Deadline nears for Orange County “informal” property tax appeals

4/30/09 update:  I’ve simplified this info into easy steps to determine if  you should file an appeal and posted it on our other real estate website.  Please click here for “Easy 3 minute test on if you should appeal your property tax.”

If you purchased a home in Orange County, CA between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007, you’re probably running out of time to save on your 2009 – 2010 property tax bill.

That’s because “informal appeals” of OC property tax assessments must be postmarked tomorrow at the latest.

Fortunately, the links below will enable you or your friends to determine how much you’re likely to save, and to complete the entire process in about ten minutes.

Whether or not you really need to appeal is another hot question, with Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory claiming that Continue reading

Moody’s $3,995 report predicts housing bottom this fall

(2/13/09) In a report released earlier this month, Moody’s “Economy.com” predicts a nationwide home price bottom in metropolitan areas in the 4th quarter of 2009.

While we think that may be possible, we think there are a number of red flags Moody’s may be neglecting. We’ll explain our own theory of when to buy or sell after we discuss Moody’s new report

Giving some evidence that there’s no recession among economists, you can buy the report for only $3,995 from economy.com, or you can read Moody’s summary and key findings below for free: Continue reading

I love Southern California!

(12/6/08) Today I’m writing as a native Southern Californian who’s lived here all of my 58 years, not as a Realtor.

Every now and then it hits me what a very special place I’m privileged to live in. Today’s one of those days. There are many things to love about Southern California, here are a few that hit me today:

  1. The weather: December 6th, 2008. Forecast high in my home town of Los Alamitos in the mid 70s. Low in the fifties. Crystal clear, warm, sunny day. I took my shirt off when I went outside to jog a couple miles. We went to a local Christmas parade last night in shirt sleeves.
  2. The sunshine: Every year I tally in my journal the number of days I don’t see the sun. It averages about five. Somehow, it seems like we get most of the little rain we get at night. And almost never on the Rose Parade. I tell my friends that was the deal the Rose Association made with God about a hundred years ago. No Rose Parade on Sundays, so people can get to chuirch, and no rain on their parade! Maybe the NFL should try that one!
  3. The geography: I live about 12 minutes from the beach. 1 minute from a nice local park. An hour from the San Gabriel Mountains, which include a peak over 10,000 feet high and two major ski resorts. To the east, the San Bernardino Mountains include a peak over 12,000 feet high, several alpine lakes, and three more major ski areas. I could see both mountain ranges clearly this morning, as well as Mt. San Jacinto, just South of Palm Springs. (Did I mention the deserts?) It’s not all that hard to snowboard (or ski) and surf (or boogie board) on the same day, but I would recommend a wet suit for the Pacific in winter.
  4. The rivalry: Right now, I’m taking a break from the USC – UCLA game, where my Westwood alma mater is doing better than expected. . . so far. USC-UCLA is the only true cross-town rivalry among NCAA Division 1 schools in the country! Both schools are within the Los Angeles city limits, only about 12 miles apart. Many USC students live in Westwood, by UCLA. When I went to UCLA, it wasn’t uncommon for athletes from the rival schools to room together. My best friend in high school went to USC while I went to UCLA.

Rival banners are flying throughout my neighborhood. Three of the sixteen families on my cul-de-sac have UCLA alum, but we have SC season seat holders & alum anchoring the start of the street. My mother and I both graduated from UCLA, my son’s girlfriend hopes to go there. My boss is a USC alumn. Both are great schools with great traditions. And a great, but generally friendly rivalry. As a tribute to the Trojans, let me share the words to USC’s famous Fight Song, at least the way I learned them at UCLA (with apologies to my friends from “Figueroa Tech”):

Fight on! for USC.

You pay a fee; you get a degree!

You’ll be smarter than me, because I went to USC!

I went to USC! I went to USC!

Just kidding. I think they’re both great schools, one public, one private, two of several dozen outstanding colleges and Universities ranging from Cal Tech to the University of San Diego.

I could go on and on. Diversity. Opportunity. Culture. Great churches. Great museums. Great beaches. Great mountain biking. Over 100 languages spoken in local schools. Forward thinking.

Sure, we’ve got a lot of people, but locals figure out ways to deal with and even enjoy it.

For me. So Cal is a wonderful place to live year round. If you live someplace else and want to move here, I just happen to know a good So Cal Realtor. Actually, quite a few, since Blair and I mainly cover West Orange County and Greater Long Beach.

