In some areas, April brings the first signs of winter’s end; in others, it’s the gateway to hot, summery weather. But in most climates, it’s the magical month when gardens start to come to life.
Remember to adjust gardening tips to fit your own growing season — but most important of all, wait until the last frost date to put tender plants in the ground.
Here comes the sun, which means that greenhouses are starting to heat up. On warm days, be sure your greenhouse is well-ventilated. Give more regular care to greenhouse plants by stepping up your watering and fertilizing schedule. Also make sure to check your greenhouse thoroughly for pests.
Slide show: 10 ways to reinvigorate your yard in a weekend
Even beginning gardeners can brighten up a terrace, patio, deck or windowsill with containers tumbling with flowers.
Use hanging baskets, pots of all sizes and planter boxes — or ask the kids to help you paint old pails or coffee cans — for clusters of color.
Fill containers with bulbs and bedding plants to be transplanted in warmer weather, or make permanent plantings.
Spark up potted shrubs and trees by surrounding them with dashes of perennial color.
Group cactus plants of different heights and shapes, or try your hand at a container bonsai garden.
Apartment dwellers, if you haven’t made a windowsill herb garden, what are you waiting for?
What’s your home worth?
Don’t let your garden dry out before it even hits full stride. Get into the rhythm of watering regularly early in the season to ensure happy, healthy plants.
Set up a watering system to minimize the work of regularly watering your garden beds. Make sure a hose or watering can is accessible in areas that you will water often throughout the growing season.
In container gardens, make sure that your geraniums, pansies and other container plants are getting enough water.
This is an ideal time to check on the moisture of plantings at the base of evergreens or under eaves. These are often left parched, even in rainy climates.
MSN Weather: 20 plants to start in your garden in spring
Carpenters and carpenter wannabes: Lots of garden projects are easy enough for beginners.
A family with two middle-class incomes can’t afford a median-price home in most of the largest U.S. cities, according to a Redfin analysis of affordability based on list prices and median incomes.
Home prices, which have seen two straight years of 13 percent increases, are rising again this spring. Meanwhile, median household income, when adjusted for inflation, is almost unchanged from 25 years ago. At the intersection of this stagnant wage growth and housing-market rebound is the middle-class homebuyer, who also has few homes to choose from thanks to a five-year low in inventory. From a first-year elementary school teacher to a tenured college professor, homebuyers are finding few affordable homes for sale.
Based on nondistressed homes listed on the Multiple Listing Service as of this past March 30, and 2012 salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 41 percent of homes for sale across 40 U.S. cities are affordable for a family earning two median incomes. An affordable home is one for which the monthly payment is 28 percent or less of gross monthly income.
Home-purchase affordability by city and occupation
The chart below breaks down affordability across most of the largest cities in the U.S. We’ve indicated the percentage of homes currently on the market that are affordable for each city and occupation, based on BLS salary information. Blue means there are more affordable homes, while red means there are fewer. A doctor’s salary can afford most homes in most cities, while one median salary can afford few homes in any city.
Interpreting the chart: A look at professors in two cities
Here’s a breakdown of the chart, using one job — professor — to highlight the differences in affordability by geography. A professor with the median $76,000 salary in Richmond, Va., can afford 88 percent of homes for sale. The city, which is home to Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond, has a median home price of $219,000. On the other end of the spectrum, San Jose, Calif., professors, with a median salary of $70,000, will find just 3 percent of homes are affordable. In the San Jose area, with universities such as San Jose State and Stanford, the median home price is $799,000.
What you must earn to buy a home in 25 cities
Places and professions with affordability
While the overall picture is not great for housing affordability, there are exceptions. More affordable places are scattered throughout the country, although generally not on the coasts. Two middle-class incomes can afford a decent share of homes in Hartford, Conn. (78 percent); Richmond (71 percent); Philadelphia (61 percent); Atlanta (59 percent); Minneapolis (56 percent); and Raleigh, N.C. (55 percent). Affordability for specific occupations include:
Managers can afford 93 percent of homes in Hartford.
Doctors can afford 98 percent of homes in Raleigh.
