31 Aralık 2007 Pazartesi

Transforming the Doorway into the nation's only FREE Home Staging Information Resource Site

Ask any Realtor and they’ll tell you… first impressions matter. But besides home sales there are other times where first impressions count. So to demonstrate the importance and result of home staging, I thought I would do some staging in one of those “other places.” Considering that the home page of a website is like its “front door”… those of us at Real Estaging thought we would apply the same creative magic we use to stage a home and do a little cyber staging.

For this staging our “client” is going to be Active Rain, the hugely popular on-line real estate network. Why them? Well, from the time I joined Active Rain, something has bugged me about it. Let’s face it Active Rain's front door is Boring.

Yes, Yes I know what they have right now is fully "functional" door, and Yes, I know that search engines have no problem finding it. But let's face it... its just plain old BORING. It has NO PIZZAZ, NO WOW! NO… DANG, I gotta go in and check this site out. You might say it suffers from the lack of cyber curb appeal.

So off to work we went… to see the result of our work just click here and you will see what Michelle Tsioles, an AMAZINGLY creative designer (interior and graphic) on staff here at Real Estaging, created. This gateway site is fully functional and is up and running and ready to be linked to. So for my peers in the Home Staging Industry, who have been working together as a group to share our story, you now have a more attractive and less confusing way to gain access to all the great free information being shared about home staging in Active Rain’s Stage It Forward group.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is NOT going to replace the MAIN door into Active Rain. However, the Chief Community Builder of Active Rain, Caleb Mardini was quite pleased with the result saying "I have to say YOU'VE GOT IT! Craig this is great. This really helps. Thank you for putting this together." Since that note, the developers of Active Rain have revealed some images of a newly “staged” home page that they have planned for the future... which does look MUCH better. But with Active Rain getting so big… it still be nice for home stagers and other’s interested in home staging to have a simple access directly to all the great information and dialogue taking place on the internets largest and most comprehensive FREE informational resource… Stage It Forward.

Home Staging Gets a Red Eye in Chicago

"You can rent movies. You can rent an apartment. If you live or work in a street-parking desert, you can even rent a space for your ride. So why not add luxury to that list?" This is what Kyra Kyles wrote the introduction to her cover story in yesterday's Red Eye Newspaper. (For those of you that don't know what a "Red Eye" is... well it is the hip urban free daily newspaper published by the Tribune Corporation here in Chicago.)

Yesterday's article, entitled "Rent An Image" looked at some of the interesting luxury items that are available to rent in Chicago-land. Well, I have to admit I never considered the props we have available as ubber LUXURY items, like the Austin Martin automobiles and the Prada handbags the article spoke of. But Kyra who interviewed Real Estaging for a side bar story entitled "Go ahead and rent that furniture" , pointed out the fact that props can be rented to help you sell your home for more money (Click on image at left to read it). Besides making homes look more appealing, staging has helped sellers make more money when they RAISED the asking price. as well as help to sell homes faster... and considering "time is money" staging a home should be a considered in this current market.

Most home seller's think that staging props are rented for use ONLY in and for vacant property sales. Seller's don't know that some home stager's can also rent just the right piece or pieces to finish off the look and appeal of their property as they live there while it on the market. The main advantage of renting is the fact that the seller need not spend the time to shop for decorative items or spend full retail prices to buy those items. The other VERY important advantage of using a stager's props is the fact that a stager knows to use pieces that are UNDERSTATED. When selling your home, your house needs to be the star, not the stuff in it. Experienced stagers know how to create a "put together look" with out our stuff ending up being a beautiful distraction.

So thanks Red Eye... your unique story angle helps to make another fine point about home staging.


PS: If you would like to see an entire PDF sample of Chicago's Red Eye Newspaper... CLICK HERE.

27 Aralık 2007 Perşembe

Lenders Agree to Freeze Rates on Some Loans 2

But there was no sign on Wednesday that Mr. Bush’s plan would contain new commitments by lenders to help people refinance. Absent any new approaches, borrowers would still be largely on their own to find better deals.

Republican presidential candidates have seemed reluctant to propose government rescue plans, seeing them as a bailout. But they are feeling the heat nonetheless, and some are joining Mr. Paulson’s effort to help people in danger of losing their homes.

“You don’t want to reward speculators,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is running for the Republican nomination. “You’d like to take each individual case on its own, but there’s no time to do that. What’s important is to stop the bleeding.”

