Friday, August 26, 2011

Saving For a Rainy Day

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Green is Not Just A Color

Despite the downturn in the market Green Building sells.. but at what cost and is this just another form of luxury build?

From Eco Home Magazine they found that homes "certified" green sold faster and at higher rates. The study done by a Certification group - Earth Advantage is highly selective and flawed. This was done only by Real Estate Agents giving them the information (a group I find duplicitous in the best of times) and is on averages - not compatibles and is done in Portland, Oregon an area of the country that is notoriously green and doing well economically to support the price variations. But this is what they found...

The study from Portland-based nonprofit Earth Advantage Institute, which analyzed sales data for May 2010 through April 2011 from the Portland Regional MLS, found that green-certified new homes, on average, sold for 8% more than non-certified ones. In one of the six counties reporting figures, the premium was more than 23%. Certifications came from Energy Star, LEED for Homes, Earth Advantage, or an Earth Advantage/Energy Star combination.

The difference in sales price was even higher for existing homes: an average of 30%, with one county reporting a premium of more than 61%. This is the fourth year in a row that the institute has done the analysis and found certified homes selling for more than conventional ones.

The information was supplied by real estate agents and is based on averages—not comparables—but even so, the study’s authors noticed a consistent trend, even while home sales in general were down: Third-party certification results in a higher sales price, says Dakota Gale, sustainable finance program manager at the Earth Advantage Institute.

Can this information used to greenwash or to manipulate customers to think this is just another feature like a granite counter top? I am not sure but given how hysterically people bought homes and were misled by many of those they presumed were being honest and working on behalf of their best interest I have concerns.

Add to that the appraisal value may not take into account the actual efficiency measures put into the home that distinguish them and having a ERV or Geothermal heat vs having Bamboo flooring and Eco-friendly counter top are hardly equivalents in determining what makes something green.

We have a lot of work to do in clearly understanding what defines "green" and makes a home unique and what it also takes to maintain and insure the property properly. That too must be taken into account when looking at green build - maintenance, upkeep and replacement value is inherently different and I rarely see that mentioned in any article on the value of green.

Bits and Pieces

Being away for a week and coming home I am just catching up on some Green news.

First up the lawsuit against the USGBC has been thrown out of court.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has dismissed Henry Gifford's lawsuit (PDF) against the US Green Building Council.

Gifford originally filed a class action lawsuit for $100 million dollars based on the alleged false advertising by the USGBC. The lawsuit was later amended to only cover four plaintiffs but the allegations remained the same -- the USGBC was falsely claiming that LEED certified buildings were energy efficient.

A plaintiff that brings a lawsuit must show standing in order to prove that the right person is bringing the lawsuit. Since Gifford's allegations of false advertising fell under the Latham Act, he had to satisfy two tests to show standing:

(1) The Strong Categorical Test

"The strong categorical test provides that 'the plaintiff must be a competitor of the defendant and allege a competitive injury.'" The court held that Gifford, a building energy efficient consultant, and the USGBC, which certifies buildings, were not competitors because Gifford does not certify buidings.

(2) The Reasonable Commercial Interest Test

Under the reasonable commercial interest approach, a plaintiff must demonstrate "both likely injury and a causal nexus to the false advertising." In holding that Gifford failed this test, the court explained that owners could hire any consultant they wanted for a LEED building. Furthermore, the court posited that even if Gifford could show one owner that would only hire a LEED Accredited Professional consultant, it could not be proven that the owner's decision was based on the alleged false advertising.

The crux of the suit was regards to the "false advertising" made by USGBC and their LEED programs to declare unfair competition to those not LEED consultants and in turn claiming as a result of their efforts the building was superior to a non-LEED certified building.

Sounds as if the court threw it out with just cause but then again our current court system is pro business as the recent Supreme Court rejections of the class action cases against Wal-Mart and AT&T were based.

