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Boston Real Estate Now | Scott Van Voorhis

A quicker second chance after foreclosure

Highlights from the Boston
Real Estate Now blog.

If you lost your home in a foreclosure or short sale, Uncle Sam says you deserve a second chance.

Forget about waiting three to seven years after losing your house to qualify for a government-backed mortgage.

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The Federal Housing Administration has reduced the waiting period to 12 months — provided you can show you lost your home due to an “economic event” stemming from the recession. Before you can get a green light, you have to show you have not been late on your rent over the past year and take a housing counseling course, among other requirements.

On the face of it, the new FHA rules seem fair enough to me. Most of us know someone who lost their job or took a hit of some sort during the recession.

Still, I wonder whether this opens the door to a new wave of subprime lenders eager to cash in on home buyers with blemished records. After all, no matter how well-intentioned a particular government program or initiative might be, there is too often sort of quasi scam artists or shady operators lurking, ready to take advantage of it.

Ottawa’s battle against sprawl

Greater Boston certainly has its fine points, but it also has its share of just plain ugly suburban sprawl. Just take a drive up and down Route 1 and you’ll get the point.

But sprawl may be with us as long as we have cities, as the experience of Ottawa suggests.

I’m just back from a wonderful week in the Canadian capital with my family.

Just a little bigger than Boston, Ottawa is a city that has gone all out to defeat urban sprawl, surrounding the city’s downtown neighborhoods with a ring of parks and a 1,000-acre “experimental farm” that dates to the 1880s. In addition, just a five-minute drive from downtown is Gatineau Park, a relatively narrow but roughly 40-mile-long wildlife preserve that juts out into Ottawa’s environs. It would be as if the Blue Hills Reservation extended to Framingham.

Yet despite this herculean effort — only possible in a city that was carved out of raw wilderness in the mid-1800s — Ottawa is struggling like many other metro areas with the sprawl issue.

Developers have simply leapfrogged the green zone, creating more distant suburbs that require longer commutes to the jobs in downtown Ottawa. There have been efforts over the years to carve up the green belt and parcel out pieces for development, but predictably those haven’t gone anywhere.

Instead, Ottawa is now turning to solutions that should sound familiar to all of us in Greater Boston, with planning officials pushing for high-rise development near transportation hubs. The result has been an explosion in apartment and condo tower construction across downtown Ottawa.

All that said, Ottawa’s green belt is gorgeous, with miles of jogging and biking paths along the river and canal that weave through and around the city.

Maybe you can’t beat sprawl, but Ottawa gets an A for effort.

Are home prices rising too fast?

Home prices rose 6 percent across the country in July.

But Boston-area prices outpaced even those heady gains, posting an 8.4 percent increase in July compared with the same time last year, online real estate portal Zillow reported last week.

In fact, home prices in Boston, as well as in Brookline, Cambridge, and Arlington, have shattered previous price records, Zillow said.

The increases may be good news for sellers, but it’s definitely bad news for buyers struggling to get a foothold in what is already one of the country’s most expensive housing markets.

Think prices can’t go any higher, that the market will naturally right itself? Well think again.

If anything, the even nuttier prices seen out in some of the major California metros and in the Silicon Valley, are a preview of what the Boston area and Eastern Massachusetts can expect on our current trajectory.

The ever higher home prices we are seeing in the Boston area are bad news all the way around, threatening to drive middle-class homeowners and buyers out to New Hampshire or out of New England altogether.

I’m one of those homeowners and I love living here, but I don’t like the trends I am seeing.

Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate. For the full Boston Real Estate Now blog, visit www.boston.com/realestate.
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