From the Virginia Resources Authority comes this announcement on Friday:
The Virginia Resources Authority has just sold $215 million in infrastructure revenue bonds – a real triumph and nothing short of miraculous given the economic situation. This represents the largest transaction in the pooled financing program in VRA history.
The bonds will finance a number of projects in localities across Virginia. The projects are varied in scope, reflecting VRA’s broad support in 14 areas for community investment including public safety and local government buildings. Participating localities will construct a variety of projects including: upgrades to bridges and wastewater treatment plants, replacement of water and sewer lines, and construction of a new firehouse, a new library, and a public safety academy.
“Bricks and mortar projects mean jobs and income in Virginia communities,” said Sheryl Bailey, Executive Director of the Virginia Resources Authority. “We can’t over-emphasize the importance of such projects in stimulating the local and state economy. Infrastructure is a key to America’s economic recovery.”
Important? You bet! With funding comes improvements, with improvements comes jobs, and with jobs comes tax revenue, quality of living and any other number of benefits. Virginia has had a strong bond rating for many years, meaning low loan rates for localities, and $215 million will go a long way to localities being able to move forward with planned improvements. No word in the press release on whether any of those projects are planned for the Blacksburg/Christiansburg/Radford area, but we'll see moving forward.
Updated 11/25 10:02am - This is the largest ever transaction in the history of VRA's pooled financing program, and represents 25% of VRA's financing in that program to date ($862 million total). You can read the entire November 21 press release at https://www.virginiaresources.org/news.shtml.
A few days ago, I wrote a post talking about loan modifications and the problems I thought they perpetuated. It was a post that was admittedly written with a bit of anger and cynicism at what our elected officials were doing, but also with some disappointment I can't think of a better solution.
Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Fran at Trulia, telling me the post had been selected to be featured on their Top Housing Market Stories page! Thanks, Trulia, that's pretty cool!
Speaking of Trulia, are you familiar with their site? Whether you're a buyer, a seller, or interested bystander, you might want to check them out. They have great tools for everyone to follow what's happening in their neighborhood, and Steve and I are both on the site and updating our profiles now!
Earlier in 2008, the Virginia Association of REALTORS held it's first Blog Brawl. NRVLiving went deep into the tournament, eventually falling and quietly shedding tears. Well, the second Blog Brawl was organized just a few days ago at VAR, and NRVLiving was once again in the tournament.
Unfortunately, I didn't tell you all so that I could shamelessly beg for votes. I got caught up in some other things, and today it was announced we didn't even make it past the second round! Well ... congratulations to the winners. We'll be back, I'm sure of it!
(Here's a video of Ben and Jovan at VAR making fools of themselves. Love these guys - our state association really is the best)
I've written before about Virginia Tech's focus on energy research and sustainability, even going so far as to say that the university's focus on these issues is a nice example of putting their money where their mouth is, with no outside pressure. And I believe that.
And appointments such as these lead me to believe it even more. Sure, Dr. Leo's appointment is one that is made to further the university's research advancement goals and bring in more money, but you can bet they'll be putting much of these initiatives in place right here on campus.
Kudos to Dr. Leo and Virginia Tech. Once again, Inventing the Future.
What I find interesting is that the farm will be sustainable, and is using a product familiar to anyone who's read this blog in the past year. The product is Auz-Bloc, also known as Builderscrete. I say well done to Jim and Heather for choosing this really unique product, and congratulations to Bill and everyone at Auz-Bloc on the new project!
More on Auz-Bloc here, and in the video below:
I'm admittedly behind on this post, and it's been rehashed across the web. Essentially, if (1) you're at least 90 days delinquent on a home that is your primary residence and on which you owe at least 90% of the home's value AND (2) either Fannie, Freddie or one of their participating loan companies must own the loan, then under the loan modification program you can restructure your loan to as much as 38 percent of your gross income.
Forgoing the in-depth analysis and critique from economists and Harvard-types for a moment, I have a problem with this. I'm struggling with the issue of personal responsibility, and Government subsidy of these loans doesn't resolve the problem. The problem is poor decision-making on the part of consumers and lending institutions and the real estate industry. I'm not sure modification or "streamlining" resolves the issue of personal responsibility, and on the flip side I don't know that allowing millions of loans to default and further crippling the housing and financial sector makes a lot of sense either. I have no answer for this, but struggling with the issue.
Bloodhound writes (emphasis mine):
The streamlined process looks only at income, not assets. If you refinanced your home to buy a Mercedes or own another home, you won’t be expected to sell them to pay your mortgage.
Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, predicts that many homeowners who have little or no equity will stop paying their mortgage and then reduce their income to get the biggest payment cut possible. They could stop working overtime or, if two spouses work, one could quit. After the modification, they could try to boost their income again.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Schiff says. “People are going to feel like complete morons if they don’t participate. The people getting punished are the ones who never made an irresponsible decision to buy a house they couldn’t afford.”
