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The ugliness behind HGTV | North Salem Real Estate

A man in the desert touches flame to a snaking trail of gasoline, and as fire whips across a blasted stretch of earth, coming dangerously close to his parked monster truck, he leans back, extends his open arms to the sky, and calls out, “I am all that is man!”

Moments earlier, we have seen a dead cockroach lying boots up on a patch of white carpet, provoking the high-pitched screech of a woman.

Who are these gendered stereotypes of yesteryear, the muscle-bound dumdum and the easily terrified screamer? They are Man and Woman, irreducible and impervious to the political or sexual fashions of an era. Or, as HGTV calls the two halves of the binary: They are General Contractor and Designer, and this particular pair have come to Las Vegas to make a quick buck by flipping foreclosures.

Bristol and Aubrey Marunde are the stars of Flip or Flop Vegas, and they have brought the HGTV formula — an endless loop of television in which the dreams of women are made manifest by the swinging sledgehammers of men — to the quivering edge of reductio ad absurdum. They love one another; they never quarrel; they worship together at the Church of Home Depot in the Parish of Lowe’s.

HGTV was the third-most-popular network on cable television in 2016, a 24/7 testament to the powers of Target chic, the open-plan kitchen, and social conservatism. It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place. Many viewers — in red states and blue cities, in rent-controlled studio apartments and 6,000-square-foot McMansions — confess it’s a bedtime ritual, prelude to a night spent dreaming of ceramic-tile backsplashes and double-sink vanities. Over the past two years, it has become such a ratings and advertising sensation that it is largely responsible for the recent sale, this summer, of its parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive, to Discovery Communications for $11.9 billion.

The Best of Chip Gaines Not Working

HGTV depends on the dream that has been with us since the saltboxes of New England and the Spanish bungalows of Southern California and the Leisuramas of Montauk: that if you can just get the right house — the one that looks like your friends’ houses look, only a little bit better — your family will pour into it, like thick cream into a pitcher: smooth, fluid, pleasing. Who could get a divorce in a house with so many lush towels rolled up in the master bathroom? Who could raise a sullen teen when there is a “great room” where the family can gather for nachos and football on the big screen?

We are supposed to be in rehab from our housing binge of ten years ago, the one that nearly bankrupted the country. We are supposed to be in a state of contrition. But our national love of HGTV suggests that the dream won’t die. The longing it addresses is impervious to market corrections, or personal financial realities, and as economists continue to explore the true causes of the 2008 financial crisis, they are beginning to suspect that some speculative Americans acting on that longing got us into that mess as much as — or more than — unscrupulous bankers or Wall Street. In fact, the network may now be tempting its millions of fans to dip their toes back into the most dangerous waters of the past crisis: flipping.

Property Brothers, 2011.

HGTV came on the air in 1994, not to the trumpet blast of self-confidence associated with a future billion-dollar brand but to a little kazoo squeak of uncertainty. The shows were homey, centered on thrift, and they often starred regional celebrities making crafts or minor house repairs. A nice lady from Minnesota taught viewers how to decorate cheaply on Decorating Cents. (Why not spray-paint some silk flowers and then glue-gun them to your bathroom wall?) The hosts of Room by Room might invite their friend Bob — “from Bob and Pete’s Floors” — to explain how to choose something affordable and attractive for the kitchen floor.

But it was in 1999 that the network found its audience with a new show called House Hunters, of which there are now an astounding 1,772 episodes. This wasn’t about people dicking around with their bathrooms or dithering over a few feet of floor tile. This was about going all the way. This was about buying a house. The first few seasons were heavily influenced by hit shows on another network, TLC, where A Wedding Story and A Baby Story had found a large audience, composed mostly of young women, who were eager to watch 30-minute documentaries about couples making huge steps in their lives. HGTV beat them to the punch with a show about the next step in a dream couple’s life.

The early episodes are very different from what the show has become; they were full of the pitfalls of buying a house for the first time. One couple had to delay the process for a year so that they could improve their credit; they each cashed out money from their retirement funds. The husband said, “It’s a scary decision. It’s the most expensive thing and the biggest purchase we’re gonna make.” (As viewers later learned about the series, all of this was a re-creation — you can’t be on the show unless you’ve already closed on a house — but no one’s looking for the Meisner technique on reality television, and they sold it well enough.)

Flip or Flop, 2013.

The houses in the couple’s price range were strewn with the evidence of human occupation and other bits of nastiness. “That could be a pet stain,” the real-estate agent says nonjudgmentally as the couple look glumly at a spot on the dining-room floor, “or coulda been a plant there.” A house with a small kitchen and battered cupboards is out, the host tells us, because “money is tight, and this family would rather prefer to put all of their money toward a down payment instead of renovation.” It was like what buying a house is really like, but it was also kind of a bummer. On A Wedding Story, you got a beautiful dress and a church full of flowers; on House Hunters, you got pet stains and problems with your credit. Soon enough, that all changed.

