Thursday, November 30, 2006

Two Big Bloggers Battle And Divide The Country...Very Ugly

Read as a nation of commentors take sides and spit at each other

I've observed long enough so now I must speak. You may not realize it but there is a 'civil war' of sorts going on right now in America between two distinct blogging sectors--The Housing 'Bubblers' and The Housing 'Optimists' (for lack of a better monicker). At the forefront of this seething conflict are Housing Panic's "Keith" (never a last name posted) and BloodhoundBlog's Greg Swann. You may not be aware of the turmoil because the media generally doesn't report on cat fights but I'm telling you its real and its ugly. Its real ugly. I could probably put and "F"
in there too but I won't.

I linked the latest measure of this go round on Digg but you need only visit either of the above mentioned blogs to see what I'm talking about. And the commentors, as you might imagine line up like foot soldiers of blue and red states, Fox News and CNN, or Pat Buchannon and...well moving on.... Where I grew up someone would be at school the next day with a black and blue shiner after such finger poking and name calling.

And its not just Housing Panic and Bloodhound. Its a lot of us, most of us. We've chosen our side and aligned our thinking and comments accordingly. Some of us are spies or at the very least, conscientious objectors. We play (fight) for one side but empathize with the other. Some of us are embedded reporters attempting to be 'fair and balanced' while staying out of harms way (cat scratch fever, hurt feelings from name calling, spit...) But most of us, I suppose (in the real estate business) are Zealots.

I'm a Realtor so you can probably guess where my allegiance lies. But I am also bright enough to know when to ignore an objection. And for those of you who don't know you should be able to find it in "Closing Techniques 101.' (fake name!)

photo by hifielmer

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Chinese Math

"Now let me get this straight - the press is supposed to control the market - if they say it's bad it must be so - if they say it's good it must be so - they are the keepers of doom and gloom - the ever ubiquitous "they"!

(This was a comment from Scottsdale broker and heavy hitter Tony Marriott, Associate Broker, CLHMS, CRB, CRS in response to a segment of an article I posted on my ActiveRain blog.)

And my take on this whole recent 'Media vs Realtor Spin Cycle' --and response to his comment-- was as follows:

"There's a term you may be familiar with called 'Chinese Math': i.e...if there are two billion or so people in China and you sell a 50 cent pencil to just 1% of them that is $10 million--the pretense being that 1% is easy to achieve because its such a small number. Now take this theory and twist or spin it anyway you wish and you have story content for both the media and the real estate industry. I really try to be objective by drawing from my own experience but the reported numbers are so 'all over the place' that I occasionaly just have to find a shoe that fits the 'ubiquitous' foot!" In other words, we all spin the numbers commensurate with our own respective agendas, NAR included. And after all, I do split my time almost equally between being a Chicago buyers agent and listing agent. Talk about two sides of the same story!

But also allow me to defer to an age old (Non-Chinese!) addage, 'numbers are deceiving!' In this case it applies to whoever has the audience's collective ear, readership, or viewership. Currently it does appear to be the media frenzied 'Bubble Brigade'-- ubiquitous to be sure, as Mr Marriott so articulately points out. After all, we Realtors had our own day (years) in the Sun during the 'Housing Boom' of recent years. And regardless of the spin I read, hear or spin myself, I'm still of the belief that even a half empty glass is very desirable to a thirsty man. Its just a matter of how much-- be it need (for housing) or thirst.

Friday, November 24, 2006

DIGG THIS! week of November 25, 2006 Vol. 4

The following real estate-centric teasers are newsworthy items that I happen upon during my research and readings for the week and post on The titles and descriptions are mine (thank me very much!) but the actual stories are pulled from a variety of daily and weekly news sources. Click on the Digg Story button below each feed to view the original story--and if you "dig it" then Digg it! The feedback is helpful and appreciated. Hope everyone had a safe Holiday.

photo by x.lux.solis

Chicago-1.7% The Rest of the Midwest-hsssss

"...The median home price in the Midwest in the third quarter was $170,500, down 2.6 percent from a year earlier, but the median price in the Chicago area rose 1.7 percent, to $279,400." I pulled this from the Trib.

