Monthly Archives: November 2014

Mortgages average 3.97% | North Salem Real Estate

Freddie Mac today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates flat to down slightly from the previous week with the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage remaining below four percent.

News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.97 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending November 26, 2014, down from last week when it averaged 3.99 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.29 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.17 percent with an average 0.5 point, unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.30 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.01 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, unchanged from last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.94 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.44 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.60 percent.

Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following links for the Regional and National Mortgage Rate Details and Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.

Attributed to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac.

“Mortgage rates were little changed on the week with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declining to 3.97 percent. This comes during a week of uplifting economic news heading into the holiday; GDP growth was revised up in the third quarter from 3.5 percent to 3.9 percent, while existing homes sold at a 5.26 million unit pace in October, topping expectations of 5.15 million units.”

New home sales squeak out weak gain in October | Cross River Real Estate

Sales of new homes in the United States printed at an annual rate of 458,000 for the month of October, up 0.7% from September.

This tepid gain was saved from being a decline by a surprising jump in sales in the Midwest, which saw 15.8% gains, and better than usual gains in the northeast of 7.7% month-over-month.

“The slight rise in new home sales in October is somewhat disappointing, as it is more of the same of what we’ve seen throughout 2014 – tepid growth in housing constrained by a slowly recovering economy,” said Quicken Loans vice president Bill Banfield.

October’s gain is 1.8% above the October 2013 estimate of 450,000.

But that month-over-month gain was only achieved because September’s new home sales figure was dramatically revised downward from 467,000 to 453,000.

Dragging down new home sales was the West and South, which saw a -2.7% decline and -1.9% decline, respectively.

The imbalance there is due to the fact that the West and the South are vastly larger housing markets compared to the Midwest and Northeast.

The median sales price of new houses sold in October 2014 was $305,000, while the average sales price was $401,100.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of October was 212,000. This represents a supply of 5.6 months at the current sales rate.


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Pending Sales Trend Down | South Salem Real Estate

Although pending home sales decreased 1.1% in October, the index was up from the previous year. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on signed contracts reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), decreased to 104.1 in October, down from an upwardly revised 105.3 in September. The October index was up 2.2% from the same month a year ago, and pending sales were up year-over-year for the second consecutive month.

Pending Home Sales October 2014

The October PHSI increased modestly in the Northeast, but decreased in the other three regions, ranging from a 0.6% decrease in the Midwest to a 3.2% decrease in the West. Year-over-year, the West, South and Northeast increased 4.1%, 3.9% and 3.4% respectively, while the Midwest declined 3.0%.

Last week NAR reported a 1.5% increase in October existing home sales, following an increase in September. Firming job and economic growth suggests that the existing home market will demonstrate steady growth through the end of the year. The housing recovery has moved towards higher ground reflected by the 0.7% increase in October new homes sales also reported today.


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Behind the Hedges and Inside the History of Danielle Steel’s Spreckels Mansion | Waccabuc Homes

2080 Washington Street (before the infamous hedge), via SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Spreckels Mansion at 2080 Washington – best known as the current home of romance superstar novelist Danielle Steel – has been a major San Francisco landmark since day one and has played host to tales that are worthy of her books. Of course, it’s now hidden behind a massive hedge worthy of a photo tribute, but we took a peek inside the storied home’s history. Here now is a look back at one of the city’s most iconic mega-mansions.

The house that sugar built >>

The Spreckels family is one of San Francisco’s oldest and most illustrious. Their story goes back to Claus Spreckels, who first started a brewery when he brought his family to San Francisco in 1856. Claus soon switched to the sugar industry and built his fortune in Hawaii by allegedly acquiring water rights in poker game with the King of Hawaii. He built his first SF-based sugar refinery in 1867 at 8th and Brannan, but soon needed more space and opened a larger facility in Potrero Point. His California Sugar Refinery funded additional Spreckels enterprises, like a resort hotel in Aptos, an investment in the Santa Cruz Railroad, and sugar beet operations in the Salinas Valley that sprouted the company town of Spreckels, California.

