CoreLogic has released its March Home Price Index (HPI) report which shows that nationally, home prices, including distressed sales, declined on a year-over-year basis by 0.6 percent in March 2012 compared to March 2011. On a month-over-month basis, home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 0.6 percent in March 2012 compared to February 2012, the first month-over-month increase since July 2011.

Excluding distressed sales, month-over-month prices increased for the third month in a row. The CoreLogic HPI also shows that year-over-year prices, excluding distressed sales, rose by 0.9 percent in March 2012 compared to March 2011. Distressed sales include short sales and real estate-owned (REO) transactions.

“This spring the housing market is responding to an improving balance between real estate supply and demand which is causing stabilization in house prices,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Although this has been the case in each of the last two years, the difference this year is that stabilization is occurring without the support of tax credits and in spite of a declining share of REO sales.”

Including distressed sales, the five states with the highest appreciation were: Wyoming (+5.9 percent), West Virginia (+5.3 percent), Arizona (+5.1 percent), North Dakota (+4.7 percent) and Florida (+4.5 percent). Including distressed sales, the five states with the greatest depreciation were: Delaware (-10.6 percent), Illinois (-8.3 percent), Alabama (-8.0 percent), Georgia (-7.3 percent) and Nevada (-5.8 percent).

“While housing prices remain flat nationally, in many markets tighter inventories are beginning to lift home prices,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and chief executive officer of CoreLogic. “This is true in Phoenix, New York and Washington, for example, which all reflect higher home price values than a year ago. A continuation of this trend will be good for our industry across U.S. markets.”

Excluding distressed sales, the five states with the highest appreciation were: Idaho (+5.4 percent), North Dakota (+5.1 percent), South Carolina (+4.7 percent), Montana (+3.5 percent) and Kansas (+3.4 percent). Excluding distressed sales, the five states with the greatest depreciation were: Delaware (-7.6 percent), Alabama (-4.1 percent), Nevada (-3.9 percent), Vermont (-3.9 percent) and Rhode Island (-2.9 percent).

Including distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the national HPI (from April 2006 to March 2012) was -33.7 percent. Excluding distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the HPI for the same period was -24.5 percent.

The five states with the largest peak-to-current declines including distressed transactions are Nevada (-59.9 percent), Arizona (-48.6 percent), Florida (-48.1 percent), Michigan (-45.1 percent) and California (-42.7 percent). Of the top 100 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) measured by population, 57 are showing year-over-year declines in March, eight fewer than in February.

Powder rooms are so fun, you can get really creative in a small space and take risks you might otherwise skip.

Here’s one that was a full gut job and evolved over time. The cabinets, toilet, sink, lights, mirror – even the floors – were all demolished. It sat vacant for a while after the floors were complete and over time become a sexy space.

The counter is poured concrete thanks to my buddy Ray at BC Coatings.  Ray did the floors as well, in this home and my previous home. Once the sink was done I felt it was a bit too contemporary for my otherwise more European or Old World style in the home. So over time the stacked stone was added to the back wall along with a square mirror (we tiled around the mirror so it looks built-in while saving about four square feet in tile), vessel sink (one of my least favorite picks in the remodel) and a glitzy light on a dimmer and metallic paint.

Still working on the right accessories but the lion’s share of the work is done, now it’s down to the easy stuff.

It’s the little things that can make all the difference.  Case in point, a kitchen disposal air switch that costs all of about $60 at your local home improvement store.

No longer must you reach across the counter or open a cabinet for the traditional “light switch” to flip for your disposal (all the while dripping water across the counter or down your cabinets) but instead it’s mounted on your counter top, alongside your faucet.

Besides the cost of the air switch itself you’ll need a dedicated outlet under the sink (if your existing switch is on the wall an electrician can easily pull the power from there) and the labor of an electrician and/or plumber if you aren’t the handyman (or woman) type.  I’m not, so I used both, one to pull the power and the other to install the disposal itself.

Here are a few photos of what it looks like. This along with my counter depth fridge may be my two favorite choices in the kitchen.

Just a few hundred bucks and these front doors took on a whole new look.

While I would have preferred to replace the doors entirely, they were decent enough to save (and new ones weren’t in the budget) but I couldn’t stand the glass inserts or the color. The glass had an arts and crafts look to them and the color of the doors was far too red. The house itself was pink so when it finally came time to paint the house the doors were ready for their facelift.

But prior to the paint I had the glass changed out to a simple textured glass that lets in plenty of light yet you can’t see through it. When the inside of the house was being remodeled I had my glass guy who was doing the showers and liquor cabinet cut a couple of pieces for the front door. That was phase 1.

