Is Your Community a Top 10 Place to Play?

Here at RelocateAmerica, we are hot on the trail of America’s “Top 10 Places to Play”.

Have you voted for your favorite yet?
We want to hear what makes your communities great places to gather with family and friends, whether it’s endless attractions, colorful festivals, farmer’s markets, beautiful parks, vibrant nightlife, spectacular shopping, an abundance of arts and culture, or trails for biking and hiking.
In other words, how does your community spell F-U-N?
My family and I just returned from a week at the beach, where the toughest decision we had to make was which to do first: hit the beach or one of the three pools at our hotel (which was all our four year old cared about).
Although relaxation and “doing nothing” are important factors in what makes a vacation fun, we’re looking for those things that really are worthy of a top 10 ranking.
You have until August 31 to “wow” us.
We’ll announce the results on September 2.
Cast your vote today!

RelocateAmerica Announces Top 10 Cities for 2011

Being named a Top 100 Place to Live  is a big deal.  It fuels economic development and improves quality of life. It fosters community pride  and creates opportunities for marketing tourism, relocation, business and industry.  Of the 100 U.S. cities  named to RelocateAmerica’s list for 2011,  there are 10 that have won the American Idol for communities in that they were named a Top 10 Place to Live.

They are:

1. Austin, TX
2. Grand Rapids, MI
3. Boulder, CO
4. Raleigh, NC
5. Dallas, TX
6. Greenville, SC
7. Augusta, GA
8. Boise, ID
9. Omaha, NE
10. Oklahoma City, OK

RelocateAmerica’s research team compiled the list after evaluating extensive data on the factors most important in a community: real estate and housing, economic health, recreation, and safety.  But, it wasn’t all a numbers game. Just as important, and perhaps even more so, was the input provided  by local residents, business and community leaders. There’s nothing that says community pride quite like a resident (or many of them) delivering a list of all the things that make their community special.

It feels especially good to name Grand Rapids, Michigan a top 10 place to live, especially after it was named one of “America’s Dying Cities” by Newsweek in January. What really caught our attention about this city, though, is its response. It didn’t get mad. It made a video. And, not just any video. A video with 5,000 residents (that’s not a typo), lip synching to Don McClean‘s “American Pie” while touring every aspect of the city. Now, that’s what we call true community spirit– and that’s what being a top 10 city is all about. (Editorial note: Newsweek claims the article was not done by them but was posted to its website as part of a content-sharing deal.)

Congratulations to all the winners.

To see the complete list of Top 100 Places Live for 2011, visit  RelocateAmerica’s website.

 

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Vote for America’s Favorite Farmers Markets

Légumes
Image via Wikipedia

Is there anything more wholesome and All-American (besides motherhood and apple pie) than a farmers market on a summer day? In addition to being able to buy fresh-picked  produce directly from local growers, farmers markets create a sense of community.

There’s something about meeting and talking with the farmer who picked your  corn that morning that makes it taste a whole lot sweeter than it would if you bought  it from the grocery store. Produce bought at a farmer’s  market is  considerably cheaper, too, since there’s no middle man.

It’s hard to believe, then, that such an important part of American life is actually in danger of becoming extinct. According  to the American Farmland Trust, the leading national organization dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, 91% of America’s fruit and 78% percent of our vegetables are grown near metro regions, where they are in the path of development. In fact, every hour, somewhere in our country, 125 acres of farm and ranch land disappears.

Hmmm. What kind of dressing would you like on your concrete and glass  salad?

Here’s another “wake-up and-read-the-writing on-the-wall” statistic: Americans don’t produce enough fresh fruits and vegetables for everyone to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. In fact, it is estimated that it would take another 13 million acres of farmland growing fruits and vegetables in order for Americans to meet the minimum daily requirement  set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Holy guacamole.

As part of its quest to make fresh food from local farms a reality for everyone, the American Farmland Trust is holding its annual  America’s Favorite Farmer’s Markets contest as part of its “No Farms No Food” campaign.

Farmer’s markets of all sizes from almost all 50 states are competing for the honor  in four size categories (boutique, small, medium, and large. ) The winners will be determined in part by the number of votes each receives. At least 20 of the farmers markets competing are from cities on RelocateAmerica’s list of Top 100 Places to Live, and  two of them are serious contenders for the title based on the number of votes each had received at the time of this writing:

Fayetteville,  AR — 1,255 votes

Las Cruces, NM  — 1023 votes

Fayetteville, AR Farmer's Market by Peggy Maringer

The winners, which  will be determined in part by the number of  votes each receives, will get some great publicity in addition to other prizes provided by corporate sponsors.

