Saturday, March 15, 2008

Can You Overcome Your Fear? Here's the Current Buzz on Local Real Estate.

Funny how trouble that started out in 2006 as a mortgage default problem, grew to become a home purchase problem, then a banking and investment problem, and now appears to have broadened to a slowdown affecting the entire economy. News about the tumbling dollar, $4.00 gasoline, a mercurial stock market, fears of inflation and job losses seem to escalate every day. Even mortgage backed securities and money markets aren't paying enough to make saving worthwhile.

Just what are you, the canny capitalist, looking for good investment opportunities, going to do? My bet is, buy real estate!

Mortgages are still available at historically low interest rates, so long as you have enough down payment and impeccable credit. Some local home values have slipped a bit, but prices have not softened like they have in the Rust Belt, Las Vegas, Florida or communities where acres of half-built and unsold homes are competing with resales, and not much is selling. Around here they're not likely to fall much further: unlike paper money, they're not printing any more beautiful New England real estate, at least on this planet.

The basic reasons for owning and purchasing real estate remain unchanged: as a physical, tangible, desirable asset, providing shelter, sanctuary and security, it can't be beat. And as a long-term investment, it is demonstrably a sure winner. For generations of our ancestors, clear back to the Pilgrim fathers, the land owners have always come out ahead.

Where would you rather invest your wealth? Under your mattress or into real property?

Please remember where you read this good news first! I'm looking forward to your thoughts. Please remember that my real estate practice is all about assisting you, if you're looking to buy or sell real estate, or if you know someone who is!

Monday, March 10, 2008

What makes a Swamp a Swamp?

What makes a Swamp a Swamp?

When evaluating real estate, I often hear people say, "oh, no, there's never any standing water, so it can't be a wetland". However, many types of inland wetlands are never actually flooded with surface water. Our last article dealt with streams and floodplains, but in other protected areas the wetlands are, for the most part, underground.

Most common in our neck of the woods are the wooded swamps that act as sponges holding moisture, releasing it gradually into the abutting streams and rivers. These areas, protected in Massachusetts as "BVW's" or "Bordering Vegetated Wetlands" are dominated by trees, such as red maples, yellow birch, elm and ash. The shrub layer may include blueberry, spicebush or silky dogwood, and the ground is likely to be covered with cinnamon, sensitive and royal ferns, skunk cabbage, jewelweed, and spagnum moss. Wildlife make use of the trees, even the dead and dying ones, for nesting, feeding, roosting or perching. At their feet, the hummocky ground creates depressions that seasonally fill with water, referred to as vernal pools, where salamanders and frogs congregate and lay their eggs.

Many birds and mammals also inhabit wooded swamps: warblers and wood thrushes depend on large tracts of unbroken woodland for habitat, and snags serve as dens for raccoons, skunks, possums and fishers. Wood ducks, and owls nest in the larger cavities as well. Small mammals can tunnel and burrow in the soft, moist hydric soils of forested wetlands, and include voles, shrews, mice and moles.

Vernal pools are extremely important breeding habitats. Wood frogs, and mole salamanders breed exclusively in vernal pools, where there are no fish to devour their egg masses, and a vernal pool's loss can eliminate an entire breeding population. Turtles, herons and snakes rely on the abundant prey in vernal pools, including fairy shrimp and other mollusks, insects and crustaceans. Such pools form from snow melt, and disappear by early summer.

Forest fragmentation lessens the overall habitat value of an area by breaking up large contiguous tracts of woodland into smaller and smaller pieces, thereby cutting off access for animals with larger home ranges. It also creates easier access to nests and young for predators, and has caused the decline of many forest interior birds that nest exclusively in large, undisturbed tracts of woodland.

If you're lucky enough to own or abut a wooded wetland, you've enjoyed the quacking woodfrogs, the chirping spring peepers, and the magical trill of the woodthrush. Protecting their habitat is one more important interest under Massachusetts environmental regulations.

Friday, March 7, 2008

River and Stream Protection

River Corridors in Our Backyards

Few people doubt that the extremes of weather we've experienced of late will abate any time soon. Rivers and streams last spring rose to heights not seen since the flood of September, 1938, and similar events will likely transpire ever more frequently. Damage caused by stream and river flooding is resulting in ever increasing costs and risks.

As we build and develop in upland areas, increases in impervious areas increase the likelihood of damage downstream. The standard "engineering response" to controlling rivers has been to channelize, dredge and berm the flood prone river, but that is actually counter productive. Attention needs to be paid to the entire watershed area.

A stable stream is neither growing nor shrinking: it can move sediment through the system without depositing it or without creating any additional erosion. Stable streams have a profile that changes very little over time. They generally meander and twist, creating wide eddies that slow the water, and have adjacent flood plain areas covered with natural vegetation, which the river or stream can inundate periodically, thus dissipating large quantities of water. Once they are confined to deeper channels, streams become less stable. The overbank floods that once left the channel to flow across the floodplain become confined, exerting powerful forces on the channel boundaries. Culverts and bridge footings can be undermined, creating costly repair bills. Consider that several of the Rowley bridges washed out last spring have still not been repaired.

Maintaining the quality of our local streams and the rivers they flow into is in everyone's interest. We need to be pro-active beyond their banks, and recognize that upland activity determines in large measure how those streams will function.

"Floods are 'Acts of God' but flood losses are largely acts of man."
Gilbert White, 1942

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Conservation Corner for March 5‏

Conservation Corner, March 3, 2008
an occasional column written for the West Newbury News
by Deb Hamilton, West Newbury Conservation Commissioner

What are wetlands, and why should we protect them?

Holy Cross College is always the site for the Annual Environmental Conference of Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, which took place last Saturday. Representatives from every town, city and agency attend, as do botanists, soil scientists, engineers, wildlife protection advocates, trappers, forestry people and Federal folk. Some of the wide range of topics covered in 30 different workshops and training programs included plant identification, wildlife habitats, stormwater regulations, rivers protection, control of invasives and maintaining drinking water quality.

We, as Conservation Commissioners, are charged with protecting and preserving the edges of the natural world by means of adhering to State Regulations spelled out in the Wetlands Protection Act. In a nutshell, any development which alters an existing wetland falls under the Act, as does activity within a 100' buffer zone around it. Streams and rivers have additional layers of protection, limiting activity along their banks, and vernal pools receive yet more additional attention.

In the weeks ahead, I'll attempt to share with you the various types of wetlands around us, and the rationale for their conscientious stewardship. If you have any questions or comments, I hope you'll contact me at, and I'll include your thoughts in future columns.