Spreckels’ Sugar Factory beneath Potrero Hill c1890s, via Found SF

Claus was the sugar daddy (sorry) to thirteen children with his wife Anna, but only five survived to adulthood. The oldest son, John, established a transportation and real estate empire in San Diego, while second son Adolph ran the family sugar business. Adolph was a big whale in San Francisco, but it was his wife Alma who gained the moniker “great grandmother of San Francisco”.


Alma lived a true rags to riches story. She was born in the Sunset in 1881 when it was still a windswept district of sand dunes. Her parents were Danish immigrants, and while her father spent more time hating on the city’s nouveau riche than working, her mother ran three successful business out of the family home. Alma had an interest in art and took night classes at Mark Hopkins Art Institute. At six feet tall, “Big Alma” soon became a favorite model of local artists. These jobs led to several lucrative side gigs as a nude model.

After a lawsuit against an ex-boyfriend for “de-flowering,” Alma became something of a celebrity in the city, and was the obvious choice to model for sculptor Robert Aitken’s monument to Naval hero Admiral Dewey and President William McKinley (it still stands today in the center of Union Square). Wealthy bachelor Adolph Spreckels was on the Citizen’s Committee in charge of the landmark’s funding and became smitten with the model. After “courting” for five years, they finally married in 1908.

Alma looking fierce as the Goddess of Victory atop the Dewey Monument in Union Square, both via Flickr/Peter Kaminski

The new couple first lived in Sausalito, but Adolph purchased the property that would become the Spreckels mansion as a Christmas present for Alma. The Victorian-style home was torn down to make room for a new French Chateau designed by architects Kenneth MacDonald Jr. and Beaux-Arts trained George Applegarth (fun fact: Applegarth was buddies with Jack London, and the pair would ride their bikes from the Bay Area to Yosemite and Half Dome). The Spreckels had to buy up several nearby Victorians to make room for the new manse, and Alma insisted on saving the structures by moving eight of them to new locations. Completed in 1912, the new house became host to lots of lavish parties and launched Alma into high society.

Alma went to Europe on a trip to stock the new house with loads of 18th century antiques. She became friends with dancer Loie Fuller in Paris, who in turn introduced her to sculptor Auguste Rodin. Together, the women secured thirteen of Rodin’s bronzes, which Alma brought to the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915. This sparked the idea for Alma to build a museum for her art. It later became the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.


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Inside the Battery’s Century-Old Pier A | Katonah Real Estate

[All photos by Max Touhey.]
50 images

At the southernmost tip of West Street, a pier juts out into New York Harbor. Until just a few weeks ago, it was fenced in, and closed off to the public. But after a years-long renovation and restoration process, Pier A—a 128-year-old structure with a handsome clocktower that once served the docks and harbor police as well as the city’s fire department—is open to the public for the very first time in its long history. To say that the makeover has been hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Taking the pier from decrepit and abandoned to a three-story, flood-prepared building with beautifully-designed bars and restaurants (run by the Poulakakos group) as well as a visitor’s center, plus a public promenade, plaza, and ample seating, cost around $40 million, with the Economic Development Council footing most of the bill. But boy, is she pretty. And those views of the Statue of Liberty aren’t bad either, especially in the sunset.

Take a look around >>

Underground Greenhouse For Year-Round Gardening | Bedford Hills Homes

Growers in colder climates often utilize various approaches to extend the growing season or to give their crops a boost, whether it’s coldframes, hoop houses or greenhouses.

Greenhouses are usually glazed structures, but are typically expensive to construct and heat throughout the winter.

A much more affordable and effective alternative to glass greenhouses is the walipini (an Aymara Indian word for a “place of warmth”), also known as an underground or pit greenhouse.

