Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Understanding the Health "Tax"

As you already know I am a big proponent of a Single Payer Insurance Plan. That is where the Government collects and administers all health care from a single source. That is not going to happen so lets push for the public option allowing ALL of us to purchase on the free market from whomever offers the best and most affordable option available.. be it the Government or a Private Insurer. France and Switzerland have this and they have maintained costs and provide insurance for all the population. We in America must pursue this same quest in what I believe is Green for All.

I think there is the most confusion about the Cadillac Tax. This is the tax on those super duper policies that companies like Goldman Sachs and Microsoft offer their employees that are up to 40K in untaxed benefit packages.

Now frankly I would prefer them to give me 40K in income, be taxed on that income and still spend what I have on what I want or need. I often see benefits as lieu of wages and since companies use that to entice you and then offer bonuses and other ways to offset wages it contributes to the unmitigated unregulated behaviors of Wall Street to the overall wage stagnation at the lower levels. To compete you either offer insurance or don't simply because its costs are out of reach for a business of your size. For business to grow, for employees to find employment satisfaction it is the real wage that matters and the flexibility and opportunity to pursue whatever work you want without fear of losing "insurance".

I think David Leonhardt does a great job of explaining how this tax will work. Read his article from today's NY Times...

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How a Tax Can Cut Health Costs

By DAVID LEONHARDT

Slowing the growth of medical spending should, in principle, be one of the more popular parts of health reform. Health care already costs the typical household about $15,000 a year, and these costs are growing far more quickly than incomes. Yet when it comes time to turn principle into policy, the same problem always crops up.

Most of that $15,000 is deducted from people’s paychecks, as taxes or insurance premiums, before they ever have a chance to spend it — or to miss it. The health care they receive in exchange for the $15,000, however, is tangible. It’s a doctor’s visit, an X-ray or a surgical procedure that feels crucial to their well-being.

So we end up with a conundrum. We want health spending to slow, just not our own: My health care is a benefit; yours is a cost.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and its member unions have served up an excellent example of this contradiction over the last few weeks. They have been fighting to defeat the so-called Cadillac tax — a tax on very generous, expensive health insurance plans. And they’ve been getting help from big business’s lobbyists, like the Chamber of Commerce, who tend to be hostile to any new tax. We’ll find out in coming days whether the proposal survives the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of its health bill.

The Cadillac tax has the potential to slow health costs significantly. But like every other idea to slow spending, it can also sound downright scary. Just think of the proposal to have the government pay for end-of-life counseling, which turned into a debate over “death panels.”

This means the Cadillac tax isn’t just important in its own right. It’s also a preview of a battle that we’ll be fighting for years.

Medical costs really are rising at an unsustainable rate. If their current growth rate continues, they will bankrupt Medicare or require crushing tax increases. We need to find ways to cut back, and it can’t just be the other guy who’s affected.

Union leaders don’t even like the name Cadillac tax. They say, correctly, that the tax wouldn’t fall only on chief executives, investment bankers and the like. It would fall on some members of the middle class, especially unionized workers with generous health coverage.

The leading proposal in the Finance Committee would apply to family insurance plans that cost roughly $21,000 and up starting in 2013. For the sake of fairness, the threshold would vary based on geography and the average age of a company’s work force. In all, something like 10 percent of plans would be subject to the tax in 2013, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group.

But the number of affected plans would grow over time. The Senate has been talking about having the threshold rise each year by the inflation rate plus one percentage point. Since medical spending has been rising much faster than inflation, more and more plans would probably cross the threshold in the years after 2013. Over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the tax would pay as much as 25 percent of the cost of extending coverage to the uninsured.

“People are going to see this as a huge middle-class tax hit,” argues Gerald Shea, an A.F.L.-C.I.O. official overseeing its health lobbying.

Insurance companies — technically the targets of the tax — would pass on the cost to employers, and employers would presumably pass it on to workers. The cost of insurance could rise. Or perhaps more likely, companies would stop offering such generous plans.

Here’s the big question, though: Would that be so bad?

Currently, the health insurance you get from your employer isn’t taxed, unlike almost all the rest of your compensation. So employers and workers have both fallen in love with generous plans. If an employer pays a worker an extra $100 in income, the worker may keep only $75 of it, while the government will get $25 in taxes. But if the employer puts that $100 toward health insurance, the worker will get all of it.

This tax break causes us to buy more health insurance than we would if the playing field for taxes were level, much as the tax breaks for housing helped inflate the real estate bubble. In effect, the tax-free treatment is a subsidy for health insurers, doctors and hospitals. It encourages wasteful spending — the extra M.R.I., the brand-name drug that’s no better than a generic, the cardiac-stent procedure that has no evidence of extending life (but does have some risk).

If the Cadillac tax started to eat away at the this tax break, you could expect three things to happen.

First, employees would shy away from the most expensive plans. The evidence is pretty clear on this: when workers bear some portion of the cost of insurance, their choices change.

In the 1990s, the University of California began charging its janitors, secretaries, professors and other employees a monthly fee for their health insurance plan — unless they chose the least expensive one. Many switched out of the most expensive plans, often to save as little as $10 a month, notes the economist Thomas Buchmueller. The change also led insurers to compete harder for people’s business, improving the quality of the cheapest plans at the expense of the insurers’ profit margins.

Second, the most generous insurance plans really would become less generous, but the change would probably do nothing to harm people’s health. The distinguishing feature of these gold-plated plans tends to be their lack of co-payments. The $20,400 family plan that a typical New Hampshire state employee has, for instance, includes free M.R.I.’s, as The Boston Globe has reported. And when M.R.I.’s are free, people tend to get more of them than their well-being requires.

The most comprehensive study of health insurance, by the RAND Corporation, bears this out. People with Cadillac plans are no healthier than people with Chevy Malibu plans. (Similarly, Americans are no healthier than citizens of rich countries that spend far less on medical care.) “Taking someone who’s uninsured and giving them insurance unambiguously improves their health,” says Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at M.I.T., “but taking someone who’s well-insured and making them really well-insured doesn’t make them any healthier.”

Finally, we can expect that a Cadillac tax will, in the long run, increase workers’ incomes. The money companies spend on health insurance, after all, doesn’t come from nowhere. The more they spend on insurance, the less that’s available for wage increases. This is why wage increases are often meager when insurance premiums are growing quickly, as has been the case over the last seven years or so.

When asked about the potential benefits of a Cadillac tax — better wage growth and less wasteful medical spending, with no damage to health — labor officials tend to dismiss them as the stuff of airy economic theory. But they’re not.

The slow wage growth and spiraling health costs of recent years are not theoretical. The fact that people with Cadillac plans aren’t healthier than people with merely good insurance isn’t theoretical. The difference between what this country spends on medicine and what other countries spend isn’t theoretical.

There is no question that a Cadillac tax would be somewhat unpleasant for people with Cadillac plans. It could increase their insurance costs or force them into less generous plans.

By opposing the tax, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. is simply doing its job. It is defending the interests of its members who have such plans — just as business groups are defending the interests of their members. That is what special interests do: look out for their own constituents, even at the expense of the national interest.

E-mail: leonhardt@nytimes.com

Cash for Clunkers/Junkers/Failures?

I found this article in the Washington Post today about the rising foreclosure rates. Given that this Mortgage Relief program is being deemed "successful" despite rising information to the contrary by those seeking relief, I think perhaps they should retool this program to be like the highly controversial but still results oriented Cash for Clunkes. In this overwater home owners simply turn over their keys to banks or buyers willing to take their junker off their hands.

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Foreclosure Rate Rises 17 Percent

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 10:46 AM

The number of homes lost to foreclosures rose about 17 percent in the second quarter of this year despite the launch of an extensive government program aimed at helping borrowers save their home, according to government data released Wednesday.

Completed foreclosures reached 106,007 during the second quarter, compared with 90,696 during the first three months of the year, according to the report by the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates banks. Their quarterly report examines 64 percent of outstanding mortgages in the country.

The increase was primarily the result of various government and industry foreclosure moratoriums, the report said.

Efforts to keep borrowers in their homes increased during that same period, including the implementation of the Making Home Affordable plan. Under that plan, lenders are paid to lower a borrower's monthly payments. Government data has shown that since the program was launched in March, nearly 400,000 borrowers have been helped. The Obama administration aims to complete 500,000 loan modifications by November.

But even as that program ramps up, rising unemployment continues to hamper foreclosure prevention efforts. The level of foreclosure actions started during the quarter stayed steady, while the number of seriously delinquent borrowers -- those who had missed at least two payments -- increased 10 percent, according to the report.

The mortgage data "continued to reflect negative trends influenced by weakness in economic conditions including high unemployment and declining home prices in weak housing markets," the report said.


The report also reflected the risks still posed by hundreds of thousands of risky home loans known as option adjustable-rate mortgages, which reset to significantly higher payments. With these "option ARMs," also known as pick-a-pay loans, a borrower chooses how much to pay each month, often less than the interest due. But the payments on these mortgages eventually rise significantly, putting the borrower at risk of losing the home.

More than 15 percent of these types of loans were seriously delinquent during the second quarter, compared with 5.3 percent of all mortgages, according to the report, and 10 percent were in the process of foreclosure. "The risks of these loans and geographic concentration caused them to perform significantly worse than the overall portfolio," the report said.

Survey Says.....

I received this email from Ron Jones last week questioning some of the survey results by the NAHB with regards to consumer demand regarding Green Building.