John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate and former senator from North Carolina, on Wednesday proposed a seven-year freeze in subprime interest rates, as well as a new fund to help distressed borrowers. Mr. Edwards also called for a change in bankruptcy laws that would give homeowners far more bargaining power in negotiating new terms.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois jumped ahead of many of his Democratic presidential rivals in September with detailed recommendations that included a government rescue fund, changes in bankruptcy law and a new tax credit on mortgage interest for people who do not itemize their taxes and cannot currently deduct their interest payments.

Adding to the political pressure, many of the states that are hardest hit by mortgage defaults and falling home prices are important election swing states. They include Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire, have not been particularly hard hit by the housing crisis, but two of the states with early nominating contests — Florida and Nevada — have among the worst problems in the country.

“Even though foreign policy has been dominating the election for the past year, economics will pay a bigger role next year,” said Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant who worked in the Clinton administration and is an adviser to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. “Not only will the specific mortgage and housing problems intensify, the ripple effects on the economy will also magnify.”

Lenders Agree to Freeze Rates on Some Loans

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 — The Bush administration reached an agreement with the mortgage industry on Wednesday on a plan to freeze interest rates for up to five years for a portion of the two million homeowners who bought houses in the last few years with subprime loans.

The plan, hammered out after weeks of talks among Treasury Department officials, mortgage lenders and Wall Street firms, would allow distressed borrowers who are current on their payments to keep their low introductory rates and escape an increase of 30 percent or more in their monthly payments when the rates expire.

Democratic lawmakers and presidential contenders quickly criticized the plan as being too timid and promoted more ambitious proposals of their own.

The agreement, to be formally announced Thursday by President Bush, is expected to contain numerous limitations that would exclude many — if not most — subprime borrowers, according to industry executives who have seen it. It would exclude those who are delinquent on their payments — about 22 percent of all subprime borrowers, according to First American LoanPerformance, an industry research firm.

The plan is also expected to exclude any borrower whose introductory rate expires before Jan. 1. About $57 billion in subprime loans are scheduled to be reset at higher rates in the final three months of this year, according to estimates by First American LoanPerformance.

Mortgage companies could also exclude borrowers who they conclude are making enough money to afford higher monthly payments. Barclays Capital — extrapolating from a similar program recently unveiled in California — estimates that only about 12 percent of all subprime borrowers, or 240,000 homeowners, would get relief.

“From what I’ve heard, I don’t see anything that leads me to believe we will see an increase in loan modifications,” said Eric Halperin, Washington director of the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit group that has studied the subprime problem.

The plan is being announced as fallout from the mortgage crisis is seeping into the political sphere. Until recently, few candidates talked about subprime loans, and few bankers and traders on Wall Street paid much attention to mortgage-crisis declarations on the campaign trail. But with the meltdown growing worse, housing prices still plunging and many economists worrying about a recession, President Bush and his Democratic opponents are now racing to come up with answers.

Democratic presidential candidates complained that the White House plan was overly narrow.

“It seems that President Bush is going to give struggling homeowners far less than they need,” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said in a statement on Monday. “With news accounts using terms like ‘whittled down’ and ‘limited’ to describe the scope of the Bush plan, it appears that the president is pushing a freeze for a very narrow group of borrowers.”

Mrs. Clinton visited the Nasdaq stock market in New York on Wednesday and assailed Wall Street firms for the mortgage mess. She called for a 90-day moratorium on subprime foreclosures and a rate freeze that would apply to all borrowers current on payments and some who have fallen behind.

Despite the criticism, the Bush plan is a significant change in an initial reluctance to impose solutions. As recently as a month ago, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. argued that lenders should try to work out new terms on a case-by-case basis.

But Mr. Paulson and federal banking regulators became increasingly impatient with the industry’s failure to produce a systematic, rapid approach to evaluating borrowers.

Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, proposed a comparatively radical plan to permanently freeze rates on all subprime loans. Mr. Paulson rejected that idea, but began to push for a standardized approach that would temporarily freeze rates for many borrowers facing upward adjustments on their monthly payments.

Administration officials emphasized that the rate freeze was only one part of a broader plan. Mr. Bush will also ask Congress to temporarily expand the authority of states and localities to issue tax-exempt mortgage-revenue bonds to help people refinance their mortgages.