First developed over 20 years ago for the cold mountainous regions of South America, this method allows growers to maintain a productive garden year-round, even in the coldest of climates.

Here’s a video tour of a walipini that shows what a basic version of this earth-sheltered solar greenhouse looks like inside:

How a Walipini works and how to build one

build underground greenhouse

It’s a pretty intriguing set-up that combines the principles of passive solar heating with earth-sheltered building. But how to make one? From American sustainable agriculture non-profit Benson Institute comes this enlightening manual on how a walipini works, and how to build it:

The Walipini utilizes nature’s resources to provide a warm, stable, well-lit environment for year-round vegetable production. Locating the growing area 6’- 8’ underground and capturing and storing daytime solar radiation are the most important principles in building a successful Walipini.

The Walipini, in simplest terms, is a rectangular hole in the ground 6 ‛ to 8’ deep covered by plastic sheeting. The longest area of the rectangle faces the winter sun — to the north in the Southern Hemisphere and to the south in the Northern Hemisphere. A thick wall of rammed earth at the back of the building and a much lower wall at the front provide the needed angle for the plastic sheet roof. This roof seals the hole, provides an insulating airspace between the two layers of plastic (a sheet on the top and another on the bottom of the roof/poles) and allows the sun’s rays to penetrate creating a warm, stable environment for plant growth.

build underground greenhouse

This earth-sheltered greenhouse taps into the thermal mass of the earth, so that much less energy is needed to heat up the walipini’s interior than an aboveground greenhouse. Of course, there are precautions to take in waterproofing, drainage and ventilating the walipini, while aligning it properly to the sun — which the manual covers in detail.

Best of all, according to the Benson Institute, their 20-foot by 74-foot walipni field model out in La Paz cost around $250 to $300 only, thanks to the use of free labour provided by owners and neighbours, and the use of cheaper materials like plastic ultraviolet (UV) protective sheeting and PVC piping.

Cheap but effective, the underground greenhouse is a great way for growers to produce food year-round in colder climates. More over at the Benson Institute and the Pure Energy Systems Wiki.

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NYC Real Estate news | Bedford NY Real Estate

Brown Harris Stevens’ Twitter handle reads, simply, “@Established1873.” The brokerage trades upon its distinguished lineage and generally manages to keep its white-gloved hands out of industry drama. But when real estate startup Urban Compass poached elite broker Kyle Blackmon last week, BHS president Hall Willkie decided it was time for those gloves to come off.

“Kyle has made the decision that the equity proposition offered to him trumps a singular focus on brokerage,” Willkie said in a statement to The Real Deal. He questioned the wisdom of that decision in an internal BHS memo that stated: “The value of Kyle’s or anyone’s equity will be dependent on the success of Urban Compass’ founders implementing their vision of selling their company for substantially more than many industry experts believe is possible.”

Willkie’s statement echoed what many in the industry have whispered – or shouted under the cloak of anonymity – for months. Urban Compass, these sources say, is merely an idea – albeit a well-choreographed, Ivy League and McKinsey-branded one. But even with a $360 million valuation, they ask, is it really the future?

Tech leg up? 

A screenshot of the Urban Compass app

Urban Compass has always stressed that its competitive advantage is superior technology, both for the consumer and the broker. “Just the way Apple made buying and listening to music significantly different, I think this company can have the same effect on real estate,” Urban Compass president and top-ranked broker Leonard Steinberg told TRD in June. But it’s still unclear to many in the industry, including former employees, what exactly that advantage is.

“Urban Compass likes to think that from Day One their technology was really differentiated,” said a former broker who left the company earlier this month. “The reality is their technology looked better but was actually behind and they were piecing it together from scratch.”

“It wasn’t a game-changer by any means,” the agent added.

Robert Reffkin, CEO of Urban Compass, acknowledged the difficulty he’s faced in creating believers out of those who haven’t seen the technology first-hand. “It’s hard,” he said during an interview Tuesday night at the startup’s Union Square headquarters. “How would you explain why the iPhone is better than the Samsung? Your users have to feel it and see it.”