Engineers can afford 79 percent of homes in Tucson, Ariz.
Low affordability acute in California and beyond
California has always been a popular place to live. So it goes that in every California city, two median incomes will not allow you to buy the median-price home. But home affordability for two middle-class incomes isn’t just a problem in the Golden State. Few homes are affordable on these two incomes in Miami (19 percent); Long Island, N.Y. (24 percent); Denver (23 percent); Austin, Texas (32 percent); and Portland, Ore. (40 percent), indicating the problem reaches all corners of the country.
A woman stands in line at the airport, waiting to get through customs to return to the United States. She checks her BlackBerry for e-mail messages and shifts her computer briefcase to her other hand. Two uniformed men walk up to the traveler and ask her to step out of the line. They explain they’re conducting a random search and that they need to look at her phone, her laptop and any other electronic devices she has. The woman asks when she can expect her property to be returned to her. The men in uniform tell her they can’t be sure; they’ll return the electronics when they’re done searching.
According to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, such a scenario is not only possible, it’s completely legal. Federal Customs and Border Patrol agents have the right to confiscate and examine electronic devices belonging to anyone entering the United States. The agents aren’t required to have probable cause before searching someone’s devices. And they can look for any evidence of any crime at all.
This policy worries many international businesses that employ people who travel to and from the United States on a regular basis. It also might come as a shock to many U.S. residents. In most cases, citizens are guaranteed protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Some people say that a policy in which a government agent could confiscate any electronic device for an indefinite length of time with no probable cause contradicts the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 9th Circuit Court seems to feel otherwise.
U.S. Homeland Security officials claim that the policy is in place to protect the safety of the nation. They also claim that agents will not profile passengers or stop people based solely on their ethnic background or country of origin. But some critics say that in practice agents seem to target people from specific countries. An article in The Seattle Times suggests that government agents focus on Muslims and people from the Middle East or the southern parts of Asia more than others [source: Tu].
Border searches fall under the category of delicate issues — proponents point out that an effective search might save millions of lives while critics say the potential for policy abuse is far too high to justify such an approach.
WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is leading an initiative to require border agents to have probable cause before confiscating any electronic equipment. Feingold has criticized the Department of Homeland Security for the way it has formulated and executed its search and seizure policies
Kobe Bryant’s down season just got a little worse.
The sidelined Los Angeles Lakers superstar has cut the price on his mansion-estate in Newport Coast, Calif., by $600,000. Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, asked $8.599 million when they first began shopping the luxury home in August. After the recent price cut, however, the mansion now lists for $7,999,999.
The Mediterranean-inspired home was built in 1997 and occupies a palm-lined, half-acre lot in the exclusive guard-gated community. Its two-story floor plan spans 8,500 square feet and features a range of luxury finishes, including walnut flooring, limestone-capped staircases and detailed molding.
Among the intimate details in Bryant’s home, none stands out more than the baller’s personal shark tank; we were expecting a giant terrarium consistent with Kobe’s moniker: the “Black Mamba.”
Another selling point, which seems to be a growing trend in high-priced-athlete real estate, is the in-house hair salon. There’s also a gourmet kitchen, a wood-paneled office, a home theater and an 850-square-foot gym. © realtor.com
Outside, the grounds take on a resort-like quality thanks to an “extra deep” custom pool, rolling green lawns, an outdoor kitchen and a fire pit. © realtor.com
Bryant, 35, who has appeared in just six games for Los Angeles this season, was shelved after suffering a knee injury in December. In 18 seasons with the Lakers, Bryant has made 16 All-Star Game appearances while leading the team to five championships
After underperforming in 2013, when it declined almost 34 per cent, the BSE Realty Index has rallied by 21 per cent over the past month. For a long time now, retail investors have shunned real estate stocks.
The run-up in real estate prices in the major metros and rising interest rates have affected the demand for housing. Demand for office space also remains weak in a slowing economic environment, while the retail segment continues to bear the brunt of overcapacity and decline in consumer spending.
The industry’s notoriously opaque and customer-unfriendly practices and massive debts had also in the past turned investors off. The current rally, however, underlines the need to evaluate realty stocks with a fresh eye.
