Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We should all be a bit more like Eli Manning

Okay, I'll confess, I am a tried and true Giants fan.  So I do pay attention to articles and blogs about my favorite team.  I noticed something recently, about Eli Manning's "athletic amnesia".  That really caught my eye.  The article, by Doug Farrar, talks about Eli Manning's athletic amnesia as the " ability to learn from one's mistakes at the same time you avoid the mental and emotional backlash that can happen if you take those mistakes to heart too often".  Oh yeah, I could use a bit of that; learning from mistakes, but not beating myself up.

Believe it or not, in life, as in football (yes, I just said that), it seems even more important for key leaders, or players, to have this "amnesia".  If you are central to the workings of your business, team, family etc you will be involved in and touched by more mistakes, and will need your "amnesia" to learn from them and move on. AND your "team" is affected by your demeanor, so getting down, or beating yourself up over a mistake will have a ripple effect.  Whereas, shaking it off and moving on will be noticed and emulated by your team.

This year's superbowl was contentious in my household, as my daughter is an avid, over the top, Patriots fan.  So there we were, our favorite teams pitted against each other.  In case you didn't watch, the Giants pulled off yet another come back from behind under the leadership of a calm, collected Eli Manning.  Gambling that Emma won't read this, I'll venture to say that a certain Patriots quarterback could use a bit more athletic amnesia.

ap photo/Greg Trott

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Casual Conversation

I stopped in yesterday, to drop my taxes with my accountant at, The Epstein Group.  As you might expect of a conversation between a Realtor and an accountant, we quickly got to market conditions and potential tax changes that may effect the market.

Victor Epstein, as would befit an accountant, has always been very good about keeping up on changes and potential changes in the tax code, and how they might effect his clients.  I am thankful for his attentiveness as I often eke a good little tidbit out of a discussion with him.

"Tell your investor clients to sell", he said.  Now mind you, I am a "buy and hold" sort of a gal, so those are pretty strong words.  The longer version goes something like this.  The "Bush tax cuts" are set to expire, and may or may not be extended.  The Obama health plan (of which I am an ardent supporter) is scheduled to be funded in part by a slight increase in the capital gains tax, and Oregon may be taking a bit from folks' capital gains also.

What Victor was saying, or what my conservative ears heard, was that taxes on capital gains (such as those incurred by the sale of investment property) taxes will be going up.  And though we think the real estate prices will be increasing in the next few years, we expect increases in capital gains taxes will outpace any increases in real estate prices.  So if you have an investment property you are planning to sell in the next few years, now may well be the time.  Call me.

Oh, and take a second to go to Victor's website and check out the "Irreverent" tab, showing the fictional accountants' Hall of Fame.  And scroll down for songs about accountants.  Very fun.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How our legislators may not deliver on homeowner protection

A few weeks ago I wrote about house bills and ideas that could ease the way for Oregonians facing foreclosure.

" House Bill 4137 would add more specific requirements for servicers to follow, including deadlines to respond to borrower inquiries and limits on fees.

Senate Bill 1564 would bar lenders from putting a homeowner in a trial modification program and foreclosing on their home at the same time, the so-called dual-track process.

Senate Bills 1552 and 1576 and House Bill 4140 would require lenders to mediate with homeowners before foreclosing, as Washington, Delaware and Nevada do."

In addition, that blog talked about the emergency regulations Attorney General John Kroger issued, that brought the mortgage services industry under the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

Today, the Oregonian reports, in an article by Elliot Njus, that although the Senate has passed most of the above reforms, Republican leaders in the house have removed much of the homeowner protections.  For instance, instead of barring lenders from using the dual track processes as seen in SB 1564 above, lenders would be require to contact homeowners with whom the lender has not had contact, let the homeowner know if they might qualify for a loan modification and inform them of the scheduled foreclosure date.

The GOP leaders also took out the requirement that lenders actually meet with borrowers before taking their home in foreclosure.  Instead, the new proposal would make mediation voluntary AND ease some legal hurdles for foreclosing.  Other changes include removing the emergency regulations of last month, involving the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act, and a retroactivley validating the Mortgage Electronic Registration System .

