pcba/SENTRY

Archive for January, 2009

Home Buyers Want Green Amenities

Posted by pcbasentry on January 26, 2009

reprinted from ecohome

By Sharon Linstedt, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Jan. 23–When home buyers size up potential new digs, their checklists of “must haves” increasingly include such features as high-efficiency heating systems, upgraded insulation, and energy-sipping appliances.

Some are making conscious choices to be environmentally friendly, while others just want elements that will result in long-term savings. But the end result is a growing market for “greener” homes.

“More and more of our members are adding green features to their plans. It’s certainly a trend,” said Joseph W. McIvor, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Home Builders Association.

According to a 2008 McGraw-Hill Construction study, more than 330,000 homes with eco-friendly features were built in the U. S. in the prior three years. That includes 6.2 percent of new homes, up from just 1.8 percent of green residences in 2005.

That survey also noted that “going green” was not a phenomenon limited to high-end home buyers. More than 50 percent of purchasers choosing green features earned less than $75,000 a year, and 30 percent earned under $50,000, according to the McGraw-Hill report.

The National Association of Realtors estimates the average “green” home buyer will spend an extra $12,400 to get the slate of special features they want in their domicile.

Builders are routinely outfitting their homes with products and appliances that are certified by the federal Energy Star program. The 6-year-old national initiative, governed by Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, includes everything from refrigerators and washing machines, to windows, furnaces and roofing materials.

The Energy Star label can also be put on entire homes. The certified homes are billed as being at least 20 percent to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes.

Clarence-based Essex Homes is among builders that have redesigned their product to qualify for the program.

“We’ve gone exclusively Energy Star,” said Philip Nanula, president of Essex Homes. “All our homes meet that threshold and we’re seeing a lot of buyers add on to create even higher efficiencies.”

A popular “extra” is foam insulation, an upgrade that can add several thousands dollars to a home’s price tag. But Nanula said low long-term heating and cooling costs are strong motivation for buyers to pay higher upfront costs.

“If you can afford to pay out an extra $50 a month on mortgage for the upgraded insulation, but you’re saving $150 a month on your heating bill, why wouldn’t you build it in?” Nanula said.

Beyond big-ticket infrastructure features and appliances, home buyers and builders are working through an expanding menu of interior decor choices with green implications. Vinyl flooring is being bypassed for bamboo, cork, tile and wood products. Carpets and window treatments made from natural and recycled materials are beating out synthetics.

Buyers are requesting volatile organic compound (VOC)- free paints. And while granite and marble might be natural materials, more than a few buyers have crossed them off their lists because of the environmental costs of importing them to the U. S.

Even furniture is going green, with cushions fashioned from soy-based instead of chemical-based foams, and natural fabric coverings devoid of formaldehyde-based coatings.

Locally and nationally, definitions of “green home building” are under debate. While highly defined “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” — LEED — certification has made major inroads in commercial construction, it is only trickling into the residential arena.

“We’re getting very few requests for more extreme green things, like solar panels,” Nanula said “but this is an evolving thing, and five years from now, who knows?”

slinstedt@buffnews.com

Copyright (c) 2009, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Legal Issues of Green Real Estate Finance

Posted by pcbasentry on January 23, 2009

Reprinted from the GREEN Real Estate Law Journal

By Geoff White • on January 23, 2009

The real estate finance industry has experienced extreme changes in the past eighteen months. The credit crisis and subsequent economic recession have resulted in a severe tightening in the real estate finance market. As a result, the few banks that are still providing financing secured primarily by real estate are able to be far more selective in project selection. Some of these lenders have greatly increased their commitment to providing financing to developers of green buildings. One prominent source of funds has been from Wells Fargo & Company, which has provided more than $2 billion in financing secured by green real estate. In a time of great debate over the value of real estate, Wells Fargo appears willing to assume the risk that these new green buildings will not be subject to the type of expected depreciation of much of the commercial real estate market.

As the world financial headquarters has shifted from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., many commentators are expecting that green building will be a common condition of allocation of federally funded real estate projects whether in the form of direct subsidies or grants or public/private partnerships. This article will briefly examine a small portion of the unique legal risks that should be considered by lenders and property owners and developers in regard to obtaining financing for green buildings. It will specifically focus on ways lenders should attempt to mitigate risk through a basic understanding of green building, the careful examination of leases, construction documents and loan document covenants.

