Bye bye 2012. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

yellow cabMany will agree that the year 2012 won’t be missed.  We witnessed Mother Nature’s wrath with a deadly tsunami, earthquakes (even Maine had an earthquake), tornadoes and  a hurricane that will take years to recover.  The presidential campaign divided a country and personal friendships, suicide bombings became a daily occurence and we witnessed tragedy after tragedy that left our hearts broken and stole the lives of the innocent.

A new year brings the promise of new beginnings and reflection.  The housing experts seem confident that we have seen the worst of the housing bust and that we are in a recovery.

mortgage ratesMortgage rates have never been lower, banks are starting to lend again and house values are going up.  Upward trends in recent months among a number of housing indicators point to a steady growth in the nation’s housing market in 2013, but several challenges remain, according to the latest economic and housing forecast by David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

“Consistent, positive reports on housing starts, permits, prices, new-home sales and builder confidence in recent months provide further confirmation that a gradual but steady housing recovery is underway across much of the nation,” said Crowe. “However, stubbornly tight lending standards for home buyers and builders, inaccurate appraisals and proposals by policymakers to tamper with the mortgage interest deduction could dampen future housing demand.”

Sales of new single-family homes increased 4.4 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 377,000 units, according to figures released today by HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the highest monthly total since April 2010 when the federal home buyer tax credit expired.

Growing Optimism for Housing Rings in the New Year

“New-home sales are gradually picking up momentum as the economy improves,” said house with cashBarry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, Florida. “Prospective home buyers who have been sitting on the fence for years are moving back into the market due to continuing low mortgage interest rates, attractive pricing and the improving economy,” he said.

2013 home building trends will be similar to 2012.  Open floor plans are more popular than ever, energy efficiency, sustainable materials and healthy choices in paint and flooring are demanded.  A trend for 2013 is nothing trendy.  It will be less about show and more about quality.

As we reflect on our past and work to improve our relationships, bodies, health, finances and lifestyle, the desire to nest, entertain, improve and update our home is just as fulfilling.  Our homes not only reflect our personalities, but our values and what we hold dear.

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More Accolades for Maine

The Maine Association of REALTORS reports healthy gains in sales of single-family existing homes and median sales prices statewide during April 2012. According to the Maine Real Estate Information System, Inc., 824 homes sold during April 2012, an increase of 8.71 percent compared with April 2011. The median sales price (MSP) for those homes rose 4.48 percent to $167,950 in that same time period. The MSP indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

Nationally, sales increased 9.9 percent in the past 12 months. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the national MSP also rose 10.4 percent to $178,000 in April. In the regional Northeast, sales increased by 19.2 percent. The regional MSP increased 8.8 percent to $256,600.

As a home builder and real estate broker, obviously this is very encouraging news, but there are many other encouraging things happening in Maine and nationwide that are worth mentioning. 

Stock Prices: The Dow Jones Industrial Index is up nearly 30% from last year.   

Interest Rates: Mortgage rates have been very attractive for an extended period of time and knowing that they will most likely increase helps spur on new sales.   

Builder confidence: The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index measuring builder confidence reached a five-year high point in June, hitting 29 for the first time since May 2007, according to data released today by NAHB. Month-to-month, the composite index score rose from a downwardly revised May 2012 score of 28.

The composite index score is based on a monthly survey that assesses builder perceptions in three areas: current single-family home sales; sales expectations for the next six months; and traffic of prospective buyers. The ratings for each category are then tabulated into the final composite score.

For June, builder confidence in current sales rose two points to 32, its best score since April 2007. The scores for future expectations and prospective buyers held steady from May’s tallies of 34 and 23 respectively.

Jobs in Maine:  Forbes Magazine ranked the Greater Portland area #6 in the country as Best City for Jobs This Summer with a predicted payroll growth rate of 19%.  Travel and Leisure ranked Portland Maine # 1 in categories of “Best Place to go in Summer”, “Best 4th of July”, “Best Base for Day Trips”, “Best for Safety” and “Best Driving Ability”.  It was only ranked # 32 in “Diversity”, which frankly is a big surprise, as Portland resembles any city with its rich ethnicity and # 31 for “Best City for Spring Break” and the United States Peace Index has ranked Maine # 1 as “Most Peaceful State” based on The five criteria used in the ranking are the number of homicides per 100,000 people; number of violent crimes; incarceration rate; number of police employees; and availability of small arms.

