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LA Digs - Northeast LA Real Estate Blog

Welcome to LA Digs, the real estate and Northeast Los Angeles community blog written by Realtors Tracy King and Keely Myres.

Here, we share tips, market updates, and local news bits to keep you informed on what's happening in Northeast Los Angeles and the surrounding neighborhoods. Read on to learn about the latest in your neighborhood!

September Newsletter Now Available!

For those who haven't gotten my monthly newsletter via email or snail mail (email me at tracy [at] tracyking [d0t] com if you'd like to be on the list!), here's the link to the September issue:

TracyTalk September 2010


In this month's issue, you'll get the lowdown on:

- Foreclosures that didn't have to happen
- Fannie Mae HomePath explained
- Joys of Home Ownership: Termite Edition
- What is Strategic Default?
- Eagle Rock Music Festival
- My Fundraiser for the Animals Re-Cap

Please feel free print it out or to forward it to any one whom you think might be interested.
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The Joys of Home Ownership: Termite Edition

We try to be responsible home owners, but we lead busy lives and all of a sudden, ten years have passed since we bought our current home and had it fumigated for termites. When our painter said she couldn't paint the trim on a window because the wood was too termite-damaged, we realized we had to deal with it, and now. An inspection from my trusty termite expert revealed the worst: a complete fumigation for house and carport was required.

Rule #1:  have a termite inspection at least once every 2 years.  Most fumigations come with a 2-year guarantee—just do it. No fumigation will prevent a re-infestation. Be vigilant.

If time slips by and you have to fumigate, here are a few things we have learned that might save you some trouble.

Rule #2: don't be a pack rat, especially about food. Any food or drink that is still factory packed or sealed is ok, but think about all your spices, condiments, flours and sugars. You will have to either remove them or double bag them in special plastic bags the termite company will give you. Everything in your freezer and refrigerator that has been opened has to be bagged also. All your pet food. As my husband was clearing out our pantry, he held up one plastic bag filled with old boxes of tea. Who knew all that was in there?

Then there are medications and vitamins. I think we could open a health food store with what we found.

Basically, anything you ingest needs to be sealed, bagged, or removed.

All plants must be removed from inside. All vegetation near the house must be cut back or removed. If not, water it really well and hope for the best. Most established plants will come back even after turning brown.

All animals, including fish and birds, must be removed. Do you have a fishpond nearby? If the tent is going over it, you'll have to remove the fish or they will die. That was fun to do at 8 o'clock the morning before the fumigation.

Which brings us to Rule #3: Make sure you talk to the termite company in detail about what you need to do to prepare. Ask if you need to meet with the fumigator—because most termite companies subcontract the actual fumigation. My termite guy (whom I’ve worked with for many years, remember) said he told the fumigator to check out the property and to let him/us know what was needed since we have a hillside house and it probably needed extra staff and tenting.

According to all the literature, Vikane (sulfuryl fluoride, the poison used to kill the termites) leaves no toxic residue and once the gas is gone, the house is safe to re-enter. I spoke with a client who wondered if the teargas (chloropicrin) they mix with the Vikane has a damaging effect on anything. I haven't found any literature on that yet. He removed all his computers and other electronics when he was fumigated. I decided to take my chances with that.

Back home after 3 days. As we expected, a few plants were browned. The fish were okay, even the one that eluded our efforts to remove it from the pond. All the electronics were fine. Much as we would have wished differently, the ants were unaffected as well.

Is this the only way to get rid of termites? No. However, the only other method recognized by the California Department of Consumer Affairs for a complete fumigation is the heat method, where your home is heated to about 150 degrees, so the wood core will reach 130 degrees. According to a paper published in 2002 by the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program, the only negative side effect of the heat system is the possibility of damage to the roof when walked upon, and to some heat-sensitive furnishings.  What might those be? This could be big—plastics, cable wiring, computers and CDs, obviously candles and chocolate. Also, consider antique furniture with old fragile glue or varnish. The plusses are that you don’t have to move out or bag your food, and the process takes one day instead of 3. And there are no poisonous gasses.

