Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The luxury real estate market is roaring back - but will you tame it or get bitten?

In our wild jungle of real estate, the luxury home niche is definitely the lion, king of all the land.  The days of high-priced homes sitting vacant and gloomy are certainly gone, as a recent survey by Realtor.com reports that 13% of consumers are ready to buy a luxury home.  That data comes from the total number of home shoppers, as we see our real estate market transition from recovery mode to red hot, once again.   Another 26% of poll respondents are considering purchasing a high-end home, typically priced at $500,000 or above, though price tags vary per location.  That leaves only 61% of transaction-ready homebuyers who are NOT considering purchasing a high end or luxury home, an astounding statistic.

Why is that so relevant?  As we found out with past real estate booms, a huge market factor is consumer confidence, and all evidence points to huge confidence in the market.  When that happens, prices always follow – great news for the housing portion of our total real estate recovery.  Even as interest rates rise a little as the Fed backs off intervention, a forecast of stabilization is fantastic news.  It’s also great news for sellers, who are looking to move their luxury or high end home, sell and then upgrade, or even sellers of more modest homes who can match some of the amenities found in luxury homes to make their homes more attractive. 

The Realtor.com survey revealed that valuable of the respondents who were ready to buy a home:

The reasons buyers started their high end or luxury home search:

19% attributed recent career success to why they initiated the home buying process.
A substantial 17% were buying because they were newly retired. 
14% said they were buying as an investment.
12% were buying their first home, a high number in the high-end market.

The biggest challenge high-end and luxury homebuyers cited:

40% said that finding a property that met their family’s needs was a challenge.
20% said the limited number of properties offered was an issue.
11% said properties had limited universal appeal.
8% cited challenges with getting a mortgage loan.

The most important features of a home they considered for their luxury purchase:

54% said having a chef’s kitchen was important.
44% wanted a home with a view of the ocean, mountains, cityscape, etc.
Interestingly, only 38% said the square footage of the property was a key attribute, a number that is probably much lower than home buyers only five or ten years ago.
36% wanted an expansive master suite.

What about those 61% of respondents who did NOT want to buy in the high end or luxury market?  If they had the means to purchase in that market, they’d look for a home with a great view and a chef’s kitchen, but also outdoor living amenities and a pool.  Waterfront homes would be the most desirable, followed by countryside and then in the mountains. 

A lot of top shelf home buying is taking place in the Northeast and South Atlantic coastal states, but 15% of luxury homebuyers are currently looking in California, Oregon, Washington, or Hawaii.  The number of California homes selling for $2 million or more reached an all-time high last year.  In year over year appreciation from 2012 to 2013, Los Angeles saw 14% appreciation and San Francisco 10.4% - big movement on already big numbers in a market where fewer buyers and a delayed wave of foreclosures softened things.  This year alone, price reductions on luxury real estate listings have totaled 14% as inspired sellers compete for luxury buyers.  Of course, that’s great news for high-end homebuyers, who can basically but 20% more home for the same price tag as they did only two years ago.

There are several reasons for that – jumbo loans are gaining in prevalence and popularity again, and interest rates on these high-dollar homes are favorable.  A strong job market among metropolitan areas is another factor.  International buyers are playing a big part, particularly Chinese investors who are snatching up luxury homes, vacation homes, and commercial properties.  From April 2012 to March 2013, international transactions tallied $68.2 billion, accounting for 6% of all U.S. home sales in dollars and more than 4% of total transactions.  63% of these are all cash deals and international buyers spend more, too – an average of $354,000 per home compared to $228,000 for their domestic counterparts. 

What does this all add up to?  Great news for luxury homebuyers, who are in position to take advantage of the perfect storm of market factors to obtain their dream home.  And for sellers, don’t try to stick a sign in your front yard and hope that high-end homebuyers show up to your open house – luxury homes should be listed and marketed differently than just any house.  Buyers are more tech and Internet savvy, put far more diligence into their decisions, and negotiate aggressively.  It takes an experienced agent who specializes in the luxury market to sell your home effectively and for top dollar. 

Contact us if you're interested in buying a high-end home or selling your luxury property.

Friday, April 25, 2014

We salute you; Homelessness among U.S. veterans and how we can help.

On any given night, 57,849 U.S. veterans are homeless, forced to live on the streets – huddled up in alleys, under bridges, on park benches, or, if their lucky, on heating grates or in shelters.  Additionally, up to 140,000 will spend at least one night without shelter each year, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.)  In a country where our politicians and citizens rarely can form a consensus on any issue, we’re all in agreement; for the brave men and women who served our country and risked their lives to protect our freedom, even one person on the street is one too many.

