2014 Big Johnson College Bowl Mania

BigJohnsonSure, maybe your favorite college team won’t quite make it to a bowl game this year, though with 39 of them I can’t imagine how they could avoid it. In either case, you still can enter (and WIN) Kim’s

Big Johnson College Bowl Mania

This free contest involves choosing the winning team for each of the 39 (OMG!) upcoming college football bowl  games, to be played between Saturday, December 20 and Monday, January 12. All you have to do to win some crappy little prize is pick more winners than Kim, and judging from recent results that shouldn’t be very tough!

To win First Prize – A $200 Amazon Gift Card – you have to pick more winners than anyone in the Big Johnson group. (For the tiebreaker, if it’s needed, you have to guess the score of the College Football Playoff Championship game.)

Second Prize is a tin of Mrs. Hanes Moravian Sugar Crisp Cookies. Mmmmm . . .

Did I mention that it’s FREE ?!

You enter the contest by going to the ESPN website

ESPN College Bowl Mania

and following the instructions. Choose the “straight” mode, not the “confidence” mode. There is no cost – it’s free. You are welcome to invite your friends – any friend of yours is a friend of mine. If you don’t make your picks when you sign up, I suggest you also allow ESPN to send you a reminder about your picks. Also, I will be sending updates to participants, so be sure you actually look at whatever email address you use to sign up.

To join the Big Johnson group – after you submit your entry settings, click on the link Create Or Join A Group. (It might be under the rightmost tab next to the Facebook friends tab.) Search for the group named Big Johnson, and join the group using the password, “kimsentme“. You can join the group as soon as you create your entry – you don’t have to make any picks first. Let me know if you have any problems getting into the group. Only one entry allowed per person in the Big Johnson, though you can certainly create other entries for other groups.

Register and submit your entry no later than the first kickoff of the first games of the college football bowl  season (Saturday, December 20, 11:00 AM EST) at which point the game will lock and no additional picks can be made. If you change your mind about a game, you can go back and change your picks until the first game starts.

There is a wrinkle this year due to the introduction of the College Football Playoff. Since you don’t know which specific teams will be in the championship game, you have to decide by December 20 if the winner of the January 1 Rose Bowl game (Oregon or Florida State) will win or lose to the winner of the Sugar Bowl game (Alabama or Ohio State). Fortunately you can always flip a coin.

Thanks for playing, and happy holidays!

Springfield Town Center UPDATE

Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) is paying Vornado $465 million for the former Springfield Mall, and the image here shows why:

Springfield Town Center artist rendition
Springfield Town Center?

This drawing was created by Vornado for the site’s 2009 rezoning. PREIT is including it in investor documents to show shareholders and potential tenants what’s to come. PREIT notes it will “have access to 3.3 million square feet of development rights to eventually create on the property to enhance value even more.” That 3.3 million square feet includes nearly 500,000 square feet of office, roughly 1,900 new residential units, 360,000 square feet of hotel space and 74,000 more square feet of retail.

The opening date currently looks to be October 17.

From permit requests and other sources, these are the latest tenants:

  • Zinburger, what will be a 5,500-square-foot wine and burger bar. The nearest Zinburger is in Charlottesville.
  • &Pizza (pronounced “andpizza”), for its first Virginia location.
  • J. Crew
  • Ann Taylor LOFT
  • Charlotte Russe
  • White House/Black Market
  • Chico’s
  • American Eagle Outfitters
  • Sephora
  • Mon Cheri Nails & Spa
  • Reeds Jewelers
  • Springfield Therapeutic Massage
  • Soma
  • Cartoon Cuts

PREIT also has released a handful of names in investor relations documents including “targeted tenants” such as Urban Outfitters, L.L. Bean, Balducci’s and Nordstrom Rack.

Big Johnson Basketball Challenge Winners!

BigJohnsonHow did your brackets do?

