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The A Team L.A. Times

The good news in Real Estate

By Adrienne Kessler | Agent in Los Angeles, CA
  • Energy-efficient Building Materials You Never Thought To Use

    Posted Under: Quality of Life, Home Buying, Going Green  |  January 20, 2014 11:36 AM  |  117 views  |  No comments
    The drive for energy-efficient building comes down to a quest for the so-called tight envelope. In builder lingo, the better a structure keeps out the wind and the rain, the tighter its envelope.

    If you can achieve a "tight envelope" while using some kind of renewable, recycled material, it's all the better.Many new energy-efficient products enter the market each year, some builders shy away from them because of higher costs. In many cases, just adding a layer of insulation or a specially glazed window can increase the cost of materials by 20 to 30 percent.

    In most cases, experts in energy conservation argue that more efficient materials will lead to lower costs of heating and cooling a house, so the homeowner will recover that money, usually within several years.

    Recycled Steel
    If you check out the material produced by the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI), you might want to skip the wood beams when building your next house.

    According to the SRI, builders are simplifying the framing process by ordering customized steel beams and panels to fit each specific design. The SRI touts the durability of steel in areas subject to high winds and earthquakes. Further, it reports that while a 2,000-square-foot (186-square-meter) house requires 40 or 50 trees to build, a frame from recycled steel would require no more than the material that comes from six scrapped cars.

    At least 65 tons (59 metric tons) of scrap steel are recycled every year. Recycling scrap reduces the energy produced in making the steel by 75 percent, and it saves space in landfills as well.

    Insulating Concrete Forms
    This is a 60-year-old technology that's enjoying new life with the discovery of its energy-saving properties.

    The Portland Cement Association, one of the top makers of concrete forms, defines them as "cast-in-place concrete walls that are sandwiched between two layers of insulation material." Concrete is poured into forms that serve as insulation layers and remain in place as a permanent part of the structure. The technology is used in freestanding walls and building blocks.

    An industry-funded study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report in late 2010 that said buildings made from insulated concrete forms saved 20 percent over the energy consumed by wood-frame buildings in cold climates such as Chicago.

    Straw bale home
    Straw Bales
    Ever build with LEGOs? Then you can build a house. That's the philosophy of Mark Jensen, who supervises the building of straw bale houses for Native American communities. Straw is a byproduct of the grain industry that often would be burned otherwise.
    According to the California Straw Building Association, straw, if kept dry, can last for thousands of years. Straw bales bond well to stucco and plaster walls, and they provide good insulation.

    Straw bales usually weigh 50 to 90 pounds (23 to 41 kilograms) each, and a 2,000-square-foot (186-square-meter) house needs about 300 medium-sized straw bales for its construction. Although few jurisdictions account for straw bale construction in building codes, local authorities manage the construction on a case-by-case basis.
  • Have A Green Holiday Season

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City, Design & Decor in Studio City  |  December 13, 2013 6:37 PM  |  129 views  |  No comments
    During the holiday season, waste disposal increases 25 percent in the United States, causing an extra 5 billion pounds of waste in the landfills according to the Medical University of South Carolina. Plus, travelers will be logging tons of miles and creating tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Here are tips to help you plan ahead to reduce your waste and green your gift giving this year.

    1. Get Rid of the Wrap
    Do you get dad the same thing, a new shirt and tie for the holidays? Wrap the box to be reusable each year and store the ornaments or decorations in the box for next year! Reuse old wrapping paper or put your gifts in reusable bags or boxes. Be creative about giving old materials new life-scraps of fabric, magazines, or calendars make great patchwork bags or collage wrapping paper. 

    2. Send Tree-free Holiday Cards 
    Search the National Green Pages™ for cards made from kenaf, hemp, and other tree-free resources. Or, send e-cards and avoid the wait at the post office for stamps.

    3. Hold a No-Waste Holiday Party
    Host a zero-waste party. Minimize the garbage by asking people to bring their own cups, plates and utensils if you don't have enough of your own. Use fabric tablecloths and napkins. Then be sure to recycle any post-party cans and bottles and compost food scraps.

    4. Beware of Electronic Gifts
    Disposable electronics (usually the cheap ones you see advertised on Black Friday) are painful for the environment. Some of the most popular gift items for children and teens are electronics like computers, tablets, e-readers, video games, and music devices. But the manufacturing and disposal of these items creates significant human health and environmental hazards. To learn more about the environmental impact of computers and electronic devices, check out the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. The Recycled Video Games Network is a great resource to dispose of old equipment or buy recycled games and systems for less, reducing the amount of new materials made

    5. Give Gifts from the Heart
    Buy a Groupon or LivingSocial experience to share with your loved ones! There are amazing discounts on incredible adventures in your area! Sign up for their deal alerts and make memories this holiday season! Give the gift of your time and talent to loved ones this year. Offer to make dinner, walk the dog, help with gardening or home repairs, or invite friends to a local adventure!

