What's eating your house?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Most homeowners are familiar with termites, which are known for their ability to eat through wood, whether it be window frames, doors, stairs or other components of a house.

But other creatures can devour wood, too. Some even gobble stucco.

It might seem tempting to ignore the presence or evidence of these house-eating beasts. But certain types of termites, snails, beetles, ants and even bees can be destructive. The longer you wait, the more damage they'll cause and the more costly it will be to repair.

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Don't be afraid to get a mortgage

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

If you're afraid to apply for a new mortgage, you're not alone.

A recent telephone survey of 1,005 U.S. adults conducted for loanDepot, an online mortgage company in Foothill Ranch, Calif., found 54 percent of people who said they'd like to buy a home within the next two years hadn't pursued their goal because they were afraid they wouldn't be able to get a mortgage.

Who feared the most?
For those who don’t own homes, many of whom are younger would-be first-time home buyers, 56 percent say they were held back by the fear they wouldn't qualify for a loan. A third of respondents who already own a home, but want to buy again within the next two years had the same fear of not qualifying.

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Will low-rate mortgages lock-in homeowners?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Suppose your mortgage has a low interest rate--lower than you expect to see ever again. Would you stay put, no matter what, just to keep that low rate? Or would you be willing to sell your home and buy another with a new mortgage at a higher rate?

The question might seem highly personal. But in fact, what's known as mortgage lock-in is on a lot of people's minds because it could have important implications for home sellers and buyers, as well as owners.

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Why we got a reverse mortgage

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Mike Ryan was so skeptical of reverse mortgages that he thought for two years about getting one before he finally did it. The idea of taking equity out of his house, tax-free and with no monthly payments, was appealing. But still, he wasn't sure.

Then Beth Paterson, executive vice president at Reverse Mortgages SIDAC, a division of Greenleaf Financial, in St. Paul, Minnesota, told Ryan he could sell his current home and use a reverse mortgage to buy a new home.

With that in mind, he was sold.

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The roof over your new home

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Most buyers don’t ask many questions about the roof that will be over their heads when they move into their newly built home.

That’s probably not a problem because the roofs on today’s production or tract homes are fairly standard, says Tom Bollnow, senior director of technical services at the National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade organization in Chicago.

Still, buyers should know the basics and be aware of their options if they want to upgrade their roof or purchase a custom-built house.

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Thanksgiving for home buyers

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Home buyers have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Interest rates remain low. The Federal Reserve hasn't dumped its portfolio of mortgage-backed securities. The U.S. economy has strengthened, jobs are more plentiful, and home prices have stabilized.

Add it all up and one clear conclusion is that home buyers "basically aren't getting as hosed as they were before," says Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin, a real estate brokerage in Seattle.

Here are five things home buyers should be thankful for this Thanksgiving:

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Buy brand-new home with small downpayment

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Think you need a 20 percent down payment to buy a home? Think again.

Many people believe they need a 20 percent down payment to buy a home.

But, it’s possible to purchase even a brand-new house with as little as 3.5 percent down — or even nothing down at all.

A June 2014 survey of 2,017 U.S. adults, conducted online for Wells Fargo, found that 44 percent held the mistaken belief that a 20 percent down payment was required to buy a home, even though many types of loans allow much smaller down payments, says Ron Sozio, divisional builder sales manager at Wells Fargo in Somerville, N.J.

“The reality is that most of the time you don’t need 20 percent,” Sozio says.

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Should you tell your adult children about your reverse mortgage?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com
Senior homeowners who want to get a reverse mortgage might wonder whether they should discuss their plan with their adult children.
The answer: maybe.
"I wish I could give you one best practice that's optimal for every family, but it's more complex than that," says Joseph Goetz, an associate professor for the department of financial planning, housing and consumer economics at the University of Georgia and a board member of the Financial Therapy Association.
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South Street Seaport Aims to Revitalize Lower Manhattan

By Marcie Geffner - Urban Land

Lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport redevelopment is planned to offer New Yorkers an attractive package of benefits they have said they want: a revitalized shopping complex, restoration of historic buildings, repairs to a storm-damaged pier and platform, an extended pedestrian path, and even a marina that could accommodate tall ships.

However, Dallas-based developer Howard Hughes Corp. is planning a component that remains a subject of debate among some New Yorkers: ­a new mixed-use waterfront tower that might contain a hotel and luxury residences.