I do believe that whatever the result is provides an important element in making sure when you claim something, sign your name to something that all the claims made can be demonstrated. And as one individual signing such a document to such a complex material as a building I frankly would be cautious as to what that means. And its why I don't do third party verifications for any organization (despite my involvement, education and support of any build program).

The next up is San Francisco moves to making all homes Green labeled. As in Boulder this program is targeting the entire city in making homes energy efficient. How its administered and of course financed will be determined. But in already expensive and still booming housing market I am sure it will add costs and in turn push more working class people and the poor out of the market entirely.

This is from the SF Gate:

S.F. 'green-grade' home program may boost value

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Energy-efficient homes in San Francisco may soon receive an official certification from the city, potentially boosting their resale value.

San Francisco officials are developing what they call the "green grade," a designation that the city would place on the property records of homes that meet certain efficiency standards.

The certification could help homeowners charge more for their property when they decide to sell. Potential buyers would know up front that green-grade homes have up-to-date equipment, low utility bills and a relatively light impact on the environment.

City officials see the green grade as an incentive for homeowners to improve the efficiency of their houses, taking such steps as adding insulation and upgrading their heating systems. Those upgrades help curb the state's energy demand and lower greenhouse-gas emissions, bit by tiny bit.

"This is a great way to encourage people to make that investment," said Phil Ting, San Francisco's assessor-recorder. "Obviously, when the house sells, we think the price will be higher with the green grade."

Ting, who is also running for mayor, is developing the green-grade program with the city's Department of the Environment. He points to the success of LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized certification system for energy-efficient buildings. Created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED has become the standard for new commercial buildings. Ting wants to see a similar shift in the residential real estate market.

"Now, if you build an office building and it isn't LEED certified, people look at you and ask, 'Well, why not?' " he said.

The green-grade program could start later this year.

Several organizations already offer efficiency certification for homes. There is, for example, a 3-year-old residential version of LEED, although it mostly applies to new construction. With the green-grade program, however, San Francisco would place the certification on a home's property record.

"We would be very supportive of that effort, because existing homes really are the lowest-hanging fruit for reducing (greenhouse-gas) emissions from the built environment," said Nate Kredich, vice president of residential market development for the U.S. Green Building Council.

Although details have not been finalized, San Francisco would likely base the green grade on some of the certification systems that already exist.

Barry Hooper, green-building specialist with the Department of the Environment, said the program would probably start with LEED and GreenPoint Rated, a certification system developed by the Build It Green nonprofit in Oakland.

"Those two would be the baseline, because they're the most widely used in the market," Hooper said.

Under a law passed in 2008, San Francisco already requires new residential construction to meet one of those two standards, Hooper said. The green-grade program would likely include other ways for owners of older homes to participate. For example, homeowners in the San Francisco Home Improvement & Performance program (SFHip), which gives rebates for efficiency upgrades, might also qualify for green-grade certification, Hooper said.

"It'll have to be a comprehensive set of approaches that are made available to the local market," he said.

And Passivhaus becomes Passive?

The founder of Passivhaus and director of Passivhaus Institute PHI, Dr. Wolfgang Fiest, has just sent word that the Passive House Institute United States (PHIUS) will no longer be able to provide building certifications, and will no longer be considered a partner of the program. While the news comes as a blow to the effort to make inroads for Passive House in the US – a market very much on the radar for super-efficient building standards — it also reflects the commitment the Passivhaus Institute has to the quality of its certification process.

The Northwest Chapter of Passivhaus is meeting in September to discuss expanding the program to include more multi family and commercial developments into the mix. I wonder how this will change the course of the program.

And given the fact that the complexities of climate in the United States and our very typical way of co-opting concepts to more suit the needs of well builders, markets and demand I was concerned that Passivehaus rigid conformity to an established metric was leading some to greenwash the concept and in turn not truly embrace it holistically. I expect to hear more about this in the usual green building channels.

The Age Old Question

To Rent or To Buy for that is the Question. For which is more noble and well frankly more cost effective overall.