I like Ron do question the numbers as I have said over the years that surveys can be easily skewed to reflect the way a question was framed and the number of respondents surveyed. Even the "selection" of respondents can be carefully selected to assure a result outcome that favors those who contract the survey.

Surveys can be a great tool in assisting those to find trends, etc but remember there are extraneous factors that can be utilized to skew survey results.

Read Ron's letter and admire that his advocacy is from someone on the inside. I have elected to not be a part of the NAHB as I feel their lobbying on behalf of builders contributed to the current crisis and that their green program is insufficient and provides too many options to truly be green.

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On September 15 the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) issued a news release titled, "Home Buyers Want to Save Energy—But Only at the Right Price, NAHB Survey Shows."

The release claims that according to a "recent member survey" builders report—among other things—that "even though prospective home buyers want the benefits of new, more efficient homes, they are unwilling to pay much more for a 'green' home."
The news piece also states: "Builders said that among buyers who are willing to pay more for green features, more than half—57 per cent – are unlikely to pay more than an additional two per cent," and that "only 11 percent of builders nationwide indicated that their customers ask about environmentally friendly features, according to the survey."

It is easy to understand why these numbers would grab my attention since surveys of builders that we have conducted on this subject have yielded significantly different results, as have numerous similar surveys by fellow media groups, green building organizations, and other interested parties. In fact, in a survey of builders that we conducted in 2008 respondents indicated that confusion with different green programs and standards posed a greater obstacle to implementing green building techniques than cost increases.

Since I found the NAHB numbers curiously inconsistent with ours I requested the survey data that the results were based on, but my request was immediately denied. The reason given was that surveys such as this are considered "internal documents," and the information in them is not shared with either the press or association members.

I found the second category particularly disconcerting since I am not only a member of NAHB but a Life Director on their Board. I believe that I (and/or any other member making such a request) should have access to survey material and results that are gathered on behalf of the members. I always thought that member-based organizations exist to serve the members. Perhaps I am missing something?
I have continued to press for the information, I am exploring whether their refusal raises legal issues but as of this of this writing I have been told again that it has been the longstanding policy of the organization to never release the raw data from surveys, and in the absence of any additional information I am left to wonder about a few of the survey details … For example, how many builders were offered an opportunity to participate in the survey? How many actually responded and therefore how large is the base pool that the survey cites (11% of builders nationwide would imply a rather large sampling, it seems to me) in these results? What other related questions and potentially contradictory results were not revealed in the news release? Were there builders who tried to take part but were excluded?

I ask this last question because I have attempted to participate in certain industry surveys only to be shut out because my number of housing starts was below a pre-determined minimum threshold. By only selecting certain categories of responses for inclusion in the results it is amazingly easy to skew them. It is no secret that statistical information can be manipulated in a multitude of ways.

Is it possible that this "recent" survey (NAHB says it is from August, and I assume the year to be 2009 but have no confirmation of this) captured results from targeted builder categories, certain sized companies, specific market locations, and/or any number of various qualifiers while excluding others in order to arrive at a pre-determined set of conclusions designed to satisfy a particular message objective?
Without access to the background data one can only suppose. Keeping the information secret obviously fosters suspicion and mistrust since it makes questionable sense otherwise.

The news article concludes: "Whenever Congress considers how to encourage more energy-efficient construction, it must keep affordability involved …" Call me cynical but whenever I hear trade associations, including NAHB, invoke the all too familiar "affordability" refrain coupled with a call for Congress to behave in a certain way—does anyone suppose the timing of the release is an accident?—my experience has consistently been that the status quo is being shielded on behalf of one or more special interest groups.

You have to wonder, though, how much longer will this worn-out strategy survive? Is it possible that the poor old dead horse of "affordability" has been beaten for so long that nobody listens any more, and when they do hear that tired mantra, do they actually interpret it as protecting "profitability?"
The numbers cited in the aforementioned NAHB survey would appear to serve the needs of particular subsets of the Association's membership— perhaps production builders, especially certain high-production building corporations who predicate their market shares on competitive sales price more than any other factor, and who therefore oppose practically any increase in energy-efficiency since it may result in additional cost of entry, regardless how positively it may affect the ability of the homeowner to occupy and operate the home long-term.

Ironically, the same organization that so proudly points to a few hundred housing units that have been "verified" under its national program as evidence that it is the reigning champion of residential sustainability throughout the land, and trumpets the importance of having "designated" more than 4,000 of its members as "Certified Green Professionals" (an embarrassing number, which amounts to less than 3% of its total membership) can't seem to decide which side of the sustainability fence it wants to call home.

This looks to me like just another attempt to have it both ways.

If that is what has happened in this case, it would be hard to say which represents the greater transgression: the manipulative messaging of survey results to serve the profit motives of selected members, the perpetuation of myths and misinformation that discourages the uninformed from attempting to reach higher levels of performance and thus deliver a better end product, or the organizational breach of faith with the rest of us … especially those who send in an annual dues check and hope for balanced advocacy, honest information, and transparency in return.

"Is it possible that the poor old dead horse of "affordability" has been beaten for so long that nobody listens any more, and when they do hear that tired mantra, do they actually interpret it as protecting "profitability?"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Solariffic

I am still a great proponent of you first when it comes to reducing power consumption and building energy effiecency. In light of my Infrastructure post earlier where I feel that is the next and MOST IMPORTANT renewal of urban and suburban communities there is still a need for options that are affordable and approachable for home owners. Aside from the costs, the bulky fragile panels are often rebuffed as cumbersome and visually unappealing. I read this article in Sundays New York Times that discusses the roof tile panels as another way to bring solar energy to homes. And what I like about them is the option of allowing those in the roofing trades another option to build their business. Having diverse skills and talents are going to be critical for maintaning longevity in business.

I also think the ease of transport and manufacturing can build the PVC business here in America discontinuing the need for Chinese PVC made panels. A green idea in more ways than one.

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Solar Power, Without All Those Panels

By ANNE EISENBERG
Published: September 26, 2009

A section of roof tiles at this demonstration site — a home in Bermuda Dunes, Calif. — has built-in solar power cells. The job took about four hours, the owner said.

But companies are now offering alternatives to these fixed installations, in the less conspicuous form of shingles, tiles and other building materials that have photovoltaic cells sealed within them.

“The new materials are part of the building itself, not an addition, and they are taking photovoltaics to the next level — an aesthetic one,” said Alfonso Velosa III, a research director at Gartner and co-author of a coming report on the market for the new field, called building-integrated photovoltaics.

Companies are creating solar tiles and shingles in colors and shapes that fit in, for example, with the terra cotta tile roofing popular in the Southwest, or with the gray shingles of coastal saltbox cottages.

SRS Energy of Philadelphia is making curved solar roofing tiles designed to blend in with Southern California’s traditional clay tiles, said Martin R. Low, the chief executive of SRS. A solar tile system that met half the power needs of a typical California home would cost roughly $20,000 to install after rebates, he estimated, or about 10 to 20 percent more than solar panels providing comparable power.

U.S. Tile of Corona, Calif., a maker of clay tiles, will be selling SRS’s Solé Power Tiles, initially in California, and then in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and other states, said Steve Gast, the company’s president. It will be taking orders perhaps as early as November for shipment in January, he said. SRS Energy buys the photovoltaic cells that cover its roofing from United Solar Ovonic, a maker of flexible solar modules that is based in Rochester Hills, Mich. SRS bonds the silicon cells to the curved Solé tiles, which are made of the same basic material as car bumpers, said J. D. Albert, director of engineering at SRS.

The cells have been installed at several demonstration sites, including a home in Bermuda Dunes, Calif. Rather than creating an entire new roof with the solar tiles, the homeowner, Bill Thomas, a roofing contractor, chose to insert them in his existing roof, replacing about 300 square feet of terra cotta tiles; the job took about four hours, he said.

The solar insert in the roof will generate about 2,400 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to cover a quarter to a third of a typical electric bill, Mr. Albert of SRS said.

A different solar material for the roofs and sides of buildings is being produced by Global Solar Energy of Tucson, Ariz. Atomized layers of a photovoltaic coating called CIGS are deposited in layers on a thin sheet.

“We provide the film, and other companies like Dow take it and design it into a product,” said Timothy Teich, vice president for sales and marketing.

Crystalline photovoltaic cells, the same type as in fixed panel installations, are used within the ceramic tiles available from, among others, the Italian company System Photonics. The cells are held in place and sealed from moisture by a clear plastic protective layer made by DuPont, said Stephen L. Cluff, DuPont’s global business director for photovoltaic encapsulants. The tiles come in 13 colors.

Mr. Velosa said installation of built-in solar power was just starting in the United States, where the bulk of the installations were still experimental. But that will change, he said, because “we are seeing that the construction industry has realized that energy-efficient buildings are an opportunity for growth.”

Paul Markowitz, a senior analyst at NanoMarkets L.C., a research firm in Glen Allen, Va., agreed that the market for the building-integrated products looked promising. But he said that much would depend on when the construction and real estate markets began to recover. The best time to install the photovoltaics in terms of cost and design is during building construction, he said.

Akhil Sivanandan, a research analyst in Madras, India, for the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, said that government subsidies would speed adoption of building-integrated photovoltaics in the United States, as they already have in Europe.

“You need government incentives,” he said. “Even with drops in pricing and advances in technology, it is still too costly.”

