Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Fourth of July is right around the corner! Summer’s hottest holiday will no doubt call for backyard barbecuing, fireworks and maybe even a dip in the pool.
Here’s how to throw a little green into your mix of red, white and blue.
1. Ditch the disposable party ware
They’re popular and easy. Disposable plates, cups and utensils are convenient for parties with a lot of guests. The down side, they’re not so convenient for the environment.
To avoid this, do your best to use normal tableware that can just be washed and reused. If you must go the disposable route, clean them up (they’re often washable) and use them at your next big gathering.
We also love the “bring your own plate” theme. The hodgepodge of different dishes can serve as talking points at your party. An added bonus: Turn it into a dish swap. Bring your own dish and leave with a different plate for your collection.
The same idea works for glassware. Instead of charging a “keg fee,” a party-goer’s ticket is his or her own glass.
2. Get outside!
The best way to reduce your party’s footprint is to calculate its energy usage. The No. 1 way to avoid added costs to your electric bill is to utilize the outdoors – perfect lighting, temperature and truly inherent green setting.
Host your barbecue at midday when the light is bright and fills your crowd with energy. Or fight soaring temperatures and take advantage of the cooler evening weather. It’s a great way to enjoy nature and reduce the energy costs of using indoor facilities.
3. Use propane for grilling
Before diving into this one, we want to point out that we are not trying to step on any grillmaster’s toes. The debate between charcoal and propane is a tough one: Which one produces more flavor? Which is cheaper, faster? And most importantly, which is more eco-friendly?
We consulted a recent study by Environment Impact Assessment Review to answer this one. Drum roll, please…
According to the study, “the overwhelming factors are that as a fuel, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is dramatically more efficient than charcoal in its production and considerably more efficient in cooking.”
The two grilling methods were defined by their overall footprint, with charcoal using 998 kg of CO2, almost three times more than propane, which weighed in at 349 kg.
ScienceDaily reports that as fuel, LPG is “dramatically more efficient than charcoal in its production.” When purchasing a propane tank, make sure there is a trade-in option. Most retailers will let you bring in an empty tank in exchange for a decent discount on your next tank.
4. Save (and reuse) your decorations
If you’ve hosted Independence Day celebrations before, you know the décor is often the same: streamers, party favors and table toppers all in bold red, white and blue.
Sadly, most people often use these decorations once and then throw them out. But they can be reused year after year! So, this year, after the party’s over, take the time to store and save your decorations. You or someone you know can use them again next year, which helps to save on a bit of unneeded trash.
5. Opt for greener fireworks
Fireworks are hardly an environmentally friendly activity, but they’re an unwavering Fourth of July tradition. If you’re setting off your own fireworks this year, be sure to use fireworks rich in nitrogen. They often cost a bit more but put out less smoke into the environment.
Another option is to gather your group and go see your local fireworks display. It’s a great way to see a much bigger fireworks show and negates you from harming the environment with your own personal display.
6. Gather in groups
This may seem like a no-brainer for such a popular holiday, but the larger a group you gather (preferably outdoors), the less energy you use at individual parties that may take place indoors. Plus, the more people to help prepare and purchase food, the less of a cost it is to each individual. Just make sure your fellow party goers know these green tips!
7. Use large water containers
Plastic water bottles are convenient, but like other disposable goods, they can add up fast. In lieu of individual plastic bottles, store water for your family or guests in large containers so they can re-fill their reusable water bottles or reusable cups. If you must use plastic water bottles, be sure to encourage your guests to recycle them.
8. Don’t forget to recycle
One of the easiest ways to go green is to recycle your waste. So be sure to put a clearly marked bin out at your party.
If you did opt for disposable dinnerware, remember that those plastic plates, cups and utensils can be recycled. Paper plates will have to be thrown out or composted due to food residue.
If you’re unsure about recycling specific materials in your area, we’ve got you covered. Use Earth911 to find local recycling centers for your common party waste, such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass bottles.
Amanda Wills is the East Coast Editor of Earth911.com
John Burns, the real estate consultant from Irvine, has harsh words about some of the housing data published in, among other places, newspapers and their websites. Basically, Burns says in a recent note to his clients that widely discussed data “stinks” …
If you read the newspapers, you would think prices are appreciating, whether it is the Case Shiller price index or median resale prices – the two price measures that used to be the most reliable measures. Just look at recent price trends for Southern California. According to CS, prices are up 6% in LA (includes Orange Co.) and 11% in San Diego since March of 2009. According to the median price, prices are up 12% in LA, 17% in Orange County, 12% in Riverside and 18% in San Diego since April of 2009. Neither is correct if you are talking about most homes in those markets. While we love the CS methodology, both CS and the median price are wildly impacted when the mix of what is transacting shifts dramatically from the norm.
What does he think?
