Thursday, September 29, 2005

No Bubble in Northern Michigan

Housing bubble? Skyrocketing vacation home sales? Not in northern Michigan. The state's struggling economy "is taking a toll on the once-thriving vacation home market in the rural north and Thumb regions," according to AP, which quotes agents interviewed by Detroit News. Some families are canceling vacations, while others are looking to sell their second homes. Sales still good in destinations near beaches and ski resorts (Traverse City and Boyne City,) but elsewhere, second homes "often remain unsold for months and even years."


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Bait" and Niche

When I heard that an acquaintance was negotiating with a famous fashion designer to build "branded" homes, in the same way a car company sells L.L. Bean SUVs, I was not surprised. Now three companies better known for tractors, fish and fashion are getting into the act publicly. John Deere, Orvis and Armani (not the designer I'd heard about) are putting their names on real-estate projects, according to the Wall Street Journal.


Monday, September 26, 2005

WSJ: Stick It Out In NOLA

Journal Columnist June Fletcher writes of New Orleans residential property: "Housing shortages mean that demand and prices will rise rapidly for the homes that survived. But it also means that finding help to fix (any) damage... will be an arduous process. If you want to sell now and don't want to spend months dealing with insurance adjusters (or contractors) you may have to sell to an investor at a deep discount." But she adds that "On the outskirts of the city, shortages are already pushing the price up for homes that didn't suffer any flooding." One problem: "closings are being put on hold because title searches can't take place until the courthouse and flooded title insurance companies are back in business."


Rebuild New Orleans, Or Just Hand Out Checks?

Here's a radical take on the Hurricane Katrina question of whether government should rebuild New Orleans. In the current issue of The Economists' Voice Edward Glaeser asks whether the residents would be better off with $200,000 in their pockets than to have $200 billion spent on infrastructure. "Shouldn't we be insuring the people, not the place? New Orleans has been declining and its people mired in poverty for decades; its port and pipelines cannot employ a large city, and $200 billion is unlikely to change that," says the teaser.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

If Your Vacation Home is on the Texas Coast...'re either evacuating or sick with worry. A tip from the Katrina experience -- start to collect phone numbers, e-mail addresses and Web sites now, rather than after the storm hits. Once it does, landlines won't work, cell towers could be down and news reports will concentrate on primary home communities rather than yours. And there's nothing more anxiety-producing than not know what, if anything, has happened to your property.

Good sources: your property manager, your neighbors, your local realtors, Houston and Galveston newspapers. You can probably get a cell phone call through now to people, so find out the number of the hotel, temporary home or family where your contacts will wait out the crisis. Bookmark such sites as the Houston Chronicle and KPRC (Channel 2). During the past few weeks the New Orleans papers and TV stations did a superb job setting up peer-to-peer forums where frantic evacuees could gleen info and exchange notes about their individual neighborhoods.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Katrina to KO Cape Cod?

At least one agent in a vacation home mecca expects a short-term slowdown because of Hurricane Katrina. A Cape Cod, MA agent told the Wall Street Journal sellers should price homes about 5% below the asking price of comparable homes on the market for at least a month, to "create urgency."' Don't want to lower your price? Then pull the home off the market for at least a year, he says.


Colorado Dreamin'

Notice all that traffic on Colorado backroads? "More people are deciding to live full-time in Colorado's resort communities," according to the AP. Some are retirees who have decided to live year-round in vacation homes, while others have been drawn by the construction boom. Primary residences, as opposed to second homes, grew from 53 percent of the market in 1990 to 62 percent in 2000. Those figures cover Colorado's eight mountain resort counties. The shift is helping make the Western Slope the fastest growing part of the state. The full-time combined population of Eagle, Grand, Garfield, Summit, Pitkin and Routt counties is expected to more than double from 192,000 to 389,000 by 2030, according to the state demographer's office.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

...But Gas Costs More Than A Mortgage...

"Bill and Linda Cronin were so worried about the danger of a housing collapse that they recently sold their primary residence in Lake Helen, Fla. -- and moved into a recreational vehicle, which they are using to tour the U.S.," the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. "Cronin, 58, a retired management consultant, figures the housing boom 'is going to come to a screeching halt eventually.'" But Bill, how much does it cost to fill up that RV tank? When I owned an RV, it got about 8 miles to the gallon.