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All About New Home Stairs and Staircases

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Home buyers who want the space and spaciousness of a two-story residence need to know a thing or two about stairs and staircases.

That’s because every two-story home naturally needs at least one full staircase to allow access between the floors.

Some 305,000 of the 569,000 new detached houses builders completed in 2013 had two or more stories and 166,000 had a full or partial basement, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That suggests builders constructed something like 471,000 or more staircases during that one-year timeframe.

Like doughnuts, staircases come in two types: fancy and plain.

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Starter homes: How and where to find them

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

First-time home buyers might well wonder: Where are all the starter houses?

Indeed, such properties can seem scarce in many housing markets.

A few reasons:
- Investors have snapped up a lot of smaller houses and turned them into rental properties.
- Flippers have bought smaller homes and remodeled them so they're no longer within the reach of first-time buyers.
- Many current homeowners don't have enough equity to move or would rather add on to a smaller house than give up a low-rate mortgage.
- Builders have opted to construct pricier trade-up homes instead of affordable starters.

How long will this last?

The slow pace of new home construction suggests that the dearth of starter homes might continue for some time.

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Buying a home with family: How to start

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Suppose you're buying a home. And suppose, too, that you have an elderly parent or adult child who'd like to live in your home with you. Why not buy a home together as a family?

If that sounds smart to you, you're not alone.

In fact, a recent study by the National Association of Realtors found that 14 percent of U.S. home purchases last year involved a multigenerational household of adult children, plus parents, grandparents or both.

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Model home sales office etiquette

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Realtors who’ve sold hundreds of new construction homes surely know the do’s and don’ts of how to make a good impression at the builder’s sales office.

But suppose you’re a new construction newbie without much experience in the newly built home sector of the housing market. What’s the proper etiquette or protocol for you to work well with the builder’s rep and help your buyers find a new home they’ll love.

For starters, it’s important to know that most builders genuinely want Realtors to come to their houses and help sell them.

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How builders make new homes more spacious

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource

Homebuyers who want a new house that feels spacious, open, connected and welcoming need look no further than today’s newly built homes.

That’s because today’s homes are larger, on average, than homes built in yesteryears and builders’ newer floor plans and architectural designs create both the reality and illusion of more space.

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How healthy is your home?

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Homes can be surprisingly dangerous places with the potential for both environmental hazards and safety concerns.

Homes can contain lead-based paint, asbestos, formaldehyde, radon, mold, imported drywall and other substances that can cause illnesses or chronic health problems. Homes are also full of safety hazards from stairs and stoves to bathtubs and swimming pools that can contribute to accidents, injuries or deaths.

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Dive into a new swimming pool with your newly built home

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Say you’re buying a brand-new house. Wouldn’t it be great to have a brand-new swimming pool in your backyard, too?

Some homebuilders offer buyers a pool as an option. Others will work with a pool contractor so you can have a pool built — or at least started — along with your new home. Here’s what to know about building a pool before you take the dive:

Typically, you’ll sign a contract with the swimming pool contractor, who will coordinate with the builder, an arrangement that makes the contractor responsible for any liability, warranty or service associated with your pool during and after construction, says Jim Pinson, homebuilder liaison at Shasta Pools & Spas, a pool-building contractor in Phoenix, Ariz.

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Can you carry a concealed weapon into a bank?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Customers who carry a concealed weapon into a bank could put others at greater risk of injury or death during a robbery, but only one U.S. state specifically prohibits carrying a concealed weapon inside a bank.

U.S. states have issued more than 11 million permits to carry a concealed weapon, according to a 2014 study by the Crime Prevention Research Center.
That's probably a conservative estimate. Four states -- Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming -- and most of Montana don't require a permit, according to the center. The number of state-issued permits has been on the rise since 2012. And some people might choose to carry a concealed weapon without a permit even where one is required.
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Banks say no to marijuana shops

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

More than 20 states now permit the retail sale of marijuana to at least some consumers. But those who want to purchase weed where it's state-legal often will need to bring cash because many of the retailers that sell the product operate outside the U.S. banking system.
That's because federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, says Rob Rowe, vice president and senior counsel of the American Bankers Association, a banking industry group in Washington, D.C. Under federal law, the possession or use of marijuana is illegal in all U.S. states.
Banks are heavily regulated and their interactions with marijuana businesses could run afoul of not only the federal Controlled Substance Act, but also several other federal statutes. That would present significant risks should they decide to accept marijuana businesses as customers.
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Realtors Can Help Buyers Visualize Their Yet-To-Be-Built Home

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Some home buyers have a keen ability to visualize a home that’s not yet been constructed. Others are spatially challenged or simply can’t create those mental pictures.