A quick primer on MERS:  way back, whenever a mortgage was sold from one financial institution to another, documents were actually filed and recorded in the public records, providing a record of who owned what loan.  In addition to providing accurate information, the lenders paid fees for the recording of the documents.   When mortgage shenigans were in their infancy, MERS was created by the lien holders as a way to "register" ownership and changes of ownership on the loans, while avoiding the fees.  Oregon has long had a rule requiring such filings be recorded.  This discrepancy led to some courts in Oregon saying foreclosures involving MERS were improper and violated state law.  Make note that last year, legislation validating MERS died in a house committee. hmm.

Hello!?  I think these bills were aiming at some protections for homeowners, not making foreclosing by lenders easier.  So what started out as constructive measures intended to focus on specifics of helping homeowners in trouble, becomes something that makes foreclosure easier, doesn't make a lender actually talk to someone before taking their home, and validates a questionable practice of tracking who own what loan.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

How's the Market?

The RMLS released the monthly statistics for January late yesterday.  The trends we have seen over the past months continue, with increased pending sales and closed sales, low inventory and slowly declining prices.

When comparing January 2012 to January 2011, closed sales increased by a whopping 18.3%.  These are the highest sale numbers since January 2007.  Pending sales also grew at a rate of 22.4% and market time shortened from an average days in market of 160 to a more manageable 136.

Still, looking from 2011 to 2012, inventory was down, with 16.5% fewer properties on the market.  Of cousre, many of us real estate agents have been telling our clients not to sell, to wait it out.  It is seeming more and more, that this may be the time to sell.

Prices, may be nearing leveling off.  January 2011's average sales price was $248,900 and for 2012 we saw $249,100.  Is this what the bottom looks like?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Defense of the Warm Up Band

As do many of you, I enjoy seeing live music and make it a point to get out and do so every now and again.  Usually, I am spurred to action by a lead or headliner, and end up getting exposed to the opener, or warm up band.  Yes, no doubt, I am there to see the headliner.

But, along the way, with a bit of patience and an open mind, I have enjoyed and come to really like many warm up bands.  They do, if they are good, warm us up and get us in the mood.  They reflect a bit, on someone's taste affiliated with the band we have come to see.  If the promoter, venue, manager or someone thought to pair these folks together, maybe we should take notice.  Since my days of seeing mega bands in huge stadiums is long gone (anyone go to that Grateful Dead and The Who show at the Oakland Coliseum?), and I am much more about small, intimate settings, perhaps I am ripe for "warm up band appreciation"

And how else does a band get known and get stage time if not by being a warm up band?  Okay, maybe these days groups can go from internet sensation to the top of the play bill, but rarely.  Weren't they all a warm up band at some point?

So here are two warm up bands I was exposed to in the last year or so, and really enjoyed.  At the Decembrists' last show at the Edgefield, there were two warm up bands.  The first, from here in the Portland area, Ages and Ages.  My daughter  and I loved them!  Bought the CD and listen quite often.

And then just recently we were introduced the The Milk Carton Kids, who are touring with Over the Rhine this season.   They remind me of a young "Simon and Garfunkle", only better.  There is something so basic and grounding about the simplicity of one or two people and one or two instruments.  In this case, two guys and two guitars.  Give them a listen, or visit their website where they invite you to download their albums free of charge.

In the Milk Carton Kids case, I saw them as a warm up band in November and headliners in January!  Keep an eye on these guys.

Do you have a favorite music find you'd like to share?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Concrete Counters, Solar Panels and Stainless Steel...

Lots of different materials are being used in new and remodeled homes these days.  With them, come new home repair and maintenance guidelines.  The Oregonian's Homes and Gardens section recently had some good tips.

Limestone and Marble: Acid and grit are the biggest threats to these surfaces, so you might consider sealing them.  Use mild cleansers such as a soap stone cleaner or liquid dish detergent, but go easy.  And avoid cleansers with abrasives, or containing lemon, vinegar or other acids.

Vinyl Windows: Inspect these regularly and clean the window tracks.  Don't use abrasives and never lubricate with WD-40, use a silicone spray instead.

Crawl Spaces and Attics:  Over the years these spaces are sealed tighter and tighter. What used to be a part of your home's ventilation system may no longer be.  You'll want to make extra sure no moisture or water is building up, that will lead to mold.

Hardie Plank/Fiber Cement Siding: Lots of homes are sided with these products, which hold up very well in the Pacific Northwest climate.  But the joints and contact points with windows and trim do need to be caulked regularly to prevent water from getting behind the siding.

