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Open House

Existing Home Sales Flat in May; Mercury in CFL Bulbs; Relationships & Remodeling

Aired July 07, 2007 - 09:31   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He recognized the colors. So the ball is yellow -- is orange. So he looked for orange. And that's the ball.

SCHNEIDER: So he's looking, he's looking, he's looking, does he see it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes -- no. I don't think so.

SCHNEIDER: So the robots aren't foolproof.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is to be in a field in order to recognize the ball, because the light is different from off the field and in the field.

SCHNEIDER: Look, he's marching. Where is he going now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he's doing a sweep. So he will scan it first. If he cannot see it on one scan, he will turn his body to look for the ball. So that's what we...


SCHNEIDER: Now your team from Thailand is actually playing soon, this morning. Excited?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. I'm very excited, because we are going to play the champion.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, right. Osaka (ph). Well, good luck to you, good luck to Jeeb. We're going to have more from the Robo Cup coming up.

NGUYEN: All right. Bonnie, thank you for that.

HOLMES: And "OPEN HOUSE" with Gerri Willis is going to start right now.

GERRI WILLIS, HOST: Hello, I'm Gerri Willis, and this is OPEN HOUSE, the show that saves you money.

Coming up, why certain light bulbs in your home pose a health risk to you and your family.

And remodeling tips that will create harmony in your home and your relationship. But first, existing home sales were essentially flat in May while total housing inventory rose to 4.4 million homes on the market, that according to the National Association of Realtors. But while many places are still slowly recovering from the subprime mess, there are some cities where home prices have grown at double-digit rates. Brad Inman from Inman News is here to tell us what markets are on the rise and, well, why you might want to take a closer look at them.

OK. Where is the good news?

BRAD INMAN, INMAN NEWS: Well, it's hard to find, Gerri. It really is. Rural areas, places where home prices were very affordable during the boom, didn't really rise that much. I mean, Seattle is an example. Portland. Economies are strong. They didn't go crazy in the early part of the decade and now you're seeing them finally appreciate.

WILLIS: And so we have got San Antonio, Texas, on here. You mentioned Beaumont, Texas. These are small markets though. You know, there aren't a ton of people living there. I mean, most of us live in major metro areas. And the story there is pretty much the same, right?

INMAN: Yes. The bottom line is the national housing market is tanking. I mean, it is a strong word, but it really is in trouble. And so you really have to search to find these little gems where there is still appreciation. Most markets are not only flat, they're declining. We're seeing Florida, California, a big mess. We're seeing, you know, across the country now.

WILLIS: Now those NAR numbers that I mentioned before are highly controversial. Some people think they're a little too optimistic even.

INMAN: Well, the National Association of Realtors, you know, has got to be pro housing. And they have got to put out good news. So they try to find some sort of silver lining here. But it's really difficult to find because the market is flat and down.

WILLIS: Well, Brad, you know, tell me, when is this going to turn around? For most of us out there, we own our own home, right? We are worried about what it is going to happen to the home price we have right now. Is our house going to be worth it? When are sales going to pick up? When are prices going to turn around?

INMAN: Well, we had a tough period here. Easy money is gone. So the first-time buyer market has really been hit very, very hard. And that is the foundation of the real estate market. And so the funny money is no longer there.

Secondly foreclosures are on the rise. And most experts are predicting that the boom in foreclosures is next year. So -- plus right...

WILLIS: The boom in foreclosures is not now?

INMAN: No, it really isn't.

WILLIS: It's next year?

INMAN: You look at some loans that were made that are troubled loans. It's going to come due later this year and next year. So I think we are looking, best case scenario, '09, we're going to have a flat market. Now for a home buyer it is great news, you're going to be able to go pick up a really good deal.

You mentioned inventory, I mean, we are talking double the inventory of a couple of years ago.

WILLIS: Loans aren't easy to get and they are more expensive though. I mean, that is one problem.

INMAN: There is a credit crunch. Right, Wall Street is out of the game. There's a credit crunch and it's very hard to qualify. I mean, compared to what it used to be. You can still get a loan if you have good credit and you have a down payment.

