This post is by staff writer April Dykman.
For the last seven months, my husband and I have been renovating our new home. But before that, we spent months searching for the right house. There were a few times when I wondered if the right house even existed. This is my own fault because my list of wants was maybe a little difficult to satisfy. For instance, we wanted to be in the city, but I still wanted a large lot with big, established trees. I also wanted an older house that needed some work. Recent granite and other upgrades? Not interested. I had my own plans!
A couple of times I took my husband and real estate agent to total dumps. “Uh, I think we’d have to tear down the entire house,” said my husband, who was stubbornly refusing to share my grand vision. “April, you sure can pick ‘em,” said my real estate agent. But eventually, we found The One. It was in the city, on a half-acre lot, and an older house with a great floor plan. It needed work, but it wasn’t a health or safety hazard, which is apparently important to some people.
Kidding aside, I’m glad I listened to my husband’s concerns about taking on too much work. Renovating a house is not like an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.“ Magical elves do not send you off on a Disney vacation while they turn your shack into a charming bungalow. No, renovating is a lot of work, and everything takes three times longer than you think it will.
At any rate, becoming a homeowner has made me much more interested in housing news, so I thought I’d make it the subject of this edition of Spare Change. First up, let’s check in on the housing market…
Where housing is recovering, and where it’s not. The housing market is on an upswing, but whether you’re benefiting all depends on where you live. “Housing has turned up nearly everywhere, with the average home price nationwide up about 12 percent during the past year,” writes Rick Newman for Yahoo! Finance. “But some markets are going gangbusters while others barely seem to have escaped the gloom.” For instance, recovery is strongest in Rochester, N.Y., Cape Coral, Fla., and Albany, N.Y., which have a lower unemployment rate and greater property appreciation than the national average. The city with the weakest recovery is Baltimore, which has a 7.9 percent unemployment rate, coupled with just a 9 percent appreciation since the housing bust.
35,000 NYC properties now in flood zone. What happens when the property you’ve owned for years is now in a flood zone? That’s the case for 35,000 NYC-area businesses and houses, since new flood maps put the properties into a flood zone. The change could require property owners to pay a great deal more in insurance or to elevate their homes to an acceptable height. In addition, those rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy may face greater complications in rebuilding. For instance, if people in wheelchairs are required to elevate their houses, that means they’ll need a longer ramp to access their home. Typically, every inch of elevation means another foot of ramp. “If a home needs to be elevated eight feet off the ground, the homeowner would need a ramp as long as a basketball court,” reports Tracey Samuelson for WYNC. “It becomes impractical very quickly.”
Single ladies put a “sold” sign on it. Last year, 18 percent of homeowners were single women, compared to 10 percent who were single men. “We’re seeing more women in workplace leadership roles, which leads to greater financial earning power,” writes Hale Walker, cofounder and senior vice president of Michigan Mutual, Inc. “This translates to greater ability to purchase a home — single women have the credit and the finances on their own to make this purchase.”
Houses at dollar-store prices. The city of Gary, Indiana bought a dozen homes at county tax sales and put them on the market for $1 each. The catch? The houses need a lot of work. Also, the sale is part of a neighborhood stabilization effort, so buyers had to meet several requirements. “Buyers must have lived in Gary for at least six months; have $1,000 in savings; earn at least 80% of the median annual income of $35,250 in the area; and demonstrate that they have the financial ability to rehabilitate the home,” writes Les Christie for CNNMoney. “The program is open only to those who do not currently own a home, and they must occupy the house for five years before they assume full ownership.” The restrictions reduced the 400 interested buyers to just 25 applicants. In September, a random drawing will determine who gets a home. If the program works, Gary’s mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, has said she’d like to sell as many as 50 homes per year.
Construction resumes on “Versailles.” In May, I wrote about the documentary “The Queen of Versailles. To briefly summarize, the film follows Jackie and David Siegel, owners of Westgate Resorts, as they build the largest and most expensive single-family house in the country. Modeled after France’s 17th century Palace of Versailles, the 90,000 square foot mansion boasts 13 bedrooms, 23 bathrooms, 30-car garage, roller rink, baseball field, children’s theater, and bowling alley. When the film ends, the economy has tanked and construction halts. There’s talk of foreclosure. The house was eventually put on the market for $100 million. Well, flash forward to June 2013, and construction has resumed! “We’re very excited about it,” David Siegel told CNBC. “We plan to live there.”