Basic Understanding of Green Building

Lenders must have a basic understanding of green building before financing green properties. They should be aware of the multiple third party green building certification systems and the specific limitations of the systems. Lenders should have teams that are familiar with the United States Green Building Council’s (”USGBC”) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System (”LEED”) and preferably underwriters or loan officers that are either LEED Accredited Professionals (”LEED APs”) or the newly designated LEED Green Associates. If a lender does not have this level of green building experience or accreditation then they should seek outside counsel with the necessary understanding to assist them in order to minimize exposure. This level of knowledge will provide lenders with the necessary background to properly assess risks in financing green real estate.

Review of Green Leases

Leases, at a commercial property, are the most important factor in determining the value of a property. Most loan officers and underwriters are well versed in determining the property value based upon the rental stream and term of a lease. They are not as experienced in assessing the risks that may be contained within a green lease. Attorneys must assist the lender in carefully examining how the green elements of the lease could impact the value of the property. The first consideration is determining the required green elements of the lease and what happens if they are not achieved. Does the lease mandate the leased premises or property achieve a certain LEED or other third party certification status? What happens if the leased premises or the property fails to achieve said status? The lender should inquire as to the status of the LEED or other third party certification requirements, determine whether the landlord is able to satisfy its requirements and what the impact might be if landlord fails to satisfy the requirements. From a lender’s perspective, it is more palatable to see a lease provision that provides that it is the parties’ intent to achieve a certain LEED or other third party certification standard, but the failure to achieve such standard will result in some form of lease abatement or minimal free rent period instead of lease termination. Lenders are able to properly assess the value of a property with a lease abatement or free rent period, but if lease termination is available to the tenant then it is unlikely the lender will proceed with the financing, especially considering the current credit environment.

The lender should also take a more careful review in the long term property operation and management requirements within a green lease. Green building requires an active long term management plan to maintain the efficiency characteristics of the property. Certain green building classification levels may require re-certification after a certain period of time to show the property still complies with the necessary third party standards. Lenders will want to make sure that developers thus select property management companies that are able to provide the necessary services and that the property management agreement details these requirements. They may also want to review the operations and maintenance (”O & M”) plans to ensure that they are in place that are designed to comply with the green building systems in place at the property.

Finally, if the property is leased to multiple tenants then lenders should examine each lease to ensure that there are not conflicting green lease provisions that could create further challenges. For example, the lender must be able to determine the differences if one tenant requires the premises achieve LEED Silver for Commercial Interiors and another tenant requires LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors and that the property achieve LEED Silver for New Construction. These specific provisions are not in direct conflict, but if the second tenant also required that all other leases over 10,000 square feet also achieve LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors then an issue would arise if the first lease was for 15,000 square feet. A lender should also understand how the costs of the utilities may be detailed within the lease. Lenders routinely underwrite properties where all utility costs are passed on to the tenant. As some tenants are moving into green leases, in part, to have lower long term utility costs, they may have lease provisions that cap utility costs. A lender will need to determine whether the landlord is able to satisfy such lease requirements, potentially before there is even a history of performance at the property.

Construction and Building Design

Lenders that provide construction financing for green building projects should be involved in the selection of the construction team and the review and negotiation of the construction documents. The risks of green building have been detailed by commentators in this and other publications, time and time again. If a lender is willing to provide construction financing during these difficult times then they should have far more influence in the selection of qualified and experienced green building professionals then they would have in years past. Developers will hopefully work with experienced professionals in building a green project, but lenders should also examine the green building experience of the architect, contractor and subcontractors and make the approval of such professionals a condition of the financing. Lenders should review the owner-architect agreement and construction contract to make sure the responsibilities in planning and constructing the green building are clearly detailed. They will also want to make sure that there are penalties to the appropriate parties for failure to deliver the required green building. These penalties should correspond with the leases. For instance, if a lease requires a LEED Silver Commercial Interiors space and failure to provide such space will result in a two-month free rental period, the construction contract and owner-architect agreement should contain provisions that requires either a holdback or penalty in the amount of the loss of two months of rental payments to landlord, provided the failure to achieve the standard is not the fault of the property owner. The landlord may not be able to make the mortgage payments without such a provision, and the lender will obviously want to protect itself from such a possibility.

