February

Keeping a Clean House - the simple way, part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series discussing some of the habits of people who always seem to have a clean house, regardless of when you might stop in. (You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series here.)

It's important to understand with all of these habits, that these are not "things to do in order to clean your house" or "extra steps needed in order to clean your house." These are simply habits that people have - people whose homes are generally clean.

These habits are more about time-shifting - doing things you will have to do at some point anyway, but doing them sooner and with more regularity. They're about changing your mindset to one where cleaning isn't a giant evil chore, but instead a simple completion of the current activity.

And with that, let's take a look at three more habits people with clean homes practice:

6.) Put your clothes away, everyday

When you get home from work, you change into your 'casual hanging out around the house clothes', right? But what do you do with your work clothes?

People who keep clean homes put them away. Dirty clothes go into the hamper. Jacket, belt, and tie get hung up. Shoes go back in the closet, and anything that might be worn again before being cleaned gets hung up or folded and put away.

The other clothes that get put away everyday are the newly folded laundry. Since you're doing laundry everyday, your clean clothes pile shouldn't be very big, so it's easy to put these few items away.

The payoff for Putting Your Clothes Away Everyday: No piles of dirty clothes lying around on the floor, no piles of clean clothes stacked to the ceiling and sitting on top of your dresser, and no confusion about where a particular piece of clothing might be.

7.) Clean as you go

People with clean homes tend to think of cleaning up as the final part of the task, rather than keeping it as a separate chore to do later.

Dinner - Clean the prep area and dishes while the main course is in the oven, and you only have to worry about half the mess after dinner is over. Clean up immediately after dinner (which shouldn't be too hard since your dishwasher was emptied in the morning), and you finish the night with a clean kitchen.

Projects, Games & Activities - Finish one (which means cleaning up and putting it away) before you get into the next one. And this one holds even more true for the kids - getting them into this habit will help keep your home cleaner as well as giving them a headstart on keeping clean as they get older. Board games, crafts and scrapbooks, sports equipment, homework - it all falls into the same pattern: get something out, play with or use it, and then put it away. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The payoff for Cleaning as you Go: Less clutter, and less cleaning chores to do. Spending a few seconds (board games) to a few minutes (dinner prep dishes) doesn't feel like much of a task, especially compared to a Saturday "power cleaning session" where you have to make a day out of the same work.

8.) Nighttime routine

You ate dinner, spent some family time together, watched a little tv, and helped the kids get ready for bed, before finally getting a chance to relax and unwind for the evening. People with clean homes use a few minutes of this time to finish up their day (tying up any loose ends) and prepare for tomorrow.

Picking out clothes to wear tomorrow, making tomorrow's lunch, and taking a walk through the house to tidy up and maybe turn off a light that had been left on or putting away a cup that had been left on the counter; these are all simple routines - things which don't take a lot of time or energy, but which are much easier to do without the time-stress-crunch of late-for-work or late-for-school of the morning.

The payoff for a Nighttime Routine

It's difficult to overstate how much calmer and easier some of these tasks are in the quiet of a late night house compared with the hectic stress of a running-late morning. Not only are the tasks themselves made simpler and more relaxing, but they now free up that much more time in the morning, which leads to less stress and less hectic mornings. It's a win-win.


These habits of people with generally clean homes, just like those we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2, are more about doing small tasks frequently compared with waiting around for a large chore to be required.
Spending one minute each day may be the same as spending seven minutes on the weekend, but you don't have clutter around the house when you do it each day, and you don't have to waste your weekend on cleaning chores.

I would even argue the larger chore will take more time than all the smaller tasks combined, due to lost pieces, confusion, or even stuck-on dirt and grime.

I hope you give these a try - hopefully you can get into a few of (or all of) these 8 habits. Your home will be forever cleaner if you do.

- Chris Butterworth

This was Part 3 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

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Real Estate Pricing - has the market recovered?

It's been a full year since I pulled some statistics from the ARMLS database and took a detailed look at pricing trends. In the meantime, I've had conversations with multiple people recently centered around the price of their home as compared to what it would have sold for "at the peak". Obviously, that seems like a good place to start looking around.

From Peak to Valley to Comeback?

The Phoenix real estate market peaked in August, 2006, as far as the lightning fast, white hot, crazy market went. Prices, however, continued to rise for another several months.

Once prices started dropping in 2007, they dropped fast and far, before bottoming out in late 2009 or early 2010.

For comparison purposes, I pulled sales data from the 4th Quarter of 2006, 2009, and 2015. This should give us a good read of where we've been and where we are currently.

Median Sales Price

Chart showing 4th Qtr 2006, 4th Qtr 2009, and 4th Qtr 2015 - for several cities in the East and West Valley. (click to enlarge)


It's clear that prices have rebounded a long way from the bottom, with a few cities' prices approaching their 2006 peak.

Here's the table containing the data, for those analysts out there.


Median Price per Square Foot

Same time frames, same cities, but this time we'll look at the price per square foot, as this will adjust for changes in prices due to larger or smaller homes being built over the last 10 years.



Well, the charts aren't identical to the Median Price charts - the 2015 numbers haven't rebounded quite as high as the median prices' chart. This means that homes are larger than they were in years past. But it doesn't change the trend; the peak-valley-rebound images are very similar to the previous charts.

Number of Homes Sold

Once again we'll pull the same time periods and cities, only this time we'll put pricing aside and just look at how many homes have sold.



What does this chart tell us? No, seriously, I'm asking you.. I've looked at these numbers two dozen times, and I'm not sure what they're saying, other than to point out that Phoenix is far and away the largest city in terms of housing units.

Some cities are relatively flat over all three periods, while others vary wildly, but I don't see a relationship to east-west, north-south, big-small, landlocked-outskirts, socioeconomic, etc.

Summary and Forecasting

What does all this mean? Well, that's the million dollar question.

Prices have been rising for seven years in a row, and they're getting close to peak levels in some cities. At the same time, I'm not sure how much wages have been rising. I know lots of people who are making the same amount (or less than) they made a decade ago, and not too many who are making significantly more. (although some of this is gut feeling, since I don't have access to everybody's current salary.)

