Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wall Street Journal: Planning to sell your home next year? Start getting ready now.

The story is here

Amy Hoak's Home Economics

Dec. 27, 2010, 12:01 a.m. EST

Resolutions for home sellers in 2011

Planning to sell your home next year? Start getting ready now.

By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — If your New Year’s resolution involves selling a home in 2011, you’ve got some work to do: There’s lots of inventory out there and in a buyer’s market like this one, getting an offer on a home can be challenging.

Still, for the committed seller willing to do some prep work and come to terms with the current value of his or her home, locking in a buyer isn’t impossible.

By listing in early January, you might be able to catch some of those early birds who start browsing in the winter so that they can find a new home before school starts in the fall, said Louis Cammarosano, general manager of, a real-estate website. In fact, many buyers tend to start their searches online right after Christmas, and continue throughout January and February, he said.

“If you hit the ground running and you’re a fresh listing that has done everything right, you’ve got the best shot,” said Cammarosano.

Consider the following tips to give your home the best chance to get noticed — and sold — in 2011.

Price it right from the start

Many sellers suffer from attachment bias, said Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for real-estate website They believe that their home is worth more than they’d pay for it in another context. While it’s always a bad idea to overprice a home, it’s especially dangerous in times like this because there is so much competing inventory in many local markets.

Nelson’s advice: Give yourself a reality check by looking inside comparable homes during open houses. That can help you get a clearer idea of your home’s value.

You might even consider interviewing a few real-estate agents to get more than one take on how the home should be priced, Cammarosano said.

The longer something sits on the market, the more price reductions you might have to make and the more potential buyers will assume that there’s something wrong with the home, he said. So more often than not, it’s best not to try testing the waters with a higher price, he adds.

Don’t be afraid to advertise in the listing and marketing materials that it’s not a foreclosure or short sale, Nelson said. In markets where distressed sales are plentiful, there are buyers who simply don’t want to deal with the extra hassle and uncertainty of a short sale or bank-owned property, she said.

Get the house ready

Most sellers know they need to declutter, paint in neutral colors and generally stage the home as best as they can to help buyers envision themselves in the home. Often, this is done on the advice of a real-estate agent or professional stager.

The closer you can get your home looking like a photo from a Pottery Barn catalog, the better off you will be, said Beth Jaworski, a real-estate agent in the Milwaukee area.

And make sure that your cabinets and refrigerators are cleaned out and decluttered, too. “You want to have a minimum of ‘stuff’ in the house. The less stuff you have, the larger the closets, basement and garage will look,” she said.

Jaworski also recommends having a home inspection done a month before putting the home on the market to identify any major defects that need to be corrected.

Provide as much information as possible

Have energy bills and a list of updates available for buyers to see, Jaworski said.

“Buyers are always curious what the utility bills are, how old the roof is, how many layers it has, how old the major mechanicals are and when that addition was added,” she said. “The more information you can provide on the house, the better.”

Consider providing a floor plan with listings as well, Cammarosano said. That way the prospective buyers don’t have to keep making return visits to determine how their furniture will fit in the space — they’ll have the dimensions in hand.

Make it easy to show

The more available you can make your home for showings, the better, said David Welch, a broker/associate in Orlando, Fla.

Make it easy for your real-estate agent to access the property and keep the place clean.

“You want your home to be easy to show because you don’t know if you will get a second chance,” Welch said. “Trust me, the buyer wants to like your house. Keep it in show-ready condition,” he said, so they aren’t turned off by a first impression.

Be flexible

Buyers are in the driver’s seat these days, and they know they can make all sorts of unusual requests without risking the deal. Be ready.

“Buyer wants to see the house at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, OK,” Jaworski said. “Buyer wants to bring 10 family members and an inspector to check out the house for three hours this weekend, OK. Buyer wants you to include the kitchen table and chairs, the painting over the fireplace and your snow blower, OK.”

“The more flexible you are,” she said, “the better off you will be.”

Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch reporter based in Chicago.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Columbus Underground: Best Hidden Gem of 2010 - Frank Fetch Park (In German Village)

The best “Hidden Gem” is a new category in our “Best of” series, and it’s a bit of an awkward one. The Top 10 of these best kept secrets was compiled by popular vote. So technically, the more popular they are, the less obscure and hidden they are.

See the Top 10 Hidden Gems of 2010 here

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bloomberg: Home Prices in U.S. Decrease More Than Forecast

My comment: Remember, all real estate is local. Market conditions can change drastically by neighborhood and area of town.