The Greening of Loan Documents

In addition to the added due diligence considerations, lenders may also need to modify loan documents in providing financing for green building projects. The first consideration will be in determining whether additional escrows are required to mitigate the risk of free rent or rental abatements in connection with certain green considerations detailed within the lease. These determinations should be relatively straightforward for the lender and again are not necessarily unique to green building. The loan documents will also provide that the landlord shall either comply or materially comply with the leases. Lenders should carefully review these provisions and may need to detail that the green building provisions are material lease provisions and failure to comply with said provisions will constitute a default under the loan, as well as the lease. Lenders may also consider adding additional covenants that acknowledge the green lease requirements and provide the specific details as to how the landlord will comply with such requirements in order to avoid any potential ambiguity.

Conclusion

Green building will continue to grow and likely become the best practice in the construction and development industry. Lenders must thus become familiar with the unique risks associate with green building. They must also be able to mitigate the risks, from the lenders perspective, when providing financing for green buildings. This article briefly examines a small sample of these issues and strongly encourages lenders to assemble a “green team” when financing green real estate developments.

Geoff White is a Senior Associate in the Commercial Transactions and Real Estate Group at Frost Brown Todd. He is a contributing author to the Green Real Estate Law Journal. He also oversees the Green Building Series on the Frost Brown Todd Construction Law News website. Mr. White is licensed to practice law in Kentucky and Ohio and is a member of the Kentucky Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Learn more about Geoff at http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/geoffwhite/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Why You Must Take Your Public Relations Campaign Online In 2009

Posted by pcbasentry on January 23, 2009

Reprinted with permission from Dana Willhoit’s The Press Release Site .

Once upon a time, when a business wanted publicity, they wrote up press releases and delivered them to a bunch of newspapers and possibly radio stations and television stations as well. Most of the time, those press releases got tossed in the garbage; I know this for a fact – I was one of the reporters doing the tossing.

The other options for businesses who wanted to announce their news, or even their existence, to the world, was to pay for advertising. This is expensive, and it’s very hard to tell how effective those advertising dollars really are.

But now it’s no longer necessary to seek publicity using just these venues – and in fact, smaller businesses with little money to spend on advertising, and who’ve had little success in getting media attention, can and often do bypass media and advertising altogether.

Why?

Because their audience isn’t reading newspapers and frequently isn’t even watching TV to find their information. They’re going online.

It kills me to say that, because I love newspapers. I used to eat, breathe, and sleep newspapers, I had newspaper ink for blood, and I hate that newspapers in their traditional form are dying, but we have to face facts:

When people want information these days, most of them go online.

51.1 BILLION searches were run on Google in December, according to Nielsen Online. Yahoo had 1.56 billion, Microsoft 796 million, AOL 352 million, and Ask.Com 172 million.

So spending a fortune on traditional advertising, and begging some stressed out, overworked editor to run your press release in their paper, is no longer the best way to get your message in front of the people who need your product or searches.

They are online, typing in questions like “How do I tone my abs?” or “How do I housebreak my adult dog?” or “What clears up teenage acne?” or “What’s the best website hosting service?”

This is actually good news for small businesses. It means that it is very easy to be your own publicist. You can craft your own campaign, get your name or your product name all over the web, WHERE YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE, and get a lot more exposure than you would have by using yesterday’s PR methods.

Don’t get me wrong – traditional media is great too, but it takes time, it takes money to hire a publicist, it takes persistence, it takes a thick skin to deal with irritated uninterested gatekeepers…and all the while, you have the ability to bypass that ineffective, hit or miss process, by creating your own online publicity campaign.

1.) Writing and distributing your own press releases by using free press release distribution sites.

2.) Writing articles for sites like Ezinearticles and Buzzle and Associatied Content and American Chronicle, for further exposure and authority.

3.) Creating your own videos and distributing them via Youtube

4.) Creating social media accounts and educating consumers on social media sites about who you are and what you do

5.) Blogging about your services and your area of expertise, and making your site an authority site filled up with vital information and resources – which establishes you as the expert in your area and pre-sells people who are considering buying your products.

So if you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars available to market yourself, don’t despair – these days, you can create your own online publicity campaign, you can reach more people than you would through traditional media, and you can do it for free.

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Projections for the Housing Market in 2009

Posted by pcbasentry on January 23, 2009

Posted in Remodeling News.

Fortune TellerThe “perfect storm” has been created and what most people want to know is where in the storm are we and when is it going to clear up?

There are a lot of conflicting forecasts – some suggest the market hit bottom in 2008, while others say the housing market will drop another 10 to 20% by mid 2009. The best bet is to be prepared for anything and do whatever it takes to weather the storm.