It does feel as if employment levels have stabilized. I remember a time a few years ago when a job posting on craigslist brought about a hundred resumes on the first day. These days I know a couple companies who have had a harder time finding good help.

Last year I was worried about interest rates, or at least that there was so much more room for rates to increase compared with the opportunity for rate reductions. And what happened? Several countries' central banks have moved interest rates negative - banks have to actually pay interest to keep surplus money on hand!

I'm not smart enough to figure out what is going to happen next, but I can say this is a strange economic environment - one we've never seen before. And I still think interest rates have more room to increase than to decrease. (The next chart below is from last year's post, showing how much an interest rate change can affect monthly payments.)



Final Advice

I'm not going to tell you whether to buy, or sell, or what city is "hot", or anything else you should be doing with your investment dollars.

I'll simply advise to be careful. Cover your bets. Make decisions based on well-crafted plans. Don't be surprised if the market doesn't do exactly what you expected it to.

And give Cheryl and myself a call if you have any real estate needs! (that's my best advice, after all.)

- Chris Butterworth

* All data was pulled from the Arizona Regional MLS system, for Single Family Residence detached homes which successfully closed escrow between October 1st and December 31st of 2006, 2009, and 2015. Data is believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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What to expect from the market in 2015

The trouble with trouble is that you can't always see it coming; things will be going along just fine, until they aren't. And then it's too late. And then you're in trouble.

I'll start this post off by admitting I really don't know for sure what to expect from the market this year. (it seems like I say that every year lately). But I do have some concerns about headwinds (I've been saying that for a couple-few years too).

Let's take a look at some current local and global economic trends to see if we can discern what we might have in store...

Market Momentum

Local real estate prices are up about 10% - 15% over the last couple of years, or about 5% - 7% per year. That's a little too fast to be sustainable, but rising prices are generally considered a good thing. Buyers are more confident in their purchase, and even a little bit motivated to make an offer before prices go up again. Sellers gain confidence from knowing what they'll be able to net based on recent sales, as opposed to a falling market where sellers either panic or stay put.

(click on any chart or image to embiggen)

Maricopa County SFR Sale Price year over year


ARMLS sales data
sales data provided by ARMLS and is deemed accurate but not guaranteed.


However, market momentum only goes so far. Momentum can be fickle, and when it changes it can change on a dime.

Interest Rates

Interest rates are low. Very low. All time, record setting, once in a lifetime low. I'm not going to predict rising rates this year - heck, rates might stay where they are for a long time. They might even drop lower.

30 Year mortgage rates


current 30 year mortgage rates
charts provided by the Federal Reserve Economic Data website


But, taking an objective approach, how much lower could they really go? Could we see a 30-year mortgage at 3.0%? 2.5%? Maybe. Rates have been close to zero in Japan for a generation, so there is a precedent. Unfortunately Japan has other problems which are offsetting, or forcing, those low interest rates, and none of those problems are conducive to a healthy real estate market.

On the flip side, it doesn't take much creativity to imagine a 30-year mortgage at 5% or 6%. And the difference?

A $300,000 house with a 20% down payment and an 80% loan ($240,000) will have a monthly mortgage payment of $1,111 at today's 3.75%. That same $1,111 payment could buy a $329,538 house if rates fall to 3.0%, but it can only purchase a $258,810 house if rates rise to 5.0%. (or $231,731 at 6.0%!) - see charts below.


payment on $300,000 house at various interest rates


monthly payment comparison at various interest rates


Interest rates can have a massive impact on our market, and they have more room to rise than fall from where they are today.

Rising Dollar

I'm not smart enough to outline exactly why the Dollar is rising against foreign currencies - something to do with the coming economic problems in Europe and Japan being nearer to the forefront than the problems in the US, so globally people would prefer to hold Dollars rather than Euros or Yen, thinking the former is more likely to hold its value. And of course the price of a good or service (Dollars in this case) will increase with the rise in demand.



charts clipped from google finance

What does this mean for us? Here are is an over simplified example:

Let's say Apple is a US company and sells iPhones for $500. And let's say Samsung is a South Korean company who sells Galaxy phones for 500,000 Korean Won, which was about $500 last summer when $1 was worth 1,000 KRW. Competitive products with competitive pricing.

However, since the US Dollar is now up about 10% compared with the Korean Won ($1 is now worth 1,100 KRW), the competitive landscape has changed. In order for Apple to earn $500 on an iPhone in South Korea, they need to charge 550,000 Won, which makes their product more expensive than the South Korean local product, which is likely to negatively impact Apple's sales. OR, Apple can continue to charge 500,000 Won for an iPhone, but that only equates to $455, which negatively affects their profits. Either way, Apple loses in Korea.

On the other hand, Samsung can now sell its Galaxy phones for $455 in the US and earn the same 500,000 Won, or they can keep the price at $500 in the US and earn 550,000 Won for each phone. They'll either sell more phones at a lower price or earn more profit on each phone sold. Either way, Samsung wins in the US.

Apple is now earning less money on their phones sold overseas, and they're facing increased competition from overseas manufacturers here at home. This is likely to have a negative impact on Apple's financials, at least in the short term. This makes Apple less likely to add new jobs, build new factories, open new stores, etc. And that's for one of the strongest companies in the world. Weaker companies may be forced to lay-off employees and close stores.

This will be true for every company in every industry who either sells products overseas, or who competes in an industry with foreign companies. (Namely, just about every company in America!) General Motors, General Electric, Intel, Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Caterpillar, Johnson & Johnson, etc. etc. etc., just to name a few.

I don't see upward pressure on wages in a market where every American company is facing increased pricing pressure from foreign competitors. And I don't see upward pressure on housing prices without upward pressure on wages...