The Obama administration has pledged to eradicate homelessness among U.S veterans by 2015, an ambitious goal that’s seen progress but also run into major challenges that speak to the core issues of homelessness.   There has been a 24% reduction in homelessness among veterans since that decree – the default statistic up until recently was that 1 in 4 homeless were military veterans, a stat that’s now closer to 1 in 8, so we’ve certainly seen progress.  But by all standards of conscience, it’s not enough. 

Here are some disturbing facts about U.S. veterans living on the streets:

It’s estimated that at least 12% of homeless adults are veterans, yet they comprise only 9.3% of all adult Americans.  20% of homeless males are veterans, or 1 in 5.

According to one community action program, almost 30% of homeless veterans served post 9/11, a subset of new and younger homeless that’s growing at an alarming rate. 

Since 2001, there was a 25% increase in the number of disabled veterans

Only 10% of veterans living on the streets had less –than-honorable discharges, a small number.

So who is our typical homeless veteran?  92% are male and only 8% female and the vast majority are unmarried and live in urban areas.  40% of homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, though those
populations account for only 10.4% and 3.4% of the veteran population, respectively.  Homeless veterans are younger than the total veteran population, with approximately 9% between ages 18 and 30, and 41% between 31 and 50, where only 5% of all veterans are between 18 and 30 and less than 23% between 31 and 50.  They served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and anti-drug campaigns in Central and South America.  However, nearly half of homeless veterans served in the Vietnam era.  Two-thirds served in the military for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in war zones. 

These numbers tell us who they are, but not why they are on the streets.  More telling are these statistics, which could perhaps be on the low side due to the difficulty of accurate reporting:

50% of homeless veterans suffer from serious mental illness.

51% of them are medically or psychologically disabled.

70% have substance abuse problems, whether it's alcohol or illegal drugs.  The prevalence of addiction is due to the normal factors of poverty but also many veterans turn to alcohol and drugs to ease the suffering of injuries, cope with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and mental illness, and deal with the transition back to civilian life.   

The correlation between homelessness and veterans who suffer from the 3-headed Hydra of substance abuse, disability, and mental illness, is a near 1:1 ratio. 

Even greater is the looming risk of other veterans slipping into homelessness.  About 1.4 million veterans are currently considered at risk due to poverty, lack of support networks, drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, and current substandard housing.  Among all veterans, 12.5% of the total population ages 18 to 34 live under the poverty line, which has doubled since 10 years previously. 

The potential societal cost is significant – homeless vets, like the greater homeless population – end up burdening our medical system, public servants like police, fire, and EMT workers, and ending up incarcerated.  An estimated 140,000 vets are currently being held in state or federal prisons.  Statistically, they use drugs less, are better educated, and shorter criminal histories than non-military servicemen, yet, inexplicably serve longer average sentences than non-veterans.  But when it comes to homeless veterans, it’s our moral compass that points us to outrage, not pragmatism

As Vince Kane, head of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, put it, “Nobody who wore the uniform should be on our streets.” 

The good news is that we know what helps veterans get off the streets and enjoy a normalized and quality civilian life.  The Veterans Administration, the VA, our government’s national umbrella over all things veteran based, spearheads the effort to help our vets, but a large, federal body is not enough.  What seems to work best is adding in smaller, community-based organizations that work on a local level, individual threads that when woven together, craft a strong and comprehensive support net. 

Veterans need employment training and placement assistance, mental health counseling, alcohol and drug addiction rehabilitation services, affordable housing, nutritional food services, access to medical care, and case managers to be their advocates.  What works best with any of these programs is a coordinated approach, and from veterans-helping-veterans groups.  The camaraderie, structure, and emotional support of being surrounded by their fellow servicemen and women help immensely. 

How can we help?  For those of us who would like to help our heroes in need, we civilians who “sit on the curb and clap as the parade goes by,” there are plenty of ways to be of assistance.  We can support emergency homeless shelters with donations of food, blankets, clothing, or our time.  We can volunteer to teach job skills or be a mentor or counselor to a homeless veteran, or there’s always a need for funding for these local and community-based programs.  A great place to get started is to browse through homeless eradication information and programs on the Veteran Administration’s website.  

Our service men and women sacrificed everything to protect us.  Now it’s time for all of us to say, “thank you,” by making sure they have a safe place to sleep and a chance at a good, regular life that the rest of us sometimes take for granted.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What's the average U.S. salary by job?