While the existence of the technology in of itself isn’t novel, the intuitiveness of its design is — something that even the firm’s skeptics acknowledge. An agent using the mobile app who wants to send feedback to the firm’s engineers, for example, simply has to shake her mobile phone and a portal will pop up. Also via the app, clients who receive a listing from an agent can click to see a street view of the property, courtesy of Urban Compass’ own mapping technology that is similar to Google Street View.

Saving time is at the crux of Reffkin’s agenda. The average New York City agent spends 89 percent of their time performing administrative tasks, he said, citing the firm’s data. He wants his agents to have more time to spend with clients.

Sources said Urban Compass agents purchased up to 15 licenses to Real Plus’ electronic listing exchange. As recently as August, brokers were using popular listing databases like StreetEasy, On-Line Residential and Realty MX in lieu of the company’s own search engine.

Adam Fleming, who was Urban Compass’ head of engineering until he moved to real estate startup Honest Buildings in June, said that Urban Compass’ thesis “is empowering customers and agents to find each other in the right way and right time.”

Fleming, who declined to say why he left Urban Compass, said that the firm had a “pretty nice algorithm” that matches customers with appropriate agents. “Agents receive tremendous support inside Urban Compass,” he said, “that they don’t get anywhere else.”

Cherry picking

From left: Julia Hoagland, Timothy Rothman and Howard Spiegelman

Blackmon is the latest in a long line of big names to join the firm since ex-Elliman stalwart Steinberg came over in June. These include Julia Hoagland from BHS, Timothy Rothman and Howard Spiegelman from the Corcoran Group, Eugene Litvak from Citi Habitats, Roy Kim from Extell Development and Jay Glazer from Warburg Realty.

Without a concrete advantage early on, Urban Compass offered equity to lure top producers to its ranks. “The only differentiating factor they could offer was equity,” said a former broker. And as the startup continued its phenomenal fundraising run, the appeal of that equity stake kept rising.

Reffkin confirmed to TRD that the firm has offered equity to top brokers.

“Every advisory business I know gives equity to the people that help build it,” he said. “A real estate brokerage should do the same. Some of these agents have built their companies with the brand they [help to] create.”

The head of a rival brokerage cited the equity as Urban Compass’ main draw. “Aside from the ones they [Urban Compass] bought – Julia Hoagland, Kyle Blackmon, Leonard Steinberg – they haven’t attracted any top brokers,” the brokerage head said.

Another former agent who was among Urban Compass’ first hires said that when she left the firm after 18 months, she walked away from an equity stake. “I didn’t believe it was worth anything at the end of the day,” she said. “The idea was that they were going to be different from other brokerages and that was always the plan. Then every time we executed one of the ideas that they had, they realized this doesn’t work.” In May, for example, the startup shifted from a neighborhood specialist-driven model to one more in line with a traditional brokerage’s, and pivoted from rentals to sales, which also put the firm on a mission to recruit top agents.

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Troy Aikman selling his home | Bedford Corners Real Estate

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman is selling one of his homes in the Dallas area.

After selling his long-time home in the chic Dallas enclave of Highland Park, Aikman purchased two homes last year, one for $4.6 million and another for $4.3 million.

According to new report from the Los Angeles Times, Aikman is looking to sell the more expensive of the two homes and he’s looking to make a profit as well. After paying $4.6 million for the home last year, Aikman is listing the home for 5.3 million.

So what would one get for $5.3 million? From the Los Angeles Times report:

The French Normandy-style residence, built in 2007 by Tatum-Brown Custom Homes, sits back from the street on about a third of an acre. Accessed through a portico, the updated floor plan includes an updated chef’s kitchen, a formal living room, a dining room, an office/study, four bedrooms, four fireplaces and six bathrooms in about 10,700 square feet.

The home also features a game room, a home theater and a wine cellar.