When we first bought this house, we had the place tented with the heat method. We had it redone within the first year under their guarantee. I didn’t like the company we used and they were the only ones who did the work in Southern California at the time, so I conveniently forgot about keeping up on the termite inspections. Also, it seemed like it would be about the same amount of trouble to remove all the meltable items as it would be to bag the food. And I started hearing more about the things that could melt at temperatures of 150 degrees.

Another method is the orange oil treatment. Check out the details at Eco LA Termite. Bottom line, the orange oil treatment people themselves say that they are best for local treatment.

Another good source for good information about termite is at Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner's website.
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What is Strategic Default?

Here are some resources:

From the website www.YouWalkAway.com: Strategic default, also known as voluntary foreclosure is when the borrower decides to stop paying a mortgage even though they can still afford the payment. For many people who are upside down on their mortgage, the decision to strategically default is one that is difficult, but often times is the first step to financial freedom.

Wikipedia has an interesting discussion of the ethical issues at play http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_default. One notation from an ethicist states that the economy is essentially amoral.

http://www.city-journal.org/2010/forum0427.html. A really well-considered discussion with good ideas about how the banking industry could take some responsibility for helping to fix the problem:  “Zingales and Posner propose that lenders be required to give underwater homeowners the option of resetting their mortgages to the current value of their houses in exchange for giving the lender 50 percent of the house’s future appreciation. Enough with guilt-tripping underwater homeowners into holding on to their homes. Instead, let’s focus on equitable and practical solutions to the negative-equity crisis. The Zingales/Posner proposal would be a great start.”

http://www.strategicdefault.org/  Free advice.

My thoughts: The question “can they afford to make their payment?” is key. For example, it would obviously be a strategic default if you bought a house with 20% down, a good 30 year fixed loan at say, 5.5% interest, and you still have the same job, your family is fine, you have $20,000 in savings and nothing has changed except your $500,000 house is now worth maybe $400,000. You may not like that fact that your house is now worth less, but you can clearly continue to pay for it.

But say the same situation has one change: you were laid off from your job and the best new job you could find pays 60% what your last one did. You are spending some of your savings—not a lot, every month just to pay the bills. You could change your spending habits and squeak by. Do you bail?

Or try this: Same issue with your job, but you could take on an extra job and be fine, or save yourself the time and trouble and walk away.

Think about these scenarios within this same situation:

There are 5 other families on your street that are experiencing similar issues

There are 3 foreclosures on your block that are boarded up and overgrown with weeds

At what point do you draw the line?
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Ask Tracy: What is Fannie Mae HomePath?

Dear Tracy,

Every now and then when perusing the homes for sale in the area I’d like to live in, I see a description that states it is a Fannie Mae HomePath property.

What exactly does this mean?  Does it make the buying process any different?

Thanks,

Home buyer

When a property is a HomePath property it means that it is (a) a bank-owned home owned by Fannie Mae, and, (b) the buyer of the property is eligible for the Fannie Mae HomePath mortgage program.

As you may know, Fannie Mae is the largest lender in the United States.  Fannie Mae currently has thousands and thousands of homes on their books due to the large number of recent foreclosures.  In an effort to help banks liquidate their Fannie Mae REO inventory, Fannie Mae came up with the HomePath program.

The HomePath program gives lenders and buyers less stringent finance requirements, which is great because more buyers can actually qualify for a loan.  Another great thing – you can get a HomePath mortgage for owner-occupied OR investment properties.  Fannie Mae also has a HomePath renovation financing program for those distressed properties that need a little help before they’re ready to be lived in.

Going the HomePath route makes the home buying process different for a few reasons:

  1. No appraisal is required.

  2. You can make a down payment of as little as 3% of the purchase price.

  3. No mortgage insurance is required (therefore, less up-front cash from buyers and lower monthly payments).

  4. Credit score requirements are more flexible.


So, the million dollar question – why would a lender agree to such a loan?

Well, Fannie Mae is offering a couple of incentives to lenders who process these loans.  First, loans can be sold back to Fannie Mae, so lenders aren’t holding the loans in their own portfolios.  Second, the more loans a lender makes, the more fees it generates for originating and servicing the loans.

I know what your next question will be – with all the cash investors snatching up distressed properties in the area, is it even possible to get one of these properties with a HomePath loan?