Oil Prices

Gas prices have been awesome lately, and I loved filling up my tank for less than $20 a couple weeks ago. I think lower gas prices would help the real estate economy if these new prices were here to stay, and we could all count on spending less at the pump each month. Folks would have more discretionary income to spend, which they might funnel back into a mortgage payment, or they would feel better about buying out in the suburbs and commuting a little further.

photo taken 1/26/15

Unfortunately, history isn't on our side. Here is a 10-year look at gas prices, and we're currently near the very bottom of the chart. The other side of the coin, with gas prices near $4 per gallon, seems just as likely as today's sub-$2 gas, and that would have a dampening effect on our home prices.

historical gas prices
source: gasbuddy.com

"Typical Family Moves"

I've been saying this for years now, but the one thing missing from our real estate market is the one thing that was a staple of our market for decades: people moving locally from one house to another - either to a larger home, or a better neighborhood, or a different school district. For decades this was a staple of the Phoenix area market, and it has all but disappeared. Forget what I'm seeing in "the market", think about your own personal life - how many people do you know who have moved in the last year just because they wanted to, and not because of some other external factor (divorce, job change, family crises, etc.) I bet you can't name more than a couple..

Someday people will move again more freely, but right now that isn't a significant part of our market, and I don't see that changing this year.

In the End

I'm not here to say prices are too high, or too low, or to make any other bold predictions. Right now people are selling houses and others are buying them, so whatever price they agreed to must be fair. Unfortunately I'm seeing a market which still hasn't fully recovered from the collapse in 2008, along with a macro-economic environment which has more potentials for bad news than good. If I had to pick a direction, I might lean towards a slower market later this year.

Buyers - now is a great time to lock in a historically low interest rate. Your monthly payment could still be lower than it would be if prices drop but interest rates increase.

Sellers - now may be a great time to take advantage of a market where there are plenty of buyers using low interest rate loans and an upward trend in pricing.

But in either case, you'll want to do what makes sense for you and your family. Buying probably isn't a great idea if you're unsure about your job security, or if you'll need to move again in a couple years. Selling won't work if you don't have another place to live that meets your needs.

Bottom line is we really don't know what is going to happen this year. Your best bet is to think about an optimistic and a pessimistic scenario, and weigh your decisions accordingly.

- Chris Butterworth

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Market Update for January 2014

Market Update for January 2014


My last market conditions update was in May of last year. At that time, the market was red hot, which made me sound crazy for being more bear than bull. I couldn't explain why prices were rising so fast, and I had plenty of concerns about the downside.

The market has slowed quite a bit since then. Fortunately we haven't had a bubble-burst, but today's market seems more in line with the reality of the current job/income environment, where many people are still making less money than they did 5-8 years ago. Good, clean, well-presented homes with reasonable price tags are selling within a couple-few months, while homes which show poorly and/or are overpriced linger on the market.

Here are the charts..

Inventory is on the rise again, after falling to a level where there simply weren't any homes for sale in many neighborhoods last summer.



Inventory is defined as the number of months it would take to sell all the current listings (Active AND Under Contract but seeking Backup offers) at the current rate of sales (# of homes sold w/in the last 30 days.)

The general rule of thumb is that 4-6 months' inventory represents a balanced market. The concern here is that if inventory gets above 6 months, we'll be in a buyers' market, which means prices will start falling.

Active and Sold Homes - these are the numbers that make up the inventory.



Notice last summer we had almost as many sales as active listings, but the gap between the two has grown steadily since then. And while our market is cyclical (hotter in the summers), comparing January this year to January last year shows how much we've slowed down.

Each month there are more people who want to sell their homes than there are actual buyers. This is creating a lot of competition among the sellers, and giving buyers plenty of homes to choose from within their price range and neighborhoods.

Median Prices



There are two things about this chart that jump off the page at me:

1.) The large difference between the median price of Active Listings and the median price of Sold homes. This makes it pretty obvious that the lower priced homes are selling, while the higher priced homes are sitting on the market.

2.) The median Sold price has leveled off over the last 6-8 months, while the Active Listings' prices continue to rise. It looks as though the sellers haven't gotten the memo that the market has slowed down.

Conclusion / Concerns / Predictions

The market has slowed down, for sure. But so far it hasn't crashed. I am still firmly planted in the "bear" camp, or at the very least I'm not running with the bulls. I am hopeful we can watch the market move sideways for awhile rather than moving lower. Unfortunately I still have many downside concerns, and little to no upside expectations:

  • I don't think jobs and incomes are supporting the current prices; buyers are having to reach deep into their budgets to afford the neighborhoods where they feel comfortable.
  • Interest rates are still really really really low, although they are up about 0.5% (give or take) from last May. Maybe this is part of the slowdown... But any small increase in rates could cause a dramatic decrease in demand from buyers.
  • Mainstream media hasn't yet reported on the market slowdown. (which is normal, since they're usually 6-12 months behind the trends.) But once they do, buyers will immediately, and en masse, start dropping their asking prices significantly.
  • Downward Spiral - once buyers believe prices are falling, there is no longer any pressure to make an offer. In fact, they'll believe waiting until prices fall even lower is the smart play. When that happens, we'll see sellers dropping prices by large amounts to incentivize an offer.
  • Vacant Homes (anecdotal only - no charts today) - We're still seeing a large number of vacant homes on the market, which means the market is still far from being recovered. And it's hard to make a case for a strong market when we can't make the case that it has even recovered from the 2008 crater.
  • Families not moving - a couple months ago I spoke with my first family in several years who is selling one home and buying another, just because they want to make a move. (different size, different neighborhood, etc.) Almost every buyer and seller we've spoken to in the last few years has had an external reason for buying or selling - moving into/out of state, death in the family, divorce, marriage, retirement, etc. Again, these are not the signs of a healthy and recovered market.
  • Time on our side - the longer term good news is that we're getting further away from the 2008-2010 years of record foreclosures. Many of the people who lost everything are (or will be) back on their feet, with stable employment and repaired credit. Unfortunately it can take a long time to rebuild a nest egg, and down payments aren't always small. Eventually many of these people will be buyers once again, but I don't see a tidal wave of demand coming from this population this year.

Overall, the charts aren't painting an optimistic picture, but so far they aren't showing us any reason to press the panic button either.

If you need to sell your house, go ahead and do so. (but please call us to help!) Just be prepared to put in some effort to make sure it looks as good as possible, because you'll have more competition than you probably want.

And if you're thinking about buying, great! You can lock in today's low interest rates, and take your time looking for just the right home. Then, as long as you can comfortably make the mortgage payment and you have longer term plans, you'll be fine - even if prices do dip a little bit from here.