For most of us, the early Duke loss created havoc in our Men’s NCAA Basketball bracket. But there were a ton of upsets in other games too that brought everyone back to the middle. And then there was the Women’s NCAA Basketball tournament which wound up pitting the undefeated Notre Dame Irishwomen against the similarly undefeated UConn Huskies. If you were in the Big Johnson – my free contest – you had to enter BOTH of these and bite your nails all the way through lat night’s game.

Who came out on top after the UConn Men’s and Women’s teams won their respective tournaments?

basketballThe Big Johnson Champion for 2014, compiling 2290 points from the two tournaments, is Kevin Burns of Norman, Oklahoma – who won an Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display! Coming in second and winning a small token of appreciation was Joel Rosen.

The winners of the separate Men’s and Women’s brackets respectively were Geoff Young of Chantilly, Virginia (well, he works there) by 30 points over Brendan Hannemann (one of mine) and Chris Hannemann of Berkeley, California (also mine) by 20 points over Jed McClellan. Geoff and Chris each won an Apple iPod Nano!

Congratulations to all of them, and to me as well – after a horrendous start, only Kevin, Joel, Jed and two others topped my score:  Mike Merrick of Alexandria, Virginia and “Jonno623” who has not yet identified himself to me. All these folks won $10 Amazon gift cards.

Bad Photos Phriday

This is the second in a series of posts about stupid photos taken by real estate agents and actually posted to their local MLS. I know they were taken by agents because professional photographers certainly wouldn’t allow such trash to sully their equipment. I’m not the only one to post the photos – some call them Bad Real Estate Photos or Bad MLS Photos. While the photos come from a variety of sources (submissions from you are gladly acknowledged!), one of the best is terriblerealestateagentphotographs, which is anonymous, and his/her captions are understated but hilarious and hard to improve on.

Today’s photos “highlight” one of my many pet peeves, the Tilt-O-Matic home photo. Without further ado:

Would it look less unbalanced with an equal number of windows on each side of the entrance?
Would it look less unbalanced with an equal number of windows on each side of the entrance?
This house recently developed a slow puncture, but may not be totally beyond repair.
This house recently developed a slow puncture, but may not be totally beyond repair.
I strongly recommend immediate viewing of this property, before it slides down the road into the neighboring somewhat more unsavory school district.
I strongly recommend immediate viewing of this property, before it slides down the road into the neighboring somewhat more unsavory school district.
Modern building techniques now allow completed houses to be dropped into position from a great height - with variable results.
Modern building techniques now allow completed houses to be dropped into position from a great height – with variable results.

“Deed Processing Notice” – It’s A Scam

Example of Scam Notice

Attorney General Mark R. Herring is warning Virginia property owners to be cautious of companies offering to sell them a copy of the deed to their home. Homeowners throughout the state have been receiving official looking letters, often titled as a “Deed Processing Notice,” that offer to sell homeowners a copy of their deed for $83. The letters include language that may result in the homeowner believing he or she must comply by a specific date.

“Even though these letters look like official notices, they are actually solicitations and should be treated as such,” Attorney General Herring said. “Most home and property owners will receive a copy of their deed at the time of purchase, but if a deed is lost or needs to be replaced, county clerks can often do so at a much lower price. Consumers should read these letters carefully and know they are under no obligation to take action by any artificial deadline.” Or any action at all, for that matter.

Herring said homeowners should know that they are under no obligation to pay these entities or to purchase a copy of their deed. In fact, copies of deeds are usually available from the local clerk of court at a much lower rate than offered in these letters. For example, copies of deeds (typically 2-3 page documents) are available from some local court clerks for as little as $0.50 per page, plus $2 if a certified copy is desired. Consumers are encouraged to check with their local court clerk for pricing information.

How Much Tougher is It to Get Approved for a Mortgage?

preapproveA raft of new mortgage lending rules that went into effect this year change the way consumers borrow and pay back home loans. Designed to put behind us the irresponsible lending that disrupted the housing market and badly damaged the U.S. economy, the changes are designed to protect you from bad mortgage lenders and set clear standards for what a homebuyer or homeowner can afford (and should pay) for a mortgage.

