Aiken park opens to pet owners, pups

Aiken’s dog park is open to the public though the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony and pet fair have been postponed until next year.

Already, dogs and their owners have been taking advantage of the park’s fenced-in terrain and shallow splash pool and about a dozen people have purchased the dog park membership tags, which are required to be worn by all canines when they visit the park.

“The park is officially open,” said Gary Willoughby, executive director of the Aiken SPCA. “The pool is up and running, the City of Aiken has put out the trash cans and benches, but it’s still pretty muddy because it’s been raining so much.”

Inclement weather, including heavy rains and cold temperatures, is what pushed back the grand opening ceremony and pet fair, which was scheduled to happen earlier this month.

The Aiken SPCA Board of Directors is looking at March for the event, when the weather might be more suitable. The pet fair will also be held at the time of the grand opening ceremony.

The Aiken Dog Park is a joint project between City of Aiken and Aiken SPCA. It is located at 199 Willow Run Road, behind the Willow Run Industrial Park.

The park is open seven days a week from sunrise until sundown.
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Coming Soon: More Foreclosures

More than 1.7 million homeowners were verging on foreclosure this fall, making it likely that these houses will soon end up on the market one way or the other, driving down overall housing values.

“We’re going to be dealing with high levels of distressed (sales) in the marketplace for at least a couple of years,” says Mark Fleming, chief economist of researcher First American CoreLogic, which has been studying the problem.

Some real estate practitioners say they fear that this onslaught is coming.

“We’ve been in recovery mode for most of the year. How many foreclosures do they have to dump on the market to affect that? I don’t know,” says Deborah Farmer, owner of StarLight Realty in Tampa, Fla. “Any house priced under $225,000 will be affected by a large increase in foreclosures in this market.”

Source: Associated Press, Alan Zibel (12/17/2009)

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Retail Investors to Enter Market in 2010

Jones Lang LaSalle’s 2010 Retail Outlook projects retail transactions and sales volumes to increase as customer demand starts to gradually recover.

In the new year, investors looking to take advantage of low acquisition prices are likely to find some of the biggest value in Class A trophy shopping malls.

Kris Cooper, managing director in the retail investment sales practice, remarks, “The continued lack of liquidity in the debt markets has contributed to pent-up demand, and we expect opportunistic investors to cautiously re-enter the market in early 2010. We’re just now seeing lenders’ willingness to lend to strong sponsors open up, but those lending offers are at far more conservative levels than we’ve seen in the past.”

Because of pending debt maturities and the need for capital, highly leveraged institutional investors are expected to hold on to properties unless forced to dispose of them. Cooper concludes, “Buyers will probably stick around for the next six to nine months before seeking better opportunities. We are also seeing significant interest from international buyers who feel now is the time to re-enter the U.S. market.”

Source:, Katie Hinderer (12/13/09)

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Jumbo Foreclosures Leading the Pack

Owners of properties with mortgages greater than $1 million are feeling pain the same as—if not worse than—less well-heeled owners.

More than 12 percent of mortgages exceeding $1 million were 90 days or more past due in September, compared to 6.3 percent of loans less than $250,000 and 7.4 percent of all U.S. mortgages, according to research firm First American CoreLogic

The reason for the shortfalls seems apparent. The number of U.S. households with a net worth of more than $1 million, not counting their primary residences, fell to a five-year low of 6.7 million last year from 9.2 million in 2007, according to consulting firm Spectrum Group.

While holders of ordinary mortgages can hope for government help, there is no such thing for holders of big mortgages and it’s also difficult to find a re-fi.

“There is no refinance market for you if you are underwater and outside the Fannie and Freddie framework,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at mortgage data firm HSH Associate.

The answer for some is a short sale. While there are no official statistics, practitioners like Adrian Heyman, owner of Property Advisors in Scottsdale, Ariz., is seeing increasing numbers of luxury short sales.

“A lot of wealthy people are upside down in their mortgages and they just can’t afford the second or third vacation home anymore,” Heyman says.

Source: Bloomberg, Kathleen M. Howley and Dan Levy (12/17/2009)

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4 out of 10 Recent Buyers Used FHA Loans

According to the most recent REALTORS® Confidence Index, 39 percent of recent buyers purchased a home with a Federal Housing Administration-insured loan. REALTORS® who took part in the November survey also reported that the number of first-time home buyers continued to climb to 51 percent.