The government is offering loan servicers $800 for every homeowner they get into the plan.
Schiff predicts that loan agents “will be cold-calling people trying to get them into it. Just like they encouraged people to overstate their income to get a bigger loan in the first place, now they will encourage them to understate their income to qualify for a smaller loan.”
I can see Schiff's point. Desperate lenders will have an incentive to push people into what appears to be an even worse problem.
As I said, I'll leave the bulk of the analysis to economists and people who have a better grasp of the larger picture. I know that locally, Blacksburg and Christiansburg lenders haven't gone crazy with out of control loan terms. Rates are low, borrowers are bringing money to the closing table and deals are getting done. Mark Weddle says it's "Back To Basics" and he's right ... you can still buy and sell in today's market.
It was eery watching this video, reposted on Jim Duncan's blog, this morning. Take the 10 minutes to watch what Peter Schiff has to say, and then tell me you didn't raise your eyebrows in surprise at how history has played out these last several months.
No ... the photo has nothing to do with the post. I took the photo, and I liked it. That's all.
A reader sent me this article overnight about adaptive reuse in Washington DC.
As Judy wrote:
"wouldn't it be great if Blacksburg could do a similar type of adaptive reuse to the old Blacksburg Middle School? Granted, our school is much older, but the commitment of all parties made it work."
Thanks Judy - there really is something to Fulghum's book.
Have an idea or article you'd like to share on the blog that applies ? Email me and let me know.
And this one won't be, either.
A few days ago, I needed a break. I had been in the office all day working on some things, and my craving for a Diet Pepsi Max (yea, I'm one of the 31 people across the nation that actually like the stuff) kicked in. One of the many reasons I like my office is that its an easy walk to a local gas station, so I hoofed it down to pick up that invigorating cola and then headed back.
On my way back I passed the site for The Colosseum, so I snapped some photos of the excavation. It had been a while since I had stopped in and so I thought I'd capture the moment. Just a lot of dirt right now ...
There's a lot of Blacksburg history in those layers of dirt:
Dozens of piles of dirt looking back towards South Main Street:
Someone's going to have a killer view:
You know it's been a long time since you've posted to your blog when you log in and the editor has been redesigned so much you have to read the Frequently Asked Questions.
Yea, that was embarrassing.
I received an email from a reader this afternoon, asking when I was going to be writing again. It's been a week, I didn't realize it had been that long.
Anyway, I'm back. LOTS coming up in the next few days, including:
There's a lot more - we're currently working on our plan for 2009 and I can tell you there's a lot of cool stuff happening. Can't wait to share more as it happens.
Now ... how exactly do I compose a new post? Where did I put those FAQs?
Wow ... I might get around to posting some thoughts on this election, one day. I alternated between proud, worried, optimistic, hopeful, and any number of other emotions yesterday, and like so many others followed the coverage well into the early hours of Wednesday morning. January 20, 2009, we'll be inaugurating the 44th President of the United States, President Barack Obama, and congratulations to President-elect Obama and his family. Regardless of whether your candidate won, lost, placed or didn't even show, it was monumental for any number of reasons.
So what's an Obama administration mean to the housing market? Well, his website lays out a plan:
Protect Homeownership and Crack Down on Mortgage Fraud - Obama and Biden will crack down on fraudulent brokers and lenders. They will also make sure homebuyers have honest and complete information about their mortgage options, and they will give a tax credit to all middle-class homeowners.
- Create a Universal Mortgage Credit: Obama and Biden will create a 10 percent universal mortgage credit to provide homeowners who do not itemize tax relief. This credit will provide an average of $500 to 10 million homeowners, the majority of whom earn less than $50,000 per year.
- Ensure More Accountability in the Subprime Mortgage Industry: Obama has been closely monitoring the subprime mortgage situation for years, and introduced comprehensive legislation over a year ago to fight mortgage fraud and protect consumers against abusive lending practices. Obama's STOP FRAUD Act provides the first federal definition of mortgage fraud, increases funding for federal and state law enforcement programs, creates new criminal penalties for mortgage professionals found guilty of fraud, and requires industry insiders to report suspicious activity.
- Mandate Accurate Loan Disclosure: Obama and Biden will create a Homeowner Obligation Made Explicit (HOME) score, which will provide potential borrowers with a simplified, standardized borrower metric (similar to APR) for home mortgages. The HOME score will allow individuals to easily compare various mortgage products and understand the full cost of the loan.
- Close Bankruptcy Loophole for Mortgage Companies: Obama and Biden will work to eliminate the provision that prevents bankruptcy courts from modifying an individual's mortgage payments. They believe that the subprime mortgage industry, which has engaged in dangerous and sometimes unscrupulous business practices, should not be shielded by outdated federal law.