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Its Not Your Father's FICO, Son

It used to be a 'letter of credit' and a good word from a vendor or two were the only things you needed to get a loan. These days, in many ways, its just as lenient but the myriad of interconnected data reporting hybrids that are pinging (and analyzing) your personal history will make your head spin. I found this piece on

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What I Read...

Most days I have lunch with my Broker at this small Chinese restaurant in Lincoln Park. Almost always seated toward the back is this one elderly individual, clearly from China and always reading the same old book with Asian characters on yellowed pages. For no other reason than this he reminds me of my own deceased grandfather who read only one tattered book over and over, Dante's Inferno. I have it on my bookshelf and have no idea (besides the general premise) what it says exactly--its in Italian. And even if it wasn't I get the feeling that it would still be unreadable to me.

But I do read. I get The New Yorker every week but I have to be honest--its for the cartoons. The stories--especially the Fiction and Essays--are very engaging but the truth of the matter is I don't live in Manhattan and I've been trying to get a caption published in the weekly Caption Contest for years. So each week I scratch my head for the wittiest comment I can muster to match the posted cartoon then barely make the Sunday eve deadline for open submissions. So far no luck there.

The rest of the week I spend time on the following sites. Nationally I read: Sellsius. This is a very cool site with short interesting articles and great photos and graphics. It also has podcasts but I'm not that bored yet. Grow-a-Brain also rocks. Again, short and sweet and a lot of both. Lately I've been visiting Transparent RE a lot--very technical but readable.

All three of these also have numerous links so beware---its easy to wander off. (but that's exactly how I found these sites to begin with.) I make it a habit to click on Rain City Guide out of Seattle every few days but I find it to be a totally different market there and their writings and opinions are more NAR (our industry association)--centered and 'traditional.' I like edgy more. I already 'get' Real Estate 101 but I comment there nonetheless. Oh, and I also interact with Active Rain a lot. An excellent place to engage in comment swapping with other markets.

Locally, its Yo Chicago and the Chicagoist mostly. I take a quick peek and post the occasional comment on ChitownLiving, Chicago Real Estate Blog and my associate's own Chicago Real Estate Local but we're all kind of saying the same thing. (and there's a couple hundred thousand more just like us) It reminds me of a scene in the movie Man in the Gray Flannel Suit where thousands of businessmen in almost identical hats (and gray fannel suits) are teeming a New York City block hurrying in a huge 'gray mass' to get into the same office building before starting time. (just like us real estate bloggers)

And there's more. My wife, Mona receives at least one or two high end, glossy catalogs daily so I have tangible proof that you can mix stripes with other stripes and brown can go with blue although truthfully...I just usually wear black. ( at least until they come out with a darker color.)

Once or twice a year my Broker hands me a book a la Tipping Point and it reminds me that I do enjoy actually holding something in my hand to read. But do I, will I read it over and over until the pages yellow and strangers take notice and make comments behind my back or my grandchildren, God willing, observe in wonder? Not if I get the new laptop I want for Christmas!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The $800,000 House? (Revisited)

(I recently posted this piece on my Active Rain Blog and received several interesting comments from other markets so I'm reposting it again here.)

Over the past year or so I discovered an interesting Real Estate wrinkle I call "The $800,000 House Phenomenon." I didn't recognize it at first because I think it used to be called "The $600,000 House Phenomenon" but as the housing market changed, so did the phenomenon. And although I personally find it unique to the Northeast Side and North Shores of Chicago, its probably present in every market in any city at some pricepoint or another. It lays out something like this:

A client, or more accurately a young couple, decides to buy their first big single family home. If they are North Shore buyers then they have visions of a white, Center Entry Colonial built in the 1940s-50s on a 'Father of the Bride', 'Home Alone' or any John Hughes movie setting type of street. If they wish to reside in the city proper (in this case Chicago) then its a beautifully rehabbed brick and lead glass expanded cottage or carriage house, walking distance to the lake, zoo and parks. This is their housing vision. They live in nice, tricked-out condos now but they want 'The House.' And again, this phenomenon is very neighborhood specific. Its a 'location' thing.