How to Forecast

Inventory

There are many factors that affect housing: home sales, housing prices, housing starts, housing permits etc. These are all vital indicators, but the inventory numbers in particular are most important.

Inventory of homes for sale is measured as a number of months supply at a current pace of sales, e.g. if, in a particular area the inventory of existing single-family detached homes for sale was 8.6 months, it would take that long to deplete the supply of for-sale homes. The more months of supply indicates a weaker housing market and fewer months suggests a limited number of homes for sale or the sales pace is faster.

Employment trends

Employment trends and unemployment rates are also important indicators of local housing market conditions. If, in a particular area, employment is expanding people will be moving into that area and, since they’ll need a place to live, this will be a positive for anyone in the remodeling or building industry.

You can also get useful information from reports and articles published by the Federal Reserve and its 12 district banks. Each bank puts out their own periodicals about local economic conditions, which include sections about the outlook for commercial and residential real estate. Link to the Fed’s Beige Book: http://www.federalreserve.gov/fomc/beigebook/2008/default.htm

Link to the map of the district banks: http://www.federalreserve.gov/otherfrb.htm

Programs Help Stabilize the Market

Foreclosure relief

  • Tax waiver – Last year, congress started removing some financial vulnerability of default when it passed a bill that temporarily waives the income tax on mortgage debt that is cancelled when a homeowner is foreclosed upon, sells a home for less than the remaining debt (short sale), or gets a loan modification that reduces the principal balance. This tax waiver applies only to debt on primary residences cancelled through 2013. Exceptions – the tax waiver applies only to debt that was used to purchase or improve a primary residence.
  • Mortgage help – Federal Housing Administration is offering two programs: Help for Homeowners and FHA Secure. And, The Streamlined Modification Program, sponsored by the government agency that oversees Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and 27 loan servicers, promises to quickly reduce payments for certain homeowners who are on the verge of foreclosure.
  • Chapter 13 relief – Now that Citigroup has announced its support for legislation that would allow people in Chapter 13 bankruptcy to get their mortgages modified via judges, advocates are hopeful that other lenders will follow suit. These modifications, known as “cram downs,” include reducing principal, interest rates, or extending the mortgage term.

Incentives to Jump-Start the Stalled Housing Market

  • First-time home buyer tax credits – This is smoke and mirrors for the most part, certainly not enough incentive to spark interest for a first-time homebuyer to take a risk. The current $7,500 tax credit is more of a loan that has to be paid back instead of a true tax credit. Home builders suggest a larger tax credit that would never have to be paid back and NAR supports keeping the current tax credit, but also removing the requirement that it be paid back – both ideas might be enough to give buyers an additional incentive to buy now instead of holding off.

Incentives that SHOULD be enacted

  • Allow down payment/closing cost assistant programs, such as Nehemiah –Bush shut down these types of programs last July by signing H.R. 3221 – Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Prior to this bill, the seller could contribute up to 6% to the buyer to cover down payment or closing costs.
  • Government buy-down of mortgage interest rates for home purchases with a termination date of December 2009.
  • Allowing immediate use of tax credit (first-time homebuyers) for down payment/closing.

When will the market recover?

Existing home sales have increased in certain markets because they’re finally affordable. Buyers feel the housing slump has bottomed out or they’re buying because finally the mortgage payment is equal to rent. You’ll probably see the bottom hit between 3rd and 4th quarter 2009. Historically speaking, once the market bottoms out there will be a 3 to 4 year adjustment period where pricing will remain flat. The new housing market will most likely be sluggish through 2010-2011 as existing inventory settles.

Projections for housing starts

The NAR is projecting housing starts to continue falling in 2009 by almost 22% as builders hold back on new construction and continue unloading current inventory, which would total around 731,000 units. They say a rebound, though weak, won’t occur until 2010, approaching a rise of 6% to 772,000 units. The National Association of Home Builders has a different outlook on building activity. They’re projecting housing starts to hit bottom at 740,000 units in the first quarter of 2009 before rising to 835,000 units by the end of the year. And, they’re projecting 1.1 million housing starts by the end of 2010.

Remodeling activity

Home builders have entered the home remodeling industry to stay afloat during these bleak times, forcing existing remodelers into an even tougher and more competitive environment. In 2007, the value of home improvements fell by 4% and in 2008 it’s expected to more than double to 9% and rise to 11% during the first quarter of 2009. Though these declines are harsh they don’t compare with the declines impacting the home building industry, which are off by 65% since the beginning of 2006. So moving into the remodeling arena is a much safer bet. According to NAHB, half of the builder members have made the leap into the business of remodeling. The value of remodeling jobs is project to approach $400 billion by 2015.