Today, House Hunters, like all HGTV shows, follows a formula as inflexible as the Latin Mass. You meet the buyers (usually a couple), learn where they live and what their budget is, and watch as they describe marriage-busting differences of opinion in a way that makes them look like they’re choosing what to watch on Netflix. He’s the breadwinner who wants to live close to work; she’s an at-home mom who wants to live in a far-off suburb. She’s a spender; he’s a saver. What they need is a post-nup; what they get is an expensive house an hour from his job, because HGTV women tend to win these quarrels, although he will usually get some concession — a north-facing patio so he won’t sweat like a dog when he’s out grilling; a three-car garage. By the time we bid them farewell, they’re in the great room, sipping white wine from giant, reality-TV wineglasses and purring like kittens.

The show has many spinoffs, such as House Hunters International, which ought to be named “God Bless the USA.” On an episode called “Oh No Okinawa” an American military couple who want a big kitchen and a view of the ocean get neither, while their crestfallen teenage son looks at his small Japanese bedroom and talks wistfully about missing his senior year back home. There’s Tiny House Hunters (about tiny houses, not tiny hunters), Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Lakefront Bargain Hunt, House Hunters Off the Grid — for when HGTV finds a successful show, it turns it into a genre and the audience happily follows along. The shows don’t really have hosts; there’s a narrator and sometimes a real-estate agent — but for the most part it’s the buyers and the houses who are the stars.

But just as the mild stimulant of Decorating Cents made way for the Adderall of House Hunters, so did the latter prepare viewer and network for the speedball of flipping, which is now the core of the network’s most successful shows and which may be the most dangerous part of a national obsession that has caused us all great grief in the past and possibly even spurred that global financial crisis. It all began with Property Brothers.

Fixer Upper, 2013.

Jonathan and Drew Scott are a pair of metrosexual, gaga-handsome, Canadian identical-twin brothers whose early quests for fame were unsuccessful, perhaps owing to the decline of evil-twin narratives in daytime television. They had both wanted to be actors, but no luck. Drew spent $100,000 trying to break into the acting world. Jonathan wanted to be a magician with a big, David Copperfield type of show until someone stole all his props and he had to file for bankruptcy. In 2004, they opened a real-estate-services company — Jonathan had become a general contractor and Drew a real-estate broker — to support them in their pursuits. While the company was successful, the entertainment thing never panned out. And then, as in one of those career seminars in which you are encouraged to write down all of your strengths and combine them into one ideal job, the break: They would use their skills choosing and renovating houses and their cheerful, hammy acting abilities to star in a reality-television show. It was an immediate hit and has had several iterations, but it has now settled on a format: The twins show the buyers the house of their dreams and then tell them it’s way over their budget. They persuade them to choose a so-so house, and then Drew — whose work consists merely of a day driving the buyers to properties — lounges around in his flat-front trousers and skinny ties making such catty comments about his brother’s grunty physical labor that they seem more like a couple than twins.

On a recent episode, all of the players delivered their lines with dinner-theater enthusiasm. A fed-up working mom looked up from her cramped home office — really just a corner of the dining-room table — and demanded, “We need the brothers to find our dream home now.”

Her husband, an at-home parent and susceptible to the whims that can accompany that calling, announces that he wants “all top-of-the-line appliances.”

The twins tell the couple that they can’t afford what they really want, and the couple pretend to freak out. They say they’re uncomfortable about having to make renovations, so Drew scares them with fancy talk about finance. “What’s worse: getting your hands dirty with a fixer-upper or having to overleverage and get tied up in a mortgage for a hundred years?”

Good Bones, 2016.

With the thought of a century of mortgage payments to motivate them, the couple go for the renovation. Anyone who has watched HGTV for more than a week knows what this will involve, because all of the makeovers on all of the shows are the same: blow out the walls around the kitchen so you can see the big screen from the center island; put some large furniture in the living room so that it looks grand; install hardwood floors or laminate that looks like hardwood; dress up the bathrooms with ceramic tile and walk-in showers; run some sod in the backyard and add some plants; and then quickly film the whole thing before the blossoms fall off $800 worth of annuals. The couple and their two sons love it.

The Property Brothers don’t flip houses; they remodel for individual clients. But viewers found that they loved watching the process of a butt-ugly house getting transformed into an open-plan showplace. Soon, a new HGTV genre was born: shows about married couples (he’s a contractor, she’s a designer) who buy and flip houses together. A golden formula was at hand. Created to compete with A Wedding Story and A Baby Story, HGTV has always had its roots in a quiet social conservatism, a world where houses are containers for families and where the center of a family is a marriage. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the recent HGTV parody on South Park had an apt title: “White People Renovating Houses.” Once the network started putting a married couple with star power on a show — and featuring not just the houses they were flipping but also their own homes and their children and happy moments from their daily lives — it jump-started the ratings streak that has made it so successful.

