Home pools produce more pleasure than profit

Paul Folino created the swimming pool in his Coto de Caza backyard as a mini version of a Shangri La he admired in Maui. The resort-style pool includes cascading rocks and waterfalls, a shallow lounging area, grotto, waterslide and spa. Folino, who figures he pumped about $250,000 into building the pool, didn’t care how much he’d recoup when he sold the home.

“I never designed this thinking of the actual value of the property,” said Folino, a retired executive who lives in Los Ranchos Estates. “I put this in for the family’s pleasure … even the dogs go down the slide.”

In some areas, such as Southern California, homebuyers expect to see swimming pools, and the more tricked out, the better, real estate agents say. For other homebuyers, however, a backyard pool is a turnoff. It can represent liability, a danger for children, a drain on the family budget, and, sometimes, one extra expense: having to fill it in.

Real estate agents say a pool keeps some shoppers from contemplating a house, even with the current limited supply of properties on the market.

“There’s a lot of individuals out there, they don’t want a pool,” said Kristi Kirkpatrick of Coldwell Banker Previews International in Newport Beach, Calif. “They don’t want that risk; they don’t want to be concerned with smaller kids.”

Some homebuyers, she said, have told her: “We don’t even want to look at homes that have a pool. Don’t show them to us.”

Other buyers can be satisfied with the pools kept up by homeowner associations and don’t see the need for a private pool at their houses, agents say.

For many, pools are a personal preference rather than an expense that homeowners should expect to get back when the property is sold.

“It’s not really an investment,” said Leland Hill, owner of Associate Appraisers of America in Seal Beach. “If people put in a simple pool, it’s probably going to cost them anywhere from $45,000 to $65,000, a small pool, and I’m not talking about an infinity pool or anything like that. Once it’s there, that’s great, but they’re probably only going to get a fraction of that back in the market.”

Hill said his brother, a landscaping contractor, gets several requests a year to remove pools, charging $15,000 and up to yank them out of the ground and fill the space.

Real estate appraisers say that whether the pool is a plus or pitfall when the home is resold depends on several variables, especially if the pool is too much of a personal statement, out of style or in need of repairs.

Generally, said Ryan Lundquist, an appraiser in Sacramento, Calif., “Pools are a classic example of an over-improvement, because they cost more than the market is willing to pay for them.”

Lundquist likened the depreciating value of a swimming pool to driving a luxury car off the lot.

“People generally like pools, so it’s easy to assume they are big-ticket items,” he said. “Moreover, pools can cost quite a bit to install, so it’s understandable to think they will automatically increase value. On top of that, people have seen houses with pools sell for more.”

Lundquist, however, said he would deduct value from a house that has no pool if comparable homes in the neighborhood have them.

Folino, retired chairman of the board at Emulex, won’t get dinged for that.

Real estate broker John Evans said Folino’s lavish swimming pool is an important marketing tool for the 9,000-square-foot home, set on two acres with a barn, stables and a riding arena. The house, built in 2004, is for sale at $5.99 million.

“Most of the properties in the Estates have pools,” said Evans of The Evans Group in Coto de Caza, standing in Folino’s backyard as two of the family’s dogs frolicked in the water on a hot August day. “It’s just part of the ambiance. It’s an emotional thing. Can you imagine if it wasn’t here?”

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6 Smart Home Remodeling Tips


There’s no guarantee that the dollar you spend on remodeling today will come back to you if you have to sell your home. Try these six tips for spending remodeling dollars wisely no matter what the project.


1. Match Materials to the Neighborhood

Using low-end remodeling finishes in a high-end neighborhood diminishes  your home’s value, and putting high-end finishes in a lower-priced  neighborhood won’t push your home’s sale price much above the last sale price.


2. Do The Job Right

If you can’t do professional quality remodeling work, hire someone who can. Nobody pays top dollar for amateur workmanship.


3. Blend in With the Neightbors

If you over-improve, you’ll get less at resale. Would you pay full price for a mansion located in a trailer park?


4. Think Timeless

Today’s trendy remodeling finish choices are tomorrow’s dated decor. Even a beautifully executed remodeling project fades in value over time. Brass bathroom fixtures, anyone?


5. Finish Existing Spaces First

A remodel that turns storage areas (think basement or attic) into useable space trumps adding completely new rooms. It’s cheaper to finish existing spaces than add new ones.


6. Make Sure Additions Aren’t Really Subtractions

A third bedroom transformed into a walk-in closet might bring you bliss, but it eliminates a bedroom and will lower your home value at resale.

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New group aims to lobby for homeowners’ rights


A newly formed national nonprofit seeks to become the voice of homeowners, much in the same way that AARP is the voice of consumers over the age of 50.

America’s Homeowner Alliance, whose advisory board includes representatives from well-regarded consumer and community groups as well as housing industry professionals, formally launched this month. It hopes to attract 250,000 members within a year.