Additionally, REALTOR Magazine did an interview with both Senator McCain and Senator Obama, and they asked "What's the most important action the federal government can take to ease the mortgage crisis and prevent a recurrence?" Senator Obama responded:
For the short term, the housing relief legislation [signed by Pres. George W. Bush July 30] authorizing the FHA to refinance the mortgages of struggling homeowners is the right approach. I’ve also called for the creation of a $10 billion foreclosure prevention fund that works in tandem with state, local, and community nonprofit efforts to help households facing foreclosure renegotiate with lenders or put their homes on the market. We also need to expand the mortgage revenue bond program to give state housing agencies $10 billion in new resources to help struggling homeowners. For the long term, the Stop Fraud Act that I introduced two years ago would create criminal penalties for mortgage professionals found guilty of fraud and increase funding for federal and state enforcement of antifraud programs. I also want to see a simplified, standardized metric for calculating the costs of a home mortgage, similar to the annual percentage rate used by banks to identify the effective interest rate a borrower ends up paying on a loan.
Possible? I don't know. I have to think that in some respects, Congress - and a new President - don't want to get into a fight with the banking lobbyists. And while his idea of tax credits might be a good idea, it also means government's going to be receiving less money. So how do these "sweeping reforms" happen?
I've no idea. Lots of promises are made on the campaign trail, who knows whether or not a new administration can work to fix what ails us. The popular vote seems to think that it can, so we'll see ...
Have old electronics piling up, and don't know what to do with them? Old computers, radios ... we've all had them at some point, and you've likely wondered what to do with them. I've got an easy solution for you - bring them to the second annual E-Waste Recycling Event, to be Saturday November 8 from 9 am to 3pm. And it's FREE. The event is a joint venture between Virginia Tech and Hollins University.
Click the image below to see the full list.
It's important. From their website:
Along with many other serious issues facing our environment, the world is experiencing a crisis in electronic waste. Toxic materials such as lead, mercury, chlorine and bromine are commonly used in producing computers and other electronics, and if these devices are dumped into solid waste systems after they have outlived their usefulness, the toxins can seep from landfills into groundwater or be released by incinerator emissions or ash.
Hazardous e-waste is often sent to developing countries for recycling. However, once there it is often simply discarded. Even if recycling occurs, the process used in those countries is very dangerous to workers and pollutes the general environment.
Load up the cars, and bring in that old stuff. There are a LOT of items they'll take, but some they can't - check their website for a more comprehensive list. It'll be held at the old Blacksburg Middle School, 501 South Main Street in Blacksburg.
Thanks to Natalie for pointing this out!
Just as the leaves will change every year, it's election day today and with a lame duck President in place we'll see change in DC, as well - you DID vote, didn't you? The leaves change, our leadership changes, and the real estate market ... well, it's changed a bit, as well.
I'll repeat it one more time:
"a slow, steady and calculated approach
to the market is going to be important as we move forward towards 2009."
There are opportunities for buyers and sellers, right now, and a slow and steady approach will serve you well. That being said, I don't think we'll see significant market rebounds in the short-term so Sellers, if you don't have to sell, don't. As you can see from the following numbers, anything over 5 months is a buyers market and right now, there aren't any buyers markets. I'm currently working on an end-of-year market report, I'm interested to see how that works out ... stay tuned for that. Again, when it comes to absorption rates, we're looking at how long it would take to sell the existing
residential inventory in a particular area, if nothing else came on the
market until supply was exhausted. Anything over 5 months is typically
a buyers' market, and anything less than 5 months is typically a
"a slow, steady and calculated approach to the market is going to be important as we move forward towards 2009."
|Area||# of Active Properties||# of Sold Properties
|| Absorption Rate
|| Buyer/Seller Market
|Floyd County||124||6||20.67 Months||Buyer|
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You've already voted, right? If not, walk away from the computer and go vote!
As if you needed another reminder that Tuesday, November 4 2008 was a monumental day, here's another - TODAY'S AN IMPORTANT DAY! It doesn't matter who you're voting for, just vote!
We'll be here when you get back ... go on ... we won't go anywhere ...
The much celebrated 2nd Annual Roanoke Arts Festival will be held this Saturday and Sunday, November 8-9. The Festival coincides with the opening of the Taubman Museum of Art, which in and of itself is a gem of a facility to call the Roanoke Valley home. There are so many events happening that you'll want to make sure you check out, you can see the full calendar of events here. Some events are ticketed, make sure that you can get into the events you'd like to see!
Thanks to Stuart Mease for pushing this event as well. The Roanoke and New River Valleys are truly unique in the opportunities they provide residents, be sure to take advantage of events like this!