The upswing began with Christina and Tarek El Moussa, stars of Flip or Flop. A pair of blandly good-looking Orange County real-estate agents, they had taken a bath during the Great Recession and had to downsize from a McMansion to a small apartment. After the housing bust, Orange County had one of the highest numbers of foreclosures in the country, which made life as a broker there especially grim. But a few years passed, and that huge inventory of abandoned, slightly outdated houses began to present a business opportunity. The couple decided to become speculators, buying some of the houses on the cheap, tarting them up (the same open-plan kitchen/luxurious bathrooms as The Property Brothers, but with an OC bent: cheap surfaces that look polished and high-end).

Tarek is often concerned about a property’s condition, but Christina knows what to do. She was born and raised in the OC and understands what buyers want. She’ll praise a small Anaheim bungalow for being “mid-century modern” (the new real-estate term for every rattrap built after 1945) and then dress it up with cheap chandeliers, marble floors, shiny white cabinets, and stark color schemes in the black-white-silver palette. With her French manicure, straight-ironed blonde hair, amazing figure, and willingness to make cutting remarks, she was born for reality television. Tarek’s job is to keep the workmen on task; as with all of the host husbands, he’s a bit of a supernumerary to much of the process, which is the problem with the supposedly traditional unions the network promotes: The women tend to be much smarter and more powerful than the men.

The couple soon became aspirational-lifestyle celebrities, and their marriage and family life were regularly featured in People magazine and on morning television. Yet while Christina seemed to become more confident on each episode, Tarek often appeared wan and anxious. In 2013, a viewer wrote that a lump on his neck looked suspicious, and it turned out to be thyroid cancer. A month after beginning treatment, he learned he also had testicular cancer. He had to get surgery for “multiple herniated discs” in the middle of filming an episode in which he had winced in pain every time he’d tried to lift something; sitting in an orthopedic chair, he called Christina to praise her for handling everything on her own — but she clearly had it all under control. Last fall, the world learned that their off-camera home life was a bit of a flop. After months of secret trouble, police rushed to their place after receiving a call about a “possibly suicidal male with a gun.” Tarek had run to the hiking trails near their house with a loaded gun, and it took 11 cops and a helicopter to locate him, and get him to drop the weapon. He’s since been linked in the tabloids to their former nanny.

The couple are divorcing. They are, amazingly enough, also continuing to film a new season, but viewers who love the show have plenty of other married flippers to fall in love with: There are now Flip or Flops set in Atlanta, Fort Worth, and Chicago.

But if you want a stable, heartfelt married couple to fix your dreams to, the place to look is far away from any of these big cities. You need to go to Waco, Texas, where Joanna and Chip Gaines — stars of Fixer Upper — are creating not just a hit show but a home-remodeling empire of their own.

Desert Flippers, 2016.

To call Chip and Joanna Gaines telegenic is an understatement. He’s a sunny, redheaded country boy who evinces no interest in fancy learnin’ but has a heart of gold. On one episode, he divided his time between remodeling a house and preparing for his flight on an F-16; the Air Force had chosen him as one of its Hometown Heroes, “ ’cause I renovated a bunch of houses for some families who were really, you know, in need of a pick-me-up at that time in their lives.” The subtitle of his upcoming business book, Capital Gaines, is “Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.” She is his devoted opposite: thoughtful, artistic, and sensitive to beauty. She has long black hair, an oval face, and an olive complexion, facts that — combined with her Texan accent and affinity for the land — lead many viewers to assume that she is Native American and that theirs is some sort of Ur-Texan pairing. In fact, she is half-Korean and a quarter Lebanese. They are Evangelical Christians, and she has spoken often about the importance of their marriage and the central role Chip plays in her life. That said, he is something of a Lucy to her Ricky, and — like all HGTV wives — you can see her biting her lip in quiet frustration when she’s trying to get important work done and he’s yukking it up.

On Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna help home buyers on limited budgets get the most out of their investments by choosing “the worst house in the best neighborhood.” That’s an old real-estate canard that has long been dismissed, but no matter — when Joanna starts describing all the wonderful things she can do to it, thoughts about resale value melt away into dreams of sliding barn doors, over-tufted sofas, and newly built “mud rooms” where the kids can stash their backpacks and soccer gear. Once the buyers have chosen their new house, they’re whisked away and the work begins.

It is as though Chip has spent all of Act One in a quivering agony of self-control, but at last he is free. He grabs a sledgehammer and, with Joanna’s permission, starts bashing away at the first wall she has marked for destruction. SLAM! CRASH! BANG! Chip is finally in concert with his true nature. This banging away at walls is the centerpiece of every HGTV show that involves renovation — as do all of its most popular programs — and there is something profoundly satisfying about it, even though it’s a preposterous way to go about the task. Taking out a single wall when you want to leave the rest of a room intact involves carefully cutting the drywall, teasing it off, and then taking down the framing behind it. But the reckless bashing makes for good television, and it dramatizes the signal design imperative of HGTV: Whether you live in Burbank or Barcelona, you absolutely must have an open kitchen.

