Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mountain Oyster Club

Last month I had some buyers who used to be members of the Mountain Oyster Club, which was at the southwest corner of Stone and Franklin in the old Jacome Mansion. The Mountain Oyster Club's website states that according to legend, the club was originally founded in 1948 by ranchers who got thrown out of the more staid country clubs. The Jacome mansion was the club's home for 30 years until for various reasons the members moved to a new location.

Subsequently, someone tried without success to open a restaurant in the former club headquarters. Now the old 14,000 square foot mansion is for sale for $1,000,000 and my buyers wanted to see whether they could turn their old club back into a home.

While the project wasn't feasible for my buyers, it was fun to see the inside of this amazing building. A dome visible from the outside covered a second story swimming pool, surrounded by columns.

I was particularly intrigued by the murals done by a naive Tucson painter named Corona. I couldn't find out more about him, but I'm told his murals were all over town. I especially liked his use of small round mirrors in the paintings.

I sure hope someone can rescue this old Tucson treasure. It is listed with Ron Campbell of Long Realty Company.

Solar Power

A few weeks ago, I went to a solar power workshop sponsored by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Tohono Chul Park. I have often wondered why Tucson isn't the solar capital of the world. I learned that for solar power to be practical on a large scale, we would need not only a lot of sunshine, but also a lot of water. A solar power plant uses the sun to heat salt water solution. The steam turns turbines, which produce electricity. So solar energy production is not feasible for public utilities in deserts with the current technology.

Getting off the grid is very expensive, and is only practical in remote areas where connecting to the power grid costs more than $100,000, which is the cost of an off-grid system.

The good news is that homeowners can generate their own electricity and send the power to the public utility company for storage. Then the homeowner will have power at night and on cloudy days. However, if TEP's power is down, the homeowner will be without power unless they have a battery back up. Power outages are not currently a problem in Tucson, so this back up is not essential at this time.

Installing 3,000 kilowatt hour (kWh) solar hot water requires a $4,500 investment. TEP will give the homeowner at $1,500 rebate. State and federal tax rebates are also available, making the out of pocket cost about $1,000. The pay back time is about three to five years.

The typical home uses 11,000 kWh per year. Installing a system that could produce that much power would cost about $44,000. The TEP rebate would be $20,000 and the state and federal tax credits would be $1,000 and $7,000, leaving a net cost of $16,000.

For every kWh produced by a solar electric system, the owner can save 10 cents on his TEP bill. A typical 3 kW system will reduce the monthly bill by about $40.

For more information, go to www.Giffords.House.Gov .

Of course, before considering any solar energy projects, it's important to improve the energy efficiency of your home and adjust energy use patterns to minimize wasted energy.

Tax credits are available for installing energy efficient products like water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, building insulation, window, roofs and doors. I received a tax credit for installing Solatubes because they don't transfer heat to the extent that skylights do, and they enable me to leave the lights off in rooms that used to be dark during the day. For more information go to

Surprise! Mortgage Application Audits

A couple weeks ago, one of my buyers signed all the loan documents to buy his house, and I told him I'd see him in a few hours to give him his keys after the deed recorded. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The lender called me just two hours before we all thought the deed would record to inform me that the borrower's loan application was being audited, and this could take up to three days. My buyer's plans to move into his new home over the weekend and have out of town guests stay with him were ruined.

No one had ever heard of a quality control audit after the loan documents were signed, and that's because it had never happened before. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-governmental agencies that buy bundled loans so mortgage lenders can keep on lending, have started to refuse to buy loans if there is any hint of fraud in the loan application. They already own enough foreclosed houses because of borrowers who lied about their intent to occupy the house, provided bogus employment information, or obtained inflated appraisals.

In order to convince Fannie and Freddie that the loans they are buying are good, lenders have implemented this QC audit procedure. Some lenders are comparing the tax return the borrower provided with his loan application against the tax return submitted to the IRS. Background checks on borrowers are also occurring.

My borrower's application survived the QC audit, but not without a weekend of anxiety and inconvenience.

Bottom line is that it is taking longer to get a mortgage loan processed because of this new QC audit procedure. Anyone who intends to do anything slightly fishy on their loan application should forget it.