But, really, the grand prize goes to all of us by keeping such an important part of our communities alive, not to mention preserving invaluable farmlands.

So, if you haven’t already done so, go vote. Farmers everywhere will thank you.

 

 

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Building a Sustainable Future That Lasts

Downtown Austin from across Town Lake.
Image via Wikipedia

Fact:  Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to power a television for three hours and burn a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.

–www.thinkgreen.com

Once I get past the reality that I currently have enough aluminum cans in my garage to power every television in my neighborhood, I realize the impact that such an innocuous fact has, not only on my family, but on all of us.

Today, the concept of being eco-friendly has gone far beyond the mandatory recycling programs in place in most communities. Instead of being green, we want to be “sustainable”.

The concept of building a sustainable community is still relatively new, but a simple search on Google for “sustainable communities” yields about 8,120,000 results and it is considered an integral component of many communities’ master plans.

According to Sustainable.org, which provides resources and training tools for communities and schools, the programs that promote social equity and foster broad-based citizen participation in its planning and implementation, are the most successful.

A quick search through RelocateAmerica’s list of Top 100 Places to Live for 2011 turned up five (although there are many more) that are building sustainable communities with longterm benefits.

Buffalo, NY – Residents of Buffalo’s West Side have come up with a way to tackle poverty, and the problems that go with it, head on. PUSH is a grassroots nonprofit community organization, which stands for People United for Sustainable Housing. It works to make affordable housing a reality by revitalizing existing homes, training and hiring the residents to work on the projects, and ensuring that quality schools, healthcare, and transportation are accessible.

Washington DC – The Greening Downtown DC initiative is a longterm project focused on improving energy efficiency, educating businesses and residents on green best practices, enhancing public spaces, and creating transportation options that reduce the dependency on carbon-based fuels. In March 2011, the District became the nation’s first city to partner with PepsiCo’s nationwide Dream Machine recycling initiative. This is a program that places kiosks and bins in high traffic public spaces in an effort to increase the U.S. beverage container recycling rate from 34% to 50% by 2018.

Austin, TX – The city’s Office of Sustainability has identified five themes for creating a sustainable community:

Portland, OR – The city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability develops creative and practical solutions on issues such as comprehensive, neighborhood and environmental planning, urban design, waste reduction and recycling, energy efficiency, food and solar technologies.

Rochester, NY – This fall, Rochester hosts its first Greentopia Festival, a two day celebration of the green movement. Businesses and organizations will showcase products and programs that help restore the planet, promote green living, and save consumers money. The event is scheduled for September 17-18, 2011.

This is just five of the hundreds of communities throughout the U.S., and the world, that are creating a sustainable future.

What is your community doing? Write and tell us and we’ll feature it in an upcoming blog post.

by Robin Taney
Director, Community Development

RelocateAmerica™ offers relocating consumers a directory of over 6,000 community profiles to research and review useful information about the local housing market, the culture of each community, activities and local businesses. Featuring community specific relocation resources and links to knowledgeable local services to assist with an upcoming relocation.

RelocateAmerica’s Research Team determines the list based on review of various data gathered for economic, employment, housing, education, industry, opportunity, environment and recreation along with feedback from area leaders & residents.

Since 1997, RelocateAmerica has served millions of relocating consumers by providing  real estate and moving resources. RelocateAmerica also helps promote small and medium-sized businesses by leveraging the community’s attributes.

RelocateAmerica is headquartered in Brighton, Michigan.

 

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14 Years Celebrating America’s TOP Places

Wow! Its been 14 years now that we have been reporting to our users the top places to live, work & play in America.

Its our mission to bring the best overall list consisting of  everything from large cities to small towns and everything in between. As we determine the list each year, our team here focuses on a variety of data surrounding employment, housing, education, industry, opportunity, environment and recreation along with feedback from area leaders & residents. Last year we introduced specific breakout category TOP10 Lists. Soon we’ll be announcing a major improvement in the TOP10 breakout lists to further support & celebrate the winning communities of RelocateAmerica’s TOP100 communities.

We are so excited about the future of the TOP100 list and the forthcoming TOP10 program. I know if you are a local leader, business owner or resident of one of our TOP100 you will be too.