I’m not going to tell you that it will be easy, a lot of the time if a bank can get cash, they’ll take it.  But!  We are actually in escrow on a HomePath property and, except for a delay in opening escrow because it has to go through the Fannie Mae channels, everything is going smoothly so far (knock on wood).

My big advice for going into escrow on HomePath properties is to fully exercise your due diligence – get that property inspected thoroughly!  These banks don’t know a lot of the details on the condition of the property, and they rarely will do repairs before the close of escrow.  So do your homework and really understand what you’re getting into.

For more information and a database of HomePath eligible homes, visit www.homepath.com.
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August Newsletter Now Available!

The August edition of my newsletter is available now - you can download a PDF version here, or pick up a paper copy at one of the shops and restaurants along Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock.  If you are on the mailing list, a copy is on it's way to you as we speak!  Want to be on my mailing list? Shoot me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Let me know what you think of this month's issue!
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Today’s version of Irrational Exuberance

Remember when Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve, talked about the irrational exuberance in the stock market? You might not, because the quote is from a speech he gave all the way back in 1996!
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All about California Propositions 60 and 90

If you are 55 or older, you can qualify for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take your current property tax base and transfer it to your next home purchase.

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Shop Local in Eagle Rock for Valentine’s Day

Have you heard about the 3/50 Project? In honor of the shop local movement, I ventured out into Eagle Rock and assembled some places where you can shop for your Valentine gifts this year and keep your hard-earned money in our town!

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Overview of 2009, First month of 2010 Market Update for Eagle Rock

It seems like I'm always saying that here at last is the straight story on the real estate market, but it's always true! Last year, 2009, there were 121 sales in Eagle Rock, zip code 90041. Here's the interesting part: 60% of the sales were distress sales, that is, either short sales or bank-owned properties. Now, in 2010, we had 9 sales in the first month and 55% of those were short sales or REOs (bank-owned). While the foreclosures were scattered out fairly evenly over the last year, I noticed that the short sales that actually closed escrow tended to happen later in the year, and in January, 5 of the 6 distress sales were short sales. This is in line with the government's efforts to help people avoid foreclosure, modify their loans and then approve a short sale if the loan modification didn't work out.

What you can't tell from the Multiple Listing Service is that a lot of the normal sales were under duress as well. I know personally of several divorce sales and a few properties that had to be sold quickly before the owners were unable to make any more payments due to job losses or failed businesses.Graph 90041 Feb 1 10

 

In other words, very few people who didn't have to sell did sell. But look at the graph and table for the year from 12/08 through 12/09: it's obvious that we did reach a bottom in the first quarter.I think the dip in November was not another bottom, just an example of my point about distress sales. Notice on the table how few properties were selling at the end of the year--because of holidays, because of perception of the market. If you take the dip in November out, the market was steadily higher than earlier in the year. And note that the year over year prices were up, which is much more meaningful than the dramatic 1-month changes around November.

Table 90041 Feb 1 10

What's going to happen this year? My crystal ball is still on backorder, but so far this year I have talked to a lot of people who want to sell and many who want to buy. From the energy I'm feeling, I'd say the first quarter of the year should be very active. In most years past, the first quarter is sluggish with sellers talking a lot about going on the market in the spring, but not getting around to going on the market until May or June. Buyers want to take advantage of the federal tax credit programs with their April 30 deadlines, and more and more sellers are saying they are ready to sell even if they can't make what they might have in 2007. This promises good things to come.

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A Call to My Fellow Professionals

Check out this blogpost by Sean O'Toole, CEO of Foreclosure Radar.

http://www.foreclosuretruth.com/blog/sean/time-for-troop-surge-on-the-front-lines-of-the-housing-crisis/ 

If you look at his website and his past blogposts, you see a thoughtful, intelligent person who has studied and understood more of this real estate market than most. I know that I have done what he suggests, talked to people who are in trouble with their mortgages, and I've tried to help them find solutions. Unfortunately, if they are in real trouble with no equity, I can't help them effectively because they have to negotiate with their lender--and that, as Sean eloquently points out, is where the trouble lies.