The fact that "The $800,000 House" is obviously under a million dollars makes it appear 'do-able' from a financing point of view--after all, who really wants to spend a million bucks on a house when you're still in your early to mid thirties? Anyway, every week or so I get a request to assist in the search of just such a home..."around the $800,000 a great neighborhood..." And here is the reality:

Two-thirds of the houses I find in this price range are either overpriced by a hundred thousand or so already (sometimes more) or just poorly remodeled little things with low ceilings, average to bad bathrooms and kitchens that if priced more correctly, would already be torn down. And needless to say, you can pretty much forget New Construction. Across the board, my clients are generally a little discouraged by what I send them in this price range because what used to be the $800,000 neighborhood is now the nesting ground of the soon to be built 2.5 to 3 million dollar 6.000+ square foot New Construction House. Its still an $800,000 Neighborhood--it just doesnt include the actual HOUSE. This all has to do with a Real Estate term called 'The Highest And Best Use" of a property which I think is pretty self-explanatory. And I dont think its a bad thing either. I sell a lot of New Construction that serve higher and better uses than what previously stood on the site.

But it is a little sobering when you actually come face to face with what's on the market (housewise, that is) for under a million in Chicago. Simply navigate around our search engine linked at and you'll see that many of the homes dont look enticing enough from the MLS picture to even request a showing. And most, if not all of my clients' condos from which they are moving have better finishes and appointments. Again, I find that these properties comprise about two-thirds of what's out there. One must keep in mind that the 'Location' rules and if the 'Location' happens to have a ho-hum building on it with a bulldozer parked in the driveway, so be it. The truth of the matter is the million dollar plus housing market expands and ticks up every month leaving the $800,000 House that someone might actually move into a little further behind in almost every way. But this too, is a good thing. You gotta have 'appreciation' and on a personal level it makes my job more interesting, more challenging, and more rewarding when I do connect with the perfect house. And they do exist. Read on.

Most of the remaining third of inventory are correctly priced at land value only and WILL be torn down if they dont fall down on their own waiting to close. The remainder of the remainder--those few rare gems that boast curb appeal, livability and attractive pricing--are what I'm talking about. Now we're in 'the zone' and the scenario plays out like this:

On a weekly basis, a handful (maybe less) of homes in the $800,000 range appear on the market and by "market" I mean a good portion of the Northeast Side of Chicago and almost all of the desirable "upper-end" North Shore communities within an hour drive of the Hancock Building. Many have had new and sometimes drastic price reductions because the now increasingly discouraged owners who originally felt their homes were worth "a million" realized the Buying side of "the market" wasn't responding. This is usually attributed to a combination of timing and simple Incorrect Pricing and is a topic I have addressed at length in a previous archived blog. These homes are too nice to tear down and while not without a few obvious flaws; dated baths and kitchens, small closets, no central air, odd shaped or irregular sized lots---they are still, all things equal, solid properties with decent curb appeal worth maybe in the mid to upper 700s as of this writing. Many of these may be a little overpriced but are still able to command a negotiated offer that is acceptable to both the Buyer and Seller. I negotiate more than my fair share of these as well.

And finally, what's left of the above handful are the cream of the housing crop--new on the market with significantly better renovations and curb appeal, on the prettiest streets in the most desired neighborhoods with the highest rated public schools. These go into multiple offers the first day or so on the market with few or no contingencies and virtually No Negotiation. These are the true $800,000 Homes. These are homes that more than one Buying entity likes (loves) (desires) enough to write a contract on the spot and close in 30 days. These are the ones that WILL be worth a million in short order. They are generally priced right for a timely sell as the house is already flush with Equity and the Owner needs to move on NOW--no fooling around, no testing the market. As I mentioned earlier, I have at least one person a week asking me if I know of any of these. And what do I do?

Bubble notwithstanding (ha,ha)...I put them in the car immediately and tell them without hesitation about this "$800,000 House Phenomenon" I discovered.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

He's Facing Foreclosure! (

You have to appreciate this one. Now I generally prefer writing original material and injecting my own twist on a subject but the west coast 'investor' quoted below takes the proverbial cake in the national real estate weblog arena.

"I don’t get it. I have several accounts with 90 day lates and one with 120 day late on it. Why are my credit scores so high?? " asks he.