In France, Germany and other countries, building-integrated solar markets are growing quickly because of subsidies and programs that pay homeowners for the electricity they generate and feed back to the power grid, he said.

“In Europe, building-integrated photovoltaics already make up about 3 to 4 percent of the total solar market,” Mr. Sivanandan said, adding that the incentives help homeowners in repaying the systems’ costs in five to seven years.

But one other quality will be crucial to the popularity of building-integrated solar cells, Mr. Velosa said.

“Aesthetics is key,” he observed. “They have to look good.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Real Esate Wars

Right now with the housing market in free fall more "surviving" agents are running crazy trying to unload properties currently on market using the 8K tax credit as enticement. That credit barely pays closing costs on most sales so think again before you run out to buy a property. Don't be fooled as we all were that this is a "last chance" deal. There are other and better ways to get even more money reduced from a houses list price. Now is the time to learn the art of negotiation, patience and research.

I found this article on SmartMoney.com about what Real Estate Agents fail to disclose. This is WORTH reading for anyone thinking of buying OR selling a property.

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10 things your real-estate broker won't say
The person you hired to help you buy or sell a home may be holding back. Here are a few things you should know so you get the best deal — and the best service.

By SmartMoney

10 things your real-estate broker won't say (© Jim Craigmyle)


1. "Your open house is really just a networking party for me."
Hire a real-estate broker to sell your home, and one of the first things he'll likely suggest is hosting an open house so that potential buyers can casually check out your property on a weekend afternoon. But while open houses are promoted as a great way of finding a buyer, a National Association of Realtors study found that their success rate is a mere 2 to 4 percent.

No matter. Holding an open house serves another important purpose — for the broker. "It gives him a database of clients," says Sean McNeill, an independent real-estate broker based in New York City who says that he doesn't like open houses, preferring to match clients with appropriate buyers. "At open houses, you get all kinds of people walking in. Some are (trying) to see how much they should sell their own places for; others just want to get a look at what's out there." All are perfect pickings for a broker looking to increase his roster of buyers and sellers. "Think about it," McNeill says. "The broker is devoting a couple hours of a weekend. He won't do that unless it helps him in a big way." But it doesn't necessarily mean that a seller should forgo an open house altogether — "It's still a real good way to showcase your house," McNeill says.


2. "My fees are negotiable."
Brokers like to make it sound as if their fees are engraved in stone, but that's rarely the case. During the housing bubble, for example, as the number of brokers sharply increased, so did the competition for listings. One broker says he lowered his fee by a full percentage point just to give himself an edge. But even in the wake of the recent crash, you have a good chance of negotiating a better deal; that same surplus of brokers is still out there competing for even fewer listings, giving you something of a leg up.

The broker we spoke with, who asked not to be named, says that sellers should always shop around for better terms and has some suggestions for the best conditions to induce brokers to lower their fees: "If somebody's willing to commit to me for selling one place and buying another," or "If you're in a particularly desirable neighborhood with a house that will bring a lot of traffic" for an open house. And with a lot of smaller brokers, he says, "all you need to do is ask and they'll lower the commission."


3. "Think you've had no offers? Actually, there have been several."
Legally, the broker you hire to sell your home is obligated to tell you about all offers that come in. In reality, some do not. Perhaps he thinks the offer is insultingly low for you, but more likely, "the broker thinks it's too low for his own purposes," McNeill says. "He wants to hold out for a bigger commission." Another possibility is that there's an outside broker (or "co-broker") circling your house, and the primary broker is waiting for one of his own clients to make an offer so he can keep the full 6 percent to himself.

"You must be clear with your broker that you want to be informed of all offers," McNeill says. "Otherwise, you may be leaving him to make decisions that you should be making." Check the listing agreement drawn up when you hire the broker; if the promise to disclose all offers isn't listed explicitly, insist that it be added.

4. "I'm not obligated to keep my mouth shut for you."
You spot your dream house as you're driving through a neighborhood and call the broker listed on the "for sale" sign. That's how a lot of buyers stumble on a broker — who, in turn, happily shows you other houses, asking about your needs, laughing at your jokes. It's easy to get loose-lipped and forget whom you're dealing with: someone else's agent. "Legally, brokers are obligated to provide their sellers with any information that can help them get the best prices for their homes," says Stephen Israel, president of Buyer's Edge, a Bethesda, Md.-based company that represents homebuyers. "If you tell the broker that you're willing to pay $500,000 but want to offer $450,000, they'll pass that on to the seller. They have to."
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Also, some brokerage companies encourage prospective buyers to get pre-approved for loans. While that can make a buyer more attractive to a lender, it also tells a broker whether a buyer can afford a $600,000 house when he's trying to haggle on a $400,000 property. "When somebody asks for (a pre-approval), find out who they're representing," says Israel, acknowledging that such details can short-circuit your negotiating leverage. "If they represent a seller — or someone in their office does — they shouldn't have it. The broker may tell you she will be impartial, but how can she be?"

The bottom line: You need to hire your own broker. "The only safe way to go about it is to have an agent who represents you," Israel says.

5. "Sometimes I forget whose side I'm on."
The past 15 years have seen the proliferation of buyer brokers, agents who are supposed to work strictly in the buyer's interest, helping him get a fair price on a home and avoid pitfalls along the way. Unfortunately, things don't always unfold so nicely. While buyers may think they're getting a broker who isn't commission-hungry, many buyer agents are just that: They usually get about 3 percent, the same amount any broker typically earns when he gets involved with another agent's listing. "Buyer brokers are sometimes too focused on closing the sale and getting that commission," says Max Gordon, an Overland Park, Kan.-based real-estate broker and attorney, so it's often in their best interest to see you pay as high a price as possible.

Even worse, some brokers who call themselves buyer advocates are actually working for companies that also represent sellers. "Brokerages offer bonuses to buyer agents if they sell an in-house listing," Israel says. A good way to get a broker who has no such conflicts of interest: the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. Its Web site (www.naeba.com) can help you find a buyer agent near you who pledges to help you get the best deal possible and has no ties to sellers' agents; many even work on a fee structure rather than on commission.

6. "I know zilch about zoning."
Real-estate  agents love to suggest big ideas to prospective buyers — say, removing trees to enhance a view, or even squeezing a rental unit out of a roomy garage — meant to happen once the deal is done and they're out of the picture. But just because it sounds like a good idea doesn't mean it's legal.

"We had a client who bought a dilapidated house with a beautiful piece of property on a marshland," recalls New York City-based architect Mary Langan. "The broker told him that he could fix the house up however he wanted, insisting that this was a sleepy little town where nobody would care what he did." Langan says that the client built a $15,000 shed in the backyard, took down some trees and had some of the marshland filled in — only to have the town insist he put things back because of environmental zoning regulations. The moral of the story: Before you buy into your broker's creative thinking, check with your local zoning commission about what you can and cannot do on a given piece of property.

7. "I won't let termites — or pesky inspectors — kill a deal."
If a broker is selling a house, you figure he knows the place pretty intimately — after all, he talks a good game about the new kitchen, the big closets, the heated garage. What you need to worry about, though, are the home's features that he keeps to himself. Steve VanGrack, former chairman of the Maryland Real Estate Commission, says, "We have had cases where (brokers have) been deceptive about termites and flood damage."

You'd figure that the home inspector, who comes to check out the place before you close the sale, might notice those things. And he probably will — if he's not in cahoots with the broker. "Realtors give potential homebuyers lists of home inspectors," says S. Woody Dawson, a structural inspector and owner of Dawson Inspections in Connecticut. "Those are people who will rubber-stamp the house" in return for repeat business. As one who works outside those lists, Dawson says that he sometimes butts heads with overly controlling brokers. "One time I had a broker tell me that unless I told her the results of my inspection — which is confidential between myself and my client — she wouldn't let me get up on the roof," Dawson says. "I got out my ladder and told her that unless she was big enough to stop me, I was going up there. She wasn't big enough."

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8. "I sometimes forget I'm not a lawyer."
Most states strictly regulate the contracts used in real-estate transactions, stipulating the use of boilerplate agreements that offer little room for creativity — but some brokers can't keep their clause-adding instincts in check. "I see (brokers) pushing the envelope all the time with amendments and addenda," says Gordon, the Kansas broker and attorney. "They draft language that can have consequences without really understanding it, but they want to keep the sale going."

For example, Gordon points out, it's fairly common for "a transaction to close on one day but possession doesn't happen until a later date, in which case the buyer rents the house back to the seller for those days." Gordon also warns that issues of responsibility for the house often require more than just a couple of lines from the broker's pen — he says, for example, that if a clause is worded improperly, you, the buyer, could end up liable for damage done by your "rental tenant." Same goes for purchases of non-real-estate items (such as patio furniture) and owner carry back (in which the seller provides some of the financing). "In both cases, payment terms might not get spelled out clearly," Gordon says, "and can result in one party taking advantage of the other."

Whether you're the buyer or the seller, it's probably worth the legal fees to get the offer contract reviewed by your lawyer before you sign.

9. "My Web site is a dead end."
Considering that 77 percent of house hunters look on the Web, according to the National Association of Realtors, sellers might assume that using a broker with a site can help make a sale happen. But some brokers' sites are better than others, and you need to look beyond a well-designed home page to figure that out.

One common flaw: posting houses that sold long ago. While the mistake can be simple negligence, others think that it's a bait-and-switch-style ploy. "It brings people in, but it gets them upset when they find out that the property's (gone)," says Frank D'Ostilio Jr., sales manager for Coldwell Banker in Newton, Conn. "If a broker has to advertise properties that are already sold, it tells you that he doesn't have enough inventory to keep his (roster of houses) full."