What’s driving the rally?
The foremost factor behind the current rally in real estate stocks is sentiment. With an NDA-led government expected to assume office after the elections, investors have been more willing to bet on domestic cyclical stocks (vis-a-vis outsourcing and defensive stocks).
Real estate stocks have also benefited from the increased appetite for cyclicals. A few sector-specific factors have also played a part in driving this rally. According to Bhaskar Chakraborty, real estate analystinstitutional, India Infoline, prices have corrected by about 20 per cent from their peak levels in the National Capital Region (NCR).
In Mumbai they have corrected by about 8-10 per cent in the second half of 2013-14. With consumer price inflation showing a downward bias and the currency also stabilising (which helps reduce inflation), there is a high probability that interest rate cuts could begin over the next 6-9 months.
The benchmark rate could decline by 50-100 basis points in the next 18 months, which would in turn lead to lowering of home loan rates. The combination of these two factors—price correction and the possibility of a decline in interest rates—could make housing more affordable and bring about a revival in demand.
Realty stocks, according to Realty stocks have surged by more than 20 per cent in the past month, though the sector’s fundamentals have not improved much. Find out if you should buy these now. Is it time to buy real estate stocks? Chakraborty, are rallying in anticipation of these developments.
A couple of other developments have also taken place that will have a salutary impact on investor perception about the sector. Aashiesh Agarwaal, VP-Research, Edelweiss Financial Services, informs that the approval scenario has improved both in Mumbai and Bangalore, and private equity firms have in recent times displayed greater appetite for investing in real estate projects.
The expectation that the economy could rebound in the second half of 2014-15, always a positive for the sector, has also contributed to improved sentiment.
And finally, valuations had corrected quite sharply in the first half of 2013-14, and are currently bouncing back from those low levels. Says Agarwaal: “With many of the concerns about the sector abating, it has performed well recently.”
The stronger-than-expected housing recovery — a 20 percent rebound since 2010 — owes a lot to the investors who swept into recession-ravaged cities and scooped up distressed homes.
Nowhere has that been truer than in the suburbs ringing Atlanta, where rampant overbuilding and economic woes produced a flood of foreclosures.
At the same time, the local rental market couldn’t absorb all the displaced owners. That combination proved irresistible to mom-and-pop investors, whose all-cash purchases stabilized the market: Atlanta home prices rebounded from a 12.7 percent decline in 2009 to flat in 2010.
Then Wall Street came to town. This second wave of housing investors is spending billions to flip foreclosures into single-family rentals. In January one in every four homes sold in Atlanta went to a large investor, four times the national average, RealtyTrac says.
Check out homes for sale
“They’re coming from all over, even out of the country,” Atlanta agent and property manager Scott Goeber says.
In June 2012 the Atlanta office of real estate manager Waypoint Homes was “me and my cellphone,” regional director David Zanaty says. By last fall he had hired 50 people and bought 600 homes, and hoped to own 1,500 by March.
Large investors are swarming local markets. Real estate powerhouse Blackstone has spent $8 billion to buy 43,000 homes nationwide. American Homes 4 Rent has spent $3.5 billion on 21,700 homes.
Now these buying sprees are being converted to investments.
What are asking rents near you?
Since December 2012, four single-family home real estate investment trusts, similar to REITs that own apartment buildings or shopping centers, have opened up to individual investors. American Homes 4 Rent’s is the largest; most recently Waypoint merged with the home-rental division of Starwood Property to form Starwood Waypoint Residential Trust, a REIT that owns close to 5,800 homes.
Plus, a new breed of bonds, which bundle rents from single-family homes, is being peddled to institutional investors, such as pension managers or mutual funds. Last October, Blackstone rolled out a $479 million bond backed by 3,207 homes in five states. Deutsche Bank estimates that another $5 billion in home rental bonds will hit the market this year.
So far investors have not been enthusiastic. Some of Blackstone’s bonds are selling below the offer price, and most of the REITs have underperformed their index. The business model is too new, says Brad Thomas, editor of iREIT Investor.