WILLIS: Let's talk about the flip side though. The sellers out there, you know, they are really worried. And I know -- I get e-mail from people. They are saying to me, do I go ahead and try to sell now before it gets worse, or do I wait? What's the best way to make that decision?

INMAN: Now is the time to nest. Sit with that house. It's really a bad time to put it on the market in many areas. But if you do put it on the market, price it right and the first offer is probably the best offer in this market because there are just not as many buyers.

WILLIS: When you say, price it right, what you are really saying is, cut your price?

INMAN: Absolutely. Any expectations you had a couple of years ago, forget it, your house it probably not worth what it was two years ago.

WILLIS: How do you I come up with that number? I mean, people tend to move too slowly on this, and then they get behind. And then your house has been on the market for six months. And it's -- by that time it's a lemon.

INMAN: Yes. The first thing you do is, go onto the Internet. Get evaluation. Get comps. Get good statistical information. I always say, get three realtors in your living room and have them give you a comparative market analysis. Talk to your neighbors and you'll come up with the right price. But be prepared to take a lowball or a lower offer than you think it's worth.

WILLIS: Brad, thank you so much for your great advice, appreciate it.

INMAN: Thank you, Gerri.

WILLIS: Coming up on OPEN HOUSE, some important information you need to know about the energy-saving CFL bulbs.

Then, relationships and remodeling. We'll tell you how to make sure both are successful together.

And you won't believe how dirty your cell phone is.

But first your "Tip of the Day."


WILLIS (voice-over): Renovating your home to raise your selling price is serious business. Obtain bids from at least three licensed contractors. Ask for references or better yet, ask to see some of the contractor's previous work.

Make sure your contract has all of the details, including start and end dates, material specs, and a payment schedule with just 10 percent down, pay 25 percent when pluming and electrical work are done, 25 percent after cabinets and windows, and 25 percent for flooring and painting. Don't hand over the last 15 percent on the final day. It's called retainage (ph), and you should keep it for a month just to make sure everything is in good working order.

Most importantly make sure your contractor is properly insured. Otherwise, you can be held accountable. That's your "Tip of the Day."




WILLIS (voice-over): It's one of the most popular shows in Vegas, but in a land of excess, this Cirque du Soleil show stands out as one of Sin City's greenest attraction.

ANTHONY RICOTTA, COMPANY MANAGER, "O": "O" is about life, love, death, all of the things that make up a great show. But it all takes place around water. We have a stage that is a million-and-a-half gallons of water. It is 25 feet deep. All of the water that's in the pool flows over the top, over the edges of the pool. And circulate back to its filtration system.

WILLIS: And when it rains, it pours. For three minutes, nearly 4,000 gallons in all. The water, of course, is piped from the pool.

RICOTTA: With regards to the filtration of the water, we use sand filters, which is fairly common for large scale pools. The difference that we have here at "O" is we replace the sand with crushed garnet. So anything larger than one micron in size gets trapped in the sand that keeps the pool incredibly clean which allows us not to have to change it over so often.

WILLIS: In fact the pool is only emptied once or twice a year into the lake in front of the Bellagio.

That's this week's "Greenhouse."


WILLIS: It seems like everywhere you go, everyone is talking about green, that includes CFLs, which stands for compact florescent lights. They are energy efficient, and they last for years. But as we're now learning, CFLs contain a dangerous substance you should be aware of.


WILLIS (voice-over): You've probably seen them but you may not know what they're capable of. I'm talking about CFLs. Those eco- friendly compact florescent light bulbs. They save energy and a lot of it, but there is a downside. CFLs actually contain a small amount of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that is hazardous to humans and highly regulated.

If you didn't know this, it's probably because the media, environmental groups and retailers promoting the bulbs often don't bring it up. And it's not always clearly marked on the packaging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see anything about mercury on here. Oh, OK, right there. Bulb (ph) contains mercury. That's not very -- it's not very obvious at all.