Flip or Flop Atlanta, 2017.

While Chip knocks down the walls, Joanna paints the new rooms in a pleasing light color, usually in a sophisticated palette that is based on a combination of gray and beige sometimes called “greige.” Her style owes much to the muted good taste that Martha Stewart made available to the masses. Martha is generous about the long reach of her shadow, although this summer she sent out a credit-taking tweet: “I cannot believe that ‘greige’ is trending as a paint color! All my homes are based on grey/beige.”

Joanna has beautiful white cabinets installed in the kitchen and recessed lighting that illuminates them like saints in their niches. There will be miles of countertops and dark-wood floors for a contrast to all the white. Sometime during the process, the Gaineses’ carpenter friend Clint may show up to get a brief on some wood feature Joanna has designed, and he will cheerfully trot off to execute her desires. Often the cameras give us quick glimpses of workmen who labor away under Chip’s direction, all of these men — laborers, artisans, foreman, husband — making manifest a woman’s exacting vision.

The night before the reveal, Joanna is in a swivet of type-A concentration. She has brought beautiful flowers wrapped in brown paper and tied with raffia, and she arranges them in a loose bouquet; she sets the table with pretty napkins and plates; she rolls hand towels and puts them in a basket in the guest bath. And then the new owners arrive.

They swoon, they moan, they marvel. They are like game-show winners, and their gratitude to Chip and Joanna makes it seem like the Gaineses are their generous benefactors, not — if the premise of the show is to be believed — tradespeople whom they have paid to do a job. Nothing makes the buyers lose their composure like the kitchen. How beautiful it is, how stunning to see it compared with “before” pictures. Nothing bad could happen to a family who has a kitchen like that. It’s too pretty, too calming, too clean. It’s too full of Chip and Joanna’s radiant good cheer and their careful understanding of what each family most wants: “You had said you wanted a place for Caleb to do his homework while you’re making dinner — so we’ve built in this desk next to the island.”

Caleb’s not going to do his homework at that stupid desk; on some level, we all know that. But the dream of a boy sitting happily in his mother’s kitchen, filling out his worksheets while she sips a big bubble glass of chilled Chardonnay and cooks — what? Quickie quesadillas? Three-step lasagna? — In her fantastically overbuilt kitchen is a powerful one, and for a few happy Act Three minutes, we dream that little dream, too.

Flip or Flop Vegas, 2017.

The first thing counselors tell sex addicts is to stop watching porn, and we really shouldn’t be watching this much HGTV during our rehab. Although it’s a soothing experience, it is also a fomenter of deep feelings of discontent about one’s living arrangements, which began to hit me hard around week two. Why have I allowed my attic “bonus room” to remain covered in the exact type of wall-to-wall carpet that repulses Joanna Gaines, Christina El Moussa, and both Property Brothers? And what failure of character is revealed by my closed-plan kitchen? HGTV makes big, expensive, time-consuming remodels look like two weeks’ work and a modest amount of money well spent. Moreover, it links these changes so definitively to personal and family happiness that you begin to wonder what, exactly, is wrong with you that you haven’t made some of them. The discontent gnaws as the addiction to the programming grows, and you have to imagine many viewers find themselves enticed to do foolish things like take out second mortgages so that they can blast out a few walls and get a little of what Chip and Joanna seem to have. More troublingly, we also have to wonder how many may be inspired to think that they, too, have what it takes to flip houses.

A recent, worrisome working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research reported on the tinder of the last conflagration: the national sense that housing prices were going up every day and that there was no way that a buyer’s reach could exceed his grasp. It’s true that bankers made loans to Americans wildly unqualified for them — but the notion that buyers on the lower end of credit distribution began to default in unprecedented numbers isn’t accurate. In fact, the rate of default in the subprime market throughout the bubble and the bust remained steady compared with before the crisis. It was buyers from the top and middle top who account for the skyrocketing rate of default — and it wasn’t that they were buying bigger family homes that they couldn’t afford. It was that they were buying additional houses to flip for a profit, and when holding on to them stopped making financial sense, and with no personal and emotional connection to them, they began walking away in huge numbers.

And yet … the flippers on HGTV make it look so simple, so fun. At the end of each episode, they run the numbers and show how much the happy couples have pocketed. What could the network be quietly motivating its viewers to do? With our real-estate-loving president — who has Property Brothers programmed into the TiVo on Air Force One and who is eager to do away with regulations, which are one of the forces supposed to protect us from another bust — we could be in the early stages of another crisis. Our collective fate could be largely in the hands of … Christina and Tarek El Moussa and however many people they inspire to pick up a house at a foreclosure sale. Which is why Flip or Flop Vegas may be the best HGTV show yet, as it unfolds in the place where slots are loose and the casinos never close — the best natural habitat for this kind of programming, and, as it happens, one of the worst-hit areas in the last financial crisis.

Flip or Flop Chicago, 2017.