Relocation and Housing

The housing market continues to generate a myriad of Internet articles. And because of the direct hand-in-hand relationship between housing and relocation, we are paying attention. Here is a sample of some of the highlights from the past week.

Buying a home as an investment has taken quite a hit in the recent years. Previously, home values inclined at such a level that homes were considered a no-brainer investment. Now with real estate values deflated and seemingly continuing to deflate, there are some legitimate questions being asked about whether it is a bright idea to buy. This article points to recent condition that housing essentially keeps up with inflation and will not see increases until the air is let out of the bubble. From a selling perspective, this prompts an interesting dilemma, reinforced by many of the lending institution’s philosophy – selling now would result in a greater return than in the near future. In other words, as real estate values decline, the sellers will receive less return on their property investment. It does prompt the question and belief that selling now, at a loss, may be better than selling later at a greater loss. This really is a short-term perspective and one that can be ridden out, but for those relocating now or looking to relocate now, a fundamental question to consider.

Not only is the actual act of buying and selling real estate is changing, but also so is the ideal. Previously, the McMansion, giant 3,000 plus SQF home was considered the suburban end zone. Truilia’s research in 2010 indicates that the ideal has moved from this 3,000 SQF plus home has now changed to less than 2,000 SQF. This is a monumental shift that affects not only new home construction but also an enormous inventory of houses that exceed an ideal. Compromise is a magic word in real estate, generally one taken in the direction of things one can do without. This mental shift does the opposite and will be truly interesting to see how it plays out.

Lastly, for first time homebuyers, a sizeable portion of our relocation audience, here are a list of things to remember and do in the new purchase. They include: not going to the purchase range maximum, selecting the right mortgage product, and prequalifying early in the process. All three of these recommendations affect all homebuyers and arguably better applied can help provide a more stable real estate landscape.

July 2010 Employment Report

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics released its July report on the state of employment and economic uncertainty remains at the forefront. The unemployment rate remains at 9.5 percent and private employers added 71,000 new jobs in July. The May and June numbers were also reduced  to more accurately represent the employment situation. Investors turned to Treasury bonds and the stock market indices expectantly declined with the news. Some sectors saw modest increases specifically manufacturing, retail and hospitality. Corporate net income improved considerably in second quarter year-over-year and white collar jobs continue to increase for the 8th month in a row.  While this is not substantively altering the overall unemployment rate, it is a positive sign.

A recent survey performed by the National Association of Business Economists states that a third of its surveyed companies are in the hiring mode and 39 percent plan to ramp up in the next six months. This begs the question of what types of jobs are hiring?

Indeed.com’s Industry Trends, a report from the job placement website, provides a sector perspective and is indicative of a forward looking projection.  health care continues to lead the way with over 700,000 positions listed on Indeed.com, mostly medical assistants, dental assistants and people who draws your blood at the doctor’s office. Retail and technology each posted 300,000 positions each respectively on Indeed.com.  Transportation, manufacturing and media are also hiring and showing signs of ramping up as the recovery until to unfold. To see more click here.

Improved Housing Markets – 2014

While RelocateAmerica focuses primarily on relocation news that affects each calendar year,  it never hurts to glimpse into the proverbial crystal ball and forecast the housing market future. That is exactly what this linked article provides – a look at the most improved housing markets for 2014. The research was conducted by Fiserv Case-Shiller and Moody”s Economy.com and predicts a 7.2% increase from 2010 to 2014. The article utilizes several indices to forecast the housing market growth specifically income growth, demographic trends, unemployment rates, foreclosure rates and construction costs.

We should note that home prices in the US have dropped nearly 30 percent over the past four years and the market hasn’t quite bottomed out. The combination of weak consumer confidence, limited private sector hiring and no more $8,000 checks to bolster new home buying activities all play a part in the exchange. Additionally, the research addresses growth at the state level with a best and brightest city within each highlighted to show quantifiable progress. A majority of the top rated cities have suffered significant price reduction over the past four years, so recovery will be very welcome. Some of the selections lack a realistic employment base, fundamental in the establishment of a solid relocation selection, but regardless, they have a promising outlook in the future.

