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foreclosure heat maps from presents various types of housing maps, including those that cost out buying vs. renting over time in certain areas. One new feature of the site is a heatmap showing foreclosures, with most large cities nationwide represented. I didn't find any on my street, but there's a whole cluster - four at the same corner - just a block away, which leads me to be rather suspicious of the map - being that all four listings are for the same house. It's a neat tool, but take the data with a very large grain of salt.

Additionally, to get more detailed info, you need a free trial or paid subscription to RealtyTrac - at least you did for every property I looked at. Not sure if this is just a come-on for RealtyTrac or that was just a coincidence. Still, it's an interesting way to look at how some folks (and by folks I mean both brokers and buyers) greed and bad judgment is costing us all a hell of a lot of the equity we've built up over the last decade.

a bargain for telecommuters: $88800 in Temple, TX

Xl_13995_maryse5jpg This 1917 bungalow in Temple, Texas (about halfway between Dalls/Ft. Worth and Austin) includes the original hardwood throughout, a pretty front porch, an attractive upstairs loft and a decent-sized yard. at just under 1600 square feet (3 bedrooms & 2 baths), it's got more than enough room for a small family. Spoon fans should note that Temple is the home town of Britt Daniel, lead singer of America's best rock & roll band, as well as Rip Torn and a disproportionately large number of professional football players (probably due to the Temple Wildcats' excessive awesomeness).

$88,800 is a steal anywhere. If you can telecommute, and would enjoy living in a small town on the edge of a large military reservation in Texas, go for it. I'd do it if I could get a decent bowl of pho down there.

Does the Mills Act decrease public school funds?

564mills041808full California's Proposition 13 is the bane of public education in the state - and for the most part benefits the richest single segment of the population, relying on the old straw man of "senior homeowners on fixed incomes" (when tax credits for that demographic would be far more equitable in keeping folks in their homes). However, it's only one of many archaic and unethical pieces of the tax code keeping our public schools underfunded.

The whole story is much more complicated, but a recent grand jury report in San Diego took the focus off Prop 13 and turned that energy to vilifying owners of historic homes - only it turns out they got the story wrong. Kelly Bennett of Voice of San Diego reports:

One of the most heartrending arguments for dramatic changes to the city of San Diego's historic preservation program is that its tax discounts for homeowners results in an annual revenue loss to the San Diego Unified School District of nearly $1.5 million.

That sum factored in media reports, propelled damning rhetoric in a county Grand Jury report and became a talking point of Mayor Jerry Sanders in press conferences and on the Roger Hedgecock radio show earlier this month. And so, the city's Mills Act program looked quite like a fat tax break to homeowners in some of San Diego's wealthiest neighborhoods at the expense of schoolchildren. And this at a time when schools are preparing to slash staff levels and budgets.

              But it's not true.

The school district didn't lose $1,486,317, as was claimed in the Grand Jury's report titled "History Hysteria." The state reimburses the district to make sure it has a particular level of funding for schools, even if property tax revenue drops, according to the state Department of Finance and San Diego Unified School District. The program does mean losses for the city of about $600,000, for the county, and for several other municipal agencies due to the tax discounts.

The number blunder exemplifies some of the confusion swirling in the debate over one of the few programs for which San Diego leads the state. San Diego has entered into far more Mills Act contracts, more than 800, than any city in the state. The contracts with homeowners of historically designated homes trade a break in property taxes for a homeowner's promise to keep the facade up to snuff.


Read the full story at VoSD; photo  by Sam Hodgson.

stuff I like: BoWrench

51bmzze9qql_ss350_ It's not often that I get excited about a new tool - after all, while new and useful gadgets do appear on the market from time to time, the old standbys of saw, hammer, screwdriver, pliers and wrench seem to be working just fine for awhile now. Advertised as a decking wrench, this untique $40 tool would be good in many other applications as well, including subfloor & fencing installation.

The Cepco BW-2 "BoWrench Decking Tool" is basically a clamping lever (that fits onto a joist) that allows you to straighten long boards and holds them so that they can be nailed into place. It'll join tongue & groove pieces, can push and pull, and will close gaps as much as 2 inches.

Sale at California Historical Design in Berkeley CA

Chd_by_mike_wade This coming weekend - Saturday April 19 and Sunday April 20 - California Historical Design in Berkeley CA is having one of their annual 20% off sales. The shop is located at 2988 Adeline Street at Ashby; if coming north or south on I-80, simply exit at Ashby and go east to Adeline.