Those words pour from the mouth of the most interesting (and least self-effacing) blog writer I've read of late. This 24 year old dude (I'm just supposing from the picture and nature of his quagmire) from Cali' attended a few real estate seminars, subsequently bought eight houses in four states with no money down and is now, even more subsequently, in multiple stages of foreclosure on the ones he can't unload--which is most all of them. recounts this young kid's plight as it painfully unfolds before your eyes. The following is another of his many first person archived declarations, "What happened? Why am I facing foreclosure? Basically, I bit off more than I could chew." You think? Oh, and then there's my fav, "Man, this sucks."

This person at first appears to be either one of the biggest goofs ever to execute a binding contract or a self-centered media genius who's duping all of us. Or perhaps he's a little of both. (Not surprisingly he's received instant national recognition and an avalanche of response from the community-- his Profile tag line a simple, "Comments appreciated!" ) Anyway, for those of you who wish to check back in on this real time trainwreck, I've linked his blog in my sidebar under Cool Blogs & Sites. And speaking of the comments (and as you might imagine there's a zillion of them), they're priceless.

And finally in closing I'd like to share with you a timely, internet-centric re-paraphrase of an already famous paraphrase I heard today on NPR. It seems to me to be in order. "One day soon, everyone will be famous to fifteen people..." Dude.

DIGG THIS! week of November 18, 2006 Vol. 3

The following real estate-centric teasers are newsworthy items that I happen upon during my research and readings for the week ( and to name a few of the 'lighter reading' genre) and post on The titles and descriptions are mine (thank me very much!) but the actual stories are pulled from a variety of daily and weekly news sources. Click on the Digg Story button below each feed to view the original story--and if you "dig it" then Digg it! The feedback is helpful and appreciated.

photo by x.lux.solis

What's in a name? Cyberhome, you're sooo '1995!'

"Consumers don't want to be a lead. The consumer goal here, because most people want to be just left alone ... is totally transparent access to information." A right on quote from this piece.

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The 'Bubble Sitters'

Well, it was a toss up between this one from the Daily Pundit and 'Woman Kicked Off Plane For Breastfeeding.' Anyway, its kind of an interactive invitation to post comments about ready and willing real estate buyers who choose to stand on the sidelines for now for the obvious (bubble?) reasons.

read more | digg story

152 Housing Markets--Whats the Over Under?

Digg this. Click on the chart in the above titled inset in the original article to see if your home is "overvalued," "undervalued," or just right!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The 52 Year Mortgage, OMG!

Okay. Its not for everbody but this piece from the UK is an interesting read. And since a lot of trends do begin on that side of the 'big pond' you never know if there's another twist of the screw left in the already tightened mortgage market. Wonder if my Mortgage Guru, Chris Hahn has any thoughts on this one? (see comments in sidebar)

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

A House Got Sold

Our Managing Broker is a big proponent of the Sunday Open House, as am I. Tens of thousands of people visit our company website on a monthly basis and rarely a day goes by when a potential client doesn't register as a new user at But week in and week out its the open house we talk about at our Monday morning meetings. To use a sports metaphor, Sunday is game day. Its the one day of the week (although many of our associates host Saturday opens as well) where we are guaranteed to have face to face contact with the public. Needless to say, we strive to be our most polished and shiniest selves on these days.

Even after nearly seven years in the business, I still get up early to prepare for this three to four hour afternoon commitment: E-mails to people I've been in contact with that week reminding them where I'll be that day; Double check brochure and sign-in card counts as well as my supply of business cards; Go over all comparable properties and other open houses in the immediate area--ours as well as other brokerages'; Make sure the agents covering my other open houses (can only be one place at a time, you know) have what they need for the day; And finally, putting out my signs in strategic places at least an hour prior to the scheduled start time.

I played organized team sports from grade school all through my college years. Growing up it seemed like I was always at an afternoon practice of one sport or another while my less commited friends were off rollicking in more pleasurable activities. And later on as a Theatre major, if it wasn't practice it was rehearsal. Many days it was both. So when I prepared to join the world of the gainfully employed I was certain of one thing--I wanted a job with weekends off. I was willing to put in 50 or 60 hours a week, just not on Saturday or Sunday.