    6.Give Green Gift Memberships
    Make a donation in honor of a loved one. Choose a cause that addresses an issue that you and your friends and family members care about and support. Green America offers 2-for-1 gift memberships during the holidays. Green America gift memberships are a great way to support our work for a green future while introducing more people to the ideas of just and sustainable purchasing and investing. Give gift memberships »

    7. Make Your Holiday Travel Green
    If you are one of the many people planning to log a lot of travel miles this holiday season, don't forget to look into green options for getting around. Better World Travel Club can help you offset the carbon emissions from your travel through their Travel Cool program. Plus, Green America has partnered with NativeEnergy to help you offset your energy impact, including travel impact, fund the production of more wind energy, and generate support for Green America's Climate and Energy program. 

    8. Green Gifts
    If you choose to give presents over the holidays, shop with green businesses listed in the National Green Pages. This year, a number of green businesses are offering special discounts to make green gift giving even easier.

    9. Avoid Toys Made with PVC plastic
    Toxic PVC is found in everyday plastics, including some children’s toys. Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Also, additives, such as lead and cadmium, are sometimes added to PVC to keep it from breaking down; these additives can be particularly dangerous in children’s toys. PVC is also the least recycled plastic.Find safe toys in the National Green Pages »

    10. Recycle Packaging From Gifts Given (And encourage others to do the same!)
    To reduce environmental impacts, it is important to recycle all cardboard packaging and peanuts or other Styrofoam packing that comes with gifts or purchases as these items will not break down in a landfill but can be used over and over again for packaging and shipping. The National Green Pages contains several listings for easy drop-off centers for both types of waste.

  • Economy Improving At A Suprisingly Strong Pace!

    Posted Under: Market Conditions, Home Buying, Home Selling  |  March 20, 2013 2:23 PM  |  1,098 views  |  No comments
    Mortgage rates rose this week as positive data indicates that the economy is improving at a surprisingly strong pace. All indicators were positive beyond expectations again this week. Today marked the first day the DOW didn't finish up after 10 straight days. The stock market rallied at the close and we almost hit 11 positive days in a row, unbelievable! Retail sales, jobs, housing, financials, posted better than expected results. Inflation results showed inflation higher than expected.  
    Usually inflation causes rates to rise, which they did but  more slightly than expected. The dollar also strengthened against most currencies which was also surprising.    Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.63 percent for the week ending March 14, up from 3.52 percent last week but down from 3.92 percent a year ago. Rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans hit a low in Freddie Mac records dating to 1971 of 3.31 percent during the week ending Nov. 21, 2012. For 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, rates averaged 2.79 percent, up from 2.76 percent last week but down from 3.16 percent a year ago. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate loans hit a low in Freddie Mac records dating to 1991 of 2.63 percent during the week ending Nov. 21, 2012.  For five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid-rate mortgage (ARM) loans, rates averaged 2.61 percent, down from 2.63 percent last week and 2.83 percent a year ago. Rates on one-year Treasury-indexed ARM loans averaged 2.64 percent, virtually unchanged from 2.63 percent last week, but down from 2.79 percent a year ago.

    Inventory rates (homes for sale) are the lowest ever recorded. So for now its more of the same: multiple offers, rising prices, few homes to show and quick decisions on the part of buyers is a must! It should be noted that even though stocks are higher that the highs in 2007 adjusted for inflation, in "real" numbers they are quite a bit lower. Housing as well. Some areas have hit the highs from 2007, but adjusted for inflation they are still lower in "real" dollars. I would think that prices will continue to move up sharply before they level off! 
  • Weekly Economic Update - A Growing Economy

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Los Angeles County, Home Selling in Los Angeles County  |  March 11, 2013 12:32 PM  |  1,081 views  |  No comments
    Weekly Economic Update - A Growing Economy  


    The big news this week was that no deal was reached to avert the sequester spending cuts. Despite warnings of "doom and gloom" the stock market closed up for the week! Obviously, investors don't  see these cuts as any real risk to the economy.  Even health care was up and defense did not see any real drops in their stock prices. These cuts are such a small percentage of the budget that I really don't see how they can have any real impact. In most cases, spending in these areas cut are pretty much rolled back a year ago levels.  The argument was that targeted cuts would have been better than across the board cuts. Unfortunately, there was no agreement on targeted cuts or limiting deductions to avoid cuts. The good news is that between these cuts, the end of year tax increase deal, the 2011 cuts, and winding down the wars the U. S. is expected to save over 4 trillion dollars over the next 10 years.  The growing economy should make tax revenues higher as well.  I would expect to see an upgrade in the United States credit rating soon. Bond yields dropped this week as well, easing interest rates! So for us its more of the same. Low rates, rising prices, multiple offers and low inventory.  We are beginning to see more homes priced too high and not selling.  There is definitely a cap presenting. I think that is a sign that we will see the market normalize within a year.
     The 30-year mortgage rate slightly fell this week to 3.51 % from 3.56% last week, dropping near the record 3.31% low reached in November.  Last year this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.95%.  The 15-year rate slipped to 2.76% from  2.77% last week.  The record low is 2.63%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.61 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.64 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.83 percent. 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.64 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.65 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.72 percent. These low rates are continuing to help the drive housing market up, while mortgage delinquencies are decreasing and home prices are steadily rising as demand surges.   