Happy Holidays from Southern California!

Thanksgiving traditions

(by Dave Emerson) What a great idea–a day set aside for a celebration of thanks! In many ways, it’s my favorite holiday–less commercialized, more family oriented, with unique American roots and even a healthy main dish.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday. It is only celebrated in the U.S. (4th Thursday in November), Canada (2nd Monday of October), and, more recently, in Grenada (October 25th).

The first “first Thanksgiving:” en Espanol!

The first Thanksgiving in North America was actually celebrated in Spanish in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. On September 18, 1565, 600 Spanish settlers landed there and immediately held a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the “New World.”

The second “first Thanksgiving”

54 years later, a group of 38 settlers arrived from England at a site about 20 miles upstream on the James River from Jamestown, to begin a second English settlement in the Colony of Virginia.

Although this settlement was a commercial venture of a secular nature, their charter stated, “We ordain that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” So when they arrived on December 4 the group’s leader, Captain John Woodleaf held their first Thanksgiving service.

The third & most famous “first Thanksgiving”

The “first Thanksgiving” most of us think of took place about two years later. . . or was it 4 years later?

On November 21, 1620, the Mayflower dropped anchor off of Cape Cod to begin a new English colony. The “Pilgrims” were primarily motivated by a desire for religious freedom, but they were joined in the venture by some who came for commercial reasons. They suffered a horrific first winter in America, losing almost half of their group, but new hope came after the harvest in 1621. Governor William Bradford decreed a three day feast, which the colonists celebrated with the local Native Americans.

Two years later, a lengthy drought threatened the harvest, and the colonists prayed fervently for rain. When their prayers were answered, an actual Day of Thanksgiving was declared by Governor Bradford for July 30, 1623. This was more of a church observance than a feast day, but over time the two distinct harvest events have been combined into our Thanksgiving holiday.

The first “national” Thanksgiving

In 1777, the second year of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress issued the first national Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring December 18th as a national day of Thanksgiving, encouraging the governors of each of the thirteen colonies to set the day aside for “solemn thanksgiving and praise,” as well as prayer for the spiritual and material success of the newly independent colonies.

President Washington’s first Thanksgiving proclamation

On my birthday, October 3, but a few years earlier, in 1789, at the urging of Congress, President Washington declared Thursday, 11/26, a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” Although clearly non-denominational and non-sectarian, the proclamation was deeply religious.

Here is the text of that proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789

Thanksgiving wishes, 2008

This year Thanksgiving again comes in the midst of trying times–at least by modern standards. We really have no complaints, however, compared to that first New England Thanksgiving in 1621, where half of the colony’s residents had died since landing a year earlier!

A thankful attitude makes life more enjoyable and more worthwhile. Our real estate and stocks may be worth less than they were a year ago, but we are still richly blessed, and have much to be thankful for.

I’m going to try to make some time to count my blessings and thank God for them, between cleaning, cooking, eating, and then shopping. Also time to reflect on what’s really important, and to ask God’s blessings and mercy for myself, my family, and our nation.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving as you celebrate our nation’s oldest and most unique holiday tradition!

Southern California on Fire

(Saturday afternoon, 11/15/08) Being a second-generation native Californian, I tend to take our local disasters in stride. Local’s joke that we really do have seasons out here in So Cal, they’re just not the traditional winter, spring, summer, & fall outsiders are used to. Our seasons are more like flood & mudslide season, riot season, fire season, and earthquake season. (I left off “drought,” but that’s more like a year-round thing every few years).

Trouble is, in the last few years fire season keeps getting longer.

I just flew back from a wet, chilly, but fall-foliage beautiful two days in Nashville on Thursday night. During the last half of my non-stop Southwest flight home the “Tea Fire” in Montecito ignited, spread, and burned several dorms and other buildings in my wife’s Alma Matre, Westmont College. I teased my son-in-law that he needed to keep I couldn’t leave the state for two days without Barb’s college burning down. Fortunately, injuries and loss of life was minimal, but hundreds of gorgeous acres and scores of expensive mansions were lost, along with the Tea Garden well known among Westmont students.

