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Real Estate News

The Past and Future of the Solar Decathlon

2015-03-01 10:00:00

Filed under: Design, Home Improvement Courtesy of Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar DecathlonThis house built by students from New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington was an entry in the 2011 decathlon. Since the first U. S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in 2002, thousands of college students from around the world have designed and created houses that are efficient at both collecting sunlight and converting it into usable energy. Already, teams are hard at work for the next competition this October in Irvine, California, where the public will be able to tour the solar-powered houses free of charge to see innovative designs and learn how to save energy and money in their own homes. The first Solar Decathlon was held on the National Mall in Washington in 2002. Since 2005, it has been held in a U.S. city every two years and also has expanded worldwide, with competitions staged in Europe in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and in China in 2013. This December, an event will be staged in Latin America for the first time, said Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon. "The newest competition in Cali, Colombia, South America, will emphasize affordable homes for tropical climates and higher-density solutions to sustainable housing," King said. See a selection of homes from previous Solar Decathlons in the slideshow below: Visiting one of the Solar Decathlon events, it is difficult not to be inspired by the innovative, beautiful, energy-efficient houses, and by the students who give tours of their houses. The student designers and builders have impressive knowledge of the mechanics of their houses and can explain all the systems and considerations behind the design decisions to visitors. All that helps make Solar Decathlons an opportunity for the public to see the variety of prefabricated building methods, systems, materials, and techniques that can be used to build more sustainable, healthy, and efficient homes. Over the years, the houses have improved dramatically, King said. "The first competition in 2002 set the benchmark," he said. "In 2003, a new set of university teams studied the 2002 houses and improved the designs for the 2005 competition. Then a new set of university teams studied those designs and made further improvements. With each successive competition we see new innovations. " At the 2002 event, houses were not attached to the grid and had to provide all of their own energy. Since Solar Decathlon 2009, houses have been connected to a temporary, ground-laid village "micro-grid" to demonstrate how houses that are grid-connected can give excess energy back to the public utility grid. At the first event, electric cars that needed to be powered by the team's house were provided to each team. (Points were accumulated based on how many miles each team could drive on their energy.) A similar "commuting contest" has returned in 2015, requiring teams to power not only their houses but also an electric car. Affordability, an important aspect of home construction in light of recent global economic struggles, was added as a requirement four years ago. "Probably the biggest change to the competition occurred in 2011 when the designs were required to be more affordable, with construction [costs of] $250,000 or less," King said. "This new rule challenges the teams to design houses that are innovative yet cost-effective." The houses also must demonstrate functionality, with students cooking meals in homes that provide their own heat and cooling as well as hot water for showers and laundry -- all by using the electricity generated by their solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems. The 2015 U.S. competition will include 10 contests: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, appliances, home life, energy balance and commuting. Since the first competition in 2002, 130 collegiate teams have participated in Solar Decathlons. The houses built for the events are now located throughout the country and around the world. Those houses continue to serve numerous educational, conservational, and community-oriented functions, and the program could have an even wider impact. "The more than 2,500 students participating in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 will go out into the world, get jobs, and I believe will change the world," King said. "Solar and energy-efficient houses will become the norm in our near future, not the distant future." Where to from here for the Solar Decathlon? "To date, the competition focuses the design challenge on 'How do you design a fully sustainable house?' To some, that is too narrow," King said. "Sustainability involves so much more than just the house. Water, transportation, waste recycling, and land use are just some of the other important factors that must be included. To raise the bar even higher, a competition to design sustainable houses that will be built permanently in a model sustainable community somewhere in the U.S. has intriguing merit." For further information, visit www.solardecathlon.gov. Permalink | Email this | Comments


