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Archive for August, 2008

Fannie Mae Top Executives Are Out in Wake of Mortgage Meltdown

Fannie Mae has announced the departure of three top executives in the wake of months of bad press and a melting mortgage market.

> Chief Financial Officer Stephen Swad who joined the company just last year will be replaced by David C. Hisey, Fannie Mae’s senior vice president and controller and a three-year veteran of the organization.

> Chief Business Officer Robert J. Levin will be replaced by Peter Niculescu, a nine-year veteran who has worked in the company’s capital markets business.

> Chief Risk Officer Enrico Dallavecchia will be replaced by Michael Shaw, senior vice president for credit risk oversight who has been with Fannie for two years.

Daniel H. Mudd will continue to serve as  chief executive officer.

Fannie Mae, and its sister organization Freddie Mac, have been rocked by the the decline in the housing market and revelations about shoddy lending practices.  Although shares in both companies have lost most of their value in the past year, prices did rise yesterday for the third straight day.  Fannie’s stock rose 86 cents, or 15.3% to close at $6.48.  Freddie Mac increased 78 cents, or 19.7% to close at $4.75.

Stay tuned for more shakeups as Freddie Mac looks for a new chief executive to replace long time chair Richard F. Syron.

Michael

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Alexandria Throws A Doggie Good End of Summer Pool Party

In keeping with its well deserved reputation as a dog friendly city, Alexandria will host the Fifth Annual Doggie Day Swim party on Tuesday, September 2. The event is slated to run from 4:00 – 7:00pm at the Old Town Pool, 1609 Cameron St.

Admission is $5 and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

Labor Day marks the official end of the summer pool season – for humans – but the city’s dogs will have the last swim, complete with games, treats and toys.

All participating dogs must wear current vaccination tags and be well-behaved both in and out of the pool. “Handlers” must be 16 yrs. of age or older and may not swim or enter the pool with their dogs.

For more information., call the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center at 703.519.2160.

I don’t know about you but this sounds like a whole lot of fun to me!

Michael

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Arlington and Alexandria Named Two of America’s 10 Top “Wealth Centers”

Bizjournals has identified Arlington and Alexandria as two of America’s top 10 wealth centers. Wealth centers are defined as communities that manage to blend substantial size (populations above 100,000) with considerable affluence.

#1 Arlington captured the top spot with a “wealth index” of 14.97. The 2006 per capita income was $53,543.

#4 Alexandria came in with a “wealth index” of 13.03 although it had the second highest per capita income of $52, 530.

Bizjournals used a six-part formula to analyze the relative affluence of all cities, incorporated towns and unincorporated urban areas above the 100,000-person cutoff. The strongest scores went to places with high income levels and large inventories of high-end homes.

The study’s raw data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, the most recent source for federal statistics at the local level. The figures are for specific municipalities, not for the broader metropolitan areas to which they belong.

This continues to be a banner year for Alexandria. Other accolades include being named for:

Wouldn’t you like to know more about living in Alexandria or Arlington? Give me a call at 703.927.4554 and let’s make you a part of this exciting community.

Michael

Pictures courtesy of the Arlington Economic Development Office and the City of Alexandria.

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A Guide to Down Payment Assistance in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia

First time buyer programs in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are a good place to do some research if you are thinking about taking advantage of the current strong, buyer oriented market. These programs are especially valuable now that requirements for down payments have been tightened.

Keith Gumbinger, a vice president at HSH Associates, a real estate research firm noted that ” . . .before you even start shopping for a home, go and investigate potential sources of money. Don’t dismiss grant programs. It really is worthwhile to dig into that stuff. You might not qualify but it doesn’t cost anything to investigate.”

In Virginia, look here for down payment assistance:

Department of Housing and Community Development for two programs that assist low and moderate income individuals. A home buyer can apply for one program or the other but not both.

  1. Virginia Individual Development Account (888.843.2946) – the state will match every dollar saved by the potential home owner with $2 up to $4000. For instance, if an individual saves $2000, then they would be eligible for up to $4000 from the state to make their down payment.
  2. Another program for income eligible individuals may provide as much as 10% of the purchase price of the home to cover a down payment. That number moves to 20% in some of the more expensive areas of the state (like Alexandria) through another fund.

Virginia Housing Development Authority (877.843.2123) – this program works with the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). Individuals who have difficulty coming up with the 3% down payment*** required for FHA loans can tap into a state housing financing program. A buyer could receive a 30-year loan for up to 5% of the purchase price to cover the down payment and part of the closing costs.

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Emotional Sellers May Unknowlingly Contribute to A Loss in House Values

Today, many sellers are unknowingly contributing to the overall losses in home values. This happens when sellers hold on to an “emotional” asking price – which is often is unrealistically high. Current market buyers have done their homework and know when to take action on a property that is priced right.

When sellers are unsuccessful in getting their house sold because of price, they are contributing to the continuation of a downward price spiral.

Here’s why: Real estate is a commodity in the marketplace. When there is an oversupply of inventory, prices go down. When sellers price their house over what knowledgeable buyers know is the reasonable current market price, the property stays on the market, continuing the oversupply.

In today’s market, sellers who understand that real estate is a commodity have priced correctly and are seeing the result as closed sales in days/weeks while those priced above the market, linger for months and some for years.

If more sellers recognized the economic basics of supply vs. demand and positioned their properties at prices to motivate the pool of buyers to action, the supply of houses on the market would decrease more rapidly – creating a lower supply of inventory that will eventually result in price increases.

Smart buyers are looking for properties positioned correctly and are taking action. Smart sellers will enlist the services of an agent who understands how the market is working today. This helps the seller to know when to accept a reasonable offer even it is not what they hoped for originally, e.g., the “emotional price”.

