Friday, October 29, 2010

Kroger moving ahead with new Ohio State/Weinland Park/Short North area store

The article is here

Date: Friday, October 29, 2010, 2:05pm EDT

Being of a Halloween season mindset, I quote Dr. Frankenstein: “It’s alive!”

Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. is moving forward with a long-planned project to build a new store on its site at the corner of High Street and Seventh Avenue, just south of Ohio State University.

It should be anything but horrific to Ohio State University students and Weinland Park residents.

Kroger spokeswoman Beth Wilkin said protective fencing will go up next week and construction is expected to begin soon on the 56,000-square-foot store, with an opening expected by the middle of 2011.

The existing 32,000-square-foot store will remain open while the new store is built at the southwest corner of the site, abutting High Street with its entrance facing north. The current store is set back on the site, with an west-facing entrance and its parking lot fronting High Street.

Wilkin could not provide a cost estimate, but said the plans are the same that were proposed more than two years ago. A combination of internal delays and zoning delays had pushed back the start of the project, she said.

The project also includes retail space connected to the store and a separate, almost 9,000-square-foot building to be at the corner of High Street and Seventh.

The street-front buildings will mask the parking on the interior of the site, a goal the University Area Commission hoped to accomplish, helping to create a continuous streetscape along High Street.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NYT: Plunging Mortgage Rates for Refinancing Aid the Thrifty

The story is here

Plunging Rates for Refinancing Aid the Thrifty

For those sober souls who were thrifty long before it became fashionable, the last few years have been intensely aggravating.

They did nothing to cause the recession, but they absorbed the pain. Their stock portfolios languished. The values of their homes skidded. Their savings still do not earn enough interest each month to buy a pack of gum.

Now, at last, the frugal are celebrating. With a leg up on their less creditworthy neighbors, they are qualifying for refinanced home mortgages at interest rates that in any other recent era would have been considered stealing. And unlike in late 2008, when rates started their plunge to historic lows, many lenders say they are rushing to accommodate the influx in applications.

Wilner Samson and Michelle Smedley, both doctors, just refinanced their home in West Hartford, Conn., saving $300 a month. “There were times during the housing boom when I felt I was missing out on a big party,” said Dr. Samson, a kidney specialist. “Now I’m getting my reward.”

Refinancing activity surged in early October when mortgage rates fell for the fifth week in a row, pushing the volume to one of the highest levels of the year, the Mortgage Bankers Association said. Many economists expect the trend to continue as the Federal Reserve moves further to bolster the economy.

And while the credit elite get the best treatment, for the first time since the recession began the rewards of lower rates are beginning to spread to some of those with less than exemplary finances or just more complicated circumstances, according to data from Fannie Mae, which buys millions of mortgages from lenders.

Kathy and Mike Bernreuter have been working on the refinance of their home in Northbrook, Ill., since May. The property taxes in their escrow account were improperly credited, a small mistake that nevertheless threatened to put the mortgage in default. They had to get a home equity loan on their former apartment, which they could not sell, and apply the funds to their house.

It was an ordeal that threatened to ruin their summer — and not so long ago, would have been a nonstarter for most lenders — but the effort paid off.

This month the Bernreuters were told their new loan was on track for approval. Their mortgage payment should soon drop by more than $1,000 a month.

“Now we’ll have more money available to us to actually fix up this house,” said Mrs. Bernreuter.

For competitive reasons, the large lenders are reluctant to reveal their refinancing numbers, but they acknowledged that the news had been getting ever better for many borrowers. JPMorgan Chase, for instance, said that “refinancings have increased dramatically as a percentage of all new mortgages from a year ago, and the refinancing dollar volume has risen even more dramatically.” Chase also said it had added staff to its refinancing unit to process applications more quickly.

Interest rates for 30-year fixed mortgages this week were 4.21 percent, just slightly above the 4.19 percent record set earlier this month, Freddie Mac, the other large mortgage company, said. The current level is estimated to be the lowest since the early 1950s. Two years ago, rates were about 6.5 percent.

Lower rates are merely a dream if you do not qualify. Early on, as the rates were coming down, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were tightening standards on loans they purchased. Lenders would not refinance loans they could not sell to the holding companies.

Now Fannie and Freddie have stopped tightening and may be loosening requirements a bit. The average credit score of a Fannie Mae borrower rose to 761 in 2009, from 716 in 2007. In the second quarter of this year, it was 758.

In 2007, before housing started to slide in earnest, about one in six Fannie borrowers had less than 10 percent equity in their property. A small slide in values could wipe them out and encourage defaults, which is exactly what happened to many.

Last year, only one in 33 borrowers had that little equity, because of stricter terms by banks. But in the first half of this year, the level was creeping back up, to one in 17.

“The nice thing about this mini-refi boom is that folks who have got into a loan that is a bit of a ticking time bomb have the opportunity to get out,” said Kevin Marshall, president of the research firm Clear Capital.

Another upside of the refinancing surge is that households with more cash in their pocket tend to spend it. And more refinances might also help heal the troubled housing market.

“If you could wave a magic wand and give a refinance to everyone who wanted one, that would absolutely reduce the problem of folks who are defaulting,” said Mr. Marshall.

Bobby Frank, a Valley Stream, N.Y., mortgage broker, offers this advice for homeowners who have been turned down in the past: “Call your bank. Every day, like a hungry dog, call and ask.”

A different approach worked for Tom Foley when he tried to refinance his home in Cape Cod, Mass. His lender, one of the biggest, sent him a letter inviting him to refinance. Then it gave Mr. Foley a lengthy run-around despite what he says is his excellent credit.

Mr. Foley compared his original lender to Hal, the computer in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “They pretend to be personal, but are far from it,” he said. “If there isn’t an office around the corner you can walk to, stay away from it.” He eventually refinanced with a local bank, Sovereign.

Refinances are still a long way from the boom of 2003, when volume reached $2.5 trillion. The Mortgage Bankers Association estimates that this year’s volume will be about $900 billion. Analysts calculate that more than two-thirds of all households with mortgages could benefit from a new loan. Many of those families owe more than their home is worth, which all by itself rules out a refinance. There are no shortage of proposals to create a magic wand to help these 11 million homeowners.

Happy are the borrowers who do not need to wait for aid that may not come. Dr. Samson, the Connecticut physician, was taught the virtues of saving by his father, an immigrant from Haiti who died this month with all bills paid.

Dr. Samson and his wife are not taking the monthly savings from their refinance and spending it. Instead, they are continuing to pay the same amount each month. “Paying down the loan faster opens up options for us,” said Dr. Samson, who is 42. “We might want to retire early.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

NYT: Short Sales Resisted as Foreclosures Are Revived

A good story that explains the nuances and challenges associated with a Short Sale. Remember, each bank and region of the country is different. From my experience, some banks are easier to work with than others.

Short Sales Resisted as Foreclosures Are Revived

PHOENIX — Bank of America and GMAC are firing up their formidable foreclosure machines again today, after a brief pause.

But hard-pressed homeowners like Lydia Sweetland are asking why lenders often balk at a less disruptive solution: short sales, which allow owners to sell deeply devalued homes for less than what remains on their mortgage.

Ms. Sweetland, 47, tried such a sale this summer out of desperation. She had lost her high-paying job and drained her once-flush retirement savings, and her bank, GMAC, wouldn’t modify her mortgage. After seven months of being unable to pay her mortgage, she decided that a short sale would give her more time to move out of her Phoenix home and damage her credit rating less than a foreclosure.

She owes $206,000 and found a buyer who would pay $200,000. Last Friday, GMAC rejected that offer and said it would foreclose in seven days, even though, according to Ms. Sweetland’s broker, the bank estimates it will make $19,000 less on a foreclosure than on a short sale.

“I guess I could salute and say, ‘O.K., I’m walking, here’s the keys,’ ” says Ms. Sweetland, as she sits in a plastic Adirondack chair on her patio. “But I need a little time, and I don’t want to just leave the house vacant. I loved this neighborhood.”

GMAC declined to be interviewed about Ms. Sweetland’s case.

The halt in most foreclosures the last few weeks gave a hint of hope to homeowners like Ms. Sweetland, who found breathing room to pursue alternatives. Consumer advocates took the view that this might pressure banks to offer mortgage modifications on better terms and perhaps drive interest in short sales, which are rising sharply in many corners of the nation.

But some major lenders took a quick inventory of their foreclosure practices and insisted their processes were sound. They now seem intent on resuming foreclosures. And that could have a profound effect on many homeowners.

In Arizona, thousands of homeowners have turned to short sales to avoid foreclosures, and many end up running a daunting procedural gantlet. Several of the largest lenders have set up complicated and balky application systems.

Concerns about fraud are one of the reasons lenders are so careful about short sales. Sometimes well-off homeowners want to portray their finances as dire and cut their losses on a property. In other instances, distressed homeowners try to make a short sale to a relative, who would then sell it back to them (a practice that is illegal). A recent industry report estimates that short sale fraud occurs in at least 2 percent of sales and costs banks about $300 million annually.

Short sales are also hindered when homeowners fail to forward the proper papers, have tax liens or cannot find a buyer.

Because of such concerns, homeowners often are instructed that they must be delinquent and they must apply for a modification first, even if chances of approval are slim. The aversion to short sales also leads banks to take many months to process applications, and some lenders set unrealistically high sales prices — known as broker price opinions — and hire workers who say they are poorly trained.

As a result, quite a few homeowners seeking short sales — banks will not provide precise numbers — topple into foreclosure, sometimes, critics say, for reasons that are hard to understand. Ms. Sweetland and her broker say they are confounded by her foreclosure, because in Arizona’s depressed real estate market, foreclosed homes often sit vacant for many months before banks are able to resell them.

“Banks are historically reluctant to do short sales, fearing that somehow the homeowner is getting an advantage on them,” said Diane E. Thompson, of counsel to the National Consumer Law Center. “There’s this irrational belief that if you foreclose and hold on to the property for six months, somehow prices will rebound.”

Homeowners, advocates and realty agents offer particularly pointed criticism of Bank of America, the nation’s largest servicer of mortgages, and a recipient of billions of dollars in federal bailout aid. Its holdings account for 31 percent of the pending foreclosures in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale, according to an analysis for The Arizona Republic.

The bank instructs real estate agents to use its computer program to evaluate short sales. But in three cases observed by The New York Times in collaboration with two real estate agents, the bank’s system repeatedly asked for and lost the same information and generated inaccurate responses.

In half a dozen more cases examined by The New York Times, Bank of America rejected short sale offers, foreclosed and auctioned off houses at lower prices.

“When I hear that a client’s mortgage is held by Bank of America, I just sigh. Our chances of getting an approval for them just went from 90 percent to 50-50,” said Benjamin Toma, who has a family-run real estate agency in Phoenix.

Bank of America officials also declined interview requests. A Bank of America spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the bank had processed 61,000 short sales nationwide this year; she declined to provide numbers for Arizona or to discuss criticisms of the company’s processing.

Fannie Mae, the mortgage finance company with federal backing, gives cash incentives to encourage servicers, who are affiliated with banks and who oversee great bundles of delinquent mortgages, to approve short sales.

But less obvious financial incentives can push toward a foreclosure rather than a short sale. Servicers can reap high fees from foreclosures. And lenders can try to collect on private mortgage insurance.

Some advocates and real estate agents also point to an April 2009 regulatory change in an obscure federal accounting law. The change, in effect, allowed banks to foreclose on a home without having to write down a loss until that home was sold. By contrast, if a bank agrees to a short sale, it must mark the loss immediately.

Short sales, to be sure, are no free ride for homeowners. They take a hit to their credit ratings, although for three to five years rather than seven after a foreclosure. An owner seeking a short sale must satisfy a laundry list of conditions, including making a detailed disclosure of income, tax and credit liens. And owners must prove that they have no connection to the buyer.

Still, bank decision-making, at least from a homeowner’s perspective, often appears arbitrary. That is certainly the view of Nicholas Yannuzzi, who after 30 years in Arizona still talks with a Philadelphia rasp. Mr. Yannuzzi has owned five houses over time, without any financial problems. When his wife was diagnosed with bone cancer, he put 20 percent down and bought a ranch house in North Scottsdale so that she would not have to climb stairs.

In the last few years, his wife died, he lost his job and he used his retirement fund to pay his mortgage for five months. His bank, Wells Fargo, denied his mortgage modification request and then his request for a short sale.

The bank officer told him that Fannie Mae, which held the mortgage, would not take a discount. At the end of last week, he was waiting to be locked out of his home.

“I’m a proud man. I’ve worked since I was 20 years old,” he said. “But I’ve run out of my 79 weeks of unemployment, so that’s it.”

He shrugged. “I try to keep in the frame of mind that a lot of people have it worse than me.”

Back in Phoenix, Ms. Sweetland’s real estate agent, Sherry Rampy, appeared to receive good news last week. GMAC re-examined her client’s application and suggested it might be approved.

But the bank attached a condition: Ms. Sweetland must come up with $2,000 in closing costs or pay $100 a month for 50 months to the bank. Ms. Sweetland, however, is flat broke.

A late afternoon desert sun angles across her Pasadena neighborhood.

“After this, I’ll never buy again,” Ms. Sweetland says. “This is not the American dream. This is not my American dream.”

In Central Ohio: Home values continue to rise in September

The press release is here

Home values continue to rise in September
Posted: 10/25/2010
Columbus Board of REALTORS®

Home values continue to rise which is good news for central Ohio. The average sale price for the first nine months of the year is $161,204 up 7.4 percent from the beginning of 2010 according to the Columbus Board of REALTORS®.

There were fewer homes listed for sale last month than is customary for September. Over the last five years, there was an average of 3,710 homes added to the market during the month of September. However, last month only 2,997 residential homes were added to the already elevated inventory in central Ohio.

Although slightly lower than August, the total residential listings in September (16,728) was still higher than it’s been since August of 2008 when the inventory level rose to 16,975.

“Inventory levels had come down over the last year and a half – which is what we were working towards,” said Sue Lusk-Gleich, President of the Columbus Board of REALTORS®. “When inventory levels are too high, the increased competition forces some homeowners to sell at prices that are too low which in turn often affects the values of other neighboring homes.”

“In order to re-balance the market, we either need the inventory to decrease or the number of buyers to increase. And since the tax credit incentives brought many buyers into the market earlier than we would have seen otherwise, we have a smaller pool of potential home buyers to absorb the inventory now.”

Home sales were down 28.4 percent in September and the number of homes that went into contract was also down almost 25 percent which doesn’t bode well for October home sales.

“When comparing sales figures to the previous year, we need to remember that home sales have been elevated since April of 2008 due to the tax credits,” adds Lusk-Gleich. “Even so, sales are still up four percent year to date.”

Click here for additional central Ohio housing statistics.

Click here for Ohio home sales statistics

Click here for the national home sales release

The Columbus Board of REALTORS® Multiple Listing Service (MLS) serves all of Franklin, Delaware, Fayette, Madison, Morrow, Pickaway and Union Counties and parts of Champagne, Clark, Hocking, Licking, Fairfield, Knox, Logan, Marion, and Ross Counties.

Weinland Park: Abandoned apartments set for demolition

Read the story here

A former center of operations for the Short North Posse that once terrorized the city’s Weinland Park neighborhood will soon get demolished.

Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment got control of the two vacant apartment buildings in September as part of plans to redevelop the site under a broader redevelopment strategy for several distressed properties in the neighborhood.

Campus Partners President Doug Achenbach said the properties at 1407 N. Fourth St. and 1415 N. St., which have a combined 34 apartments, have experienced both financial and physical hardships since being sold for $840,000 just six years ago. The properties most recently were part of a bankruptcy estate before the nonprofit Affordable Housing Trust of Columbus and Franklin County gained control of the properties this year. Aschenbach said they had racked up $150,000 in overdue property taxes as well as a long list of code violations.

A ceremony celebrating the demolition is slated for 3 p.m. Monday. The actual demolition must await completion of asbestos removal from the home at a cost of $110,000.

While single-family homes likely will replace the buildings, that tentative plan must still go through the neighborhood’s Weinland Park Community Civic Association.

“We’re seeking an appropriate use,” Aschenbach said. “Everything we do, we want to do with the residents’ engagement so it’s in line with the goals of the neighborhood.”

Campus Partners has been working with the Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the United Way and the city of Columbus on a broader redevelopment strategy in the area under the Weinland Park Collaborative umbrella. That effort also includes Wagenbrenner Development Co.’s plans for housing on the former Columbus Coated Fabrics site and other nearby properties.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grid Furnishings Opening in November in the Short North

A new furniture store is scheduled to open early next month in the Short North.

Grid Furnishings will occupy the storefront at 944 N. High St. and carry mid-price modern furniture lines designed in North America, such as Minneapolis-based Blu Dot and Toronto-based Gus* Modern.

“As a nationally recognized center for art and galleries in the Midwest, I believe the obvious extension of the Short North is similar to SoHo, which has become the furniture district of New York,” says Grid owner Tim Friar.

Click here to read more

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Columbus Neighborhoods: German Village airs tomorrow night on WOSU-TV 34 at 9pm

The second part of WOSU's look at Columbus Neighborhoods, German Village, will air on WOSU TV on Oct. 21, at 9pm.

For those who missed it, Short North will air at 8pm, before German Village.

The Nomination of the Old Beechwold Neighborhood to the Columbus Register of Historic Places



For Immediate Release: October 20, 2010

For More Information:

John Ivanic


Councilmember Priscilla R. Tyson to Host Public Hearing on Nomination of the Old Beechwold Neighborhood to the Columbus Register of Historic Places

Councilmember Priscilla R. Tyson will host a public hearing on the nomination of the Old Beechwold neighborhood to the Columbus Register of Historic Places. Old Beechwold is located in the Clintonville area of Columbus and is one of city’s oldest neighborhoods.

The Columbus Register of Historic Places is the city's official listing of individual properties, groups and districts of historic and architectural significance. Columbus has 17 historic districts and 59 individual buildings listed on the Register.

Columbus City Councilmember Priscilla R. Tyson

Columbus Historic Preservation Officer Randy Black

Old Beechwold Neighborhood Representatives

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
5:00 pm

Columbus City Council Chambers

City Hall, 2nd Floor

90 West Broad Street

Columbus, OH 43215


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Columbus Food Adventures

Mike Beaumont shoots great videos. These will make you hungry!

Columbus Food Adventures - Short North Tour from Mike Beaumont on Vimeo.

Columbus Food Adventures - Alt Eats Tour from Mike Beaumont on Vimeo.

Travel the world without leaving Columbus – this tour’s itinerary will introduce you to some of the best ethnic food in the city. We’ll visit a Middle Eastern bakery, eat Vietnamese sandwiches, sample Somali food, enjoy a ‘trip’ to Persia… and more. This tour centers on the thriving ethnic enclaves of north Cleveland Avenue, where much of Columbus’s immigrant community lives, eats, and plays.

Columbus Food Adventures - Taco Truck Tour from Mike Beaumont on Vimeo.

Taco trucks serve up far more than just tacos, and nobody knows Columbus’s expansive taco truck scene better than Columbus Food Adventures. This van tour will explore the taco trucks of west side, taking you to some of our favorites and providing you with the best of Mexican food in Columbus. Each stop includes a tasting, and the tour is structured with an emphasis on individual truck specialties as well as the diversity of regional cuisine found at these trucks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Columbus Dispatch: Some grads use homebuyer grants to stay in Ohio

Sunday, October 17, 2010 11:23 PM

The Columbus Dispatch

More than 100 college graduates have used a new subsidy to buy a home in the Buckeye State during the past 12 months - signaling their desire to build a future in Ohio even as others leave.

The state unveiled the Grants for Grads program a year ago to try to reverse Ohio's "brain drain."

State officials say the program is helping local businesses find qualified workers by keeping more college graduates home. But they concede that more work needs to be done.

"Grants for Grads is one creative way to encourage talented young people to call Ohio home, but it's only one way," Gov. Ted Strickland said.

Recent college graduates won't buy a house in a community if they don't have a job, Strickland said. He said other state programs are aimed at encouraging job-creation.

The home-buying program offers a grant worth up to 2.5 percent of the purchase price and a lower interest rate on a 30-year loan. To be eligible, applicants must have earned a college degree within the past 18 months and have graduated from an Ohio high school. The college degree can be anything from an associate to a graduate degree from a school inside or outside the state.

The money can be used toward a down payment or closing costs. It doesn't have to be repaid as long as the buyers live in Ohio for five years. If they don't, the state uses a lien on the house to recoup money.

Since last October, 120 recent college graduates have received assistance through the program. Of those, 90 percent have been between the ages of 20 and 30. The majority - 83 percent - have been white. And more than half had credit scores above 700 points, which is usually considered good enough to get borrowers more financing options and better interest rates, said Cindy Flaherty, director of homeownership for the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which operates the program.

As of last week, the agency had invested $329,218 in the program, which is paid primarily through the issuance of tax-exempt mortgage-revenue bonds, Flaherty said.

Participants on average received $3,076 in down-payment assistance and paid $120,205 for their homes, she said.

The agency had hoped to attract 200 potential homebuyers, but it didn't hit that target because of the lousy economy. Flaherty expects interest to rise as word of the program spreads.

It is difficult to tell if the program is reaching young people who might have been considering fleeing the state, but it gives them a reason to stay, said Jeff Brader, executive vice president of Concord Mortgage Group in Westerville.

The agency currently is offering a 4.25 percent interest rate, which is up to half a percentage point lower than its other first-time homebuyers programs, he said.

The program is available to more people than other first-time homebuyers programs, said Brader, president of the Ohio Mortgage Bankers Association. A person or couple from Franklin County, for instance, must earn less than $82,320 instead of the more-typical $68,600 for other programs.

The finance agency also sets a maximum allowable price for an area, but those aren't that restrictive, he said. In the Columbus area, the amount is up to $375,375.

"The biggest obstacle for new graduates, many of whom are paying student loans, is ... coming up with the $5,000 down payment," Brader said. "This program takes care of that problem."

Grants for Grads was never meant as a cure-all to Ohio's brain-drain problem, said state Sen. Steve Buehrer, who sponsored the bill that created it. "It's just one avenue to help keep Ohio college graduates from looking everywhere but Ohio for job opportunities," said Buehrer, a Republican from Delta.

In 2007, Ohio had a net loss of 1,517 bachelor's degree holders and 1,555 graduate-degree holders to other states. That's better than in 2006, when Ohio had a net loss of 9,120 college graduates, but it's still not good enough, state officials say.

"If we offer enough incentives, we can keep at least some of these people at home," Buehrer said. "And if a person stays five years, they're much more likely to spend their lives here."

To get more information, go to

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New York Times: The Tools You Really Need to Maintain Your Home (for $253)

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

From left: a Dewalt cordless drill, a hammer with hickory handle, a Bosch jigsaw, a single-edge pull saw and a ratcheting multi-bit screwdriver.

I DON’T love working on my house.

I have a full-time job and a similarly situated wife, four children, two dogs, one cat, various subordinate pets (fish, gecko), a tower of unread books and hobbies that purr at me when I have a free moment.

I also have a 40-year-old, 2,000-square-foot colonial-style home that creaks, leaks and breaks frequently, and because this place protects my family and welcomes my friends, I oblige.

I tackle these jobs with a collection of tools that has diminished in stunning lockstep with my children’s ability to reach the toolbox.

The last time I peeked in that box, it contained two vise grips, four ancient standard screwdrivers, a screwdriver with six replaceable bits, two adjustable crescent wrenches, needle-nose pliers, a narrow chisel I didn’t buy (I’m not sure where it came from), a spackling knife and one tool I have never seen before and have no idea how to use. My hammer is wherever my children last used it.

Recently, I decided to give my toolbox a makeover, and assembled what I’ll call my tool committee. The members: Joe Ball, a vice president for construction operations for Pulte Group, a prolific home builder; Ken Stone, director of the Hobby Shop, a playground of sorts for some of the top engineering minds in the world, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Donna Shirey, president of Shirey Contracting and chairwoman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Division.

They didn’t agree on everything, but there was near consensus on the major stuff.

The upshot: spend $250 or so on about a dozen tools, and you’ll have all you need to avoid repeated treks to the hardware store. It’ll cost $253 if you include Ms. Shirey’s purple spray paint, but more on that later.

To start off, you need a hammer. In theory, at least, there should be nothing nuanced about this purchase. It’s steel, it smashes things, you’re good.

But there’s also nothing nuanced about the elbow pain you’ll feel if you choose a steel-handled hammer for your annual nail-banging jag.

Do yourself a favor and buy a hammer with a hickory or ash handle, since wood absorbs shock instead of delivering it straight to your bones. It’ll look beautiful when you hand it off to your grown child, and your arm will be in much better shape to present your gift.

You’ll want a hammer with a curved claw for pulling nails, not the straight claw favored by wrecking crews and framers. And you’ll want a smooth-face hammer, not corrugated, so you don’t permanently crosshatch your door frame (or thumb) when you swing and miss. While you’re at it, look closely at the hammer’s face to make sure it’s good and flat. Nails that are hit with an angled or otherwise flawed surface are more likely to bend. (You can go on the cheap, with a $5 hickory-handle hammer from Sears, or spend around $16 on something more refined, like Plumb’s 16-ounce Premium Hickory Autograf curved claw hammer.)

A screwdriver purchase can be even more nuanced, if you let it happen. Don’t let it happen.

Buy a multihead screwdriver instead, said Mr. Stone of M.I.T. It should have at least two different size bits for slotted and Phillips screws, as well as Robertson (square) and Torx bits.

My screwdriver is ratcheted, which is easier on the wrist, but that’s not essential. Nor is it crucial to buy a screwdriver that stores the bits in the handle, but it will save you from buying replacements.

“You can’t really see the quality of the steel from looking at it, so buy a good-quality set from a reliable source,” Mr. Stone said. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.” One option: the Stanley FatMax Ratcheting Multi-Bit Screwdriver, for about $10.

And those bits you store in your screwdriver? They’ll come in handy for the testosterone-boosting, .357 magnum of the toolkit: the cordless drill.

If you have to ask, you don’t understand.

But just for the record, toolmakers could charge much more than the $50 going rate for one of these bad boys, and home repair kings would gladly pay.

Mr. Ball, of Pulte Group, actually recommends a cordless hammer drill, which is twice as expensive as a standard drill. “That really opens up the ability of the tool,” he said. “And it’ll last you a lifetime.” One suggestion: the DeWalt 1/2-inch, 18-volt Cordless Compact Hammerdrill kit, including battery and charger, for around $220.

He also recommends a one-inch-wide, 25-foot-long tape measure with a lock. You may never need one that wide, but the first time you encounter a high ceiling and your skinny tape measure droops instead of standing straight, you’ll pine for one.

In the “things that grab” category, pliers are vital. Buy a standard pair and needle-nose, and add a pair of 12-inch slip-joint pliers, for times when you need maximum torque or a wide mouth (think pipes). “They’re very versatile in general,” Mr. Stone said. “They’ll give you a much wider range of options.”

Finally, crown your arsenal with Mole-Grip pliers, commonly known as Vise-Grips.

“If you’re trying to turn that faucet that’s all frozen up, or if you strip the bolt off a bicycle, you’ll need something with some teeth and some leverage,” Mr. Ball said. “This will do it.”

Next, wrenches. You’ll need one adjustable wrench and a set of standard and metric wrenches — each with one closed, or “box,” end and one open end. (Ms. Shirey said she can do without the wrench set: “I like the adjustable one because I don’t want too many things in my toolbox.”)

A set of socket wrenches — metric and standard — also helps in the age of unassembled furniture.

Few homeowners or renters will escape their tenure without a shelf-building escapade. You can prevent it from becoming a shelf-building calamity with a level and an electronic stud finder. They’re sold as a unit, but you may want to buy them separately if you like the feel and versatility of a two-foot-long level.

If you succeed in building shelves, you may graduate to hanging a door or replacing trim. A footlong wrecking bar is essential, especially one with a nicely tapered edge so you can slip it beneath existing wood. “You don’t want to go with anything crude for this,” Mr. Stone said. “Otherwise you can damage the wood around the area you’re working on.”

Light carpentry jobs will also require a handsaw small enough to fit in your toolbox. Be sure it cuts on the pull stroke — that’s easier than cutting on the push stroke. One popular option is the Stanley FatMax Single-Edge Pull Saw, about $16.

As an untrained owner of a circular saw who has nearly severed a finger more than once, I was swayed by his advice to eschew circular saws in favor of jigsaws. “They’re fast, and they can cut straight or in curves,” he said. “They’re also way safer.” He recommended the Bosch JS470E 7-amp jigsaw with a top handle, for about $190. Another option is Bosch’s 5-amp jigsaw, for around $125.

Toss in a small assortment of screws, drywall fasteners and eight-penny nails, a small notebook (for recording dimensions) and a carpenter’s pencil, and you’re set.

Except for the spray paint, that is.

Ms. Shirey marks her tools with a dash of purple spray paint, so everyone knows whose toolbox they belong in. “Everyone in the family has a different color,” she said.

Speaking of which: if you have teenagers, add a combination lock. Give them the combination when you hand them that beautiful old hammer, then invite them over for a shelf-building party.

HAMMER WITH HICKORY HANDLE $5 at Sears, (877) 425-8279,


DEWALT 18-VOLT CORDLESS COMPACT HAMMERDRILL KIT About $220, (800) 433-9258,; more basic drills are about $50.

BOSCH 5-AMP JIGSAW About $125, (877) 267-2499,

STANLEY FATMAX SINGLE-EDGE PULL SAW About $16, (800) 262-2161,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Columbus Dispatch: Columnist Mike Harden dies after battle with cancer

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 10:15 PM

The Columbus Dispatch

Mike Harden, whose columns have been appearing in The Dispatch since 1983, died tonight after a battle with cancer. He was 64.

"He had the gift," said former Dispatch editor Luke Feck. "He had that unique skill to make the complex understandable, to see the funny side of the follies of people."

In recent years, Harden had semiretired. Even then, he was still writing two columns a week.

Harden wrote often and honestly about his lean upbringing on the West Side. The family eventually moved to West Jefferson, where Harden graduated in 1964 from West Jefferson High School. He worked at the Westinghouse plant on W. Broad Street, then in December 1965 enlisted in the Navy. He served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam with the Navy and the Marines.

Harden later enrolled at Ohio State University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1973. From 1975 to 1978, he worked as a writer and editor for the Ohio Historical Society. He also worked as an associate editor for Ohio magazine, as a contributing editor at Columbus Monthly and as a speechwriter at Nationwide Insurance Cos. before becoming a columnist for the Columbus Citizen-Journal in 1981.

Two years later, he was hired by The Dispatch.

Harden's column ranged widely, from humor and human-interest to profiles. He created an alter ego, Aunt Gracie, who commented on the idiosyncrasies of life from her fictional perch in the southern Ohio town of Methane. The character was so vivid, a few readers thought she was real.

Throughout his career, Harden won many statewide and national awards, including honors from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the Associated Press. Collections of his columns were published as books, and he also wrote Fight for Life, the story of a Columbus-area father's successful battle to get an epilepsy drug legalized so his daughter could take it.

Inside the newsroom, he was widely respected, both for his writing knowledge and his generosity in sharing it.

"He was a throwback, a traditional newsman who understood that he was the eyes and ears of his readers," said Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison. "His passing is a great loss to our newspaper and the community."

Harden is survived by his wife, Debra; daughter Annie; sons Erik and Aaron; stepdaughter Jen; and six grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.