National Assn Realtors

National Assn Realtors

In Maine, you need no more formal education than a high-school diploma to qualify for a real estate license. In California, you don’t even need that. I think that’s a little weird. Now, every state does require at least some special classroom training, and then a state exam. But, having sat through a fair amount of that special training myself, I’m pretty sure most fifth-graders, as well as certain minerals, could pass. It freaks me out a little. I mean, consider this ad copy for a California real estate school:

How difficult are your courses?

Our courses are not difficult to pass. The Final Exam for our courses consists of 100 multiple choice questions, and it is an Open Book Online Exam.

How difficult is the State Exam?

The State Exam is not easy, generally the state-wide pass rate hovers around 50%.

Noooo, I’m not talking about the ad hoc capitalization, or the conjoined sentences. I’m just thinking that if you’re impressed by a sales pitch that trumpets a 50% failure rate, you probably should have applied yourself a little more vigorously in fifth grade.

I’m just thinking that if the National Association of Realtors thought trumpeting its pretty, new graph of education levels was going to impress anyone, well…



Honey, what's our credit score? [PD]Wikimedia

Honey, what’s our credit score? [PD]Wikimedia

People who live in green houses pay their bills. So finds a study of mortgage meltdowns: People who buy energy-efficient homes are 32% less likely to default than the average buyer.

Why? So many possible reasons. People who care about efficiency are by definition long-term thinkers. They think about the future. They make plans.

But also, people with efficient homes have lower carrying costs. Because banks don’t yet consider carrying costs in such detail, banks don’t give buyers credit for the money a low heating bill puts in the owner’s pocket. So efficient-house buyers are “richer” than banks can conceive.

And efficient homes are more likely to be bought by people with flexible mindsets, who aren’t puzzled by freakishly small furnaces, multiple fuel sources, heat pumps, heat sinks, geothermal gizmology, thick walls, and other peculiarities of green building. Flexible thinkers are also more likely to find a creative way out of a financial crunch, according to me.

This jives, oddly enough, with a study I saw yesterday linking pro-environmental behavior with the personality facets, Openness to Experience, and Conscientiousness.


B&D, FHA style. wikimedia commons pd

B&D, FHA style. wikimedia commons pd

Numbers are the least sexy part of real estate. But let me see what I can do here to pump up the excitement: $98 a month, that’s what Obama’s new mortgage change will mean to the average Portland home-buyer who’s hot for an FHA loan.

FHA loans do help people of limited means slip into comfortable homes. But these loans tend to be turgid with fees. Among the most rapacious of these is the “mortgage insurance premium.” Right now, that fee engorges the purchase cost of your house by 1.35%.

This may not sound like a huge hunk, but whip out your calculator. Actually, let’s ask my smokin’ hot pal Laura D’Andrea ( to whip out her calculator: She’s a Portland mortgage originator, and would be the first to assure you that size does matter. Taking an average Portland home, here’s the impact of the sleeker, stripped-down mortgage insurance premium (MIP). For a $245,000 house:

With the minimum 3.5% down payment, under the current MIP rate, you’ll pay about $266 each month just for the MIP. But for that same loan approved after January 26, the MIP payment will be $98 less. Over the life of a 30-year loan, that’s $35,280 in your pocket.

That’s $35,280 you could spend buying the house you’re passionate about vs. the house your mother would choose for you.

Now, two things about the MIP still rub me the wrong way. With “conventional” loans, you can slip the sweaty grip of MIP once you’ve paid for 20% of the home. After all, the whole point of mortgage insurance is to make sure the lender can recover its money if you pull a one night stand–and if the home is worth 20% more than the loan balance, the lender should be safe.LD

But FHA plays rough. It’s going to squeeze you tight for the entire life of the loan. So go ahead and take a tumble with this enticing new MIP. But keep that safe word on the tip of your tongue: Refinance!


[pd] wikimedia

[pd] wikimedia

The annual home improvement survey is out, and once again the steel door tops the list of home improvements that will lose you the least money when you sell.

Clients often ask me if they should remodel the bathroom or replace the counter tops when they prepare their house to sell. They ask other agents that, too. Which is why the National Association of Realtors publishes an annual study of which home improvements buyers will pay extra for.

Yeah, none. Realtors across the country chime in, and they/we are pretty clear on this: None.

Even the steel entry door is a disappointment, with brokers estimating that buyers will pay $1,122 for your new $1162 door. Fiberglass door? Forget it. The “R” on that “I” is only 71%.

A kitchen remodel, which runs $20,000 to $50,000, nets only about 75% of your cost–at the high end! The cheaper your remodel, the smaller fraction you’ll recoup.

Most of the least-losing improvements are external: Fresh siding, garage doors, and the dearly loved steel entry door are up there. In New England, the door and even a new deck break into positive payback territory! Add two! Surround your house with decks, and make millions!

Additions–family rooms, sun rooms, and garages–are the biggest money dumps. Home office remodels are for chumps. New roofs are a ghastly miscalculation.

Here’s the thing: First impressions matter tremendously–as they should when you’re purchasing a giant consumer product with 1,000 hidden pieces that might or might not make your next 20 years a long, slow dance of regret. …Right?

So yes, no new windows. But wash the heck out of whatever windows you have. No new kitchen, but paint elderly cabinets white. If you add a sunroom ($76,000) plan on half your ROI coming back as pure joy, because it’s not going to come back as money.

If you must, if you really must, you can replace the entry door.

Check out the full list of survey items here.




City Slickers not sicker than Country Bumpkins? Image: CDC

City Slickers not sicker than Country Bumpkins? Image: CDC

When did life in the country become so bad for you? A recent study by the CDC found that rural dwellers are more likely to have a chronic and serious health condition than are city folk.

That’s crazy! Remember when cities were cauldrons of smog, and doctors prescribed a trip to the country to clear the lungs? OK, neither do I. But I’ve read that such things happened.

The CDC’s 2103 health survey of people 45 and older found otherwise. Or at least it found that something worse than diesel bus fumes is hitting country dwellers where they live. The diseases in question: hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, hepatitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), weak or failing kidneys during the past 12 months, currently having asthma.

Here’s the great news, though: Rural living really isn’t that much worse than urban living.

Here’s the horrible news: Only 28% of Americans 45 or older, city and country combined, was free of all ten conditions! Forty-two percent of Americans had two! 

Wait. I just noticed arthritis in there. Seriously? Now I feel this is way less alarming. Now I’m surprised that 28% of Americans older than 45 don’t have arthritis.

Anyway, I bet if you mapped income or education across the same area, you’d find a powerful hint: Where you live isn’t as important as how you live.


Kublai Khan. Wikimedia pd

Kublai Khan. Wikimedia pd

I’ve been watching the Marco Polo series on Netflix not for the melodrama and frontal nudity, but for the real estate considerations. Primarily, how did Kublai Khan not freeze his funny little hairdo off? How warm can you really make a ger?

Pretty warm, apparently. Thanks to sheep.

The Mongolian ger, aka yurt, is a lightly-woven basket, covered with layers of felted wool. The ger is modular from the get-go, as befits a culture of sheep-followers. Accordingly, the insulation also is easily adjusted. The basic unit of insulation is a flexible version of foam insulation board, known as felted wool. The raw material is mined from a sheep, then whacked into dense sheets about an inch thick. This oily product is water and wind-repellent, and has an R-value of a bit under 1. In the winter, you pile on as many as you want. Three inches of felt mat provide an R value similar to your double-pane window (2). The old balloon-construction houses of Maine only managed R-4 or -5.

But insulation is only part of the story. Materials also lose heat through radiation. Glass is a fantastic radiator, shedding your household heat out into the winter air. Felt, according to research by a bunch of sheep, yak, camels, llamas, and goats, is not.

And air infiltration is important as well: That old Maine house has sprung so many leaks since it was built that you may as well just leave a door open all winter. The circular, even spherical, shape of the ger sheds cold wind instead of fighting it; and apparently the oily felt itself is remarkably windproof. (Modern gers have a canvas cover that helps, too.)

So Khan & Co. weren’t exactly roughing it on the Mongolian grasslands. Plus, if Netflix’s account is to be believed, no Mongolian ever spent a night alone.


To be sold online. Gediman's Appliance in Bath. Photo: Keenan Auction

To be sold online. Gediman’s Appliance in Bath. Photo: Keenan Auction

You like? You go online and bid. This pretty thing is part of the Gediman’s Appliance liquidation auction in Bath and Lewiston, but a couple other auctions are coming up, as well.

The Gediman’s auction starts online January 16, and will close at 1 pm February 2. There’s a “preview,” or actually a “last-chance view,” January 30. Winners will have to unhook their winnings and haul them away on 3 February.

Included: All manner of floor-model appliances and hoods; from Viking, Bosch, Jenn-Air, Thermador, etc., under “Equipment Sales.”

Restaurant Thing. photo Keenan Auction

Restaurant Thing. Photo Keenan Auction

The Dunstan School Restaurant auction is live and in person, January 14 at 10 am; preview at 8. In addition to a billion coffee mugs and chairs, this Scarborough auction features industrial-size mixers, grinders, shredders, coolers, heaters, hashers, smashers, dicers and whatever this is:

However, Geek Realtor predicts the true bargains, the rock-bottom deals, the almost-free stuff, will come from an online auction of appliances, furniture, electronics, salon equipment, “fire proof wastebaskets,” and even a John Deere tractor currently residing in Vassalboro. Bidding starts January 3; last-chance in-person preview January 16; closing January 19. Whence Geek Realtor’s confidence that this will be the least-contested stuff of the lot?

Vassalboro Vulcan (with cooties). Photo Keenan Auction

Vassalboro Vulcan (with cooties). Photo Keenan Auction

It’s a nursing home. Humans are hard-wired to avoid sick humans, and this vague sense of skeeziness applies to items worn or used by sick humans as well. Take advantage of it! The cooties wash right off.