To see what is happening in a wide range of Virginia and Maryland counties, check out the current activity graphs included below:

Anne Arundel

Calvert

Charles

Culpepper

Fauquier

Frederick

Howard

Loudoun

Montgomery

Prince Georges

Prince William

Stafford

St. Mary’s

Information is also available for the close in Northern Virginia counties of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax.

If you are a potential seller, buyer or just curious, call me at 703.927.4554 and let’s talk about what’s working in the market in your area.

Michael

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Alexandria’s Jefferson Houston Elementary School Posts Dramatic Increases to Meet Federal and State Standards

Alexandria’s Jefferson Houston Elementary School will receive full state accreditation this fall thanks to dramatic increases in state and federal test scores. The percentage of students passing the English test moved up from 62% to 77% and the percentage of students passing the math test jumped from 59% to 77%. Test scores also insure that the school will meet federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Jefferson Houston – an integral part of the historic Parker-Gray neighborhood – has struggled since a controversial redistricting in 1999 that shifted many West End students to Tucker Elementary in Cameron Station. Inconsistent leadership was a key issue with five principals rotating through in a six-year period. Kimberly Graves was hired in 2006 and within weeks teachers and parents alike understood that meeting standards was a minimum expectation.

A modest Graves has credited community involvement, parental support, a determined staff and students who were willing to go the extra mile. English scores were helped by Saturday workshops and math scores benefited from after-school clubs.

One program in particular – the “power hour” – was key to raising reading scores. Students at Jefferson-Houston were arranged in small groups of five or six who had similar instructional needs for one-on-one reading time for an hour, every day. It was a group effort with teachers, reading specialists, and talented-and-gifted teachers all helping out.

As for the future, Graves noted that “Building a reputation is going to take time, but I’m patient. Jefferson-Houston is going to become one of the top performing schools in this city.”

Congratulations to Principal Graves and the parents, teachers and students for an enormous effort!

If you would like to know more about the Parker-Gray neighborhood, call me at 703.927.4554 and let’s talk.

Michael

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

Transportation Costs Are Affecting Housing Statistics in Northern Virginia

Transportation costs, now second only to housing as a percentage of the household budget (with food a distant third) are altering buying patterns for home owners in Northern Virginia.

A Washington Post article, “Gas Prices Apply Brakes to Suburban Migration“, noted that housing prices in far out Loudoun and Prince William counties have collapsed while those in the inner suburbs – like Alexandria and Arlington – have increased or at least stayed the same.

When gasoline was cheap it was easy to build miles of highway and then buildings and houses beside those highways but with fuel prices topping $4 a gallon, there has been a dramatic shift in how we travel.

Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer highway miles in May 2008 than in May 2007. In the Washington area mass transit is setting new records for ridership. – the WMTA recorded an 8.5% increase in April over the previous April. And its not just MetroRail, Metro Buses are busier than ever too.

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Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

July’s Market Report Shows Decrease in Inventory, Slight Rise in Sales for Northern Virginia and Alexandria

Inventory in Northern Virginia’s Arlington and Fairfax Counties dropped slightly last month while new listings and houses under contract rose slightly. Alexandria City County saw a small drop in inventory and listings but a rise in contracted houses.

Overall, the three counties are holding steady thanks to continued favorable mortgage rates and smart pricing on the part of agents and home owners.

Pricing continues to be the biggest factor in moving from “for sale” to “sold” but as transportation costs consume a larger portion of monthly budgets, home buyers are adding a “close in” location to their list of must haves.

With four MetroRail stations serving Alexandria, three serving Fairfax County and eleven serving Arlington County, Northern Virginia offers home buyers a number of transportation alternatives.

Following are market statistics by county. I encourage you to look at them and then give me a call at 703.927.4554 and let’s talk about what they mean to you.

Alexandria

Arlington

Fairfax

Washington, DC

We’ll be listing market figures for some of the outlying areas in Virginia and Maryland next week so be sure and check back with us.

Michael

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

Angelo’s Orchid Diner is Authentic, Cozy and a Real Bargin

Angelo’s Orchid Diner in New Bedford, MA is authentic, cozy and my latest find in “Road Food”.

I know you are used to reading about Alexandria and Northern Virginia on these pages but I thought a few pictures from “away” was appropriate in August. Besides, you may find yourself in New Bedford one day and you’ll be glad to have this information!

I had ventured into town looking for internet access when a water main rupture forced a detour for all traffic. I took a left, a right, and another right and there it was – Angelo’s.

It’s small – one row of maybe 12 booths and on the other side a long counter and perhaps 25 stools. I headed straight for the counter and my favorite diner breakfast – eggs and corn beef hash.

Add hash browns, toast, coffee and tax and my TOTAL bill was $6.04. Now that’s what I call “Road Food”.

Ummmmmmmmm, wonder what lunch would be like?

Virginia

Thanks to my spouse and managing partner who is in Massachusetts for a few days with her mum. Michael

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What Happens When a Home Owner Dies?

What does happen when a home owner dies? Bottom line – until it is sold or otherwise disposed of, the house has to be managed.

Mara Lee of the Washington Post recently did an excellent article, Mom’s House, Your Responsibility that covers the in’s and out’s of managing with some illustrative examples.

Most often, it is adult children or close relatives who are challenged with the daunting task of finding and paying those bills, managing tax records, working through years of memories and deciding how and when the property will be sold.

For example, did you know insurance policies on a house automatically lapse at the death of the policyholder? Even if premiums were up to date, a burst pipe, storm damage or fire would not be covered unless another policy were in place.

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Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 28 Comments »

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