Celebrity Movers and Shakers

When movers and shakers move, it’s noteworthy because of who they are and the cost of the home they’re relocating to or have left behind. In Southern California, a person’s location, location, location is often linked to their vocation, vocation, vocation when it comes to living arrangements. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the areas of L.A. where many celebrities and entertainment industry people reside, at least occasionally.

The down housing market affects these people, too, but what’s a few million dollars among friends when it comes to the listing price and actual selling price? With that in mind, here are some homes, according to public or published records, that were listed, sold or purchased in 2011 involving high rollers in the country’s entertainment capital.

Talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres listed her Beverly Hills estate, left, for $49 million. The four-structure compound was formed through three property purchases on the same street. The 15,000 square feet of interior space in the compound include a 9,200-square-foot main house.

Actress Jennifer Aniston sold her Beverly Hills estate for $38 million. It had been listed at $42 million, but even at the lower price the home sold for $3,500 a square foot, which is an area record. The house has two living rooms, two kitchens, a gym, five bedrooms and seven bathrooms.

Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock purchased a Beverly Hills-area estate for $22.95 million. The main house, built in 1940, has a screening room, a library, a basement, five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Continue reading Celebrity Movers and Shakers

First-time Homebuyers Need of Special Attention

By Jim Droz

First-time homebuyers aren’t an endangered species. In fact, they’re buying houses at as close to the same pace as they were before the first-time homebuyers credit got things reinvigorated a couple years ago, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

Today’s mortgage rates and home prices should have the market jumping when it comes to sales, particularly from first-timers who have been putting off making the big move. Toss in the fact that rents are rising in many metropolitan areas, and the timing seems perfect.

But timing, when it comes to the future, is a double-edged sword, and many homeowners are concerned with what they see or fear happening on the horizon. A balky economy, unsteady housing prices, a sketchy job market and an overall feeling of angst are some of the things causing them to hit the pause button.

This is a scary and confusing time for first-time buyers, and that’s where agents come in. Let them know that you’ve helped others in their situation and that you’ll be with them every step of the way. Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with someone about to go through the process for the first time:


Determine what their long-term goals are and how home ownership fits in with those plans. Are they moving because they want more independence or because they want to start a family? Those are just a couple of the questions to ask to get a handle on their thinking and situation.

If a buyer is set on certain features in a home, tell them that it’s important to remain flexible. The list should include basic desires, such as neighborhood and size, and include smaller details such as kitchen and closet space. But stress that not getting everything desired shouldn’t lead to instant rejection. Continue reading First-time Homebuyers Need of Special Attention

Foreclosure Crisis must Occupy the Minds of People Who can Help

By Jim Droz

Now that Occupy Wall Street protesters have been chased from there and other city halls and government buildings throughout the country, the roving band has decided to occupy foreclosed houses. Whether they simply needed a place to stay, or whether foreclosures are simply the next thing to target on a to-do list, the movement is shedding light – at least for the time being – on an exacerbating problem.

“Occupying homes is the perfect next step for the Occupy movement,” protester Max Berger told reporters in Los Angeles.

Just what the disjointed-appearing Occupy movement stands for has been criticized in some circles for lacking a clear message, but the plight of homeowners facing foreclosure and the lending practices of big banks does seem like a perfect target for the group’s message of economic inequality. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. homeowners with mortgages are now underwater, representing nearly 11 million homes, according to CoreLogic, a real estate research firm. The Obama administration’s attempts to address foreclosures through banks voluntarily reducing mortgage payments have helped only a fraction of struggling homeowners, and consumer advocates now want banks to slash mortgage principal and conform to mandatory standards for loan modifications. And that doesn’t even address the problem of all of the vacant foreclosures held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

How we got into this mess is multidimensional, with fingers pointing in all directions. The foreclosure crisis was built on speculation, deceit and bad decisions, and it has put the nation in an economic mess that won’t go away without more pain. One of the worst things about the foreclosure crisis is the feeling of inevitability that accompanies it. While almost everyone can sympathize with a family losing its home, a common theory is that the foreclosure problem is simply too big, too powerful and too complex for citizens to understand. Don’t buy it. Block by block, we can get this thing done. But it will take a collective effort, and there’s where the snag usually comes in. The people who need to work together on this issue often are the ones at odds about almost everything. But it needs to stop.

Homeowners underwater often stop making improvements to their homes, which lowers consumer spending, and some are simply walking away as they realize that they will never break even on their real estate purchases. The foreclosure crisis is destroying America’s middle class and we won’t see any significant economic recovery or expansion as long as foreclosures are growing in number each year and home values are falling. We’re all in this together, and no one is getting out unscathed.

The easiest and most effective stimulus could be to change the rules to allow responsible homeowners with underwater loans to refinance at today’s rock-bottom interest rates. That would stem the tide of foreclosures that is crippling recovery across the country, particularly in California and Nevada. Putting new mortgage financing rules in place could have a nearly instant effect and give hope to families thinking about abandoning their homes, not because they can’t make the payments but because it doesn’t make financial sense to do so.

It’s only a start, but a start is needed. Maybe the Occupy movement will help by keeping the issue in front of people’s faces. If so, it could be effective. But protesters are just vilifying one side, and that’s not always productive. Lawmakers sorting through various proposals to stem the foreclosure crisis should be careful not to tip the balance too far one way or the other. But we long ago reached a tipping point, so action is a must. The crisis should be occupying the minds of people who are in position to fix it before we dig a hole too deep and the housing market’s foundation crumbles beyond repair.

