Archive for July, 2012

GRAR® 2nd Quarter Statistics

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Second Quarter statistics released by the Genesee Region Real Estate Information Services (GENRIS), the information subsidiary of the Greater Rochester Association of REALTORS® (GRAR), indicate that despite a decrease in sales, owning a home in the local region continues to be a wise investment.

Transactions for the Second Quarter 2012 showed a 25 percent decrease over Second Quarter 2011, with 2,640 homes sold, as compared to 3,512 during the same period last year. The number of homes listed dropped by 8 percent from the same quarter last year. The Median sale price was up 2 percent to $122,500.

“Although closings were down during the Second Quarter, as compared to the same period last year, inventories are also down and with many reports of multiple offers, we’re seeing glimpses of a shift to a seller’s market locally,” said Steve Babbitt, president of the GRAR Board of Directors.

Housing data-analysis firm CoreLogic reports that fewer homes on the market guard against a downturn in prices, as seen during the middle of 2010 and 2011. GRAR CEO, James Yockel added, “The housing recovery is ongoing, but appears to be happening in stages rather than a steady climb.”

This past quarter also showed a modest increase in property values from the Second Quarter 2011, instilling that purchasing a home in the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes region continues to be a great investment.

“With a 109 percent increase in pending sales compared to the same time a year ago, we project a robust impending Third Quarter,” said Babbitt.

Most Monroe County towns and villages showed an jump in median home prices year over year, with the greatest gains in Gates, up 57.1 percent to $105,400 and East Rochester, up 53.3 percent to $89,900. The Finger Lakes region saw similar results with the counties of Ontario and Wayne posting 25 percent and 39 percent gains, respectively.

“The housing market’s recovery is encouraging, even though mortgage lending and down-payment requirements continue to be a challenge. The local economy is gradually improving, interest rates remain low and affordability is at an all-time high,” Babbitt said.

GRAR continues to support the local residential real estate industry by promoting the benefits of home ownership and using the services of a REALTOR® when buying and selling a home.

The GRAR® represents more than 2,600 real estate professionals in the Greater Rochester & Finger Lakes region.

Driveway Sealing Alert

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

By Carmen Santora

Carmen Santora, Executive Director of the Better Contractors Bureau is warning consumers contemplating having their driveway sealed that there are contractors presently in our area from out of state using unscrupulous tactics when sealing driveways.

Santora says, “The usual rule of thumb when sealer is mixed is, for every 100 gallons of sealer 30-40 gallons of water should be added. The scam artists are doing it the opposite and in some cases we have been told that some are mixing as little as 10 gallons of sealer to 100 gallons of water.” In reality all you’re getting is black, colored water that will wash off with a rain.

In one such case a caller complained (wouldn’t give his name) and said that the contractor he went with practically was chasing the sealer down the drive way, that’s how much water was in the mix. He said he went strictly on price and he should have known better when he paid $39.00 after getting two other estimates for $89.00 and $99.00. He also forgot that when he did his driveway himself a few years back that it took 4 five gallons pails at approximately $18.00 each and along with having to buy a broom/squeegee the cost to do it then was $65.00 for materials only.

Consumers should watch out for special so called deals and especially watch for out of state license plates and don’t fall for the line, “I’ve got some sealer left over and can give you a really good price”.

Remember, a good driveway sealer contractor will blow off the entire driveway, use a weed eater on the edges, cover the sidewalk between the truck and driveway to prevent accidental spillage from a storage tank and barricade the entrance when finished.

Contractors should also carry liability insurance in case of damage to your property, such as over splash on your overhead garage door or siding. Remember, the old saying “you get what you pay for” really applies with driveway sealing. For a recommendation of BCB driveway sealers you can call the office at 585-338-3600 or go to the BCB website at

The Ins and Outs of Ductwork

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

By Douglas J. Burgasser, P.E.

We have fielded a number of questions regarding duct design for forced air heating and cooling systems. For example, people ask us how duct systems differ between modern homes and old homes. We are also asked what it means when a house is advertised as being “air conditioning ready”.  This blog is intended to answer some of those questions.

First, it is important to understand that forced air heating systems were around long before air conditioning. Therefore, many older homes were constructed before there was a thought of air conditioning a home. The duct system was designed strictly to provide circulation of heated air.

In years past the prevailing thinking was that the supply runs in each of the rooms should be located towards the interior of the room, and the returns should be located at the outer perimeter of the rooms. The problem with this design is that the heated air was not provided to those areas of the room where it was needed the most, namely along the exterior walls. This resulted in less than uniform heating in the various rooms.