“FHA helps provide affordable mortgage financing to home owners, particularly first-time home buyers who are so important in drawing down inventory to help stabilize the current housing market,” said NAR President Vicki Cox Golder. “These recent survey results reaffirm that, despite its current challenges, FHA is a critical part of the American housing fabric.”

Distressed Sales, HVCC Concerns
The RCI results also indicated that distressed sales increased to 33 percent of all home sales last month, and that both investors and first-time home buyers are competing for these properties. The preponderance of distressed properties on the market has also influenced buyers’ perceptions of other homes for sale. REALTORS® report that many buyers have pricing expectations that treat every property as if it were in foreclosure.

In addition, REALTORS® expressed ongoing concerns with the impact of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct on recent appraisals. According to some survey respondents, inexperienced or out-of-area appraisers continue to rely heavily on sales prices of distressed properties, even when other comps are available.

“As the first, best source for real estate information, REALTORS® have their finger on the pulse of current housing trends, and their knowledge and experience offer valuable insights into today’s real estate market,” Golder said. “We know that an economic recovery is not possible without a housing recovery, and we will continue to work with policymakers at all levels to ensure that this happens.”


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Higher Rates Will Require Lender Explanation

Under new rules from the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Trade Commission, borrowers who are loaned money at less-favorable rates because of their credit ratings must be notified and given a free copy of their credit scores.

Currently, lenders don’t have to offer any explanations. These rules apply to mortgage lenders as well as other sorts of financing firms. It takes effect Jan.1, 2011.

Consumers who are given terms “materially less favorable” than “a substantial proportion” of the lenders’ other customers must receive the information, according to the report in the federal register.

Source: Bloomberg, Jeff Plungis (12/22/2009)

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Defaults Could End Up Being a Boon

The increasing willingness to abandon home ownership in favor of renting could, in a counterintuitive way, be an important step in the economic recovery, some analysts say.

The U.S. home ownership rate has declined to 67.6 percent as of September, down from its peak of 69.2 percent in 2004. Much of the reason for this decline is the number of foreclosures.

Deutsche Bank Securities expects 21 million U.S. households to be underwater by the end of 2010. If 20 percent of these homeowners default, loses to banks and investors could exceed $400 billion.

While these losses are definitely bad for banks, relief from paying a mortgage makes more money available—an estimated $5 billion a month—for consumers to purchase other things.

“It’s a stealth stimulus,” says Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm specializing in real estate. “The quicker these people shed their debts, the faster the economy is going to heal and move forward again.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Mark Whitehouse (12/10/2009)

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Where’s the Refund?

First-time home buyers who bought as long ago as last winter are still waiting for their $8,000 tax refund.

As of mid-September, more than 1.4 million taxpayers had requested the credit by amending their federal tax returns. The IRS announced in October that it expects 5.1 million claims by year-end. That count doesn’t reflect the extension and expansion of the credit in November.

IRS spokeswoman Carrie Resch says the agency is experiencing a higher-than normal number of amended returns and because amended returns are reviewed by hand, the process is delayed.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has been fielding constituent calls for weeks from irate home buyers. She sent a letter to the IRS that said in part: “The full and immediate economic impact of the tax credit is lost when it takes up to four months for people to get the money due to them … such lengthy delays are unacceptable and erode the public’s trust in the competence of the government.”

Source: Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Kara McGuire (12/10/2009)

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Banks Again Offering Home Equity Lines

Now might be a good time for homeowners who still have plenty if equity in their home to tap into it.

Lenders are again writing home equity lines of credit, says MortgageBot, which processes real estate loans.

Homeowners with more than 20 percent of equity in their homes may find the HELOC a better source of emergency cash than a credit card as long as they don’t exhaust their equity.

Source:, Linda Stern (12/14/2009)

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Green Buildings Boast 3 Percent Higher Payoff

Commercial buildings with green certification rent for an average of 3 percent more per square foot, according to a study by John M. Quigley, a professor of economics and real estate at the University of California, Berkeley. Other studies come to similar findings.

The study further concludes that because of higher occupancy rates in green buildings, the effective rent premium is about 6 percent per square foot. And it says green buildings also command a higher sales price, in part because they use 10 percent less energy.

The study doesn’t consider the additional costs of building green buildings nor whether location plays a role.

Source: The Wall Street Journal/Real Time Economics, Keith Johnson (12/16/2009)

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