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Coming to Terms would be Easier with Simplified Language

By Jaime Westman

Being a real estate agent or homebuyer is tough these days. So do we really need all of the confusion surrounding the language of the industry? When short sales can take up to eight months to complete and easements are anything but easy to understand, something needs to be done for clarity. Here goes:

Acceleration clause – Hurry! These low rates won’t last forever.

Adjustable-rate mortgage – At least they didn’t ask for an ARM and a leg.

Appreciation – Thanks so much. Times have been especially difficult lately.

Assumable mortgage – You want it? Really?

Broker A monthly occurrence in this economy.

Collection Should I use a hat or a tin can?

Conventional mortgage – Like that’s even possible with today’s regulations.

Deed – No good one goes unsold.

Exclusive listing – Psssst. Over here. Wanna buy a house?

Fee simple – I look for properties. You pay me. Simple, right?

Liquid asset – The bottle of bourbon in the desk drawer.

Lock-in – Not letting a buyer out until he or she signs the papers.

Maturity – I hate this economy! I hate this economy!

No-cost loan – Sign me up!

Point – Your new house is over there.

Pre-approval – You’re good. Next!

Prepayment penalty – You paid too early. Wait your turn.

Repayment plan – Talk to Guido. He’s usually at the corner bar around 5 o’clock.

Revolving debt – A vicious circle.

Second mortgage – If at first you don’t succeed …

Seller carry-back – That couch is heavy, isn’t it? I told you not to move out before we had a firm offer.

Sweat equity – Adding a sauna or steam room to the house.

Title search – I could have sworn I put it in the top drawer.

Truth-in-Lending – A little late, eh?

Two-step mortgage – We can skip the other 17 steps? Woo hoo!

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Agents, Buyers & Lenders must be on Same Page & Team

By Jim Droz

There’s a recent report that says women don’t shop enough. Huh?

That’s the finding of a study published in the Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics that says women get lousier mortgage rates than men. But it’s not gender discrimination that was cited as the main reason. It’s because instead of shopping around for cheaper loans, women have a tendency to rely on the recommendations of friends.

The report set out to explain why women were 32 percent more likely to get a subprime mortgage than men in a 2006 study. According to a team of researchers led by Florida Atlantic University’s Ping Cheng, women pay higher rates because they’re not as thorough as men when it comes to shopping around for the best deal. Who knew?

Researchers suggest that “gender disparity in mortgage rates may be addressed by policies aimed at improving women’s financial literacy and search skills.”

But the reported problem also can be remedied by real estate agents educating clients – male and female – about the total process involved with buying a house. If they don’t have a lender in mind or secured, suggest some choices and tell them what key questions to ask, but never push them in a certain direction. That rarely turns out well. But there’s a lot to be said for having a lender on the deal who you know will take good care of the customer and come to closing with no surprises.

It’s especially important these days that the real estate agent, buyer and lender be on the same page. There are too many chances for anxiety or hard feelings to crop up, so keeping everybody in the loop during the entire process is crucial. If you have a potential buyer, tell him or her about the importance of pre-approval so they know what they qualify to purchase and what their payments will be. This ensures a smoother process and avoids them looking at properties above their price range.

Realtors depend on lenders to ensure they’re working with viable clients. Lenders often rely on Realtors to locate properties their clients want to call home or commercial locations where they can grow their business. Realtors and lenders must be able to rely on each other to get the job done, and the customer is relying on both parties to make sure the process is done courteously, professionally and competently. That’s the most important part of the equation.

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Asking questions is the best way to know and work with buyers

By Jim Droz

If you’re a parent of a young child, the question “why?” can be both engaging and infuriating. On one hand, it shows that your child is curious, but if he or she asks it over and over in a short period of time, it can be a bit annoying and lead to a short-fused answer.

But the simple question is important for real estate agents when it comes to understanding a homebuyer’s needs and desires. Asking why a family wants certain things in a home or why they want to live in a certain area of town will enable you to learn about buyers and help them achieve their goals based on market conditions, financial capacity, investment influences and long-term value.

Tell buyers that your primary job is to help them select a home that best suits their needs and budget and that the only way to accomplish this is to sit down, chat and ask questions of each other. Assure buyers that you will counsel them on different options and features regarding each home. Let them know that you’re the neighborhood expert and the best person to talk to when it comes to school districts, trends, resale value and anything else that would affect their enjoyment and equity in the home.

After going over options, ask them what they prefer. Everyone likes choices, and it shows that you’re working with them every step of the way. After securing a client, it’s important to manage their expectations and to let them know that the marketplace will ultimately determine what they can purchase. The style of home, desired features and location categories are pretty straightforward. But just knowing what they want isn’t enough. You have to first know why they want certain things in order to gain a perspective of how they think and to better grasp the reasoning and motivation behind their decisions. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. A client won’t consider it prying if they know you have their best interests at heart. If you find a great house that has everything they want except for a pool or a spare bedroom, would that scuttle a deal? The only way to find out is to ask.

Asking about finances is always the toughest part, but it’s crucial to discover a homebuyer’s qualifications in order to provide the best counsel. Rather than talk about the overall, scary large-number price, break the discussion down to monthly payments or monthly budgets. Include everything from groceries to credit card debt. That makes things more realistic and gets clients thinking about what they really can and can’t afford to do.

Everyone knows that times are tough out there. It’s likely true for you and probably the same for your client. Working together and showing homebuyers the benefits of your partnership will pay off in the long run and make everyone feel more comfortable in the process.

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