The story is here

Home Prices in U.S. Decrease More Than Forecast

Home Prices in U.S. Decrease More Than Forecast

Carpenters work on a home under construction in Garner, North Carolina. Photographer: Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg

Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Robert Shiller, an economics professor at Yale University and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values, talks about the decline in home prices in October. The index fell 0.8 percent from October 2009, the biggest year-over-year decline since December 2009. Shiller speaks with Peter Cook on Bloomberg Television's "Fast Forward." (Source: Bloomberg)

Home prices dropped more than forecast in October, a sign housing will remain a weak link as the U.S. recovery accelerates into the new year.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values fell 0.8 percent from October 2009, the biggest year-over-year decline since December 2009, the group said today in New York. The decrease exceeded the 0.2 percent drop projected by the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

A wave of foreclosures waiting to reach the market means home prices will remain under pressure in 2011, representing a risk to household finances. Federal Reserve policy makers this month said “depressed” housing and high unemployment remained constraints on consumer spending, reasons why they reiterated a plan to expand record monetary stimulus.

“We’ll remain in negative territory for several more months,” said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York, who forecast a year-on-year drop of 1.3 percent. “The housing market does remain weak and none of the recent data suggest a substantial pickup.”

After retreating briefly, stock-index futures remained higher after the report as a jump in holiday sales boosted the outlook for consumer spending. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in March rose 0.2 percent to 1,255.5 at 9:23 a.m. in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note rose to 3.36 percent from 3.33 percent late yesterday.

Survey Results

The median forecast was based on projections of 17 economists surveyed. Estimates ranged from an increase of 1.4 percent to a decline of 1.3 percent. Year-over-year records began in 2001. Prices rose 0.4 percent in the year ended September.

The gauge fell 1 percent in October from the prior month after adjusting for seasonal variations, matching September’s drop which was larger than previously estimated. Unadjusted prices decreased 1.3 percent from the prior month.

Eighteen of 20 cities showed a decrease in prices in October, led by a 2.1 percent drop in Atlanta, and decreases of 1.8 percent in Chicago and Minneapolis. Denver and Washington were the only two that posted gains.

Six markets, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Seattle, Tampa and Portland, Oregon, reached their lowest levels in October since prices started to retreat.

“The double-dip is almost here,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P. Sales aren’t “giving any sense of optimism.”

Since 2006

The 20-city index was down 30 percent in October from its July 2006 peak.

The year-over-year gauge provides better indications of trends in prices, the group has said. The panel includes Karl Case and Robert Shiller, the economists who created the index.

The Case-Shiller gauge is based on a three-month average, which means the October data was influenced by transactions in September and August.

The drop in prices represents a setback for housing after values recovered earlier this year, thanks to an $8,000 homebuyers’ tax credit that lifted purchases.

Reports earlier this month showed the housing market is stuck near recession levels even as the broader economy is recovering. Housing permits fell in November to the third-lowest level on record, while starts rose for the first time in three months, the Commerce Department reported Dec. 16.

Sales of new and existing homes last month rose less than projected by the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, reports from the Commerce Department and the National Association of Realtors showed last week.

Price Outlook

Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA Inc, which builds and sells single-family starter homes in the southern part of the country, projects prices will not increase.

“We expect new-home selling prices to be somewhere between flat and down 3 percent in 2011,” Beazer’s Chief Executive Officer Ian McCarthy said on a conference call last month. “While there are clearly risks of further home-price declines, we believe that new homes are well positioned relative to non- distressed existing homes.”

Today’s report may be a reminder why Fed policy makers, who met Dec. 14 for the final time this year, say housing is lagging while the economy rebounds. They cited declines in home values as one of the constraints on consumer spending.

“The housing sector continues to be depressed,” Fed officials said in a statement after the gathering, at which they reiterated a plan to expand record monetary stimulus and said economic growth is “insufficient to bring down unemployment.”

Even so, economists in the past two weeks have boosted projections for fourth-quarter growth, reflecting a pickup in consumer spending and passage of an $858 billion bill extending all Bush-era tax cuts for two years. The legislation also continues expanded unemployment insurance benefits through 2011 and cuts payrolls taxes by 2 percentage points next year.

