Monday, December 28, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Armstrong Field Real Estate is Moving!

Received notice from Salem Five Bank (the landlord for my office) that they will not be renewing my lease at the end of February because they want to expand their call center. I said "Why don't you use the vacant space that is in your upper floors?" Evidently that is not in their master plan. I should have known when they didn't renew the lease for the other business that was next to me. Why would Salem Five use valuable ground floor space for a call center that does not have walk-in traffic? (doors are always locked). It is against everything that Salem is trying to do with their downtown - First floor space should be for retail or businesses that create foot traffic (ie: my business).

The good news is that I have found what is even better space then we have now. I'm currently negotiating the details of a lease. It has huge south facing windows, more space than what we currently have, plenty of storage, better parking, better visibility, restored antique hardwood floors and more.

The bad news is (besides the fact that I really hate moving) that it will cost a lot of money to build out and set up the space with a phone system, computers, desks, etc. Not to mention changing the address on everything. But with 4 new agents signing on this month (currently 18 agents) and more in the pipeline, it will be good to have the extra space. Plus I can build myself a office bigger than the 6'x7' space I am now using. Plus a game room (guitar hero competitions every Friday!), kitchen area, library, conference room and more.

Watch here for updates and our grand opening.

Jim Armstrong

Real Estate Outlook: Housing Warmer Than Weather

Real Estate Outlook: Housing Warmer Than Weather

If new applications to buy homes are any gauge, the U.S. housing market is warming up, and that's despite the fact that we're now into the traditionally quiet holiday season.

Applications for home purchase loans soared 42 percent last week on a non-seasonally-adjusted basis compared with the week before, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

That burst of activity may have been influenced in part by the long Thanksgiving week layoff. Or it could have been an early reaction to the extension of the $8,000 tax credit or the start-up of the new $6,500 credit.

Either way, it was an exceptional week for mortgage lenders.

But here's another possibility: With the economy gaining a little momentum, interest rates have begun edging up again.

Mortgage rates are still close to historic lows, 4.9 percent on average for 30-year fixed and 4.3 percent for 15 year fixed, but MBA chief economist Jay Brinkmann says they're likely to exceed 5.2 percent by this coming March.

So, maybe the rush to nail down financing by home buyers is a smart move … compared with paying half a point higher rates by early spring.

On other economic fronts, we're looking at a mixed bag of reports this week, though mainly positive:

Freddie Mac's found home prices nationwide up by about one point on average during the third quarter. That's on top of a two percent gain for the second quarter. Clear Capital, a real estate data company, also found prices up marginally - by 1.4 percent - during the month of November, though a few local markets came in with double digit gains.

But not all surveys agree on that. The well-regarded “IAS 360” index came in with a contrarian result. It found that overall prices in the U.S. were down slightly on average -- by about half a percent.

Since there's not a huge variation among the three reports, we can probably safely conclude that -- at the very worst -- prices have stabilized in most markets -- and at the very best, they're up a little.

There were also positive indications on lower delinquencies and foreclosures across the country. Realty Trac says foreclosure filings in November dropped by 8 percent - the fourth consecutive month of declines.

And Trans Union, the big credit bureau, forecasts three percent fewer mortgage delinquencies next year - after three straight years of rising delinquency rates.

Meanwhile,another national study on price reductions on listed properties found that during November the number of price cuts dropped in 27 major markets, a welcome sign of more realistic asking prices.

From: Jim Armstrong's Real Estate Update - December 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New FHA Guidelines for Condominiums

New FHA Guidelines Could Amp Condo Sales

"FHA approved" may become the most popular condominium amenity in the United States soon, thanks to the new guidelines established by the FHA to take effect February 1, 2010.

The guidelines addressed the two imperatives facing condominium sales: down payments and the financial integrity of condominium associations. Both are equally important to a condominium recovery.

"FHA approved" used to mean a 3.5% down payment. Starting early next year, "FHA approved" will mean 3.5% down plus a financially stable association approved by your lender. This is huge.

According to Attorney Richard D. Vetstein, who writes the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog, the revised FHA Condominium Lending Guidelines include the following requirements:

To qualify for FHA mortgages, associations must:

  • Maintain a reserve equal to 10 percent of the annual budget
  • Make sure no more than 15 percent of its owners are more than 30 days late with condominium fees
  • Allow lenders to review their financials and insurance policies
  • No more than 10% of the units may be held by a single investor
  • Fidelity insurance must be obtained for 20+ unit projects
  • No more than 25 percent of space allowed for commercial use.

"The new FHA guidelines (combined with the almost year old Fannie Mae condominium guidelines) really make it imperative for condominium associations to get their collective acts together with respect to the financial management of the association," counsels Attorney Vetstein. "Condominium boards need to ensure that reserve accounts are adequately funded, condo fee delinquency rates are low and that the association is generally well run financially. If they don’t, they are contributing to a drag on market value for all units due to non-compliance with the new condominium guidelines.

For a new condominium to qualify for FHA financing the following guidelines apply:

Effective February 1, 2010:

  • 50 percent of the total units must be presold before FHA financing is approved
  • 50 percent of the total units must be owner occupied
  • No more than 10% of units may be held by a single investor
  • Unit owners must obtain individual HO-6 insurance policies if the master policy doesn’t cover interiors
  • Re-certification is required every two years

Projects that received approval between October 1, 2008 and December 7, 2009 will be "grandfathered" and will have to follow the new guidelines’ re-certification process .