The firming up of guidelines for real-estate mutual funds, which had been in the works for long, is welcome. Not only will this enable small investors to devote a part of their resources to the real-estate asset class, it also has the potential to spur reform in the poorly regulated, investor- /property owner-unfriendly market.
It will also have a beneficial impact on the property-financing market as these funds will be allowed to invest in mortgage-backed securities and shares as well as in instruments of various entities associated with real estate. However, real-estate fund managers and investors are not likely to have it easy.
The poor regulation and the absence of any organised market for real estate means that the launch and the ongoing existence of such mutual funds will be a challenge. The poor state of the Indian property markets is well known; the true value of property is often unknown, liquidity is low and most transactions involve payment in ‘black’.
High stamp duties play a big role in dissuading property buyers and sellers from declaring the true transaction value of the property. Moreover, cities are poorly planned and regulations poorly enforced resulting in the proliferation of property that are either partially or completely unauthorised. Investment in properties with a doubtful title or legal standing can be a very big risk for such funds.
The lack of an organised market is also likely to hit the regulation of such funds. While the guidelines mandate daily declaration of NAV, it is not clear how the daily value of physical property held by the funds would be determined. The regulator has however done a wise thing by recommending a close-ended structure for these funds.
Considering the current state of the underlying market and the long gestation period of such funds, a close-ended structure is the right way to go about it. Sebi will also do well to work out the feasibility of introducing commodity-based mutual funds. Mutual funds that invest in diverse asset classes will give small investors the opportunity to diversify their investments.
The volume of mortgage applications fell last week despite a steady average rate on the commonly used 30-year fixed mortgage.
A large drop in refinances pushed the overall volume lower, but applications to purchase a home rose 3 percent from the previous week, on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Purchase applications, however, are still down 14 percent from a year ago, when mortgage rates were a full percentage point lower.
Refinance activity has been falling steadily since the rate rise early last summer. Applications to refinance fell 5 percent last week from the previous week and are now at their lowest level since the end of 2013. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed conforming mortgage held steady last week at 4.56 percent.
Can you get a low interest rate?
Refinances are now just 51 percent of all mortgage applications, down from around 80 percent in 2012 and the first half of 2013. Refinances had surged on historically low rates, and banks experienced a boom in activity. With refinances now down from a year ago, banks have had to reduce and reallocate staff.
In a separate report this week, the MBA noted that credit has eased slightly, but only for larger “jumbo” loans. This is because so much of the home sales activity is on the higher end of the housing market today, as prices on the low end jumped dramatically over the past year, pricing some potential buyers out. The number of distressed homes for sale is also down, and investors are slowing their purchases. Higher-end home sales still represent less than 10 percent of the overall housing market, but lenders want to capture whatever business they can.
Refinancing? Use this calculator
“Consistent with past months, many lenders and investors are providing borrowers seeking higher loan amounts with a broader range of financing options by introducing new jumbo loan programs. Over the month, some lenders made a complete exit from wholesale lending operations, while other lenders moved to enter that space or expanded operations,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist.
Banks have not, however, loosened standards on smaller, conforming purchase loans in order to generate more business. In an odd reversal, jumbo loan rates are actually lower than those of conforming loans, because of high fees charged to lenders by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Jumbo loans are usually held on bank balance sheets or sold to a still small following of private investors.
Downtown condominium prices continue to skyrocket in West Coast cities, as the booming tech industry and interest from foreign buyers sends condo prices skyward and leaving little left to buy.
Few markets are more frenzied than San Francisco, where new condominium prices are now over $1,000 per square foot, according to The Mark Co., a marketing and sales firm in San Francisco.
San Francisco’s new downtown condo prices were up 13 percent in March from a year ago, to $1,030 per square foot. The inventory of new condos was down by roughly a third and is pretty much bare: In a press release, The Mark Co. noted that in 2007 there were about 3,000 new condo units for sales. In March there were 138.
Check out San Francisco homes for sale
The Mark Co.’s new condo price index is based on the per-square-foot price of a 1,000 square foot condominium that sits on the 10th floor of a new building. Naturally, penthouses – defined as a 2,000-square-foot condo on the 30th floor – are much more.