  • Cash Purchase of Homes Hit a Record in 2012

    Posted Under: Market Conditions, Home Buying, Home Selling  |  February 11, 2013 1:29 PM  |  1,122 views  |  No comments
    Who needs a mortgage when you have the cash to spare?
    Not the wealthy, and certainly not investors, both of whom appear to be currently saturating California's real estate market these days. The latest sign: Cash purchases of homes in the Golden State hit a record last year, accounting for 32.4% of all home sales.
    "It's clear that a lot of today's housing market recovery is being fueled by people putting their own money into homes," John Walsh, president of real estate firm DataQuick, said in a news release detailing the new data. "Some cash buying is part of a normal housing market, but we're at twice that normal rate."
    And those buyers appear to be driving up prices. The median home price for cash purchases last year was $205,000, a 17.1% increase from the year before. That means that cash buyers are either paying more for homes or increasingly purchasing pricier properties. A good chunk of those buyers are young and wealthy shoppers who are either the recipients of trust funds or are getting help from their parents. 
    Those parents, and young buyers, are motivated to buy as prices have sunk and real estate has reemerged as a secure investment.
    The 32.4% of purchases that were all-cash last year was up from 30.4% in 2011, and is more than double the annual average of 15.6%, DataQuick said. A total of 145,797 condominiums and houses were bought without a mortgage last year. Compare that to 39,731 in 2007 when the market crashed.
  • $1 Million(+) Home Sales Rise In California

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Los Angeles, Celebrity Homes in Los Angeles  |  February 4, 2013 1:29 PM  |  1,115 views  |  No comments
    $1 Million(+) Home Sales Rise In California


    The number of homes statewide sold for more than $5 million reached an all-time high last year, while those selling at a million dollars or more rose to the highest level since 2007 last year, a real estate information service has reported.

    Cash buyers, an upturn in home prices and the recovering economy played a role in the increase, as did a year-end rush among the wealthy to take advantage of lower capital gains taxes by closing before year end.

    Across California, 697 homes sold for more than $5 million compared to the previous high of 491 in 2011.

    The 26,993 homes sold at $1-million-plus represented a 26.9% jump from 2011, according to San Diego-based DataQuick. In comparison, 42,502 home sales exceeded the million-dollar mark in 2007, before the mortgage meltdown dragged down home prices across the housing market.

    The record was set in 2005, when 54,773 homes sold for a million dollars or more. The luxury market outpaced overall sales, which were up 8.2% statewide.

    "It should go without saying that buyers and sellers in the prestige market tend to respond to different motivations and incentives than the rest of the market," John Walsh, DataQuick president, said in a press release. "Job security, down payment sizes and mortgage interest rates don't play the same role. Returns on investments in a low interest-rate financial environment and safe-haven investing do play a role."

    Hillsborough claimed top spot with 422 sales at $1-million-plus. Southern California communities with the most $1 million-plus sales included Manhattan Beach, Newport Beach, La Jolla, Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach.

    Cash buyers accounted for a record 7,791 of the million-dollar home sales, up from 5,802 in 2011.

    The most expensive transaction to appear in public records was  the $117.5-million sale of an 8,930-square-foot mansion on nine acres in the Northern California community of Woodside.

    Among top sales locally last year was Oracle Corporation's head Larry Ellison's purchase of a three-structure, copper-roofed compound along Malibu's Carbon Beach for $36.944 million.

    Almost all home sales in the communities of Ross in Marin County; San Marino and Santa Monica in Los Angeles County; Los Altos in Santa Clara County; Atherton and Hillsborough in San Mateo County; and Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County were in $1-million-plus territory.
  • 2013 To Bring Increased Sales and Higher Selling Prices!

    Posted Under: Home Selling  |  January 21, 2013 12:48 PM  |  1,042 views  |  No comments
    2013 is going to be a fantastic year for real estate! 2012 closed out strong, posting some of the largest price increases in years. December ended with large numbers of luxury home closings and Southern California experienced one of the strongest years since 2007. All of this is setting the stage as we enter into the first quarter of 2013. We are expecting to see more of the same throughout the year with tight inventory, attractive interest rates, eager buyers, and increased interest from investors and builders.
    This was an extraordinary year end with many more closings than usual especially at the high end of the market. According to the National Association of Realtors, November home sales over $1 million were up 51% from the year previous. A major reason behind this push to close in 2012 was the incentive to take advantage of lower tax rates before the New Year and uncertainty over the fiscal cliff budget discussions. (CNN Money)
    Overall we are continuing to see signs of an improving real estate market. On a National level, home prices reached the highest percentage gain in over 2 years with only 2 of 20 cities posting small price declines. Southern California also posted large price gains at the end of last year. "Last year was the first year of solid improvement since housing crashed in 2007. The strong performance last month indicates that 2012 will also continue to bring home price gains, analysts said (LA TIMES)." Home prices and sales reached their highest December numbers in the past three years while supply has dwindled to an approximately 2 ½ month supply.
    I am looking forward to a successful 2013 with more of the same: increased sales and higher prices. As inventory remains low, prices begin to climb, and demand from buyers with unprecedented home affordability continues, this year will shape up to be an excellent year to buy or sell.   
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