So what does this all mean?  Given what pretty much all of us have experienced in the recession, it’s only natural not to get too excited and to be cautious.  There are many lessons to be learned during tough times such as living within your means, realizing that less is actually “more” and not keeping up with the Joneses is ok. These lessons are reflective in the homes that we build with scaled down floor plans that don’t sacrifice luxurious amenities.  Soaking tubs are being replaced with steam showers, formal dining rooms are now the family or great room.  The kitchen is still the heart of the home where not only meals are shared, but homework is done and bills are paid. 

Home should reflect our values and what is most important and meaningful.  It’s why home really is where you hang your heart. 

Posted in Housing Trends, June 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2012 Home Building Trends

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak

We are not surprised what the experts in the housing industry are saying will be this year’s home building trends.  The biggest factor and influence being the economy.  Although the economy is finally showing some big improvements, learning from past mistakes will be reflective in consumer’s decisions in 2012.

According to National Association of REALTORS latest data shows total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 4.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.42 million in November from 4.25 million in October, and are 12.2 percent above the 3.94 million-unit pace in November 2010.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said more people are taking advantage of the buyer’s market. “Sales reached the highest mark in 10 months and are 34 percent above the cyclical low point in mid-2010 – a genuine sustained sales recovery appears to be developing,” he said. “We’ve seen healthy gains in contract activity, so it looks like more people are realizing the great opportunity that exists in today’s market for buyers with long-term plans.”

Unemployment numbers are down, building permits are up, housing values are rising and builder confidence is up. According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 3.99 percent in November from 4.07 percent in October; the rate was 4.30 percent in November 2010; records date back to 1971.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of a real estate company in Miami, said housing affordability conditions have set a new record high. “With record low mortgage interest rates and bargain home prices, NAR’s housing affordability index shows that a median-income family can easily afford a median-priced home,” he said.

Buyers of new construction in the new year will be looking for sustainable products and materials with the focus on cost savings and energy efficiency.  In Maine and neighboring states, classic New England house design will still be popular, but with more modern touches and high tech gadgets.  The ability to call your vacation home on the way there to turn the heat on is one of many modern amenities that buyers are requesting. 

Image Courtesy of Carlos Porto

Buying American-made products will continue to be a priority, not just for the building industry, but for all Americans that truly care about this great country.  What better way to put Americans back to work and to keep profits in the country than to buy products made in America?

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Baby, it’s cold outside.

When I headed off to the office this morning, the temperature inside the car read 16 degrees, so it seemed like a good idea to re-post a previous post about fireplaces.

The first fireplace dates back to the 16th century.  A simple hole in the ground surrounded by local stones and rock and a hole in the roof to vent the smoke.  The fireplace was created out of necessity for heating and cooking.  In the 1800′s, the fireplace became an aesthetic as well as a practical fixture. 

Today’s fireplace ranges from wood to electric with stone or custom mantels.  The appeal of a “real” fire, smell, crackling sound and dancing flames immediately draw you in after being out in the cold, but the messy clean up and lack of uniform heat from wood burning fireplaces usually outweigh the pros. 

Gas stoves are cleaner burning than wood, easier to start, put out more uniform heat, can be used as a supplemental heat source and don’t require clean up.  A pellet stove is clean-burning, easy to store, economical and fuel is renewable, environmentally friendly and domestically grown.

The fireplace surround and mantel is what makes your fireplace a show piece.  Our fireplaces range from custom hand-picked stones chosen from a local quarry to hand-crafted millwork.  From the modern fireplace with a simple mantel to an elaborate stone fireplace that soars to the ceiling, the fireplace is sure to get everyone’s attention. 

It’s no surprise that the room with the fireplace is where friends and family will want to gather, especially if your home is in Maine.  There isn’t anything more tempting than coming in from skiing, snowmobiling or shoveling and seeing the light of the fire and feeling the warmth.  The room beckons you to come in. It doesn’t just warm you on the outside, it warms the soul.

Posted in December 2011, Housing Industry, Housing Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mainely Speaking

American’s Health Rankings, produced by the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention, has ranked Maine # 8 in the country as the healthiest state. 

The rankings took into account a number of elements that can impact health, ranging from personal health behaviors, to environment and the community, to health policies in the state, to the quality of clinical care.  Maine’s lower than the U.S. unemployment rate (7.6% compared to 8.3%) and the low crime rate (# 1 for the country), helped Maine’s ranking. 