Michael Strahan Sells Brentwood Mansion for $21.5 Million

2015-02-27 10:11:00

Filed under: Buying, Celebrity Homes, Selling Getty ImagesMichael Strahan, shown here with Kelly Ripa at the Academy Awards, has sold the L.A. home he bought in 2013. Talk-meister and former NFL player Michael Strahan has quietly sold his Brentwood mansion in Los Angeles for $21.5 million, according to our friends at the L.A. Times. Strahan, the gap-toothed co-host of "Live! With Kelly and Michael" reportedly bought the house in 2013 for $16 million when he was engaged to Nicole Murphy -- model, VH1 reality star and former wife of Eddie Murphy. Alas, the wedding is off, and Strahan has jettisoned the nine-bedroom, 14-bath house that was big enough for his four children and her five. About that split in August, Strahan's rep told People: "They love each other very much, but with the distance and work schedule it has been hard to maintain the relationship." Nine kids probably didn't help love blossom, either. But, back to the 15,600-square-foot house, which features: Prohibition-style wine cellar Two laundry rooms Air filtration system in library to handle cigar smoke Nine bedroom-and-bath suites Gym, game room and sauna. Strahan had been seeking $23 million for the home, but it looks like he decided a $5.5 million profit was enough. #fivemin-widget-blogsmith-image-696807{display:none;} .cke_show_borders #fivemin-widget-blogsmith-image-696807, #postcontentcontainer #fivemin-widget-blogsmith-image-696807{width:570px;display:block;} try{document.getElementById("fivemin-widget-blogsmith-image-696807").style.display="none";}catch(e){} Permalink | Email this | Comments


3 Ways to Buy a Home With $0 Down

2015-02-27 09:26:00

Filed under: Buying, Financing Shutterstock Saving for a down payment remains one of the biggest hurdles for would-be homebuyers. But many could look to land a home loan today without stashing away another cent. There are scores of programs that can help buyers purchase a home with little or no money down. The government also backs two zero-down lending options. The problem is that many buyers don't know about these options or think they can't qualify. If you're looking to purchase a home but don't have the resources to make a large down payment, here are some options you can consider. Find a Down Payment Assistance Program There are scores of down-payment assistance programs in communities across the country. A recent report from RealtyTrac and Down Payment Resource put the number at more than 2,000 nationally. These programs may be offered by cities, counties, nonprofits, employers and local housing finance agencies. Many of them help borrowers defray down-payment expenses and closing costs. Down-payment assistance programs often have limits on how much you can make and how much house you can buy. Still, RealtyTrac found that 87 percent of the 78 million U.S. single-family homes in the study would qualify for a down-payment assistance program in their county. Nationally, the average down-payment assistance comes to about $11,500. On a $200,000 mortgage, for example, most conventional borrowers would need to put down at least five percent ($10,000). FHA loans require a 3.5 percent down payment, which comes to $7,000 on a $200,000 purchase. "Prospective buyers -- or their agents -- willing to put in a few minutes of time to find out what programs are available to them will put themselves in a much better position to successfully purchase a home," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. Use a USDA Loan Another option is to obtain a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Program. Along with offering 100 percent financing, USDA loans have credit benchmarks that often allow more room for flexibility than conventional loans. USDA loans require borrowers to purchase a home in qualifying rural areas. But buyers not looking for a countryside home shouldn't immediately discount the possibility of using a USDA loan -- a surprising chunk of the country meets the qualifications. Generally, any area not in or immediately surrounding cities will qualify. You can find a map of eligible and ineligible areas at the USDA's site under "Property Eligibility." USDA loans have no maximum loan amount, but the program limits participation to borrowers at or below a particular income level. Currently, USDA borrowers can have an income of up to 115 percent of an area's median income, adjusted for family size. Debt will also factor into how much a home buyer is able to borrow. Similar to FHA loans, USDA-backed loans also require both upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums. Use a VA Loan Only a sliver of the population serves in the U.S. military. But millions of those who have served are eligible for what's arguably the most powerful loan option on the market -- the zero down VA home loan. The VA loan program has expanded homeownership opportunities for veterans, service members and military families since 1944. Qualified borrowers in most parts of the country can purchase a home for up to $417,000 before needing to factor in a down payment. (Obviously, they'd also need to be able to afford a mortgage that size). VA loans also feature more lenient credit underwriting, with lower credit benchmarks than conventional financing -- as much as 100 points lower -- and more forgiving standards for things like bankruptcies and foreclosures. Last year, about 80 percent of VA buyers purchased without putting down a dime. Despite that, these loans fared well during the foreclosure crisis. To be sure, there are benefits to making a down payment, with equity and a lower monthly payment chief among them. But the kind of nest egg many buyers need can take years to save. The good news is there are plenty of options out there for those who can't or don't want to wait. Permalink | Email this | Comments