The rules come care of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Its director, Richard Cordray, said that consumers whose income, debts, or credit profile fall outside the rules won’t be stopped from getting a loan. Lenders can continue to use their own reasonable judgment when looking at a consumer’s ability to repay.

But lenders who go outside the standards lose some legal protection from consumer lawsuits, so it’ll be interesting to see which borrowers they’re willing to make those outside-the-box loans to.

Meanwhile, here’s how consumers are most likely to be affected by the CFPB rules, plus other recent mortgage market changes, like the lowering of the maximum size of FHA loans.


  • Homeowners with solid income, lots of home equity, and excellent credit. If you want to borrow much less than your home is worth and have great credit and plenty of income to pay your monthly bills, you’ll easily meet the new standards.
  • First-time homebuyers. Most FHA and many low downpayment loans will meet the new safe loan standards. Those with marginal credit or other impairments that raise questions about their ability to repay a mortgage will likely face the same hurdles they faced before the rule.
  • Homeowners whose lenders don’t treat them right. If your servicer loses your payments, doesn’t answer when you write to ask questions, or forces you to buy expensive insurance you don’t need, things are looking up. The new mortgage rules set standards for posting payments and answering your questions promptly, and stop mortgage lenders from forcing you to buy insurance you don’t need.
  • Homeowners who don’t like to shop around. In the past, lenders paid loan officers a bonus for pushing customers into higher-interest rate loans. Now, lenders can’t do that anymore. Plus, lenders who charge you more than 1.5% above the going interest rate will lose protection from lawsuits.

When you’re shopping, ask if you’re getting a “qualified mortgage” – that’s the official name for a loan that meets the new guidelines. You’ll know that your loan is amongst the safest for you and within 1.5% of the rate most people with good credit are paying.

With the added protections, and more stringent lending policies, come potential hardships for some people. The new rule could restrict lending by at least 10%, and higher than that in some regions, which can create some difficulties in our economic recovery, says Jeff Kibbey, primary legal counsel for Century Mortgage Co. The future of homeownership depends on greater access to credit. “Over the past 8 years, homeownership in the U.S. has decreased while many in the growing population have turned to renting instead of buying a home,” said NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun. “We need to ensure that good, creditworthy renters can someday have the appropriate access to credit so they can build equity through homeownership.”

So who stands to have a tougher time in the new lending environment?

  • Minorities and modest-income Americans. Credit continues to be so tight that responsible buyers are having trouble attaining homeownership, Yun said. Homeownership among African-Americans has fallen to just above 43%, down from just under 50% in 2004, and African-American net worth has been cut in half due to higher unemployment and the foreclosure crisis.
  • Owners and buyers of higher-priced homes in high-cost areas. If you’re buying or selling a higher-cost home, finding a mortgage can be costly if the home’s value is more than the FHA or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan limits of $417,000 and $625,500 in the highest-cost areas.
  • If your mortgage is greater than the limits, you (or your home’s buyers) will need a “jumbo” loan, which usually means a FICO mortgage credit score of 720 or better and putting as much as 20% down or buying private mortgage insurance.
  • Middle-income Americans who fall outside the new guidelines. First-time homebuyers trying to purchase a $350,000 house aren’t going to have a lot of loan options if they can’t get an FHA or Fannie/Freddie guaranteed loan, predicts Bankrate.com senior financial analyst Greg McBride. Those with bigger bank accounts, say a homebuyer purchasing a $900,000 home, won’t have the same difficulties. That richer borrower is an appealing customer for related financial products so a bank is more likely to give him a loan that falls outside the new guidelines to land him as a customer.
  • Single homebuyers. Dual-income households tend to have higher credit scores because they have a second paycheck to fall back on in a financial crisis. Restrictive mortgage lending standards favor higher credit scores, McBride said.
  • Mortgage borrowers in Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Borrowers in those four states will pay 0.25% more to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s loan programs. The fee is being levied because foreclosures take a long time to process in those states, so the mortgage giants lose more money when they have to foreclose on homeowners there.
  • Mortgage borrowers with fluctuating income who’ve had a bad year or two, including business owners, commissioned salespeople, or executives who didn’t get that big bonus. There’s a new emphasis on ability to repay and that starts with proving you have steady income, says McBride.
  • Mortgage borrowers with lots of debt. If your car payments, student loans, or other installment debt take up more than 43% of your income, and you can’t qualify for an FHA or GSE loan, you won’t meet the new lending standards, so you may have a hard time finding a mortgage, McBride said.