WILLIS: Mark Brackenberry (ph) has used CFLs for several years but had no idea they contained mercury until CNN told him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had no idea the bulbs contained mercury. You never hear anything about mercury in the bulbs. You never hear anything about disposing them. Really all you hear about is how good they are for the environment.

WILLIS: And they are. CFLs use at least 60 percent less power than incandescents. By conserving energy they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower your electric bills. The catch, if CFLs break, the bulb's mercury is released and you're exposed. Luckily, EPA experts point out that there's not enough mercury in one bulb to be harmful.

MARIA VARGAS, EPA: It is the amount of mercury that would, say, cover the tip of a pen, or that is about 100 times less than what's currently in a dental amalgam filling. And so CFLs pose a very, very small, very low risk to individuals.

WILLIS: But multiply that by the nearly 60 million CFL bulbs sold this year in the U.S. alone. Clearly, used CFLs need to be disposed of responsibly to prevent mercury from millions of lamps entering the environment. Ideally they should be recycled.

PAUL ABERNATHY, ASSOC. OF LIGHTING & MERCURY RECYCLERS: Currently, there are very few places throughout the United States for homeowners to take these materials to drop them off where they know they are going to be recycled. And we have been encouraging the retail stores to take back the old lamps when they sell the new lamps. WILLIS: IKEA is one of the first major retailers to collect used CFLs for recycling. The furniture giant now has a take-back bin in every store.

VARGAS: So all we ask is that consumers think through what the best disposal options are available for them in their area.


WILLIS: While we were putting together that piece, I started to think about poison safety and the best ways to keep your family safe. First, always keep poisons in their original containers. Think about it, if you put ammonia in an old water bottle, somebody might try to drink it.

Speaking of which, don't ever use food or drink containers to store chemicals. Mistaken identity can cause serious poisoning. In fact, keep chemicals and foods in completely separate locations so there's never any confusion. For example, you're your cleaning supplies under your kitchen sink and your food overhead.

Never mix chemicals or cleaning supplies together, you could create a poisonous gas. And if you're using chemical sprays like pesticides, wear long sleeves and long pants. Pesticides can absorb through the skin and, well, you don't want that.

And if you have a poisoning emergency, call 1-800-222-1222. That will put you directly in touch with the poison control hotline at the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Relationships are hard enough. But we have the secret to making sure your relationship and your remodeling don't both go bust.

And why you should think about cleaning, that's right, cleaning your cell phone right now.

But first, your mortgage numbers.



SHELLEY LONG, ACTOR: Honey, we're going through a rough time. Let's remember not to take it out on each other.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: You're right. You're right. Did you hear about that guy up in the Bronx who went crazy, thought he was a pigeon? They found him in the park throwing bread crumbs at himself. He was just putting in a guest bathroom.

LONG: OK. So let's be nice to each other. We're all we've got.


WILLIS: OK. Remodeling and relationships, not perfect together. But before you end up driving yourself and your partner crazy or out of the house, we're going to tell you just how to save some money and your sanity. Laura Meyer is the author of "Remodel This: A Woman's Guide to Planning & Surviving the Madness of a Home Renovation."

Laura, welcome, good to see you.

LAURA MEYER, AUTHOR, "REMODEL THIS": Thank you so much for having me.

WILLIS: Well, you know, you say that spouses have different personalities and that they can take different approaches to remodeling. Let's talk about some of them.

MEYER: Well, if you have somebody who is very opinionated with what your home is going to look like, say, your spouse, that can create major problems. Also, I mean, the biggie is differences in how you spend money.

WILLIS: Oh, absolutely. You know though, some spouses don't care at all. You know, they give you, sometimes spouses just want to give you the money and let you spend. Can there be a downside to that?

MEYER: There could be a time when his lack of interest starts to grate on you and there are things that you may want help with. And so that can be a problem. But it is easier than "the man who knew too much."

WILLIS: Who is "the man who knew too much"? Tell me about that.