Either way, I'd proceed, but I'd do so with caution.

Your "being honest and hoping you don't shoot the messenger" Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

3 Ikea hacks worth sharing

3 Ikea hacks worth sharing


What do you do when the perfect item isn't available, or it's only available at a specialty store and costs a thousand dollars more than your budget?

Enter IkeaHackers, a site where people share their creative ideas for using Ikea furniture and products in ways other than what Ikea originally intended.

Here are 3 such ideas I found interesting, and quite possibly useful, for an average home:

Bathroom Vanity from HEMNES Dresser



1.) Take a HEMNES dresser from Ikea.

2.) Get the perfect sink and vanity top.

3.) Hollow out part of the dresser for the plumbing.



4.) Voila! a unique vanity with plenty of storage space.

Read the entire post, with step by step directions, here.


Floating EXPEDIT Shelves

The directions included with the Expedit Shelves clearly show they shouldn't be hung from the wall. However, one crafty homeowner was able to use L Brackets, screwed into the studs, to provide enough support for the shelving units.

hanging (floating) expedit shelves

Read the entire post, with step by step directions, here.


The Frame Hanger

An idea that's so simple, yet so useful.

picture frame hanger


Full post here.

Left as is, the knob gives the picture frame some added depth and texture, which makes an interesting design statement.

I could see this as a useful (and decorative) tool for hanging necklaces and other jewelry. You could easily add multiple knobs or hooks to each frame, and who says the frame has to be antique and rustic? I'm picturing framed photos of the kids as necklace-storage for Mother's Day later this spring..!


What do you think? Do you have any other hacks worth sharing?

-Chris Butterworth

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the Best Password Tip Ever for Online Security

the Best Password Tip Ever for Online Security


Imagine you're about to log into (or sign up for) a popular service, using a screen like this:

login with facebook or twitter screen


You click the Login with Facebook option, because it's easy - one less password to remember. (and that ubiquitous blue and white F is everywhere..)

But this site is a spoof, made by hackers and thieves to look just like a regular site. When you input your Facebook information, they now own 3 very important pieces of your life:

  1. Your password
  2. Your email address
  3. Your Facebook account


If you use the same password for most (or all) of your websites, like most people do, you're screwed. (It doesn't matter that your password is long and complicated if you give it to them!)

1.) Your password

First thing they'll do is visit the major banks' websites - Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, etc., along with the major investment bankers, and see if that email address and password combination gets them in. If it does, you can kiss your money good-bye.

2.) Your email address

Next they'll log into your email account to look for any other accounts they might have missed. You know those confirmation emails you get when you sign up for online account management? If you archive those so you have a copy in case you ever need it, the bad guys now have a copy too. And of course they'll look for other emails where you might have reset your password along the way, so they can find multiple versions of your passwords.

3.) Your Facebook account

If the first two weren't enough, they may use your Facebook account to try to trick your friends and family members into sending "you" money and/or their own personal information.

Being Smarter with your passwords

Obviously it would be better to have a different password for every website you visit. But, you can't be expected to remember dozens of long, complicated passwords. And if you write them down, or keep them in your computer or online, you're just giving a treasure chest to the thief who gets there first..

One Password to Rule Them All

(yes, that's a Lord of the Rings reference. But I haven't seen the Hobbit yet..)

Here is an easy, step-by-step guide to making a really complicated password, easy for you to remember, that's different for every website.

1.) Get a catch phrase. Think of a phrase that's a few words long and contains a number.

  • Labron, #6 - Best Player Ever
  • Motley Crue Rocked in '87
  • My 2 boys are Awesome!
  • 122 degrees is too hot! (that was the hottest temperature ever in Phoenix)


2.) Shorten that catch phrase down to letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.

  • L#6bpE
  • mcR'87
  • m2baA!
  • 122^itH

This is your new Base Password. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

3.) Customize it for each website by using that website's name. You can do this by adding the website's first letter to your base password, or by adding the number of letters in the website's name, or any combination of attributes. Here are some examples:

Yahoo!

  • add a "y" to the beginning of your base password, and a 6 (# of letters) to the end: yL#6bpE6
  • add a "YA" (first 2 letters) to the end of your base password: L#6bpEYA
  • add a "y" to the front and an "a" to the end of your base password: yL#6bpEa


Facebook (using the same 3 options as above):

  • fL#6bpE8 (added an f in front, 8 in back)
  • L#6bpEFA (added 1st 2 letters, in caps, at end)
  • fL#6bpEa (added 1st letter in front, 2nd letter at end)


4.) Make a note of your new password, if you must, using shorthand.

I keep a list of all my sites' login information (in a secret place!), because sometimes websites don't allow special characters, or sometimes I have a username instead of an email address, or for whatever other reason the password plan might not be perfect. But I NEVER write out my full usernames or passwords - I use abbreviations just to remind myself.

For the 1st Yahoo! example above, I might make a note that says:

  • Yahoo RE y6

RE (stands for Regular Email address is my username)
y6 (y at the beginning, 6 at the end)

Anyone seeing a note that reads: "Yahoo - RE - y6" won't be able to hack into my account.

That's it. An easy to remember catch phrase becomes a unique for each site, impossible to crack series of passwords.

If you're using this system and someone hacks your Facebook account - who cares? You might be able to have your password reset, or you might even have to delete that account and start over. But you won't have to worry about your retirement account disappearing!

laptop locked up tight
image credit - Microsoft Clipart

Bonus Tips

* Check the URL. Before you input your login information into a website, even if it's a site you use regularly, check the URL at the top of your browser to make sure it's right. If something doesn't look right, try exiting the page and hand-typing the correct URL instead.

* Check-Ins are Bad. When you check-in on your social media site, you're letting people know you aren't home. Even worse are those short, quick posts like:
Family movie night - Yay! The kids are so excited to see the new Spider Man! :-)
You just told the whole world that you're not going to be home for a couple-few hours. Seems like a great time for a bad guy to let himself into your house, no? Better to hold off on this post until AFTER the movie, and let everyone know how much the kids loved the movie instead..