The marketing benefits are significant:

  1. More buyers will enter the market because they can afford the lower down payment.
  2. No single investor can purchase more than 10% of the units, so the idea of a controlled association by one or two investors is no longer a threat.
  3. More inventory will offer wider choices tending to keep prices in check, as "FHA approved’ condominiums come on line.
  4. More real estate agents will be willing to show condominiums to their buyers, because the lender who provides the mortgage will have to approve not only the condo documents, but the condo association’s budget, reserve account and its fidelity insurance policy.
  5. New construction developers have the guidelines needed to create urgency in their pricing strategies, which is key to building and maintaining momentum.
  6. Commercial lenders will have a more comfortable level with developers. While the 50% presale requirement may look obtrusive, it is actually a benefit to the developer, because it will create urgency for buyers to purchase.
  7. Established associations that have dragged their feet to get their finances in order, now have a valid value-based reason to become "FHA Approved."
  8. Real estate agents will show FHA approved condominiums with confidence in the association’s finances, not just because the down payment is low.
  9. Forward thinking lenders will hustle to become a "an approved lender’ in resale and new communities alike
  10. Knowing the property already has approved lenders will make competition for listings tighter and will attract more buyers and more prospects to the listing.

Brokers taking listings in condo communities without FHA financing will be competing with ones that do, making it important for associations to serious consider becoming FHA approved.

First time home buyers are generally thought of as the primary market for FHA financing. There is something to that, but in today’s world, many who bought their first homes years ago and lost them during this recession will appreciate the FHA financing availability even more than those coming out of rentals.

For now let’s agree that the FHA is being responsive and fair by giving new homes developers livable guidelines, associations a tool to become financially stable, and all associated with the industry, hope.

There will no doubt be other changes as the market calls for them "FHA was given a difficult task under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) to revamp the approval process for condominium projects, and before it established its latest guidelines, invited and was open to industry experts from organizations like the Community Associations. "As a result, significant improvements to the initial requirements have been made and dialogue continues between CAI and HUD in an attempt to create regulations that will lead to greater stability in the condominium market," Dawn Bauman, vice president of Strategic Initiatives for the Community Association Institute said. CAI is an organization representing more than 29,000 individual members, 60 local chapters, and the interests of the one in five homeowners living in a community association. For more information visit

It’s good to see that the buyer’s interest is represented. It shows. And it will pay off handsomely in the days ahead.

Cash for Caulking

Obama Proposes Cash for Caulking

A program has been proposed by President Obama on Tuesday that would reimburse home owners for installing windows, energy-efficient appliances, and insulation.

Under what has been dubbed “Cash for Caulking”, home owners would get a 50 percent rebate on energy-efficient air conditioners, heating systems, washing machines and dryers, refrigerators, replacement windows, insulation and other energy-saving improvements up to $12,000. This equates to a household that spends $24,000 could get $12,000 back.Most likely there would be no income restrictions.

The director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Steve Nadel, who is helping to create the legislation, says they are considering having contractors and/or retailers pay part of the cost upfront to reduce the need for home owners to come up with lots of cash.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Mortgage Rates Hit a Record Low

30-Year Rates Hit Record Low

The average interest rate for 30-year mortgages has fallen to the lowest level since Freddie Mac began compiling its weekly survey in 1971, declining to 4.71 percent this week from 4.78 percent a week ago.

Rates also were more attractive for 15-year fixed loans, which fell from 4.29 percent to 4.27 percent, but many consumers may not have qualified for them because they now face higher credit standards from lenders.

Still, the Mortgage Bankers Association's index of application demand, which rose 2.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during Thanksgiving week from the previous week, shows that consumers were looking to take advantage of mortgage rates at a historic low.

Source: USA Today, Stephanie Armour (12/04/09)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Tax Credit Extended - and Expanded to Current Home Owners!

Home Buyer Tax Credit Extended to First-Time Buyers....
and Expanded to Current Home Owners!

As part of its plan to stimulate the U.S. housing market and address the economic challenges facing our nation, Congress has passed new legislation that:

  • Extends the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit of up to $8,000 to first-time home buyers until April 30, 2010.

  • Expands the credit to grant a $6,500 credit to current home owners
    purchasing a new or existing home between the date the bill is signed by President Obama and April 30, 2010. (Update - President Obama signed the bill on November 6, 2009).

Here is more information about how the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit can help prospective home buyers become part of the American dream.

Who Qualifies for the Extended Credit?

  • First-time home buyers who purchase homes between the date the bill is signed by President Obama and April 30, 2010.

  • Current home owners purchasing a home between the date the bill is signed by President Obama and April 30, 2010, who have used the home being sold or vacated as a principal residence for five consecutive years within the last eight.

To qualify as a “first-time home buyer” the purchaser or his/her spouse may not have owned a residence during the three years prior to the purchase.

If you purchased a home between January 1, 2009 and the date the bill is signed by President Obama, please see: 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.

Which Properties Are Eligible?

The Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit may be applied to primary residences, including: single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops.