MEYER: "The man who knew too much" is the man who is involved every step of the way. He wants this remodel as much as you do. And he has very, very sharp opinions about what he wants your home to look like. And that's the bigger problem.

WILLIS: Why does -- I would think that, you know, if your spouse is willing to share the decision-making, you know, there are thousands of decisions to be made, why is that a problem?

MEYER: What I would recommend is that before you get into a renovation, you really want to get on the same page either way. You want to get on the same page before you begin the process.

WILLIS: Well, let's talk about that. How do you figure out the budgeting of the project? Because I think that's where couples really blow apart, is over the money.

MEYER: Yes. Absolutely. And the thing you really want to do is plan ahead of time as much as possible. You want to think about the details. You want to do that because you want to make sure that when you get estimates from the contractor, that he really has a lot of information in front of him to be able to give accurate numbers.

WILLIS: And the old, "while we're at it, let's do this." That can also create lots of problems. And of course, most of these things go over budget, 10, 20 percent. How do you deal with that in a relationship? MEYER: You know, you really have to have expectations -- the right expectations going into it. You should go into it assuming that that will happen. There are a lot of "oh, nos."

WILLIS: That's depressing.


MEYER: I know. It's hard to hear, but that's the reality. And you also really need to have a sense of human about it.

WILLIS: Yes, that's always a good thing to have. Let's talk about remodeling-free time. You say when you have all of these strangers in your house who are doing work, it's really disconcerting. An important thing to do is to find some alone time with your spouse.

MEYER: Yes, it is. Because this project can become so all- consuming. You have samples everywhere. You're talking about it incessantly. And so what I would recommend is that you take a night or two and make a pact. You have a remodeling-free night. You make a date. You don't discuss your renovation. And it's really something that can be a helpful tool to couples who are going through this who are just feeling stressed out all the time.

WILLIS: So is it worth it at the end of the day? I know you went through a major remodel?

MEYER: I did. And I'm in love with my house. I'm still in love with my husband. And yes, I think it is. I think it can be a really rewarding, satisfying process. You love everything that you do, because you have selected it yourself. And I do think it's worth it.

WILLIS: Laura, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

MEYER: Thank you.

WILLIS: As always, if you have an idea for a "Weekend Project," send us an e-mail to And if you want to check out this "Weekend Project," again, check out our Web site,

From remodeling to a major league effort in rebuilding communities. Mo Vaughn is best known as the former slugger for the New York Mets. He may have retired from baseball, but he has immersed himself in a brand new career. These days, big Mo is scoring big in the real estate market.

Ali Velshi has the story.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A big stick and a big personality made slugger Mo Vaughn a star during his 12 years in the major leagues. But when his baseball career ended in 2003, he had no intention of retiring. Instead he traded his uniform for a business suit and the baseball diamond for the boardroom. These days, Mo's fans are thousands of low-income families in and around New York City.

MO VAUGH, FORMER BASEBALL PLAYER: Affordable housing is a need. It's not only a need here in New York, it's a worldwide need.

VELSHI: With the help of business partner Gene Schneur, he founded Omni New York in 2004. Since then the company has turned notoriously rundown buildings in crime-infested neighborhoods into safe havens of affordable housing with help of government bonds and tax credits.

EUGENE SCHNEUR, OMNI NEW YORK: When we purchased this building it was run down. There were tenants that were afraid to come out at night.

VELSHI: Grace Towers in East Brooklyn was transformed from a hub for drug deals and prostitution to a peaceful residential complex for families.

NELSON LEE, GRACE TOWERS RESIDENT: The only time I'm going to leave here is when they take me out feet first or head first.

VELSHI: Head first is how Mo dives into each new project. And while he says his knew career is lucrative. For Mo, it's not just about the money, but rehabilitating rundown buildings and communities.

VAUGHN: I don't think anybody will beat the thrill of catching a 3-2 pitch at the bottom ninth to win a game, but this is as probably close as it can get to it.

VELSHI: Ali Velshi, CNN.