* Think. Treat your online security like you do your offline security. Lock your doors, don't be gullible with strangers, be observant of your surroundings, don't put yourself in danger's way, etc. We teach these things to our kids, and then spend a lifetime practicing them. But then we act completely differently online.. Doesn't make sense.

It's not hard to think of a catch phrase, and it's not hard to change your password on most sites. Hopefully you take action on this, and start protecting yourself and your family today.

Please feel free to call, email, or comment below if you want to discuss this further..

-Chris Butterworth

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taming the garage - ideas for storage and organization

taming the garage - ideas for storage and organization


(lots of photos below)

Taming the garage is one of those never ending battles; the more organized you get, the more space you create, the more stuff you store in the garage, the more crowded the garage gets! But, a well-organized garage is a thing of beauty - everything is out of the way, protected from the elements, and right where you need it, just when you need it.

Here are four simple rules of thumb to getting the most out of your garage:

1.) Vertical Storage. Your ideal storage space is up in the air - high enough that you aren't walking around it or bumping your car door against it. Anything you store at ground level makes your garage smaller - less space to park and move around in. Storage above six feet in the air is like free space, with no effect on your daily use.

2.) Containers. Having loose items everywhere is a recipe for clutter, where things get lost, ruined, or in the way. You can have big containers, small containers, flat containers, long containers - whatever you need. Keep similar stuff inside each container, and use a label maker to label what's inside.

3.) Purge. That $200 specialty tool that you use every few years? Sure, keep it (especially if it fits in a container) - it's too expensive to replace. But the $19 extended-length thingamajing that you haven't used since '04? Get rid of it! You want to keep stuff that you actually use. There's no reason to be a hoarder.

4.) Be Creative. Shelves, racks, hooks, peg boards, lofts, nets, color coding,  - anything is fair game. Take a spin around the internet (or home depot) and see what catches your eye.

Here are some ideas to get you started...

Shelving Units get stuff up off the floor, and come in lots of different styles - free standing, built into the wall, adjustable. Some can hold smaller items; others can hold several hundred pounds per shelf.




Lowe's




Bikes take up a ton of floor space. A good bike racking system can go a long way towards a clean and organized garage.





Overhead Shelves and Racks. These are my favorites - strong and sturdy, big, up and out of the way. I think every garage should have some of these..










Overhead shelves with Pulleys




Car Racking Systems. Maybe you have a car in the garage that you don't want to get rid of but that you rarely ever drive - have you considered "lifting" it up and out of the way?





Containers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. (so do label makers!)









Lowe's




Peg Boards help give your tools a home. (again, up and out of the way..)


Lowe's


You could always go all-out and build a full on man cave.




Garage Door - I found these garage door stickers a few years ago and thought they were awesome. (I'm not sure your HOA would approve, though..)












OK, that's enough gratuitous pictures - you get the point. Give your garage a little thought and a little effort, and it will give back a lot of pride and usefulness. (and when it comes time to sell your home, a well-organized garage makes buyers ooh and ahh...)

What am I missing? What great garage ideas have you seen?

-Chris Butterworth

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Interesting Articles 2-20-12

These are articles I highlighted in my Viewpoint Newsletter last week, which went out to subscribers on Valentine’s Day.  I hope you find them as interesting as I did.


Want a date?  Buy a home.  From CNN.com, and because it’s Valentine’s Day.  ;-)


Banks Paying as Much as $35,000 Cash to Homeowners in Short Sales; Why and How Many?  from Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis.  I’ve been trying to understand it since 2007, and I’ve been unable to explain why, banks have preferred to go to foreclosure when there was a perfectly good short sale offer on the table.  It seemed like they actually *wanted* to take less money later than more money today – the exact opposite of what everyone in the world would consider a good idea.  Well, 5 years later, the banks are coming around.  Hooray (said dripping with sarcasm.)


Housing: The Two Bottoms, by Calculated Risk.  Showing most housing downturns have 2 bottoms – 1 for new housing starts, and the other for pricing.  Looks like we’re at, or very close to, the 2nd bottom.


More evidence on benefits of barefoot running, from Hunter-Gatherer.  I’m a HUGE believer in barefoot (& minimalist) running; I train exclusively in Vibram Five Fingers (see my photo below).  So when (yet another) study backs me up, I just have to share it with you.


Workspace of the Week: Inspiring cord management, by unclutterer.  Every desk has lots of cords – computer, monitor, speakers, lighting, external usb stuff, chargers, power strip, etc.  A picture is worth 1,000 words, and this picture is pretty smart!


That’s me last spring, during the bike-to-run transition at a triathlon at Lake Pleasant.  And yes, those are my trusty VFF KSOs!


Have a great week out there!


-Chris Butterworth


Is buying cheaper than renting?

Is buying cheaper than renting?

In order to compare buying to renting, I'll need to pull similar data from the MLS.  I'll also need to make some assumptions about the variables involved in a purchase transaction which will impact the monthly cost.  So, let's start with my assumptions:

Since we're comparing buying against renting, I'll assume buyers are using an FHA loan with minimum down payments.



  • FHA loan - 3.5% down payment


  • FHA loan - 2.25% up front premium (rolled into loan)


  • FHA loan - 0.55%/yr annual premium


  • Homeowner's Insurance - 0.35%/yr of cost to rebuild.  For this example, let's assume the cost to rebuild is $100/sqft.


  • Property Taxes - varies, let's assume 0.7% of sales price for this exercise.


  • Interest Rates - assume 4.5% (bankrate.com, with credit score from 680-699, shows 7 lenders with apr < 4.5%)


  • ** my numbers should get us in the ballpark – close enough to make a valid comparison.  If anyone sees something grossly inaccurate, please let me know.

Next, I pulled data from the MLS based on the following:




  • Single Family Detached Homes


  • Sold / Rented in January, 2012


  • Located in Zip Codes 85382 and 85383 (North Peoria)


  • Print-outs of the data can be found here for rentals and here for purchases.

Finally, I took the purchase data & ran each home through the above FHA formulas to determine how much a buyer would spend per month & per year.  I also annualized the monthly rent rates so I could compare the annual costs of renting vs buying.