Aside from checking up on its prominently placed listings, prospective sellers should also make sure that a site is easy to navigate. Roger Lautt, a Chicago-based broker with Re/Max Exclusive Properties who has his own site, recommends using a broker who "keeps himself relatively high on the search engines." Lautt says he pays a webmaster to make sure this happens for his site, which is linked with Realtor.com, Yahoo and the Re/Max site.

Another important feature of a good real-estate site: community information. It's "one of the big things a broker should have on his site," Lautt says. Maps and information on schools, recreation facilities and commuting options attract people who are thinking of moving to the community.

10. "You can probably do this without me."
Brokers like to create a lot of mystique about selling homes, insisting that the process is complicated and best left to professionals. Not so, say homeowners who have sold their homes themselves (about 20 percent to 25 percent do so each year). William Supple, publisher of the sale-by-owner real-estate magazine Picket Fence Preview and author of "How to Sell Your Own Home," says that "properly priced and advertised, a house sells itself." Supple adds that sellers should plant a yard sign and post online ads for the property on local sites aligned with print publications (call current advertisers to see if a site is effective).

When it comes to the negotiations between buyers and sellers, Supple says brokers and their commissions tend to just get in the way. "Usually, the haggling occurs over a 5 to 10 percent difference," he says. "And that is more or less the broker's cut of the sale price. You don't need him." Just be sure you price your home well. The way most self-sellers hurt themselves, Supple says, is in setting either an unreasonably high or tragically low asking price. "Hire an independent appraiser for $200," he suggests, "and he will tell you (the parameters of) what to charge."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Caveat Emptor or Let the Buyer be AWARE

There are many unfinished or semi finished homes currently on the market. From new builds to remodel allowing for some "great deals" with also great risks. I am always aware of a home's construction and why having a superior Home Inspector or qualified Engineer look at any home regardless is absolutely necessary. If anything we have learned that when it comes to disclosing information the absolute minimum is usually required by law and nothing more.

As a result home owners are clearly uniformed about problems that occurred during construction or issues that have been repaired or often covered up to facilitate a quick sale. I still think that those who did buy many production homes and have managed to stay in them will end up finding problems later on that warranties and the like will be invalid further declining the long term value of the home.

And why I have an edge on understanding the basics of home construction its not necessary for everyone to but it is necessary to find UNBIASED THIRD PARTY VERIFICATION of a home's overall quality.

So even in the case of the "as is" property still follow up with proper inspections to understand what you are getting into.

I reprint this article regarding purchasing said properties from MSN as I think it makes salient points when you are considering buying distressed properties.

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How long can a half-built house sit?
There are risks to buying a home when construction has been halted for a time. Here’s what can go wrong at each of 3 critical stages. Plus: 5 ways to protect yourself.
By Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate



All over the U.S., blocks, streets and entire subdivisions of homes are sitting half-finished because their builders ran out of money or went bankrupt. In 25 (mostly coastal) metro areas surveyed by research firm Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, 52,295 housing units are completed and sitting empty, with 6,097 of those located in projects where work has been halted or canceled.

For engineer and construction expert David Carlysle, business is booming. He is often called on to evaluate half-built construction: Banks want to know if projects they've inherited through foreclosure can be salvaged. Builders need help calculating the cost of completing a job. City inspectors often won't issue a building permit to restart a stalled job without an expert assessment of damage.

"Most of the time what we have seen is the builder ultimately goes bankrupt and the bank winds up looking for someone to finish it for them," says Carlysle, president of the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers and owner of Criterium-Carlysle Engineers, in Birmingham, Ala. Banks either hire a builder to complete the job or try to sell an unfinished project to a builder who will complete the homes and put them on the market. But as demand for new homes has dried up, so have bank loans that would enable a new builder to step in and complete the job. And these abandoned homes can sit empty month after month after month.

Exposure to the elements is a big risk, but not the only worry. Builders under financial pressure sometimes cut corners before finally walking away, Carlysle says. He tells of a 3,500-square-foot home — "the kind of house that would wow a buyer" — that was nearly finished when the original builder went bankrupt. Tipped off by a sagging wall, Carlysle found that crucial support beams were missing in several places. The original builder hid the shoddy work behind finished walls, skipping a city inspection that would have exposed the negligence.

There are some great deals on new homes today. But before you inadvertently buy trouble, here's what you need to know about the potential costs and safety concerns of interrupted construction.


Homes are erected in a sequence involving three main stages. A break in the sequence invites trouble. Whether problems result, and how severe they become, hinges on three questions:

At what stage was construction abandoned?

How long was the project left unfinished?

How much wind, rain, temperature change and ultraviolet light was it exposed to? All these can damage or even destroy an unprotected building over time.

Stage 1: Roughed in
When a house is "roughed in," the site is graded, the foundation built and the framing (usually wood) is erected. Some or all of the sheathing — boards of plywood or manufactured wood — may be installed as the subfloor and roof underlayment.

Exposure limit: Roughly two months from the start of construction.

Risks: If abandoned for even a few months at this stage, especially in high humidity or continuing wetness, a house can become seriously damaged. The longer the exposure, the worse the risk:

Manufactured wood products, made of glue and wood fiber, can swell and lose strength in moisture. "They can actually turn to kind of mush if they get too wet too often," says Claudette Reichel, an expert on housing and building materials at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. The warranties and manufacturer recommendations vary on different products, but generally two months — roughly the time it takes to get a house ready to enclose — is their exposure limit, Carlysle says. Oriented strand board (OSB) used in floors, roofs and walls, can grow mold in a week or less under the right conditions, causing ugly stains and a health hazard. Plywood — thin, laminated sheets of wood pressed together with glue — will separate and warp. (Warped wood is unsightly but structurally sound.) "It's basically rated for exposure during the construction period and that's all," Carlysle says. "If it sits on the site for a month or so before the building gets started, then that clock is running."

Framing studs are less vulnerable because they're made of solid lumber and are narrow and vertical. But if water is trapped on the surface, even solid lumber can rot in a few months, Reichel says.

Foundations are likely to settle, buckle or crack after a heavy rain if gutters aren't installed yet or if the soil hasn’t been graded to direct runoff away from the house. Failing foundations cause uneven floors, ill-fitting doors and wall cracks.

If left uncovered, synthetic roof weather-barrier products, called "felting," break down after several months' exposure to sun, wind and storms, reducing their effectiveness.

Even nails eventually corrode. Dan Grisa, a contractor in Riverside County, Calif., who rehabs half-built homes for banks and investors, says he's seen nails rust right inside the wood framing of a half-built home.

Stage 2: Dried in

A house is considered "dried in" when it is protected but not tightly sealed. At this point, the roof is finished and sealed with flashings to weatherproof joints and seams; wall cavities are filled with insulation; and the outside is covered in moistureproof house wrap. Inside, plumbing, wiring, ductwork and subfloor panels are installed. Floors and walls are defined and supported with panels of plywood or manufactured wood sheathing. Windows and doors may or may not yet be installed.

Exposure limit: Roughly four months after work has stopped

Risks: Moisture is the biggest risk at this stage:

Plywood or manufactured wood flooring or roof sheathing can mold or rot. "I've been involved in some projects where the house was not well dried in, so that water was able to penetrate in and sit on the subfloor," Carlysle says.
House wrap grows brittle and loses protection after several months of exposure to sunlight, wind or driving rain. Synthetics, used in house wrap, roofing felt and flashings (tape used to seal joints and seams) can hold out four to five months at most before they must be enclosed under siding or roofing, says Bijan Mansouri, technical applications manager for Fiberweb, maker of Typar house wrap and other membranes. After that, synthetics lose the ability to repel and transmit moisture. "The longer a product is exposed to sunlight, the more it basically breaks it down," Mansouri says. Wind-driven rain and freezing and thawing also drive moisture through synthetics and into the house, inviting mold and decay.
Moisture can enter wall cavities. If dampness is sealed into walls, it can ruin insulation and encourage mold and rot. "I have seen that in homes where the house wrap and finishing was not properly applied and water gets into the areas under the eaves," Carlysle says. "We've opened those areas and found essentially black mush in there."

Stage 3: Finishing

In the final phase of construction, exterior walls are covered with weatherproof siding and windows and doors are installed, sealing the home from the elements. Inside, wallboard is installed; cabinets and doors are hung; and flooring, paint, appliances, heating and air conditioning, fixtures and trim are added.

Exposure limit: A well-made, watertight house can sit for many months — even years — as long as the heating and cooling systems are running and someone inspects the home regularly for leaks and damage. Without running heating and air conditioning, a house – particularly one with sensitive electronic components – shouldn't be abandoned more than six months, Carlysle says.

Risks:

Mold grows easily on damp interior surfaces and inside wall cavities if a home's heating and cooling equipment is not running.
Owners of vacant homes commonly leave the water turned on but the heat off, to save money. Freezing and thawing breaks pipes and appliance hoses, then leaks or gushers erupt when things thaw. "A lot of empty houses have been damaged by frozen pipes," Carlysle says. "After we've had a cold spell, I have been past houses with water running out the doors" and down the street.
Moisture also is a threat to gypsum wallboard, says Scott Feste, spokesman for United States Gypsum Co., which makes Sheetrock brand wallboard panels. Although wallboard panels can tolerate water if dried quickly, mold will grow on them in prolonged dampness. "You don't want to expose them to prolonged periods of high humidity," Feste says. Of less serious concern, the unpainted surface of wallboard discolors in strong light; stain-sealing paint covers the problem.
Finished solid wood floors can be ruined as boards separate and warp if they shrink and swell from getting wet or staying in constant humidity.
Doors and woodwork may be ruined by swelling and cracks if temperature and humidity controls are turned off.

Even a furnace, air conditioner and appliances suffer. "Electronic components are ruined by humidity," Reichel says. Even in a warm, dry home, heating and cooling systems and appliances should be run every few months or they may stop functioning. "Any purchaser of property that has sat for a while needs to make sure the heating equipment and controls are operational," Reichel says. "Hire a heating and air conditioning contractor to go through the equipment and check it."
Empty homes these days are an invitation to vandals, thieves and squatters. Thieves strip everything of value from an unguarded home: appliances, sinks, toilets, granite counters, furnace, air conditioning components, trim, wood floors, light fixtures and even copper plumbing, which is sold for scrap. Home inspectors tell of homes where vandals punched in walls and ceilings, smeared feces on the walls and floors and took a chain saw to roof trusses. If severe damage is covered up without having been properly repaired, a buyer could inherit a mess.
How to uncover a home's history
It can be tough to spot trouble beneath newly finished floors and fresh coats of paint, but you can mitigate your risk by following these steps:

Talk with neighbors who watched the house go up. If somebody says, "Oh, yeah, that house sat there for months (or years)," get serious about looking further into the home's history.

Follow the paper trail. Visit the city building department to see a home's inspection records and, if possible, talk with the inspector who watched the house as it was built. Some cities keep great records, others are lousy or nonexistent, and inspectors aren't always willing to dish on a builder. But it's worth a try, since this is often a new home's only record.

Look beneath: When checking out a home, try to see the underside of the floor from the basement or crawl space. Look for water stains, particularly at the edges and where it meets the (vertical) floor joists. Stains can mean there was a fire (and water was used to extinguish it) or that the house had sitting water during construction (a bad sign). If a dropped-tile basement ceiling obscures your view, push up the tile to see. While under the main floor, also check for water stains directly beneath all windows and doors. These indicate leaks during construction.
Get a diligent inspector: Hire a certified home inspector (cost: about $200 to $300) or structural engineer (cost: about $300 to $500) to thoroughly examine any home you're considering purchasing. Engineers are qualified to diagnose structural problems, home inspectors are not.

(Read "4 tips for finding the best home inspector. Search here for a member of the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers.)
Hire a specialist: If you really are interested in a house but suspect problems, hire a building forensics specialist, usually an engineer, to inspect in detail. Such comprehensive examinations cost about $1,200 to $1,500 and may involve boring into walls in an inconspicuous location to test for mold spores or to insert a fiber-optic camera to scan for rot and structural problems. The specialist may bring in a plumber, electrician and roofing or heating contractor to dismantle and go over every system in the home.

Even if you do all of this and don't uncover telltale signs of trouble, there is still a substantial risk to buying a house that's been abandoned for a time. Home sellers and contractors can cover up problems so well that even a superb inspector can't spot them.

Asked if he'd buy a home for a great price that may have been abandoned during construction, Carlysle says, "Just based on my experience of seeing some of the things that can go wrong, I would probably be one of those who would say, 'No thanks, I'll find something else.'

Upgrading your home's energy efficiency




With winter approaching NOW is the time to really make the last minutes adjustments and alterations to your home to enhance energy efficiency.

My favorite DIY book is Cut Your Energy Bills Now get that at your local library and see what you can do simply and affordably now to improve performance of your home.

In that effort I am reprinting this article from Fine Homebuilding that I think really explains what it means to enhance a home's insulation and ultimate energy performance capabilities. What it does neglect however the need to adjust mechanical's (meaning ventilation) when it comes to tightening a home and therefore increasing indoor humidity and air levels. Without that ultimate component you could be causing more problems than solving them.

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A (Complete) Guide to Estimating Energy Efficiency Payback

Mike Guertin, editorial advisor


To truly measure the payback period of an upgrade to your home's energy efficiency there are countless factors that need to be considered -- from job security to your existing insulation R-Value. Not all of these can be rolled up into a simple mathematical equation.

By relying on a calculator, like the Payback Estimator recently published on FineHombuilding.com, I’m fearful that homeowners will focus their thinking on only one metric when considering an energy efficiency upgrade. Deciding whether it makes sense to install new windows or add new insulation to your walls or attic is a lot more complicated than plugging in a few numbers and getting an "answer."

A homeowners checklist for energy efficiency upgrades
There are dozens of variables that a homeowner has to weigh when considering an energy efficiency upgrade. It’s often hard work sorting everything out. Other home renovation project decisions are easier to make. The primary driving force behind a bathroom makeover, kitchen remodel or just repainting a room is emotion; "I want (fill in the blank)," "I need a (fill in the blank)."

It’s rare that homeowners have an emotional attachment to air sealing, insulation or a new hot water heater. An analytical need to justify the cost of an upgrade kicks in as soon as the upgrade is out of sight (in the walls, floor or attic) or part of the hard working utilities.

Here’s a partial list of variables that come into play:

Job security
How long will I live in the house?
Efficiency upgrade impact on house value
Will a buyer pay more for a house because of the efficiency improvements – or not?
Will an appraiser value the improvements or ignore them?
What’s more important to a buyer: a new kitchen or more insulation?
Tax credits (or lack thereof)
Utility incentives
Future energy (electricity, gas, oil, pellets…) costs next year / 5 years / 10 years
What’s my responsibility to global warming? Is it even an issue?
Will the workers doing improvements screw up something on the house?
What latent problems will be caused by the changes?
What is the best sequence for energy efficiency improvements?
What should be done first?
What efficiency improvement gives the most bang for the buck?
When is it best to take on the efficiency improvement? This year, next year or 10 years from now?
How much more ‘comfortable’ will the house be after an upgrade? How will that "comfort" feel?
How much better will the air be inside the house? How do you know?

The path I recommend

1. Use the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick to get a general feeling for how your home energy use compares to your neighbors’. If you’re house falls below a score of eight it’s time to figure out what steps to take to improve efficiency.

2. Get a home energy audit -- a true assessment of a home’s energy performance and specific recommendations for upgrades. Many utility companies or community energy services subsidize audits. Read Every House Needs an Energy Audit from Fine Hombuilding magazine, or watch FineHomebuilding.com's video on the process.

3. Learn stuff about energy efficiency – here are a few more links: XSave Money with Free Home Energy Audits and Remodeling for Energy Efficiency.

Now you're ready to play with a payback period calculator.

More than just math

Sure, calculators are somewhat engaging, they give you some feedback and they appear to make the decision process of where to spend hard earned cash easier. Despite the well-described limitations that are pointed out by the U.S. Department of Energy, whose payback equation powers FineHomebuilding.com's estimator, most users overlook the disclaimer and hyperfocus on the calculator results. And they often rely solely on the calculator results when making energy efficiency upgrade buying decisions. Unfortunately most people either aren’t prepared or don’t want to endure the brain-pain required to drill down to making an informed decision.

It’s hard work to sort through what makes sense for your house, your budget and your situation. A Payback Period Calculator is not a shortcut to an answer. It’s only one small piece of information you can use to reach a decision.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Its the Infrastructure

This morning on the way to a gig I was listening to BBC America's discussion on New York City and the next phase of where it was going as a city.

When America was its infancy the growth of this city was largely fueled by the need to build a better hub and city of "greatness" for the future, one with a mix of financial services and small industry. The city grew and is truly symbiotic as a one of the greatest cities in the world.

But its time for a new act for this great city. While the banking crisis has taken its toll its still a vibrant but very expensive city. It has little room to build upon a working class and without that consideration it asks the question: What does it mean to live and work in city in our new economy?

I agree with the premise that its time to look to the infrastructure. The need for better public transport, better services in outer areas and the need for affordable housing in and outside of the city. This is a prescription that is for any city.

Having lived in San Francisco that saw great growth but very strident and cautious growth that led to outrageous prices in real estate while income fell flat leads to a city of only two incomes - the very rich and the very poor. And now I live in Seattle with the ubiquitous townhouses lining every street, absurd housing prices and the still ever growing sprawl in response to our growth, I have to agree that without real improvements to the infrastructure a city cannot function well.

San Francisco tried to be responsive with making grand laws to get health care, free wi-fi, higher minimum wages and varying other "green" bills to make living in the City possible for a diverse group it did nothing to stop the ever growing white wealthy class taking over the city. Seattle is struggling with its light rail and trolleys to nowhere while realizing the best they can do to draw industry is poaching an investment bank from Tacoma to move north to the empty Washington Mutual building. Irony not lost.

And this brings New York.. bridges, roads and subways built in the times of grandeur dilapidated and pushed to extremes. Borough's (the burbs) of NY still seen as being undesirable as more and more families, the backbones of cities, moving there and still seen as almost pioneers to a city that is largely populated by the rich and the white and very poor that serve them.

There is a real need to build our infrastructure to serve ALL the population and what a great way to build those green jobs that the maligned Van Jones wished for all. There is nothing more needed than building better public transport, better improved outlying areas to reduce the need to commute and maintain a better diverse city that has housing that is both rich and green for all. Schools that serve all the populations and not just the poor while the rich attend private academies.

The idea that the infrastructure is something that the Government is solely responsible is not true. There is nothing stopping private industry in taking on these projects and building new business models to find new business. We argue incessantly about the Government running everything and yet we turn to them to repair the largest and most significant part of our communities. While private developers are left to build nothing but commercial and residential properties that right now are at their highest glut.

Is it not time to see and demonstrate how we can prove the role of the private sector in making our cities and communities great again? And then in turn free up that financial obligation which will allow the Government to give us health care in return?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You are not alone

I read this in the Washington Post and I have to agree with the fears and sentiments expressed in this poll.

I have been really preoccupied with this issue and still feel that the need for financial reform and stimulus packages that will restore the economy to bring people back to work is a long way in coming. Frankly in the past year I have not expected any great strides as we have had a major switch in the White House, problems and programs that are in strife and how do you pick which one takes precedent?

I do believe that if we are to move forward we need financial reform, we need national health care and we need innovation and green jobs to move us forward toward building the economy and putting people back to work. But how this is to be accomplished is one that given the political climate will not be one anytime soon.

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Lots of Fear Remains Over Economy, Job Losses



By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Despite fresh signs that the worst may be over for the beleaguered U.S. economy, there has been no letup in public fears about possible financial hardship ahead and there is broad concern that not enough is being done to avert another meltdown, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Painful personal experiences over the past year continue to dampen the outlook of many Americans. About two-thirds of those polled say they have been hurt financially by the recession, with extensive reports that job losses and pay reductions are hitting home. Most call the economic situation a source of stress in their lives, and that anxiety also stems from apprehension of what may lie ahead for their families.

Nearly six in 10 Americans are now concerned about job or pay losses in the coming months, little changed since February, and there has been no increase in the percentage who see the federal government's stimulus efforts as having an impact, even as the pace of layoffs has eased in recent months. And there is lukewarm public confidence that the government is enacting measures to stave off another financial crisis.

Overall, 49 percent say they are confident that sufficient new financial regulations are being put into place, but just one in 10 expresses a lot of faith that this is happening. Fewer respondents think that major financial institutions are adapting their business practices to make another meltdown less likely (41 percent say they are confident this is occurring; 8 percent are "very confident" it is).

President Obama himself, who took to Wall Street on Monday to pitch his administration's plans to overhaul the nation's financial regulations, also gets a lukewarm 51 percent approval rating on dealing with the economy and an even lower assessment on his handling of the federal budget deficit (39 percent).

Continued high levels of concern about the downturn are taking a toll on the president's ratings: Among those who say they are concerned about future job losses or pay cuts, Obama's approval rating on handling the economy has dropped from 62 percent in February to 45 percent now, while it has remained steady among those who are less anxious.

Concern about the impact of recession crosses party lines. More than six in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents say they have been hurt by the recession. Higher- and lower-income households alike reported significant levels of economic pain.
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Lower-income respondents have felt the brunt of the economic contraction more directly, with more than a third of those with annual household incomes under $50,000 reporting a job loss at home, compared with about two in 10 of those with higher incomes.

Slashed pay or work hours have had a broader impact, regardless of household income. About four in 10 respondents have had to adjust to such declines. Nearly half in the new poll say they or someone in their household had suffered a job loss or cut in pay or work hours in the last year, up four points since the spring.

The $787 billion dollar federal stimulus program enacted in February also gets middling reviews. In numbers little changed over the past few months, 52 percent see the package of outlays as already helping the economy, or think it will, while 46 percent say it will not. The vast majority of Democrats continue to be positive about this round of federal spending, while most Republicans hold a critical viewpoint. Independents are split down the middle, with 48 percent seeing the plan as working, 51 percent as not.

Stagnant views on the stimulus parallel a steep decline in Obama's advantage over congressional Republicans in terms of dealing with the nation's economy. At the 100-day-mark of his presidency, Obama held a 37-point lead over the GOP on this marquee issue, but that has now dipped to 11 points in the new poll, with 48 percent saying they trust Obama more, 37 percent the GOP. That decline is centered among independents and moderates, who now split about evenly between the president and the Republicans.

But fading faith in the president's handling of the issue has not translated into blame for the nation's economic woes. Just under three in 10 say that Obama deserves a "great deal" or "a good amount" of blame for not doing enough to turn the economy around. Far more, about two-thirds, hold former president George W. Bush responsible for inadequate regulation of the financial industry.

Partisan differences on whom to blame still run deep, with 85 percent of Democrats pointing the finger at Bush -- more than twice the level among Republicans (38 percent). Among independents, 63 percent blame Bush, 28 percent Obama.

The poll was conducted Sept. 10 to 12 among a random sample of 1,007 adults on both conventional and cellular telephones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

They call her Windy

People often ask me why I am so resistant to third party certifications.. well one because they are less about advancing the cause and purpose of green build and more about the organization making money from the process and further adding unnecessary bells, whistles and crap to buildings that don't improve performance or purpose.

What I would like to see is that the varying groups from MBA, NAHB, LEED and et al to promote positive building code and legislative changes to make real changes that make it easy to truly go green.

This morning this article discusses the issues once again in trying to do what is right when it comes to making significant changes in energy efficiency. When the average citizen is stymied from doing what they can to make the world greener I honestly think the efforts to build green are truly about money and less about the world at large.

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Turning to Windmills, but Resistance Lingers


By ABBY GOODNOUGH
Published: September 12, 2009


Wendie Howland at the spot where she began installing a wind turbine before her plans were thwarted.

But when Mrs. Howland tried to take the next step in green living — installing a 132-foot windmill in her backyard that would generate enough electricity to power her home — she hit a wall. The planning board in this pastoral Cape Cod town twice rejected the project citing safety concerns and predicting “an adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood.”

Mrs. Howland’s defeat was sealed by a Superior Court ruling in July that backed the planning board’s decision, underscoring the steep odds that residential windmill plans face nationwide. After investing some $40,000 in a 10-kilowatt turbine and legal fees, Mrs. Howland and her husband, Francis, are giving up their two-year fight.

“It’s ludicrous,” said Mrs. Howland, 58, a health care consultant. “We were trying to make our bills smaller as we got older, in a clean and responsible fashion, and it boggles my mind that ordinary people like us aren’t allowed to do that.”

The decision is likely to be scrutinized by towns across the region and even the nation as they grapple with how to regulate windmills on residential property. In wind-rich regions, clashes like Mrs. Howland’s are increasingly common as conservation-minded people seek to install small wind turbines on their property.

Battles over the height and noise level of residential windmills, and even over the shadows cast by their blades, are springing up from Maine to California, even as the Obama administration promotes renewable energy and the federal stimulus package provides 30 percent tax credits for homeowners who install wind turbines.

Many towns still enforce old laws that prohibit anything taller than 30 feet or 40 feet on residential land — a height too low for sufficient wind power generation, experts say. Wind turbines need to be at least 30 feet higher than anything within 500 feet, including trees, which often means a tower of 80 feet or more. The Howlands’ windmill would have been more than three times the height of an average utility pole, to ensure that the surrounding white pines did not interfere.

“Everyone recoils at that,” said Jonathan D. Fitch, the Howlands’ lawyer. “It reminds me of the litigation involving cell towers in the beginning — a lot of neighborhood hostility back then, but today you hardly notice them.”

Even before the Howland case, Cape Cod was a battleground in the windmill debate: a proposal to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm has met with stiff opposition from those who say the project would spoil the natural beauty of Nantucket Sound.

While residential turbines remain a tiny fraction of the wind energy market, they are popping up often enough for many communities, especially in New England, the Midwest and the West, to start regulating them. Nearly 2,700 wind units with capacities of 10 kilowatts or less, the size used for residences, were sold nationwide last year, up from 1,167 in 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

But challenges persist even in communities that have passed ordinances on windmills, like Bourne, where residents overwhelmingly approved a bylaw regulating windmills at a town meeting in 2007. The wind energy association estimates that one-third of small wind projects are thwarted by vague or overly strict local laws, or by outdated zoning rules that preclude them.

“It’s mostly that they will make the rules so prohibitive that they essentially ban installations,” said Ron Stimmel, the association’s small wind advocate. “There are humongous hurdles that no other type of installation has been faced with.”

In Waukee, Iowa, the City Council is considering a law that would “allow and encourage” the use of small wind-energy systems but would ban them on single-family homes. In Islip, N.Y., a new provision allows residents to install windmills up to 45 feet tall — probably not high enough to make the investment worthwhile, Mr. Stimmel said.

And in Bourne, a town of about 19,000, the 2007 bylaw limits residential windmills to 75 feet high unless the homeowner can prove that a taller windmill is needed and would not “increase any adverse impacts.”

In July, during the Howlands’ trial, Brian Wall, a lawyer for Bourne, told Judge Christopher Muse of Barnstable County Superior Court that the Howlands had not provided enough evidence that their windmill would be quiet and safe.

“If this 1,600-pound thing falls or something falls off it in the area around it,” he said, citing the possibility of ice flying off the blades in winter, “it needs to be safe.”

Mr. Wall said the town needed an engineer’s guarantee that in heavy winds the windmill would not crash onto neighboring homes — the closest is 105 feet from its proposed base — even though its pole is designed to fold in such weather, not break apart.

He added that no qualified engineer had certified that the windmill would be quiet or that its “shadow flicker” — the strobe of sunlight passing through rotating blades — would not bother the Howlands’ neighbors.