Builders and credit

Due to tight credit over 140 private homebuilders throughout the country have teamed up to form the Building Industry Coalition for Economic Recover. Their main goal is to force lenders into allowing them to complete existing projects instead of being forced into foreclosure. If allowed to finish their projects they would be able to extract a huge difference on the value, 40 to 60 cents on the dollar versus 20 to 30 cents. Builders are now asking for congressional support for mortgage ‘cram downs,’ where bankruptcy judges will be allowed to modify loan terms in order to prevent foreclosures.

The national housing market is large enough to encompass a wide variety of trends in various places and on various timelines. The most well respected forecasters make errors and tend to disagree with each other but, even if a forecast proves true nationally, your local market may behave in a wildly different way. Because of all the variables, you’ll need to rely on your own best judgment.

Useful links:

Residential construction starts – U.S. Census Bureau

Residential building permits – U.S. Census Bureau

Homeownership and housing vacancy rates – U.S. Census Bureau

Supply of for sale homes – National, state and local Realtor associations (NAR)

Median home prices – NAR

Volume of homes sold – NAR

Employment and unemployment rates – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Foreclosure rates – Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Related Posts

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Yet another look at builders’ struggle with lenders

Posted by pcbasentry on January 23, 2009

January 21st, 2009 in Blogs
Official Fine Homebuilding Post, editor

The National Association of Home Builders has diligently called attention to instances where banks call in homebuilders’ loans or demand additional collateral at renewal time, even though the builders are current on their payments.

And now The New York Times has addressed the subject in a feature on the front page of its business section. Headlined “Banks foreclose on builders with perfect records,” the story cites the example of Brown Family Communities, a builder in Arizona that, despite never missing an interest payment on its loans after 33 years in the business, faced foreclosure on five of its developments and, shortly thereafter, shut down.

A director of risk-management policy at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures bank deposits, noted that bankers’ interest in reducing risk typically outweighs the merits of a client’s long, flawless history of payments on short-term loans, particularly if that client serves a market as battered as homebuilding.

While the largest builders likely have enough cash to weather the downturn, that’s not true for many of the small and medium-size builders, who account for about 70 percent of new-home construction. The NAHB estimates that at least 20,000 builders — about a fifth of the total nationwide — have closed up shop in the last two years, the Times article notes.

Of ongoing concern, market observers say, is that as much as half that nationwide total may end up insolvent by the time the market turns around. Which is to say that even builders who are up to date on their interest payments or still managing to sell houses are getting trampled.

“The behavior of the banks is unprecedented,” Mick Pattinson, a homebuilder from Carlsbad, California, who has organized a national coalition of builders to draw attention to what they regard as unreasonable treatment, told the Times. “Yes, there was overleveraging in the industry. But the aftermath doesn’t need to have been as brutal as it has been.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Builders Turn to Twitter to Connect with Buyers

Posted by pcbasentry on January 20, 2009

Social media site allows home building firms to market to small niches, engage in conversation with customers at minimal cost.

By: Alison Rice
Reprinted from Builder The Information Source for the Home Building Industry

Talk to builders and others about why they joined Twitter, an emerging social media site, and two themes quickly emerge: the developing power of online connections with customers and the appeal of saving money on marketing efforts.

Twitter, like counterparts Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and others, offers both those advantages through a simple yet addictive approach. Users simply answer the question “what are you doing?” in 140 characters or less, posting updates throughout the day. Users choose whom they want to “follow” through a customized and constantly updated news feed of updates from those Twitterers. Joining is free, which these days appeals to everyone from capital-starved builders to cash-strapped consumers.

Depending on the user, those updates, known as “tweets,” can be mundane (“drinking coffee”), promotional (“come see our great deals on new homes”) or informational (“construction industry braces for contraction” with a link to the story), or a combination of all three. Regardless of the specifics, though, Twitter provides an easy, quick, and low-cost way to deliver both broad and narrow messages to customers, builders say.