A year later the doors were primed and painted a brown/black color that made a nice contrast with the lighter color of the home. I had a glaze added but it didn’t look right so had them repainted again to a simple satin finish as seen in the after photos. Between the glass, paint and labor it cost about $400,  well worth the transformation it created.

Do you VRBO?

Several of my Real Estate clients have been picking up investment homes here in the valley and either holding them for long term rentals or making them a Vacation Rental By Owner, better known as a VRBO.  During the season you can do very well on weekly rents but the regular turn over of occupants can pose logistical problems at times.

Here’s a company that allows you to control the lights, thermostat, front door code and surveillance all from your smart phone.  So between occupants you can easily change the front door code for the next set of tenants and text or email them the new code without having to visit the property.  This is especially nice for those who manage property in another state or when you’re away. Same goes for changing the thermostat or lights that have been left on by your last visitors, wasting precious energy and racking up your bills.  You can change codes between cleaning crews as well, eliminating the need for a contractor’s box on the property which means you have to make a manual code change each time.

I learned about this system from a friend who’s renting a VRBO now and has Vivint installed. Here’s the website in case this is a resource you might find handy:




Over the past month I’ve had a handful of friends and clients mention a surge in the number of scorpions they’ve found in their homes, each asking for a recommendation on which pest control service to use.  Thanks to my good friend Sandy, I maintain that YOU are the best defense against scorps, better than any service that has to use pesticides around your home.  Even the experts will tell you, they spray to reduce/eliminate crickets which are the food of scorpions, so the theory is without a food source you rid yourself of scorpions.  Maybe so, but when I bought my foreclosure home which sat empty for several months I sighted dozens in the backyard and a handful inside.  Thanks to Sandy, I worked at eliminating them over the months before I moved in (while remodeling) and I’ve now lived in the home for almost 8 months with not a one inside and just a few outside.  I live directly across from wide-open preserve and was told by neighbors this is a high scorpion neighborhood.  Nonetheless, I enlisted Sandy’s tactics with great results.  There’s also a product you can use if you have a more serious issue (nests on your property for example) that I’ll mention.

First, purchase a scorpion black light as I have pictured.  They come in the small size shown and larger, I went for the smaller version. Go out at night when the temps are at least 80 degrees (this is getting tough with our temp change now) and methodically work your way around the yard, shining the light on all your fence walls and the house, even the ground. There will be no mistaking when a scorp falls in the path of your light, they will fluoresce to a white/purple shade, almost like the white of a velvet painting when seen in black light. Spray them with a dose of Spectracide (also shown) to slow them down as they are fast little buggers and then ‘dispose’ of them using the end of a flat shovel or any other similar tool.

For the inside search use a large, flat dowel with a circle of duct tape on the end (also in the picture), NO Spectracide and no shovel. Make your way from room-to-room, checking ceilings, walls and floors.  If you find one, stick it to the end of the dowel then take it outside and smash it.  Scorpions can carry a multitude of babies on their back and this ensures you stick all of them together so they don’t scatter; the last thing you want is a brood of baby scorpions dispersing themselves throughout your home. And remember, whether you’re inside or out, be sure to protect your eyes from the black light, it can do damage so never shine it in your eyes or anyone elses.

If you have a more persistent problem, the next suggestion is to purchase a bag of diatomaceous earth, but NOT the kind you use in pool filters, there’s another version that’s used by organic farmers instead of pesticide and some even feed it to their horses to keep flies from growing in their manure. You can purchase it at a feed store for about $23 for a 50lb. bag.  Sprinkle a barrier around the perimeter of your home as well as your fence line.  As scorpions pass through it, it actually permeates and tears up their structure.  When you want it gone just hose it away and the best part, it poses no danger to your children or pets.

That's duct tape on top of the dowel for your inside scoprion searches.

You can purchase the scorpion light & Spectracide at any hardware or home improvement store.

In case you missed this article from The Arizona Republic this past Tuesday:

For the first time since metro Phoenix home values crashed, most of the region’s homeowners can expect a noticeable drop in their property taxes. Maricopa County property-tax bills are being mailed this week, and the average homeowner bill is expected to decline more than $60 from last year’s bill.

The bills reflect taxes from a variety of cities, school districts and other taxation districts, which take a percentage of a property’s assessed value each year. Most of those districts raised tax rates this year, but the overall amount of taxes those districts plan to collect is down almost 6 percent.

And although tax bills are tied to a property’s assessed value, the decline is also partly because of budget cuts by public agencies across the state, which set their budgets, then adjust tax rates to match. For example, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors decided two weeks ago to raise the county’s property-tax rate from $1.05 in 2010 to $1.24 per $100 of net assessed valuation.

At the same time, the amount the county will collect from property taxes will fall by $21.7 million because of decreased assessed home values. To deal with the revenue shortfall, the county has spread budget cuts across its approximately 50 agencies and departments. “I think that this is rather telling about the insignificance of tax rates,” said Charles Hoskins, county treasurer. “Rates have increased because values have dropped more than spending, but the reduced spending is what ultimately determines what property owners pay.”

This year’s tax bills are based on 2009’s valuations, when Valley home prices dropped a median of 15.2 percent. That was the third consecutive drop for home valuations in Maricopa County. Next year’s property taxes will be based on 2010 valuations, which showed home values fell 11 percent.

Last year, county property-tax assessments were down 3.7 percent from 2009. But not every homeowner saw a decrease in his tax bills during 2010 because several municipalities and special districts had to raise their tax rates to offset budget shortfalls. This year, Hoskins expects most homeowners to see a decrease.

Although tax bills are declining, the drop isn’t nearly as much as the plunge in home prices, which have tumbled about 60 percent since 2006. And Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, cautioned that not all homeowners’ tax bills will drop. It will depend on how much their respective school districts and cities raise tax rates. School districts are expected to raise taxes this year, he said. On average, property taxes from school districts make up 61 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill.

A homeowner living in Glendale Elementary School District whose property was assessed at the median value of $140,000 for last year’s taxes and $124,500 for this year’s may pay $76 more this tax year. But the owner of an equivalent home in the Isaac School District in Phoenix may pay $99 less. Both cities kept their tax rates flat, and both school districts increased their rates, but because the increase was smaller in Isaac, the total tax bill decreases.
“A blanket statement about everybody’s taxes in the county going down will be problematic on that level,” McCarthy said. “The things that might be driving some softening of the tax bill at the county level are not going to occur at the school-district level and, to a lesser extent, at a city level.”

Property values are assessed annually, and county tax bills based on those assessments arrive 18 months later. The bills are based on a formula based on two factors: property valuations set by the assessor and tax rates set by nearly 1,500 municipalities and other tax jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions – counties, cities, school districts, community-college districts and other special districts – determine the actual tax load for any given home.

A tax bill is a composite of the taxes assessed by those many different districts. A home that is inside a certain parks district, for example, may pay higher taxes than an identical home nearby that lies outside district lines.
To set rates, the taxing jurisdictions must first figure out how much money they need to fund their budgets. Then, the district and municipalities work backward to set their tax rate. Under this system, a decline in value without an equal drop in a jurisdiction’s budget will cause tax rates and taxes to go up.All jurisdictions have a legal cap on how much they can raise tax rates, which is mandated when they are formed.

But districts can take a larger amount through local bond issues or voter-approved school-funding increases called budget overrides. This year, Hoskins said $1 out of every $5 assessed for property taxes will go toward voter-approved budget overrides and debt payments.

Homeowners’ tax bills show which taxing jurisdictions are contributing to their total assessment. The total assessed tax for all Maricopa County homeowners from all taxing districts is $3.9 billion this year. That compares with $4.2 billion last year and $4.3 billion in 2009.

Tax consultants believe Maricopa County has one of the most complicated property-taxing systems in the country. However, property-tax reform doesn’t draw as much support in Arizona as other parts of the nation because the state has one of the lowest tax rates. Arizona has the 39th-lowest property-tax rate in America, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit. McCarthy said although that may be the case for residential homes, Arizona ranks about 16th-highest state in commercial- and industrial-tax rates.

The residential-home market may have bottomed out, but the commercial market still has room to decline, and business taxpayers are still seeing tax increases, he said. “We have low homeowner property taxes, and we have high business-property taxes because we don’t generate property taxes from homeowners on an even basis like most states,” McCarthy said.

So one of the things that drives many of my friends and clients nuts is the lack of storage in the majority of homes across the valley.  In Ahwatukee you need to get a tri-level to find yourself any semi-righteous storage space and even then you may find yourself challenged. I’ve seen some seriously creative use of normal dead spots, like pot shelves, open niches and, of course, under the bed and garage shelving. But if you opt for the latter, you often run into the problem that your garage is no longer big enough to pull in two cars and actually open the doors.