More thoughts on my chosen profession:

As I reflect on my year in real estate, 2009 has certainly been a challenge. But last year at this time, it was even more frightening. Would I ever sell another house? My notes from December, 2008, show that was a real concern to me. To relate back to what Sean wrote, I did feel like the best thing I could do was to be as helpful as I could. I wrote about the government programs in my blog, I took flyers around the neighborhood, I met with people to discuss their options even though they couldn't sell. But I felt powerless in most cases to effect positive help.

In hindsight, it looks like the real estate market in our area bottomed out in the first quarter of this year, so I was truly facing a very dark time ahead. But as I looked around at other people going through that dark time, I could see that I had a huge advantage—I am my own boss and no one can lay me off but myself.

Imagine how vulnerable employees feel, not knowing if they will have a job next week. Even public employees are feeling the pinch with unpaid furlough days, frozen wages, pay cuts. It may not be easy to go out and sell another house, but at least I have that possibility in my day.

I have a full-time assistant and I have a family and a household to support. This has been both a burden and an inspiration to me through these difficult times. As my income was drastically reduced, I had to make a number of budget adjustments, but I always felt it was very important to make sure I kept my employee. Imagine how tough it is on a person who relies on an individual person for their livelihood. I have seen many Realtors decide that they can’t afford their staff anymore. Is that a really wise economy? There is the saying, “If you don’t have an assistant, you are an assistant.” If you spend your time doing administrative jobs, when are you going to go out there and do your real job, which it to make deals? The temptation is really strong to spend a lot of time on administration since it feels like work. But it’s not our work. Not if we are really doing what we need to do.

When the market is so difficult, it’s really easy to decide any effort you make is useless and you might as well not try. But with an assistant to keep busy and a family to support, I went ahead and got out there and looked for deals. The key to success is to be there the moment the decision to buy or sell real estate happens. If you are back at the office filing your paperwork, how will you be there with the buyer or seller?

What if we were out in our neighborhoods helping people get to the truth about what they really could and couldn't do with their homes and providing them with achievable options?
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South Pasadena and San Marino, Then and Now

South Pasadena has proven to be similar to Eagle Rock, having about doubled in value over our 9-year time span.

91030 South Pasadena 9 Year Graph

91030 South Pasadena 9 Year Graph

South Pasadena 9 Year Table

South Pasadena 9 Year Table


 

As you can see, the prices are higher in South Pasadena, but the curve has been similar to Eagle Rock.
In the last 2 years:

91030 South Pasadena 2 Year Graph

91030 South Pasadena 2 Year Graph

South Pasadena 2 Year Table 2007-2009

South Pasadena 2 Year Table 2007-2009


 

We see that prices didn’t fall quite as dramatically, but losing a quarter of a home’s value is no small number. It looks like prices have stabilized somewhat in South Pasadena, but we’re not seeing any healthy price increases at this time. Remember, in Eagle Rock we are seeing an actual trending up right now, but South Pasadena didn’t really have the big drop earlier that Eagle Rock did.

Why is that? Perhaps because South Pasadena isn’t as much of a first-time buyer market as Eagle Rock is?
Now let’s look at a zip code that is really not an entry-level marketplace, 91108, which includes San Marino:

San Marino 9 Year Graph

San Marino 9 Year Graph

San Marino 9 Year Table

San Marino 9 Year Table


The general trend from 2000-2006 is generally up exactly like every other zip code around here, but over the 9 years, this zip code appreciated 82%, around 20% less than South Pasadena and Eagle Rock. But now, look at the spike in the asking price versus the sold price. I guess we’re thinking we’re the Beverly Hills of the San Gabriel Valley, aren’t we? But look at the table for the average sold prices in the last 2 years here:

San Marino Real Estate 2 Year Table

San Marino Real Estate 2 Year Table


You can ask whatever you want for your property, but the fact is that people are going to pay what they (and the bank, if there's a loan) think it’s worth. Look at March, 2009—one property sold! In January, only 3 sold. These are really small numbers to try to make any sense out of. This tells me that very few of these homeowners were either willing to sell in the worst part of the market, or that they absolutely had to. Voila! Upon scrutinizing the details on the March 2009 sale, I find that this was a corporate relocation sale. Most of the time, you won’t know from the public data what crisis might have forced a sale unless everything went over the edge to a short sale or a foreclosure.
Here’s the graph of the last 2 years for San Marino:

San Marino 2 Year Graph

San Marino 2 Year Graph


It looks like San Marino was just as hard hit by the downturn as everyone else, as far as sold prices goes. And although the asking prices are going up, the sold prices are not. How long can this go on?