So how can you, as a Realtor, help buyers visualize a home they might love, but can’t yet walk through to appreciate?

The question isn’t trivial because buyers who can’t picture a home probably won’t buy it. That means they could miss out on the best home for their needs and wants or not purchase a home at all.

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Reasons to cash out home equity: 5 good, 1 bad

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Homeowners who have equity might be tempted to extract some of that wealth and use it for other immediate needs or wants.

But should you use a cash-out refinance, home equity loan or home equity line of credit to replace your roof? What about to renovate or remodel your home? Pay off your credit cards? Finance your child's college education? Supplement your retirement income? Which uses of home equity are smarter or more legitimate than others?

An easy answer would be nice. But such decisions aren't simple. In fact, any reason might be good or bad, depending on your situation.

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How much equity can you cash out of home?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Home equity loans are back.

But how much equity can -- or should -- you extract from your home?

Home equity options aren't as aggressive or generous as those of yesteryear. But they're not pocket change either, especially for longtime homeowners who have experienced rapid value appreciation in the past two years.

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Home equity loan, HELOC or cash-out refi?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Homeowners who want to cash out their equity might be puzzled by the advantages and disadvantages of their three choices: a home equity line of credit, home equity loan or cash-out refinance.

Which makes the most sense?

The answer depends on:

How much equity you have.
How much you want to borrow.
When you plan to repay the money.
Whether you want a fixed or flexible term.
The interest rate on your current mortgage.

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When will you get paid for new home sale?

By Marcie Geffner - New Home Source

No one wants to work without pay and Realtors, understandably, are no exception.

That’s why it’s important for Realtors who want to profit from new homes sales to be familiar with the timelines involved in new home construction. These timelines determine not only when the buyer will close the purchase, but also when the Realtor’s commission will be paid.

Timelines vary from builder to builder and community to community and can also depend on such other factors as the buyer’s financing and choices of amenities, fixtures and finishes.

Frankly, the wait to get paid can be long. But it doesn’t have to be and it isn’t necessarily longer than the timeframe to sell a used home. That’s especially true in communities where the supply of homes for sale is constrained and buyers can take many months to locate a property they like, says Brent Anderson, a spokesperson for Meritage Homes, which builds new homes in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

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New ways to pay beyond cash or plastic

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Cash, check, plastic credit cards or debit cards had been the only ways people paid for products and services. But today, new technologies have given consumers a dizzying array of other options as well.

Chief among them are mobile wallets.

A mobile wallet can turn a smartphone into an access device to connect with a payments network, says George Peabody, senior director at Glenbrook Partners, a payments research and consulting firm in Menlo Park, California.

"The phone is the most convenient tool (for this purpose)," Peabody says. "It's always within reach, and it's providing the user interface to existing payment vehicles like prepaid or credit cards."

Mobile wallets aren't so different from plastic credit cards in the sense that both types of payments are processed through the same networks, says Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents electronic payment companies.

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Why apartments ban pets, allow service animals

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Landlords used to ban dogs, cats and other pets from apartment buildings due to the damage, odor, noise, liability risk and other concerns.

But these days, some apartment buildings seem to house more pets than people.

Three trends largely explain why:

- Some pets are there with permission.
- Some "pets" are service or assistance animals for people with disabilities, and landlords are required to accommodate the animals.
- Some pets are disguised as service animals, even though they're not.

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How banks fight fraud in electronic banking

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Banks have more technology and more incentive than ever to combat fraud in electronic banking services. But whether they have enough technology and incentive to protect consumers from the headaches of a compromised account, payment card or identity is doubtful.

"Threats are escalating more quickly than what banks, or even just other businesses in general, can deploy in terms of defenses against those threats," says David Albertazzi, a senior analyst with Aite Group, a Boston-based financial sector research and analysis firm.

Part of the challenge is that the types of financial fraud and characteristics of fraudsters have changed in recent years

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Will the Fed Taper Hurt Housing?