Out in the desert heat of Las Vegas, Aubrey and Bristol toil cheerfully away. She has vocal fry, a cute wardrobe, and a real-estate license. He’s not just a general contractor; he’s also an MMA fighter. They bring the HGTV pairing of smart woman–dumb man to the farthest possible reach.

On a representative episode, they arrive at a run-down house they might buy, but they haven’t obtained the lockbox code, so there’s no way to get inside. Bristol suggests kicking in the front door. “No,” Aubrey explains to him patiently, “ ’cause we haven’t bought it.” Then he suggests shimmying under the garage door, which has been left slightly open, but his ass gets stuck. “Give me a little help,” he cries, and she pushes him through. They walk through the house, and she dreams up some plans for it. “How are you gonna fit an island and a dining-room table in this tiny little kitchen? I just don’t see it,” he says. “Watch and learn,” she tells him.

Together they go on to create something I’d never seen before on HGTV: a fantastically ugly house. Before they flipped the property, it was a modest, even attractive Spanish-style tract house with a red-tile roof. Yet it inspired Aubrey to transform it into a style she calls “glam farmhouse.” The very phrase was so marvelous and weird that I championed it immediately and saw in this couple the possibility of breaking down some of the rigid conventions that bind HGTV’s designs. Indeed, the finished house is a tour de force.

The interior is composed of a hideous color scheme: forest green, bright white, and dark brown. The white wood ceilings were “farmhouse,” and the Vegas accents were “glam”: gold and white bedside lamps, an extravagant white shag rug, accent pillows in hot orange and white marabou, a chrome coffee table. “Buyers in Las Vegas are savvy,” Aubrey explains confidently. “They’re very sophisticated.” The living-room credenza is glam, and it’s topped with tall lamps composed of rustic wooden bases (farmhouse), but the shades are industrial mesh. There’s not a moment of wit anywhere, even though the landscape design belongs in a Tim Burton movie. There are fussy topiaries, unpainted cinder-block walls, a set of stepping-stones to nowhere, wide areas covered in red bark nuggets, and one rectangular patch of bright-green lawn. The result of all this work, Aubrey tells us, is a house that’s “super-custom.” The fuzzy, neon Austin Powers pillows make it “feel like a home.”

The actual style is ’70s Porn Shoot. There’s no greige. There’s no homework area. The proportions don’t even work. It turns out — go figure — Bristol was right: To squeeze between the dining-room table and the center island to get out the French door requires gymnastic precision. But Aubrey is a winning character — determined, smart, and able to get materials at a tremendous discount. “I ask to talk to a manager — you don’t ever want to talk to a sales rep — and ask for a discount,” she says. “Tell them about your project. People really want to help, they do.”

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http://www.vulture.com/2017/09/the-ugliness-behind-hgtv-never-ending-fantasy-loop.html?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email

Houseplants help clean the air | North Salem Real Estate

Houseplants can improve your life in many ways (more on that later), but if you’re expecting that peace lily on your desk to rid your home of toxins, you’re in for a surprise.

1989 NASA study attempted to find new ways to clean the air in space stations. Despite some pretty neat findings, it never claimed houseplants are great at removing chemicals from your home’s air — although countless articles have since cited the study as proof of that point.

And the headline “Houseplants Remove Toxins” does sound a lot more exciting than the report’s actual statement:

“Low-light-requiring houseplants, along with activated carbon plant filters, have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air in energy-efficient buildings.”

And if you thought that was a buzzkill, the paper’s summary continues to disappoint:

“Activated carbon filters containing fans have the capacity for rapidly filtering large volumes of polluted air and should be considered an integral part of any plan using houseplants for solving indoor air pollution problems.”

In other words, even if your dracaena had the potential to remove trace toxins from your energy-efficient home, you’d still need to recreate NASA’s complicated system, which blows air through the activated carbon in the plant’s root zone.

Furthermore, if you see a list of the best plants for removing toxins, it’s nothing more than a list of the plants used in the study.

So can houseplants purify my air or not?

In theory, yes. But if you’re thinking of making your own botanical air filtration system, you’ve got a lot of work to do.

As an EPA reviewer explained in 1992, “To achieve the same pollutant removal rate reached in the NASA chamber study,” you would need “680 plants in a typical house.”

You’d be better off buying an actual air filtration system or, at the very least, vacuuming more often.

Yes, it’s true that some plants in the NASA list were more effective at removing benzene, trichloroethylene, and/or formaldehyde than others, but the amount is so negligible that neither the American Lung Association nor the EPA recommends using houseplants to improve your air.

Taking it a step further, both organizations warn that houseplants can worsen your air quality, introducing bacteria that grows in damp potting mix or pesticides used by the nursery.

Don’t let that discourage you from indoor gardening, though. If you’re that worried about your air quality, you’d never step outside in the first place.

In any case, here’s how to keep your houseplants squeaky clean:

  • Dust those leaves! While you’re at it, dust the house.
  • Keep potting mix in its place with an ornamental mulch of river rocks or gravel.
  • Avoid using pesticides whenever possible.
  • Place saucers under each plant to catch excess potting mix.
  • To prevent mold, water plants only when the top half inch of the potting mix is dry.
  • Remove any diseased, yellowed, damaged, or fallen leaves.