How Much Is Available?

The maximum allowable credit for first-time home buyers is $8,000.

The maximum credit allowed for current homeowners is $6,500.

How is a Buyer's Credit Amount Determined?

Each home buyer’s tax credit is determined by additional factors:

  1. The price of the home.

  2. The buyer's income.


Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, credit may only be awarded on homes purchased for $800,000 or less.

Buyer Income

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit which is effective on the date the bill is signed by President Obama single buyers with incomes up to $125,000 and married couples with incomes up to $225,000—may receive the maximum tax credit.

These income limits have been increased from the 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit limits. If you purchased a home between January 1, 2009 and the date the bill is signed by President Obama, please see 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.

If the Buyer(s)’ Income Exceeds These Limits, Can He/She Still Get a

Yes, some buyers may still be eligible for the credit.

The credit decreases for buyers who earn between $125,000 and $145,000 for single buyers and between $225,000 and $245,000 for home buyers filing jointly. The amount of the tax credit decreases as his/her income approaches the maximum limit. Home buyers earning more than the maximum qualifying income—over $145,000 for singles and over $245,000 for couples are not eligible for the credit.

Can a Buyer Still Qualify If He/She Closes After April 30, 2010?

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, as long as a written binding contract to purchase is in effect on April 30, 2010, the purchaser will have until July 1, 2010 to close.

Will the Tax Credit Need to Be Repaid?

No. The buyer does not need to repay the tax credit, if he/she occupies the home for three years or more. However, if the property is sold during this three-year period, the full amount credit will be recouped on the sale.

Frequently Asked Questions about the new 2009/2010 Tax Credit

See the comparison between the current 2009 Tax Credit and the new 2009/2010 Tax Credit

For more information, Please contact me at or

Jim Armstrong

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Rebound in Existing-Home Sales

Big Rebound in Existing-Home Sales Shows First-Time Buyer Momentum
October 23, 2009 - Existing-home sales bounced back strongly in September with first-time buyers driving much of the activity, marking five gains in the past six months.

Read the entire release here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Armstrong Field Real Estate Anniversary Party

Armstrong Field Real Estate Celebrates 4.5 years in business!

Salem, MA - Almost 5 years after starting a business at the beginning of one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, Jim Armstrong and his staff of 15 agents are celebrating another banner year in real estate. They are inviting all their clients (past, present and future), business associates, city officials and friends to join them in this celebration on Friday, September 18, 2009 between 5:00pm and 8:30pm at their office located at One Salem Green in Salem Massachusetts.

As in previous years, there will be live music by Loudmouth Soup, plenty of food, and lots of networking & socializing. For more information, go to:

Home Buyer Seminar in Salem Massachusetts

Time is Running Out to Qualify for the $8,000 Tax Credit!

November 30th is approaching quickly, and that is the deadline to close on a home in order to qualify for the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit. If the average timeline from the time you your offer on a home is accepted and the time you close is 5 weeks, that means you have less than 30 days to find a home that meets your needs and get it under contract.

We will be holding a seminar/workshop on buying a home on Wednesday, September 16th at the Seaport Credit Union in Salem MA and will be discussing the credit and how you can receive it. We will bring you right through the home buying process up to the closing. You will also hear from an attorney and a mortgage officer who will explain the legal and financial aspects of buying a home.

For more information, go to: Home Buyer Workshop

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Homes still affordable - really affordable

Homes still affordable - really affordable

The bright side of the housing bust: Homebuying has not been this affordable in a generation.NEW YORK

( -- Homes continue to be more affordable than they have been in nearly two decades. The typical American family, making the nation's median income of $64,000 a year, could afford to buy 72.3% of all homes sold in the United States during the second quarter, according a quarterly report from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500). That's off just a tad from the record 72.5% reached during the first three months of 2009, but up substantially from the second quarter of 2008 when only 55% of homes sold were affordable. "The increase in affordability -- along with the $8,000 federal tax credit for home buyers -- is stimulating demand, particularly among young, first-time buyers," said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a homebuilder from Tulsa, Okla., in a prepared statement. The NAHB judges a home to be affordable if a family making the metro area's median income could devote no more than 28% of their take-home pay toward housing costs. The vast improvement this year is due to plunging prices and rock-bottom interest rates. The average U.S. home price has dropped more than 32% from its peak, which was set during the summer of 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price index. And, for most of the three months mortgage rates were historically low, under 5% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan. Long suffering sellers The improved affordability comes, of course, at the expense of sellers. Real estate Web site Zillow reported that more than 30% of all homes sold during the three months ended June 30 went for less than what the sellers originally paid. The longer they owned the home, the more likely they were to profit from the resale, but virtually anyone who bought within the past five years and sold during the quarter lost money on the deal, according to Stan Humphries, Zillow's vice president in charge of data and analytics. Foreclosure factor The heartbreak among home sellers is compounded by the foreclosure problem. Many of the homes on the market got there because families lost their homes to foreclosure. Part of the reason that home prices have become so reasonable is the volume of REOs -- real estate speak for homes repossessed by banks -- has spiked. There were more than 87,000 repossessions in July, about triple the number of July 2007. Foreclosed homes are often listed and sold at steep discounts to produce quick sales, according to Brad Geisen, founder of, which markets such properties. "The big banks are finally pricing their properties to what people will pay for them," he said. "Foreclosure inventory is now selling at about the same rate it's coming in." Most affordable cities The older, industrial Midwest cities generally offer the best bargains. Indianapolis has led the NAHB's Housing Opportunity Index for 16 straight quarters. Nearly 95% of all homes sold there were affordable to those earning the area's median income of $68,100. Other leaders were the Youngstown, Ohio, metro area, Detroit, Dayton, Ohio, and Grand Rapids, Mich. The least affordable large metro areas were New York, where only 21% of homes sold were affordable, Honolulu, San Francisco,Los Angeles and Santa Ana, Calif. By Les Christie, staff writer

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pending Home Sales Are The Best Since 2003

Pending Home Sale Up Again!
The National Association of REALTORS has announced that pending homes sales are up again in June. This is the 5th month in a row that these anticipated real estate sales have been up - something that hasn't happened in six years since July of 2003.
From a Pending Homes Sales Index (PHSI) of 80.4 in January 2009, activity has grown to 94.6 as of June. That is an increase of over 17% since the beginning of the year. An index of 100 is based on 2001 sales and coincides with a historically high level of home sales activity. The index measures housing contract activity. It is based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condos and co-ops. A signed contract is not counted as a sale until the transaction closes. Modeling for the PHSI looks at the monthly relationship between existing-home sale contracts and transaction closings over the last four years.
For a video of the announcement, go to:
Jim Armstrong

Friday, July 17, 2009

Homebuyer Tax Credit Loan Program

Homebuyer Tax Credit Loan Program

Great news for first time home buyers that want a larger downpayment. MassHousing is now offering a loan program that allows first-time homebuyers to use the $8,000 federal tax credit as part of their downpayment or to cover closing costs, rather than waiting until they file their 2009 taxes. Combine this with the downpayment assistance programs that most towns have available for qualified buyers, and you could have over $15,000 given to you towards your downpayment!

How it works

  1. Homebuyers who are using a MassHousing loan to purchase their first home apply for the loan program through their lender
  2. The loan is used to cover closing costs or as part of the downpayment
  3. In 2010, the homebuyer claims the $8,000 tax credit on their 2009 federal tax return
  4. The homebuyer then repays the MassHousing tax credit loan
    • No interest is charged if the loan is repaid by June 1, 2010
    • Otherwise, the loan is amortized over the next 10 years, at the same interest rate as the first mortgage


To qualify for the Homebuyer Tax Credit Loan Program, you must

  • Be a first-time homebuyer using a MassHousing loan
  • Meet income limits and purchase price guidelines
  • Purchase a one- to four-family home before November 30, 2009
  • Use the property as your primary residence for the life of the loan

Other Information

  • Loan may be used for downpayment and closing costs
  • Principal and interest payments are deferred until June 1, 2010
  • There is a $300 application fee. If the tax credit loan is repaid by June 1, 2010, the borrower will receive a $300 credit toward the principal of their first mortgage
  • Maximum tax credit loan amount is $8,000 or 10% of the home's purchase price, whichever is less

For more information on the Hombuyer Tax Credit loans, call me, Jim Armstrong at 978-394-6736 or contact Mass Housing at 888.843.6432.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How are Condo Fees Determined?

How are Condo Fees Determined?

Monthly fees are calculated by creating a budget for the condo association. The amount each unit has to contribute to the budget is determined by multiplying the amount of the budget by the percent interest that the unit has in the association (usually found on the unit deed), then divide the result by 12 to get condo fee due each month.

The budget is made up of all the costs associated with running the association and the property. This could include master insurance, water & sewer charges, common electric, landscaping, snow removal, cleaning of the common areas, payment to a property management company, etc. What is included is really determined by the type of building, numbers of units, and by the trustees of the condo association. Smaller condo buildings such as 2-4 family conversions may not budget any funds for landscaping, cleaning or management, preferring to save money and take care of those items themselves. In larger complexes there may also be costs associated with fire systems, elevators, swimming pool maintenance, etc. There is also a portion of the budget that is given towards the reserves of the association. The reserves cover any high cost, long term maintenance items such as painting, roof replacement, re-pointing a brick exterior, etc., and also to cover any unexpected repairs/costs.

When you place an offer on a condominium there are some things that you should request from the listing agent or condo trustee. These are copies of the Master Deed, Declaration of Trust, Rules & Regulations, Budget, and the minutes from the most recent association meeting. Condo associations are required by Massachusetts law to meet at least once a year, but many smaller associations do not take notes or minutes of their meetings, so this may not be available.

The reason for reviewing the minutes of their meeting is to make sure there are no pending issues with the association, or any upcoming special assessments. Special assessment are fees charged to each unit for items not covered by the budget. This can happen if the association does not budget enough funds towards the reserve each year, or something unexpected needs to be repaired/replaced. A special assessment can be a small amount such as a couple hundred dollars, or can run into thousands of dollars. Payments on large special assessment are typically broken down over a period of months or years, but again depends on the association. If an association is well run, there should never be any large special assessments.

While on this subject, you should also ask a couple other questions.
Is the condo association involved in any pending litigation?
What is the percentage of owner/occupants in the condo complex?

Both of these could affect your chance of getting a mortgage approved for the condo. The bank usually does not want any large lawsuits pending because it could result in the association having to pay for any settlement not covered by insurance. In regard to the owner/occupancy, most mortgage companies will not finance any condo in a complex that has less than a 51% owner occupancy rate. That is, no more than 49% of the unit can be rented out. Many banks have even more strict requirements. It just make for a better condominium environment when a complex has a high number of owners actually living in their units.

Do not let any of the aforementioned issues sway you away from buying a condominium (which includes townhouses and lofts). The majority of condo associations are well run, even when self-managed. Condos are perfect for the home buyer who does not want the responsibility, or have the time to maintain the building, cut the grass, etc. They are also typically priced lower than a single family for the same amount of living area.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Multiple Offer Situations are Everywhere

Multiple offer situations are everywhere.

There are a lot of disappointed buyers out there who think we are in a market where you can offer 10% under asking price on any property. Many properties are selling for over asking price. Each property that a buyer is interested in has to be assessed individually. Of course there are still many homes out there that are still overpriced. You will see seller who think their home is worth more than comparable properties in any market.
Most of the multiple offer situations are bank-owned (REO) properties that have just come on the market. In many cases you have to see the property as soon as it comes on the market and submit an offer right away. There is no waiting until the weekend to see a "hot" property.

When making your offer you need to think about 2 things. The first is how much would this home be worth if it was in perfect condition (take to your REALTOR for help with this), and how much money would it take to do the required work? Take the value of the home and subtract the cost of getting it there and you will have the market value of the home in its current condition. Many bank-owned properties only need paint/paper and minor repairs. You then have to decide how much under (or over) that market value you want to offer.

The second thing you have to think about is how much is the property worth to you? If you like the property but it isn't your ideal home, its not going to be worth as much to you and therefore you may want to submit a lower offer. But when your offer gets beat out by another buyer don't say you wish you made a higher offer. In most cases you only get one chance to make an offer on a bank-owned property, and the highest/best offer will be accepted. Occasionally in a multiple offer situation where all or most of the offers are around the same price the seller (bank) will come back to all buyers and ask for their "final and best offer". This is a form of counter offer where you get a chance to up your offer one last time (or leave it where it is).

Make sure that you have a mortgage pre-approval letter in hand before you make an offer. You will not have time to call up your mortgage person to obtain one, and your offer will not even be considered without it.

You really need to work closely with your REALTOR to successfully get through a multiple offer situation. Even with all these considerations you may still get beat out by another buyer who really, really wants the property. Don't dwell on it...just move on. It happens. Just remember that the price in your offer is the main deciding factor with any seller. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009



Record low mortgage interest rates boosted pending home sales for the third consecutive month, with some benefit now from the first-time buyer tax credit, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in April, rose 6.7 percent to 90.3 from a reading of 84.6 in March, and is 3.2 percent above April 2008 when it was 87.5.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said buyers are responding to very favorable market conditions. “Housing affordability conditions have been at historic highs, but now the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit is beginning to impact the market,” he said. “Since first-time buyers must finalize their purchase by November 30 to get the credit, we expect greater activity in the months ahead, and that should spark more sales by repeat buyers.”

The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast shot up 32.6 percent to 78.9 in April and is 0.8 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index rose 9.8 percent to 90.4 and is 11.1 percent above April 2008. The index in the South slipped 0.2 percent to 93.0 in April but is 3.5 percent higher than a year ago. In the West the index rose 1.8 percent to 94.8 but is 2.9 percent below April 2008.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said there are numerous buyer assistance programs around the country. “Some states are offering bridge loans that allow first-time buyers to use the tax credit for downpayment and closing costs, but there are many other local government and nonprofit programs available to buyers, depending on location,” he said.

“Just last week, HUD announced that qualifying buyers can use the tax credit for closing costs on FHA loans, to buy down the interest rate or make a larger downpayment. Buyers who are wondering about their options should contact a Realtor®, who can advise consumers on the housing assistance programs and resources available in a given area.”

NAR’s Housing Affordability Index is in record territory. The affordability index rose to 174.8 in April from an upwardly revised 171.9 in March, and was the second highest monthly reading on record after peaking at 176.9 in January of this year. The HAI is a broad measure of housing affordability using consistent values and assumptions over time, which examines the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income; tracking began in 1970.

A median-income family, earning $60,900, could afford a home costing $296,800 in April with a 20 percent downpayment, assuming 25 percent of gross income is devoted to mortgage principal and interest. Affordability conditions for first-time buyers with the same income and small downpayments are roughly 80 percent of that amount. The affordable price was well above the median existing single-family home price in April, which was $169,800.

Yun cautions that the reporting sample for pending home sales is smaller than that of existing-home sales, so it is subject to greater variability. “In addition, the relationship between contracts on pending home sales and closings on existing-home sales is taking longer than in the past for several reasons,” he said. “Mortgage processing time has increased, it is taking many months to close on those homes requiring short sales with lender approval, and some sales are falling through at the last moment.”

The total number of existing-home sales is expected to improve but with dramatic local market variation in the timing of recovery. “The market has already bottomed in some areas, but this is an unusual housing cycle with some areas improving rapidly while others languish or decline,” Yun said.

See the Video Interview Below:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

FHA Allows $8000 Tax Credit to be used Towards Downpayment

FHA Allows $8000 Tax Credit to be used Towards Home Purchase Down Payment

May 12, 2009 - At an address to several thousand REALTORS at the Real Estate Summit just held in Washington DC, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, said that the Federal Housing Administration is going to permit its lenders to allow homeowners to use the $8,000 tax credit as a downpayment.

“We all want to enable FHA consumers to access the home buyer tax credit funds when they close on their home loans so that the cash can be used as a downpayment,” Donovan said. According to Donovan, the FHA’s approved lenders will be permitted to “monetize” the tax credit through short-term bridge loans. This will allow eligible home buyers to access the funds immediately at the closing table.

This will greatly help first time home buyers with the purchase of a home, perhaps enabling them to increase their buying power. Previously home buyers would have to wait until 6-8 weeks after they purchased a home to access the tax credit by filling an amended 2008 tax return, or wait until they file their 2009 return next year.

We will have to see what sort of interest rate the FHA will charge for these bridge loans, but typically they keep their rates low. Also, because this is a bridge loan, you will be paying it back within a few months so the interest paid will be minimal.

With the deadline for receiving the tax credit rapidly approaching (November 30, 2009), this is just another reason that first time home buyers need to get serious about finding their dream home (or as close as they can get to it). You must have a home under contract by September to assure that it will close on time to qualify for the credit. Remember:


Contact one of Armstrong Field Real Estate's Buyer Agents today to start the search for your home.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Opportunity Knocks
Home Buyer Fair and Open Houses
Northshore Mall - Peabody MA
May 2, 2009, 10am-4pm

This Saturday, May 2, 2009, there is a Home Buyer Fair at the Northshore Mall in Peabody Massachusetts, along with open houses of affordable homes throughout the area. Geared toward first time home buyers, this fair is designed to give buyers the tools they need to purchase a home.
  • Learn why it's a great time to buy a home in Massachusetts.

  • Meet Lenders, REALTORS, and homebuyer counseling agencies. (Armstrong Field Real Estate will be there!)

  • Learn how to obtain affordable, fixed-rate loans with no hidden surprises with only 3% down.

  • Take advantage of the $8000 first time homebuyer tax credit (expires November 30, 2009)

  • Tour open houses of affordable homes.

For more information, go to:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit a Hit!

$8000 Tax Credit is a Hit With First Time Home Buyers!

Preliminary figures from the Internal Revenue Service suggest that 1.4 million home buyers are taking advantage of the $8000 tax credit that the government is giving to people to purchase their first home, and claiming it on their 2008 tax return. It looks like the program will meet and most likely surpass the goal set by lawmakers of providing 2 million home buyers with the credit. The tax credit expires on November 30, 2009.

A first time buyer buyer is defined by the IRS as someone who has not owned a primary home in the last 3 years. Someone who owns a vacation home or income property may still qualify for the tax credit.

IRS Form 5405 will allow qualifying buyers to claim the credit on either their 2008 (through an amendment) or 2009 tax returns, so many people purchasing homes this year won't be claiming the credit until next year. The credit is equal to 10 percent of the purchase price of the home, and is capped at $8,000 for homes purchased this year.
On the North Shore of Massachusetts we are seeing a incredible increase in activity from home buyers, with properties under agreement up 32% over last month. The driving force is the bottoming of home prices combined with mortgage interest rates in the 4's and the fact that the $8000 tax incentive will be gone before you know it.

Smart home sellers are placing their properties on the market now, knowing that after November 30th most home buyers will have already made their purchase and will be living in their new home with their $8000 tax credit check in hand. If you have a home on the market after November 30, 2009 - Good Luck! It will be a tough sell unless you have a home that is not something that a first time home buyer would purchase. That would mean most properties priced above $400,000. The most active properties are those that are priced below $325,000.

Jim Armstrong

Thursday, April 02, 2009

First Time Home Buyers - Don't File Your 2008 Tax Return!

First Time Home Buyers -
Don't File Your 2008 Tax Return!

If you already did, don't fret. You can still amend it. I've been talking about the 1st time home buyer tax credit that the federal government is giving to 1st time home buyers that close by November 30. 2009. Well, did you know that you don't have to wait until you file your federal return in 2010 to receive this credit? That is why I am telling you to hold off on filing your 2008 federal tax return until after you buy a home. You can file an extension and receive another 6 months to look for your dream home - until October 15th! This only applies if you are due a refund. If you owe taxes to the IRS then, unfortunately, you still need to pay those by April 15th. But you can still get your Tax Credit quicker (see below)

Now if you haven't filed your 2008 tax return yet, and you buy a home by October 14th, you can file your taxes the next day and have that $8,000 check in your hands in 7-10 days! (along with any other refund due you) How many of you think that you will have some expenses after you buy your new home (repairs, updates & improvements, new furniture, etc.). All of you, I'm sure.

Now if you have already filed your tax return, don't worry. All that means is that you will have to wait a little longer for your tax credit check. When you close on a new home (using an Armstrong Field buyer agent, of course!) you can file an amendment to your tax return and have your check before your 2nd mortgage payment is due. The IRS is telling us that it is taking about 8-10 weeks to process amended tax returns. As we get closer to the November 30th deadline, you can bet that time is going to be longer.