We believe 2003 prices are a reasonable estimate for most home values today. Obviously, this is a very back-of-the-envelope analysis and our work with clients is more targeted toward the decisions they are trying to make. Any further price correction from here will likely either be due to rising mortgage rates, or an overcorrection (possible driven by Shadow Inventory), or because consumers took on so much other debt over the last 10 years that a 31% debt-to-income ratio is too high going forward (note that Borrowers who have received “permanent mods” have 30%+ of their income going to additional debt service on top of their primary mortgage!).
Hey, we can take a shot or two. Or three. What do you think?
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
Designer Scianca has created a shimmering dress as part of a project called Modern Freaks. Since not many people still use VHS tapes for video viewing, recycling the ones that are catching dust in your closet is not that bad an idea. The dress designed by Scianca is one way you can recycle the magnetic memory to gain some attraction.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Homeowners in minority groups have been hit significantly worse than white borrowers in the foreclosure crisis, the Center for Responsible Lending reports.
The non-profit research group says:
- About 17% of Latino homeowners and 11% of African-American homeowners have already lost their home to foreclosure or are at imminent risk, compared to 7% of white homeowners.
- Whites made up the majority of the 2.5 million foreclosures completed between 2007 and 2009 – about 56% – but minority communities had higher foreclosure rates.
- While about 4.5% of white borrowers lost their homes to foreclosure during the 2 years analyzed, black and Latino borrowers had 7.9 and 7.7% foreclosure rates, respectively.
- Blacks and Latinos were more than 70% more likely than whites to lose their homes to foreclosure between 2007 and 2009.
- ”African American and Latino borrowers have borne and will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of foreclosures,” the report says.
See the full report HERE.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
More than 1,200 prison inmates, including 241 serving life sentences, defrauded the government of $9.1 million in tax credits reserved for first-time homebuyers, according to a Treasury Department report released Wednesday.
Treasury's inspector general also found that thousands of people filed multiple claims or made claims outside the allotted time period. In all, more than $28 million was improperly doled out.
The Internal Revenue Service program at issue is meant to stimulate the housing market by giving tax credits of as much as $8,000 to qualifying first-time home buyers.
"Additional controls are necessary to address erroneous claims for the credit," the report stated. "Further, fraudulent and questionable claims processed prior to implementation of controls will need follow-up action by the IRS."
According to the report, 4,608 state and federal inmates filed for these tax credits, and that fraudulent refunds were doled out to 1,295 of them.
The inspector general's report said the most "egregious" fraudsters were 715 prison lifers, including 174 who filed with the help of paid preparers. From this group, 241 lifers were awarded $1.7 million.
The problem was particularly bad in Florida: 61% of the lifers who got credits were incarcerated in the Sunshine State.
"It is possible for an inmate to buy a house while in prison," said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections. "We have inmates in Florida prisons who still have businesses outside. Many of the inmates have families with children who live outside."
She said that one of the reasons why Florida inmates feature prominently in the Treasury report is because the Florida prison system is transparent in providing inmate information to the IRS.
"We provide [the IRS] with data quarterly," she said. "If we receive an IRS check in the Post Office of an institution, the IRS will receive a call that we received a check, to make sure it's all legitimate."
The homebuyer tax credit program was very specific about the time period in which homebuyers were allowed to participate, though this rule seems to be the most widely violated. The credit was for home purchases that happened after April 8, 2008, with a cut-off date that was eventually extended to May 1, 2010.
The report found that the IRS awarded $17.6 million to 2,555 filers who had bought their homes before the credit program kicked in.
The inspector general also identified 206 filers who claimed the credit for multiple addresses; these fraudulent filers were awarded a total of $1.4 million.
The report also found that improper filers included 34 employees of the IRS. This is in addition to 53 IRS employees that the inspector general identified last year as improper filers.
The report included a response from the IRS, which highlighted the huge scope of the program, with $12.6 billion in claims awarded to 1.8 million participants. The IRS said it had ramped up efforts to crack down on criminal activity and would continue to review claims and "recapture" pay-outs determined to be fraudulent.
The IRS said it "has devoted substantial resources to working with state and federal prison systems to collect and maintain information on the prison population."
But the agency added, "The prison population changes frequently and it is simply not feasible for the IRS to maintain 100% accurate records based on information that is reported to us voluntarily by the various prison authorities." The agency suggested that Congress require prisons to report inmates' status to the IRS.
In an e-mail to CNNMoney.com, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said the agency had "successfully blocked or denied nearly 400,000 questionable homebuyer claims and opened more than 150 criminal investigations. These aggressive efforts have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion."
As for the IRS employees, the agency said that it was working to identify those at fault.
Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Mundaca said that, despite its problems, the homebuyer tax credit helped to spur more than 2.5 million new home purchases and helped to stabilize the housing market.
"These fraudulent claims, which are being pursued to the fullest extent of the law, represent less than half a percent of the credits paid out under this program," he said, in an e-mail to CNNMoney.com. "As with all new and expanded programs, we are constantly working to improve implementation, and the IRS has already begun to take additional steps to prevent fraud in this program."