So, what were the results?  Take a look below:











































VariablePurchasedRented
Range of Size (sqft)1,190 – 4,8031,091 – 4,933
Median Size2,111 sqft1,968 sqft
Average Size2,247 sqft2,175 sqft
Average Yr Built20012000
% w/ pool45%49%
Avg Annual Cost, 1,500 – 2,000 sqft$11,510$15,698
# properties, above4734
Avg Annual Cost, 2,001 – 2,500 sqft$16,341$17,063
# properties, above3320


Wow – that is significant!  Based on a decent-size sample of properties, in the 1,500 – 2,000 square foot range, it costs 36% more to rent than to buy in today’s market!!


-Chris Butterworth

Vacant Home Sales by Month - January 2012

I normally post quite a few charts each month in an attempt to keep tabs on the level of distressed activity in the marketplace.  I look at new listings owned by the banks, short sale activity, percentages of sales by types of owner, etc. etc.  But for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to tone it down a bit – let’s take a look at just one measurement:  vacancies.



It doesn’t matter whether the homes are owned by banks, or they’re being sold short, or they’re owned by investors; fewer vacant homes and more occupied homes makes for a more ‘recovered’ market.



So, with that in mind, let’s see what’s going on.  Here’s a chart showing the number of homes sold each month, broken out by occupancy. (click to enlarge).





Forget all the talk about inventory shortages, rising prices, low interest rates, etc.  When those two lines converge & switch places, we’ll be on the road to recovery.  Let’s keep our eyes on them.



-Chris Butterworth

Maricopa County Sales Charts - January 2012

Here’s a look at the recent trends county-wide.  I’m pulling a rolling 13-month history so we can see the last year’s trends plus a comparison of this month to the same month last year..



The number of sold homes looks to either be seasonally deflated or we’re facing a severe downward trend.  But the Avg Price per Sqft and the Days on Market charts are clearly showing the upward pressure I’ve been writing about..



Specific Zip Code reports are now available!  If you’d like to see how the sales activity in your zip code compares with the county as a whole, just click here to sign up, and you’ll receive your zip code report via email each month.



and now, on to the reports.  (click each chart to embiggen)



Number of Homes Sold by Month





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Average Sold Price





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Average Price per Square Foot





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Average Number of Days on Market





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** The data for all these charts represents Single Family Homes sold in Maricopa County via the MLS.  All data was pulled from the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, and is thought to be accurate but is not guaranteed.  Please do not make any life-changing decisions based solely on the information contained herein.



Questions, comments, suggestions?  Please give me a call/email anytime – I’d love to hear from you!



- Chris Butterworth

Interesting Articles 2-7-12

Here are a few recent articles I found interesting enough to share.  I hope you enjoy them.



Housing Policy Changes - a quick look at some of the changes coming in the next few months with regards to federal housing policy, specifically distressed housing.  by Calculated Risk.



**note - I offered the Fed a suggestion of renting out foreclosed properties 3 years ago.  just sayin'.



Cheaper to own a Phoenix home than to rent a Phoenix home - friend and Realtor John Wake found this article, showing what we knew to be true.. to be true. (according to the Wall Street Journal)  I will delve deeper into this topic for my next Viewpoint newsletter – which you can sign up for here.



The Clutterfat Challenge: Transform Your Living Space in a Month - an interesting challenge from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, but a concept I really like.  I did not participate in this challenge specifically, but I have eliminated a lot of my own clutter over the last year, and I agree with the 'simple is better' philosophy (up to a certain point!)



How We Paid Cash for Our First Home - a post on the Get Rich Slowly blog.  On one hand, it shows how easy things can be when you have a big salary.  On the other hand, it shows the power of dedication and focus towards savings.



Death to Pennies - a 4:31 video making a great case for why the penny needs to be eliminated, produced by C.G.P. Grey.  If you like it, click around his site to sample his other videos.



App of the Week: Paper Camera – 40tech highlighted this app of the week.  I think it looks fun, and will most likely download it soon.



That’s all for now.



-Chris Butterworth

What will 2012 bring?

Will the Phoenix area housing market recover in 2012? That's the big question. Listing inventory is next to nothing, days on the market is trending down, prices are inching upwards, and the tide of bank-involved activity is receding. That all sounds like the stuff of recoveries, no?

A couple years ago I thought this is exactly what the start of the recovery would look like. Banks go away, prompting "regular" sellers, who no longer have to compete with the banks, to raise their prices a bit. As prices rise, more sellers are no longer upside-down and are able to sell. Buyers appear in the form of former homeowners who have been renting for the last few years and are now ready to own a home again (from a credit worthiness perspective.) Eventually the market becomes more like normal than we've seen in about a decade. I've even read others expressing the same thoughts within the last few months. Unfortunately, today I'm not so sure..

As I watch the market and talk to various people, I'm seeing 2 factors which make me think this recovery will be slower than anyone is expecting.

1.) Few Buyers - even though many people lost their homes in waves over the last few years, they aren't coming back into the purchase market in waves. Maybe it's taking them longer to get their financial houses back in order. Maybe it's more difficult than expected to save up for a down payment. Maybe people are gun shy about buying and are comfortable with the lack of commitment offered by renting. Regardless of the why, it's becoming clear the buyers will come back into the market as a trickle over many years, rather than in waves over a few years.

2.) Few Sellers - I can't even count the number of homeowners I talked with over the last few years who decided prices were too low today (and falling), and they wanted to wait for the market to stabilize and come back a bit before they'll be ready to sell. These would-be sellers are now facing a couple hurdles:

a) Money - the market simply isn't going to spike the 20-30% these homeowners are looking for anytime soon. If they can't see the other side of the equation - that the home they want to buy is also reduced in price AND interest rates are ridiculously low, which means moving today probably makes sense regardless of the actual prices involved. If they want to move but can't get over the pricing hurdle, they'll most likely end up waiting for awhile longer.

b) Time - take this example: moving made sense in 2007 when the family had kids of 8, 5, and 2. They thought it would be great to have an extra bedroom and upgrade to a better neighborhood, but they weren't able to pull the trigger as prices fell. Today the kids are 13, 10, and 7. The family has already figured out the shared bedroom situation, the kids are deep into school & don't want to leave friends behind when they move to new schools, and the family only has 15 years left on their mortgage (which they've probably refinanced to 5%). It no longer makes sense for this family to move. They'll probably stay put until the youngest kid goes to college.