Famed Waggoner Ranch on Texas Market for $725 Million

2015-02-26 13:05:00

Filed under: Buying, Selling Courtesy of Bernard UechtritzSome of the cowboys have worked on the ranch for decades and hope to continue handling the 7,500 head of cattle. A huge chunk of Texas and one of the largest working ranches in the country is on the market for $725 million. The W.T. Waggoner Estate Ranch, a family ranch since 1849, covers 510,527 acres -- about 800 square miles -- spanning six counties of North Texas. It's being sold "as-is" with 7,500 head of cattle, 500 quarter horses, 1,000 working oil wells, wheat fields, and large populations of deer, turkey, quail, dove, water fowl and feral hogs. The cowboys, including some who have worked the ranch for 50 years, "would love to convey," says listing agent Bernard Uechtritz of Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty. The Waggoner Ranch and the King Ranch in South Texas are the two biggest ranching enterprises in the state. A family squabble among the heirs of W.T. "Tom" Waggoner is culminating in this court-ordered sale, a common end to family ranches and a unique part of the American landscape. "We've had a lot of interest from people in agribusiness, oil, gas and cattle," says Uechtritz. It's also attractive to "people from faraway lands who want the anonymity of living in seclusion and privacy in the middle of Texas, which is in the middle of America." Annual property taxes for the spread are about $1 million, but the ranch's multiple income streams and depreciability make it a profit-making venture, Uechtritz says. Perhaps its most untapped resource is the marketing potential of the Waggoner name. Uechtritz says "Waggoner," which represents a rugged ranch spirit, is a licensing and intellectual goldmine. Electra Waggoner Biggs, an heir and Texas socialite, in 1959 allowed Buick to use her name on its luxury sedan -- the Electra. "You can end up with a Waggoner Dodge truck, or Waggoner steak houses," Uechtritz said.  Permalink | Email this | Comments