Nilo Ghandehari of Newport Beach may one day host a talk show on a network founded by the queen of talk shows.
Already a successful event planner and breast cancer awareness advocate, Ghandehari, 26, has auditioned for a chance to host her own show on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). The network is scheduled to launch on cable TV in January 2011.
Ghandehari, who goes by the name Nilo G. is among 5,800-plus hopefuls who submitted an audition video to myown.oprah.com/audition.
Potential hosts submit tapes in one of five categories: traditional talk show, cooking, interior design, fashion, health and wellbeing or wildcard. Visitors to the site vote for their favorite video.
The top five on-line vote-getters become part of a larger talent pool that includes individuals selected from live auditions. OWN producers will select the host from among those finalists.
Drawing from experience, Ghandehari submitted her tape in the wildcard category. On the website, it's labeled "All About Event Planning and How It Relates to the Core of the Human Spirit."
The show would cover topics such as seasonal trends, budget tips, entertainment ideas, color schemes and the small details that can make for a memorable event.
"There are a lot of shows on how to plan weddings, but nothing on really why and what is the value behind the event," said Ghandehari, owner of Kapture, a Newport Beach event planning company. "I believe every person has the ability to plan an event and they just need help getting there."
Ghandehari grew up in Brea and credits much of her drive to her days as a member of the Brea Olinda Ladycats basketball team, consistently one of the nation's best.
She received a degree in business marketing from Cal State Fullerton.
While interning at the Fox Broadcasting Company, she helped produce hits such as "American Idol," "That 70's Show" and "Prison Break."
At age 19, Ghandehari hosted her first charity event – a house party in which she charged friends $5 a piece.
Ghandehari raised $150, which she donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the celebrated breast cancer awareness non-profit.
She then started THE Breast Cancer Fundraiser, a non-profit aimed at 20-somethings that raises money through posh parties.
"I would love the opportunity to use the platform of television to communicate such an important message," she said.
With Saturday the deadline to submit a video, Ghandehari knows there is a lot of ground to make up.
Her submission, among nearly 6,000, has received about 33,000 votes, while top entries have gotten millions.
However, if she impressed producers in her live audition, Ghandehari could still get picked for a talk show or a spot on an OWN reality show.
She hopes to know one way or the other by mid-July.
Whether she gets on TV, Ghandehari said the process has been character building.
"It's been an amazing experience" she said.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Mortgage-finance giant Fannie Mae on Wednesday took aim at homeowners who are walking away from loans they’re capable of paying.
The company, which has been under government control since September 2008, said it would refuse to back new loans for such walk-away borrowers for seven years after they abandon their homes.
From the news release:
Defaulting borrowers who walk away and had the capacity to pay or did not complete a workout alternative in good faith will be ineligible for a new Fannie Mae-backed mortgage loan for a period of seven years from the date of foreclosure. Borrowers who have extenuating circumstances may be eligible for a new loan in a shorter time frame.
“We're taking these steps to highlight the importance of working with your servicer,” said Terence Edwards, executive vice president for credit portfolio management. “Walking away from a mortgage is bad for borrowers and bad for communities and our approach is meant to deter the disturbing trend toward strategic defaulting. On the flip side, borrowers facing hardship who make a good faith effort to resolve their situation with their servicer will preserve the option to be considered for a future Fannie Mae loan in a shorter period of time.”
Fannie Mae will also take legal action to recoup the outstanding mortgage debt from borrowers who strategically default on their loans in jurisdictions that allow for deficiency judgments. In an announcement next month, the company will be instructing its servicers to monitor delinquent loans facing foreclosure and put forth recommendations for cases that warrant the pursuit of deficiency judgments.
Fannie and its sister company, Freddie Mac, are the main sources of U.S. mortgage financing. They buy loans from lenders, guarantee them and resell them to investors via mortgage-backed securities.
One key issue, of course, will be how Fannie and its loan servicers decide whether someone had the ability to pay their loan but decided not to.
Freddie Mac hasn’t announced a similar program targeting walk-aways, but given that both companies are under government control, it would seem odd if Freddie didn’t follow suit.
A Freddie Mac spokesman had no immediate comment.
-- Tom Petruno
Our pals at Realtor.com have helped us put Orange County home pricing into national context in a novel way: Comparing how much home you’d get here vs. other major metropolitan areas around the nation at the same price point. We hope to make this a regular feature!
This time, we ponder list prices at $500,000 in these communities …
|Click on image for larger view||City||Address||List Price||Square feet / Price per sq. ft.||Bed||Bath||Year Built|
|Anaheim Hills||274 South Solomon Drive||$500,000||2,485 / $201||4||2.5||1975|
|Portland||3925 Ne Holman St||$500,000||3,470 / $144||3||3||1954|
|Atlanta||2651 Redding Ne||$500,000||2,411 / $207||4||3.5||1996|
|Baltimore||6300 Pinehurst Rd||$499,900||2,153 /$232||4||2.5||1925|
|Plymouth, MN||3320 Zircon Ln N||$500,000||3,514 /$142||5||4||1993|
|Phoenix||3342 N 34th Street||$500,000||3,190 / $157||4||4.5||2009|
|Philadelphia||3953 Eden St||$499,893||3,300 / $151||4||2.5||2010|
Note: Listing information is as of June 21!