Treasury officials are also pushing the industry to come up with a streamlined way to help subprime borrowers refinance with a more conventional, lower-rate mortgage.

Subprime loans typically come with high interest rates, and were originally intended for people with poor credit histories. But some analysts say that more than a third of all subprime borrowers could have qualified for cheaper conventional loans at the outset.

In Mortgage Plan, Lenders Set Terms 2

President Bush and other top administration officials emphasized that the plan could help as many as 1.2 million subprime borrowers — about two-thirds of all people with subprime loans.

But that estimate covers hundreds of thousands of borrowers who are believed to qualify without any extra help for cheaper conventional mortgages, like those insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

Nonprofit housing groups that try to help troubled homeowners renegotiate mortgages were underwhelmed by Mr. Bush’s plan.

The Greenlining Institute, a housing advocacy group in California that began raising alarms about subprime loans nearly four years ago, estimated that only 12 percent of all subprime borrowers and only 5 percent of minority homeowners would benefit from the rate freeze. The Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit group that supports homeownership, said the freeze would help only about 145,000 people.

“This grossly inadequate plan is likely to harm the president’s desire to close the minority homeownership gap and create an ownership society,” said Robert Gnaizda, general counsel for the Greenlining Institute.

Some Wall Street analysts were equally unenthusiastic. “This plan only really amounts to a set of recommendations for lenders that is sure to meet some resistance from investors” in the mortgage-backed securities, wrote Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

Indeed, there were rumblings of rebellion among some institutional investors. “Why would anybody in his right financial mind agree to a five-year price freeze, especially when we’re staring in the face of possible inflation?” asked Roger W. Kirby, managing partner at Kirby McInerney, which has represented investors in class-action lawsuits over securities. “Mr. Paulson has overestimated the generosity of people on Wall Street.”

In Mortgage Plan, Lenders Set Terms

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — At least one thing is clear about President Bush’s plan to help people trapped by the mortgage meltdown: it is an industry-led plan, not a government bailout.

Although Mr. Bush unveiled the plan at the White House on Thursday, its terms were set by the mortgage industry and Wall Street firms. The effort is voluntary and it leaves plenty of wiggle room for lenders. Moreover, it would affect only a small number of subprime borrowers.

The plan was the target of criticism from consumer advocates who said its scope was too narrow, and from investment firms, who said it went too far. Others warned that the plan, by letting some stretched homeowners off the hook, could encourage more reckless borrowing in the future.

“The approach announced today is not a silver bullet,” said Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who hammered out the agreement. “We face a difficult problem for which there is no perfect solution.”

The heart of Mr. Bush’s plan is a cautious attempt to help troubled homeowners by persuading financiers to freeze mortgages at low introductory rates for five years, but without actually forcing the hands of lenders and investors who hold the mortgages.

One of the financial industry’s lead negotiators estimated that at most 20 percent of subprime borrowers whose payments will increase sharply over the next 18 months — 360,000 out of 1.8 million people — would qualify for rapid consideration of a special five-year freeze on interest rates.

The number of people who actually obtain help would be smaller, because each borrower would face tests aimed at weeding out those considered too hopelessly in debt and those who make too much money to justify relief.

In one curious twist, the plan could eliminate many who have good credit scores or managed to improve their credit scores, because the good ratings would be a sign they do not need help.

“Talk about moral hazard,” remarked Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “We’ve all told people, don’t go any more deeply into debt. Now we’re saying that people who go more deeply into debt will have an advantage over people who don’t go more deeply into debt.”

The administration’s theory is that there is a “sweet spot” in the market where it makes more financial sense for lenders to offer some relief than it does to foreclose on homeowners.

Most analysts agree there is a sweet spot of some sort. Investors typically lose 40 percent or 50 percent on homes that go into foreclosure, and the cost of shielding borrowers from a big jump in rates can be much less.

“I think there is a sweet spot,” said Bert Ely, a banking consultant in Alexandria, Va. “But I worry that the sweet spot is much smaller than people think it is. And as housing prices continue to decline and debts pile up, I fear the sweet spot will shrink.”

Administration officials estimate about 500,000 subprime borrowers are in danger of losing homes in the next 18 months as their low teaser rates expire and their monthly payments jump by 30 percent or more. Outside analysts warn the number of foreclosures could be much higher.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that the number of new foreclosure proceedings hit a record in the third quarter and that the delinquency rate on mortgages climbed to the highest level since 1986. The biggest problem, according to the survey, was in subprime loans, which are typically made at higher interest rates to people with shaky credit records or weak incomes.