I'd love to be wrong, but I'm forecasting a long, slow, gradual recovery, with each year being a little better than the last. Of course, this is all subject to change if the government can't balance it's budget and interest rates double from where they are today...

-Chris Butterworth

Zip Code Charts are out for December 2011

I've updated and published my Zip Code charts for last month's activity, December 2011.

Email subscribers should have received an email yesterday - let me know if you didn't get an email or had trouble with any of the links.

Anyone else want to see the activity in your own zip code? You can sign up here (and it's free!)

-Chris Butterworth

What time of day do people search for homes?

I saw this on visual.ly this morning and thought it was interesting.

house hunting by day and time

If you click through to the site, you can fine-tune the chart to be state &/or computer-type specific.

Most interesting stat: almost 20% of all online traffic came via cell phones and tablets. That's one in five, and the numbers are just starting to explode upwards - I won't be surprised if it's 50-50 in a few years.

- Chris Butterworth

Top 3 tips to short sell your Phoenix home

Stock Exchange image ID 1098685 by user svilen001You can avoid foreclosure and instead do a short sale on your Phoenix area home. Short sales are not always easy, and not always short, but they can be done when you work with experienced professionals. Here are our top 3 tips for successfully requesting and completing a short sale with your mortgage lender.

1. Hire a Realtor with a record. It’s important to hire a professional, full time Realtor who’s got a track record of successfully selling short sales in Phoenix. Ask for information about their prior successes, but be skeptical of agents who claim to “have a 95% success rate”.  Success rate at what? As of winter 2010-2011, only 15% of the short sale homes listed in the MLS actually close. It’s unlikely that any agent has a 95% success rate at closing every attempted short sale. Don’t rely on claims of success: ask for references from past clients and call them for reviews.

2. Get your documents ready early. In order to complete a short sale of your metro Phoenix home, your lender will require copies of tax returns, bank statements, proof of income and other debts, and your “hardship letter” which is a short letter explaining why you’re requesting the short sale. The earlier these things are available, the better.  Contact a professional – CPA, attorney and Realtor - for help figuring out what documents you need to attempt a short sale.

3. Know the implications of a short sale of your home. There are tax and credit score consequences of a short sale. Your credit score will sustain some damage: contact a credit non-profit housing counselor or do some online research about managing your credit. The amount of debt forgiven by your lender could be considered taxable income. As of Winter 2010-2011 there are federal waivers in place and the IRS will not treat debt forgiven in a short sale as income. But the writers of this blog are not attorneys or accountants. Please contact your attorney and/or your accountant to find out the tax rules that apply to you now.

Need more help? This blog is run by Chris & Heather, The Phoenix Agents @ Thompson’s Realty. We’re a boutique brokerage of 20 or 30 dedicated, full time professionals. We really do have a good track record at helping homeowners avoid foreclosure by completing a short sale. Give us a call, a text, an email or a Tweet. We’re here to help and look forward to speaking with you about your unique situation.

7 Best Free Softwares

Lately I’ve come to realize that I’m reliant on free software, mostly cloud-based, which in most cases I didn’t even know existed a year ago!  These 7 applications are not just cool – they’ve made my life easier:

1. Evernote

The first thing I open when I turn on my computer (any of my computers), and the app I use most frequently on my phone.

Evernote is advertised as being your second brain, and that’s not far off from the truth!  It’s a place where you can store notes to yourself regarding any topic.  Add in some web pages, screen clips, pdf files, photos, or any other file-type.  Then make them extremely sortable, searchable, taggable, and easily shareable.  And make them all readily available from any computer – completely in sync.  It’s a WOW product, and yes – it’s free!

The syncing is amazing – I have the exact same notes available from my laptop, my desktop, my phone, my wife’s laptop, and any other computer with internet access.

I started slowly, using it as a place to store blogging ideas and other thoughts from around the web.  But I realized how good it was and I quickly started adding other uses.  Some of my uses include:

  • Client notes & conversation logs
  • Kids’ school projects – no more file cabinets filled with “stuff”!
  • Family medical records – another file drawer emptied.
  • Writing ideas & research
  • Action items
  • Vacation research, planning, and notes
  • Quicknotes for people’s names I can’t forget
  • Recipes
  • Dozens of others – I have approx. 900 notes scattered across 5 notebook “stacks”, 50 notebooks, and 5 tags.

Full disclosure – I used the free version for a few months before upgrading the the premium version ($45/yr), which offers more storage space, larger individual note size, and unlimited file-types can be uploaded.

2. Mint

I used Quicken to organize my bank accounts since the mid-90s – first by manually entering every single receipt, then over the last couple of years downloading our account activity directly from Wells Fargo into Quicken.

This year, on January 1st, I made the switch to Mint.com for tracking and reviewing my checking account, and I’m amazed by how good the program works.  (and it’s free!)

My banking activity is automatically populated into Mint – no more logging into wells.com to download my activity.  Each expense is placed into the appropriate category (you can use Mint’s default categories or you can create your own, which I did.)  I had to teach the program which category to use the first time an expense showed up, but after that it automatically puts the expense into the right category.  And the one click charting/reporting is easy to read yet powerful.

In summary, it’s free, it works well, it’s a faster way to keep track of something I was already doing, and it’s available from any computer (including my phone.)  Yep, that’s a winner.

3. Google Suite

I was the biggest Microsoft honk out there, so the switch to Google was not simple, nor was it quick.  I’ve been slowly migrating since 2008, but now I’m all-in.  I still have an Access database with all the MLS sales since 2000 in it, and I still have an Excel spreadsheet which pulls data from that database and then uses several pivot tables and pivot charts to sift through it all.  But other than that all the documents I work on regularly have been converted or replaced.