Feel free to click on address for additional images and home information.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
firstname.lastname@example.org has forwarded you this craigslist.org posting.
Please see below for more information.
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Newport Coast jewelDate: 2010-06-22, 11:59AM
This beautifully upgraded home is situated on a huge secluded pie shaped lot, with a long driveway. Very spacious resort style yard with a large pool and waterfall spa in one area, an outdoor fireplace and sitting area, and plenty of addition space. The open floor plan has a 'Great Room' and a gourmet kitchen that opens to the family room. There are 3 bedrooms and a bonus room upstairs, and downstairs there is a bedroom in a casita with an outside entrance, and an office in the main house. Enjoy ocean views and privacy from this wonderful home!
Directions Enter at either gate, proceed up the hill to Archipelago - turn toward the other gate, turn uphill again at the STOP sign (Whalers Bluff), Gondoliers Bluff is the next right
Gondoliers Bluff at Whalers Bluff (google map) (yahoo map)
- Location: 2 Gondoliers Bluff
- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
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Stateline.org reporter John Gramlich will be traveling through the state of Nayarit in Mexico for the first two weeks of the World CupI’ve been in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for six days. This, of course, is to coincide with the World Cup, which six of my friends and I—all Americans—are watching here with rapt attention. As Americans in Mexico tend to do, we’ve been drinking cervezas, tequilas, and margaritas at every stop, probably too often.
Puerto Vallarta is right on the Pacific, on the banks of a sweeping inlet called the Bay of Banderas, or the Bay of Flags. Dark mountains rise up from the greenish-blue, very salty water. Rickety buildings perch perilously over a steep hillside. Friendly people are on every corner, hanging out along the cobblestoned streets of downtown, or Centro—usually offering taxis, tequila or sombreros. Margaritas cost $5; beers cost $2.50 or less. It’s probably much less if you’re not American.Much of this place is what you’d expect of a beautiful but touristy Mexican resort: There’s a Senor Frogs, a Hard Rock Cafe, a McDonald’s, and a Subway, along with Mexican bars cloaked in myriad American themes, like the U.S. military or Predator, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jesse Ventura flick where the jungle comes alive and nearly takes out a group of hardcore American commandos (and which, incidentally, my entire group can recite almost flawlessly).Here’s what I didn’t expect: Puerto Vallarta–even in the parts where there aren’t often gringos like us—was pretty much silent for five days of the World Cup.
Monday, June 21, 2010
- Residents and vacationers in Okaloosa County in Florida are starting to spot tar balls and oiled wildlife on their beaches.
- County commissioners voted to respond to the oil spill with their own plans, regardless of whether unified command approved.
- Unified command sped up approval of their plans and will meet with commissioners this week.
Okaloosa Island, Florida (CNN) -- Vacationers were the first to notice the bird fumbling in the water near this popular tourist beach last week. It bobbed and swayed differently than other birds, and didn't react when humans came dangerously close. Once it was ashore, they could see why: a light sheen of oil covered its feathers.
Animal health technician Stephanie Neumann tried to rescue the Northern Gannet, but beach safety officers stopped her. Her coworkers at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge already had stabilized birds and a sea turtle affected by the Gulf oil disaster, but officials wanted to know: Did she have a contract with BP? Could she -- and the bird --wait while they verified her organization's status?
"They're trying to do their job," Neumann said as she crouched over the motionless bird, wrapped in a white sheet and barely hidden from the stares of kids and parents. "They have to make sure protocol is followed."
When brown clumps of tar began to wash up on the snow-white beaches around Destin last week, the mood in this sunny beach community shifted from optimistic denial to furious worry. Local ideas about how to protect the area clashed with plans from BP, state and federal agencies. Community volunteers struggling to cut through protocol cheered a decision by Okaloosa County to defy BP and the feds. They were done waiting. They'd use their own plans.
"This is ridiculous. We'll take the heat. We would do whatever it took to stop the oil," said the county commission chairman, Wayne Harris.
After months of wrangling with agencies responding to the spill, Harris wasn't willing to stake the county's ecology and economy only on boom that captures or absorbs oil. The commission authorized emergency management teams to add skimmers, barges and extra boom, and an air wall they hope will push the oil away. They plan to layer prevention measures in the pass that connects the Gulf to Choctawhatchee Bay, where fresh and salt water mix and dolphins play. Harris said the plan could cost up to $6 million per month, which he hopes will be covered by money from BP.