But Mr. Paulson and the president’s other top economic advisers have remained staunchly opposed to anything that resembled a government-financed bailout for people who took out foolish mortgages or investors who bought the mortgages.

As a result, administration officials have walked a narrow line. They have held meetings bringing together mortgage-servicing companies and groups representing investors holding mortgages.

Instead of pressuring the industry to come up with specific relief, Mr. Paulson pushed the players to come up with a streamlined approach for deciding when to modify loan terms.

But Tom Deutsch, deputy director of the American Securitization Forum, which represented investment funds in the negotiations, made it clear that any rate freeze would be strictly voluntary and based on what investors decided was in their self-interest.

“This is not a government bailout program,” Mr. Deutsch said. “This is an industry-led framework for providing the best market standards and practices. There is no mandate here.”

Some Needing Mortgage Aid Won’t Get It

When Jirina Koy heard that President Bush was announcing a freeze yesterday on mortgage interest rates, the Stockton, Calif., homeowner felt a flicker of hope.

It was quickly extinguished. After calling a nonprofit housing assistance center, Ms. Koy learned that her mortgage, for all the trouble it was causing her, was not likely to be one of those qualifying for relief.

Mortgage experts say there will be many borrowers like Ms. Koy. The exact guidelines of the rescue plan are still fuzzy, but it is clear that many of those who need aid the most will not get it. The number of households facing foreclosure in the next two years is estimated to exceed two million.

“I’m glad someone’s getting help, but I wish it were me,” said Ms. Koy, 46, who works in the state unemployment office.

She has a so-called option loan, which gives her the choice of how much to pay every month. Heavy in debt, she usually chooses the minimum. The unpaid interest and principal is added to her mortgage balance, which means her loan keeps getting bigger.

Ms. Koy’s woes were compounded by an ill-advised refinancing two years ago.

“I got all these calls from brokers all the time — ‘You could pay off debt, pay off the car loan, make extra money every month, blah blah,’ ” she said. She took out $60,000.

“The only way that would have made sense is if I had cut up my credit cards and nothing else had come up,” Ms. Koy said. “But something else always comes up.”

Ms. Koy’s husband is disabled and has not worked for a decade. The couple’s credit card debt is back up to $25,000, in part because of their daughter’s medical bills. Their three-bedroom house is worth about $250,000, but they owe much more on it.

Kimberley Williams, who owns a small bungalow in Los Angeles, might have a happier fate than Ms. Koy. She bought her home in February 2006, as the boom was peaking.

“I felt that if I didn’t get into the market, I wouldn’t be able to afford a house in California,” she said.

In November 2006, Ms. Williams refinanced. Like Ms. Koy, she got money to pay bills, including paying off her car. But her monthly mortgage payment rose to $3,011. Next December, it will jump by several hundred dollars.

Ms. Williams, a registered nurse, does not regret refinancing, but is worried about possibly being forced to sell in a declining market — or worse.

“Even people with good jobs making good money are facing foreclosure,” said Ms. Williams, 43. She plans to apply for the freeze.

While acknowledging that only a small number of stressed borrowers would be helped, Lori Gay, president of Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit group, called the freeze “a great beginning.”

Michael Shea, executive director of Acorn Housing, another counseling agency, took a different view. “We’re disappointed that a year into this crisis the responses are so lacking in the bold leadership,” he said. “We really need an F.D.R.-like approach, and not Calvin Coolidge.”

Real estate agents in high-foreclosure areas had different opinions about whether the freeze would have an effect on queasy markets.

Jason Bosch, president of Home Center Realty in California’s hard-hit Riverside County, was pessimistic.

“We were selling $300,000 homes to people who could only afford $175,000 homes,” he said. “Even if you freeze their payments, they still can’t handle it.”

In Sarasota, Fla., a real estate agent, Jim Willig, was hopeful that at least the freeze would put a brake on some of the inventory flooding the area.

“That’s a benefit,” said Mr. Willig, who owns seven rental houses, all of them worth less than he paid.

Tom Gutierrez, bought his house in 2004, too early to qualify for the freeze.

Mr. Gutierrez, a school bus driver who lives in West Covina, Calif., is negotiating a new loan. “Many home buyers didn’t do our homework,” he said. “Maybe some kind of education will help as well.”