     The following table shows the historical price change
according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price indices. Cities are
ranked by largest monthly gain using non seasonally adjusted
1-months 3-months 1-year 2-years 3-years
earlier earlier earlier earlier earlier
US Composite-20 -1.32% -2.39% -0.80% -8.08% -24.70%
Washington DC -0.20% -0.28% 3.65% 1.00% -17.97%
Las Vegas -0.21% 0.06% -3.57% -29.26% -51.61%
Denver -0.57% -1.65% -1.79% -1.90% -6.98%
Los Angeles -0.75% -1.26% 3.34% -3.21% -30.24%
Tampa -0.90% -2.19% -3.61% -18.27% -34.48%
Miami -1.11% -2.60% -3.39% -16.95% -41.06%
Phoenix -1.11% -3.93% -4.28% -21.61% -47.21%
Dallas -1.13% -3.83% -3.13% -3.68% -6.66%
Charlotte -1.14% -2.54% -4.19% -10.90% -14.87%
1-months 3-months 1-year 2-years 3-years
earlier earlier earlier earlier earlier
Boston -1.23% -2.82% -0.23% -3.03% -8.85%
Seattle -1.34% -2.66% -4.11% -16.03% -24.61%
Portland -1.48% -4.16% -5.15% -14.59% -23.20%
San Diego -1.50% -3.05% 2.97% 0.55% -26.28%
Cleveland -1.52% -4.76% -2.64% -6.03% -11.83%
New York -1.61% -1.99% -1.67% -9.58% -16.56%
San Francisco -1.91% -3.07% 2.23% -0.43% -31.28%
Minneapolis -1.91% -4.35% -2.80% -10.79% -25.18%
Chicago -1.99% -3.08% -6.48% -15.95% -25.04%
Detroit -2.45% -3.25% -5.52% -20.02% -36.33%
Atlanta -2.90% -6.11% -6.19% -13.77% -22.83%

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Willis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at

Monday, December 27, 2010

Columbus Underground: Best Place to Shop and Neighborhood of 2010 - Short North

The Short North scores another threepeat this year by being voted up into the number one spot once again for places that locals love to shop. And with good reason too, as the Short North offers a little bit of something for everyone with a diverse range of unique retailers all within easy walking distance of each other. Read more and see the top 10 here

The Short North completes our second hat trick during this year’s Best of 2010 lists by being picked three years straight as the best neighborhood in Columbus. Read more and see the top 10 here

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Columbus City Council Members pick 18 to interview for open seats,

Columbus City Council Applicants Round 2

Council members pick 18 to interview for open seats

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 06:01 PM

The Columbus Dispatch

A total of 18 applicants are finalists for two open seats on the Columbus City Council.

Today, the five remaining council members, Andrew J. Ginther, Hearcel F. Craig, Priscilla R. Tyson, Troy A. Miller and Eileen Y. Paley each chose four applicants to be interviewed for the appointments. Two applicants -Kevin L. Boyce and Michelle M. Mills - were on the lists of two council members.

Council President Michael C. Mentel is resigning to spend more time with his family and on his career and Councilwoman Charleta B. Tavares was elected to the Ohio Senate.

At the deadline for applications on Friday, 49 had applied. One dropped out earlier this week after he realized he did not live in the city.

Those who will be interviewed, followed by the council member or members who picked them are:

* Boyce, 39, the outgoing state treasurer and a former two-term member of the City Council from 2000 through 2008. Craig and Tyson

* Mills, 40, the executive director of St. Stephens Community House. Craig and Miller

* W. Shawna Gibbs, 36, has been a member of the Columbus school board since 2007. She is communications director for IMPACT community action. Ginther

* Dan Stewart, 54, the term-limited four-term state representative for a district that includes Downtown and the South Side. Craig

* Marian Harris, 69, the outgoing one-term state representative for a district that includes the Far East Side and Westerville. Paley

* Anthony J. Celebrezze III, 43, a deputy director at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the son of a former Ohio attorney general. Tyson

* Karla Rothan, 46, the executive director of Stonewall Columbus. Tyson

* Michael W. Daniels, 45, the publisher of Outlook Columbus, a monthly newspaper for the gay and lesbian community. Craig

* Fran E. Dennis, 49, president of The Dennis Group insurance agency. Paley

* Jeffrey D. Porter, 40, a lawyer with Kegler Brown Hill and Ritter. Paley

* Greg Schultz, 30, state director for Organizing for America, which supports President Barack Obama's agenda. Paley

* Zachary Klein, 31, deputy chief of legal services for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. Miller

* David W. Paul, 53, president of the Northland Community Council and a software engineer for Sterling Commerce. Miller

* Brandyn L. McElroy, 21, vice president of the Far South Side Area Commission and a sales representative for Safelight Autoglass. Miller

* Stefanie Lynn Coe, 32, a member of the Southwest Area Commission and general counsel for International Industrial Cleaning Co. Ginther

* Kimber Perfect, 58, chief communications officer for the Ohio Department of Development. Ginther

* Ian B. MacConnell, 39, president of the University Area Commission and creative director at the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Ginther

* Leslie Sawyer, 57, a former director for the Ohio Board of Regents. Tyson

Monday, December 20, 2010

Columbus Dispatch: Area commission favors new zoning for Cooper Park race track project

Area commission favors new zoning for Cooper Park race track project

The Southwest Area Commission is supporting the zoning plan for the proposed race track complex at the Cooper Stadium site just west of Downtown, with a few strings attached.

According to the motion the commission passed last week, the group supports Arshot Investment's idea with the following conditions:

1. No races until Arshot completes a research and technology center, with a minimum of 20,000 sqaure feet of office space.
2. All races end at 10 p.m.
3. A traffic impact study.
4. New sidewalks and crosswalks.

"We believe that the proposed redevelopment of the Cooper Stadium site will be the catalyst for positive potential growth," the motion said.

"Our area, in particular the area surrounding this site, has not seen much positive activity in recent years. Members of our community are desperate for job opportunities and local businesses are ready and able to provide services and products to this project."

The motion also calls for a good neighbor agreement that includes area residents and companies to receive first consideration for jobs and business.

The site sits within the commission's boundaries.

The city's Development Commission will take up the controversial issue early next year, with the Columbus City Council, and its two new members, getting a crack at it by spring.

Columbus Dispatch: Short North parking might get squeezed further

Short North parking might get squeezed further

Monday, December 20, 2010 02:53 AM


Think parking's a pain when you visit the Short North? Try living there.

Despite that, the leader of one residents group is suggesting something he acknowledges is unlikely to go over well with his neighbors.

Italian Village Society President Larry Totzke said people who live there and in nearby Victorian Village should consider easing parking restrictions on nonresidents, at least temporarily.

Plans by the Pizzuti Cos. to build a hotel and office building in the heart of the Short North would add 500 parking spaces in a new garage. But 125 spaces in two surface lots would be lost during construction. Totzke is asking Italian Village and Victorian Village leaders to help out businesses during the interim.

Seven of the 32 zones where 6,000 residents have parking permits are in that area between 5th Avenue and I-670.

Most of Italian Village bans parking by nonresidents 24 hours a day.

"We don't want to mess up their opportunity for visitors coming into the Short North," Totzke said of the bars, restaurants and art galleries that line High Street north of Downtown.

"I hope that the various civic and business associations representing their constituents will be willing to discuss that possibility (of easing parking restrictions), but I want all of the issues to be on the table for discussion."

That, Totzke said, would include residents' concerns that conversion of a former Wonder bakery into art studios and retail space will send more visitors into Italian Village.

City officials said that if invited, they will work with the neighborhoods to review parking rules.

Diesha Condon, director of the Short North Business Association, said Totzke's offer is welcomed, even though she insists parking is plentiful.

"It's a win-win," she said of any agreement. "It helps developers not upset their neighbors. It helps the residents make sure they have parking during their hours (at night)."

Totzke said he knows it won't be an easy sell for residents.

The city's Transportation and Pedestrian Commission endorsed a request only last week to add another block of resident-only parking on Kerr Street in Italian Village.

"We've become the de facto spillover lot," said Craig Deep, who lives on a 250-foot stretch of that street that is not restricted.

Public Service Director Mark Kelsey will make the final decision on the request.

German Village, Victorian Village and Italian Village, most of which were developed without driveways and garages in the pre-automobile era, have the most restricted parking in the city.

"There just isn't enough parking in some of these neighborhoods," said Randy Bowman, an administrator with the city's mobility options division.

Bowman's division received 18 requests during the past four years to add or extend residential-parking zones in Columbus.

Within the zones, residents pay $25 for a permit that gives them full-time parking privileges. Nonresidents are banned completely, banned at night or on weekends, or limited to two hours.

Public Service spokesman Rick Tilton said 17 requests have been approved. The other was withdrawn.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Columbus Dispatch: Weinland Park Area Gets Improvement Tool


Blighted area gets improvement tool

Sunday, December 19, 2010 02:58 AM


Columbus is betting on new homes and other developments in the Weinland Park neighborhood near Ohio State University to pay for new streets, lights and other public improvements in the area.

Property taxes generated by new development in Weinland Park also might be spent on new sidewalks and parks and even knocking down eyesores.

It’s the latest step in a major effort by the city, Ohio State, developers and others to transform a neighborhood plagued by poverty, drugs and crime into a more livable area that could attract more professionals and students.

This month, 19 people thought to be members and associates of the Short North Posse, a gang that has menaced the Weinland Park area for years, were indicted on charges such as racketeering, drug trafficking and gun possession.

On Monday, the Columbus City Council gave the go-ahead to create a tax-increment financing district that includes most of Weinland Park. That means that property taxes that normally would go to agencies such as Metro Parks and the Columbus Metropolitan Library instead will go toward public improvements.

The Columbus school district will receive its share of property taxes.

Although officials don’t know how much money could be generated by the district, they said it is part of the broad effort to improve the area by building housing, perhaps creating a farmers market and community gardens, and concentrating on job training and improving residents’ health.

“It helps sustain what we’re trying to get going,” said Mark Wagenbrenner, president of Wagenbrenner Development, which is building 14 houses in the neighborhood using federal money.

It’s also building 40 lease-to-own houses using tax credits and is putting up 10 houses at 4th Street and 8th Avenue.

Wagenbrenner said he also plans to build as many as 605 apartments and condominiums on the old Columbus Coated Fabrics site near Grant and 5th avenues. That’s in a different tax-increment financing district created several years ago.

The city already is spending $4.6 million to improve Grant Avenue. That work should be finished next year, Wagenbrenner said.

The city has no specific plan for how to use the money generated in the new tax-increment financing district, said Mike Stevens, the city’s deputy development director. But it is the final piece in the city’s development plan for the area.

“It’s a neighborhood that has not been given the level of attention that other neighborhoods have gotten,” said Doug Aschenbach, president of Campus Partners, Ohio State’s nonprofit development arm.

It’s an effort, Aschenbach said, that can be used as a model for other areas of the city. “It’s a pilot,” he said.

Campus Partners is a member of the Weinland Park Collaborative, a group including the city, OSU, foundations and others working to rebuild the neighborhood.

Neighborhood leader Joyce Hughes said the area finally is moving forward.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Forbes: Columbus Ranked as 4th Best Shopping City in US

Dec. 13 2010 - 5:15 pm

Move over New York. When it comes to shopping, everything’s bigger in Texas. Forbes’ first-ever ranking of the best U.S. cities for shopping takes a look at the real numbers behind what makes retail sparkle in the 25 biggest cities in America. One look at the top 10 shows that NYC, long thought to be the best city for style, sophistication and putting your pocketbook to work, is nowhere to be found.

What? Why? How? The truth is, in deciding what makes a city “best,” it all depends on what you’re looking for.

Click Here For The 25 Best Shopping Cities

When it comes to shopping, everyone has their own style. Some of us are in-and-out. We know what we want, we know where to find it and we’d like to be on our way, thank-you-very-much. Others are in heaven strolling through well-lit retail centers, window shopping to our heart’s delight, even if there’s nothing we “need.” And some of us are on the hunt for a bargain—if it isn’t on sale, it’s not on our list.

In compiling our list of America’s best cities for shopping, we took the interests of all types to heart to find the urban centers with the best combination of options, ease and affordability.

Of the 525 major shopping centers in the country’s biggest cities, there are nearly 257 million square feet of gross leasable retail area, according to data provided by Esri, a geographic information systems firm that tracks the leasable area of major U.S. shopping centers of over 225,000 square feet. Of that, nearly a quarter of the retail space (87,879,057 square feet) is in the Lone Star state, more than explaining how three Texan cities landed in our top ten cities for shopping. Like their football and BBQ, Texans take their shopping seriously.

Houston comes in at No. 1 one the list. “Houston might be a big city, and sure you can spend days buying up the shopping malls, but for me the best thing has always been the boutiques that are somehow both 100% Southern and completely chic,” says stylist Kate Barash, a Houston native now living in Los Angeles,

Barash, who describes her own fashion sense as “date night feisty,” shares her two favorite Houston stops for shopping: 310 Rosemont (1965 W. Gray Ave.), where she stocks up jeans from trendy 1921 and Seven For All Mankind and also scores pieces from Milly and James Perse; and Lot 8 (6127 Kirby Drive), where she finds “the best L.A. designers without the Los Angeles inflated prices.”

Click Here For The 25 Best Shopping Cities

If one-stop shopping is more your style than hunting for boutiques in humid Houston, take a drive to Texas’s biggest mall, the Galleria, which boasts 2.5 million square feet of retail pleasure.

Click Here For The 25 Best Shopping Cities

Dallas, No. 2 is dwarfed by its southern cousin in shopping malls at only 28 locations according to Esri, but its over 16,000 retail stores in the city more than compensate. Like Houston, a Galleria mall is the epicenter of retail in the city, but Barash describes Dallas as “more urban” and its shopping style follows suit. Dallas (200.227) also has a higher price index than Houston (195.165), knocking it down a few rungs from the top position.

The rest of the top 10 is filled out with surprises like Baltimore, San Antonio, San Diego, Columbus and Jacksonville, and a few towns who’ve long been proud to make retail a tourist draw: Philadelphia’s outlet center Franklin Mills, for example, houses over 1.5 million square feet of retail and even has hotels on-site to lodge bargain shoppers, and Castleton Square Mall in Indianapolis, Ind., is the biggest in the state.

Another surprise, Phoenix, Ariz., at #8. It may be another steamy city for shopping, but its large number of shopping centers and retail stores (over 11,000 according to the BLS) make it an ideal location for a shopper looking for options. Don’t get stuck on its desert location. Phoenix boasts retail choices that range from Gucci to Cartier at its upscale Biltmore Fashion Park to a surprising six Walmarts within city limits, (second only to San Antonio and Charlotte, with seven each) A 2010 increase in sales tax keeps the city out of the top five contenders for most wallet-friendly, but the presence of so many Walmarts speaks volumes for its thrift. For a city of just over 1.5 million, that’s a whole lot of Walmart.

So how did big cities—and notorious shopping hot spots–like New York, San Francisco and Boston fall to the bottom of the ranking? It’s in the numbers.

Click Here For The 25 Best Shopping Cities

San Francisco has one of the highest combined sales tax rates in the country at 9.5% and New York is not far behind at 8.8%, coupled with a consumer price index of 241.147, the highest of any city on the list. NYC’s low number of major shopping centers also holds it back, although seasoned shoppers will know that New York City abounds in free-standing retail stores (over 75,000). Like New York, Boston is also penalized for its high prices and low number of malls–showing that shopping in cities might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

What do you make of the ranking? For those of you who think big box shopping is best, be sure we took the number of Walmarts into account when deciding what’s best. Like you, we can’t pass up a deal. Also taken into consideration were the number of major shopping centers (as provided by Esri from the U.S. Directory of Major Malls), retail locations (U.S. Census), the Consumer Price Index (BLS data) and combined sales tax for each city. Click through the slideshow of our top cities by the numbers to find what’s important to you—and what city is really “the best.”

Click Here For The 25 Best Shopping Cities

*Data Note: Esri updated demographics are 2010 estimated. Copyrighted 2010, Directory of Major Malls.

Columbus City Council Receives 49 Applications For Two Vacancies

Just click on the four arrows button to enlarge

Applicants to Columbus City Council

The Columbus Dispatch Article

The article is also here

Candidates line up to fill Columbus City Council vacancies

Friday, December 17, 2010 01:34 PM

The Columbus Dispatch

The outgoing state treasurer, a current school board member and a state lawmaker head the list of candidates seeking to fill vacancies on the Columbus City Council.

Forty-nine people filed applications for the two vacancies by today's noon deadline. Among them: Treasurer and former councilman Kevin. L. Boyce, state Rep. Dan Stewart and W. Shawna Gibbs, a member of the Columbus City Schools Board of Education. Among the other well-known names on the list of applicants: Michelle Mills, president of St. Stephen's Community House.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Columbus Community Shelter Board Gets A $300,000 Pledge From Anonymous Donor



For Immediate Release: December 13, 2010

For More Information:

John Ivanic, (614) 645-6798

City Council, Anonymous Donor Support Community Shelter Board

Council President Mentel’s initiative inspires more giving in community

(Columbus)— While Columbus City Council is scheduled to vote on emergency funding for the Community Shelter Board (CSB) later this evening, the generosity of an anonymous donor is matching the city’s efforts to address the unprecedented spike in demand for shelter services this winter. According to the Columbus Foundation, the donor, who is described as a “self-made, community minded” individual, has pledged to match a $300,000 grant to CSB if City Council approves the legislation this evening. Council President Michael C. Mentel will be introducing ordinance 1818-2010 and expects unanimous support from his colleagues.

“The holiday season is a time for giving and this display of beneficence and humility is a prime example showing why Columbus is nationally renowned as such a compassionate community,” said President Mentel. “This unprecedented gift to the Columbus Foundation, and ultimately the Shelter Board, could mean the difference between life and death for those who find themselves homeless this winter.”

The Columbus Foundation’s anonymous donor has committed $300,000 to support the need for more emergency housing in our community during this time of severe hardship and to honor the 12 years of distinguished community service of Council President Mentel. Mentel, who announced his retirement from City Council last month, will be presiding over his last meeting this evening

“New scripts are being written every day about how to respond to the unfamiliar challenges members of our community are facing,” said The Columbus Foundation President and CEO Douglas F. Kridler. “This one is a story of heroic generosity.”

Unfamiliar challenges is a perfect way to describe the need faced by the Shelter Board and its partner organizations. According to statistics provided by CSB, through November of this year, families seeking emergency housing beyond the capacity of existing shelters produced an alarming 3,757% increase in family overflow shelter nights as compared to the entire calendar year in 2009 (2160 shelter nights compared to 56). Furthermore, single adult overflow in October and November of 2010 increased 41% compared to the same time period in 2009 (3344 shelter nights compared to 2366).

“We are just overwhelmed by the community’s response to this unprecedented demand for shelter,” said CSB Executive Director Michelle Heritage Ward. “It’s a wonderful example of the public-private partnership that is the hallmark of how we end homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County.”

The Community Shelter Board, established in 1986, is a public-private partnership organization that creates collaborations, innovates solutions, and invests in quality programs in order to end homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County. CSB allocates over $13 million annually to support homeless programs and services. Last year, these programs served more than 8,000 individuals. CSB is funded by the City of Columbus, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, the United Way of Central Ohio, The Columbus Foundation, Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the State of Ohio, and other public and private donors.

For more information or to make a donation, visit or

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Columbus Dispatch: Newer, poorly constructed homes more likely to harbor fungus

Stucco was removed from the rear of this Lewis Center home, built in 2005, after mold was discovered underneath.
Tom Dodge | DISPATCH
Stucco was removed from the rear of this Lewis Center home, built in 2005, after mold was discovered underneath.

Moldy Moderns

Newer, poorly constructed homes more likely to harbor fungus

Sunday, December 12, 2010 03:01 AM


When Lori and Nate Lee moved from Maryland to Lewis Center five years ago, they bought the perfect home for their growing family: 2,800 square feet, four bedrooms and a basement they immediately finished.

For four years, they enjoyed the home - until this summer, when they decided to replace the wood deck with a concrete patio and discovered rotted wood where the deck was attached to the home.

The Lees contacted Craig Reichman, owner of C&R Builders in Sunbury, who started removing stucco to determine the extent of the rot.

What he found, in addition to the rot, was mold - under the stucco, under the two doors leading into the home and under the wood floor near the doors.

"I kept cutting and cutting and cutting,"

said Reichman, who has spent the past month repairing the damage.

For Reichman, the discovery was all too familiar. He and other builders and experts say mold plagues some newer central Ohio homes, especially those built during the housing boom of 1999 to 2006.

"I'm seeing this over and over," Reichman said. "The time frame when those homes were built, in that period, five to seven years, will have those issues."

The Lees' $390,000 home was built by Darby Homes, a custom homebuilder that is now out of business. But the problem isn't confined to one builder.

"I've seen it from several builders," Reichman said. "It's sad to say that homes built 100 years ago are holding up better, which is upsetting because we have so much better technology and materials today if we used them."

Others agree that mold has become a familiar problem in new homes, especially those with stucco siding.

"There were not problems like this 35 or 40 years ago," said Jerry Warner, the city of Delaware's chief building inspector who helped a Delaware couple negotiate a mold problem with Dominion Homes.

In that case, the problems were so advanced that Dominion replaced the stucco, insulation, weather wrap and sheathing on an outside wall. The homeowners thought their problems had been solved until they discovered that electrical outlets along the same wall were so damp that they occasionally sizzled, and that moisture buildup was pushing kitchen baseboards from the wall.

Now, the homeowners are continuing talks with the builder.

When easily removed in bathrooms and kitchens, mold is usually harmless. But some types of mold such as stachybotrys can be dangerous, especially to infants and children and those with respiratory problems.

Building experts and others who have combated mold say there are several reasons that it seems to be a greater problem in newer homes than older ones.

For starters, mold might simply be a price central Ohio is now paying for the housing boom, said Benjamin Zacks, a principal in the Zacks Law Group in Columbus, which represented more than a half-dozen homeowners in Hilliard's Hoffman Farms subdivision. The homeowners were seeking a remedy from Dominion Homes, which built most of the homes during the construction explosion.

"The Hoffman Farms experience was in part due to the circumstances of the housing boom," Zacks said. "It became common, when they were putting up homes so fast, to find problems with wrapping - and homes lacking airtight seals and with the exterior material. There (in Hoffman Farms), mostly it was stucco, and it was applied too thin."

Zacks said one client's home was so damp that mushrooms grew through the living-room carpet.

Some of the cases ended with Dominion buying back the homes or repairing the damage. Others remain in negotiation.

Dominion CEO and President William Cornely said the company's response to mold complaints depends on whether the problems can be shown to be defects in workmanship or lack of maintenance - a distinction that can be difficult to determine as the home ages.

"If the problem shows up in 24 months, it's a construction issue and we'll take the necessary steps," he said. "But if it's 20 or 30 years old, it's a maintenance issue. When it moves from construction to maintenance between those time periods is hard to say."

Dominion is far from alone in facing mold complaints, Cornely said, but is attracting more attention because of a front-page Dispatch article a month ago featuring a severely mold-infested Dublin home built by the company.

"I don't know that anyone could build 25,000 houses and never have a problem," he said.

Dominion has made one major change after receiving complaints about mold: It now uses cement board siding - commonly called HardiePlank - instead of stucco, Cornely said.

"We haven't used stucco in three or four years," he said. "We're always looking at ways to improve our buildings."

David Stubbs, a specialist in building systems and indoor-air quality who testified against Maronda Homes in a 2006 mold-related lawsuit, thinks many of the new-home mold problems come down to poor workmanship.

"If I built a house 80 or 100 years ago, I was a true craftsman," said Stubbs, who lived in central Ohio before becoming director of facilities planning and construction for Clarke County Schools in Georgia. "I'd build one house a year. ... We don't build like that today. We take shortcuts."

Other explanations for the rise of mold problems in newer homes include:

• Oriented strand board, which became a common sheathing material for homes about 20 years ago, absorbs and transfers water more readily than plywood, which was the sheathing of choice for older homes. Even when plywood is used today, it is more likely to be three-ply plywood instead of the four- or five-ply used in earlier homes.

• Stucco is thinner than it used to be, with less cement, and is frequently poorly installed, with two thin coats instead of three thick ones.

• Many homes built during the housing boom used a paper vapor barrier, which can be difficult to properly install, instead of Tyvek or other wraps commonly used in the past few years.

• Newer homes are typically built in empty fields, offering no protection from wind, rain and sun - especially a problem on western exposures.

• Homes built in the past 20 years tend to be tighter than older homes and therefore more likely to trap moisture inside if not properly ventilated, creating what Tom Flood, the president of Air Technology in Hilliard, calls a "giant petri dish." This was especially a problem in the 1980s and '90s, when builders commonly put plastic between the studs and drywall as a moisture barrier.

• During the housing boom, homes didn't receive the attention from swamped inspectors that they might have otherwise.

Steve Verssen, owner of Vertech, a Cincinnati inspection service that has been involved in central Ohio mold cases, recalls teaching a group of home inspectors three or four years ago in a Columbus-area home under construction. A building inspector drove up, jotted down some notes on a clipboard and drove off, without ever approaching the home.

"When things were busy, that's what happened," Verssen said.

He thinks some mold problems might be caught if inspectors scrutinized the envelope of a building before it is covered by siding - including the sheathing, the weather wrap and window flashing - in addition to the mechanicals and structural items. (Some city inspectors examine building envelopes, but such inspections are rare.)

Zacks agrees and urges homebuyers to test for mold or moisture if they have any doubts, even if the home passed city inspections.

"People think if the house has a bill of occupancy, it's safe," he said. "But it might not be."

Homeowners who do find mold and hope for relief from their insurance companies are likely to be disappointed. According to the Ohio Insurance Institute, most companies dropped standard mold coverage from their language eight or 10 years ago because of the volume of claims.

As part of his monthlong efforts to repair mold damage to the home of Lori Lee, right, contractor Craig Reichman tries to match wood to replace flooring near a rear sliding door.
Tom Dodge | DISPATCH
As part of his monthlong efforts to repair mold damage to the home of Lori Lee, right, contractor Craig Reichman tries to match wood to replace flooring near a rear sliding door.
Craig Reichman had to deal with mold-damaged stucco and doors.
Tom Dodge | DISPATCH
Craig Reichman had to deal with mold-damaged stucco and doors.
Several pieces of tile needed to be replaced in the family's laundry room.
Several pieces of tile needed to be replaced in the family's laundry room.

Breaking the mold

Every home will build up mildew and mold in moist areas such as bathrooms. Much of it is harmless if regularly cleaned. But some types of mold, such as stachybotrys, can be serious, especially to children and those with allergies or respiratory problems such as asthma.

The clearest evidence of mold is seeing it. Other clues that your home might have a hidden mold problem include:

• Moisture routinely appears on inside walls or windows.

• Dark water streaks appear on the outside walls of the home, suggesting black mold behind the wall.

• Screws, electrical receptacles or other metal pieces in the wall are rusty.

• The home has a musty smell.

• Floors under carpet along exterior walls are damp.

• The home's residents have coughs, watery eyes or sore throats they can't shake.

Steps to take

• Monitor indoor humidity with a hygrometer. Readings should be below 50 percent in the summer and below 35 percent in the winter.

• Place a dehumidifier in damp areas such as basements.

• Open windows or use exhaust fans when producing moisture in the bathroom or kitchen.

• Remove carpet in damp areas such as basements.

• Contact a mold inspector or other specialist if mold is visible on drywall, wood floors or other organic surfaces. Such inspectors aren't licensed, so consumers should check their credentials and ask how long they've been in business and how they've been trained and certified.

• Contact a lawyer if you think you have a legal case against the builder, but expect to spend in the five figures if you sue.

Sources: Air Technology Inc.; National Mold Remediation; David Stubbs; Vertech Inc.; Jerry Warner; Zacks Law Group

Additional sources