Monthly Archive for May, 2005

Another Tree Taken

I’m not sure whether to be just sad or furious but I’m going to
figure it out. The windstorm of a few days ago knocked a huge limb off
of the tree at the corner of Clyde Street and Commonwealth Road. It
took out the power cable and and phone lines to the house there and did
some damage to the fence and one of the windows. The FEMA crews (from
New Brunswick, Canada!) were there the next day restoring the lines.

But then they cut the whole tree down! It
didn’t look to me like the whole tree needed to come down but I am
certainly no expert. Having read about the snap decisions that have
been made in the past and the contention between Trees for Watertown
and the Town Tree Warden, I am wondering if this is a case where a tree
was cut down that could have been saved. It is a huge loss for our
neighborhood. I am planning to investigate.

(Update June 6) I talked to Greg Watson, Watertown Town Planner,
today about the tree. He said he would have to check with the Forestry
Department within the DPW about why the tree needed to come down. I
will check back with him.

I also asked about how to go about replacing some of the trees we
have lost on the street and where we should contribute the money for
trees that we raised at the block party. He told me Watertown allocates
$50-75,000 each year for planting and they do accept donations. T hey
plant from a list compiled from resident requests. He thought the list
might already be full for the next planting in the fall but recommended
I call Daphne Collins in the Tree Warden's Office tomorrow.

While I had him on the phone I asked if it's ever possible to
convert some of the asphalt strips between the sidewalk and the street
back into soil for planting. He said I would need to talk to Ed
Baptista in the Highway Dept. of the DPW. 617-972-6420.

(Update July 1) I talked to Frank Cerotti today. He's worked for the
town for about 35 years and he is the most knowledgeable about trees in
town. Regarding the tree on the corner of Clyde and Commonwealth he
said that when the huge limb came off it ripped the tree where the two
main limbs came together and that put the tree in imminent danger. So
it had to come down.

Is Real Estate the New Dot-Com? – Real Estate Is the New Dot-Com

Like many people we know in Watertown who own homes and have children about to enter kindergarten, we have been struggling with the question of whether we should move to a town with a more highly regarded school system. Struggling is probably not the best description, better to call it paralyzed.

We bought our two-family five years ago and have seen its market value more than double (based on what other houses on our street have sold for recently). But even if we dumped all the equity into a downpayment and took on a monthly mortgage payment more than twice what we have now, according to SmartMoney’s “How Much House Can You Afford” worksheet the most we can afford is still considerably less than the starting price of decently located four-bedroom homes in, say, Belmont – and those are homes without any more square footage or land than we have now – defeating another major reason for moving.

So what are our options? As I read more about whether we are experiencing a housing bubble some people are writing that they are selling now and renting until prices drop dramatically. It’s hard to imagine moving a family with two children twice so that’s really not an option for us. But it did make me wonder just how inflated the prices around here really are and whether it’s likely that they’ll come down.

I found this article on Morningstar that tells how to calculate the NAV of your home

In its simplest form, the NAV requires just four major inputs: annual rent over the past year, average maintenance costs per year, an average long-term growth rate in rent or property value, and a discount rate (called the cap rate in real estate). Without getting into the guts of the theory behind this model (plenty of explanations exist in finance texts and on the Internet), the NAV formula looks like this:

NAV = ((Rent – Maintenance Costs) * (1 + Growth)) / Cap Rate

If you're dealing with your own home–owner-occupied real estate–you can simply estimate the rent component by comparing your house to comparable rental homes in your area.

Next, to estimate the average annual costs required to maintain the property in its present state–no better and no worse–consider the two major costs: property taxes (net of the income tax benefit) and home maintenance such as periodically replacing appliances, fixing leaky roofs, and so on. For reference, most apartment REITs have costs equal to about 30%-40% of the rental income, and this seems a reasonable proxy for single-family homes as well. Next, you need a long-term growth rate estimate. This is a bit subjective–and will vary by region–but can be arrived at via CPI estimates (4.2% per annum going back to 1980) or by using home price data (which averaged 4.4% annually since 1980 if you ignore the past 5 anomalous years). Finally, the cap rate. Because real estate is a low-risk asset class, the cap rate can be derived by adding a couple of percentage points to the current long-term Treasury rate. Historically, apartment real estate has carried a cap rate of about 7%, and, given the current interest-rate environment, professional investors have been able to justify a cap rate of about 6%-6.5% in some recent cases.

Once this calculation is done, investors will also probably need to tack on a control premium. This is the value assessed for the net benefit of controlling the residence rather than being at the mercy of a landlord. Similar methodology has commonly been employed in the stock market, most frequently during merger analysis, and the premium has typically averaged about 20%-30%.

 If the price you can sell for is much higher than the NAV then it’s time to sell. And if the price/rent multiple is very high then it’s not worth the asking price. The article says “a reasonable range of price/rent multiples–no matter where the property is located–ranges from about 9 at the low end to 23 on the absolute high end.”

So now I have to do some calculations.