Saw this article in the New River Valley Current this weekend regarding Progress Street Builders' new NAHB Gold Standard program. As the owner of a home built by Progress Street Builders, I can speak firsthand to their attention to detail - in this case, they're paying attention to things that have a greater purpose. And as you'll see in the article, Don is putting his money where his mouth is - Kudos to Don and the team at Progress Street
(Dear Roanoke Times - would you please publish these articles online so they don't have to be written out in their entirety?)
"EarthCraft, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) ... all are promoting sustainable building techniques, energy-efficient usage of space and materials, and long term, cost-effective approaches to design.
Progress Street Builders, whcih, since it started the eight-year old Village at Tom's Creek project, has been known for a sustainable building approach. It has incorporated aspects of energy efficiency into its homes for nearly a decade. Now its Roanoke development, Colonial Green, and a new spec house in the Village at Tom's Creek, will incorporate the NAHB Green Building standards, according to Don Hughes, operations manager.
The spec house, a four-square will not stand out architecturally from the rest of the houses in the Village, said Hughes. And neither will it be significantly more expensive. In pursuing the NAHB standard - it has chosen the Gold Standard, the ones Hughes said best fits their focus of sustainability.
'Green building is not a term I'm terribly fond of,' he said. 'It's so ambiguous, so we use the term sustainability, which indicates where you build and how you build. The majority of our construction work, in The Village at Tom's Creek and in Roanoke, has been green since the inception of The Village. It has a lot inherent characteristics, with the ability not just to look at the house but also the community. NAHB looks at the community at large, and we felt it was a really importatn component.'
Hughes explained that his company's green building approach uses smaller lots and larger continuous green spaces.
'One of the reasons we took on the Gold program was that we've been doing this throughout our company's history, and we wanted to utilize it to the greatest extent,' said Hughes.
According to NAHB, its building standard 'will maintain the flexibility of green building practices while providing a common national benchmak for builders, remodelers, and developers ... It is based on the three-year-old NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines, but enhanced to include residential remodeling, multifamily building, and lot and site development - also the first of their kinds in the country. It also reflects advancements in requirements in the International Residential Code and other changes that serve as indications of the dynamic nature of green building.'
Hughes said the program is more flexible and meets their needs as well as the characteristics of the New River Valley. For instance, he said, prior EarthCraft certifications (although they may have changed recently, he added) would not allow a program that used septic systems. While it is a very good program, said Hughes, in some areas of the New River Valley septic systems are necessary.
'This house [in The Village] will be certified under both programs,' he said.
The NAHB program requires a third-party, independent verification that involves both a blower-door test and a duct-blaster test to check air leaks.
'We go through a complex analysis of each house. The program gives you a broad range of meeting certain performance criteria, and we can address those objectives in a multitude of ways,' said Hughes.
Although Progress Street Builders chose the Gold Standard, when building subsequent homes it will offer homeowners a choice as to which level of home they want. The seven key green areas that the standard addresses are site, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, homeowner education and global impact.
Hughes said Progress Street Builders' houses didn't have to go trhough any major changes, because the company's standard specifications already were in line with both EarthCraft and NAHB certifications and goals.
His company has concentrated on creativerly building air barriers, bringing HVAC systems inside the conditioned envelope, yet still turning out a house that is both energy efficient and cost effective.
'As long as you build carefully, not using exotic materials, you don't have to build a house that is compromised in livability or in its aesthetics. You'll drive by this particular home and it will not look out of place. It's going to be in complete architectural harmony with the community,' said Hughes.
Progress Street Builders is so confident of the NAHB Gold standard that Hughes is offering homeowners who live in NAHB Gold Standard houses an energy-usage program that guarantees a certain energy usage for two years - in units rather than in dollars - that will reimburse the homeowner for overages.
'When we build and test and have third-party verifications, we feel very comfortable in guaranteeing energy usage. it's something we have monitored in model homes and in our personal homes,' said Hughes.
Don't forget that November 7 and 8 is the Green Living & Energy Expo in Roanoke ... loads of exhibitors, presentations and more on topics like new ways to heat and cool your home, limiting your use of fossil fuels, and more.
It's a big deal to have an event like this in Roanoke - shows us that the two valleys (Roanoke and New River Valley) are continuing to get more serious about making sure we're good stewards of the tremendous resources we have here. And it's gaining attention elsewhere - check out some of these other great alternative energy links, courtesy of Carnival of the Green and Jim Duncan.
On Friday, I had the chance to sit down with Leslie Frantz, owner/operator of Hometown Appraisal Services, here in Blacksburg. Leslie and I have been chatting via email over the last few weeks about a changing marketplace's influence on appraisals. In this video, Leslie talks about tightening lending requirements, and the importance of working with local professionals who know the market they're serving.