The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS is predicting that come this summer that home buyers are going to be scrambling to find a home to take advantage of the tax credit. Remember, you must close by November 30, 2009 at the latest. If you close on December 1st - no $8,000! That means you need to have an accepted offer by October 15th at the latest. If something happens that delays the closing, it could jeopardize your tax credit. That's why we are recommending that you start seriously looking now.

The other reason to buy a home sooner rather than later is because of competition. Right now, while the market is getting busier, there is nowhere near the frenzy like there is going to be as we move toward the end of the summer and early fall. There are plenty of homes to choose from right now, and we can normally negotiate a price to quite a bit under the asking price. In the summer when the activity picks up and the properties on the market start receiving more homebuyer traffic, the sellers are going to be more choosy, and may hold out for a better offer.

For more information on the 2009 Home Buyer Tax Credit, go to:

Jim Armstrong
Armstrong Field Real Estate

Monday, March 30, 2009

What's With All the Lazy Real Estate Agents?

What's with all the Lazy Real Estate Agents?

I work hard to give my clients the service they deserve. When listing real estate, marketing is one of the major concerns that a home seller has - exposing their property to the maximum number of potential buyers and enticing them to set up appointment to come see it.

That's why I don't understand properties I see listed with only one photo. Just as bad, a listing with multiple photos but with every one so out of focus you can't even make out any of the details (taken with a camera phone?) I can't think of any other reason not to have at least 15 to 20 quality photos on each listing other than the fact that the listing agent is just plain lazy. A loaf. A slacker. A hack. Take your pick...or use all of them when describing these agents.

It is well-known by anyone in the real estate industry (who keeps up on the latest trends) that multiple photos are the #1 reason that someone clicks on a listing when searching online. Might I add that according to the latest survey, 87% of home buyers now search online. So wouldn't you think that it was important to have the property well-represented with a nice photo array to this huge segment of the home buying population?

Maybe they do it on purpose? If they had multiple photos it might generate phone calls from buyers. Next thing you know they would have to interrupt their game of computer solitaire and actually get off their ass and show the property. Heaven forbid!

While I'm on the subject of lazy agents (you know who you are), here are a few other pet peeves of mine concerning real estate listings:

  1. Bad grammar - There should be a rule where you have to have a basic grasp of the concept of grammar. This includes punctuation. I have seen many listings where you would swear a 5 year wrote the copy. Actually, I apologize to the 5 year old because they can write better than some of the adults in the business. If you know you have bad grammar, have someone else check it for you before it is posted.

  2. Bad Spelling - No excuse here. I know MLS doesn't have a spell check program built in. So write the text in Word (other word processing program) and spell check it before you copy and paste it in MLS. I'm a decent speller myself, but when typing sometimes my mind goes faster then my (4.5 words a minute) hands. Don’t be lazy, run your copy through spell check!

  3. Poor descriptions of the property - "nice sf home w/2 br & 1 bth near train. nice yard. must see" - this was an actual description I saw on a property listed in Salem. First of all, get rid of the abbreviations! This description is going to be posted on the internet to be seen all over the world. Just because we in the industry know what they mean doesn't mean that the buyers do. The MLS allows 500 characters in the property description field. I never have a problem filling it to capacity with information about the properties I list. Keep your lazy-arse fingers typing until you have filled the field. Do the right thing for your clients!

There are many more similar issues I could write about, but I have clients to attend to. After checking the new listings this morning and seeing several properties that fit this description, I just had to get this off my chest. Evidently the sellers of these properties either don't bother to check to see how their properties are listed, or they don't realize there are big differences in marketing capability between agents. Most agents do a good job when it comes to listing a property. But if you were selling your home, wouldn't you want a great job?

By the way, I ran this through a spelling and grammar check and found 8 mistakes. I guess I am only human.

Jim Armstrong

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Hurry up and Buy - Home supply going down.


North Shore, MA - The inventory of homes has been steadily dropping on the north shore since the begiining of the year. Typically as we get closer to spring we see the supply increase, but that is not occurring this year. It seems that savvy homebuyers and investors are snapping up properties left and right with the mind set that we are at the bottom of the market and it doesn't make sense to wait. Add to that the very low mortgage interest rates (below 5%) and the $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers, and the result is a frenzy of people trying to get the best real estate deals.

According to MLS, the number of homes (condos, single family and multies) currently on the market on the north shore of massachusetts is 3,877. Last year on this same date (March 27th) there were 4,988 homes on the market. That's a drop of 22% over 2008!

Although inventory dropped for all types of homes, multifamily homes dropped the most. In 2008 there were 658 multies on the market, today there is 350! That is almost a 50% drop in the number of 2, 3 and 4 family homes available to choose from over last year. I'm not supprised by this because the list price of multies has dropped over 35% since 2005. You can actually buy a 2 family home as an investment and have positive cash flow from it - something you haven't been able to do in several years.

Here is a link to a video from WBZ TV in Boston about the current market:
Jim Armstrong

Monday, March 23, 2009

Existing-Home Sales Rise In February
WASHINGTON , March 23, 2009

Existing-home sales increased in February, reversing losses in January. Even so, sales activity remains relatively soft, reflecting additional layoffs and buyers waiting for housing provisions in the economic stimulus package to take effect, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
Existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – rose 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 4.72 million units in February from a pace of 4.49 million units in January, but are 4.6 percent below the 4.95 million-unit level in February 2008. Seasonal adjustment factors are more volatile in winter months, but sales rates over the past few months show dampened sales activity.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said first-time buyers accounted for half of all home sales last month, with activity concentrated in lower price ranges. “Because entry level buyers are shopping for bargains, distressed sales accounted for 40 to 45 percent of transactions in February,” he said. “Our analysis shows that distressed homes typically are selling for 20 percent less than the normal market price, and this naturally is drawing down the overall median price.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

What Friday 13th Means for Real Estate

Today is Friday the 13th, and though here in Salem Massachusetts many people think that this is a lucky day, there are those around the world who fell that the number 13 equates with bad luck. has posted an article on some of the people and countries that take #13 a little more seriuosly that most of us here in the U.S.

What Friday 13th Means for Property…

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Waiting to Buy a Home may Cost You

"Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished. In fact, does anyone think that today's prices will prevail once full confidence has been restored?"

This is a quote that makes a lot of since in today's real estate market. Many potential home buyers are waiting for the word (from whatever source they believe in) to make a purchase of a home they will be living in, or to buy real estate for investment purposes.

The problem is that if you wait until the media gives you the go ahead, it will be way too late to get a great deal on a property. This holds true for investments or for the owner/occupant. You will be competing with droves of other home buyers trying to take advantage of the turn-around in the market. We are already seeing this in some markets such as Lynn Massachusetts where 70% of lower priced (under $200K) single family homes have sold over list price during the last 2 months. We are seeing many multiple offer situations, and it is starting to happen in other towns. If you see a property you like, do not hesitate or you will take the chance of losing that home to someone else.

Now I'm not trying to rush you into making a rash decision to buy the first home you see. I (along with my hand-picked staff of Realtors) represent buyers to get them the best deal on a home or investment property. We will advise you when to jump, and when to take your time to investigate a property. Yes, we want your business, but even more important - we want your repeat business and referrals! We won't get that by pressuring you into buying a property that isn't right for you or is overpriced.

By the way, the quote above was made 77 years ago by Dean Witter in May of 1932.

If there is one thing we have learned in life is that history tends to repeat itself -especially in the financial markets.

Jim Armstrong
Armstrong Field Real Estate
Serving the North Shore of Massachusetts

Monday, January 26, 2009


December 2008 total home sales in Essex County increased by 4.9% over December 2007, led by the sale of multi-family homes which went up by 172%! The sale of bank owned properties drove down the price of multi unit buildings by 33% to an average of $184,800 driving investors and savvy, bargain-hunting home buyers to the closing table.
The glut of foreclosed homes has pushed down prices, and distress sales now make up well over half the market in some towns such as Lynn and Lawrence. Other towns, including Newburyport, Marblehead, Danvers & Hamilton, have had relatively few foreclosures and therefore homes prices haven't dropped as sharply.

Single family sales were relatively flat over the same period, despite a 17% drop in prices over 2007. But that is actually good news for sellers of single family homes, which for the most part in 2008 experienced declining sales numbers. But toward the end of the year sales have been coming back. Could the lure of a $7500 first time homebuyer tax credit be tied to this rise?

The home buyers that we have talked to have not indicated that the tax credit was the driving force that made them step up to the home buying plate. What was the driving force was the lure of getting a bargain-priced home at the bottom, or near bottom, of the real esate market. The second motivating factor was the availability of mortgage money at rates below 6.0%.

Jim Armstrong

Monday, January 19, 2009


For the 11th consecutive week Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey showed that the average interest rate for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) broke another record in the 37-year history of the survey. During the week ended January 15 the rate averaged 4.96 percent with 0.7 point, down from last week's average of 5.01 percent with 0.6 point.

This is the 11th week in a row that mortgage interest rates have dropped, due in part to a slowing economy, and also to the actions that the Federal Government has been taking. Some (healthy) local banks have been receiving funds from the Feds specifically for the purpose of supplying money for mortgages to local consumers.

We have had clients close on homes with mortgage rates even lower - 4.5%! This equates to a mortgage payment of only $1721.00 per month on a $350,000 home with just 3% down.

You could buy a $200,000 condo (or even single family) with 3% down ($6,000) and have a mortgage payment less than $1000! It's got to be cheaper than what you are currently paying for rent. Plus, unlike rent, your mortgage payment is mostly tax deductible, giving you a larger tax refund. Add on the $7500 first time homebuyer tax credit, and you would have to be crazy not to buy a home right now!

I know what you are thinking - "But you are a Realtor. Of course you want me to buy a home now. That's how you make your money and you have lots of Christmas bills to pay off!"

True, selling real estate is how a earn a living. But I earn clients for life by giving them what I believe to be good, accurate information that is going to help them in their decisions when buying or selling a home. I just recently purchased a home myself because of these ideal buying conditions. Though I had owned property before, most recently I had been renting - and waiting for the right time to buy.

This IS the right time.

Jim Armstrong