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Local Address: March 8, 2009 - March 14, 2009

Nosing Around Model Homes

I'll admit it. I love to browse decorated models of new homes, even though I haven't the slightest intention of buying one. My job gives me a pretty good excuse for such nosiness, of course, but I suspect I would be doing it anyway. I got to indulge my habit for a story that appears in tomorrow's Real Estate section outlining the things individual home sellers and buyers can learn from the pros who outfit model homes. One thing I learned that wouldn't fit into the story: Real-looking plastic food and drinks are expensive! Just one faux Pilsener glass of beer costs $22. But if you're into that sort of thing, here's where you can buy a chocolate sundae that never melts. Another tidbit that didn't make it into the story: Luxury-home builder Toll Brothers recently opened a 10,000-square foot design studio in Chantilly. It includes vignettes showing seven kitchens,...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 13, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Buying  
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Recession Victory Garden

I remember the year I tried to grow tomatoes. I dug a new bed until my hands blistered. I mixed dried manure and peat into hard clay, planted seedlings and used soft cloth to tie the vines to stakes so as not to cut into the delicate stems. By the end of summer I harvested about three tomatoes, the most expensive vegetables I've ever eaten. This year maybe I'll give it one more try, in a far sunnier spot. (There's one lesson learned the hard way.) It seems to be what everyone else is doing. A 1945 U.S. government poster. (U.S. Agriculture Department/War Food Administration). Demand for vegetable seeds is up about 22 percent over last year, says George Ball, chairman and chief executive of the Burpee seed company. "That's astounding," Ball said in a phone interview. It follows a similar jump that happened last year, but he said they...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 12, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Categories:  Outdoors , The economy  
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Prices Down All Around

February was an altogether lousy month for the economy, so who's surprised that local real estate sales stats for the month were equally bad? Median sales prices for all parts of the immediate metro area were down -- by quite a bit -- compared with February 2008, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the local multiple listing service. In the District, the median price for all homes, including condos, was down 13 percent to $360,000; Prince George's County, down 24 percent to $220,000; Montgomery County, down 24 percent to $315,500; Northern Virginia (including Fairfax and Arlington Counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church), down 23 percent to $318,000; Loudoun County, down 22 percent to $294,000. And in the Prince William County, Manassas City and Manassas Park City grouping, price was down 36 percent from last year to $169,500. There was some good news in that Prince...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 11, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Statistics , The economy , The market  
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Dealing With Signs of Fraud in FHA Loans

How dead would the housing market be if buyers could not turn to the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage insurance program? Low-down-payment mortgages insured by FHA account for nearly a third of all mortgage loans being made now. But there are worrisome signs that the program is being seriously abused, according to a report in Sunday's Post by Dina ElBoghdady and Dan Keating. Most alarming was their finding that in the past year, the number of borrowers who failed to make a single payment before defaulting on the loans has nearly tripled. The story quoted Kenneth Donohue, the inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which includes FHA, as saying an immediate default "clearly suggests impropriety and fraudulent activity." In response to the story, FHA spokesman Brian Sullivan said that while the agency is managing the extra risks inherent in lending to borrowers with low down payments, they...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 10, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Mortgages , The economy  
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Refinance Opportunities Should Last a While

Normally, when borrowers flood lenders with calls asking about refinancing, that extra demand helps nudge interest rates up a bit, cooling the refinance rush. With lenders swamped with calls from borrowers hoping to get in on the government-backed no-equity refinance program launched last week, should you be concerned that rates will shoot up before you apply? In a word, no. Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages should remain around 5 percent, where they've lingered for weeks, because the Federal Reserve is laboring hard to keep them there. Orawin Velz, an economic forecaster with the Mortgage Bankers Association, pointed out that the Fed is committing $500 billion to the purchase of mortgage bonds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The idea is to keep demand for these securities up so interest rates stay low. Fed action is not the only thing that affects interest rates--demand from foreign investors for these bonds is...

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 9, 2009; 6:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Mortgages  
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