  • Gmail – easy to use, plays nice with others, easily taggable and searchable, and has the best spam filter I’ve ever seen.  I use Outlook as a way to backup my email locally, just in case.  But my gmail pulls all my other email addresses into one place.
  • Calendar – I’m able to see my calendar, along with my wife’s and my business partner’s, all in one place (and on my phone), with changes or new appointments showing up in real time.
  • Documents – word docs or spreadsheets, with almost all the functionality of MS Office.  But they’re easily accessed from any computer, and they’re shareable with others, to the point where multiple people can be editing the same spreadsheet at the same time.  And they’re easy to use from my phone!
  • Reader – my rss reader, where I can easily scan through the dozens of blogs I read.
  • Bookmarks – I bookmark my favorite websites using Google Bookmarks, so I have them available regardless of what computer I’m using.
  • Picasa – my favorite photo-editing software.  I still can’t believe this is free.
  • Picasa Web Albums – my favorite way to share photos.
  • Tasks, Blogger, Analytics, Fusion Tables, Alerts…  and more!
  • IGoogle – then I use IGoogle as my homepage, so I can see all of these items at a glance.

It’s free, replaces things I was already using (or in some cases adding functionality I didn’t have before), and available from any computer including my phone.  Another winner.

4. Syncback

It’s hard to get too excited about a backup service, but last month when Mozy raised their prices from $60/yr to $168/yr, I had to make a change!

Enter Syncback.  It’s free, and it works flawlessly.  I now backup my approx 150 gb of data to 2 different external drives, and Syncback manages everything.  Best of all, it uses a regular ‘ol file-tree system, so I can easily navigate my external drives to see &/or restore any file I need.  (not like some backup services which encrypt & zip the backup sets, so you’re left to hope everything is ok…)

5. Android

This might be a reach, because Android is an operating system and not a software application, but I can’t leave it off the list.

I bought an HTC Incredible phone a couple of months ago, and I am absolutely blown away by it – to the point I wish my computer could be just like my phone!  Over the last decade I’ve owned a Handspring Visor-phone, multiple Treos running both palm and windows os (the 600p, my first one, was my favorite), a Motorola Q, an older-generation Blackberry, a Blackberry Pearl, and a Blackberry Storm2.  And this Incredible is like something else entirely – it’s like comparing an NFL team with the local high school football talent – different league entirely.

When you’re ready for a new phone, you need to look at the HTC Evo 4G (Sprint) or HTC Thunderbolt 4G (Verizon) – both are bigger & better versions of my Incredible.  You won’t be disappointed.

6. Podcasting

I spend quite a bit of time in my car, and the radio gets awfully boring after awhile.

I added a free podcast player to my phone and subscribed to a few podcasts covering a few different topics – sports, history, comedy, fitness, general knowledge.

Now I listen to these podcasts more often than I listen to the radio.  My podcast player automatically searches the podcasts I’ve subscribed to for new episodes at night while I’m sleeping, then it downloads any new episodes and cues them up for me to listen to the next day.

It gives me more control over what I’m listening to, with the added bonus of being able to pause, rewind, and take it with me outside of the car.

Full disclosure – I used the free version of BeyondPod for a couple of weeks, then I splurged $7 to buy the full-featured version.

7. RedBox

The RedBox app for iPhone and Android is pretty slick.  You can search for a particular title, and the app will tell you which RedBox locations have that title available.  You can then select a location and rent the movie right then & there, from your phone.  Then, on the way home, you simply stop by the box and pick up your movie.

You can also tell the app which location(s) are your favorites.  Then you can ask the app to display which movies are available at your favorite locations.  Or, you can have it use your phone’s GPS to display which movies are available at locations near you, wherever you happen to be!

Remarkable.

What are your favorites?

Hopefully this list helps you discover a better way to do something you’re already doing.  What am I missing?  What apps do you use to make your life better / easier?

Your trying to work smarter Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Are 70% of Phoenix homes at risk of foreclosure?

Are 70% of Phoenix homes at risk of foreclosure? The Associated Press says so. But it’s not actually true.  Of homes sold in the Phoenix area recently, 70% were distressed. That means the homes were either bank owned or short sales.

See below for a press release just issued by the local MLS data provider, the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service (ARMLS)…

Yesterday, two writers from the  Associated Press put out a story that said that 70% of the homes in Phoenix are at risk of foreclosures. By the end of the day the story had gone viral on the Internet and was picked up by multiple large media, including the Wall Street Journal. 

Of course, the information is flat out wrong, and unfortunately, it was attributed to ARMLS. We are reaching out to the original writers and others who re-circulated it to get the information corrected.

The statement was a result of the writers’ misinterpretation of the correct information put out in the February issue of STAT.  In that issue we stated that distressed properties accounted for 70.2% of total sales.

ARMLS is reaching out to our Subscribers to make sure they understand the error, and do not inadvertently re-circulate the wrong information in their blogs and on their social media platforms.

Some mortgage executives face criminal charges

Image ID 1020195 by userTaylor, Bean & Whitaker’s former Treasurer will enter a plea agreement for federal criminal charges tomorrow (Feb 24, 2011). The mortgage firm imploded in Fall 2009 and investigators are still sifting through the ashes. So far, they’ve discovered a trail of fraud amounting to as much as $2 billion.

TBW’s Treasurer, Desiree Brown, is widely believed to be cooperating with prosecutors in their attempts to prosecute the mortgage firm’s former Chairperson, Lee Farkas, with 16 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud and bank fraud.

While Brown and Farkas negotiate over how much prison time each is likely to do, former Countrywide financial CEO Angelo Mozilo will not face criminal charges at all, having paid off the right people paid a hefty civil fraud settlement of $67.5 million.

According to the WSJ:

People familiar with the federal criminal probe say that the general collapse in the mortgage market made it more difficult to pinpoint the actions of any particular executive as something that could be prosecuted.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/feds-end-criminal-inquiry-on-angelo-mozilo-countrywide-2011-2#ixzz1EbxFdEmP

I wonder, can the authorities successfully “pinpoint the actions of any particular executive” only when the executives are women, or only when the executives don’t have $67.5 million under the couch cushions? Or did federal investigators just forget to read this book that spells out who caused the mortgage crisis?

image credit, StockExchange user shuttermon