Top 10 Improved Housing Markets by 2014 By State and Top Metro Area

1. Washington – Bremerton-Silverdale metro

2. Oregon – Bend metro

3. Michigan – Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn metro

4. California – Napa metro

5. Nevada – Carson City metro

6. Florida – Panama City-Lynn Haven-Panama City Beach metro

7. Arizona – Flagstaff metro

8. New Mexico – Santa Fe metro

9. Wyoming – Cheyenne metro

10. Alaska – Anchorage metro

WSJ’s Where Housing is Headed

The Wall Street Journal recently released its quarterly survey on where housing is headed. The report is well sourced and provides some interesting information detailing five major categories for 28 metropolitan areas. Being the Wall Street Journal, its very New York-centric, which shouldn’t be too surprising based on its readership and the simple fact that these are indeed major metro areas that needed to be broken out to accurately represent the information correctly.

Some survey highlights:

California Seeing Some Sunshine, Florida is Not

San Diego is ranked number one in changes in inventory and price change while also rising to fourth overall in regards to the lowest monthly supply of homes. Los Angles, Orange County and San Francisco also held primary positions with these selected metro areas in regards to positive change in inventory, price change and a lessening monthly supply of homes. Orlando took last place in change in inventory, 25th in price change and 26th in loan payments overdue. Tampa ranked third and fourth from the bottom in jobless rates and loan payments overdue.

Detroit, Las Vegas– Not Good

Detroit’s metro area scored a solid 27th in both change in inventory and price change. It took the last spot for jobless rate in the survey. This depressed metro areas needs a break and a reinvention of itself beyond the automotive industry. Las Vegas came in last place for price change and 27th for both jobless rate and loan payments overdue.

Tops in Employment

The top five metro areas for employment in this survey – Washington DC, Minneapolis, Dallas, Denver and Boston all hold jobless rates below the national average. We are not sure if this is a cause for a celebration as the numbers range from 6.8% to 8.7%, but the figures are indicative of areas with stronger employment landscapes.

Loan Payments

Minneapolis, Denver and Portland took the top three spots with the lowest overdue mortgages while Miami and the aforementioned Las Vegas and Orlando scored in the bottom three in this category.

Relocation

From a relocation perspective, this information provides some good insight. While the positive areas do tend to offer a better employment possibilities, the areas with a large supply of homes in inventory and stagnant pricing provide a unique opportunity for relocating homebuyers, especially in regards to short sale purchases, as detailed in our last blog. This information needs to be looked at carefully and in combination with other sites such as RelocateAmerica.com.

Take a moment to review the survey results. The site offers a sorting feature for the five categories and is worth a visit.

Short Sales for Relocating New HomeBuyers

Short sales offer a tremendous opportunity to relocating individuals and families. If there is an upside to the recent economic downturn, relocating homebuyers may be at the apex. This is not to downplay the grim reality of underwater mortgages and sellers unable to maintain their properties, but simply, the other side of the coin not generally reported in the media. Sellers and banks need properties to sell to reduce their overall loss and relocating homebuyers offer a unique proposition. And with the strong likelihood of a new relocating buyer coming across short sales in their home search, it makes sense to understand them prior to jumping in.

So first, what is a short sale?

It’s a real estate transaction where the homeowner’s lender agrees to accept less that the amount owed on home loan. Why would a lender (aka bank) agree to do this? It balances on the lender believing they are able to get more for the home now versus later and the timely/costly avoidance of foreclosure and resale proceedings. The current homeowner benefits include avoiding foreclosure, reducing the negative credit report implications and of course, removing themselves from the mortgage burden. The homeowner may be hit with the defiecincey (difference from the sales price and the amount on the loan) or tax implications of the sale.

OK, so some initials words of advice on looking for short sale properties:

First, select a realtor with short sale experience. In today’s market, this shouldn’t be difficult. They will understand the process, present the buyer with appropriate comps and be able to identify short sale properties. Understand that while this is a positive factor, the agent is an agent. The final approval still comes from the bank, so while they can’t control all of the elements, finding one with experience is vitally important.

Second, make a fair market offer. Prices are already deflated. Lenders are obligated to get as close as possible to the appraised value. The current homeowners are also involved in the decision. So, while it is tempting to offer quarters instead of dollars, the offer is unlikely to go through.

Third, short sales are rarely short. The length varies from 60 – 120 days (or longer) depending upon the lending institution and state. State. A short sale involves many more parties than a traditional real estate transaction. So, it is important to realize that the process may be long and having several properties in the radar is a very prudent idea.

Want some more tips and advice? Check out Top 10 Home Buying Tips For Short Sales