I did not become a Realtor earlier in my life for this reason alone. I knew I'd be great at it but I also knew that weekends meant 'lost forever' hours of open houses and clients in the car--no golfing, no tailgating, no pool parties. Once into my forties though, my thinking changed along with some other newly established priorities. I made the decision that I wanted to sell real estate more than I wanted two days a week off. Today I work almost everyday, often times for months in a row before a break. But when I do break I travel the world with my wife. (see sidebar, Mona,Mona,Mona!) Its a wonderful gig to be sure, this life as a Realtor.

Throughout my real estate career I've met and still meet the majority of my clients through our company's open house system. Contrary to the findings of most studies on the subject, I often times sell the actual property I'm hosting--too many to even mention in this writing. And while I'm deeply immersed in the internet during the week and lost without my PDA at anytime, its those hours I spend at the weekly open house that a) keep me connected to the business at a grass roots level--and b) keep the owners of my listings satisfied that I'm doing all I can to represent their properties. And more than a few times a year its on this final day of the week, when the rest of the free world is resting or rollicking, that the house gets sold and the real estate deal gets done.

image by

Thursday, November 09, 2006

DIGG THIS! week of November 11, 2006 Vol. 2

The following real estate-centric teasers are newsworthy items that I happen upon during my readings for the week ( and to name a few of the 'lighter reading' genre) and post on The titles and descriptions are mine (thank me very much!) but the actual stories are pulled from a variety of daily and weekly news sources. Click on the Digg Story button below each feed to view the original story--and if you "dig it" then Digg it! The feedback is helpful and appreciated.

photo by x.lux.solis

Greenspan Hedges His Housing Bets

Alan Greenspan has some interesting thoughts on the current housing slowdown. Panic Bubble? nope. Correction? There you go.

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12 cents a gallon gas leads to 'car bubble?'

Enough of all this 'housing bubble' talk. According to the referenced maven in the article, that bubble will soon go the way of the almost all but forgotten ' bubble.' Apparently cars are as good as gold in Citgo's homeland.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rank Your Income

Growing up in a typical middle class neighborhood in the 1960's allows for a host of lifetime psychological imprints. Imagine the 1988 television show 'The Wonder Years' and you have now instantly entered my life as a kid. It was a little disturbing the first time I watched the program because it was so right on the mark--the ranch style house, the awkward best friend, the school and even the girl. I felt like someone snuck into my past, stole my idea, and ran with it.

It was the adult characters though that really caught my attention, specifically the father. I was an adult myself in 1988 with a child in elementary school--and what did she think of me as a provider? Did she feel I was Honorable? Hard Working? Successful? The father character in the show was most certainly the first two but was he Successful? Financially speaking, no he wasn't. He lived in a ranch style house for crissakes--purchased for $30,000 at the most. (I saw one the other day just like it for $425,000 but that's another story.)

When I was eleven years old a new kid moved in up the street. They bought the second to last house in the next neighborhood over which everybody understood was better in just about every way--bigger houses, nicer trees, nicer cars parked in the driveway, etc. It was clearly a notch above where my family lived and the only reason one wouldn't buy in that neighborhood was household economics. Same street mind you, but a different world entirely when the reality of social status first hits you.

"How much does your dad make a year?" the new kid asked me one day. I'll never forget the moment. Its been almost forty years and it still crosses my mind.

"I don't know." And I didn't. I had no earthly idea. We never talked about things like that in our house.

"My dad makes $30,000 a year," he said.

That put it in perspective for me pretty quickly. The new kid's house had expensive looking furniture and big televisions. They had a refrigerator that put ice in your glass and it was filled with lots of Cokes and good food--their pantry, too. His dad had a new Mercury and his mom had a convertible, and she was real pretty for a mom. I wasn't sure of much at that moment but I was definitely sure of one thing--my dad didn't make $30,000.

"Wow," I probably said. I don't remember. I do remember what he said next.

"Your dad probably makes less than $20,000," he said. I wasn't sure. That still seemed a little high to me, all things equal.

The events that followed that otherwise mundane exchange of words between children are also unforgettable to me. Back at home the question had no sooner left my mouth when I instantly realized the enormous weight and complexity of the issue. I crossed an invisible line in our household that no one had ever bothered to tell me about. I should have known better.