In his ruling, Judge Muse wrote that while he did not believe the windmill would pose a safety threat, the planning board’s decision fell within its discretion and was not “unreasonable, whimsical, capricious or arbitrary.”

Megan Amsel of the Cape and Islands Self Reliance Corporation, a nonprofit group that promotes alternative energy in Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts, said she had seen some disastrous wind projects — not because they proved unsafe, but because they did not generate enough power.

“It’s really hard to find a good installer,” she said, adding that there are no certification requirements. “I’ve seen some real disasters, and it can give this emerging industry a black eye.”

The wind needs to blow at least 12 miles an hour for a turbine to generate electricity — a requirement that rules out many sites — and the initial cost is steep. Mr. Stimmel said that the average cost of buying and installing a residential turbine was $30,000, and that it took 6 years to 30 years to recover that cost through energy savings.

The total cost for the Howlands’ turbine, including installation, would be $72,000, they said.

To Mrs. Howland, the town’s claim that a windmill would hurt the character of her neighborhood was especially galling. None of her closest neighbors objected, she said.

“There is no aesthetic clause in the bylaw because aesthetics are subjective,” she said. “For every person I know who says, ‘I don’t like it,’ I hear another say, ‘I think they’re beautiful.’ ”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Which One? The war of the Woods.

In the ever combative certification process the war over which Cert is the best cert is now escalating over FSC Certified Wood/Paper products over SFI Certified Wood. One comes from the Forest Stewardship Council, a non profit organization committed to encouraging sustainable wood harvesting practices vs the Stewardship Forestry Initiative an "industry" based group moving into the ever growing competing network for green building.

Yes we need more Sustainable and responsible practices with regards to our shrinking natural resources. While I believe the FSC is a great group it puts a limited number of available products on market, raising the prices and at one point the demand for FSC wood was so high there was none available and as a result many projects that were working for "fill in the blank" Certification were left in the dust.

That type of problem again makes those interested in green turned off and in this economic crisis the costs would make those willing to comply to green build practices less likely. Knowing builders as I do anything that lends to costs and hassle will go out the window in a heartbeat.

Adding SFI would be fine if in fact they are truly practicing what they preach and are truly working to maintain a sustainable forest and reduce waste. And in reality they should if they want to remain in business regardless.

We have to really look at what it means to maintain our natural resources and maintain the use of wood as a building material. It still holds the most ease and practicality in building. And the focus on tropicals may hold an interest but in reality we have little real knowledge and control of what is going on in those distant and exotic locales. Encouraging sustainability would benefit them in many ways but as economies collapse so does the good intentions.

I reprint the article from today's NY Times over the latest in the argument. But once again it always centers on LEED. Again, if you are building for stars, medals or what have you then do so with the belief that the costs may be more than what really lends itself to the long term purpose of the build. If everyone would follow quality protocols and ethics this silly certifications would not be needed.

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Environmental Groups Spar Over Certifications of Wood and Paper Products



By MIREYA NAVARRO
Published: September 11, 2009

For more than a decade, the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council generally has been viewed as the premier judge of whether a wood or paper product should be labeled as environmentally friendly.

But to the dismay of major environmental groups, that label, known as F.S.C., is facing a stiff challenge from a rival certification system supported by the paper and timber industry. At stake is the trust of consumers in the ever-expanding market for “green” products.

This week lawyers for ForestEthics, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting forests, filed administrative complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service challenging the credibility of the rival label, known as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or S.F.I.

The complaints, which challenge S.F.I.’s nonprofit status, accuse the certification program of lax standards and deceptive marketing intended to obscure the standards and the S.F.I.’s financial ties to the forest industry.

“They’ve essentially created a green certification system to promote their sales,” said Peter Goldman, director of the Washington Forest Law Center in Seattle, the legal firm that filed the complaints on Thursday. “We believe S.F.I. has confused the marketplace.”

Karen Brandt, a spokeswoman for S.F.I., said that the certification program was sound and that it had met all legal requirements as a nonprofit.

S.F.I. provides consumers with details about its labeling standards at its Web site, she added. “We’re happy to provide them with the facts that support the credibility of our program,” she said.

The certification program was founded in 1995 by timber and paper companies as an alternative to F.S.C., which was formed in 1993 by international environmental groups. (F.S.C. includes forest industry representatives on its board.)

The F.S.C. is bracing for a big blow if the United States Green Building Council, which rates buildings as environmentally sustainable under its so-called LEED system, starts accepting other types of certified wood next year, as it has proposed to do pending a vote by its membership.

Scot Horst, a senior vice president for the council, said the proposal was prompted partly by complaints that the supply of F.S.C.-certified wood was too limited. As a compromise, LEED officials plan to come up with their own benchmarks for wood grown and harvested in a responsible manner and to accept any certification program that meets those requirements.

LEED officials say that the S.F.I. program certifies more forest acreage than F.S.C. and that it showed more independence by breaking away from the American Forest and Paper Association in 2007.

Still, “S.F.I. is the 800-pound gorilla,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president and chief executive of Green Building Council. “That’s the group that we need to try to convince to do better in forest management.”

For consumers, the array of eco-labels can be baffling. In the case of wood, Mr. Goldman noted that S.F.I. officials proudly state at their Web site that President Obama’s daughters’ new swing set at the White House was made from wood cut at S.F.I.-certified forests. Yet the president’s inaugural invitation was printed on F.S.C.-certified paper.

“If the White House is confused,” Mr. Goldman said, “everyone must be confused.”

Urvashi Rangan, the director of technical policy at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, said that it judged F.S.C. to have “more rigorous” standards. She and other experts say S.F.I. gives forest managers more latitude than F.S.C., which generally has more specific requirements for certification.

Yet Consumer Reports gives F.S.C. and S.F.I. the same rating at its GreenerChoices.com Web site: “somewhat” meaningful, as opposed to “highly” meaningful or “not” meaningful at all.

In essence, Ms. Rangan said, both programs have industry ties and could apply stricter standards in areas like preventing cutting of old-growth forests.

Certified forest products account for a small fraction of wood and paper sales in the United States, but both certification programs have reported significant growth in recent years. Today F.S.C. certifies about 100 million acres of forest in the United States and Canada as operating in an environmentally responsible manner, compared with 175 million acres for S.F.I.

Some experts said the Green Building Council’s move could sharply reduce demand for the F.S.C. label if it devised watered-down requirements for wood.

“There’ll be a lot less reason to get F.S.C.,” said Ben Cashore, director of the Forest Policy program at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “Why would you go for the tougher program?”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Numbers do Lie

The casualties of the economic meltdown are not always part of the current numbers given by the Government with regards to the Unemployed. Current figures show 9.7% but in reality the number should be anywhere between 14-17%. The Government fears the number of 10% as that is the danger zone... well I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but in reality we exceeded that number quite awhile ago. When we regain full employment is something even most Economists are unsure. But it will be a decade or longer to see restoration of employment and wages commensurate to those prior to the collapse.

I have no idea when we will see full restoration or a decline in the overall numbers of unemployment. Economists theorize it will be a decade or more to absorb the numbers of those out of work and to further add insult to injury that same time to see an increase in wages to compensate for the equal period of time.

I know that I along with many of my professional colleagues in the industry are deeply concerned, massively affected financially and personally concerned about our long term growth or success. I am waiting patiently for school to resume and on pins and needles about when I will return to substituting. Ironically there is a surge in enrollment due to a reverse decline in enrollment in private schools. Sadly this might be one way to save a district with deep cuts and closures from imploding but it certainly came in ways no one would have wished.

This article was in the NY Times about the invisible unemployed. Well let me assure you that no one is invisible to anyone who knows these stories, direct or otherwise. I spend a great deal of time worrying when I and others I know will join them in despair. And that is why more than ever I believe in the compassion and caring that is fundamental to human nature and that the rage and vitriol I have experienced regarding health care will dissipate and allow us to unite in creating or restoring a country of which we are all proud and part.

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Out of Work, Too Down to Search On, and Uncounted

By MICHAEL LUO
Published: September 7, 2009

They were left out of the latest unemployment rate, as they are every month: millions of hidden casualties of the Great Recession who are not counted in the rate because they have stopped looking for work.


“There are thousands of people applying for every job I’m looking at.” RICK ALEXANDER, a master carpenter living in Florida.

“I was just discouraged, fed up and angry, feeling like my career had betrayed me.” JENNY SALINAS, a manager turned stay-at-home mother in Houston More Photos >

But that does not mean these discouraged Americans do not want to be employed. As interviews with several of them demonstrate, many desperately long for a job, but their inability to find one has made them perhaps the ultimate embodiment of pessimism as this recession wears on.

Some have halted their job searches out of sheer frustration. Others have decided it makes more sense to become stay-at-home fathers or mothers, or to go back to school, until the job market improves. Still others have chosen to retire for now and have begun collecting Social Security or disability benefits, for which claims have surged.

Rick Alexander, a master carpenter in Florida who has given up searching after months of effort, said the disappointment eventually became unbearable.

“When you were in high school and kept asking the head cheerleader out for a date and she kept saying no, at some point you stopped asking her,” he said. “It becomes a ‘why bother?’ scenario.”

The official jobless rate, which garners the bulk of attention from politicians and the public, was reported on Friday to have risen to 9.7 percent in August. But to be included in that measure, which is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from a monthly nationwide survey, a worker must have actively looked for a job at some point in the preceding four weeks.