The county developed its oil plan in the days after the disaster began to unfold, but it was plagued by miscommunications, disagreements and bureaucracy once it left local hands, Harris said.
Communities along the Gulf Coast have made similar complaints. Mayors grilled a BP official about the response during a press conference earlier this month. In Magnolia Springs, Alabama, locals went outside the federal plan and risked incarceration by adding boom and barges to protect Weeks Bay. In Pointe Aux Chenes, Louisiana, Native Americans pitched in to string boom near an island where many of their ancestors are buried.
Harris said some of his county's efforts may work; others may not. "Doing something is better than doing nothing," he said.
On the Okaloosa Island beach, local response to the oiled Gannet was quicker, but the federal response had less red tape to work through. U.S. Fish and Wildlife workers arrived before Neumann's status was verified, so she left their bird in their care.
"Time is essential with these guys," she said. "Every minute counts."
For the rest of Okaloosa County, more boom and barges were starting to appear in the water. The county commission vote was "smart," and sped up the state and federal response, said public safety director Dino Villani, who was quickly invited to an "olive branch" meeting in Mobile. Most of the county's preferred plans are moving forward, Villani said, and they'll continue to adapt as the oil moves throughout their waters.
Harris said the plans would have gone forward even without approval from BP or other government agencies.
"I'm sure they're cussing. I'm sure they're cussing us bad," Harris said. "If we had waited, we'd still be waiting. Why did it take us giving an ultimatum?"
Charles Diorio, a Coast Guard commander in Mobile, said some communities decided to implement their own plans once they saw they didn't top the list of state and federal priorities, if they were on the list at all. Some just wanted to act before the mess -- and response agencies' attention -- began to move their way.
Now that oil is reaching Florida's shores, resources are shifting there, Diorio said, and there's a plan to meet with Okaloosa commissioners this week.
"Now is the time to make sure these relationships are still working and strong and the lines of communication are open," he said.
The commission's vote marked a turning point for Okaloosa County residents and vacationers. Even as oil crippled fishing, tourism and ecology in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, wishful thinkers hoped for the best around Destin, which calls itself the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village."
"I'm guilty of it. Every day something doesn't happen, you walk down your beach and don't see it, the feeling gets stronger -- until it arrives," Okaloosa County's beach safety division chief Tracey Vause said as he picked gummy tar balls from the sand.
"I was infuriated. It's almost like grieving. This is the destination, white, sandy beaches. Now they're not."
June is typically a busy month along the area known as Florida's Emerald Coast. Beaches in Destin and Fort Walton are usually packed with families freed from school and work, and the water is crammed with boats. But when traces of oil actually arrived last week, clean-up crews were on land and familiar local fishermen wore life jackets, a tell-tale sign they were called into service for BP. Tourist rentals already were down as much as 50 percent, county officials said. Shops were quiet, service jobs were cut back and only a few umbrellas and towels were scattered across the soft sand.
No oil-related illnesses or injuries had been reported as of late last week, said Cecilia Wagner, a community health worker for Okaloosa County. A health advisory warned beachgoers against swimming one day last week, but it was lifted hours later.
The arrival of oil spooked residents, and made clear the conflicts between local action and BP's response.
On the boardwalk at Okaloosa Island, volunteers cleaned up after a group of campers made oil-absorbing boom from hosiery and animal hair. Boom makers Yente Sehman and Barbara Johnson said they'd prefer boom made with renewable resources in the water around Okaloosa County's beaches, and as oil came closer, more materials and volunteers had showed up to help their efforts.
In a warehouse nearby, the pair stacked human and animal hair donations funneled through the non-profit Matter of Trust and postmarked from Missouri, Georgia, Massachusetts, Australia and China. Volunteers packed dog and alpaca hair clippings into the legs of pantyhose, then tied them off and strung them into mesh casings with plastic pieces that float in the water. Already, more than 5,000 boom were stacked inside the warehouse.
County officials said they don't want to discourage volunteers, but they aren't planning to use the animal hair boom, except as a last resort. Sehman's phone was busy with calls from local business owners and real estate agents who wanted the boom to protect their businesses, but organizers can't give the boom away without county approval and a clear plan for its disposal.
"We live in paradise and everybody wants to believe it's not going to happen to us," Johnson said. "It's turning into anger and frustration. BP, local government, state government, everybody sitting around waiting for someone else to do something. We want to help, but we can't."
Still, the women said they won't stop their boom-making effort, especially as more community members notice the empty beaches studded with tar balls and look for ways to get involved.
"Once we started, no way," Sehman said. "I'm very proud to live in this county at this point in time. People of this county are going to do what they want to do."
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Q. I bought a condo in Corona in December 2005. I owe $290,000 on the first – 10-year interest-only – and $32,000 on the second – which is due in 15 years with a big balloon due at that time.