We specialize in vintage Stickley Mission Oak Arts & Crafts furniture, art pottery, copper and California paintings. We just got a collection of furniture and need to make room. Take 20% everything. Furniture by Gustav Stickley, L&JG Stickley, Stickley Brothers, Roycroft, Limbert, Lifetime, Shop of the Crafters, Harden, Michigan Chair Co, Globe-Wernicke and many others. Art pottery by Roseville, Weller, Gladding McBean, Catalina, Van Briggle, Clifton, Robertson, Jalan, California Faience, Peters & Reed, Stockton, Rookwood, Pacific, Marblehead, Bauer, Niloak & McCoy. Hammered metalwork by Roycroft, Dirk van Erp, Harry Dixon, Novick, Liberty & Co, Jauchens, Old Mission Kopperkraft, Ernest Burnley, Armin Hairenian, Benedict, Kalo, Randall, Mills & Burnley, The Copper Shop, Fred Brosi, Stickley Brothers, Nekrasoff, Craftsman Studios and Tiffany.

Thanks to Flickr user Mike Wade for the CC-licensed image.

3 practical suggestions to get your home ready for sale

5124607 Our friend Joel McDonald writes regularly on real estate & home ownership topics. He sent in the following article a few days ago:

Prepping your home for sale, especially an older home with its accumulation of what you like to think of as endearing personality quirks, can be a daunting task. Even in the best of circumstances, the preparations going into selling  can be stressful, complicated, and can demand a ton of work. That's especially so if you're like most sellers and prepare your home for sale a few weeks before putting it on the market.

Plan ahead
Waiting until the weekend before selling your home is going to cause you way too much stress and anxiety - not to mention a lot of unnecessary expenses. Create a list of things that need to be fixed now, and get to them a weekend at a time every few months. By taking your time to do a few tasks in the year or two before selling your home, you will be saving yourself a lot of hassles when it comes time to actually sell. Not only will you be less stressed, but you won't be as rushed to get things fixed, and you'll do a far better job. (If you hire someone, you'll also likely keep some cash in your pockets by hiring them in the off season, not in the summer when most contractors will be booked, or have higher rates.)

Taking the best picture possible
You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and when buyers are looking online, that first impression is the photo of your home.  Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can get away with a snapshot from the curb at high noon (which is the worst time of day to ever take a picture.)  One of the best things you can do to get ready to sell is to keep a camera handy for capturing that moment when your home won't seem colorless because the picture was taken in the unforgiving glare of the noonday sun. It will look much nicer in the early morning or late afternoon, or under sunny clearing skies after a rain.  Murphy´┐Żs law predicts that if you wait until the last minute to take a picture for the listing, it will be gloomy the entire week your agent or the photographer shows up to get it done.

Even if you're not planning on selling in the immediate future, next time after it rains, see if you can take a picture of your home with a rainbow behind it. In the spring, make sure to get an late evening shot with the amber sun glowing on your gorgeous flowers on your front porch. Tiny details like that make make a huge difference.

If you don't need it - store it!
Rent a storage locker well in advance, and start making occasional trips to it with the stuff you don't need. Tackle your kitchen, garage and basement first since those tend to accumulate the most unnecessary clutter. If you don't use that coffee pot taking up room on the kitchen countertop more often than several times a month, put it away or store it. (In fact, even if you do use it, if it could be easily stored in your cabinets - store it!) The less "stuff" is cluttering up your countertops, the bigger the kitchen feels. If your kids don't play with the toys that are sitting around the family room, have a yard sale or donate them to Goodwill! The less stuff you have around in your home, the bigger it feels!

With just a little advance planning, you can take a great deal of stress out of selling your house.

Visit Automated Homefinder for all of your Colorado real estate needs.

Craftsman homes for sale - California edition

A quick & dirty rundown of older Craftsman homes for sale all over California. Some believe this is the perfect time to buy, and others think that this is just the beginning of a much longer depression and that prices will fall much further. Still, I like looking at the pretty pictures:

Durham bungalow saved from the wrecker

 407 Ottawa in Durham NC was recently saved from death-by-backhoe when neighbors bought off the wrecking company with $900 in cash. Obviously the city doesn't give two craps about historic preservation; at least this neighborhood does.