Win An iPad! No, Really!

basketballIt’s once again that time when people all over the country stop doing what they are doing and feverishly consider their picks for the NCAA Basketball Tournaments so they can enter the TWELFTH Annual Big Johnson COED College Basketball Tournament Classic, sponsored by yours truly, on ESPN. Yes, it’s 100% FREE!

Here’s your chance to Stick It To The Man – yet again! A new Apple iPad Mini RETINA DISPLAY (yes, I am certifiably insane) awaits the talented owner of the highest COMBINED score of the Men’s and Women’s Big Johnsons! (YOUR gender is irrelevant. I am referring to the separate basketball tournaments.) For the winner of EACH tournament, it’s a personalized 16GB iPod NANO (your choice of color). Anyone else who gets more points than The Man will win an AMAZON.COM gift card.

How difficult can this contest really be? Well, there might be upsets. Or not. And gee, there are only – uh, lessee, 64 teams in each tournament – okay, 126 total games. (Not counting the four men’s play-in games, which we don’t.) You might as well pick your teams based on the cheerleader pom-pom colors. (Fits right into my wheelhouse because I haven’t watched a single game so far. If you don’t do as well as me, there’s something wrong.) In fact, I believe that’s pretty much what last year’s winners did.

Remember, enter BOTH the Men’s and Women’s tournaments if you want a shot at the big prize.

Men – can the Wichita State Shockers continue their improbable undefeated season all the way to the end?

Women – will undefeated UCONN sweep the table, or will the similarly undefeated NOTRE DAME call on “Three-Point Jesus” to take it all . . . or neither one?

The brackets are being set by the NCAA (Men’s Sunday March 16; Women’s Monday March 17). The men’s first round games that count start on Thursday March 20, and the women’s first games are on Saturday March 22 – and the brackets are locked shortly before the first game of each tournament. That doesn’t leave you much time, so GET GOING!

You can get there through the following URLs:BigJohnson
** Men’s Tournament Challenge:   http://games.espn.go.com/tcmen/frontpage
** Women’s Tournament Challenge:   http://games.espn.go.com/tcwomen/frontpage

I know some of you like to fake out ESPN with an alias and throwaway email, but please be sure I can identify you from your name or the name of your entry. Or send me a note.

The Group Name on ESPN is “Big Johnson” for each tournament, and the group password is:  kimsentme. That’s right, “kimsentme,” one word.

After you create your entry, be sure to join the Big Johnson group in each tournament! ONLY ONE ENTRY PER PERSON MAY BE IN MY GROUP. And, if you create your entry before the brackets are set, be sure to return in time to choose your winners before they lock. Most people will wait until a day or two before the tournaments start, but don’t forget! You will be humiliated as your entries with zero points sink inexorably to the bottom of the group . . . or I will remove them to save you the embarrassment.

ESPN tracks your points as the tournaments progress. I will weigh in every now and then with a Big Johnson update note.

FRIENDS ARE WELCOME, so you can forward this if you wish. Don’t forget your Significant Other – he or she may not have received this email directly, so be sure to forward it. Just be sure they identify themselves to me in their entry!