We are not the least bit surprised that all 6 of the New England’s states made the Top 10 with their natural beauty, abundant recreational activities, excellent educational opportunities for both high school and college and lower than average crime rate. 

We have recently received a flurry of inquiries expressing their desire to retire to Maine and want to know if they can afford to build a custom home in our beautiful state.    For many, they’ve been vacationing in Maine since they were a child and have longed to come back, but for others, they’ve only stepped foot in the state once!  That one visit, was enough for them to decide it was where they want to be for the rest of their lives. 

Is Maine for everyone?  No.  If you are looking for a fast-paced lifestyle, lots of traffic, high  rise buildings, billboard signs, the ability to smoke at beaches, State parks, restaurants, or you don’t like lakes, the ocean, skiing, lobsters, hiking, biking, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing or simply relaxing, then Maine is not the state for you.

Posted in December 2011, Housing Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

That’s Maine for ya

On a recent trip to New York, between the St. Lawrence River and the foothills of the Adirondacks, I was relieved that we were not spending the entire time on a busy highway.  We were able to enjoy Maine’s Lakes Region, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont’s green mountains and upstate New York at the peak of fall foliage.  It’s over a seven hour drive, but it’s a beautiful one and makes the long trip enjoyable.  This particular trip made me appreciate living in New England. 

Living in Maine in the fall means enjoying cool, crisp weather, apple picking, pumpkin carving, New England Patriots football and lots of leaf raking.  Fall in Maine also means having to prepare for Old Man Winter, which isn’t just putting away your summer wardrobe and pulling out the winter boots and mittens, it’s putting on snow tires, planting fall bulbs, cutting and stacking wood if you have a wood stove or a fireplace and pulling out the shovels, snowblower and ice scrapers.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, a Maine winter can offer an abundance of recreational activities with some of the best skiing this side of the Mississippi, miles and miles of groomed snowmobile trails, ice skating and pond hockey.  Being a “Mainer” means being able to adapt.  Having to put up with the fact that over 13 inches of snow dropped in October on the leaves that you never got around to raking and then a 60 degree day in November after you put away all of your warmer weather clothes.  It’s not uncommon to hear someone say:  “That’s Maine for ya.”

Maine and it’s New England neighbors share a history that makes the region special with it being the oldest clearly defined region of the United States, which is unique among U.S. geographic regions according to Wikipedia.

Homes of New England also have a style of their own with their roots in the residential architecture of early Colonial days.  The cape cod, colonial and federal-style home originated in New England.

Our customers continue to request the classic New England style home without giving up modern touches and amenities.  The majority of our homes we build feature dormers, a farmer’s porch, crown moulding to reflect homes of yester year, pantries, farmer’s sink and wood flooring. 

When we sold our 1850′s farmhouse this summer so that we can build new, I made it clear that the new house needed to feel old.  I want the leaded glass in my front doors again, wide pumpkin pine flooring, wainscoting and a farmer’s sink.  It’s what I grew up with and to me it’s what living in a Maine home is all about.

Posted in Housing Trends, November 2011 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Portland, Maine Forbes Top 10: “Best Cities for Young Professionals.”

We know how annoying it is to listen to someone boast all the time, but we can’t help ourselves.  Forbes Magazine just posted the “Top 10: Best Cities for Young Professionals” and ranked our Portland as # 6, beating out Massachusetts’ Boston # 12.  Portland Maine boasts the highest number of small businesses per capita of the cities screened. 

This is very encouraging news especially, where so many of Maine’s graduates leave their beloved state to seek their careers elsewhere.  The very same topic was the subject our last gubernatorial election.  Once in office, our new governor proclaimed:  “Maine.  Open for Business,” much to the chagrin of many that preferred “Maine.  The Way Life Should Be.” 

I like to think of Portland as a mini Boston.  It has everything you could want in a city, working waterfront, quaint shops, restaurants, pubs, micro breweries, museums, ball park, its own baseball and basketball teams, art district and so much more. 

The problem with all of these accolades about our great state is that now everyone will want to move to Maine and it will no longer be considered just a vacation destination. 

Heck, maybe we are open for business?

Posted in Housing Industry, Housing Trends, September 2011 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our house is a very, very fine house.

