Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vermont Housing Market to Fare Better than Region economists say

"It's really not bad compared to what other states are experiencing. Vermont has had a different experience with the housing market and that's a good thing," so says Zachary Sears, a senior economist, at Economic & Policy Resources.

Housing prices in 2009 in Vermont are expected to drop 2.7% and remain flat in 2010. Although that may sound like good news, in fact it is when compared to our region (forecasted drop in New England of 6.7%) and to the the rest of the country (forecasted drop of 6.7%) as a whole.

In 2010, prices are expected to hold in Vermont while they are expected to drop again another 9.6% regionally and 6.4% nationally, forecasts Jeff Carr, president of Economy and Policy Resources, Inc. and an economic advisor to our governor. Mr. Carr is presenting this information to the New England Economic Partnership in Boston today.

The housing market here in Vermont is expected to begin its turn in 2010 while New England won't begin the turn until 2011.

Call me at 802.238.5256, email me at or post your comments at Hurd's The Word or go to my website at Charlotte Vermont Real Estate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How the Social Goals of Increasing Homeownership Caused the Mortgage Mess

This article is reprinted with the written permission from the author. It was originally printed in the October 2008 edition of the NAPFA ADVISOR.

The Bush Administration, Congress and the U.S. Department of Commerce haven't been bragging about homeownership percentages in the U.S. for the past two years. They would prefer to have voters forget about the social goal of increasing homeownership that was regularly reported in the news for years. The rate was 66% in the second quarter of 1998 and rose to 69.2% in 2004, but it dropped back to 68 % in the second quarter of 2008. (Data comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Housing Vacancies and Homeownership Report, Second Quarter 1998 and US Census Bureau News Second Quarter 2008 Report, July 24th, 2008.)

What's really interesting about the situation is that it could be argued that the social engineering experiment of putting a larger percentage of people into their own homes didn't even occur. The percentage of homeowners as reported by the Commerce Department is a misleading figure.

Homeownership are reported as the percentage of owners and renters in occupied housing units. This is not the same thing as a calculation that reflects the number of owners as compared to total housing units. The difference between the two measurements is substantial and it highlights the folly of the government-aided housing boom.

As of June 30th, 2008, there were 130 million housing units in the U.S. This number was boosted by rapid development in the last 10 years, as 12.5 million units were added in that period. Many of these units were built to meet surging demand caused by easy credit and low rates.

As of June 30th, 2008, only 111.2 million of those 130 million units were occupied. Breaking it down, 75.7 million were owner-occupied and 35.5 million were renter-occupied. That's roughly 68% or the number reported by the government to reflect homeownership.

However, with 18.6 million units vacant, the homeownership rate that reflects actual use of homes by homeowners is much lower. Only 58% of existing homes were being occupied by the actual owners (75.7 million occupants out of the 130 million homes). That is a more realistic number.

When looking at homeownership from this angle, some stark statistics emerge. For example, the number of units vacant has risen 33.8% over the last two years. In the year ending June 30th, 2008, the U.S. added 2.1 million in total housing units. Unfortunately, only 900,000 of the new units were occupied. This is hardly a model upon which to grow an economy.

The Securities and exchange Commission (SEC) and the investment industry's voluntary regulatory operation known as FINRA have responded to scandals in the mortgage industry. They have issued new, stringent rules requiring finger-printing and background checks. These measures should be lauded but the horse (protecting consumers) left the barn three years ago.

The SEC should have curbed the mortgage industry in 2005. But nobody wanted to stop the party. For the mortgage industry and real estate developers, money was rolling in. For banks, the lending was easy. And for the federal government - which is supposed to be watching out for the public - the goal of higher homeownership rates was apparently being met.

Over the last 10 years, some efforts were made to reign in the housing market before it busted. Fannie Mae and Freddie MAc, two of the biggest proponents of the housing boom, were challenged. But their lobbying efforts overwhelmed the opposition, even as Fannie and Freddie reported billions of dollars of false earnings claims.

Everyone applauds the social goal of putting more of our citizens in their own homes. It is a part of the American dream. But the push to increase homeowneship even a few percentage points helped create the mortgage mess we have now.

At this point, we don't need new regulations to correct the abuses in the mortgage and housing sectors because economic forces are correcting them for us. Mortgages being funded now require stellar credit and a substantial down payment.

In conclusion, millions of people have been harmed by the bubble and the entire U.S. economy has been put at risk. All of the current troubles are in response to a social goal of increasing the rate of homeownership that never really happened. Tens of thousands of people were talked into buying homes they realistcally had no economic business purchasing. Now, whatever wealth they had accumulated has been crushed and their credit and self-esteem have been damaged for many years.

All of us are paying for the excesses of a failed social policy that pushed those folks into temporary homeownership.

by J.Stephen Cowles, CFP is a NAPFA member in LaJolla, CA

Call me at 802.238.5256, email me at or post your comments at Hurd's The Word or go to my website at Burlington Vermont Real Estate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Burlington Vermont is Healthiest City, says U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Burlington, VT is healthiest city.

By MIKE STOBBE - 2 days ago

What's the healthiest city in America? It appears to be Burlington, VT.

Vermont's largest city is tops among U.S. metropolitan areas by having the largest proportion of people - 92 percent - who say they are in good or great health.

It's also among the best in exercise and among the lowest in obesity, diabetes and other measures of ill health, according to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This New England city of 40,000, on the shores of Lake Champlain, is in some ways similar to the unhealthiest city - Huntington, W.Va. Both are out-of-the-way college towns with populations that are overwhelmingly white people of English, German or Irish ancestry.

But there the similarities end:

_Burlington is younger, with an average age of 37, compared to 40 in Huntington, according to the Census Bureau.

_Burlington is better off financially, with 8 percent living at the federal poverty level, compared to 19 percent in Huntington.

_It's much more educated, with nearly 40 percent of area residents having at least a college bachelor's degree. Only 15 percent in the Huntington area do.

The cultures are significantly different, too. Bicycling, hiking, skiing and other exercises are common in Burlington. Neighborhood groups commonly focus on improving parks, working in community gardens and repairing and improving sidewalks.

"There's this norm of a lot of activity," said Chris Finley, Vermont's deputy health commissioner, who works in Burlington.

And though college staples like pizza are common, healthier foods are also popular. Grass-fed beef is offered in finer restaurants, vegan options are plentiful, and the lone downtown supermarket is run by a co-op successful in selling bulk rice and other healthy choices to low-income residents.

Burlington is helped by the presence of IBM and other employers offering more generous health benefits and corporate wellness programs than companies in Huntington, some experts suggested.Copyright ©


Call me at 802.238.5256, email me at or post your comments at Hurd's The Word or go to my website at Burlington Vermont Real Estate.

First Snows Arrive!! (Charlotte, Vermont)

It helps us adults feel like kids again when our children run into our bedrooms in the early morning light to tell you excitedly, "it's snowing hard outside!!!" There's something extra special about that when you live here in Vermont.

As I craned my neck to look out the window above my bed, I tried to gain the contrast of the background through my ocular fogginess to pick up the foreground flakiness. Scrolling in and out, I could indeed see snowflakes tumbling and flitting about. My daughter said, "Dad. It's really coming down out in front of the house!!" With a beaming smile, I vaulted out of bed and sprung to the stairs and looked out the front door panes, past the whitening front porch, down the front yard, out across the meadows into a backdrop that looked like a horizontal AND vertical cloud.

Winter is here.

If you place any stock in the Farmer's Almanac (and I do), then we're in for a cold and snowy one. It's a simple equation really. Vermont + Snow = Winter. Today's high temp supposed to be 31 degrees. Tonight lows of 14!

Yep. It's here alright and ahead of skedj.

Now, thoughts of snow tires (with studs this year) begin percolating along with ski passes, getting the parts needed for a$$%#@! whuppin' sledding (last year took its toll on the hardware), a warm fire to sit beside, hot chocolate with freshly made whipped cream, and preparing the outdoor hot tub all come to mind again (ahhhhhhh...).

And yeeeees (lest I give you an imbalanced perspective), so does shoveling. May even have to break down this year and have a guy plow my driveway instead of me dancing with my Toro. Maybe?! Haven't yet committed one way or the other. I still love that ole' girl though. Not sure if I want to give her up just yet.

Let's see...Christmas is coming. Definitely need an upgraded set of YakTraks for my boots. Gotta put that high on the list. That would be a great Christmas present! (that is if I can wait that long...) Time to break out the scarves and nuclear (have we all figured out how to pronounce this word yet) warm coats.

Moments ago, before I sat down to write, I stepped into my kitchen and was filled with sudden, spectacular joy! The east wall and a half of cabinets I replaced last summer with windows is flooding light all around. Even with today's cloudiness, the ambient reflection off newly fallen snow on the ground brightens the place up exponentially. It'll make mornings in the kitchen with the sunny view up Mount Philo a true blessing. I love that.

Hmmmmm. Here's a warm thought. Can I get to an island or a beach this winter??? Any beach!? Okay, okay I said it!!!!!! I said it!! Am I a traitor? Oh my! Please let me wistfully digress with this dreamy the following link and crank it up. (btw that was not MY blinking house just in case you were wondering...) Goodness! Back to reality!

YES, INDEED. She's here almost five weeks ahead of her official day.

Ready or not, here she comes...

Call me at 802.238.5256, email me at or post your comments at Hurd's The Word or go to my website at Burlington Vermont Real Estate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ry’s Sunset in Charlotte Vermont

Four nights ago, while driving from Williston through Shelburne on my way home to Charlotte at dusk, I was blown away by a stunning, mad November sunset unfolding from north to south along the upper ridges of the Adirondack Mountains illuminating Lake Champlain in an other worldiness of color.

While craning my neck and driving perilously close to the edge of the road, I reached instinctively for my camera to capture these rare, intense moments. Jesus, I thought. It's not here. It's at home! Mon Dieu!!

Seconds later, my cell phone rang. It was my 17 year old son excitedly asking me if I could see the sunset and did I have my camera to snap some pictures. Dejectedly, I remarked, "I didn't" but I said, "call your sister. She's at home."

Hours later, I excitedly learned that he reached her and asked her to grab her camera and nail that sunset on film. Whereupon Ry calmly and warmly remarked, "not to worry, Will. I already took 15 shots."

God, I love my kids. The mere fact we saw what we saw and were connected at those same moments and were all so moved blows me away! We all appreciated nature's stunning display and the glory of the red sky that night taking time, care and love to reach out to one another so as to share that beauty. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that in my book!

The picture you see above is one of fifteen my daughter took on that evening. I emailed it to our town newspaper, The Charlotte News, earlier this morning. They, too, thought it was spectacular. In fact, my daughter will have her first published photograph in their upcoming edition. Cheers to you Ry!!! Love you!!

Call me at 802.238.5256, email me at or post your comments at Hurd's The Word or go to my website at Burlington Vermont Real Estate.