November 14, 2011

Ellen Berry: Baltimore area looks good for 'college town' rental investors


Today, guest blogger Ellen Berry shares information about a very specific sort of real estate investing -- buying rentals with an eye toward the college-student market.

As a member of the team, she writes about a wide variety of topics related to the college scene.

Take it away, Ellen:



Good news for investors seeking profitable rental properties -- Baltimore ranked in the top 10 for college town real estate markets in the U.S. in a recent MarketWatch story. Key investor-friendly variables come together in cities like Baltimore, including:

● A high rate of housing demand that is consistent over time, primarily due to a continuous influx of students and professors seeking off-campus housing. Also, college towns are desirable retirement spots thanks to the nearby restaurants and steady stream of cultural and athletic events. Landlords can be more confident that they will be able to choose from a sizable pool of tenants and avoid long-term vacancies.

● Significant increases in tuition costs and campus living throughout the country are motivating students to choose affordable nearby housing over student housing. This allows landlords to charge more for rental properties -- often enough to cover the entire cost of the mortgages on their properties.

Continue reading "Ellen Berry: Baltimore area looks good for 'college town' rental investors" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Guest post

November 7, 2011

John Evan Miller: How Baltimore and Md. stack up on foreclosures

Today, guest poster John Evan Miller -- who writes for the ForeclosureDeals blog -- brings good news and bad news about foreclosures in our area. He's been writing about real estate for years and has a graduate certificate in international real estate.

Take it away, John:



Those of us who have been in the real estate industry for any significant amount of time know one thing about today’s market: It’s a mess.

Across the country, from Maine to California (and even Alaska and Hawaii), the real estate market has been besieged by successive waves of foreclosures that have decimated neighborhoods, depressed home values and sent millions of Americans searching for new living arrangements.

How does the state of Maryland – and the city of Baltimore – stack up when compared to foreclosures in the rest of the country?

First, the good news.  A review of available data reveals that the situation is not as dire as it is elsewhere in the country. Nevada, for example, has by far the highest foreclosure rate, with one out of every 118 housing units receiving a foreclosure notice in September. In contrast, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland’s foreclosure rate was a relatively-small one out of every 720 housing units – good for the 9th best rate in the country.

Continue reading "John Evan Miller: How Baltimore and Md. stack up on foreclosures" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Guest post, The foreclosure mess

October 27, 2011

Dave Skaff: Time to refinance?



There's nothing like 30-year mortgage rates near 4 percent and 15-year even lower to make homeowners daydream about refinancing. But not everyone would come out ahead if they did. And borrowers with little (or negative) equity are in a tight spot -- though changes to the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program announced this week are aimed at increasing their chances of getting approved.

Today's guest poster, Dave Skaff, wants to shed some light on the subject. He's an M&T Bank regional mortgage manager responsible for loan officer staff in the mid-Atlantic.

Take it away, Dave:



Mortgage rates are at historic lows. For millions of Americans, now could be the right time to make a move to improve their monthly cash flow. But getting a home loan in today's mortgage world is not as easy as it once was. Declining values and stricter documentation guidelines make it challenging for many folks. For anyone who is interested in refinancing, there are several key points to consider:

1) A small drop of just 1 percent could make it worthwhile to refinance for someone with a large loan balance. A few hundred dollars per month could be saved on a $300,000 loan, for example. On a lower loan balance, the monthly savings could be outweighed by the costs involved. It is best to consult with a mortgage specialist to see if refinancing makes sense for you.

Continue reading "Dave Skaff: Time to refinance?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Guest post, Mortgage rates, Mortgages

July 19, 2011

Art imitates foreclosure


Photo by Justine Maki


Colleague Justine Maki deserves brownie points, and actual brownies, for her dispatches about the lighter side of real estate. She's told us about an amusing open house and an auction of (not actually) a park. Today she returns for a guest piece about an unexpected bit of art:



When Steve Kilar wrote what journalists would call a "scene" piece about Artscape on Saturday, he included a little tidbit that Real Estate Wonk readers may find particularly funny:

The children moved on to a series of painted play houses, the plastic type from big-box stores for back yards. But these had been decorated in a variety of styles, fantasy versions of homes one might see driving around the city. ...
"He's especially taken with the little HUD home over there," Becky said of Will, who was playing in a small house plastered with foreclosure signs and a splintering pressboard roof. There was even an empty liquor bottle outside to complete the picture.