Thankfully, since warm air rises, the heated air tended to distribute itself throughout the majority of the house. Many old farmhouses did not have supply runs to the second floor and relied on warm air rising through transfer openings or through the stairwell. The very fact that warm air rises to the upper floors also explains why the lack of return runs on the second floor of an old house did not result in unacceptable heating of second floor rooms.

For the last 40 to 50 years residential forced air systems have been designed differently than their predecessors. Now, each room will have at least one supply run (larger rooms will have 2 or 3 supply runs), and these are located along the outer perimeter of the rooms. They are usually positioned beneath windows or near exterior doors. This is because the exterior walls, the windows and the doors represent those areas where heating (and cooling) is needed the most.

Also, in modern systems return runs are located at the interior of the major rooms. Return runs are not necessary for each and every room, but there should be a generous distribution of return runs throughout the house. Returns are usually located at a higher elevation on an interior wall.

Some builders choose to install a small number of centrally located return runs when constructing a house. These would be located in halls or central areas, rather than in the individual rooms. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this ducted return air design. This type of installation usually saves a small amount in terms of construction cost and prevents the wall cavities of the house from being negatively pressurized. Standard return air systems use return plenums in the basement and wall cavities throughout the house (not actual ductwork) to draw air back to the heating and cooling equipment. However, this can draw in unconditioned air from exterior walls and dust and dirt along baseboard floor trim. Unconditioned humid air in the wall cavities of an air conditioned home can result in mold and mildew growth in the wall cavities. On the negative side, the central ducted return air design does not allow for uniform distribution of air flow from all of the bedrooms, offices, etc.; especially during the air conditioning season.

It is more difficult to cool a house than it is to heat a house. This is because cold air is heavier, and it does not naturally rise up through a house. Instead, cool or cold air needs to be forced into the various rooms and air needs to be circulated through the rooms. Further, the primary sources of heat during the summer are the windows and warm ceilings near the attic on the upper floors of a house. This is why it is more difficult to cool a second floor, and it is also the reason why the location and distribution of return runs becomes more important. Placing the returns at a high elevation in the various rooms (especially on the upper-most floors) allows for warmer air to be drawn off the upper portion of the room during the cooling cycle. This allows for much more uniform air flow, and more uniform cooling.

Some builders will even go so far as to install returns at the floor level and near the ceiling level in the major rooms. This is very beneficial. The lower returns can be opened in the winter. The high returns are used in the summer (usually by closing a damper in the low returns) so that the warm air is drawn off the top of the room. This is a desirable design.

Oftentimes you will hear that a house that does not have an air conditioning system is “air conditioning ready”. All that this typically means is that the duct system is a modern duct system, with a generous number of supplies and returns throughout the house. Essentially, any modern home with a forced air system should be “air conditioning ready”. Sometimes a plenum or coil will already be installed in the ductwork above the furnace as well, such that the system is ready for an outdoor condenser/compressor unit (air conditioner) to be piped to the coil.

If you are looking for ways to decrease temperature differences throughout the house during the summer, it is a good idea to operate the fan or blower on your cooling system continuously during the air conditioning season, rather than only when the air conditioner is actually operating. This allows for greater air circulation rates and more uniform temperatures throughout the house.

Since cold air is more difficult to distribute throughout the house than warm air, it is beneficial to adjust the dampers on the duct system accordingly, depending on the season. Dampers that feed the second floor rooms should be fully open during the cooling season. Dampers that are located in the branches for the first floor rooms can be partially closed. This combination allows for more air flow to the second floor. Since warm air naturally rises to the second floor it can be beneficial to partially close the dampers for the second floor heat runs and fully open the dampers for the first floor heat runs during the heating season. Similarly, if looking for ways to cool the second floor better, you can block off or close a few returns on the first floor during the summer to force more of the warm air near the ceilings of the second floor back to the air conditioning equipment.

In most cases the dampers for the supply duct branches can be easily accessed from the basement space. The following photographs show examples of the dampers in the opened and closed positions. Care should be taken not to close too many of the dampers and you should start with all dampers fully open. If closing too many dampers, the air flow through the system can be reduced and this can cause problems in terms of frozen air conditioning coils or overheating heat exchangers. A heating contractor can check for adequate air flow as part of annual servicing and can help you balance the system optimally.

Short Sales: A Sign of the Times

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

By Gini Denninger

The term “Short Sale” was relatively unknown before the financial melt down changed the real estate world. Always around, short sales were much less visible years ago. Over the past five years, extreme economic factors converged, bringing short sales into the limelight. Sellers learned short sales are valuable tools when they need to sell their homes but are unable to get as much or more, than what they owe on the property. Buyers are aware of and interested in finding short sale deals. More agents are short sale experienced. And lenders now opt to work with short sales rather than resorting to foreclosure. The increased use of short sale options has been noticed. It seems everyone is talking about short sales and the opportunity for buyers and, yes, sellers!