Grow houseplants for happiness

True story: I once grew over a hundred plants in my tiny apartment, and I can attest that there was nothing clean about the experience – at all.

Dust filled the air, tree frogs and lizards leaped out of the foliage, and some plants even had stinky fertilizers in the potting mix. Those plants may not have made my air any cleaner, but cultivating a rainforest in the comfort of my home definitely made me a happier person.

Houseplants are a lot more exciting than you’d think. I was actually excited to wake up every morning, because each day brought the promise of a fresh new leaf, a different flower to admire, or another thick orchid root to mist with water.

Helping these living plants grow and thrive gave me a sense of purpose and a connection to the natural world. They also made me sneeze, but only because I spilled potting mix on the floor fairly often.

The only reason you need to grow a houseplant is to be happy. There are, of course, studies suggesting that living with plants improves your concentration, calmness, and productivity, but there’s no point in proving what we already know.

Nobody would bother growing houseplants if they didn’t make us happy.

 

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zillow bog

Decline for April Sales Masks 2017 Gains | North Salem Real Estate

Contracts for new single-family home sales fell more than expected in April, declining 11.4% to a 569,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate according to estimates from the joint data release of HUD and the Census Bureau. The decline occurred after solid, positive revisions for new home sales for the first three months of the year.

All told, total new home sales for 2017 stand at 210,000, a 11.3% gain over the 2016 comparable total of 189,000.

NAHB expects new home sales to continue to progress along the established, modest growth trend due to ongonig job growth, improving household formations, continuing favorable housing affordability conditions, and tight existing home inventory.

Inventory growth continued in April. After hovering near 240,000 for most of 2016, inventory has now risen to 268,000. The current months’ supply number stands at a healthy 5.7. Given tight existing inventory, more new homes are required to meet housing demand.

The most recent data also indicate a growing share of homes not-started in builder inventory. For example, on a year-over-year basis, homes under construction in inventory have increased by a little more than 6% over the last year. Completed, ready-to-occupy homes (there are only 59,000) are up 2% since April of last year. In contrast, homes not-started listed in inventory have increased 42%, from 36,000 in April of 2016 to 52,000 last month.

Pricing data in the April report find that the median sales price of new homes sold in April was $309,200, while the average price was $368,300. These levels are below the 2016 annual totals but remain higher than the 2015 data.

Regionally, all areas saw monthly declines in sales in April. Sales were down 26% in the West, 13% in the Midwest, 8% in the Northeast and 4% in the South. As with the national headline number, the monthly numbers obscure growth for 2017. On a year-to-date basis, new home sales are up 26% in the Midwest, 15% in the Northeast, 10% in the South and 7% in the West compared to April of 2016.

 

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http://eyeonhousing.org/2017/05/decline-for-april-sales-masks-2017-gains/

New Single-Family Home Size Continues to Trend Down | North Salem Real Estate

After increasing and leveling off in recent years, new single-family home size continued along a general trend of decreasing size during the start of 2017. This change marks a reversal of the trend that had been in place as builders focused on the higher end of the market during the recovery. As the entry-level market expands, including growth for townhouses, typical new home size is expected to decline.

According to first quarter 2017 data from the Census Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design and NAHB analysis, median single-family square floor area was slightly lower at 2,389 square feet. Average (mean) square footage for new single-family homes declined to 2,628 square feet.

On a less volatile one-year moving average, the recent trend of declines in new home size can be see on the graph above, although current readings remain elevated. Since cycle lows (and on a one-year moving average basis), the average size of new single-family homes is 10% higher at 2,624 square feet, while the median size is 14% higher at 2,402 square feet.

The post-recession increase in single-family home size is consistent with the historical pattern coming out of recessions. Typical new home size falls prior to and during a recession as home buyers tighten budgets, and then sizes rise as high-end homebuyers, who face fewer credit constraints, return to the housing market in relatively greater proportions. This pattern was exacerbated during the current business cycle due to market weakness among first-time homebuyers. But the recent declines in size indicate that this part of the cycle has ended and size will trend lower as builders add more entry-level homes into inventory.

In contrast to single-family patterns, new multifamily apartment size is down compared to the pre-recession period. This is due to the weak for-sale multifamily market and strength for rental demand

 

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http://eyeonhousing.org/2017/05/new-single-family-size-continues-to-trend-down/

Home prices will not fully recover until 2025 | North Salem Real Estate

Check out any one of the many national home price reports, and headlines scream of new peaks and growing gains each month. Home prices are rising faster than inflation, faster than incomes and faster than some potential buyers can bear. Those reports are heavily weighted toward large metropolitan housing markets.

In fact, most of the U.S. housing market has not recovered from the epic crash of the last decade.