Artscape is known for displays that push the limits of taste or offer commentary on current events and society. The playhouses were generally brightly colored and inviting and surrounded by hoards of kids in various stages of exhaustion. The foreclosure house, as you can see in the photo, wasn’t exactly inviting though it was smack in the middle of the "neighborhood." When I stopped by, no kids were paying attention to it (but it also lacked an open door).

The very idea of a foreclosure among the castles and other playhouses made me think of that axiom "art imitates life" — in this case, not in a cheerful fashion.

This was the only foreclosure or housing-related display I came across at Artscape. Anybody see anything else?



Thanks, Justine!

If you'd like to write a guest post -- either to share expertise or to share an interesting housing-related personal experience -- please drop me a line. Details here.

And if you've got questions you'd like to see a guest poster address on another subject, ask away right here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Architecture/art, Guest post, The foreclosure mess

July 11, 2011

Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords




The difficult housing market has turned a lot of homeowners into landlords by necessity. They can't sell, at least not for the price they require, but they still need to move on -- so they're renting out their former homes.

For these "accidental landlords," and really any new landlord with an older home in Baltimore, trying to figure out how to comply with lead-paint rules seems daunting. One reader has a whole host of questions, and I thought a number of you would love to know the answers, too.

Enter Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore. She kindly agreed to do a Q&A guest post, with input from other staffers at the nonprofit.

She has run the coalition for 18 years.


Take it away, Ruth Ann:


Question: How does one best go about the process of getting square with the Maryland Department of the Environment lead rules for renting? Do I test the place myself first? Call MDE first? Call an outside contractor first?

Continue reading "Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords" »

June 27, 2011

Billy Yerman: Don't try to time the housing market



Predicting when the bottom of the real estate bust will arrive has been the parlor game of the last half-decade. Some would-be buyers are holding off with the idea of catching lower prices later, while some would-be sellers are waiting in hopes of better times down the road.

Now comes today's guest poster, real estate attorney and broker Billy Yerman, with an argument about when to buy and sell that will be sure to fire up debate.

He's chief executive of the Baltimore-based Strata Group, parent company of real estate businesses such as the Yerman Witman Gaines & Conklin real estate brokerage. He's been in real estate for 22 years.

Take it away, Billy:



It’s more or less accepted wisdom that it’s not a good idea to “time” the stock market. Most professional investment advisers warn against a strategy of betting on spikes in stock prices in the short term (versus a long-term “buy and hold” strategy), for the simple reason that the markets are too complex to predict accurately in the near term. Of course, that doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying to do just that, with varying results.

Continue reading "Billy Yerman: Don't try to time the housing market" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Expert guest post, Guest post

June 20, 2011

Q&A: Purchasing foreclosures

Buying a home is complicated. When it's a foreclosure, though, the questions really multiply -- whether you're trying to purchase an REO (real-estate owned) property from a bank or you're thinking of bidding at a foreclosure auction.

Two settlement attorneys teamed up to answer common questions, including ones several of you submitted. Lee M. Snyder and Eric Oberer are colleagues at Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services. Lee has been practicing real estate law since 1969 and Eric -- a former city prosecutor -- joined Mid-Atlantic in 2005.

Take it away, Lee and Eric:



Question: Is there any way for a buyer to tell before getting under contract on an REO whether the institution already has the legal ability to go to settlement?

Answer: The land records of the county/city where the property is located are the best source of information as to who is in title. It is also possible to go onto the website for the state Department of Assessments and Taxation to determine who is in title according to their records. However, both of these sources can be as much as 60-90 days behind in indexing and therefore may not show that title has recently changed. Many times, the selling REO bank has seen the foreclosure procedure completed, sale ratified, etc., and the deed from the trustees to it has not yet been recorded or indexed but the bank lists the property for sale anyway.

Q: What issues do you see crop up on a regular basis with REO transactions – delays, etc. – that buyers should be aware of?

Continue reading "Q&A: Purchasing foreclosures" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Auctions, Distress sales, Guest post, The foreclosure mess

June 13, 2011

Q&A: Renting

You asked for answers to renting questions. Nokomis Johns kindly volunteered.

She's the senior tenant/landlord counselor for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that has a hot line just for questions in this arena. A BNI employee for more than seven years, her mission is getting "more people informed on the correct laws and procedures before they get into a bad situation."

