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Spring Forward with Home Improvement Trends

March 19, 2012 4:18 am

As the spring season comes into view, many homeowners ask if it is smarter to move or to improve? Cost is often the driving factor behind home improvement projects, so it's important to choose projects that will provide the biggest return on investment.

According to the Power Home Remodeling Group, homeowners should strive to get the biggest bang for their home-improvement buck this spring, whether updating a home to increase it's resale value or infusing the place with some personality to create your dream home. Power shares the following tips to stay on trend with home improvements this spring:
  • Energize your exterior – Exterior home improvements are king when it comes to return on investment again this year. Projects like updating siding, window replacement and refreshing entry doors can have a dramatic effect on your home's curb appeal for a relatively low cost. In fact, seven of the top 10 home improvement projects for 2012 are exterior projects garnering anywhere from 69 to 78 percent return on investment — the highest of any other projects this year.
  • Choose bold and bright finishes – Fiberglass entry and garage doors are a popular alternative to their pricey wooden counterparts in 2012. A fiberglass door is weather resistant, durable and, above all, maintenance free. This material allows you to achieve the stylish look of an elegant craftsman or rustic design with decorative glass at the fraction of the price. Bright, bold exterior colors are also popular this year. Make your curb appeal pop by choosing a shade of tangerine, yellow or deep purple for your entry door to give your home a cheery look heading into spring.
  • Energy efficiency is still supreme – The top green home trend for 2012 is renovating to reduce your home's heating and cooling costs. Making the most of an empty attic space by adding a bedroom, or at least finishing it with insulation, is a great way to keep conditioned air from escaping through the roof. Updating the attic also happens to be this year's third most cost effective home improvement, garnering a whopping 72 percent return on investment, and adding living space without increasing the home's footprint is an eco-friendly way to gain more square footage.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Let Your Spring Cleaning Create March Madness

March 19, 2012 4:18 am

Now that most of the snow is melting away, the plants are peeking out from beneath, and the clouds have parted, there's a good chance that the shining sun will shed light on a disheveled, dirty home.

The experts at The Maids, however, report that spring cleaning doesn’t have to drive you mad. They offer the following spring cleaning tips to help you enjoy a sparkling start to the new season:
  • Wash your walls. Use a spray bottle filled with water and a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid. Spray the solution on a clean cloth, and clean each wall in sections. Let the solution sit for a few minutes before wiping it down with a clean, damp sponge. Remember to regularly wring out the sponge. If your walls are painted, test the paint durability on a small area in a corner.
  • Scour your small storage spaces. Take everything out of your cupboards and drawers, dust off the items, and vacuum inside using your crevice attachment. To make them inconceivably clean, wash the bottom of each drawer with a solution of one quart of water and two tablespoons of vinegar.
  • Freshen up your fridge. Unplug it and remove everything, including the shelves and drawers, before cleaning. Wash the inside surfaces with a mixture of warm water and dish soap. Wash the shelves and drawers in the sink with the same solution. Then, wipe everything dry with a clean cloth. Make sure to throw out unused or expired food items before returning your refrigerator to its original state.
  • Brave the big one. In almost every room of your house, there's probably one big piece of furniture that you've never dared to move. Pull that couch or bed away from the wall and power vacuum behind it.
  • Tackle the toilet. Put on goggles and rubber gloves and mix two parts water to one part vinegar in a bucket. Dip a sponge into the mixture and then wipe down the rim and the seat. To prevent spreading germs, use paper towels to wipe the outside of the bowl and the base. Flush the toilet and throw away your sponge.
  • Give your shower head a shine. Boil the head for five minutes in a half-cup of vinegar and a quart of water to remove mineral deposit clogs. If your shower head is plastic, soak in a hot water and vinegar mixture.
Source: The Maids

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Survey Shows Consumer Attitudes More Positive

March 19, 2012 4:18 am

A new survey shows that Americans’ concerns about key economic and housing issues are beginning to subside.

Fannie Mae’s February 2012 National Housing Survey shows that consumer attitudes have stabilized across most indicators—including personal finances, housing, and employment—compared to late summer and fall of 2011. The survey polls 1,003 Americans via telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, mortgage rates, homeownership distress, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts.

The survey shows that the most dramatic change revolves around the economy—35 percent of Americans now feel that the economy is on the right track, up 19 percentage points since November, and 57 percent think the economy is on the wrong track, down 18 percentage points since November.

Americans’ confidence about personal financial situations, household income, and household expenses, as well as attitudes about homeownership and renting is holding at steady levels. Also important to note, Americans’ concerns about losing their job in the next 12 months has stabilized since the late fall, with 76 percent of Americans saying they are not concerned in February 2012, compared to 70 percent in November 2011. Fannie Mae believes that the recent pick-up in the pace of hiring over the past few months is directly responsible for alleviating consumer concerns about unemployment.

Here are some additional highlights from this important survey:
  • Only 12 percent of respondents believe that their personal financial situation will worsen in the next 12 months, a 3 percentage point drop from January and the lowest value in over a year.
  • 33 percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months, a 3 percentage point decrease from last month and the lowest level in the past 12 months.
  • 28 percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months (consistent with last month), while 15 percent say they expect home prices to decline (down 1 percentage point since last month).
  • 10 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go down in the next 12 months, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose by 3 percentage points to 13 percent, the highest level in over a year.
  • 45 percent of respondents think that home rental prices will go up, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Moviegoing Goes Viral with New App

March 16, 2012 4:18 am

Popular online movie site Fandango announced that it has launched a new Facebook timeline app that makes movie-going more social than ever. The new app, called "Movies with Friends," allows fans to share their movie-based activities and recommendations on their Facebook timeline and News Feed, while seeing their Facebook friends' movie picks via an activity bar on Fandango's website. The feature will also provide fans the choice to actively share information about their movie-going plans and invite others to join them, facilitating movie-going with friends in real time.

"Movies with Friends" is an opt-in app that allows users to share up-to-the minute film information, including:
  • Movies they've rated and reviewed on Fandango, from "Must Go" to "Oh No!"
  • Movies they want to see, indicated by the "I'm In!" button
  • Movie trailers, clips and celebrity interviews they have just watched
  • Articles they've read on Fandango's "Freshly Popped" blog
The launch of the Movies with Friends app follows on the heels of Fandango's best-selling January and February in the company's nearly-12-year history. Fandango recently announced new ticketing agreements with Regency Theatres, and with AMC Theatres, adding 3,000 new AMC screens to its extensive network of movie theaters across the country, now numbering a total of nearly 20,000 screens. Fandango's 30 million unique visitors regularly account for a significant percentage of opening weekend tickets sold nationwide, and the company is already reporting hundreds of sold-out showtimes for the March 23rd release of "The Hunger Games."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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New Index Shows Rental Markets Heating Up

March 16, 2012 4:18 am

Median rents rose 3 percent from January 2011 to January 2012 while home values declined 4.6 percent during that period, according to the January Zillow® Real Estate Market Reports.

The newly released Zillow Rent Index (ZRI) showed year-over-year gains for 69.2 percent of metropolitan areas covered by the ZRI. By contrast, only 7.3 percent of metro areas covered by the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) saw home values rise. All in all, 70 percent of markets saw an increase in rents, while 7 percent logged home value increases.

"While it seems that rents are rising at the expense of home values, the opposite is true,” explains Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “A thriving rental market will stimulate home sales as investors snap up low-priced inventory to convert to rentals. That, in turn, will lower the number of homes on the market, which will eventually help put a floor under the value of all homes. Moreover, rising rents increase demand as buying becomes more attractive than renting because of low purchase prices and higher rents."

In the short term, national monthly rents declined slightly from December 2011 to January 2012, falling 0.3 percent to $1,218. Home values fell 0.5 percent during the same period to $146,200.

Additionally, foreclosures ticked up slightly in January. Foreclosure re-sales also rose on both a month-over-month and year-over-year basis. Nearly one-in-five (19.5 percent) of homes sold in January were foreclosure re-sales.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Seniors and Young Adults to Play Big Role in Housing

March 16, 2012 4:18 am

Aging baby boomers and their echo boomer children will significantly impact trends in the nation’s housing market over the next 20 years. In a new report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center, “Demographic Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Housing Markets,” researchers at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), The Urban Institute, and the University of Southern California analyze key demographic trends and their likely influence on housing and homeownership in the U.S.

Over the next two decades, the aging baby boomer generation will swell the nation’s senior population by 30 million. That demographic shift will likely help increase the supply of housing, since people over age 65 typically release much more housing than they absorb.

“The Northeast and Midwest are most likely to see a large number of older homeowners selling their homes to younger homeowners as the baby boomers age,” explains NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “This increased supply could mean additional buying opportunities for echo boomers. That generation will absorb 75-80 percent of the available inventory of owner-occupied housing by 2020.”

The echo boom generation includes nearly 65 million people born between 1981 and 1995. NAR’s analysis illustrates the potential impact of economic and housing policy on this generation’s demand for housing as they come of age.

“Housing, jobs and the economy are inextricably connected,” says Yun. “A strong recovery with favorable housing market conditions would encourage substantial growth in echo boomer households, which would help absorb the current vacant inventory and stabilize conditions for residential construction. Under a reasonable ‘middle’ recovery scenario, approximately 12 million new households will be formed over the next decade, requiring construction of up to 15 million new housing units.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Saturday St. Patrick's Day Poses Increased Risk

March 15, 2012 4:18 am

Newly released data on offenders monitored 24/7 for alcohol consumption shows that when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday, drinking violations increase 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year—and that's for offenders who know they're being monitored and whose consequences are often time in jail.

According to Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which monitors 14,000 DUI and other alcohol-involved offenders each day, the newly released data shows that when the St. Patrick's Day Holiday falls on a Friday or Saturday, violation rates skyrocket 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year. The study looked at holiday drinking for the last seven years.

The data underscores the challenges of the holiday for law enforcement as well as the risks posed by problem drinkers. The additional risks that go with a weekend St. Patrick's Day are no surprise to law enforcement, who are already warning celebrants of the additional measures they can expect to see over the holiday weekend this year. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving (ITFDD), regardless of the day of the week, St. Patrick's Day sees the second-highest rate of DUI arrests in the state, right after Halloween.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Appraisal Institute Advises US Sentencing Commission to Require Appraisals

March 15, 2012 4:18 am

Speaking at a hearing in Washington, D.C., the Appraisal Institute recently urged a federal judicial agency to require the use of real estate appraisals when calculating loss in mortgage fraud cases. The Appraisal Institute is one of the nation's largest professional associations of real estate appraisers.

In prepared written testimony, Appraisal Institute President Sara W. Stephens, MAI, told the U.S. Sentencing Commission, "We believe the Commission should adopt a special rule for determining the fair market value of real property if the mortgaged property has not been disposed of by the time of the sentencing. However, this rule should require use of real estate appraisals prepared by qualified appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, as opposed to tax assessments, to ensure fairness and consistency."

Stephens explained that the Appraisal Institute and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers oppose the proposed amendments to the federal Mortgage Fraud Sentencing Guidelines because the amendments propose using tax assessments, and not real estate appraisals, to determine fair market value when the property in question has not been sold.

"Real estate appraisals prepared by qualified real estate appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice are clearly preferable to tax assessments for the circumstances described in the amendments," Stephens said in her written testimony.

She said that condition and quality inspections are necessary as part of a credible and thorough valuation of a property, noting that tax assessments do not include such inspections. She also said tax assessments rely on public records data, which can be inaccurate and therefore reduce the reliability of the valuation.

Stephens also noted that reassessment periods vary widely by jurisdiction, and that some jurisdictions have not reassessed property in several decades. "In these cases, if a tax assessment is used in the calculation of a mortgage fraud sentence, it is likely to overstate the loss to the bank, and potentially inflate the sentence of someone convicted of mortgage fraud," she noted, adding that fairness requires use of a real estate appraisal.