 

FHA raises Buyer Requirements

This just in: according to an article on www.Inman.com , Congress  and HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) is looking at raising down payment and credit score requirements and lowering seller maximum concession limits for FHA borrowers. This won’t add anything to FHA reserves, but it will significantly limit options for first-time buyers. Check out the full story at http://www.inman.com/news/2009/12/3/fha-will-tighten-in-2010.

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Fun with Real Estate Statistics – Northeast Los Angeles and surrounding areas

This is the first of my end-of-year reflections on where we are and where we’ve been and why do we do this anyway?
I have lots of caveats about the following statistics. Note that the source is called Trend Graphics. These are generalizations, trends, an overview of what the market has done over a period of time.

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Shadow Inventory—The Current Real Estate Myth

First, let’s be clear about what shadow inventory is. These are homes that the bank has already foreclosed on, but which, for no apparent reason, aren’t listed. The implication is that banks are holding REO properties back from the market to restrict supply and prop up prices.

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What the Heck Happened to the Market?

I have been selling homes in Eagle Rock for 20 years, and I have never seen the inventory so low!

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New Listing, What a Deal!

Here is a hidden gem in the hills of the Garvanza neighborhood of Highland Park. For more information about this historic neighborhood, check out the Neighborhood Project from LAist at http://laist.com/2007/08/06/the_neighborhoo_2.php

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What’s on the Market in Eagle Rock Today?

There are 25 active listings today, October 7, 2009, priced from $129,000 for a gutted fixer that requires a cash offer to $825,000 for a 4 bedroom home with a pool located above Hill Drive. Most of these properties have been on the market over 2 weeks, some over 6 months. The field is open for a well-price home that is in decent condition in a good location, folks. Call me…


Active Listings from MLS for Eagle Rock, 90041

Active Listings from MLS for Eagle Rock, 90041

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How About an Inspection Before You Go on the Market?

I'm studying for my continuing education for my real estate license and I came across this paragraph:

Prior to listing the property for sale, it may be advisable for the seller to hire an independent home inspector to examine the property and prepare a report on the property. This will give the seller the advantage of correcting identified problems prior to an offer on the property which, if discovered by a buyer, might become an obstacle in the negotiation process. If problems are corrected by the seller prior to marketing the property, they should not become an issue during the sale process. However, the seller should disclose to the buyer any repairs. The seller's inspection report can also be used as a basis to complete the RETDS.

In the previous hot market, I had sellers who would take this advice. For $350 or so, you could have an inspection report that buyers could view and make an informed decision about what condition the house was actually in and how to position the price they offered. Sometimes the inspection revealed problems that the seller was unaware of and was able to either disclose it and/or repair it with a lot less drama than it would have been in escrow. I had fewer escrows fall out and much less concern over inspection negotiations. Now, with prices down and sellers feeling very poor, almost no one has an inspection before going on the market. One of the two times this year that we had an inspection done, the buyers felt that our inspection didn't turn up nearly the issues their own inspection did and asked for quite a lot. The other time we had 80 offers and a cash deal and almost no issues and we did sell for a lot more than asking--in fact, $181,000 more.

A few thoughts on all this:
1. You could have 10 inspections and each one would turn up something different.
2. The fact that the seller is willing to pay for an inspection up front should tell the buyer that the seller is not trying to hide anything.
3. Especially if a seller has lived in a house for a long period of time, many things can fall into disrepair without being noticed.

Bottom line, there is no perfect way to sell a home. After all, we are dealing with human beings who are different from each other. We are dealing with what is often the largest investment of a person's life. We are dealing with an incredible amount of fear, opinion, innuendo, myth, fable, and fear (I said it twice, I know) on the part of everyone even barely involved in the transaction. Every listing that is signed in the state of California comes with a Seller's Advisory that discusses the idea that a pre-listing inspection is a good idea. Almost no one in our area is doing this. If you are considering selling your house, you should consider having an inspection. It's a small expense that could save you some headaches. Even if you have no intention of selling, it's a good idea to have an inspection every few years just so you can make sure you have no issues that have come up.
And now I can go back to my continuing education

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Buyer/Seller Alert!