Fortunately, the winds died down on Friday, but when I got up this morning and saw the Santa Ana winds gusting through our Los Alamitos neighborhood, I knew the fires would be back today. Before we even turned the TV on for the non-stop coverage I told Barb to expect at least 4 new fires and 500 homes destroyed. Sadly, it appears that I may have underestimated.

Most of our natural disasters aren’t really that widespread in their devasation. This week’s fires, for example, will probably devastate less than a hundredth of 1% the homes in Southern California. That’s still hundreds of homes and millions of dollars, but most of us aren’t severely impacted.

The smoke and pollution will be felt by millions, lots of patios and cars will need to be washed off sometime early next week, but life essentially goes on.

Fire season is brought on by the infamous “Santana” winds, often mistakenly called “Santa Anas.” The word is probably a contraction of vientos de Satan, Spanish for “winds of Satan.” These are hot, dry offshore winds that descend from the Great Basin through the Mojave desert down into Southern California, primarily in spring and summer. While the threat of fire is generally greater in the fall, with recent dry winters fire season has extended to include spring and, now, late fall as well.

Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.

—Joan Didion, “Los Angeles Notebook”

Ultimately, additional restrictions will be imposed on construction and additional clearance and greenbelt requirements imposed in fire prone areas. Our wildfire challenges are actually easier to manage and less widespread than California’s earthquake risks.

To most Californians, our natural disasters are less ominous than those in so many other regions of the nation or the world. Most of us regard them as one trade off for 360 days of temperate sunshine a year and the many other benefits of living in a dynamic, diverse land of opportunity.

While our thoughts and prayers and help will be going out to our neighbors in these days of loss, while it’s annoying to curtain outdoor activity and deal with the smoke and ash, most Californians still consider this our Golden land of opportunity, and really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

(photos from L.A. Times’ Gallery

A $5, 2 hour seminar to get buyers ready for the bottom

(10/8/08) I’ve been teaching brief buyers’ and sellers’ classes for the city of Lakewood for about 20 years now. I like to do a buyers’ class early in the fall each year in anticipation of the market bottom that usually occurs during the winter months (see “Real Estate 101: Our 2 market cycles.”)

Several months ago we scheduled this year’s class with Lakewood’s Community Services Department for this Saturday, October 11, from 9 – 11 a.m. at Lakewood’s Mayfair Park (details & registration link here). At the time, we were anticipating at least the annual market bottom and possibly a cyclical bottom as well, but we weren’t exactly anticipating the events of the last few weeks!

The current market presents that rare combination of low prices and low interest rates that usually mark a bottom. That bottom could be occurring right now, or it could still be years away. Regardless, smart buyers should prepare now for the bottom that eventually will come.

Our little class includes basics of buying, an overview of foreclosures, break-out sessions for first time buyers, move-up buyers, and investors, an overview of current lending options, and an up to the minute discussion of the current market and what may be anticipated. It’s open to all, whether Lakewood residents or not.

Blair and I were both teachers when we first went into real estate, and we enjoy getting back into a classroom setting from time to time. My decision to buy my first home way back in 1976 was largely based on information I received in a similar, but longer, Saturday class taught by Los Angeles realtor Scotty Herd for UCLA’s extension program. It gave Barb and I the information, tools, and confidence we needed to make that first purchase. The buyer and seller classes we do give us an opportunity to discuss real estate in a classroom, rather than selling, setting.

If you know of someone who may be thinking about buying in the next year or two, this course would be an excellent opportunity to get some useful information.

We’ll also be doing a similar class for sellers on January 24, same place, time & price (info & reg link here). You can also call us directly at 562.822-SOLD if you have questions or want additional information.

A Sellers’ Market!?!

“ECONOMY HAS HEADS SPINNING” my morning paper screamed at me a few days back before I’d even picked it up off the driveway. Stocks tanking, huge firms failing or being bailed out, DataQuick medians show yet another home price drop, and now the “$700 trillion dollar Federal Bailout.”

And we decide now’s the time to tell you it’s a sellers’ market?

Sort of.

What’s going on now:

You see, what we try to do here, as our masthead says, is give you “real estate news and perspectives from the front lines.” What we and our colleagues see going on right now at open houses and with buyers and sellers in Southern California.

So we’re 3 months ahead of DataQuick, whose monthly median closing price stats just reported August closings on sales that were negotiated mostly in June. We’re 5 – 6 months ahead of Case-Schiller, who averages 3 months of closings using their unique “matched pairs” approach and then delays a month to release.