5 Ways to Prep Your Home for the Spring Selling Season

2015-02-26 10:04:00

Filed under: Home Improvement, Selling yaruta/Getty Images By Kira Brecht Along with tulips and daffodils, "For Sale" signs soon will be popping up on neighborhood lawns. An improving U.S. labor market is expected to spur increased home sales in 2015, so if you've been wanting to sell your home, low interest rates and tight inventory levels should create an attractive environment. "With the improving economy, we will see more people leaving their parents' homes. Living in your parents' basement isn't part of the American dream," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "Nearly three million new jobs were created in the last 12 months, and that provides incomes for families and confidence for making long-term decisions." The NAR forecasts a jump in existing home sales in 2015 to 5.25 million, an increase from 4.93 million sales in 2014. The national median existing-home price was $208,500 in 2014, a 5.8 percent increase from 2013. Yun forecasts the median home price to rise again in 2015 to $218,300. Inventory levels, or the number of homes for sale, remain tight, which could give sellers an edge. "For most of 2014, inventory stood at 4.5 to 5.5 months of supply. That compares with a more balanced market of 6 to 6.5 months' supply," Yun says. There are several things you can do to help your home stand out among other listings. "Makeovers can be inexpensive, but give back big returns," says Gary Rogers, broker-owner of Massachusetts-based RE/MAX On The Charles. When it comes to readying your home for sale, think about three things: clean, clutter and color, says Sheryl Grider Whitehurst, managing broker at Traders Realty in Peoria, Illinois. Here are five things you can do to get a leg up on the competition this spring. 1. Spring-clean your home. Take the time to do a deep cleaning on your home. Clean your windows. Consider a fresh coat of paint. Clean the grout in your ceramic tile. Consider whether your carpets need cleaning. "When you walk into a nice hotel room, everything is nice and sparkly clean. You want the same thing for your house," Whitehurst says. Even small things can make a difference. "Make sure the furnace filter is clean. If it is dirty, potential buyers will wonder how you have taken care of other mechanicals in your house," Whitehurst says. Cleaning also means sprucing up your landscaping, which includes flower beds and bushes. "People wait until the last minute to prepare the outside, and sometimes it just doesn't get done," Rogers says. "The earlier you can have a professional landscaper come in to do a spring cleanup, the better. If the weather will tolerate it, put some more plantings in. Why not get a fresh look and fill out a flower bed? It can take some time to for those to set and mature, so the sooner the better," Rogers says. "A good professional spring cleanup could be $400 to $500, but is probably the best return dollar-for-dollar. It will get people to go into the house, and it makes people think you cared about the house." Also take a look at your house from the street. What do you notice? Have your shutters faded over time? Does your front door need a fresh coat of paint? How does your mailbox look? Ask yourself: "Can I do something simple to make it look like I take pride and ownership in my property?" Whitehurst suggests. Consider your backyard as well. "Curb appeal means the back, not just the front," Rogers says. "Have your decks power-washed, or painted or stained. Consider getting a plastic shed for rubbish barrels. Have a clean, neat place to store rubbish barrels." 2. Clear the clutter. It's time to get out the packing boxes. "If you are serious about moving, start packing now. Think about getting a small storage locker. Lighten up the house. If the living room has too much furniture, it doesn't look usable," Rogers says. With spring just around the corner, consider packing away your winter clothes, so the closets appear more spacious. "People want to go into a property and see that there is ample room for their things," Whitehurst says. 3. Use color themes. It's OK to be a little bold with color, but make sure everything matches. "It used to be that everything had to be neutral colors -- beige or white. Now, people are bringing color into their homes. But make sure that everything goes together," Whitehurst says. Does your bedspread match the room color? If not, buy an inexpensive bedspread that will coordinate. The same goes for throw pillows on your couch. Use small, inexpensive items to pull together color themes to create an appealing appearance. 4. Consider getting a home inspection. Typically, homebuyers get a home inspection before completing the purchase of a home. Why not find out ahead of time which items the home inspector will report need attention? The key is to be proactive. "Maybe there is a small drip in the faucet or there aren't electrical ground-fault circuit interrupters where they are supposed to be, near water. These can be a small fix, and it creates a less-hassled transaction," Whitehurst says. "We are seeing transactions fall through because of issues over home inspections. Then the house has to go back on the market, and everyone is disappointed," Whitehurst says. The bottom line: Don't give prospective buyers reasons to check your house off the list. "When people look at a house, they are really looking for reasons not to buy. They are looking for things wrong with it," Rogers says. 5. Don't hike up the sale price. Real estate experts advise being realistic when it comes to your selling price. It needs to be competitive. "Buyers are looking for the best value. Research often tells us that if you price your home close to what it will sell for, it will sell faster and actually for more money than if you price it too high to begin with," Whitehurst says. Pricing a home too high can eliminate some potential buyers from even viewing your house, and that could mean your house sits on the market longer. If eventually you decide to do a price reduction, buyers may wonder what is wrong with the home. "You can price your home to get sold, or to get your neighbor's house sold," Whitehurst says. "If my house is priced higher, which one will look like the best value?"  Permalink | Email this | Comments

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