The mortgage rates are the lowest they have been in years. The unemployment rate the highest that has been in years. The ability to sell property should your financial circumstances change is a challenge. But the old adage - location, location, location is actually more appropriate that ever.

Dependent upon where you live - both regionally and within a city environs - can affect the home's resale value. Certain cities are still managing to be massively over-valued with regards to Real Estate - San Francisco, New York and Seattle where I live are three such locations. As a result its simply cheaper to rent. But if you are not planning to relocate or simply don't think the market will ever change downward then it is time to think about your options with regards to purchasing a home for the LONG TERM.

I have never understood taking on long term debt with the idea that it is somehow going to "pay off" for you in the long term. The idea that the house is an investment strategy is like any investment strategy - a risk. True this is one you live in and can ostensibly save money, have a sense of pride and ownership that renting does not provide. But given the idea that in 30 years you will cash out and then simply move to cheaper digs is pretty much a crystal ball method of wishing and hoping. I am sure many who are at that stage now are worried that most of their equity and savings are now tied to a home that may not be the value they expected or even need to fully


There are many factors to consider prior to buying a home.

How long you plan to stay. If you're not keeping the home for several years, transactional costs of buying and selling (e.g; commissions, closing costs) can wipe out any buying edge.

Whether you have cash for closing. It's not easy to find banks willing to lend more than 80% of the cost of a home. That means buyers have to come up with 20% down, plus closing costs. On a $200,000 home, that's $40,000.

Whether you can cover all the homeownership costs. It's not just the mortgage: There are property taxes, insurance, heat, utilities and regular maintenance.

Whether you can claim the tax advantages of homeownership. Mortgage interest is deductible and can shave a lot off tax bills but this benefit accrues mostly to high income earners with substantial mortgage payments. Many borrowers claim the standard deduction on their taxes and so derive no savings from the deduction.

And with the likelihood of the mortgage deduction tax credit being removed in current budget crisis it is not one any prospective buyer should count on for the long term.

This was in Reuters recently regarding the state of home ownership in the United States:

By Margaret Chadbourn

updated 8/16/2011 4:16:50 PM ET

WASHINGTON — Builders starting on new apartments are busier than ever these days as demand for rentals climbs and the once-sacrosanct American dream of home ownership fades.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday housing starts slipped 1.5 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 604,000 units. But starts on multifamily housing, often used for rentals, rose 7.8 percent to 179,000 units.

The rise in multifamily units reflects an underlying trend in which rentals are increasing while the national home ownership rate declines.

The percentage of people who own a home dropped to 65.9 percent during the second quarter — the lowest since the first quarter of 1998. That was down from a peak of 69.2 percent reached in late 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, when lax lending standards were fueling home sales.

The change appears to be gaining momentum.

"Even in cases where it might make more financial sense — or it might actually be cheaper on a monthly basis to own a home rather to rent one, a lot of people are not making that purchase," said Oliver Chang, head of U.S. housing strategy at Morgan Stanley.

"The trend that we're on is going to continue," he added.

The home ownership rate is likely even lower than the Census Bureau reports, according to Chang and his team of analysts at Morgan Stanley.

The home ownership rate is only about 59.2 percent once mortgage delinquencies are factored in, something the government does not do, according to a research paper Chang co-authored with Vishwanath Tirupattur and James Egan.

"The combination of falling home prices, limited mortgage credit, continued liquidations and better rental options is fundamentally changing the way Americans live," according to the Morgan Stanley research report.

"We believe this change is only beginning and is moving the country toward becoming a rentership society."

Americans have started to sour on the idea of home ownership as tighter lending standards block potential borrowers from obtaining a mortgage, due to the boom and bust of the housing sector and subsequent 2007-2009 financial crisis.

More Americans have been driven to move into rentals. That has reduced the U.S. apartment vacancy rate, which dropped to 5.9 percent in the second quarter, the lowest since 2006, according to real estate research firm Reis Inc.

Some renters have no alternatives. About 3.8 million foreclosures were filed in 2010, and that could balloon to as many as 6 million by 2013, according to data firm

But analysts say renting can be a good choice.

"Housing can actually be a very risky investment if you look at the downturn," said Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "We should be talking about renting as a respectable option."

The White House wants to rent, sell or dispose of foreclosed homes controlled by mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The goal is to "bring stability and liquidity" to the housing market, said Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, in a statement.

President Barack Obama is looking to change the way housing is financed. The administration produced a blueprint in February that gave three separate proposals, all of which lead toward minimizing the government's role in the mortgage market over the next several years while at the same time attracting more private capital to fill the gap.

The White House stated in the policy paper that its goal was to "ensure that Americans have access to an adequate range of affordable housing options."

However, the administration cautioned that "this does not mean our goal is for all Americans to be homeowners." The papers pointed out 100 million Americans are renters, whether they do so by choice or necessity.

Currently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with the Federal Housing Authority, guarantee about 90 percent of all U.S. mortgages.

A recent survey by Fannie Mae shows more will choose to pay rents rather than buy.

"Dissatisfaction about the direction of the economy and related employment fears are damping demand to buy homes and slowing the recovery," Fannie Mae's chief economist, Doug Duncan, said in a quarterly housing survey. "People who believe owning is a better deal than renting are nonetheless planning to rent, at least until things improve."

At some future point, however, the dream of home ownership could be reignited among renters.

A recent study of 2,142 adults by the Pew Research Center indicated more Americans would prefer to own if they had the financial means. Just 24 percent of renters said they were doing so by choice, rather than necessity, and 81 percent believed that owning a home was the best long-term financial investment goal for their families.

I was at the recent Building America conference in Denver two weeks ago. I was interested in what is the new plan for the program as it studies merging with Energy Star (a wise move given that Energy Star is accelerating their building verification program and I believe it needs more science and true research behind it to legitimize and overall improve the program) as well as what the current climate is for upgrading, retrofitting and improving our current inventory of homes regardless of who owns or resides in them.

As not surprising, the programs in place are largely for the home owners. Few tax credits, programs or lending targets renters who are of course increasing in number. So there is no imperative or idea that allows tenants to make appropriate energy adjustments to the property that benefits them and their landlord in an affordable manner. For some to expect the landlord to do so will also mean (especially in those rental competitive markets I mentioned) an increase in rent and thereby a tipping point for affordability.

How we reach out to those leasing/renting homes is essential in order to meet energy goals and in turn can actually reduce energy costs. Be either a landlord or tenant someone is paying those utility bills and they are only expected to rise.

Boulder has a mandatory law in place and found enthusiastic compliance. While I don't know the specifics of how it was funded I toured the city and it is very much a predominately white college town of upper income. This is not the case in many towns so I am not sure if they could be a model of how to accomplish this.

Before I left for Denver I found on my door a flyer for our new program Community Power Works. As I live in a lower income neighborhood we are the target for the new program. Sadly I do not qualify as I rent. I am fortunate that my home is fairly new and frankly I have only a few needs I feel that would truly aid in the homes overall energy performance I wonder how many of my neighbors fare in comparison.

We are doing little to realize how the change in ownership is changing how we live and respond to the home improvement industry. I asked at the conference and they said they had not really done any work in the area. I think it might be time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Write Away

Are you a constant networker, attending conferences or paticipating in Trade Shows then its time for your business to make sure your "pensense" is known via amsterdamprinting personalized pens.

I find myself constantly short of pens and yet I also find myself leaving many behind. Why not a pen vs a business card. Its a constant way of keeping your business name at the right hand of everyone you meet.

Amsterdam printing offers many products and ideas for marketing promotions for your business.