Only about one-third of homes have surpassed their pre-recession peak value, according to a new report from Trulia, a real estate listing and analytics company. Price growth in most markets is so slow that it will take about eight years for the national housing market to fully recover — that is, for all home values either reaching or surpassing their previous peaks.

Huge price gains during the last housing boom were juiced almost entirely by an incredibly loose mortgage lending market that no longer exists.

To say that the housing recovery has been uneven is an understatement. Some markets that have seen huge employment and population growth in the last decade, such as Denver, Seattle and San Francisco, lead the news with bubble-worthy headlines.

Not only have home prices there surpassed their recent peaks, they continue to rise at double-digit paces. Nearly all the homes in Denver and San Francisco (98 percent) have exceeded their pre-recession peak, according to Trulia. Other less obvious markets, like Oklahoma City and Nashville, Tennessee, have also seen the prices of most homes surpass their peak.

In areas hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis, fewer than 4 percent of homes have recovered to pre-recession price peaks. These include Las Vegas; Tucson, Arizona; Camden, New Jersey; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and New Haven, Connecticut.

Rising incomes are the leading cause of home price growth, according to Trulia, which looked at four factors: job growth, income growth, population growth and post-recession housing vacancy rates. Income growth showed the greatest correlation to home price growth.

The intuition here is this: “Housing is what economists call a ‘normal good,’ so when incomes rise, households tend to spend more on housing, which pushes up prices,” wrote Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s chief economist, in the report.

Job growth didn’t correlate at all because more jobs don’t necessarily mean higher incomes. Of course job growth does matter tangentially, as more jobs often mean a growing population.

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http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/03/home-prices-will-not-fully-recover-until-2025.html?__source=newsletter%7Ceveningbrief

Mortgage rates average 4.15% | North Salem Real Estate

Freddie Mac (OTCQB: FMCC) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average mortgage rates slightly falling for the second consecutive week.

News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.15 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending Feb. 16, 2017, down from last week when it averaged 4.17 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.65 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.35 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.39 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.95 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.18 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.21 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.85 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 link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.

Quote
Attributed to Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac.

“For the last 46 years, the 30-year mortgage rate has been almost perfectly correlated with the yield on the 10-year Treasury, but not this year. From Dec. 29, 2016, through today, the 30-year mortgage rate fell 17 basis points to this week’s reading of 4.15 percent. In contrast, the 10-year Treasury yield began and ended the same period at 2.49 percent. While we expect mortgage rates to fall into line with Treasury yields shortly, this just may be a year full of surprises.”

Single-Family Construction Up | North Salem Real Estate

NAHB analysis of Census Construction Spending data shows that total private residential construction spending fell 0.7% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $462.9 billion.

Multifamily construction spending slowed for the first time since July to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of $61.9 billion, down 2.9% from the revised October estimate. Despite the slowdown, multifamily spending was still 10.7% higher than the rate one year prior.  In contrast, single-family construction spending increased by 1.7% over the month, posting its second consecutive gain. However, single-family construction spending still slipped down by 0.9% over November 2015. Though not as pronounced as the drop-off in multifamily construction spending, home improvements still fell by a substantial 3.5%. On a year-over-year basis, spending on home improvements increased by 6.8%.

The NAHB construction spending index shown in the graph below illustrates the recent convergence, though small, of single-family spending with that of multifamily and home improvements.

The pace of private nonresidential construction spending increased by 2.5% over the month, more than offsetting the 2.1% October decline, reaching a pace 6.4% higher than one year ago. The primary drivers of this month-over-month increase were spending on structures to be used for lodging (+6.9%) and religious (+9.8%) purposes.

 

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http://eyeonhousing.org/2017/01/single-family-construction-up-in-november/

Mortgage rates average 4.20% | North Salem Real Estate

 

Freddie Mac (OTCQB: FMCC) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates moving lower for the first time in ten weeks.

News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.20 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending January 5, 2017, down from last week when it averaged 4.32 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.97 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.44 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.55 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.26 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.33 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.30 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.09 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 link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.

Quote
Attributed to Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac.

“The 30-year mortgage rate fell this week for the first time since the presidential election, dropping 12 basis points to 4.20 percent. This marks the first time since 2014 that mortgage rates opened the year above 4 percent. Despite this week’s breather, the 66-basis point increase in the mortgage rate since November 3 is taking its toll — the MBA’s refinance index plunged 22 percent this week.”

Unmasking the Millennials | North Salem Real Estate

Zillow’s new Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends, authored by Stan Humphries, Chief Analytics Officer and Chief Economist, is a remarkably valuable 21st Century addition to the body of research profiling the changing face of residential real estate.

Its many jewels of new or intuitive findings regarding the mysterious Millennials, the generation that so far has defied expectations, are worth noting Here are some the brighter gems that might help to unmask the Millennials.

 Market domination. Millennials, ages 18-34, comprise 42 percent of all home buyers today, while an additional 31 percent of buyers are members of Generation X (ages 35-49). Baby Boomers (ages 50-64) and the Silent Generation (ages 65-75) together make up the smallest share of home buyers (26 percent), with only 10 percent of buyers over age 64.

Millennials buy later and buy up market.  Millennials are delaying many life milestones that precede homeownership, such as completing their education, getting married or starting families, and thus are renting deeper into adulthood.  When Millennials do become homeowners, they leapfrog the traditional starter home and jump into the higher end of the market by choosing larger properties with higher prices, similar to homes bought by older buyers. They pay a median price of $217,000 for a home, more than Baby Boomers, and just 11 percent less than Generation X. The Millennial median home size is 1,800 square feet, similar in size to what older generations buy. The modern-day starter home is nearly as large as the median home for move-up buyers and costs about 18 percent less.

 New homes are on the table. Younger buyers (50 percent of Millennials and 54 percent of Generation X) are significantly more likely than Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation (38 percent and 39 percent, respectively) to consider newly built properties. Nearly half (48 percent) of all buyers are considering new homes.

Millennials less likely to use agents. The older the buyer, the more likely that buyer is using an agent.  Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation rely most heavily on an agent or broker for real estate guidance, with 83 percent and 81 percent respectively citing them as a resource in their home search. Seventy-four percent of Generation X buyers report using an agent, followed by 70 percent of Millennials.  When they enlist an agent, they do so earlier in the home-search process, shop for a home faster than most older generations, and are more likely to stay in touch with an agent.

Do a better job of shopping for agents. The average number of agents all buyers consider hiring is 2.2.  Sixty-eight percent of the Silent Generation and 57 percent of Baby Boomers considered only one agent, compared to 44 percent of Generation X and 38 percent of Millennials considering just one agent. Millennials are particularly likely to evaluate an agent online, including reading online reviews (61 percent) and delving into past sales data (57 percent).

In an agent, Millennials want a partner, not a control freak. The process of finding or selling a home is much more collaborative for Millennials than for older generations. They bring all available tools to the process, including their smartphones, social media, and online networks. While older generations rely on real estate agents for information and expertise, Millennials expect real estate agents to become trusted advisers and strategic partners.

Definition of household is changing. Seventeen percent of younger Millennials  (ages 18-24) are shopping for a home with a friend or roommate, with an additional 51 percent shopping with a spouse or partner. Older Millennials (ages 25-34) are more like the average buyer, as 73 percent are shopping with a spouse or partner. Seventeen percent of younger Millennials (ages 18-24) are shopping for a home with a friend or roommate.

Millennial are not sold on buying. Millennial buyers (71 percent) are the most likely to consider renting. As buyers age, their interest in renting declines. Just over half, 54 percent, of all Generation X buyers considered renting compared to about one-third (32 percent) of Baby Boomers.  Only 18 percent of those 65 years and older considering renting as well as buying.

Millennials social support in decision-making.  Millennials rely on their personal networks. They’re the generation most likely to turn to a friend, neighbor, or relative to share the details of their home search (58 percent, versus 52 percent of Generation X buyers, 42 percent of Baby Boomers, and 37 percent of the Silent Generation). Millennials seek input from friends, relatives, and neighbors 58 percent of the time, versus the Silent Generation, who poll friends just 37 percent of the time.

Millennial home buyers are more diverse. Fourteen percent of Millennial buyers are Latino/Hispanic, whereas roughly 11 percent of Gen X, 7 percent of Baby Boomers and 6 percent of Silent Generation buyers are Latino/Hispanic. Some 6 percent of Millennials are black/African-American, a smaller share than Gen X (9 percent) or Boomer (8 percent) buyers who are black/African-American.

They are more suburban than urban animals, and they buy locally.  Nearly half of Millennial homeowners live in the suburbs (47 percent), while one-third settle in an urban setting (33 percent), with eight in 10 adults under 25 living outside an urban core. While only 11 percent of buyers are moving out of state, it’s notable that older buyers are more likely to make these long-distance moves. While just 7 percent of both Millennials and Generation X are moving across state lines, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation make such moves 20 percent and 29 percent of the time, respectively.

Millennials aren’t just buyers. The biggest group of home sellers belongs to Generation X (38 percent). A quarter of home sellers is Millennials (26

 

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http://www.realestateeconomywatch.com/2016/11/unmasking-the-millennials/

Mortgage rates average 4.13% | North Salem Real Estate

Freddie Mac (OTCQB: FMCC) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates moving higher for the sixth consecutive week.

News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.13 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending December 8, 2016, up from last week when it averaged 4.08 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.95 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.36 percent with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.34 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.19 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.17 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.15 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.03 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 link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.

Quote
Attributed to Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac.

“The 10-year Treasury yield dipped this week following the release of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The 30-year mortgage rate rose another 5 basis points to 4.13 percent, starting the month 18 basis points higher than this time last year. As rates continue to climb and the year comes to a close, next week’s FOMC meeting will be the talk of the town with the markets 94 percent certain of a quarter-point-rate hike.”