I recently faced this storage dilemma with the new move. Since I was ripping out so many things anyway, (including a wall) I got creative with the typical cabinets-with-counter-and-cabinets-above scenario (pictured below) we find randomly placed in hallways or upper stairway landings of many Tukee homes. To convert this to usable space I simply tore out the old cabinets (which will eventually get mounted in my garage) and created a closet using drywall, 22″ deep shelving, a light (really helps at night), some paint and a set of doors. Since the new closet abuts up to the door of my boys bedroom I didn’t want it to be a hard left turn around the closet when entering their room so we angled the one wall to give the hallway better flow.  You can see that in the photos as well.

One of our mistakes was making the very top shelf the same depth as the other shelves.  We had to cut it down to half the depth so we could actually get stuff past the top of the doorway opening and on to the shelf, otherwise there were only a couple of inches between the wall and the shelf itself.  You’ll also want to be sure to use magnetic door closures and not a full door handle that you have to actually turn the handle to open.  You want to just pull the doors open so the magnetic closure are installed at the top of each door. They sell them at any hardware store and they’re very inexpensive.

Check out the pics below to see the before and after

Before, Hall Cabinets

The one side wall is angled to create a better flow in to the adjacent bedroom.



Hall closet after, inside

Outside view of hall closet, after









In December I purchased another home and it’s been fun remodeling it over the past several months.  Since it was a bank-owned home it had been freshly painted inside (nice cost savings there) but all the window treatments had been removed, as is often the case with a bank owned property.  In the winter months that was fine as there’s no real privacy issue based on the way the house sits and I loved all the natural light pouring in through the abundance of windows.  BUT with the advent of summer, holy cow.  I needed to do something – PRONTO.  My utility bills were climbing with every upward move of the thermometer and my furnishings and artwork were getting hammered with UV rays.

So instead of painting the exterior like I had planned, it became a necessity to cut down on the amount of sunlight and heat coming in through the windows.  I turned to Wes McLaughlin of Arizona Blinds to help me wade through the decision-making process.  He has helped my clients with their needs and can do everything from blinds, shutters, screens and roller shades to window tint, which is what I chose as a starting point based on my personal need.  Actual window coverings are the next budgeted item.

He measured all my windows and gave me a quote on the spot.  He was competitive with other pricing and I already knew their service to be excellent.  We elected to go with a Panorama window film in Slate 30 on the majority of my windows.  It blocks 99% of all UV light and cuts the actual heat by 63%, eliminating hot spots and uneven temperature fluctuations which is exactly what I needed.

It’s only been a little over a week but I’m tracking energy use via SRP’s online e-notification which emails me each time my bill is projected to be over a certain amount. I’ve watched it drop $50 over the past 10 days with each notification, a fun little game I like to play and highly recommend. I can’t say 100% of that savings is from the window tinting, I’ve done a few other things like a hard-core commitment to time of use and using black out draperies on a few windows, but in large part, the tinting seems to be helping.  I definitely notice that my furnishings and artwork aren’t getting pummeled by the strong rays anymore and the overall feel of each room is cooler.  Hopefully it won’t feel too dark come winter but given the fact we live in such an intense climate for so many months out of the year I’ll live with it!

If you would like to contact Wes for more information on tinting you can reach him at wes@azblinds.com or visit their website at http://www.azblinds.com.  Or, go the old-fashioned route and call them, 480-234-7209.



If you have a hole(s) in your fiberglass bathtub, it’s most likely in your best interest to fix it before it gets worse.  Sometimes you can get away without a permanent fix if the holes are confined to the vertical part of the tub, water doesn’t tend to affect the sides of the tub as much.  But, if the holes are on the bottom of the tub and the tub is used everyday,  any and all repairs you do will only be temporary.  So even though you might have the repair done professionally, it may still look good but ultimately it will still leak over time. and most likely before you even realize there’s a problem again.   A tub that’s used regularly is especially a danger as it will eventually develop a mold issue.  Because you cannot see under your tub, it will get bigger and bigger and spread to other locations where eventually the mold will surface.

A great place to find a replacement tub without breaking the bank is Stardust Building Supplies http://www.stardustbuilding.org/  .  This is where most of the valley goes to donate their household items when they remodel. You’ll literally find the kitchen sink here!  Last time I stopped by they had rows of bathtubs to choose from for $50-$100.  Definitely worth a look if you find yourself needing to make the full replacement.  Tubs purchased through the traditional channels can cost you upwards of $300 so Stardust is a good resource to have at your fingertips.

A tiny hole in your bathtub can cause a big problem