That’s the allure of Twitter to Pulte, which is experimenting with the approach with its Chicago Del Webb and Pulte brand offerings. “How else can you speak to so many people for so few dollars?” asks Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing for Pulte Homes in Illinois, who is working with the DC Interactive Group in Elgin, Ill., on Twitter and other social media outreach such as Facebook, blogs, and more. “It allows us to do targeted messages to buyers who like bike paths or want a playground in their community—narrow niches that we would otherwise miss” with traditional media because running an ad aimed at small numbers of people would not be cost-effective.

It also helps builders educate their buyers about the housing market in general and their product offerings in particular. Pulte, for example, recently posted tweets about the economy (“The Fed cut a key short-term interest rate by a half percentage point today. Find out what it means for you.”) as well as Pulte-specific information (“Take a look at this newly constructed, 1,981 sq. ft., 3-bedroom, end-unit townhome in North Chicagoland”). Meritage Homes and Lennar often post updates about sales specials or promotions happening in various markets.

But Twitter offers builders more than a platform for brief announcements. Users say the site enables companies to create deeper relationships with their customers by responding publicly or privately to “tweets.” Just listen to Eric Brown, owner of Urbane Apartments in Troy, Mich. “I believe the way people are purchasing things is changing, and not very many people are paying attention to that,” says Brown, who dropped all traditional advertising several years ago in favor of social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Flickr (a free photo-sharing site), Twitter, and others that allow users to connect online with friends and acquaintances.

He believes making social media successful for business purposes, though, does require a different attitude than many companies have had in regard to marketing or customer service in the past. “The more transparent you are [in terms of providing information to customers], the faster you can build your community,” Urbane’s Brown says. “But corporate executives are not very attuned to being open and transparent with customers.”

Those that are can reap tremendous benefits. Urbane, for example, has saved significant amounts of money in recent years by opting out of print advertising and using social media instead. “Most larger operators’ marketing budgets are eaten up by print ads and rental apartment catalogs,” Brown says. “Those are very, very expensive whether or not anyone reads them.”

Urbane has also used social media to create a vibrant sense of community at its properties, where Twitter-using residents can get the latest on neighborhood happenings and other events by following the company’s Twitter feed. Can users post negative things about their apartment or the property? Sure, but Brown says that risk is worth taking. “Our most interesting consumer evangelists seem to come from situations where we have dropped the ball,” he says. By being on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites, Urbane knows when a customer or prospect is unhappy and has the chance to respond privately and publicly and, ideally, resolve the problem. “It gives you a chance to participate in the conversation and start creating community,” Brown says.

Twitter can also drive users to a builder’s Web site, which can be a critical sales advantage. “Eighty-five percent of all new-home buyers start their search on the Internet,” Pulte’s Naatz says. “How can we be in front of people who aren’t necessarily in the market for a new home right now, but for whom [buying a new home] is in the realm of thinking?”

At Monte Hewett Homes, social media appears to be the answer. According to Dina Gundersen, director of marketing, the builder maintains a Twitter account, a Facebook “fan” page, and an active blog that drives significant traffic to the builder’s Web site. Monte Hewett Homes also distributes an electronic newsletter with home maintenance reminders and other relevant information that has grown to nearly 5,000 subscribers—quite a feat for a builder that does 180 homes a year.

As entertaining and unexpectedly helpful as Twitter can be, though, it is not perfect. “You can spend a lot of unproductive time on there,” Brown admits. The search engine for finding other Twitter users is awkward and imprecise. (See below for a list of housing-related Twitterers for an easier way to get started on Twitter.) And even Twitter true believers admit they are still learning how to get the most from the service in terms of marketing and customer service.

But perhaps just the basics will prove to be the most persuasive to would-be home buying Twitterati. “We can mention a new restaurant or advances in the city,” says Jim Tome, interactive director at DC Interactive Group in Elgin, Ill., who sees Twitter as a means for builders to create a sense of place and a feeling of community long before buyers move into their new neighborhoods. “[We want buyers to think], ‘I’m reading another reason why I want to move there.’”

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine and tweets as @freshbrewedit.

Twitterers to Watch (updated 12/5/08)
The “@” symbol designates a Twitter user name and can be used to post public messages via Twitter to that particular user.