By Marcie Geffner - California Real Estate

The Federal Reserve has used extraordinary measures for the last several years to keep interest rates low and housing markets in recovery. But now the Fed has begun what's known colloquially as "the taper," a reference to "tapering off" its programs of buying billions of dollars of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities every month.

What the taper will mean for California REALTORS® isn't completely clear since the change involves multiple variables and crystal ball-like predictions. Yet some outcomes--chiefly higher mortgage interest rates and lower housing affordability—look likely.

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Custom or Production: Which New-Built Home Is Right for Your Buyer?

By Marcie Geffner - New Home Source Professional

Buyers sometimes become confused or overwhelmed by the wide selection of newly built homes that they can purchase.

Fortunately, a savvy Realtor can help them find a home that fits their lifestyle, needs and budget.

The initial step is for the Realtor to determine the buyer’s needs and intended uses for the home, says Steve Appel, a Realtor at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Properties Group in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

After that, the next big question is whether the buyer wants to purchase a custom-built home or a production or spec home in a new-home community.

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5 Signs you're ready to buy your first house

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Buying your first home takes stamina, desire and commitment not only to navigate the complicated and time-consuming purchase process, but also to learn the ropes of being a responsible homeowner.

Maybe you've dreamed about buying. Or perhaps you've researched for-sale homes online, tried to calculate how much you can afford to spend or peeked inside a few open houses.

But are you really ready, emotionally and financially, to step up your game and make your move? Here's a look at what mortgage and real estate pros know about who's good to go and who needs more time to prepare for homeownership -- five ways to know if you're ready to buy your first home.

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How not to buy a 'lemon' house

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Many states have so-called lemon laws that protect consumers who buy a brand-new car that turns out to be defective. But no lemon law protects homebuyers.

Safeguards do exist for homebuyers:

  • Sellers usually are required by state law to disclose, though not necessarily repair, material defects.
  • Builders typically offer warranties for brand-new houses.
  • Home warranty policies can be bought for resale houses as well.

Still, no house is perfect, and none of those protections is a guarantee against the risk that any house could wear out, fall apart or break down in myriad ways after it's bought. In fact, all houses suffer wear, tear and damage over time.

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Anxious about getting a mortgage?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Let's be frank: It's not easy to get a home mortgage. Nor is it impossible. In fact, millions of people apply for and obtain a new mortgage every year.

If you want to get a mortgage but you're anxious about the process, you might want to start with online research and self-education.

Online is where most people begin, according to research from the National Association of Realtors, or NAR. Researching online can help you get comfortable with the process and find professionals to contact.

Eventually, you'll have to reach out to a live person to move forward. As Ken Pozek, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich., says, "You can't figure out everything using an app.

"Until you talk to someone who's very knowledgeable, you might forget to ask about private mortgage (insurance), homeowner association dues -- there are so many little idiosyncrasies. It's the mortgage professional's job to walk you through that," Pozek says.

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One-year plan for would-be home buyers

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

It's never too soon to start planning ahead if you hope to buy your first home within the next year.

That's the key message that real estate and mortgage brokers say prospective first-time homebuyers should take away from any preliminary thoughts or discussions about buying.

Variables like loan qualifying guidelines, interest rates and house prices aren't within your control and might change before you're ready to move forward. But it's still smart to start educating yourself about factors you can control, such as your down payment, credit score and housing needs and wants, as early as possible, says Julie Miller, branch manager at Broadview Mortgage in Tustin, Calif.

"It's important to have a plan in place to ensure you're on the right track for qualifying for a mortgage," Miller says.

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Happening hardscapes: walkways, walls, steps and borders for your yard

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Whether it’s flagstone, Bluestone, concrete, boulders or other manmade or natural materials, hardscape — as opposed to vegetative landscape — can be an important and impressive element in any homeowner’s yard.

Used for walkways, steps, retaining walls, borders or columns, hard materials can create focal points, separate plant beds and wooded areas, surround swimming pools and perform many other functions, says Brent Diemer, owner and president of Everett’s Landscape Management in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Bluestone, Flagstone
Bluestone or flagstone can be a fine choice for a walkway, even though the stones are irregularly shaped and challenging for the installer to form into a defined space.