For an increasing number of people in this country who would prefer to be working, that is not the case.

It is difficult to assign an exact figure, because of limitations in the data collected by the bureau, but various measures that capture discouragement have swelled in this recession.

In the most direct measure of job market hopelessness, the bureau has a narrow definition of a group it classifies as “discouraged workers.” These are people who have looked for work at some point in the past year but have not looked in the last four weeks because they believe that no jobs are available or that they would not qualify, among other reasons. In August, there were roughly 758,000 discouraged workers nationally, compared with 349,000 in November 2007, the month before the recession officially began.

The bureau also has a broader category of jobless it calls “marginally attached to the labor force,” which includes discouraged workers as well as those who have stopped looking because of other reasons, like school, family responsibilities or health issues. But economists agree that many of these workers probably would have found a way to work in a good economy.

There were roughly 2.3 million people in this group in August, up from 1.4 million in November 2007. If the unemployment rate were expanded to include all marginally attached workers, it would have been 11 percent in August.

But even this figure is probably an undercount of the extent of the jobless problem in this country. There are about 1.4 million more people who are not in the labor force than when the recession began. Some of these are retirees, stay-at-home parents, people on disability and students. But it is also rather likely that many of these people have given up looking for work at least partly because of economic reasons as well.

Here are four people’s stories:

Rick Alexander: A Builder by Trade, With Too Much Time

In the worst case, Rick Alexander figured, he could scrounge up a job at Home Depot.

He was a master carpenter, after all. He had skills. He had run his own successful home-restoration business for 28 years.

In early 2008, however, he moved to Florida to take care of his ailing parents, leaving his business in Connecticut to his daughter.

After helping his parents into an assisted-living facility, he began applying for jobs. He devoted eight hours a day to the task, sometimes sending out three or four applications a day.

“It was a full-time job,” he said.

At first, he focused on jobs in construction, applying to be a site supervisor. He looked for anything within an hour’s commute of where he was living in Jensen Beach.

But the real estate industry had fallen off precipitously, bringing building to a near standstill. Mr. Alexander, 58, began branching out to suppliers, applying at lumberyards and other wholesalers. Eventually, he expanded his search to Home Depot, Lowe’s and mom-and-pop hardware stores. Finally, he began applying for “everything under the sun,” even the overnight shift at convenience stores.

By that summer, he had still received no callbacks for interviews. He went back to Connecticut for several weeks to do a renovation for an old client to earn some cash. When he returned to Florida in August 2008, he tried to start his own business, selling advertising on video displays mounted in coffee shops and other places.

He networked furiously with local businesses, but by then the economy had nose-dived. Mr. Alexander said he grossed a total of $150. He sank into a funk and stopped looking.

“There are thousands of people applying for every job I’m looking at, and potential employers won’t even give me the courtesy of acknowledging I applied,” he said. “The entirety of that causes me not to bother. It’s a waste of my time and theirs.”

He has applied to just two jobs this year, both several months ago. The unemployment rate in his area, Martin County, now exceeds 11 percent. After prodding from his companion, Dona Olinger, he went down to Home Depot a little over a month ago to re-activate his application there.

His savings are gone. He lives with Ms. Olinger, who makes $10 an hour as a volunteer coordinator at a food pantry, Harvest Food and Outreach Center, where they also get groceries every week. It is her salary that pays their rent.

Mr. Alexander’s parents have since moved out of the assisted-living facility and back into their home, so he tends to them most days. He reads Robert Ludlum novels. He sleeps. To fill his time, he is looking into volunteer work. The other day, he cut the grass on his small lawn using just a pair of clippers.


Ray Rucker: Feeling Counted Out With Years Still Left

Ray Rucker came home from a job interview several months ago, sat down in his living room with his suit still on and wept.

The meeting with the interviewer had lasted 10 minutes. The man did not even open a folder in front of him to study Mr. Rucker’s résumé. It was just “jibber jabber,” Mr. Rucker said later.

Mr. Rucker, who lives in Overland Park, Kan., had little doubt about what had happened. He is 62 years old and, as he puts it, “I look 62.”

He lost his job as a facilities manager for Starbucks in Kansas City and Wichita, Kan., last November, when the company closed hundreds of stores across the country. He had done similar work for years for other national restaurant chains and retail outlets.

He landed his first interview within a month, with a retail chain. He was invited back to talk to the vice president of operations and to the director of operations. He was also invited to meet with the company’s chief executive.

But as Mr. Rucker was finishing with the director of operations, she asked him straight out whether he was retiring soon. Shocked, Mr. Rucker answered, truthfully, that he planned to work at least 10 more years.

The meeting with the chief executive never came. Mr. Rucker said he thinks his interviewer simply did not believe he planned to continue working.

A month ago, he found a job posting that seemed tailored for him, a facilities manager for a national restaurant chain. He sent in his résumé and three days later got called for an interview. The company official said he was in a hurry to fill the position. But Mr. Rucker soon learned that this one, too, had slipped from his grasp.

“That’s the one when I kind of threw in the towel,” he said.

Mr. Rucker said he was done looking. His wife, who works at a small nonprofit organization, protested, saying there was more he could do to look.

“You don’t know what I’m going through,” Mr. Rucker said he told her.

“You send out so much, and you don’t get responses,” he said. “Then when you get called in, you’re treated like you’re too old. Why am I doing this?”

So he made an appointment with the local Social Security office to begin claiming benefits. He might try to get some kind of hourly job to help make ends meet. He has mapped out some home renovation projects he wants to do.

The Social Security checks will not equal even a third of what he used to make. But he is now preparing for semiretirement.

Jenny Salinas: From a Nonstop Career to a Focus on the Home

Jenny Salinas never envisioned being a stay-at-home mother, taking care of the children and keeping house. She was the one with the high-powered career, the six-figure salary, always jetting off to Russia or China.

She put her 5-year-old daughter, Mia, in day care when she was three months old. Mia got so used to her mother going away she would simply say, “Mommy’s on a trip,” and blow her kisses when she left.

But after searching unsuccessfully since January for a job, Mrs. Salinas, 37, said her priorities had shifted. She is now content to stay home and focus on her family. She and her husband are even talking about having more children.

“It’s just amazing how it changes your perspective on what’s important,” she said.

Mrs. Salinas had been a manager of corporate marketing and media relations at an oil and gas company in Houston, where she lives. She was so focused on her career, she said, that she never noticed her daughter had a lazy eye. Mrs. Salinas’s mother mentioned something to her, but only after Mrs. Salinas was laid off did she realize that her daughter needed to see an ophthalmologist.

“That’s how much I was on my BlackBerry,” Mrs. Salinas said.

Mrs. Salinas was initially confident that she would land somewhere quickly. She seemed to be doing well, too, scoring interview after interview for senior-level corporate marketing positions. But each of those prospects dried up, usually because of a hiring freeze or some other obstacle.

So, for the last two months, she has not looked at all. Partly, she has been busy, selling their old house, moving into a new one they are renting at half the monthly expense, seeing her daughter off to kindergarten.

She is helped by the fact that her husband, a vice president at an advertising agency, still has his job. After the couple realized that her job search might take time, they decided to cut back on their spending.

She has in mind a specific set of companies, but they are all still not hiring. Unwilling to settle for just any job, she said, she would rather bide her time.

But the process of searching for work and coming up empty has also left her feeling spent.

“I was just discouraged, fed up and angry, feeling like my career had betrayed me,” she said.

Her daughter used to be in day care or preschool from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Mrs. Salinas began dropping her off later and picking her up earlier. Some days, they skip day care completely and while away the day together.

Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove: Moving From Serbia, Scraping By Online

Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove now occupies her days with arts and crafts projects. She makes a little money selling them online — $10 here, $50 there — but mostly it beats the sense of futility that used to envelop her each day during her quest to find a job.

“I stopped looking because that feeling of being rejected again and again is hard,” she said. “It’s just like somebody punching you in the face.”

Ms. Jovanovic-Grove, 41, has struggled to find work since she immigrated in late 2005 to the United States from her native Serbia, where she was a biology researcher at a prestigious research institute in Belgrade.

She had married an American, Doug Grove, 42, a Wal-Mart mechanic she met over the Internet. The couple initially lived in Glendale, Ariz., with their three children from previous marriages, but they moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., in late 2007.

They were attracted by the weather and the low crime rate. They also thought Ms. Jovanovic-Grove, who earned a master’s degree in Serbia in environmental protection and zoology, would have an easier time finding a job in an area rich with universities.

“I was really thinking I would have no problem,” she said.

The need for her to find work became more urgent after the couple took on thousands of dollars in additional debt after they turned their Arizona home over to a bank in lieu of a foreclosure settlement. They had been unable to sell it amid the state’s collapsing real estate market.

But aside from a few temporary jobs, Ms. Jovanovic-Grove has come up empty on everything from research assistant positions to retail jobs. Meanwhile, her husband’s hours at Wal-Mart, where he is paid a little more than $14 an hour, have been cut back.

In May, she stopped looking completely, concluding that the job market was saturated. Winston-Salem’s unemployment rate exceeded 10 percent.

“You figure out it’s just like when you toss a piece of meat at a pack of hungry cats,” she said. “I just gave up because I could not compete.”

Instead, she has turned to making wood handicrafts and selling them on Etsy.com, an online marketplace. The small payments she gets often mean she earns less than fifty cents an hour for her effort. But she reasoned it is better than wasting gas driving around applying for jobs she believes she cannot get.