Selected Builders Using Twitter
Casas Del Oso Luxury Homes: @casasdeloso
Centex: @Centex, @CentexIR
Del Webb: @DelWebb, @DelWebbChicago
D.R. Horton: @drhortontampa
Ferris Homes: @FerrisHomes
Fred Williams Homebuilder: @fwhomebuilder
Lennar: @Lennar, @Lennar_CHS_MBH, @Lennar_Sac, @Lennar_Virginia
M.D. Custom Homes: @MdCustomHomes
Meritage Homes: @meritagehomes, @legacyhomes, @montereyhomes
Monte Hewett Homes: @montehewett
Pulte: @PulteHomes, @PulteChicago
Schulyer Builders: @schuylerbuilder
SmartHomes: @smarthomes
Wilshire Homes: @homehelper
Windsong Properties: @windsonglife

Other Housing-Related Twitter Users
@AptMarketing: advertising network for apartments
@AtlantaPR: PR firm with builder and developer clients
@austintowers: covers downtown Austin, Texas, real estate
@builderonline: BUILDER magazine, via Twitter
@chicago_homes: Chicago Tribune real estate news
@chrischeatham: green building lawyer and blogger
@Custom_Arch_LLC: custom solid wood framing arches
@dennisoneil: Internet marketing firm serving home builders
@ebuild: Hanley Wood’s source for building products information
@ecohomemagazine: sister publication to BUILDER
@enduraproducts door manufacturer
@elaineishere: green building expert
@Eric_Urbane: exec at Urbane Apartments, Mich.
@greendecoder: Tennessee-based green building expert
@greenwombat: Fortune magazine writer on sustainability
@identityPR: marketing firm serving home builders and developers
@jaysonmanship: specialist in new home referrals and marketing
@JELDWEN: window and door manufacturer
@johnherbert: green building specialist
@Ladin_Ventures: commercial real estate firm in Minneapolis
@LaurelZ: specializes in apartment marketing
@ltrosien: multifamily consultant and educator
@mdu1109: specializes in multifamily and student housing
@mdutech: multifamily technoloogy experts
@mfguide: multifamily expert
@mynewplace: marketing platform for apartments
@NewWestRealty: real estate firm in Chicago
@NikkiH: handles PR for Rheem
@noradepalma: Building products PR and social media
@sharishapiro: green building lawyer and blogger
@strongwallgroup: green development firm
@TheHomeDepot: giant home improvement retailer
@tkotula: promotions and PR director for Apartments.com
@UrbaneApts: Michigan apartment firm
@UrbaneHotList: recently rented units from Urbane Apartments
@30lines: social media resource started by multifamily real estate experts

Is your housing company on Twitter? Email Alison Rice to add your firm to this list. Please include your Twitter “@” name.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

GLBU Prediction 2009: It’s All About the Retrofit

Posted by pcbasentry on January 9, 2009

Posted on January 9, 2009 by Chris Cheatham

“Green” was the buzz word in 2008. In 2009, Green Building Law Update predicts that green buzz words will become more nuanced and the focus will be on “energy efficiency,” “retrofits,” and “existing buildings.”

I don’t mind making this prediction because it is not much of a stretch. There are three factors that will contribute to the popularity of retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency.

First, as we have been discussing all week, President-Elect Obama is pushing a large stimulus package aimed at, in part, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings and homes. Yesterday, President-Elect Obama again stated his plan “to modernize 75 percent of federal buildings and improve energy efficiency in 2 million homes to save consumers billions of dollars on energy bills.”

The second factor that will contribute to increased popularity for retrofitting current building stock is a slowdown in new building project developments. At this point, we have all heard the dire warnings of a construction slowdown. This construction slowdown is due, in part, to tightened lending options. We also know that tenants are now demanding green buildings. The result will be that building owners will look to “retrofit” their existing buildings so as to offer more green building options.

Finally, climate legislation in the form of cap-and-trade is coming. Early investments now to reduce energy use through retrofits will pay off for big businesses.

What do you think? Are my predictions off? What is your one prediction for the green building industry in 2009?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Tiny Rays Of Light–Good News For Green Building

Posted by pcbasentry on January 9, 2009

Posted on January 6, 2009 by Shari Shapiro

Over my first few cups of coffee this morning, I had an odd sensation. What could it be? That slightly warm feeling eminating from my heart–oh, now I remember, hope! That’s what it is. Not a lot of hope (although as I write this the dow is up 133 points), but certainly a few rays…

1. Industry organizations and utilities are embracing energy efficiency measures, including enhancing building code requirements. According to Greenerbuildings.com

Environmental and energy groups, including the association that represents almost 70 percent of the country’s utilities, are urging swift passage of a stimulus package that includes provisions for energy efficiency programs that they say would help jumpstart an economic recovery through the creation of green jobs.