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6 Signs of a new age in consumer banking

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Banking might seem like a staid business in which not much changes over time. But in fact, consumer banking is constantly in motion.

Despite the Great Recession and the period of recovery since then, banks have been in technology transition, boosting and incorporating new high-tech systems to make banking easier for consumers.

Whether it's universal tellers at bank branches, check-deposit services on mobile devices or concerns about the security of debit card transactions, there seems to be something new. Here's a look at the latest banking trends and how they might affect you as a checking or savings account holder.

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First-time buyer's open house guide

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

There’s more to buy your first home than shopping online for mortgage rates. To find the perfect home, you have to log off the computer, get in your car and see homes for yourself.

One way to do that is visiting open houses.

First-time homebuyers might naturally be reluctant to attend an open house held by a Realtor. After all, no one likes to be hassled by a pushy salesperson. But in fact, open houses can be a good opportunity.

As Ken Pozek, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich., explains, "It's a cool idea."

Instead of calling around to find a real estate agent you like, you can go out on your own, see some of the homes that are for sale and meet the agents in person.

"You don't have to be nervous," Pozek says. "It can be fun. If there is a sign there, they want you to go in and they expect you to look around."

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Getting a mortgage more difficult for some

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Consumers have a positive outlook toward housing and the U.S. economy — for the most part.

That’s according to the latest monthly National Housing Survey by Fannie Mae.
Consumers’ outlook has “fluctuated somewhat during the past few months, but the trend for most indicators remains positive overall,” Fannie Mae said in a release.

Here are some of the findings:
- Fifty percent of the respondents said they expected home prices to rise during the next 12 months, a 7-point increase compared with the prior month. Only 38 percent expected prices to stay the same, a drop of 7 percent.

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Who repairs home -- buyer or seller?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Home sellers naturally don't want to make repairs to a home they're about to vacate. But homebuyers, equally naturally, want their dwelling to be perfect. So, who's right?

Usually, buyers and sellers negotiate a compromise that allows their transaction to move forward.

But not always, says Kent Temple, broker and owner of Keller Williams Realty - The Temple Team in Mooresville, N.C.

"Buyers think every house should be a new house, and sellers say, 'Why should I fix anything?' At that point, it's one more thing we have to negotiate, and not only does it get contentious, but we lose deals because of it," Temple says.

Real estate contracts differ from place to place, and some places have more than one common or so-called standard contract in use, explains Harvey S. Jacobs, a real estate attorney with Joseph, Greenwald & Laake in Rockville, Md.

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4 factors will influence housing inventory in 2014

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Eager buyers shopping for homes in today's modestly recovered housing markets might be disappointed to discover not many homes are available for sale. This shortage of inventory means home buyers in some areas have but few -- if any -- for-sale homes to choose from.

Consider the Waltham, Mass., area, about nine miles west of Boston.

Gary Rogers, broker/owner of RE/MAX on the Charles in Waltham, says inventory there is "extremely and unusually low" even for mid-winter. Inventory is so low, in fact, that one nearby town recently had zero single-family homes for sale.

"That boggles my mind," Rogers says. "It may have changed as of this morning, but a couple of days ago, there literally was zero single-family homes."

The perception of limited inventory is supported by data, though it's crucial to remember that national numbers don't necessarily match local-market conditions.

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Should you buy a home through the seller's agent?

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com
With home prices on the rise and for-sale homes in short supply in some markets, it's no wonder home buyers are looking for an edge. Some think that making an offer through the seller's agent, rather than their own buyer's agent, will save them money and provide an advantage amongst multiple offers.
Are they right?
The answer isn't exactly clear since there are both pros and cons to purchasing a home through the seller's agent.
Some listing agents will indeed give the seller a break on their commission if there is no buyer's agent, but that's not automatic, says Ken Pozek, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich. Rather, it's solely up to the agent to decide.
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Surviving in a 'suicide subdivision'

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

More than 70,000 U.S. communities are at risk from wildfires, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Some are so dangerous they've earned the nickname "suicide subdivisions."

If you're buying a home in one of these communities, it's your responsibility to understand the risks and take the appropriate action to try to reduce the chance of your home going up in flames.

While Texas had the most wildfires in 2012, 17 other states -- Alaska, Arkansas, California, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming -- also made the top 10 lists of the most wildfires and the largest number of acreage burned in 2012, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center.

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