WILLIS: Still ahead, we promised it and it's coming up next. How disgustingly dirty your cell phone might be and how you can do about it. But first, your "Local Lowdown."


WILLIS (voice-over): Washington, D.C., land of the free, literally. At the National Archives, you'll be able to research your family history and take a look at Declaration of Independence for absolutely no cost. Spend nothing watching money churn out at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. If you want to watch justices battle it out over today's hot button issues, stop by the Supreme Court. All sessions are open to the public. And most popular attraction in D.C., White House tours. Don't expect to catch a glimpse of the president or first lady, but tell Barney I said hi.

That's your "Local Lowdown."


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WILLIS: You know where the germs are in your house, right? The bathroom, the kitchen, your garbage can. But would you ever imagine that something you hold near your face every day is loaded with gross disgusting bacteria.

CNN's Gary Tuchman explains.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Your voice isn't the only thing being transmitted on your cell phone, germs are being transmitted too.

CHARLES GERBA, PROF., UNIV. OF ARIZONA: Usually if it's your own germs, you don't have to worry, it's when you share cell phones with somebody else, you can move germs from one person to another, particularly ones that can cause skin infections or the flu virus, cold virus.

TUCHMAN: Professor Charles Gerba is professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. The man known as Dr. Germ has found cell phones can be a carrier of infectious diseases.

GERBA: Well, I've had incidents where people share cell phones in my own family where they may have transmitted staphylococcus skin infections, or MRSA.

TUCHMAN: MSRA, which is short for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a skin infection that is resistant to penicillin. When Dr. Gerba saw this infection on his niece, he tested her cell phone. It came up positive for MRSA.

GERBA: Your cell phone, we're going to check for germs. Is that OK?

TUCHMAN: Armed with a special germ meter, Dr. Gerba can determine roughly how much bacteria is on your cell phone. He put the meter to the test.

GERBA: Well, we are going to find out if he ever talked dirty on it.

TUCHMAN: The testing only takes seconds. All phones have bacteria. But the more there is, the better chances of getting someone sick.

GERBA: One hundred ninety-five. You're really close to the limit.

TUCHMAN: Under 200 means hundreds of bacteria. When you get above 200 on the meter, it means thousands. Above 300 means tens of thousands. And above 500, hundreds of thousands of bacteria.

(on camera): Do you have a cell phone?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I do. TUCHMAN (voice-over): Melissa (ph) ended up with the highest number of all the cell phones we sampled, 336, which means the high tens of thousands of bacteria. The professor's words were unsettlingly clinical.

GERBA: To give you a relative idea, you have got about hundreds of times more bacteria than in an average toilet seat if you want a comparison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kind of assume my cell phone might be a little bit cleaner than that.

TUCHMAN: None of the people we stopped on the street regularly clean their cell phones.

GERBA: You're in the -- well, above 200 ain't good. That means we're in the thousand range. You could have a couple of thousand, not as bad as...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do I ever want to use my cell phone again?

GERBA: Yes, well, maybe not -- maybe cut your husband off. He might be in a (INAUDIBLE) so never know.


TUCHMAN (on camera): Blame the husband, always blame the husband.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a good idea.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Of the 11 phones we tested, five failed the germ meter test. Dr. Germ has some words for the wise.

GERBA: I think good advice almost for any type of electronic equipment that you might end up sharing is, you wipe it down with a disinfectant, you know, disinfectant cloth or wipe. Don't spray disinfectants directly on to it. You could ruin your equipment.

TUCHMAN: So keep your phone clean even if your conversations sometimes aren't.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.


WILLIS: Wow. Who knew? Time now for the list. Keep in mind germs can be transferred when you share cell phones. So be sure to wipe your phone with a disinfectant cloth. That will help kill those germs. But don't spray your phone with disinfectant, well, unless you want to buy a new one. Thank you for spending part of your Saturday with us. OPEN HOUSE will be back next week right here on CNN. And you can catch us on HEADLINE NEWS every Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Don't go anywhere, your top stories are next in the "CNN NEWSROOM." Have a great weekend.