Plan ahead and peruse their site for your promotional ideas. It has been found that products that are used repeatedly like pens, calendars, key tags, and mugs are appreciated and expose your message and company name without added costs. Let those items do the networking for you saving time and money.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Patriotic Spring Break Trip

**this is a sponsored guest post written by Tina Wallace***

I wanted to go somewhere a little different than just Cancun for spring break this year. I thought it would be really fun to actually go somewhere where I can pick and choose from tons of things that I want to see, so I picked Washington D.C. My older brother is going with me and I think it's going to be really great. We go to school in different states now and we've always been pretty close, so it will be nice to hang out and have fun together in a new place, even if it's just for a few days.

I've been online looking for all kinds of ideas about where we can go that won't cost a whole lot to take in the sites. While I was looking, I came across some and after I looked into them a little bit, I signed up for one of them for my college apartment.

We're going to do the rounds at the museums, but I also love how there's a lot of stuff to look at outside for free, like all of the monuments.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Skin Care Goes Deeper

I have been a long time user of Kiehls products when the were one of the first pharmaceutical style skin line in the country. Today they are part of a larger global marketplace but they have not lost their commitment to quality skin care and dedication to the consumer.

One of the earliest advocates of recycling Kiehls developed a return for credit on empty product bottles and the use of small sample sizes to try out products before purchasing. They are also great dog lovers with an amazing pet line and pet friendly stores - my beloved Emma used to go with me to have a mini "spa day".

For their 160th Anniversary Kiehl's has launched KIEHL'S GIVES by having global donation of $160,000 to charitable organizations in the US and around the world in three key Kiehl’s causes: children’s wellbeing, environmental issues, and HIV/AIDS research - all decided by fans of Kiehl's.

Go to the website Kiehl's Gives and see the films with Julianne Moore, Pharrell Williams and the Scissor Sisters and learn more about the campaign. Let your vote be heard and visit your local Kiehl's store in your area to try some of their most amazing products.

I have been using Kiehl's for years and they sustain me and my community in many ways. Let them do the same for you.

Waste Not Want Not

I recently underwent a massive redecoration of my home and office. The first thing I did was analyze my energy use. My largest bill came from waste.

As a result I looked at how I was disposing my garbage. Since my home is above my office I frequently integrate them together and as a result I had not realized how me a "green consultant" no less was not effectively managing my waste.

To recycle is not enough, it is a matter of looking what you are recycling, are you segregating food, paper and electronic waste (batteries to bulbs) appropriately. By doing so you will find waste overall will be reduced and in turn cost savings and payback is immediate.

An excellent source of information an products to assist you on this endeavor is Waste Wise Products. Having the appropriate recycling bins is essential for you and your business to follow a waste reduction protocol.

Once I found the right type of recycling bins I would need, I had to make sure size and aesthetics would work as well. Again as this is my home and office I have some considerations both spatially and logistically that must be considered.

I found that by placing outdoor recycling containers in my garage I could accommodate the lesser used items (electrical and chemical) easily and these can be taken direct to centers that take these item free of charge - such as the RE-PC store or even Lowe's/Home Depot.

In the office I found dual disposal to work well for the paper and the non recyclable waste generated, while in my upstairs residence a three style waste can was perfect for recyclable materials, compost and regular garbage.

Be it your home, office or business you will find a multitude of products at Waste Wise that make recycling easier and in turn reduce your costs. A win for you and the planet by a simple affordable adjustment.

**brought to you by your friends at Waste Wise Products***

Not an IRS Audit

I recently completed a SEED Grant to study Energy Management. One of the areas of study was Home Performance and its overall energy use.

I am great advocate of bringing a homes energy performance up to par as the most essential element in making a home green. As I say the "greenest home is one already built" so why not make it more so by having a home energy audit by the Home Energy Team.

Home Energy Team are trained professionals with certification from the most trusted and respected certification bodies RESNET and Building Performance Institute (BPI).

They can provide you with home energy efficiency tips and needed fixes to make your home more energy efficient that will save you money and save the planet. Its a win-win equation.

To find the right local home insulation contractors who can provide you with ways to make your home more comfortable in both summer and winger and reduce energy consumption and waste - go to the Home Energy Team for information.

***this blog spot was sponsored by Home Energy Team**