Choosing a Kindergarten in Watertown

We’ve put off for another year the decision about whether to send our daughter to the Hosmer Elementary School or move or try to find a private school we can afford. We were dissuaded by so many people from petitioning to get her into kindergarten (she missed the age cutoff by a couple months) so that left the Hosmer Pre-K as the option for public school. Instead she will will attend the Bowen Cooperative in Newton in a class with other kids who just miss the cutoff. She’ll have three teachers for 14 kids in a brand new facility and the cost is less than what the Watertown Public Schools charge for Pre-K.

But next year we’ll have to decide whether the Hosmer Elementary School is too big. Its size was the primary reason that Steve Griffin, the Hosmer principal I was so impressed with, gave as his reason for leaving this year to go to Newton. The national average for elementary school size is 441. But Watertown only has about 2,500 kids in school. Do we really need a school with close to 500 students?

From the WPS Site

Cunniff Elementary School serves 276 children in grades K – 5…. It includes 14% students whose first
language is not English; 16% students from families with low incomes and 20% students with special needs.

The Hosmer Elementary School is a large school in a sprawling physical plant. The school serves approximately 460
students….36% of Hosmer's students
come from families where English is not spoken or spoken as a second language. 22% come from families with low incomes and
28% are students served by special education.

The Lowell Elementary School serves 395 students. The student population includes
20% students whose first language is not English; 18% students from families with low incomes; and approximately 22% students
with special needs.

Watertown Middle School serves 670 students in grades 6 – 8. 25% of the student population comes from homes where
English is not spoken or spoken as a second language; 11 % are students from families with low incomes; and 24% receive
special education services.

Watertown High School offers a comprehensive program of courses for 735 students in grades 9 – 12. The student body
reflects the community's diversity 28% of the high school's students come from homes where English is not spoken or spoken
as a second language; 12% are from families with low incomes; and 22% are students with special needs.

School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance

School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance

The following list highlights the major points identified in this paper:

1. School consolidation has been carried out through much of this century, resulting in many fewer and much larger schools and school districts. Consolidation efforts continue into the present time.

2. The research base on the relative effects of large and small schools is large and quite consistent. The research base on the effects of school-within-a-school (SWAS) arrangements is smaller and less conclusive.

3. There is no clear agreement among researchers and educators about what constitutes a “small” school or a “large” school. Many researchers, however, indicate that an appropriate and effective size is 300-400 students for an elementary school and 400-800 students for a secondary school.

4. Much school consolidation has been based on the beliefs that larger schools are less expensive to operate and have higher-quality curricula than small schools. Research has demonstrated, however, that neither of these assertions is necessarily true.

5. Academic achievement in small schools is at least equal—and often superior—to that of large schools.

6. Student attitudes toward school in general and toward particular school subjects are more positive in small schools.

7. Student social behavior—as measured by truancy, discipline problems, violence, theft, substance abuse, and gang participation—is more positive in small schools.

8. Levels of extracurricular participation are much higher and more varied in small schools than large ones, and students in small schools derive greater satisfaction from their extracurricular participation.

9. Student attendance is better in small schools than in large ones.

10. A smaller percentage of student drop out of small schools than large ones.

11. Student have a greater sense of belonging in small schools than in large ones.

12. Student academic and general self-concepts are higher in small schools than in large ones.

13. Interpersonal relations between and among students, teachers, and administrators are more positive in small schools than in large ones.

14. Students from small and large high schools do not differ from one another on college-related variables such as entrance examination scores, acceptance rates, attendance, grade point average, and completion.

15. Teacher attitudes toward their work and their administrators are more positive in small schools than in large ones.

16. Attributes associated with small school size that researchers have identified as accounting for their superiority include,

a. Everyone's participation is needed to populate the school's offices, teams, clubs, etc., so a far smaller percentage of students is overlooked or alienated.

b. Adults and students in the school know and care about one another to a greater degree than is possible in large schools.

c. Small schools have a higher rate of parent involvement.

d. Students and staff generally have a stronger sense of personal efficacy in small schools.

e. Students in small schools take more of the responsibility for their own learning; their learning activities are more often individualized, experiential, and relevant to the world outside of school; classes are generally smaller; and scheduling is much more flexible.

f. Grouping and instructional strategies associated with higher student performance are more often implemented in small schools—team teaching, integrated curriculum, multiage grouping (especially for elementary children), cooperative learning, and performance assessments.

17. The evidence for the effectiveness of school-within-a-school (SWAS) arrangements is much more limited, but it, suggests that students benefit from this form of organization if the SWAS is sufficiently separate and distinct from the other school(s) housed in the same building.

18. Poor students and those of racial and ethnic minorities are more adversely affected—academically, attitudinally, and behaviorally—by attending large schools than are other students. Unfortunately, poor and minority students continue to be concentrated in large schools.

Chicago crime database

Chicago crime database |

Here's an amazing use of Google Maps and RSS. An up to the minute mapped database of Chicago crimes with RSS feeds for each city block and police beat.

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