BNI counselors often provide information about tenant/landlord laws, but they're not attorneys -- and of course the answers to the questions below aren't legal advice. They're designed to point you in the right direction.

Take it away, Nokomis:



Question: What is considered "normal wear and tear" in a rental agreement? I am thinking about what a landlord can deduct from a security deposit and what he cannot deduct.

Answer: Normal wear and tear are things that result from coming and going. They are things that cannot be prevented. For example, the carpet wears down as you walk on it, or after a while the paint starts to crack and peel. These types of things cannot be prevented and the landlord cannot charge you for replacing the carpet or repainting due to ordinary wear and tear. If you do not agree with what is deducted from your security deposit, you can sue the landlord.

Q: I'm really concerned about rising rental costs. Are there rent consumer advocates to help us fight for our rights? For instance, it would be useful for consumers to determine if the rent is fairly priced for the area and amenities. When there's a rent increase, is the amount fair?

Continue reading "Q&A: Renting" »

June 3, 2011

Your renter/landlord questions

Several of you had renting-related questions when I opened the floor to suggestions for expert Q&As. A landlord-tenant specialist is on board now to answer questions, so last chance for more: What do you want to know from either a renter or landlord perspective?

Share your questions in the comments. Thanks, all!

UPDATE: Or you might want to email me at jhopkins(at)baltsun(dot)com, because as I write this, commenting is temporarily disabled. Fingers crossed that all will be fixed soon.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Expert guest post, Guest post

May 19, 2011

In Hampden, an auction for land that wasn't actually a park



Sometimes the way you discover that land in your neighborhood isn't publicly owned open space is when it changes hands -- or gets built on. Colleague Justine Maki got to watch the former in action yesterday in her neighborhood.

Here's her story:



I've walked by the empty lots in Hampden many times with my dog, and I thought they were part of Hickory Park, so called because across the street, a metal trash can is painted with the name.

But public auction signs sprouted in the grass a few weeks ago, and pretty soon, Alex Cooper had a detailed listing for the land on its website.

My curiosity about the land is how I came to be standing in the rain on a sidewalk circling the uneven field of grass and weeds.

I arrived about 15 or 20 minutes before the auction's 1 p.m. start time, and there were a couple men in suits from Alex Cooper, a man who owns a house adjacent to the lot and another who turned out to be a bidder. The homeowner, Jeremy Kargon, is also an architect. "I came because I'm a interested party, but also in case anybody wants an architect," he said with a laugh.

Continue reading "In Hampden, an auction for land that wasn't actually a park" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Auctions, Guest post

May 16, 2011

Dispatch from the field: Moving in with mother-in-law

Many have found themselves doubling up with family the last few years out of necessity, economic or otherwise. This week's guest poster is doing so temporarily while she's between houses. She offered to write a dispatch early on with more to come -- anonymously, so she could be candid without fear of hurt feelings.

Here's her tale:



My husband and I moved in with his mother on April 18, with some trepidation.

We sold our house in Virginia, and now we are in Maryland. We have about four months before our house in western New York will be built. My husband's first choice was to find a short-term rental in New York so that we could immediately begin our new life there. I wanted to move in with his mother for a variety of reasons.

First, I thought that it would allow for a more seamless transition of our U.S. mail. The post office doesn't do well with multiple changes of address in a short period of time. I figured it would be easy to receive any mail that goes to Maryland after we have moved to New York. Second, I thought we could save money. Third, we could help my mother-in-law. In return for not paying her any rent, we were planning to take over my mother-in-law's gardening, lawn-mowing, housecleaning and car-washing. Since she is quite elderly and physically limited, we also planned to help her with anything she feels unable to do -- such as driving long distances and shopping for anything heavy or unwieldy.

After we sold our house and were committed to closing quickly, we felt there was little time to move, store our belongings, and look for temporary housing in New York. So my husband gave in to me on this one. Here we are.

Continue reading "Dispatch from the field: Moving in with mother-in-law" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Dispatches, Guest post

May 9, 2011

Mike Klijanowicz: Under-appraisals



Today's guest poster: Mike Klijanowicz, a real estate agent with Long & Foster in Perry Hall who has been the top individual producer in his office in listings and sales since 2008. He brings thoughts from the field on an issue that can slam the brakes on a transaction.

He works mainly in and around Baltimore, Baltimore County and Harford County, with clients ranging from first-time buyers to investors.

Take it away, Mike:




A few short years ago most people never thought that their homes would ever "under appraise." Back then home prices were only going one way -- up. However, in today's tumultuous real estate world, under appraisals are becoming more and more common. With all of the foreclosures and short sales that have flooded the local real estate market and the many more thousands that will be released eventually, it continues to have a dramatic impact on non-distressed "normal" residential property values.

With the current HVCC (Home Valuation Code of Conduct) rules and regulations regarding appraisals and home value calculations, appraisers continue to be under an intense pressure to not "over inflate" the properties' value. Those HVCC rules and regulations that went into effect two years ago are still causing serious ripple effects in today’s marketplace.

In reality what we see happening now is very few/none of the appraisers seem to want to set the new high sale comp in a neighborhood. The buyer and the seller may have mutually agreed on a price that was $20,000 higher than what the appraiser determined the value to be. However, if the only comparable sales were from "distressed" properties (short sales, foreclosures, etc.), they brought the overall value in lower.

If this trend continues, how will property values ever increase if appraisers continue to be pressured to not set the new high sale comp in a neighborhood, even when it is the best home in the neighborhood? And whatever happened to rule that the fair market price is determined by what a buyer is willing to pay?

Continue reading "Mike Klijanowicz: Under-appraisals" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Appraisals, Guest post

May 3, 2011

Now taking your housing-related questions

Questions about ground rent pop up all the time, so asking a real estate attorney to weigh in on the common ones was a no-brainer. It seems like a pretty good model for other expert guest posts, too -- taking your questions to people who can answer them.

Let's make this official, then: What burning (or perhaps slightly warm) questions do you have related to residential real estate? Home inspections, appraisals, rental contracts, mortgages, renovation -- you get the idea.

You're not limited to one. Ask 'em all.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Expert guest post, Guest post

May 2, 2011

John Mitnick: Ground rent Q&A




Ground rent, that aged Baltimore institution, has been confusing residents for many years. It hasn't gotten any simpler with the raft of new ground-rent rules in 2007.

Real estate attorney John H. Mitnick agreed to tackle some common reader questions in this week's guest post.

He's with the Baltimore law firm of Mitnick & Mitnick, which was founded by his great-grandfather in 1881 and today includes his son, the fifth generation of the family to attend the University of Maryland School of Law. The firm specializes in real estate law.




Take it away, John:


Q: The ground rent on my property wasn't registered by the owner before the deadline last year. Do I need to officially request an extinguishment certificate from the state? Is there any downside to not doing so?

A: I recommend officially requesting an extinguishment certificate. This should then be recorded in the land records of the jurisdiction in which the property is located. The result is that a future title searcher will be able to report that the property is in fee simple. Absent such recordation, the title searcher would report the leasehold interest as shown by the records, which could cause problems if the property is to be sold or refinanced.

Q: If the ground rent on my property wasn't registered, does that mean I don't need to pay? Or should I anyway, just in case the registration law is overturned by the Court of Appeals?

Continue reading "John Mitnick: Ground rent Q&A" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Expert guest post, Ground rent, Guest post

April 25, 2011

Timothy Smith: 'Echo Boomers' have a different outlook on homeownership


Today's guest-post writer is the keeper of his own blog, the Echo Boom Bomb, which focuses on Echo Boomers -- aka the Millennial generation -- from an economic and financial perspective.

Timothy Smith has worked in the financial-services industry for five years in Texas. He's spent the last two collecting data, anecdotes and details on the generation the Baby Boom produced. (At age 28, he's an Echo Boomer himself.)

He predicts that the Echo Boom won't buy houses in bulk for a while -- if at all. His guest post is aimed at people trying to sell homes in one way or another, but it will probably interest anyone trying to get a handle on what the future holds for the housing market.

Take it away, Timothy:



How would you like to have 80 million customers? If you sell real estate, I know that you would love it. The great news is that the Millennial generation is estimated at 80 million strong, but the bad news is that these Echo Boomers don't appear ready to buy homes and may not want homes.

Echo Boomers, born from 1980 to 1995, constitute the second-largest generation in U.S. history. While they perform well in school, they tend to lack the financial skills needed to make large purchases, such as buying a home. They also think in a different value system than former generations when it comes to financial investments. Those in the real estate profession will face three major challenges with Echo Boomers, but each of these can be addressed with the appropriate strategy.

The first major challenge for those in real estate is the lack of net worth among Echo Boomers.

Continue reading "Timothy Smith: 'Echo Boomers' have a different outlook on homeownership" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Expert guest post, First-time home buyers, Guest post

April 18, 2011

Rachel Rabinowitz: How to buy real estate at auction




This week's guest writer is Rachel Rabinowitz, a residential auction specialist with Tranzon Fox.

A local, she graduated from The Park School of Baltimore, The George Washington University and Sotheby's Institute of Art London. She's a member of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and the National Auctioneers Association.

Take it away, Rachel:






For the uninitiated, the prospect of purchasing real estate at auction can be daunting. So you’ve seen an advertised auction property and you’d like to take a closer look? Here are some best practices for pursuing real estate at auction.

Continue reading "Rachel Rabinowitz: How to buy real estate at auction" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Auctions, Guest post

April 11, 2011

Marney Kirk: What to do to sell your home




You can find real estate agent Marney Kirk on Twitter, Facebook and her own blog (which won Zillow's best-blog-in-Baltimore contest), so she's one of the first people I thought of when you all suggested guest posts. She's with Keller Williams Excellence Realty in Timonium, has been an agent since 1998 and was recently named entrepreneur of the year by the Greater Baltimore chapter of the Women's Council of Realtors.

Take it away, Marney:



Timonium, or Lutherville-Timonium, as the Post Office calls it, is part of the 21093 zip code.

According to MRIS, our local multiple listing service, there are currently 43 townhouses listed for sale under $400,000 in 21093, with an average of 98 days on the market. There are nine under contract, and the average days on the market for those houses is 72 days.

What does this mean for sellers of townhouses in Timonium?

It means there is a LOT of competition out there and sellers need to put their best foot forward when listing their house for sale.

A seller's best foot involves a number of things:

Continue reading "Marney Kirk: What to do to sell your home" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Expert guest post, Guest post

April 5, 2011

For sale: House with fabulous closet

My awesome colleague Justine Maki, who lives in Hampden, had an amusing looky-loo experience recently. Once I heard it, I wanted you all to enjoy the fun, too.

Here's her tale:



Now that homes are regularly available for tours 24/7 — thanks, Internet! — open houses seem a little quaint. Sure, nobody's going to buy a house without going inside and seeing the space, but those "open" signs also attract a lot of nosy neighbors.

I'm not casting stones here — I'd love to buy a house in my neighborhood, but I'm not planning to sign anything for a year or more. So a few weekends ago, I checked out an open house across the street from my apartment and noticed something funny.

The helpful flier and online listing said the place had four bedrooms. But there were pictures of only three.

When I climbed the staircase, the case of the missing bedroom was solved: It was a closet!

Continue reading "For sale: House with fabulous closet" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Guest post, Housing market experiences

March 31, 2011

Pat Hiban: Surge in part of Md. housing market as buyers, investors leap



When I did a Q&A with real estate agent Pat Hiban at the beginning of 2009, he said foreclosure resales were about to hit in a big way, prices would continue to head downward and the higher end of the market had been "severely beaten up."

Now he returns as a guest blogger -- the first of what I hope will be many -- to talk about a new market shift he's seeing.

Hiban (pictured above) has been in the business for more than 20 years and runs the Pat Hiban Real Estate Group with Keller Williams Crossroads Realty. He's a billion-dollar agent who focuses primarily on Central Maryland and as far south as Washington, and he has a book coming out later in the year.

Take it away, Pat:



Very recently, the market has taken a major turn upward with regards to activity. I have one property on Nursery Lane in Gaithersburg with 23 offers on it -- multiple offers escalating the list price significantly. This is a single-family home listed at $630,000.

I currently have 51 properties pending whereas I am used to about 30. As I write this, we are negotiating 12 offers on 12 different properties and on an average day we may only be negotiating two or three.

The housing statistics for the state of Maryland show pending units are up 34 percent compared with February 2010. Because the number of active listings has only decreased by a mere 7 percent, this tells me that it's not an inventory shortage that has created a frisky market but a large increase in buyers.

Why have so many buyers come out of the woodwork?

Four very technical factors exist today that didn't even a year ago:

Continue reading "Pat Hiban: Surge in part of Md. housing market as buyers, investors leap" »

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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