Stainless Steel: I love how this stuff looks, and it can be easy to clean, but boy, fingerprints and cooking splatters really show up.  Stainless steel cleansers and polish can help make a barrier against such things.  3M makes a decent product.

Composite Decking:  This stuff is WAY easier to maintain than wood decking, but does need a bit of tending to.  Sweep or hose debris off regularly, and wash at least once a year to prevent mold and mildew.  Power washing may not be a goo idea, and can void some warranties.

Concrete Counter Tops:  Wipe up spills as soon as they occur, use a light dish soap or detergent to clean, and avoid harsh chemicals, such as bleach.  Some consider using a wax to build up a protective film over time, which will create a slick, smooth, easy-to-clean surface. If your countertop begins to show signs of wear and dulling, reapply an additional coat of wax.

Solar Panels: While these don't NEED any real maintenance, a layer of dust and debris can diminish the productivity of your solar panels.  A spray with the hose a few times a year can really help.

Do you have some other tips for maintaining materials around your house?  Please send them my way.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Real Estate Market is Weird

The S &P Case-Shiller Index, recently released for November 2011, showed a distinct and definite decline in home prices.  The S&P Case-Shiller Index looks at a 20-city "weighted average" as a gauge of the market (which also then gives us data on those individual cities).  As Portland is one of those 20 cities, we do get some interesting data and basis for comparison. As this data trails our local RMLS market data by a month, the S&P Case-Shiller Index tends to provide more context and less precision.

In any case, Portland showed a 4.8% decrease in home prices over a year ago, compared to the national decline of 3.7%.  Seattle, showed a 6.3% decrease and interestingly, Phoenix, Arizona, thought of as one of the absolute worst markets in the country, showed a 3.6% decline AND a slight increase from October to November.  hmm

Contrast this to a few local experiences; Ron Milligan, in our office, listed this three bedroom, two bath house in Sellwood on Friday.  Nice house, but not the cream of the crop.  He thought he priced it to sell, but not low by any stretch of the imagination.  This past Sunday's open house drew over 40 parties through, and by Monday he had five or more ( I haven't heard the latest) offers in his hand.

And Alexis Wolf, in our office, is about to list a condominium.  Again nice property, good value, but nothing incredible.  She has been chatting about it before it is listed and has generated quite the buzz.

And Jamie Orr, also in our office, has had this house listed for TWO YEARS.  Yes, the price has come down a lot and was probably going to come down again in the coming weeks.  Until this weekend...two offers!

I'm not denying the S&P Case-Shiller report.  At all.  But some combination of the low inventory of decent houses in Portland, combined with low interest rates and buyers tired of waiting on the sidelines  is equaling activity.

Read the most recent S&P Case-Shiller report

Sellers, we NEED good houses on the market.  If you've been waiting it out, now might be the time to get on with it and sell.  Call me if you need an updated market analysis.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Solar Power Update

Yesterday we had the guys from Imagine Energy in to give us an update on options for residential solar power installations in the Portland area.  Though it has been only 18 months since Don and I got ours installed, a whole new program has become available.  A California company, SunRun, has a lease program, driving the entry cost into such a project much lower.

SunRun leases you the panels for 20 years. You pay an up front, one time lease fee.  This fee can vary a bit by which is your power company, but is somewhere around $6000.  The system is installed.  As with ownership solar, there are certain requirements as to your electric panel and system, and the condition of the roof.  You get the Oregon State Residential Tax Credit of $6000, paid out in $1500 over four years.  You get any benefits of net metering; that is your power company buys any extra power you generate at the same rate at which they sell you power.

SunRun gets, and re-sells on the secondary market, the remaining tax credits and incentives.  SunRun maintains and monitors your system for the life of the lease.  At the end of the lease period there is a buy out option.  Preliminary calculations show this buy out will be low as Sun Run has little interest in paying to remove the panels from your roof, and ending up with a supply of used solar panels.

Wow.  What a deal.  You still get the same smooth, professional service from Imagine Energy;  the one point of contact we found so nice.  There are even some financing options available for that initial $6000 cost.  Umpqua Bank has a nice option through their Greenstreet program.  Get in touch with me, or Josh Halley at Imagine Energy (  for more information.