So let me tell you what’s actually happening over the past 2 weeks:

  • Showings are up significantly at all of our listings priced below $500,000, and up modestly on our “move-up” inventory.
  • That offer I made a few weeks ago that I told you about (See “Who should buy between now and Christmas?“): Outbid. Swamped with competing offers. My “all cash, close in 10 days, as is” offer didn’t even get a phone call back!
  • Yesterday I surveyed several other agents I’ve known for years. Every one of them said buyer activity was up dramatically over the last few weeks.
  • Even my partner, Blair, & his wife are about to make an offer.

Why?

Pretty simple, actually. Summer just ended, prices have been coming down, and–oh, yeah–mortgage rates just plummeted:

  • August is almost always one of the slowest months of the year, but things generally pick up in September and October before slowing again as the holidays approach.
  • Foreclosures and pre-foreclosure “short sales” have been forcing prices down all year. Data Quick’s August median for OC was back to the level of November 2003! Vacation over, kids back in school, & buyers are noticing that neighborhood they couldn’t afford last year is now within their reach.
  • When the U.S. Government (that’s you & me, in case you didn’t notice) basically took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, confidence returned to the mortgage markets and rates dropped around a full point, with 30 year fixed loans at 5.5%! Rates have ticked up a bit since then, but are still near record lows.

What’s it mean?

Good question. Is it a seasonal blip or did we just pass the bottom, at least for starter homes in built-out areas? Well, part of it is seasonal, but that’s not the whole story. What happens next will largely be determined by the answer to five key questions:

  1. What will the economy do?
  2. What will interest rates do?
  3. What will mortgage rates do?
  4. Are foreclosures peaking?
  5. Have prices corrected enough?

The first two will tend to counter-balance each other. If the economy continues it’s sharp declines, both the fed and investors will combine to drop interest rates, both short and long term.

As for mortgage rates, with the feds supporting the market, we know the margin, or mark-up, for mortgages will stay at the more normal levels we’ve seen over the past few weeks. One of the biggest challenges for housing has just been met. Federal intervention is having some positive results for home sellers and buyers, as we’ve been predicting all year.

Foreclosures may be the key here. In California it takes about 4 months to foreclose on a home from filing the initial Notice of Default through the Trustee’s Sale. Longer if the owner files bankruptcy. It takes another 1 -3 months to get the occupant out and the home on the market. We know that the banks have been taking back record numbers of homes, assuring a continued influx of foreclosed homes hitting the market through year’s end.

We can also check on homes entering the foreclosure process (we give you two links for that under “Useful Links” in the column to the right, but we prefer the data in the “Preforeclosure” link.) A month ago, it looked like homes entering foreclosure were peaking, but recently released August stats are up for both Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Government relief for foreclosures is about to kick in next month, and the shakiest borrowers have already lost their homes. On the other hand, a sinking economy combined with coming payment “resets” (increases) on many adjustables may put more homeowners in jeopardy. This one may be “too close to call,” but I think by mid spring of 2008 the worst of the foreclosure market will be behind us.

Which brings us to question # 5. You’ll get plenty of debate on this, but the multiple bids on properly priced REOs make it pretty obvious to me that some prices have, indeed corrected enough, provided interest rates don’t rise dramatically & the economy doesn’t tank.

What prices have corrected enough? The prices that bring competitive bids: The fire-sale prices the lenders are now offering on starter single family homes in built-out markets. Pretty much what we said three weeks ago, except it’s happening now, not early next year.

Is this the bottom?

For SFRs in the coastal plane of OC & L.A. Counties, maybe so, maybe this December, maybe later. It largely depends on the economy, interest rates, and when foreclosures peak. Stay tuned, & we’ll keep you posted on what we’re seeing here on the front lines of So Cal Real estate.

Our 2-hour, $5 October Buyer Seminar:

We actually scheduled a two hour buyers seminar with the city of Lakewood’s Community Services Department several months ago. It’s open to everyone, not just Lakewood residents. It’s from 9 – 11 a.m. on Saturday, October11 at Lakewood’s Mayfair Park (Clark and South St.). We designed this to help buyers make the most of this fall and winter’s unusual buying opportunites. Class size is limited to allow interaction. Registration & more details here. It’s just $5, & we’re not selling  cds or books.  We’re both former teachers, & we enjoy a chance to discuss real estate in a “classroom” setting.