Friday, September 16, 2005

A Second Home Becomes The Only Home-III

Surreal happenings outside the flood zone: the other day, State Farm, the insurer of my sister and brother-in-law's home in New Orleans, refused to pay their claim for a ruined, once-expensive refrigerator unless they could prove to the claims adjuster that it contained $1,000 worth of rotten food. The same day, the state of Massachusetts (where they are staying in their summer condo) insisted they accept $400 in food stamps. So I'm wondering: is this a $400 net gain or a $600 net loss? And why is State Farm being so difficult with its hard-hit paying customers, who have paid their premiums on time year after year, while the government is suddenly flinging benefits at all comers?


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Cold Comfort

OK, it's after Labor Day. Time to think about winter, right? So news of an alarm that monitors pipes in cold climates is useful. There are now devices that can be hooked up to a phone and send out an alert when pipes freeze and burst in a vacation home. Some insurance companies are even requiring them. One name: FreezeAlarm.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New Hampshire Lakes Market Still Strong

I've just returned from a conference in Bretton Woods, NH, and there's no sign of a slowdown in the Granite State. "Second homes in the Lakes Region have been in high demand no matter what the economic climate has been. Even when prices started to fall off as a result of some of the bank disasters in the past, people were waiting in the wings to buy," Mel Borrin, a consultant with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, told a local paper. Especially strong: the areas around Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake and Lake Winnisquam. The only time the Lakes Region's second home market has softened, he said, is when interest rates climbed to 17 to 18 percent.


Monday, September 12, 2005

When Second Home Becomes the Only Home--II

A while back I mentioned that my sister and brother-in-law had to evacuate their home in Metairie, New Orlean's contiguous suburb, and how lucky it was that they had a condo in the Berkshires to flee to. Having seen them finally this weekend, I can report they are doing OK, although they are a little discombobulated and shell-shocked. It is now two weeks since Katrina tore through their lives and they still do not know the condition of their home.

However, satellite photos and New York Times maps seem to indicate they may have been spared flooding. That's one blessing. Now, they can only hope that despite the worst efforts of the state and federal governments... the local phone company (cell phone still work only sporadically and their home landline rings but Bellsouth's voice mail does not answer)... and the Jefferson Parish police (who should be stripped of their badges and weapons if the stories about them humiliating carloads of black evacuees at gunpoint are true)... they will be able to return soon.

When they do, they will seek a real estate agent who can sell their house so they can once again make welcoming western Massachusetts their first -- and only -- home again.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Second Homes Now Katrina Shelters

Thousands of second home owners are offering their places as temporary shelter for those left homeless by Katrina. Oregonians, for example. Several Tillamook County property owners have posted offers on the Internet. Dan Mailey, who lives in Hillsboro and owns a vacation home in Rockaway Beach, is one. Mailey offered his second home as temporary housing for a family of four or five people for 60 or 90 days. "I figured it would be somebody who had already been evacuated," Mailey said. He generally rents the home out during the summer, but has no bookings after Sept. 10.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Test Drive" Deluxe Vacation Properties

No one wants to spend $500,000 or more on a vacation home that is not really the right match for their tastes and preferences. Thus, offers "test drives." A new program allows people to visit many resorts as they search for a purchase. See the offerings, which typically are one to three nights and reasonably priced. Question is: how much hard-sell is involved once you're there? Let me know.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"Nobody Home" Syndrome Creates Jobs

Seems that the the demand for 'absentee homeowner' property managers has increased substantially lately and become a very desirable gig, according to the Web site It says that Park City, Utah, one of the 10 hottest markets in the United States, has nearly 5,0000 non-primary units. Park City has a population of only about 7,500. If you want to be one of those property managers, one of them has this advice: "Get in line."


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why No Plans After Hurricane Ivan in 2004?

One of the New Orleans' nicknames -- the City That Care Forgot -- takes on ironic implications today. But I want to know why there was not a better evacuation plan already in place. Every government offical has known for years how precarious the city's topography is. Why were funds for levee strengthening slashed -- especially after Ivan -- a storm almost as powerful as Katrina-- nearly struck the city just one year ago? It reached land as a Category 3 hurricane at Gulf Shores, Alabama on September 16, 2004


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