Although the days of the McMansion don’t seem to be returning any time soon,  home buyers don’t want to sacrifice luxurious amenities.  Some of the traditional luxuries such as a large soaking tub is being replaced with a steam shower, formal dining rooms are now eat-in kitchens, the office or study has become a work area in the kitchen or family room. 

The economy has a lot to do with these changes, but the biggest reason is values and priorities.  It’s more about spending time together, family gatherings and building memories.  Besides, who has time to take a leisurely bath these days? 

The master bedroom has moved from the second floor down to the main level to plan for the future and because of the wish to remain in the home for as long as possible.  The modern kitchen no longer resembles a restaurant kitchen with a line of stainless steel appliances.  Refrigerators have glass doors or are hidden behind matching cabinetry.  It is true that the kitchen really is the heart of the home.  It’s where we entertain, kids do their homework, the bills are paid and where everyone ends up hanging out at a party. 

Because those of us in Maine endure a pretty long winter, any chance to get outside is cherished.  The patio, deck or terrace is an extension of the kitchen.  Outdoor entertaining, lobster bakes, BBQ’s and dining alfresco is part of a Mainer’s lifestyle. 

The popularity of the outdoor kitchen has given us reason to spend even more time outside.  With a gleaming stainless steel outdoor grill, a mini bar, prep sink, refrigerator, cooler, comfortable seating, the stars above and a fire to gather around, why go inside?

Posted in Housing Industry, Housing Trends, May 2011 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Accolades Keep Coming

I previously blogged about all the positive stats about Maine with HousingPredictor.com ranking Portland as “#1 for Best Housing Market” and Inman News rated Portland as # 4 for “Top 10 Real Estate Markets to Watch in 2011″. 

Yesterday Forbes came out with their list of “Best Schools for Your Real Estate Buck” and rated Falmouth Maine # 1.  Done in partnership with GreatSchools, Forbes analyzed 17,589 towns and cities in the 49 states that administer standardized, statewide tests and then compared median house prices and salaries.  Although, the author mistakenly indicated that many Falmouth professionals work in nearby Portsmouth, we assume he meant Portland.  (Portsmouth is in neighboring state of New Hampshire).  The author also indicated that many are employed at Idec, which is actually Idexx.  Be that as it may, Falmouth’s appeal to upper middle class families is obvious; it’s the location and a great school system. 

Maine still fights the ignorant that think we are behind the times, aren’t sophisticated and that we marry our cousins.  (Remember the movie Pete’s Dragon?)  Vacationing in Maine is one way to see what everyone is talking about, but you have to live here to truly experience all that is good. 

I suppose we should be surprised when someone calls us and indicates that they are considering moving to Maine, but have only been here once before and that was 15 years ago for a college buddy’s wedding.    The most common inquiry that we receive about building in Maine is from the person that has vacationed here since they were a child and can’t wait to move here permanently.

Living in Maine does come with a price though.  Southern Maine towns, such as Falmouth, have higher taxes, which in turn means new school buildings, new technology, top-notch athletic facilities, which presumably equals a better education.   A better education means a better job and higher pay.  Which means they can afford to live in Falmouth.

Posted in April 2011, Housing Industry, Housing Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Big Tease

Spring has been trying to arrive, but we are in Maine so anything goes.  Spring in Maine means a chance of a snow storm, which is what arrived today.  We usually don’t fret too much over it because with just a couple of sunny days, it will all melt.

My favorite part of spring is seeing all the tapped maple trees, the tulips and daffodils trying to poke out of the cold ground and the first peek at grass, albeit brown grass.  What is also great about spring is that the real estate market inevitably always shifts and buyers start to take their hopes of buying or building a home more seriously.  It is also when sellers put their homes on the market in hopes of scooping up one of those prospective buyers.

Maine is starting to get a lot of attention recently and not just for its governor or its great restaurants.  Inman News rated Portland # 4 for their “Top 10 Real Estate Markets to Watch in 2011” and HousingPredictor.com ranked “Portland # 1 for Best Housing Market“.  We aren’t the least bit surprised.  Maine’s natural beauty, slower-paced lifestyle and abundance of recreational activities has always been the state’s biggest appeal.  It usually takes just one visit to Maine for someone to start planning their next visit, and that’s before they’ve even left the state.

The decision to move, especially to a new state, isn’t an easy one, but we feel moving to Maine is a decision that you won’t regret even if it snows in the spring.

Posted in Housing Trends, March 2011 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment