Homeowner pays hefty price for safety to make sure he doesn't pay a heavier one

The caliber of today’s criminal as well as the value of our families, homes and what we keep in them has many investing in security systems. But how far would you go to protect your family, home and belongings?

The owner of what is no less than a modern-day fortress has gone as far as spending $7.25 million on just that, according to an article by Yahoo Finance.

Located in the highs far above Los Angeles is a towering mansion features not only two hidden panic rooms, but a discreetly disguised security system with comprehensive surveillance abilities and two invisible “safe cores” within the architecture that may make it the safest house on earth.

Built in 2002 by Al V. Corbi, a renowned authority on residential and yacht security, this super secure, five-story residence has 360-degree views, covers 8,000 square feet and includes 32 rooms that above a virtually impenetrable bat cave-like garage that will hold six cars.

The safe cores consist of entire sections of the residence that can be isolated from the rest of the home, so the homeowner can retreat in complete safety – and luxury – from an outside threat that might include an intruder, a natural disaster or even a nuclear, biological or chemical attack, according to the Yahoo Finance article.

Besides the expensive security system and features, the home has an elevator – of course, since it does have five stories above the garage – as well as a gourmet kitchen with granite counter tops and commercial grade appliances, two offices, a wine cellar and a home theater.

Artist seeks to convey smooth, flowing elements of nature in work

A river has always run through Scott Reuman's life; now it runs through his art.

The owner of Conundrum Designs, based in unincorporated Boulder County between Boulder and Nederland, has spent much of his recreational time on the water, and he has found a way to incorporate smooth flowing elements of nature into his artistic and functional designs.

"A good part of my inspiration comes from my love of water," Scott says. "I grew up sailing with my father and then I took up kayaking. One of the things that stimulates my imagination a lot is rivers and flowing water, but also flowing, moving anything. We take rounded things from nature and build sharp-cornered, squared living spaces, so I put lots of curves in my work.

"There's such smoothness to water when it flows in a laminar fashion," he adds. "The water will go from perfectly smooth to violent chaos in a matter of inches, and then it'll flow smooth again."

Scott feels he is able to show that transition in his River Series™ of art and furniture, which have flowing, moving designs with inlaid dyed resin in a matrix of wood or other medium so light shines through the resin. While it vaguely resembles stained glass, its final effect is very different, he says.

He has used this method in doors, dining tables, decorative wall lighting, ceiling panels and nonfunctional sculpture. With his blue inlaid resin, the art and functional pieces he makes look like a river is running through them.

But Scott's work was once quite different. When he first started his business in 1979, his focus was commercial art (he has degrees in both engineering and fine art) for advertising, catalogues and event promotion. But he found his creative side calling him, and he eventually switched to fine art.

"In the early ’90s, I started shifting to more fountains and a variety of sculptures in different media," he says, noting he now does art in wood, metal, stone and some synthetics.

Scott still does a little photography, decorating a few businesses around Boulder and selling some of his work to magazines, but his focus is on sculpture and furniture for homes and businesses.

"I enjoy the creative aspects of whatever I do as long as I have the opportunity to work outside of the box," Scott says. "I’ve created ways to stay away from a box that are unique, refreshing and a change of pace. I absolutely love problem solving, and I love problem solving when it involves creative solutions."

While Scott also enjoys writing and has written professionally, it’s something that takes a back seat to his art. And despite the economy, Scott has plenty to keep him busy when he’s not kayaking through the Grand Canyon.

"I'm booked between three and six months in the future right now, which is pretty good in this economic environment," he says. "Ninety percent of my work do is done by commission; the rest is speculative art and goes to galleries and in shows."

For more information about Scott Reuman or Conundrum Designs, call (303) 442-0406; or visit www.conundrumdesigns.com.

February’s market stats show signs of spring, emergence of selling season

While February's home sales statistics for the Boulder area were nothing to throw a party over, they were an improvement over the month before, and they were in line with sales at the same time last year.

Boulder County saw 158 single-family homes sell last month and 67 condos and townhomes sell, compared with 127 single-family homes and 56 condos and townhomes in January. February's single-family home sales were the same as in February of 2008, but only 46 condos and townhomes sold a year ago.

Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association, notes that the increase of inventory – from 1,768 single-family homes on the market in January to 1,976 for sale in February; and from 668 condos and townhomes for sale in January compared with 760 in February – is also promising.

The more homes available, the more buyers have to choose from, he says. And the increase in inventory as well as sales show that people are no longer sitting on the fence: they are deciding to sell or take advantage of the market and buy.

Median sales prices for homes in the Boulder area are headed in the right direction overall compared with January, as well, but it was condos and townhomes that had the healthiest showing in median and average sale prices in February.

Hotard describes the statistics for February as showing "classic improvement as you move through the year and closer to the buying season," adding that the area should have a strong March and April.

Nonetheless, sales are still sluggish compared with historic market trends as a result of tight credit and the lack of job growth factoring into the pace of sales, he says.

And the expiration of the extended first-time buyer and existing home owner tax credit at the end of April will not help the market, Hotard says. Any home buyers looking to take advantage of the credit must have their homes under contract by the end of April and close on them by July 1.

"I think it would present some more difficulty for the market as a whole," Hotard says. "Congress should extend it at least until the end of this year. It's been very helpful to move the market along over the past year. It has provided some strength to the overall economy and really should be extended."

The National Association of Realtors has been lobbying President Obama's administration and Congress to extend the credit, he says.

Tips make first-time home buyer less vulnerable

The extension and expansion of the popular first-time home buyer tax credit, home-price declines and low interest rates has drawn out qualified people seeking to sink their money into their first home. According to the U.S. News & World Report.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, projects first-time home buyers will buy 1.84 million homes in 2010, up from 1.73 million in 2009.

For those who have never purchased a home before, here are some helpful tips from U.S. News & World Report to make sure you’re investing in a piece of financial security and not sinking into debt:

1. Check your credit report and score

Before you even think of checking out an open house, get a copy of your credit report. The cleaner your credit report and the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be preapproved for a mortgage at a low interest rate. According to Keith Gumbinger of HSH.com, most home buyers will need a credit score of about 720 to obtain the most favorable mortgage rates.

If you review your credit report a few months before you start hunting for a house, you'll have time to make sur the facts are correct and dispute mistakes before a mortgage lender checks it. Access a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com once every 12 months.

2. Get preapproved

According to U.S. News & World Report, the second step to buying a home is establishing with a qualified lender how much you can afford. "First-time home buyers need to take the time to get an approval from their lender before looking at homes," advises Ray Boss Jr., a six-year licensed Realtor with RE/MAX Realty Group in Maryland. "This includes getting a credit check and giving their lender a copy of W-2s, pay stubs, and bank and brokerage statements."

Preapproval saves time because you’ll look at homes that you know you can afford instead of lusting after something out of your price range. It also will put you in a better position over another bidder with no preapproval.

3. Create a long-term budget

The housing crisis proved that mortgages were given to people who did not have the means to repay them. To avoid this mistake, home buyers should create a budget before even beginning their home search to determine just how much house they can really afford. A good measure is to devote no more than a third of your monthly household income to housing costs, which include mortgage principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

“A good number would be 30 percent,” Zandi says. “If you are over 35 percent, you are really pushing the envelope.” Several work sheets are available online to help calculate how your income, debts and expenses affect what you can afford each month for the next 15 or 30years.

4. Remember the hidden costs

If you don’t factor in the cost of taxes, insurance, utilities and fees, you may grossly underestimate what you can afford to pay each month. You need to consider paying closing costs, appraisal fees, escrow fees, homeowner's insurance fees, property taxes and even moving costs, as well as repairs and maintenance.

“When you’re renting and the furnace goes out, what do you do? You call the landlord,” says Tom Vanderwell, mortgage officer for Fifth Third Bank in Michigan. “When you own a house, what do you do? You have to fix it yourself.” You may find numerous “nickel and dime” expenses to account for that could add up to a significant chunk of money over time.

5. Use professional help

It is possible find and buy a home without the help of a professional real estate agent, but a good agent can save you much time and stress. For instance, Realtors have access to all the homes on the market through the multiple listing service, or MLS, plus all the ones that are under contract and have been sold. A specialist has time to sift through all of these listings, says Boss, and make the appointments to show you the houses, create comparative market analyses to determine proper pricing and meet with necessary inspectors. Real estate agents also can help buyers traverse a taxing, 70-page legal contract.

“I would want someone who is going to look out for my interests first and foremost,” says Boss. “Someone who knows the contracts, who has experience negotiating, and who can walk me through the entire process smoothly – step by step – and make sure I get the house that's right for me.”

Contact me for the entire list of tips for the first-time home buyer from U.S. News & World Report.

Colorado cities rank among least obese metro areas in the nation

Fort Collins/Loveland and Boulder are the slimmest and among the healthiest metro areas in the nation, according to the current Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The study reports that Fort Collins/Loveland's obesity rate of 16 percent is the lowest of any metro area in the country, but Boulder’s isn't much higher at 16.6 percent, making it the second lowest. Colorado Springs ranked fourth for having the least obese residents at 17.2 percent, and Denver/Aurora tied for 10th at 19.3 percent. Colorado and California had the most metro areas - four each - among the 10 least obese.

Gallup calculates Body Mass Index (BMI) results using respondents' self-reported height and weight. Americans with a BMI of 30 or above are considered obese. Gallup polled adults aged 18 and older in 187 metro areas in 2009.

America's 10 least obese metro areas boast an average obesity rate of 18.7 percent – 15.1 percentage points lower than that of the nation's 10 most obese places and significantly better than the national average.

Among the 10 least obese metro areas, Boulder stood out as it performed the best across the board on Gallup and Healthway's indexes measuring healthy behaviors, community conditions and physical health. Residents there are among the most likely in the country to get frequent exercise, and at 5 percent, are among the least likely of citizens in any of the 187 metro areas surveyed to have diabetes. To compare, the metro area with the highest level of reported diabetes is McAllen/Edinburg/Mission, Texas, at 18.9 percent. It is also worth noting that Boulder tops all U.S. metro areas in overall well-being.

Gallup sites healthy behaviors as the common denominator among residents of the 10 least obese metro areas, as nine of the 10 areas rank in the top third of the Gallup-Healthways Healthy Behavior Index, which measures exercise, eating and smoking habits. Majorities of residents in each of the 10 least obese places report that they ate healthy "yesterday," eat fruits and vegetables frequently, and exercise regularly. Half or more of residents in all of the least obese areas report exercising for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week. This stands in contrast to the nation's 10 most obese metro areas, where in all but one less than half report exercising at the same frequency. Smoking rates are also lower than the national average across all but one of the least obese areas.

Conditions within a community also play a major role in the number of obese residents. The Gallup-Healthways Basic Access Index finds that residents in almost all of the nation’s least obese metro areas report above-average levels of access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, having a safe place to exercise, having enough money to buy food and having health insurance.

All of the least obese metro areas in the U.S. have diabetes levels lower than the national average as well as fewer heart attacks – a result of eating healthier and exercising.

According to Gallup, Boulder and the nine other areas that accompany it as the nation's 10 least obese places can serve as examples from which other communities can learn. Still, even the 16 percent obesity rate in the least obese place in the country as recorded by Gallup today is slightly higher than the obesity levels reported by the government in the United States in the 1980s, suggesting that the country has a long way to go to reverse the enormous increase in obesity rates of the past 30 years.