What does the average person make at their job? That question is easy to answer, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average wage for working adults in America is $45,790.  But what jobs pay the best and the worst?  Answering that took a lot more digging because our paychecks vary widely based on occupation, experience, and even where we live.  But after combing through many websites and sources, I’ve compiled a list of national average salaries and wages per job.  Some of them were no surprise – like the fact that CEO’s rule the roost, or that the medical profession is consistently the highest paying vocation, but there were a lot of surprises as well, like the salary of the U.S. President!  

Enjoy this list and remember it’s based on median averages and recent data but still based on estimates.

Highest-paying private sector jobs in America:

Chief executives officers (CEO’s)     $11.7 million
Average NBA basketball player salary     $8.1 million
Average MLB baseball player salary     $3.9 million
Anesthesiologists     $232,800
Surgeons     $230,540
Obstetricians and gynecologists     $216,760
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons     $216,440
Internists     $191,520
Orthodontists     $187,200
Physicians and surgeons, general     $184,820
Psychiatrists     $173,330
Pediatricians     $154,650
Nurse anesthetists     $148,160
Dentists     $145,240

The next highest-paying jobs:

Petroleum engineers     $130,280
Architectural and engineering managers    $124,870
Air traffic controllers     $122,530
Computer and information systems managers     $120,950
Marketing managers    $119,480
Stock brokers     $100,910
Commercial airline pilots     $57,000 - $141,00
Registered Nurses  $65,470 to $94,720  (Median $65,470)
Accountants     $63,550
Astronauts     $64,724 to $141,715 per year

Jobs that pay near the national average:

Attorney     $51,000
Elementary school teacher     $35,630 - $83,160.  (Median $53,400)
Event Planner     $45,810
Flight attendants     $43,350
Child, family, and school social workers     $43,540
Real estate agent     $39,000
Administrative assistant     $24,000 to $50,000  (Median $32,502)


Heat, AC, and refrigeration mechanics and installers     $43,670
Construction worker     $32,000
Plumber or electrician     $39,000

Government and civil servants:

Senator     $193,400
Congressman     $174,000
United States President     $400,000
Governor     $70,000-$187,256
State worker     $49,240
Policeman     $48,000
Fireman     $43,000
Garbage collector     $43,000
Average U.S. Army private up to sergeant     $17,892 to $27,814

Lowest-paying jobs in America:

Bank teller     $24,940
Janitor     $24,850
Restaurant host, hostess, waiter or waitress     $9.41/hour or $19,570
Farm workers and laborers     $9.61/hour or $19,990
Retail cashiers    $9.15/hour or $19,000
Personal and home care aides     $9.75/hour or $19,500
Childcare worker     $19,510
Shampooers at salon     $8.94/hour or $18,600
Food prep and food service workers  $9/hour or $18,720
Dishwasher     $9.10/hour or $18, 930
Walmart worker     $8.86/hour or $17,860


Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Loch Ness monster sighting, and 10 other mysteries of history.

Recently, satellite images have surfaced of a large shadowy figure under the water’s surface in Loch Ness in Scotland.  About 100 feet long with a big head and two flippers, the images are reinvigorating speculation about the Loch Ness monster and even leaving skeptics scratching their heads at an explanation.  Is it the real thing?  A natural coincidence, like images formed by clouds?  Or another elaborate hoax?  Half the fun is in the guessing the true answer.

Throughout human history, there have been mysterious events and strange phenomena that can’t be explained.  Even as modern technology, scientific advances and DNA testing reveal more accurate pictures of our past, some things remain far from our understanding.

Here are 10 other mysteries from history that puzzle our intellects and spark our imaginations.   

1. The Marfa Lights.
For the last 100 years, a mysterious field of floating lights has appeared on the Mitchell Flat near Marfa, Texas.  They’re reportedly about the size of a basketball and float about 5 feet off the ground, zipping around rapidly in all directions.  Observers have even caught them on photo or video, but naysayers claim they are just traffic lights from the nearby highway or electrical charges from an adjacent quartz mine. 

2. The Mary Celeste Ghost Ship.
Back in 1872, the sturdy and seaworthy Mary Celeste left the port of New York on route to Italy.  It was sailed by the experienced Captain Briggs and also held his wife, daughter, and an eight-man crew.  However, the Mary Celeste never showed up to Italy, though it was later found floating in the middle of the Straight of Gibraltar.  No one was aboard.  There were no signs of any trouble or a struggle.  Everything was perfectly intact and operable…except the Captain’s log.