There have been membership-driven homeowner advocacy groups and grass-roots alliances formed in the past, ones whose efforts revolved around some of the same issues that the alliance hopes to take on for homeowners, like the mortgage interest deduction. None of those organizations has generated anywhere near the name recognition of AARP, though, which claims more than 38 million members.

But with more than 75 million homeowners in the United States and millions of renters who one day might purchase a home, and much discussion about seismic changes to how people buy and maintain homes, group founder Phil Bracken thinks the alliance’s timing is right.

Bracken, a 15-year Wells Fargo executive, said he started working on the organization two years ago, after his retirement. He is chief policy officer of government and industry relations for Radian Guaranty, the mortgage insurance subsidiary of Radian Group.

“While consumer groups and other housing industry organizations clearly have an interest in advancing sustainable home ownership, this isn’t their exclusive role,” Bracken said. “They have many other things they advocate and work on.”

An annual membership in the national organization costs $20. By comparison, membership in AARP costs $16 a year. For that sum, homeowner alliance members will get access to a points-based rewards purchasing program at chains like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sears, which might provide the hook to entice some consumers.

Its advocacy efforts will include research and lobbying to defend the mortgage interest deduction; preserve low down payment mortgages and the popular 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage product; push for more lending for home construction; and encourage more private capital in the mortgage market. Some members of the group will register as lobbyists, Bracken said.

“There really are only two things that affect public policy in America,” he said. “Those are money and votes. Homeowners can’t compete on money. The voice of the people is the platform for moving public policy over the next 20 years.”

The alliance also hopes to act as an ombudsman, and it plans to call out the bad actors in the housing industry as well as publish a list of “preferred providers” that will act like a Better Business Bureau related to home ownership.

Tino Diaz, former chairman of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, will serve as the group’s president.

The advisory board includes members from nonprofits like the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Consumer Federation of America, National Fair Housing Alliance and National Urban League, as well as groups dedicated to serving the interests of specific demographic groups. Representatives from Quicken Loans and Ginnie Mae also are part of the advisory board that will sign off on the group’s public policy positions.

Not so rosy: The latest unemployment report showed the nation’s jobless rate hit a 41/2-year low in August, but the number of jobs created was less than expected and there was evidence that people gave up looking for work.

There was another number tucked into that report that has Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko worried about the housing market: The percentage of employed people ages 25 to 34 is at its lowest point in the past 12 months.

“Without jobs, fewer young adults will buy, rent or even move out of their parents’ homes, which holds back future household formation and longer-term demand for new construction,” Kolko said. “Young adults are struggling in the job market.”

(Source: Chicago Tribune Company, LLC)

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Happy ending to yearlong short sale ordeal

A couple of weeks ago, we received a letter from a homeowner who was at her wits’ end.

She wanted to buy a home as a short sale in Michigan. She made an offer that went nowhere and the house ultimately went into foreclosure. She and her family moved into the home, only to be told by a law firm engaged on behalf of the servicer that Freddie Mac doesn’t allow tenants to purchase occupied homes. She then contacted her congressional representative (which didn’t seem to produce any results), and then us.

She wrote: “I have great credit and have been preapproved for the purchase. And I will gladly accept the home as is without our government having to spend one more dime of your money or mine. It seems so simple. Can you help point me in the right direction?”

After the story ran, we heard from Brad German, a spokesperson for Freddie Mac. He was concerned about what had happened in the case and offered to track it down for us.

Ilyce spoke to the homeowner and it turned out that in the three weeks since she had written to us, her offer had finally been negotiated through Freddie Mac’s Home Steps program. But it had taken nearly a year from the time she first made an offer as a buyer to the time when her offer was being considered. She wanted to know why.

After deconstructing the timeline, a couple of things became clear: Communication about where homes are in the process of short sale and foreclosure is probably not as clear as it should be, and the right people aren’t getting the right information in a timely manner. Moreover, the processes of short sales and foreclosures remain opaque, mired in legalities that aren’t necessarily rooted in common sense.

Poor communication and an opaque process continue to confound borrowers, buyers, sellers, lenders and servicers alike. In the interests of helping shed a little sorely-needed light on the subject, German spent a couple of days digging in.

It turns out that a short sale couldn’t happen on the property because the lender and investors couldn’t come to an agreement with the actual owner of the property (who was not the person writing to us). In fact, that person went AWOL and no one could track him down.

“We were open to the short sale and reviewed the documents,” German said, “But we couldn’t find the seller to reach an agreement.”

When the seller couldn’t be reached, the property couldn’t be sold. To clear the title, the property was scheduled for a foreclosure sale in January. In Michigan, there is a six-month redemption period (in some states there is no redemption period), in which the owner of the property has the opportunity to reclaim it from foreclosure.