We hear of short sales and foreclosures all over the country, but what about here in the Rochester area? Are we affected too? It turns out we are, but not to the degree that other areas are. There are reasons for this. In real estate, the story is always local. Despite the fact that large cornerstone businesses like Kodak,  Xerox and Bausch & Lomb downsized, our real estate market stayed relatively stable, except in some areas and for some types of properties like investment properties in the City of Rochester.

Investment properties are one area of real estate especially hard hit with short sales.  2-20 unit investment properties are the most commonly sold as short sales. A combination of unsound leveraging schemes, poor property management and City of Rochester code enforcement issues, creates the perfect storm involving investors. They begin divesting their properties leading to more investment properties available than buyers. Too many properties on the market combined with deferred maintenance on many of these properties, pushes property prices down further. When this happens, the only options can be short sale or foreclosure, depending on the condition and value of the property.

Our suburban areas also offer short sale properties in all price ranges. One of my clients, Robin, bought a Perinton property in the Blackcross neighborhood for $60,000 less than what other properties in the neighborhood were selling at. The owners had fallen on hard times due to divorce and job loss. They no longer were able to maintain the property, letting repairs pile up. Sales appeal was lost in comparison to what was available in the area, forcing the property to be priced ever lower, in an effort to find a buyer willing to put money into the property to bring it back up to neighborhood standards. Robin has greatly improved the property and if she needed to sell, would have no trouble doing so. These buys are out there, but be warned, difficult to find.

Bob Hibbard, a short sale specialist real estate salesperson in the Rochester area points out short sales have to be priced right to sell. If too high, no offers come in. If too low, the bank might not approve the deal. Some people think “short sale” means fire sale. Not so fast! Hibbard says the average discount for a short sale is between 20-30%. This is proven, by the price paid by my client Robin. She should be able to sell between $170-180,000. Short sales might be priced slightly under current market value, which makes them hard to spot. The owners try to get as much as they can to the property to ensure bank approval of the short sale.

Just because someone is willing to make an offer, there is no guarantee the bank will approve the price for a short sale, for various reasons. An appraisal might show more value to the property in question, despite the fact that it has been on the market for an extended period of time and had multiple price drops before the offer came in. The bank may be willing to wait for a better offer to come along, which does happen, depending on the property and its desirability. Desirable neighborhoods, especially higher end suburban areas usually have smaller discount margins than less appealing neighborhoods.

Short sales are a long process. Buyers have to be willing to wait out the process. Robin put her offer in and had to wait for bank approval. Fortunately for her, a previous buyer had begun the process, but was unable to complete their deal. Robins accepted offer was able to be inserted into that buyers place, shortening the wait time by three months. The average short sale takes between 4-6 months from start to finish. But be warned some take longer, even over a year! If the price is right and a buyer is able to wait they will get a great value for the price.

Why would a bank even agree to a short sale? Mike Smith, a Nothnagle Realtor specializing in short sales explains that in NY State, the foreclosure process is very difficult and drawn out. The time it takes to foreclose is double that what it was a few years ago! Before accepting a short sale offer, the  bank will calculate what it will cost to complete the foreclosure and what the property could sell for if foreclosed on, in addition to fees for the sale and maintenance of the property. If the sum is more profitable to hold they will hold, foreclose and sell the property themselves. If they calculate they will benefit more by selling as short sale, they will usually opt for the short sale.

Sellers chose to do short sales once they recognize this is a way out of  a property they cannot hold on to any longer. Sadly, many who are upside-down with their mortgages do not realize selling their home as a short sale could be an option to them. They think their only option is foreclosure. Hopefully they learn that short sales are an option before losing their homes.  Short sales are far less injurious to a persons credit history than foreclosure. Foreclosures take 200 points off credit scores, while short sales only 50. Also, foreclosure must be admitted by a former owner every time they apply for credit or mortgage. Hibbard,  points out that short sale sellers can even buy another home in two years while those who opted for foreclosure, wait five years or more.

Short sales arise from sellers need as well as the buyers and lenders recognition of benefits to themselves when party to such sales. Short sales are not without pitfalls, but as long as they continue to benefit all parties involved, they will become more accepted as part of the real estate landscape. The term “Short Sale” will no longer have strong negative connotations and will become just another tool in the selling of property. Selling as a short sale helps those who are genuinely in financial distress, benefits the banks in that they have less foreclosures and is a boon to buyers like my client Robin, who was able to afford a home in Perinton, that she might normally not have considered. Short sales, while difficult and uncertain are a great way to buy a property in our area as well as nationally.