3. The Bermuda Triangle and Vile Vortices.
A large roughly-triangle shaped area of water between Florida and Puerto Rico has seen the demise of an inordinate number of airplanes and ships over the decades, known as the Bermuda Triangle.  But there are also 11 other geographical areas around the world, called the Vile Vortices, that have become graveyards for an alarming number of disappearing vessels.  The Algerian Megaliths south of Timbuktu, the Indus Valley in Pakistan, and the Devil’s Sea in Japan are a few.  Scientists have tried to explain the vanishings as victims of bad weather patterns, electromagnetic activity, and methane gas bubbles, but none of these have been scientifically confirmed.

4. DB Cooper; Dead or alive?
On November 24, 1971, an American man hijacked a commercial flight, a Boeing 727.  He collected $200,000 in ransom and a parachute and then jumped out the back of the plane.  Incredibly, the authorities couldn’t locate him and DB Cooper was never heard from again.  Did he fall to his death?  Surely his body and parachute would have been located by now.  Instead, the theory is that he made a clean getaway and has been living in isolation since, though $200,000 won’t get you as far these days as in 1971!  To add to the puzzle, several thousands dollars with serial numbers matching his ransom money were found along the Colombia River years later.

5.  Is the Lost City of Helike the real life Atlantis?
None other than the famous Greek philosopher Plato documented a grand and amazingly advanced civilization that existed anywhere from 9000BC to the 1st century AD.  The capital city was a worship center to honor Poseidon, god of the sea.  It’s formidable navy conquered territories all the way from Europe to Africa but failed to sack Athens.   Not long after, it “sank into the ocean in a single day and night of misfortune.”  Historical records match the ancient city of Helike to this this description, where a huge earthquake leveled the city and a tsunami washed it away in an alarmingly fast catastrophe.  Atlantis – and the whereabouts of the sunken city of Helike – has remained a mystery, but in 1861 an archeologist found a bronze coin from that city that had the head of Poseidon on it.  In 2001, a team of archeologists actually found ruins of Helike buried beneath mud and gravel off Greece’s coast, which are currently being excavated to see if they are indeed, the real life Atlantis. 

6. The Voynich Manuscript.
This medieval tome was written in an unknown language by an author of unknown origin.  Studied intently over the last century, the language still has not been identified or even seen before and no code has been deciphered.  Based on its illustrations, the Voynich Manuscript is believed to be an early pharmacopoeia or medical guide. 

7. Spontaneous Human Combustion.
One of the most bizarre and well-documented phenomena in human existence is that of spontaneous combustion – when a living, otherwise healthy person suddenly bursts into flames.  There have been dozens of cases of this in recorded history and one as current as this year in Ireland.  What makes it so unique is that the person ignites in a fire so hot it reduces their body to charred ashes, with no accelerant and no outside fire source, but the flame burns from the inside of their body, out.  Usually the hands and feet are still spared and there is little fire damage to the surrounding area.  Scientists over the centuries have tried to find similarities among the cases, like alcohol consumption, but still can’t pin down a reason human beings suddenly ignite in 2000-degree temperatures from the inside. 

8. The disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
As we know all too well these days, missing flights are a sad reality, but none was more mysterious than the disappearance into thin air of flight pioneer Amelia Earhart in 1937.  Trying to become the first female to make a circumnavigational flight around the globe, she disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean near Howland Island after her last radio transmission.  Her remains or plane were never found and the official story was that she crashed and was lost at sea, though rumors grew that she was actually captured by Japanese forces or part of a plot to fake her own death and then serve as a CIA spy.

9. The Roanoke Colony.
In 1587, Englishman John White arrived in present day North Carolina with 121 passengers, establishing the Roanoke Colony.  They settled in but soon conflicts with the local Native American population escalated, leading John White to set sail back to England to secure reinforcements.  He returned several years later to find Roanoke Colony completely disserted, without one man, woman or child present.  Of course it was thought the indigenous population attacked them but there was not one sign of a struggle, disturbance, or even migration – all of their possessions were in place; not a weapon unsheathed or a teacup out of place.  They just vanished into thin air and were never seen or heard of again.

10. The unexplained Babushka Lady and the JFK assassination.
When John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1968, most photographs show his motorcade and the horrible scene of the bullet hitting him.  But there are other photographs from the scene, none more cryptic than the revelation that there was an unknown woman standing very close by.  She was wearing an unseasonable brown overcoat and a Babushka, the traditional Russian scarf worn as a headdress, concealing her identity, and snapped photos of the assassination.  She disappeared out of public view and when the FBI saw her in photos and requested she come forward, she never did.  The presence of this “Babushka Lady,” adds to the swirling conspiracies of CIA plots and Soviet involvement.