Today, Tuesday, September 1, 2009, there are 23 active listings on the market in the Eagle Rock 90041 zip code. That's fewer than there were in the Spring of 2005, or in 2006, the pinnacle of the hot Seller's market.

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Why You Should Buy a House in Eagle Rock, CA

Why should you buy a house in Eagle Rock, CA? Because you get the best of several worlds in this quiet little corner of the great metropolis of Los Angeles, CA: a home town, neighborly community with access to the jobs, culture, and amenities that a big city offers, as well as minutes away from hiking trails and the Angeles National Forest.

Once its own city, Eagle Rock was annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1923, in order to secure access to the City's Owens Valley water resources. Consequently, Eagle Rock has the municipal services that a large city provides like the Department of Water & Power, police, fire, transportation, and public schools. We've retained our original City Hall which was built in 1922, and several other architecturally and historically significant buildings including the 1915 Carnegie Library which is now the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, and the Richard Neutra-designed 1954 Eagle Rock Recreation Center.

 

Eagle Rock is a community that likes to do things together. The Eagle Rock Block Party happens every second Saturday of the month. Created by a local art business owner, Jeff Bughouse, more and more businesses are hanging the special Eagle Rock Block Party light and offering deals, snacks, and fun stuff. It was designed to play off of the NELA Artwalk, a fun way to catch up on local art happenings all over Northeast LA, download the map of the month at www.nelaart.org. You can be a fan of the Eagle Rock Block Party on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eagle-Rock-Block-Party/110194926376#/pages/Eagle-Rock-Block-Party/110194926376?ref=ts


TERA, The Eagle Rock Association, is sponsoring a Night Out on October 17 this year, as a fundraiser. You buy a ticket for a dinner prepared and served in the homes of several of our wonderful residents. I've heard that the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society may be serving up a special event at one of their meetings this fall as well. And the first Saturday in October is reserved for the Center for the Arts Music Festival, where they close down Colorado Blvd and there is music in the streets. It's a great event. Check it out at http://www.centerartseaglerock.org/index.php/music_festival

Public schools affect many buyers' decision to buy a home in Eagle Rock. Although part of the huge LAUSD system, Eagle Rock prides itself on its local schools. Four elementary schools feed into the one junior high and high school campus located in the heart of Eagle Rock. The high school placed 447th in the top 1000 high schools in the U.S. based on Advanced Placement tests given.

More great reasons to buy in Eagle Rock include all the fun restaurants, bars and cafes that populate Colorado and Eagle Rock Blvds, some fun vintage and modern clothing boutiques, a number of kids' fashion and accessory stores, a large number of established churches, and a very active and committed population dedicated to a number of civic organizations. We have a community garden so popular that there is a waiting list to obtain a plot and not one but two weekly Farmer's Markets. Every summer there are free concerts at Eagle Rock Park. There is something for everyone here, from the Eagle Rock Rockers car club to the Occidental College theatre program.

Only 26 homes are currently for sale in the 90041 zip code, which comprises most of Eagle Rock. A few more are available in the part of the 90065 zip code that is designated Eagle Rock schools, an area mostly known as Sagamore Park. With so few properties on the market, whenever a good home is listed, it commands immediate attention by the serious buyers. This lack of inventory has helped in part to maintain property values a bit higher than some of the surrounding communities. Where parts of Highland Park and Glassell Park may have seen values drop 30 to 50%, Eagle Rock has gone down 10 to 25% from its peak in most cases. Closed sale prices this year have been reported from $129,000 for a burnt-out shell of a house to $800,000 for a Mediterranean on Hill Drive. In the last five years, several homes have sold for over $1 million, and will again soon if I have my way. I currently have a wonderful Mediterranean with a full guest house on Hill Drive listed for $1,195,000.


And I just have to reblog this wonderful piece about the most holy Buddhist monk in the world who gives us the formula for happiness, the Dalai Lama. http://happydays.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/the-doctor-is-within/

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California's New Home Tax Credit is Almost Gone!

A boon for new homebuyers, scheduled to last through next March, will be out of money long before that.
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