Stephens also said that assessed value may not conform to market value. And she said the two appraisal organizations recommend that the Commission establish a special rule relating to the qualifications of real estate appraisers. "We suggest those performing these appraisals have earned a designation from a nationally recognized professional appraisal association who awards the designation based on demonstrated competency that requires approved classroom training in appraisal practice, experience requirements, and preparation of a demonstration appraisal report or appraisal review report or a comprehensive qualifying examination," she said in her written testimony.

Section 1079A of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if appropriate, to amend the federal sentencing guidelines applicable to mortgage fraud and financial institution fraud offenses and to consider whether the guidelines appropriately account for the potential and actual harm to the public and the financial markets from those offenses.

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How to Spot a Mortgage Scam

March 15, 2012 4:18 am

While the landmark $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement was just announced last month, scammers have wasted no time capitalizing on the vulnerability of desperate homeowners.

The settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers was signed by federal and state officials Feb. 9, and will provide assistance for homeowners in order to compensate for the faulty foreclosure practices offered by mortgage servicers following the housing market crash. According to the nonprofit credit-counseling agency Money Management International (MMI), although real compensation is still months away, there have already been numerous reports of scam operations popping up across the country.

“While the government has been cracking down on foreclosure scams, it is important for you to remain diligent in keeping your personal information safe,” advises Jo Kerstetter, vice president of education and community relations for MMI.

Kerstetter offers the following tips to help avoid a scam:
  • Don’t panic. Mortgage scams are effective because the scammer is able to exploit the fear of a person who is in a desperate, vulnerable state. Don’t let fear cause you to make irrational decisions.
  • Never act under pressure. Don’t sign a contract or disclose information before doing your research. You can always request to receive any information in writing.
  • Trust your gut. If someone is offering you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Stay informed. Make sure you obtain detailed information about your foreclosure deadlines. If you want to know if you qualify under the Settlement, contact your bank or loan servicer directly.
  • Don’t release any personal financial information. If you are contacted by someone who claims to be from your financial institution and wants you to “confirm” or help them identify your personal account information, it is likely a scam. Rather than releasing information, ask for their contact information and tell them you’re going to call them back.
  • There is no fee involved in the National Mortgage Settlement. If you are contacted in any way from someone asking for money in return for a speedy settlement payment, they are scamming you.
For more information about mortgage assistance relief scams, visit FTC.gov. If you have questions or concerns about your mortgage loan, consider meeting with a HUD-certified housing counselor to discuss your options.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Take the Chill out of Selling Your Home

March 13, 2012 4:18 am

While you may be waiting for the temperature to rise before putting your home on the market, there are many ways to effectively market your home in late winter and early spring. Here are some great cold-weather tips from Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale:
  • Heat it up: If you are planning an open house or have showings scheduled, turn up the thermostat and make the home warm and inviting. A cold home shopper will race through a house and start questioning the windows and insulation.
  • Light it up: For homes with fireplaces, this is the perfect opportunity to show the potential buyer how cozy a fireplace can be. Leave some marshmallows and sticks nearby and invite those seeing the home to test it out.
  • Take care of snow and ice: If the property you’re selling is in a snowy climate, make sure that the walk is clear, the driveway is shoveled and put down salt to control any icy surfaces. If you aren’t currently living in the home that is for sale, make sure to hire someone to clear it for you.
  • Use photographs: If you have a beautiful lawn, stellar landscaping or an outdoor pool or deck, take some eye-catching photos of these amenities during the warm months and display them during a winter showing so buyers can get a better understanding of what the outside truly offers.
  • Schedule open houses: Winter and early spring is a great time to take advantage of less competition. Many serious buyers often come out during the winter months, including corporate clients who usually need to relocate within the first quarter of the year.
  • Emphasize the positives: Does your street get plowed quickly? Is it near public transportation to make it easier to get to work in the snow? Is it within walking distance of stores? Does it have a great hill for the kids to sled down in a safe environment? If so, accentuate these features.
Since a lot of people are waiting until spring to put their home on the market, having your home ready to show now is a great way to beat the rush.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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