scores can range from 300-850 and are a statistical calculation based on payment history (35%), credit utilization (30%), length of history (15%), credit type (10%), and recent credit checks (10%). Items stick around for seven years and bankruptcy will remain for ten years. Maxing out a credit card, a 30-day late payment, debt settlement, foreclosure (150 points) or bankruptcy (150-200 points) all negatively impact credit scores. The impact of a short-sale on credit scores may be less severe than a foreclosure depending on whether the borrower stays current on their payments and how the lender reports the sale. Some tips to consider if you are looking to improve your scores are to make sure any derogatory items being reported are accurate. Oftentimes erroneous reporting can be easily fixed with a simple letter or phone call to the creditors, and the scores will jump dramatically. Another easy way to improve your scores is to limit your credit card utilization to 50% of the maximum available balances. It is better to carry small balances on many cards than to carry a large balance on a single card. Also, most banks offer some sort of online bill payment program that will aid consumers in making on-time payments to creditors.