Most significant from a green building law perspective, is that these groups are advocating for block grants to state and local governments to “be contingent on adoption of regulatory changes that make building codes tougher — and “major investments” in energy efficiency projects by utilities easier. “

2. As I predicted in my post Pink is the New Green, energy efficiency is at the top of the legislative agenda. It is being incorporated into the stimulus package, and local municipalities are embracing it as well. Washington DC updated its building codes to ASHRAE 90.1 2007 and included some new green provisions.

3. The Bicycle Commuter Act passed–A benefit originally proposed seven years ago by .S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. provides $20/month to those who commute primarily by bicycle.

Of course, we are still waiting to see what the green provisions of the economic stimulus package will be, but these actions are very positive signs of change in our national zeitgeist.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Hallelujah! Foreclosures prompt banks, NAHB to consider cramdowns

Posted by pcbasentry on January 9, 2009

January 8th, 2009 in Blogs
Official Fine Homebuilding Post, editor

We tend to harp on the need for a government program to address rampant foreclosures in a meaningful way. We admit it.
Our apologies for the harping. Dwelling on the subject is a byproduct of frustration — mainly with the current administration’s resistance to sweeping loan-modification legislation, even though foreclosures are at the heart of the housing crisis.

This week, however, discussions about loan modifications took a startlingly positive turn. Amid news reports about homebuilders meeting congressional leaders to pitch their housing aid plan, and amid all the buzz about President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus plan and his intention to announce within two months a program to stem the foreclosure tide, The Wall Street Journal also reported that Citigroup, with the backing of the National Association of Home Builders, has struck a deal with Democratic leaders in the Senate to endorse legislation that would allow judges to set new repayment terms for mortgage holders who wind up in bankruptcy court.

This is, potentially, a very big deal. The Mortgage Bankers Association has long opposed legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to impose what are known as “cramdowns” or forced mortgage modifications, on banks. Unfortunately, the cramdown is a key tool for reducing inventories of distressed properties and stabilizing the housing market.

Democrats have long favored cramdown legislation. But Citigroup’s apparent about-face on the issue is more significant than partisan preferences. The company’s prominence in the financial-services industry and its leadership in talks on Capitol Hill suggest such a law just might eventually see the light of day.

Another positive report coming from the nation’s capital indicates that Obama is inclined to retain Sheila Bair as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Although she was marginalized in early efforts for formulate economic-recovery programs, she has been a steadfast supporter of foreclosure-relief policy. On Wednesday, Obama told CNBC that “the FDIC and Sheila Bair have had the sense of urgency about the problem that I want to see.”

There’s obviously plenty of party wrangling and special-interest negotiating left to do before a law gets passed and an FDIC program gets implemented, but these new developments have at least helped us rediscover a sorely neglected resource: hope.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Energy, Green Groups Call for Stimulus to Jumpstart Economy, Efficiency

Posted by pcbasentry on January 9, 2009

By GreenerBuildings Staff
January 5, 2009

Environmental and energy groups, including the association that represents almost 70 percent of the country’s utilities, are urging swift passage of a stimulus package that includes provisions for energy efficiency programs that they say would help jumpstart an economic recovery through the creation of green jobs.

The groups made groups made their pitch to Congress before year’s end as talks accelerated about the stimulus package being crafted by the incoming administration.

The proposals by the Alliance to Save Energy, Edison Electric Institute, Energy Future Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council amount to about $33 billion.

The groups’ proposals include weatherization of homes for low-income residents as well as energy efficiency retrofits for other dwellings and commercial and government buildings.

The organizations also asked that Congress free up funding for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, which would help states. The groups said the grants could serve as incentives and should be contingent on adoption of regulatory changes that make building codes tougher — and “major investments” in energy efficiency projects by utilities easier.

The various efficiency projects would create jobs, foster a green economy and help fuel a broader recovery, in addition to addressing environmental concerns, the groups said.

Legislation for an economic package is expected to be considered early this year.

Meanwhile, utilities are renewing their winter-time efficiency incentive programs.

In California, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company is re-offering its 10/20 Winter Gas Saving Program to small and medium-sized businesses and residential customers. Those that reduce natural gas use by 10 percent or more in January and February receive a 20 percent credit on their bill in spring. Customers managing a reduction of less than 10 percent get a one-to-one credit in spring.

PG&E serves 5.1 million electric customers and 4.2 million natural gas customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, California, and from the Pacific shore east to the Sierra Nevada.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »