Archive for October, 2006

Custom greeting cards at a mouse click

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Province

Name: Lorna Rush

Business: Daelor Products/ SendOutCards, south Surrey, B.C.

Contact: www.sendoutcards.com/8971 or www.daelorproducts.com or 1-888-575-1497

Number of employees: Five, including my husband

Years in business: Eight months

What is your business?

It’s the coolest thing going.

You go to the website and use a password to access more than 7,500 greeting cards.

You pick out the perfect card and the exact words you want — you can even add a photo — then you click the mouse to send the order to a printing company.

The company prints your custom greeting card and sends it out through Canada Post, and it costs about $1 plus the stamp.

How did you get started?

A friend heard about this business, which is a U.S. company and the fifth-largest greeting-card group in North America.

She thought it was a great idea.

What do you like best about this business?

I like the flexibility of fitting it in around the things I want to do with my family.

What is your biggest challenge?

Keeping up with all of the opportunities and getting the word out about the service.

It’s so much better than sending an e-card, and you don’t have to go to card shops any more.

Expansion plans?

My business can expand wherever the company expands, and it’s already in Australia, England and Ireland.

I am only limited by my ability to think. The problem is, I have a hard time sleeping because I have so many ideas.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

 

Sanyo’s new hybrid camera is tiny

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

Jim Jamieson
Province

What is it? Sanyo Xacti HD1A hybrid digital camera

Price: $899

Why you need it: For those tech-lovers who want to consolidate the number (and size) of toys they carry around.

Why you don’t: Combo devices always come with compromises.

Our rating: (three stars out of five)

- – -

High-definition camcorders have been on the market for a couple years and devices that allow you to take both video and still photos are commonplace these days, as any cell-phone or digital-camera owner can attest.

But we’re just beginning to see combinations of HD video recording with still photography. Sanyo didn’t waste any time building this capability into its small footprint Xacti line of hybrid cams.

HD television is a technology that is only slowly gaining marketshare in North America, but it’s natural to want to shoot amazingly crisp video for showing on computer screens and video players such as Apple’s iPod as well as those who want to display their work on their own HDTVs.

The 235-gram Xacti HD1A shoots HD digital video and high-resolution five-megapixel stills, housed in a tiny body — 7.9 centimetres wide by 11.9 cm high by 3.5 cm deep — and designed for one-handed operation.

The camcorder in this device can shoot at 30 frames per second, similar to TV, while the

3.8-megapixel still-camera function delivers photos in the widescreen format.

With memory cards continuously expanding in size, video length isn’t a problem. The HD1A can record up to 21 minutes of HD video per gigabyte on a standard SD or SDHC memory card.

Available at CompuSmart.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

 

From CP rail line to condominiums?

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

Parks board commissioner would like city to buy, develop land

John Bermingham
Province

Parks board Commissioner Marty Zlotnik walks along the tracks at 5th and Burrard. He is proposing the city buy the rail line from CP Rail for $100 million. Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Tomorrow night at a Vancouver parks board meeting, Marty Zlotnik will urge that the City of Vancouver buy the Arbutus rail corridor — for a bargain price of $100 million.

The Vancouver parks board commissioner says the 18-hectare rail line that winds from False Creek to Marpole would be “one tremendous buy” — and the $200 million the city would raise by rezoning the land for development could be used in part to wipe out the board’s debt of more than $20 million for cost overruns at Olympic facilities.

The land, which belongs to CP Rail, has lain dormant for years.

Zlotnik says CPR is prepared to sell the site to the city, and suggests that redevelopment include a six-hectare park by 2010. The other 12 hectares could be earmarked for two million square feet of condos, townhouses and commercial outlets.

CPR spokesman Paul Clark confirmed the company’s preferred course of action would be to sell the lands to the city.

“We are not a developer,” Clark said.

Referring to Zlotnik’s plan, he noted that “it’s not CPR’s proposal,” and the company is only sharing the local community’s vision for the corridor.

“This is what the community is thinking about, talking about, for the corridor,” Clark said.

Meantime, opponents are livid.

The Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, which has members living next to the rail line, insists it should remain a transport corridor.

“We’re not talking development,” said executive director Karen Wristen. “I think it’s extremely short-sighted. Why are we messing with it?”

Sean McEwen, spokesman for the Kits-Arbutus Residents Association, argued the land should only be purchased as an unused rail asset.

“Fair market value is its value as a rail line,” said McEwen.

Any attempts to build density in the neighbourhoods from Kits to Marpole would be fraught with conflict in any case, he said.

“It would be very controversial in a lot of areas along the line,” he said.

After a long legal fight, Canada’s top court ruled last year that the city had the right to use the land as a greenway and transport route. It has already been included in city drawings for a future streetcar line.

COPE Coun. David Cadman said Zlotnik shouldn’t be stickhandling a redevelopment proposal.

“I think it’s totally out of the park board’s jurisdiction,” Cadman said. “They can’t negotiate land use.

“It sits there as a transportation corridor without the ability to develop, until such time as the city wants to use it as a transportation corridor,” Cadman added.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan said he’s aware of the issue but wouldn’t comment until the parks board hears Zlotnik’s proposal and decides if, and how, to proceed.

If the city doesn’t want to buy the corridor, CPR plans to hang on to it as a rail line.

“The railway can continue to use it for any kind of rail purposes. We don’t have to sell it to the city,” said Clark.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

 

‘Staging’ results in faster sale, richer price

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Noelle Knox
USA Today

BEFORE AND AFTER

The living room Before: In each room, you should decide which features to accentuate. In this case, it was the windows and the woodwork. All the original furniture was taken out, notably a large computer terminal, which seemed out of place in the sitting room of a Victorian-style house. After: The furniture has been arranged to draw the eye to the window. While more light is usually best in any room, the curtains are drawn half-way because the house next door is very close. Mirrors are added instead of paintings, which would distract from the woodwork. The Western-style chairs and the color choices are currently in vogue. There are no family photos. The catalogs on the table are upscale, and the books in the bookcase are about art and finance.

Before …

AFTER …

Breakfast nook Before: The space looks small and sterile. After: A small table was brought in and set so buyers can imagine eating in the room. A flower draws attention to the view outside the patio, where other plants were added. A bright picture was hung to give the room a cozy look. Before …

AFTER …

Playroom Before: This had been two rooms that were joined together, but the job was never completely finished. The walls needed painting. The room had a linoleum floor. It looked sad and empty. After: Walls were painted one color, and the floor was painted with high-gloss paint. A rug with the season’s most popular colors was put on the floor. Furniture was added, and a slipcover put on an old couch. Before …

AFTER …

Fran Freedman took down the family photos and most of her artwork. She had the fence in the front yard ripped out, and she got rid of half the clothes in her closet. And that was just for starters. She wasn’t redecorating. Rather, she was “staging” her house for a potential home buyer.

With 3.75 million homes on the market — a 7.3-month supply — sellers must work harder these days to attract buyers. Yet oddly enough, the trick to making your home stand out is often to make both the interior and exterior look generic, almost bland. And that’s where home staging comes in.

“The philosophy is the buyer must be able to picture themselves living in your home,” says Freedman, 65, a lawyer in Philadelphia. “They don’t want to see your family photos and your artwork. The décor should be understated so they can say, ‘This would be the perfect place for my…’ “

Does it work? When Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Los Altos, Calif., looked at nearly 2,800 properties in eight U.S. cities in 2004, they found that the staged homes, on average, sold in half the time that the non-staged homes did. The sellers with staged homes ended up with 6.3% more than their asking price, on average, while sellers with non-staged homes sold for 1.6% more than the asking price.

The cost of hiring a company to stage your home tends to range from $1,800 to $3,800 but can go much higher, depending on the size of the house and the amount of work involved.

Freedman says Tailored Transitions, the company she used, “had a hard time convincing me and my husband to spend the money. People don’t spend money on this kind of thing. I’d never heard of staging.”

In the end, they spent $2,500 for the interior, $4,000 for the exterior, $500 to rent “props” like less eye-catching artwork and decorative pillows and $500 to move their excess furniture and boxes into storage. In hindsight, she says, it was worth every dime.

They listed their home this month for $949,000, and Freedman says, “I don’t know if we would have priced it that high when it wasn’t so attractive.”

Judee von Seldeneck put her staged home in Philadelphia on the market this month; it sold in one day, for $700,000.

From moving shrubs to planting flowers, to replacing the knobs on kitchen cabinets and ripping up the carpet on the stairs, every change was made to accentuate the house’s best features. There were even pumpkins on the porch to lend a homey, inviting look.

Inside, the stagers “put furniture that looked comfortable but not too heavy, not cluttered,” says von Seldeneck, CEO of an executive search firm, who’s “in my 60s.” The books on shelves, colors of the rug, the furniture — all were “geared more toward younger people.”

She spent $8,000 on the job and says, “It was the best money I ever spent.”

Short of hiring a company to do the work, there are some simple steps any seller can take to stage a home:

•Cleaning. The house should be Q-tip clean. Every surface should sparkle; every groove should be dirt-free. And above all, wash the windows.

Clutter. Pack up family photos, stacks of paper, medicines on the bathroom counter, the books overflowing the bookcase. Hide trash cans, ashtrays, the laundry hamper, the kitchen sponge, the cat’s litter box and food dishes.

“Clutter eats equity,” says Barb Schwarz, the self-proclaimed inventor of home staging and author of Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money.

•Color. Dark walls make the house look smaller. Walls should be off-white, or have earthy tones if the room has lots of light. Ideally, the carpet would be “real estate beige.” Open or take down the curtains, so the rooms will have as much light as possible. Leave on the lights in darker areas.

Focal point. To think like a professional stager, stand at the doorway of each room. What features do you want to accentuate? Where’s the focal point? (A room should have only one.) So if you have a fireplace and a big-screen TV, take out the TV. Arrange the furniture so the eye is drawn to the focal point.

•Furniture. Most rooms have too much furniture, which makes rooms look smaller. Reduce the number of pillows on the couch to zero, or have an odd number like three. Remove afghans and blankets. Reduce the number of paintings on the walls.

•Dining room. Take out the leaves from your dining table and put no more than four chairs around it. Set the table as if for a meal, and put an appealing centerpiece in the middle. Reduce the number of dishes in the china cabinet, leaving only a few.

•Kitchen. The exterior of the refrigerator should be bare. Store any appliances you don’t use daily out of sight. Hide the trash can, and put the sponge and soap under the sink. You can spruce up an outdated kitchen simply by changing the knobs and hinges.

•Master bedroom. Buy a new bedspread, if necessary. Clear off bedside tables and chests of drawers. Hide the alarm clock. For the closets, pack up any clothing you’re not using this season. It’ll make the space look larger.

•Bathroom. Replace bar soap with liquid. Coordinate all towels using one or two colors. Fold them in thirds and hang them neatly. Clear everything out of the shower except for one bottle of liquid soap and one bottle of shampoo. Clean or replace the shower curtain. Make sure all grout is clean and in good condition. Remove all cloth toilet lid covers, and keep the lid down. Hide the trash can.

•Outside. Keep the lawn mowed and the edges neat. Trim shrubs, especially around windows. Put flowering plants near the front door. Does the house need painting? Consider painting or staining the front door; it’s one of the least expensive ways to spruce up the entry. If there’s furniture on the porch, make sure it isn’t plastic but rather good wicker or wrought iron. Power-wash or stain the deck. Remove or hide old cans and bottles, auto parts, boats and RVs.

“When you start staging your house, emotionally, you need to say goodbye to your house,” says Starr Osborne, CEO of Tailored Transitions in Philadelphia, the staging firm Freedman hired. “It’s like hotel living. It’s not a comfortable experience, but your home will sell more quickly and for better money.”

The de-cluttering process is “one of the biggest challenges we find,” she says. “Sellers feel it’s an indictment of the way they live. You have to remember what you’re selling. You’re not selling your taste; you’re selling tastes the buyer wants to see.”

Freedman recalls it was “kind of traumatic” when all her family photos were packed away. Another tough moment was when she stood in front of her closet, wondering what she could throw out.

But in the end, Freedman says, the process was “cathartic.” “It made us realize we had too much,” she says. “When we move, we won’t use it all.”

Housing weakness bashes down GDP

Friday, October 27th, 2006

USA Today

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — A slumping housing sector helped slow economic growth in the third quarter to its weakest pace in more than three years, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Gross domestic product, which measures total economic activity within U.S. borders, expanded at a 1.6% annual rate during the third quarter, down from 2.6% annual rate in the second quarter for the slowest advance since 1.2% in the first quarter of 2003.

Third-quarter GDP growth was well below Wall Street analysts’ forecasts for a 2.2% rate of growth and reflected a range of influences that combined to slow the economy. Most striking was a 17.4% annual rate of contraction in spending on new housing — the biggest decline in 15½ years, since a 21.7% drop in the first quarter of 1991.

By contrast, the GDP report showed that business investment remained healthy and consumers picked up their spending pace, giving credence to forecasts that the economy retains enough vigor to keep growing at least at a moderate rate.

The drag on growth from a rapidly softening housing sector was expected, because other reports have shown prices are weakening for both new and existing homes and builders are offering incentives to try to reduce their inventories of unsold homes.

Non-residential investment, which serves as a proxy for business spending, rose at an 8.6% annual rate in the third quarter, close to double the second quarter’s 4.4%. Consumer spending, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of national economic activity, increased at a 3.1% annual rate, up from 2.6% in the second quarter.

Another eport Friday said consumer sentiment improved more than expected in October as consumers’ view of both future and current conditions improved.

The final October reading of the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index was 93.6, up from a preliminary 92.3 and September’s final reading of 85.4, said sources who saw the subscription-only report. The median forecast of economists polled by Reuters was for a final October reading of 92.5.

The White House said it is not worried about the slowdown in economic growth.

“Everybody expected this. You have a combination of rising energy prices and also rising interest rates, and now you’ve seen a reverse on both,” said White House press secretary Tony Snow.

The news was mixed on prices.

A gauge favored by the Federal Reserve — personal spending excluding food and energy — increased at a 2.3% annual rate during the third quarter, slower than the 2.7% posted during the second quarter.

But this gauge, measured on a year-over-year basis, was up 2.4% in the third quarter, which department officials said was the strongest rate since 1995.

Energy prices, which had surged in the summer, have since calmed down.

Gas prices are now hovering around $2.23 a gallon nationwide, compared with more than $3 a gallon in early summer. Oil prices are now just over $61 a barrel, down from $77.03, a record high close in mid-July.

That is supposed to help ease inflation and lead to better economic activity.

Lower energy prices leave people and companies with more money to spend on other things. If they spend and invest, that adds to economic growth. Many economists believe the economy will do better in the current October-to-December quarter, perhaps clocking in close to 3%.

The Fed highlighted its continuing concern over potential inflation pressures when it announced Wednesday that it was keeping interest rates steady for now, but it remained watchful about price rises.

Car sharing goes commercial

Friday, October 27th, 2006

TransLink major contributor to auto co-operative

Frank Luba
Province

Yaletown landscape architect Chris Marshall enjoys sharing his Company Car with 2,708 other drivers. Photograph by : Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

Chris Marshall drives a company car — that he shares with 2,708 other drivers.

Marshall’s company, Yaletown landscape architects Durante Kreuk Ltd., decided this past summer to join The Company Car, a subsidiary of the Co-operative Auto Network.

Like individuals in the co-operative, companies can now avoid the hassles of owning, insuring and providing service for a vehicle while booking use of it almost any time they need it.

As of yesterday, there were 2,709 drivers registered with the co-op throughout the Lower Mainland with access to 142 vehicles that range in size from a Mini Cooper Classic to a seven-passenger minivan and a compact truck.

As more people join the co-op, more vehicles will be purchased.

Marshall doesn’t own a vehicle and lives close enough to work to use public transit.

“Having a car sitting in the parking lot most days of the week just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” said Marshall, 27.

But since joining The Company Car in July, he has used the service two to three times a week.

“What got us interested in it is probably 50 per cent of our office now is my age or younger and either don’t have vehicles or don’t drive in to work because of the difficulty parking downtown,” he said.

“Yet we often need to run out to a job site or go have a look at something.”

Marshall, for instance, has business in Langley, which is a long and expensive cab ride away.

While a Company Car isn’t parked right outside, Marshall said they’re near enough to still be convenient for business use — which is generally during the day.

“The main personal use is evenings and weekends,” he said. “During the day, for job-site visits, for us it’s quite convenient.”

While it has been slowly growing, The Company Car initiative will be officially launched today with the participation of TransLink and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

TransLink, always interested in getting people to think about other ways of getting around, has contributed $80,000 toward the program and $15,000 in on-board promotion while the federation has added $25,000.

There is a sliding scale to join the program. Firms with one to five registered drivers pay a one-time deposit of $500, with the cost rising to $1,000 for firms with between six and 25 drivers. Each driver is charged $20 to register and has the option to pay another $50 to get personal use of the vehicle.

Actually using the vehicle costs $6 per hour, or a maximum of $24 plus tax per day, for use between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

More information about the program is available online at www.thecompanycar.ca.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

City of Vancouver pondering 6.3% property-tax hike

Friday, October 27th, 2006

John Bermingham
Province

Vancouver homeowners could be asked to shell out 6.3 per cent more in their property taxes to cover the city’s spending overruns.

In operating-budget estimates going before council Tuesday, budget staffer Annette Klein says the city’s funding shortfall amounts to a 4.9-per-cent tax increase. And $7.1 million in new spending could tack on another 1.4-per-cent to the property-tax bill.

“If we don’t make any changes in the budget . . . this is approximately what it would be to run the city,” said Klein. “On top of it, we have these funding requests.”

In July, the NPA-dominated council voted to cap future property-tax hikes at four per cent. “Now, what we’re going to do is keep working on this, and come back with some options on how to get to that four [per cent],” Klein said.

Next year’s inflation rate is pegged at two per cent.

Last year, council raised taxes four per cent after a gruelling budget process. It cut costs to social programs and community and arts groups. The city also eliminated the equivalent of 25 full-time jobs.

This year, the city’s front-line staff are looking for a wage increase. Their union, CUPE Local 15, is in collective bargaining with the city.

“Obviously, we’ll be looking for a wage increase, but at this point we are not talking about those numbers,” CUPE president Paul Faoro said yesterday.

He’s concerned another round of layoffs and service cuts are on the way. “We don’t believe the public wants a cut in public service,” he said.

Adding to pressure on the budget, the Vancouver Police Department is reviewing its staffing needs and may ask for extra patrol officers in January.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan has promised to shift taxes off business over a 20-year period.

Sara McIntyre, B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said cities like Vancouver have been ramping up property taxes for years.

McIntyre said total municipal revenues in B.C. have jumped 44 per cent in four years. She figures municipal spending has risen by a similar amount.

“You have a wish list drawn up by councillors,” she added. “Then they basically set the property tax rate to basically get that money. There’s no incentive to be fiscally responsible.”

In November, the public will be asked to give feedback on what city services they can and can’t do without in Vancouver, and what would be an acceptable tax increase.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

 

Sellers sing the blues as price drop sets record

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Noelle Knox
USA Today

Then: San Diego’s housing market was so hot that the town house next to Jeff Cruce’s was flipped from buyer to seller three times in three years. The owners, who never moved in, didn’t even need to put up a “For Sale” sign.

Now: Since August, Cruce and seven of his neighbors have put their town houses on the market (that’s nearly 20% of the units in the complex). All have cut their prices, including Cruce, who chopped his price last month by $30,000 to $559,000. Not one has received an offer yet. Each time one owner would lower the asking price, it put pressure on the others to follow, says Cruce, 38, a salesman who’s moving to Atlanta.

That domino effect, rippling through neighborhoods across the country, pushed down the nation’s median home price in September by the largest amount on record, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said Wednesday.

The median price for a single-family home slipped 2.5% from September last year to $219,800, the sharpest annual drop since the NAR began tracking the data in 1969. The median-priced condominium fell 2.8% to $219,800, the fourth annual decline in a row.

At the same time, the volume of home sales fell for the sixth straight month, tumbling 14% in September compared with a year ago.

In the softest real estate markets, sellers are waking up to the harsh reality that they can’t get anywhere near what their neighbors sold their homes for last year. So they’re grudgingly reducing their asking prices and offering to pay closing costs.

At the same time, many buyers, emboldened by the transformed market, are low-balling sellers and getting deals they couldn’t have imagined last year.

Just ask Sevan Derderian and Reggie Johnson.

In 2004, Derderian bought a house in Las Vegas as an investment for $281,000. He found tenants, but he kicked them out after 10 months because their rent was always late.

“I found that it’s really hard to be a landlord from a state or two away,” says Derderian, 43, a salesman in Los Angeles. He held onto the property for another year, hoping prices would keep going up. Once the market turned south, though, he panicked.

He listed the house in the summer for $305,000. Having owned real estate only during boom years, he assumed it would sell in about a week. After a month, he cut the price to $289,900. Another week went by. He offered to pay nearly $9,000 toward a buyer’s closing costs.

Then along came Johnson, a 38-year-old truck driver, who snapped up the house and boasts, “I got a great deal.”

Derderian, meantime, lost about $25,000 from paying the mortgage on an empty home.

Where’s the bottom?

That’s a risk confronting sellers in 56 metro areas, including Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, New York and Miami, that are expected to suffer annual price drops, according to a study this month by Moody’s Economy.com.

Prices in a few markets, such as Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., won’t bottom out until 2009, the study projected, and in many areas prices will stay flat through the end of the decade. (For a full list, click here.)

“It was surprising just how quickly the market seemed to turn,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com. “It was like, boom, boom, bust. It was like, ‘What happened?’ The psychology in the marketplace unraveled very rapidly.”

In fact, about half of American homeowners who thought of selling their homes in the past year have delayed putting their homes on the market, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll conducted this month.

And roughly one-third of those who had considered selling have abandoned the idea. (The poll of 1,007 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.)

Of course, home prices aren’t going to fall in every market. About one-third of the nation is expected to see moderate price growth for the rest of the year. Those areas include Dallas, Austin, Newark, Del., and Birmingham, Ala. — areas where prices didn’t test the stratosphere during the boom.

Even in the once-sizzling markets, homeowners and investors who bought their properties more than two years ago should still see modest gains if they sell in the current market.

Relocating can be costly

But it’s clearly a buyer’s market now. The number of homes for sale has bulged to a 7.3-month supply compared with 4.6 months last September. The backlog of homes for sale is thickest in the areas that witnessed the fastest price growth and investor activity.

“It’s frustrating,” says Cindy Holliday, a high school math teacher who recently took a job in Chicago. “Homes were selling for so much more a few months ago, and now nothing’s selling at all.”

Holliday and her husband were house hunting in Chicago in June when they put their home in Ocala, Fla., up for sale.

“Before we put our house on the market, houses were selling so fast we didn’t think we’d have a problem selling our house at all,” says Holliday, 31.

“When we got back down there (to Ocala), just about every other house on our street was for sale. It was very depressing.”

Though their house probably would have fetched nearly $200,000 earlier this year, they listed it at $179,000. A couple of weeks ago, they trimmed the price to $174,500.

But it’s no easier for sellers in Chicago, says Javier Diaz. He’s made several profitable real estate investments, but the three-unit apartment building he bought in Chicago earlier this year wasn’t one of them.

“I figured this year the property would go up 30 or 40 grand, but that didn’t happen,” says Diaz, 28.

He put it up for sale in September, asking $415,000. He’s already cut the price twice, to $375,000. That’s less than he owes on his loan, which means that if Diaz sells at that price, he’ll have to pull $5,000 out of his own pocket to pay the bank.

Being a mortgage broker, Diaz knows some investors who used their home equity like debit cards. He says of the quick decline in real estate, “It’s coming like a culture shock to many.”

‘Everyone was doing it’

Vicki di Bernardo agrees. “It taught us a lesson,” she says of the downturn in Las Vegas. “It was a little risky, but we got caught up in it. Everyone was doing it. … (Now) everyone is very, very nervous here about the real estate market.”

She recalls buying a single-family home in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin as an investment in 2003.

“We were on a huge waiting list, and our names came up, and we had to go in with a check and give it to them within a couple of hours or they’d go to the next on the list.”

She rented the house out for two years. But when her tenants moved out in February, she put it on the market for $574,000.

“In the first three months, we didn’t have one showing — not one,” says di Bernardo, 60, who works in human resources. At the end of May, she dropped the price to $519,000. Three weeks later, she came down to $499,000. Even then, only looky-loos came by.

“There was so much inventory” on the market, di Bernardo recalls. “So many builders had offered huge incentives, like no mortgage payments for 12 months or a swimming pool. We had it on the market for $479,000 when an offer came in at $460,000.”

She grabbed it. She still made $175,000, but that’s about $100,000 less than she’d have made if she sold last year.

Desperate builders a problem

Builders, with no emotional attachment to their homes, have become one of the biggest financial threats to individual sellers. New-home sales are down 16% this year. Building permits for single-family homes are off by 20%. Faced with a huge number of cancellations, builders began trying to lure buyers with eye-catching deals, such as free vacations, media rooms and landscaping.

That’s what’s hurting Bryan Rauch. In January, he bought a home in Anthem, Ariz., where Pulte Homes is offering a slew of incentives, including advice from re-sale experts to help buyers fix up and sell their current homes.

“The plan was to renovate it and flip it,” says Rauch, 37, a nurse-turned-real estate-investor.

He put the home back on the market in February, at $284,000, then lowered the price repeatedly until he hit $270,000. Still no buyers. After six months, he rented it out at a $500-a-month loss.

“The problem is the builder is giving away homes,” Rauch says. “Properties like this are now selling for the low $200s.”

But Rauch needs to cut his losses. So he’s putting the home back on the market at $260,000 and crossing his fingers — like a lot of other sellers around the country.

New-home prices drop 9.7% from 2005, biggest fall in 35 years

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

USA Today

WASHINGTON (AP) — The median price of a new home plunged in September the largest amount in more than 35 years, even as the pace of sales rose for a second month.

The Commerce Department said the median price for a new home sold in September was $217,100, down 9.7% from September 2005.

That was the lowest median price for a new home since September 2004 and the sharpest year-over-year decline since December 1970. The weakness in new-home prices was even sharper than a 2.5% fall in the price of existing homes last month, which had been the biggest drop on record.

The price decline for new homes came while the sales pace picked up, rising 5.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.075 million homes. It was the second consecutive increase in sales, after three months of declines.

Still, September sales were down 14.2% from September 2005.

The supply of homes available for sale at the current sales pace fell to 6.4 months’ worth from 6.8 months in August. There were 557,000 homes available for sale at the end of September, down 1.9% from 568,000 in August.

New-home sales rose 23.9% in the West in September and 6.9% in the South. They fell 34.5% in the Northeast and 6.3% in the Midwest.

The rise in sales last month was led by a 23.9% jump in the West. Sales were also up 6.9% in the South. Sales fell by 34.5% in the Northeast and were down 6.3% in the Midwest.

The Commerce Department’s report on new-home sales in September came a day after a real estate trade group said existing home sales slipped in September for a sixth straight month. The National Association of Realtors said home resales slowed to an annual rate of 6.18 million from a 6.30 million pace in August.

Caffe Barney is an old favourite

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

It offers big helpings of inexpensive, decently cooked food, a varied menu and good music

Mia Stainsby
Sun

Lisa Johnson of Caffe Barney serves the chicken avocado wrap and a pint of Red Truck Golden Cream Ale. Photograph by : Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

When The Sun offices were in the South Granville neighbourhood, one of the places I liked to go for a really satisfying lunch was Caffe Barney. The menu was varied but I inevitably ordered the Burt Wong salad, a melange of spinach, prawns and wonton chips with a maple soy dressing.

Some nine years later, the salad’s gone, and I’m told there never was a Burt Wong. But the place is still jumping. It was packed when I stopped by for dinner recently. We shared mussels in a white wine broth; I had pad Thai and my husband, the Tennessee chicken. (I don’t mean he’s a Tennessee chicken — he had it and liked it fine.)

Next to us, a couple were on one of their first dates, all lovey dovey. “You’re joking!” the guy exclaimed when the server brought his fully loaded plate of food. “I ate it all,” he boasted when he cleaned the plate. This is to say, they don’t starve you at Caffe Barney.

The place has survived since 1988 because it has several things going for it. Inexpensive, decently cooked food, good music (The Arcade Fire and The Smiths were playing when we were there) and very personable staff.

“We’re known as the place where servers go to retire,” says manager Lisa Johnson. “They’re in the early-to-mid-30s and they’ve left the downtown scene. They bring a lot of experience and a ton of personality.”

The menu reaches out to a diverse customer base with pastas and burgers as well as entrees. “We’re known for our burgers,” Johnson says. “The meat is lean, fresh ground, never frozen and served on whole wheat buns.”

There are breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. And for all you sleepyheads, breakfast goes to 4 p.m.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars. ([email protected])

- – -

CAFFE BARNEY

2975 Granville St., 604-731-6446

© The Vancouver Sun 2006