I should really have known better than to even mention my earlier 'income' exchange with the new kid lest I repeat the conversation word for word several times into the night, nearly in tears--the latter coming only after repeated and intense interrogation from both parents. It was their version of 'good cop/ bad cop' only without the good cop portion. Since that day in 1967 I've been acutely aware of the 'annual income' subject. I respect its intimate nature and understand that it is but only one way of defining a person's success. As a Realtor I need to be especially sensitive to this as I deal with many clients spanning many income levels. Still, I'm always mentally categorizing and comparing and to be sure, I'm quickly drawn to articles on the subject.

If you click on my sidebar under Other Links you'll find a new Rank Your Income Calculator I just linked from For those of you (us) that still have a little bit of the 'new kid's' urge to compare, it's another fun tool to play with.

picture by sue macartney

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What's It Gonna Take?

"I love it but I'm not in love with it. Actually, I don't even love it. Let's just say I'm in like with it and leave it at that." Or, "My client?... My client was underwhelmed." And finally there's my all time favorite, "What does my client think of the place? Did I fax you an offer? I didn't? Hmmm...I guess that's what my client thinks of the place." Those words actually once came out of my mouth before I could grab them back! So much for the feedback request form.

More so than ever the behavior of listing agents can best be described as (and this is a term my Broker coined that you won't find in any real estate glossary) "panting." It seems lately that an hour doesn't even pass before the showing agent is calling on the cell phone wanting "feedback." And then there's the whole new and improved agent targeted incentive based initiative (see GMABreak article below) that seems to be popping up everywhere in the marketplace. I saw one the other day that offered the buyer's agent a 2006 Mini-Cooper if multiple contracts were presented and accepted on a proposed new Condo project.

It's fun to listen to the brand new agents--who are fortunate enough to have buyers in their cars--respond to these frantic requests from the apparently less fortunate listers. I had to pull one of them off to the side the other day to explain that what they are really asking is, 'What's it gonna take to get a deal done? What do we have to change? What can we do to make this happen? They just want something to take back to the seller. Often times they are just using your "feedback" to posture their client for a price reduction, taking on the role of the messenger--you know, the one that isn't supposed to be killed in Shakespearean plays but more often than not, still gets the dagger in the end.'

The following "finger wagging," as an associate of mine calls it, is for my professional peers:

Panting. It falls into one of those "hard to explain but I know it when I hear it" categories. It's not good for our image. Let's just assume for a moment that the volume of business (offers and closed transactions) has been reduced across the board in your market. (although I hear this isn't the case in places like Seattle! ) This is the very time when agent credibility becomes vital. If traffic is slow show some dignity. If someone shows interest in a listing, say what you need to say during the showing and let them digest it. And finally if--and only if--the buyer shows visible signs of contractual commitment and your property is in the running with more than a handful of others, then ask the only question you really need the answer to..."What's it gonna take to make this deal happen?" Just remember to wear a smart, professional dagger proof outfit and sensible running shoes when you bring your client the news-- just in case its not so good.

picture courtesy of bcu theatre

Thursday, November 02, 2006

DIGG THIS! week of November 4, 2006 Vol. 1

The following real estate-centric teasers are newsworthy items that I happen upon during my readings for the week and post on The titles and descriptions are mine (thank me very much!) but the actual stories are pulled from a variety of daily and weekly news sources. Click on the Digg Story button below each feed to view the original story--and if you "dig it" then Digg it! The feedback is helpful and appreciated.

photo by x.lux.solis

The Side Effects of Housing Sweeteners? GMABreak!

Apparently, all the seller incentives that have been provided as of late to "sweeten" a real estate deal are not too healthy for appraised values. I understand all the hype about smoking in public and restaurants banning transfats from their menus but unhealthy closing cost reimbursements? I guess no better place for gluttony than a housing glut!

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Living With The Departed

The real estate market is tough in a lot of places but apparently there's no bubble in

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Helpful House Selling Tips or just more blah,blah,blah?

Okay all you house sellers, lets get ready for Plan C...the real estate equivalent to the
'Hail Mary' pass into the end zone with no time on the clock...

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Buyer's Market? Only If You're Actually Buying!

All the talk of real estate bubbles--inflated, deflated, nonexistent can make your head spin if you happen to actually be in the market for a home. Remember, its only a buyer's
market if you're actually buying...

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