We have made all payments on time and we have excellent FICO scores. We can afford our payments right now but will struggle when payments go up. Since recent comps in our condo community are about $150,000, I am looking at alternatives because we are so upside-down. I ran across an Internet site that proposes a short sale-refi, in which they would negotiate with the servicers to do a short sale on my condo. Then I would buy it right back, hence short sale-refi. Plus no upfront fees! All fees and costs would be rolled into new loan! After doing some Internet searches, this “short sale-refi” is only offered by one company. My question is, is this a real opportunity or a scam? The fees are $2,500 for loan modification and $3,500 for short sale-refi.
A. I share your suspicions of this program. One feature of legitimate transactions is that they are transparent. This scheme would seem to fail that test in that the ultimate buyer is not an independent third party. I think it unlikely that the lender would approve the short sale if they knew the full details of the transaction. More specifically, I also cannot see them approving a simultaneous loan modification.
There is a question about whether you could get a loan from someone else with the damage that a short sale would do to your credit rating. Normally the effect of any kind of action where the previous lender got less than the full amount they were owed shuts you out of the housing market for a few years. For a greater discussion of that topic, click here.
I think your suspicions are well-founded. The good news is that you have five years until the first loan resets and a lot can happen in five years, as we have found out in the last five.
Q. I am a retiree with six rental properties and trying to hold on. I need some refinance advice on what to do next on the refinances. I have been handling this on my own for years but now need guidance during this unique market. (The property I bought in 2008 is now appraising at under half of what I paid for it).
A. That’s not quite enough information for a comprehensive answer because all your properties are involved, not just the one property that’s under water. Although that property may be under water, it still may be providing a positive cash flow. Your interest is whether in total all of your properties will provide sufficient cash flow to support your retirement. Correct?
Current rates are well less than 5% so if you have properties with enough equity that are currently financed with loans with interest rates above 6%, you should consider refinancing them today for long-term savings. Note that you need to qualify for the loan, but that is based upon your total income including rental income and whether you qualify for the housing expense on your own residence.
If it makes sense to refinance, then you ought to do whatever you can now because rates are so low.
That’s it. If you want Johnson to answer a question, email it to Maurine Pool at email@example.com. Include your name or nickname and the city you live in .
Friday, June 18, 2010
Scott Salyer stepped into the federal courtroom in Sacramento, his trim frame swimming in an orange prisoner jumpsuit, his legs shackled, his wrists restrained.It was a humiliating moment in February for the 54-year-old agribusiness mogul, the last prince of one of California's cotton farming dynasties. The tomato processing outfit he started with his father, Fred Salyer, was in bankruptcy. Scott was being blamed for running SK Foods into the ground -- and far worse.
Salyer clenched his jaw as the prosecutor reeled off the allegations: that he and SK Foods tricked supermarkets and big food companies into buying substandard tomato products to put into brands found in almost every American cupboard. Read the rest of the story.
Photo: Frederick Scott Salyer, 54, is being blamed for running SK Foods into the ground. Credit: KSBW-TV
It is an overlooked danger in the oil spill crisis: The crude gushing from the well contains vast amounts of natural gas that could pose a serious threat to the Gulf of Mexico's fragile ecosystem.
The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill.
That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
"This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," Kessler said.
Methane is a colorless, odorless and flammable substance that is a major component in the natural gas used to heat people's homes. Petroleum engineers typically burn off excess gas attached to crude before the oil is shipped off to the refinery. That's exactly what BP has done as it has captured more than 7.5 million gallons of crude from the breached well.
A BP spokesman said the company was burning about 30 million cubic feet of natural gas daily from the source of the leak, adding up to about 450 million cubic feet since the containment effort started 15 days ago. That's enough gas to heat about 450,000 homes for four days.
But that figure does not account for gas that eluded containment efforts and wound up in the water, leaving behind huge amounts of methane. Scientists are still trying to measure how much has escaped into the water and how it may damage the Gulf and it creatures.
The dangerous gas has played an important role throughout the disaster and response. A bubble of methane is believed to have burst up from the seafloor and ignited the rig explosion. Methane crystals also clogged a four-story containment box that engineers earlier tried to place on top of the breached well.
Now it is being looked at as an environmental concern.
The small microbes that live in the sea have been feeding on the oil and natural gas in the water and are consuming larger quantities of oxygen, which they need to digest food. As they draw more oxygen from the water, it creates two problems. When oxygen levels drop low enough, the breakdown of oil grinds to a halt; and as it is depleted in the water, most life can't be sustained.
The National Science Foundation funded research on methane in the Gulf amid concerns about the depths of the oil plume and questions what role natural gas was playing in keeping the oil below the surface, said David Garrison, a program director in the federal agency who specializes in biological oceanography.
"This has the potential to harm the ecosystem in ways that we don't know," Garrison said. "It's a complex problem."
BP CEO Tony Hayward on Thursday told Congress members that he was "so devastated with this accident," "deeply sorry" and "so distraught."
But he also testified that he was out of the loop on decisions at the well and disclaimed knowledge of any of the myriad problems on and under the Deepwater Horizon rig before the deadly explosion. BP was leasing the rig the Deepwater Horizon that exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the environmental disaster.
"BP blew it," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House investigations panel that held the hearing. "You cut corners to save money and time."
In early June, a research team led by Samantha Joye of the Institute of Undersea Research and Technology at the University of Georgia investigated a 15-mile-long plume drifting southwest from the leak site. They said they found methane concentrations up to 10,000 times higher than normal, and oxygen levels depleted by 40 percent or more.
The scientists found that some parts of the plume had oxygen concentrations just shy of the level that tips ocean waters into the category of "dead zone" — a region uninhabitable to fish, crabs, shrimp and other marine creatures.
Kessler has encountered similar findings. Since he began his on-site research on Saturday, he said he has already found oxygen depletions of between 2 percent and 30 percent in waters 1,000 feet deep.
Shallow waters are normally more susceptible to oxygen depletion. Because it is being found in such deep waters, both Kessler and Joye do not know what is causing the depletion and what the impact could be in the long- or short-term.
In an e-mail, Joye called her findings "the most bizarre looking oxygen profiles I have ever seen anywhere."
Representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledged that so much methane in the water could draw down oxygen levels and slow the breakdown of oil in the Gulf, but cautioned that research was still under way to understand the ramifications.
"We haven't seen any long-term changes or trends at this point," said Robert Haddad, chief of the agency's assessment and restoration division.
Haddad said early efforts to monitor the spill had focused largely on the more toxic components of oil. However, as new data comes in, he said NOAA and other federal agencies will get a more accurate read on methane concentrations and the effects.
"The question is what's going on in the deeper, colder parts of the ocean," he said. "Are the (methane) concentrations going to overcome the amount of available oxygen? We want to make sure we're not overloading the system."
BP spokesman Mark Proegler disputed Joye's suggestion that the Gulf's deep waters contain large amounts of methane, noting that water samples taken by BP and federal agencies have shown minimal underwater oil outside the spill's vicinity.
"The gas that escapes, what we don't flare, goes up to the surface and is gone," he said.
Steven DiMarco, an oceanographer at Texas A&M University who has studied a long-known "dead zone" in the Gulf, said one example of marine life that could be affected by low oxygen levels in deeper waters would be giant squid — the food of choice for the endangered sperm whale population. Squid live primarily in deep water, and would be disrupted by lower oxygen levels, DiMarco said.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard signaled a shift in strategy Friday to fight the oil, saying it was ramping up efforts to capture the crude closer to shore.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said an estimated 2,000 private boats in the so-called "vessels of opportunity" program will be more closely linked through a tighter command and control structure to direct them to locations less than 50 miles offshore to skim the oil. Allen, the point man for the federal response to the spill, previously had said surface containment efforts would be concentrated much farther offshore.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Imagine your surfboard defining your place in society.
In Ancient Hawaii, it did.
Under the kapu system of laws, the ali’i was above all others. The ruling class surfed on one type of board, and the commoners used another. Even the type of wood used determined social classification.
Commoner surfboards came in three lengths and were mostly constructed of wood from the koa tree. The introductory board to wave riding, or he'e nalu, was the paipo. 2’- 6’ in length, the finless paipos were much like today’s bellyboards and mostly ridden by children.
Splitting a Koa log.
Once accustomed to the rhythm of riding waves, surfers would move on to the alaia. Suitable for standup, an alaia ranged 6’ to 12’ in length and was the forerunner of today’s surfboard.
After mastering the art of surfing, commoners would advance to the kiko’o, a board 12’ to 14’ in length, and, as you can imagine, much more difficult to ride. To master one of these definitely demonstrated one’s proper place at the top of society.
Shaping the Koa blank with an Adz.
The ruling class had its own board made of its own wood, the olo. 14’ to 18’ in length, not only was the olo a bigger board, but it was constructed of the more buoyant wood of the wili wili tree and further defined the class separation of kapu.
The ali’i even has their own breaks, and under kapu, any attempt by a commoner to paddle out among the elite was punishable by, among other things, death.
Surfboards were sacred, their construction ritualistic. Kahuna would search for just the right tree, sacrifice fish as an offering to the gods and stand guard over the specimen overnight under prayer.
Only after successful completion of the ritual, could the tree be felled, and once it was cut down, more sacred behavior was practiced by the kahuna.
Finer shaping was done with blocks of coral and stone..
First the board was rough-shaped with an adz. Then, the wood was shaped and planed with blocks of coral or stone. Once shaped, it was applied with a finish, such as the root of the ti plant or the stain from banana buds. The board was then treated with kukui oil to give it a glossy finish.
When the surfboard had met the kahuna’s approval, it underwent a final ritual of dedication, and only then was it offered to the sea.
Special thanks to Ron Croci for his brilliant illustrations. Check out more of his art by visiting his website.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As the nation struggles to shrug off the worst housing crash since the Great Depression, it may be hard to believe a housing shortage could be on its way.
The nation is simply not building enough homes to keep up with potential demand. Just 672,000 new homes were started in April, an annualized rate and less than half the long-term run rate needed to meet the nation's natural population growth.
So far, the shortfall has been masked by a weak economy that has put a damper on home buying. Once the job market rebounds, however, people will look to have their own homes again. This pent-up demand could get unleashed on unprepared markets, causing shortages and rising local prices.
Household formation -- the technical term for people moving in together -- has been on hold during the past few years as young people, especially, have been unable to find jobs. In the past, an average of more than 1.3 million households were formed each year, causing demand for 1.5 million new homes. (More homes than households are needed to replace those destroyed by fires, floods, teardowns and neglect.)
In 2009, only 398,000 new households were formed, according to the Census Bureau. That is much lower than average and a quarter of the number formed just two years earlier.
"The decline in household formation is artificial," said Gaines. "The young are moving in with their parents. There's even doubling up among working class people. There's a pent-up demand coming if and when the economy recovers."
Those doubting a new bubble is near point to a large inventory overhang. As many as 7 million homes are vacant but not for sale, according to the Census Bureau, which should provide cushion to offset increased demand.
"The housing market hasn't been this way before," said Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "The gravity of the problem is deeper and the challenges different. You have to get through that inventory."
The inventory number, however, can be deceiving for two reasons: People may not want to live in hard-hit areas where the houses are (think: California exurbs and Detroit neighborhoods) or the homes may be beyond repair.
"Many of these vacant homes may not be habitable or are in locations where nobody wants to live," Gaines said.
Ordinarily, the nation's homebuilders can react quickly to meet surges in demand. But several factors are preventing them from being nimble. The biggest is the difficulty getting loans, according to Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
"When we came out of past recessions, there wasn't the difficulty of obtaining financing that there is now," he said.
Many small builders have been unable to obtain construction loans or lost their financing in mid-project. That has prodded NAHB to support federal legislation that would make $15 billion in lending guarantees available for private builders.
Hard times also persuaded builders to postpone purchases of land they could prep for future development. It will take them that much longer to gear up production once the housing market improves.
Too, many builders went out of business in the bust, so there will be fewer companies out there to do the building. The survivors will confront a transformed regulatory environment, according to Howard, that will make new homes harder to build and more expensive.
"There is an increased focus on smart growth that will create regulatory barriers to the kind of sprawling development that has characterized a lot of recent building," said Retsinas.
The regulations come under two categories, according to Susan Asmus, NAHB's senior vice president for advocacy, covering where new homes are built and how they're built.
One category is storm water runoff. The Environmental Protection Agency tightened requirement governing how builders handle that. Builders will have to install controls such as catchments or retaining ponds that slow the flow of storm runoff into the local watersheds.
"It could add as much as $15,000 to $30,000 an acre in extra costs, depending on the soil," said Asmus.
Another proposed regulation mandates sprinkler systems in each new home. This is already state law, starting January 2011, in California, Maryland and New Jersey. That adds as much as $10,000 to the cost of construction.
Previous overbuilding one-time boom towns, such as Las Vegas and Miami, should provide enough inventory of like-new homes to counter any strong pent-up demand that breaks free.
It's the more constrained markets, where it's particularly hard to build -- such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle -- that will field the bulk of the new bubble problems, according to Retsinas. He, however, is less worried about the purchase market than about rentals, the usual entree for the young buyers expected to lead the new housing market charge.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
HP made news with its Manure powered data center.
NYTimes has an article on how the EPA is looking at the manure from Amish farmers and water pollution.
But farmers like Mr. Stoltzfus are facing growing scrutiny for agricultural practices that the federal government sees as environmentally destructive. Their cows generate heaps of manure that easily washes into streams and flows onward into the Chesapeake Bay.
And the Environmental Protection Agency, charged by President Obama with restoring the bay to health, is determined to crack down. The farmers have a choice: change the way they farm or face stiff penalties.
“There’s much, much work that needs to be done, and I don’t think the full community understands,” said David McGuigan, the E.P.A. official leading an effort by the agency to change farming practices here in Lancaster County.
There is an extremely low chance that HP could talk to the Amish to solve their manure problems with a data center.
Water supply is what has the EPA looking at the Amish.
Last September, Mr. McGuigan and his colleagues visited 24 farms in a pocket of Lancaster County known as Watson’s Run to assess their practices. Twenty-three of the farms were plain sect; 17 were found to be managing their manure inadequately. The abundance of manure was also affecting water quality. Six of the 19 wells sampled contained E. coli bacteria, and 16 had nitrate levels exceeding those allowed by the E.P.A.
Water is one of the most under appreciated earth resources, and thankfully the momentum continues to build to protect it......http://www.greenm3.com/2010/06/connecting-manure-water-and-epa---amish-face-r...