In San Francisco, new penthouses fetched $1,768 per square-foot, up 13 percent from a year ago.
Prices are up in in other major West Coast cities as well. In Seattle, new condo prices were up 18 percent in March form a year ago, to $727 per square foot.
What are homes worth near you?
In downtown Los Angeles, new condo prices were up 8 percent, to $656 per square foot.
You’ve checked out the schools and read neighborhood crime statistics. You’ve timed your commute and figured out where to buy groceries. But what are you missing when it comes to evaluating a new neighborhood?
Don’t forget to check these seven neighborhood details before you sign a lease or buy a home.
1. Where will you go to have fun?
It’s natural to focus on proximity to your job when you’re looking for a place to live. After all, you probably travel between home and the office more frequently than you travel anywhere else.
But don’t forget to think about your downtime. Does the new place offer easy access to your favorite hobbies? Will you have to drive further in rush-hour traffic to get your kids to their after school activities or get up earlier on weekends to get to your favorite hiking trail? Make a list of the places you go most often to relax and make sure getting there from your new home won’t take all the fun out of it.
10 must-haves for a ‘destination’ neighborhood
2. Read the fine print
Hidden in your community bylaws, there might be rules on what you can and can’t do with your new home. The covenants, conditions and restrictions, also known as CC&Rs, govern things such as whether you can paint your house, put up a satellite dish, keep a vehicle on the street or store a boat. Make sure you understand all fees imposed by the community association and factor them in when you’re figuring out how much rent or mortgage payments you can afford.
3. Homeowner’s association and property manager
The property manager or the homeowner’s association will make a huge difference in your quality of life. You can look for obvious signs of their management abilities, such as whether the building is kept in good repair. But a more thorough search may be warranted. If the property is managed by a large company, you may be able to find ratings online. Talking to neighbors can be useful, and you might try searching the online archives of your local newspaper to see if the HOA has received any press — good or bad. Problems with the HOA may explain suspiciously low rents, and you want to know if the HOA has declared bankruptcy or imposed a special assessment on members.
Report: 70 percent of HOAs are short on cash
4. Taxes and insurance
If you’re moving to a new area, you may not be aware of the differences in taxes from one municipality to another. Property taxes can change dramatically when you cross a political border such as the city limits or the county line, and some cities charge local income tax on top of what you’re already paying to the state and the federal government. Car insurance may also be higher depending on where you park at night, so talk to your insurance company and your accountant before you make an offer or sign a lease. You don’t want any expensive surprises.
7 neighborhood threats to your home’s value
Property listings usually tell you what kind of sewer and water access you’ll have, but you may not think to check for other types of utilities. Will you be able to get high-speed internet access in your new home? If you work from home, reliable internet access and phone service is a must. You may also want to find out what cable companies provide the best service in the area. Cellphone reception has improved a lot in recent years, but pay attention to how many dropped calls you experience in your potential new neighborhood. You may find that you need to get a new carrier along with your new address.
6. Light and noise
The basketball hoop in the cul-de-sac seemed like a great indicator of a kid-friendly community when you were house hunting. But it’s not so charming when the neighborhood teenagers are shooting hoops late into the night. If you’re sensitive to noise or light, look around with an eye toward protecting your sleep. Busy roads, bus and train routes, bars and restaurants, street lights — if you love to be in the thick of things, you may be thrilled by the activity. If you’re a light sleeper, you may want to invest in a white noise machine or find another neighborhood.
Renters: 11 amenities you shouldn’t overlook
Being able to walk to a cafe, a library and a grocery store will save you money and keep you healthier, so don’t forget to check the Walk Score of your new address. Who knows? Maybe you can do without a car altogether. If you’re moving to a rural area, you can still think about potential walks from your home, but instead of walking to the bakery on a Saturday morning you may be walking across a field to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor, or walking to your favorite bird-watching spot in the woods. Take it a step further and look for bike lanes. A good network of bike lanes and well-kept sidewalks indicates a local government that is willing to invest in the health and safety of its constituents.