Foreclosure Whistleblowers Become Millionaires

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

As Alex reported 7/7/2012 on Property Source Radio. – Daily Real Estate News | Mon, July 2, 2012
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Six Americans stand to collect up to $46.5 million for their part in helping to expose foreclosure abuses by the nation’s largest banks.

The whistleblowers helped the government expose how some banks used fraudulent documents to collect money from federal housing programs.

For their help in the lawsuits against the banks, these whistleblowers will be able to collect big paychecks due to the False Claims Act, “which allows private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. when they have knowledge that the government is being defrauded,” CNNMoney reports. Those who file the lawsuits stand to collect between 15 percent to 30 percent of the penalties assessed in the case.

For home owner Lynn Szymoniak, it was like winning the lottery. Szymoniak was served foreclosure papers in 2008. She helped prove banks had been using fraudulent documents to prove ownership of defaulted mortgages, for which the banks were then submitting insurance claims to the Federal Housing Administration. From the government’s $95 million award in a lawsuit, Szymoniak will get $18 million.

“I recognize that mine’s a very, very happy ending,” Szymoniak told CNNMoney. “I know there are plenty of people who have tried as hard as I have and won’t see these kinds of results.”

The other five whistleblowers came from within the industry, such as an appraiser who helped the government show that Countrywide Financial had been inflating home appraisals to collect higher claims from FHA. Other whistleblowers exposed banks overcharging veterans who had mortgages guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The whistleblower lawsuits helped lead to a foreclosure settlement, approved in May, between the nation’s five largest banks and state and federal officials. The settlement stems over banks’ errors uncovered in the processing of foreclosures. In the settlement, banks agreed to pay $5 billion in fines and about $20 billion in refinancing and mortgage modifications for home owners.

Source: “Whistleblowers Win $46.5 Million in Foreclosure Settlement,” CNNMoney (July 2, 2012)

Grill Friends

Thursday, July 5th, 2012
By Lana Torre
Do you love grilled foods? Do you ponder charcoal grilling vs. gas? Both will grill your food, gas grilling will certainly offer more control, but you could argue that charcoal grilling gives a better flavor.
If you’re charcoal grilling, use a chimney to get your coals lit. A chimney can be found at hardware or big box stores. It is basically a metal cylinder. You put the coals in the top and newspaper in the bottom compartment. Light the newspaper and wait for the coals to get hot, then pour them into your grill. Make sure that the coals are white hot before cooking. Separate some of the coals in the grill pan so that one side is very hot and the other side just warm. This will allow you to sear your food on the hot side and move the food to the cooler side to cook through. If you are using a marinade to flavor your grilled chicken, never pour in on the meat, but brush it on to avoid a flare up or a smoky mess. Always start your steaks or chicken from room temperature. Place the meat on the hottest side of the grill and allow the meat to char, if you move the meat too quickly it will stick to the grate, so be patient and wait. When the meat is ready to be moved it will release freely from the grill.
Gas grills are a bit easier to use and very in vogue these days. Most are made of stainless steel and come with various combinations of 1, 3 or more burners. With multiple burners you can adjust the heat levels at different parts of the grill to enhance your grilling experience. You can use a sauté pan on top of your gas grill for sautéing onions for your steak or with many grills, use a side burner to heat water or cook other foods. Another useful grill accessory is a grill pan that has perforations in the bottom of the pan. You can easily grill fish and vegetables in the grill pan. Oil it first and allow it to warm up before placing on the gas grill and your food won’t stick. If you love the taste of charcoaled grilled foods but have a gas grill, you can buy hardwood chips to place in the grill to give your food a charred flavor.
This summer, try to grill a pizza, it is so easy. Buy pizza dough from the deli counter. Flatten the dough into any shape. Place the dough on the grill and cook until char marks are present. Flip it over and add your toppings which could be the usual pepperoni and cheese, or you could try goat cheese and arugula or salami and tomatoes. The kids will have a memorable time when you get them involved in grilling.
Other easy grilled foods are fruits, try peaches or pineapple and serve with vanilla ice cream. Fish is so good on the grill. You can place a meatier fish right on the grill, but if you have more delicate fish, wrap the fish in foil or parchment paper, drug store style, brush with olive oil, add herbs and a squeeze of lemon. My favorite is grilled vegetables. Coat them with olive oil, add a little salt and pepper and let them cook about 5-6 minutes a side.
A recent survey noted that 65% of men in households are the primary grillers. In our family, my husband is the grill king. He seems to enjoy grilling and has a special relationship with HIS grill. I just love grilled foods, especially artichokes, and I enjoy being the sous chef , if only for a short time.