German says that during the redemption period, Freddie Mac “goes dark,” meaning the company has no contact with any buyers regarding the property. He admits that, up to the point that the property goes into foreclosure, all contact is with the owner of the property, which didn’t happen since the owner was AWOL. Freddie Mac assumes the seller’s broker is communicating information to the buyer’s agent, who then communicates it to the buyer. That apparently didn’t happen in this case.

Once the property was foreclosed on and went into redemption, and the six months were up (on July 9, in this case), a couple of things happened.

“We now had clear title and could move forward with the sale,” German explained. At the same time, Freddie Mac had received an inquiry about the homeowner from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and was starting to do research. “While we were processing the inquiry, we were also working with the buyer to explore other options.”

The buyer had moved into the property when the prior owner was still around and had a lease that expired in May. At that point, she went into a month-to-month lease with Freddie Mac’s Home Steps program.

“We regularly sell foreclosures to tenants through Home Steps, and I’m not sure why she was told otherwise. We also sell to investors who plan to rent out the property,” German explained.

Once the property was in Freddie Mac’s REO inventory, it was available to be sold. German said that once the company received proof of funds (which happened in early August), it provided the tenant/buyer with closing proceeds equal to 3 percent of the sales price toward closing costs and gave her $500 toward her choice of homeowner’s warranty. The tenant/buyer is purchasing the home in “as is” condition.

When Ilyce called the tenant/buyer, she confirmed that the sale was on track even though the closing date hadn’t yet been scheduled. German said that the tenant/buyer has a personal contact who she can call to make sure the closing does get scheduled. She is thrilled.

The story has some lessons for others who are either trying to purchase a short sale or a foreclosure from a lender’s REO inventory.

To start, short sales are complicated because they involve multiple parties. “You have a buyer, seller, real estate agents, the lien holder, sometimes a mortgage insurer, the investor and lender. All of these parties have to come to the table and have to negotiate an acceptable sales price and terms,” German noted.

If you’re trying to buy a short sale, it can take 60 days or, as in this case, a whole lot longer. Staying with the program is key to a successful resolution.

“Buyers should stay in constant contact with servicer. If they are not getting traction with the servicer, and we own the loan, they can call us. And we can take a look and try to help,” German advised. The best number to call is 800-424-5401. (Fannie Mae offers a similar service, call 800-7FANNIE.) You can also call HUD housing counselors 24/7 at 888-995-HOPE.

Home buyers who want to live in the property get a leg up on investors who want to rent it out with Freddie Mac’s 15-day “first look” program.

“In the case of a tenant who has serious interest and capacity to purchase, they should be working closely with their real estate agent so once the property is in inventory and becomes available for sale, they can get the offer in as quickly as possible.”

It’s nice that in this case, the tenant/buyer will wind up closing on the property, even though the process stretched out a year. German tells buyers not to give up hope. “We want you to buy a house.”

(Source: Tribune Media Services)

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Home loan closing costs on the rise

Home prices and mortgage rates aren’t the only costs on the rise when it comes to buying a house these days. Expect higher closings costs as well, according to a new study by Bankrate.com.

The average closing cost, which includes origination plus third-party fees, is $2,402, up 6 percent from last year.

Lenders appear to be boosting fees before the rise in mortgage rates turns borrowers off and makes it harder for lenders to attract new customers, a George Mason University real estate and finance expert told Bankrate.

“”They know when rates go up, loan applications plunge, so they are trying to generate more earnings on anticipation of lower application volume and lower profits,” Anthony Sanders said.

Lenders say the increased costs reflect more federal regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Bankrate looked at origination and third-party fees. Origination fees include items such as points, a calculation used to compensate loan officers; and payments for the loan application, other document preparation, loan processing and broker or originator fees. Third-party fees include payments for such items as the appraisal, closing attorney, inspections and surveys.

Bankrate, however, said not all lenders include all of the fees, and actual closing costs are probably much higher because its analysis did not account for the most highly variable costs, such as title insurance, title search, taxes and other government fees and escrow fees.

Bankrate asked up to 10 lenders in each state plus Washington, D.C., to provide good-faith estimates for a $200,000 mortgage loan on a single-family house in a state’s largest city, and for a borrower with excellent credit who was putting up 20 percent in for a down payment. Banks are required to disclose all fees on the good-faith estimate.

Bankrate ranked Georgia fourth in costliest closing costs in the South behind No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 North Carolina; and No. 3 Florida.

Nationally, Hawaii had the highest average closing costs ($2,919), followed by Alaska ($2,675), S.C. ($2,658); California ($2,639) and New Mexico ($2,566). Such costs were cheapest in Wisconsin ($2,119), Missouri ($2,188), Kansas ($2,193), Michigan ($2,203) and Washington ($2,208).

The rise in closing costs mirrors similar increases in home prices and mortgage rates.

Experts advise homebuyers to shop around for the best rates and closing fees, and get a good faith estimate, which will allow consumers to see all fees associated with the loan.

(Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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