These people care so passionately about the preservation of their neighborhood, they are willing to personally sacrifice to ensure its viability - a viability that is still threatened on all sides. One neighbor has called up the trustee and offered to pay him $10,000 for the house - primarily to prevent it from being torn down. (I'm sure she doesn't really want another house.)

To be clear, these weren't city bulldozers this time. But the city - council- needs to do more to protect the integrity of the historic areas of our city. This portion of Cleveland-Holloway is not yet a local historic district, although they are working hard to become one.

And that's just it - the citizens, all of whom have jobs and lives to live are required to fight tooth and nail to simply keep the neighborhood they have. The onus is on them, rather than the city making proactive efforts to have preservation be a priority. The departments will say "we can't do [whatever]" - and it's true, because the leadership of this city does not promote historic preservation. My understanding is that the mayor's appointee position on the Historic Preservation Commission has sat vacant for - a year? Members of the council want to eliminate property tax reductions for individual local landmarks. The Historic Commission has been disempowered by a city finding that, if NIS deems a property unsafe, demolition permits can be issued without the consent of the HPC.

Why must citizens like those in Cleveland-Holloway swim upstream constantly to save their neighborhoods? Why is the quickest and easiest way for a property owner to deal with fines from code enforcement to proceed with demolition? Why isn't the city leadership their partner, by creating city policy that protects these resources - rather than making the barriers to preservation ever-harder to overcome?

note: apologies to the kind folks at Endangered Durham for using the image without their permission. It has now been removed.

Berkeley Mills kitchens

Photo_122_270_3 In addition to their beautiful furniture, Berkeley Mills also brings their blended Japanese / Arts & Crafts aesthetic to kitchen design. The Wabisabi kitchen (pictured) is both minimalist Japanese and Craftsman; the Madera is a deceptively simple design with plenty of light and horizontal lines; the Sereno blends a variety of different natural surfaces into smooth modern lines, and their custom Arts & Crafts kitchen installations [one / two] bring the Berkeley Mills maple-based aesthetic into the most important room in the house - well, in my house at least.

Of course, this latest foray into interior architecture is not really that much of a departure for this group of master cabinetmakers; they've been making built-ins, doors, shoji and other finish carpentry for many years. If anything, this addition to their catalog is more a formalization of something they've been doing quite awhile than anything really new.

historic homes in Redlands, California

David Estes, aka Flickr user Cyclotourist, lives in Redlands - a town of about 60,000 near San Bernardino in Southern California. Redlands is not particular noteworthy compared to some of its neighbors, but it does have several attractive neighborhoods chock-full of well-maintained historic homes, including Victorians, Mission Revival and Craftsman - and all sorts of variants, like Tudor, Georgian and Queen Anne - structures. Together with several contributors, Estes has put together a photo pool of close to 150 Redlands historic homes, spanning the full gamut of the area's most popular architectural styles. Unfortunately, the constant encroachment of commercial and industrial structures puts some of the prettiest small homes at risk. I'd be happy living in this one. Or maybe this one, with plenty of work. Just maybe not this one.

beautiful Illinois bungalows slated for demolition

95harrison To make room for gardens and other landscaping around a neighborhood drug and alcohol treatment center, several historic properties in Charleston IL will be razed in upcoming weeks. The homes - 5, 15, 21 and 95 Harrison (see photograph by Ken Trevarthan) - are in various styles, 95 being a brick and stucco bungalow of a type common in this part of the state. The neighborhood is not part of a historic district, so the demolition permit has no reason not to proceed, according to local officials. Neighbors are unhappy that the homes are being torn down - especially the two best looking and most sturdy of the structures - instead of being moved or integrated into CEAD (the Central East Alcoholism and Drug Council) plans. Two neighbors noted that the house at 95 Harrison was the most significant (and furthest away from the planned development), and while they did not begrudge CEAD's decision to legally raze the properties, they did suggest that leaving the building intact would greatly increase the neighborhood's opinion of CEAD and this particular program.

April fools: Ikea not really absorbing Stickley-Audi

Badblogger Note: the following was a not-particularly well-thought-out April Fools' joke, and is totally untrue. I apologize to those of you who thought it was real news, and hereby retract it as requested by Stickley-Audi. I also apologize for the reference to Mr. Audi. I had no idea he had passed away, as I saw his picture and his name still listed as President on the Stickley-Audi website. Again, please accept my apologies. (I've now deleted the short article, which documented a supposed merger between Ikea and Stickley-Audi, as per Mr. Danial's request.)