January 18, 2012 4:26 am
Homebuyers should pay close attention and avoid money pit houses as the rules of navigating local real estate continue to change. These rapidly changing rules are happening in every area of the home buying process. Some of these rules have to do with the condition of the homes themselves. Bank owned properties and short sale homes tend not to be in the best shape and could have hidden conditions. New requirements for homeowners insurance policies have made changes on roof and sinkhole coverage limitations. Changes to Federal government regulations for banks and lending requirements make navigating an FHA loan quite tricky.
According to REALTOR® Ginny Zukowski, the “money pit” can not only be a home that has hidden repair costs, but homeowners insurance policies may require the repairs to be made before they will write a policy. Also, banks are not accepting all appraisals and often require a second and sometimes third appraisal before they will provide a loan. This can lead to a lower price than the original appraised amount and less than the contract price.
To help potential homebuyers, Zukowski reveals the following tips:
Tip 1: Be prepared for the new changes and have open communication with the real estate agent and lender. Try to meet with them together and find out all of the upfront cash that will be needed to purchase the home. Buyers will need to pay for all inspections, appraisal, good faith money, and provide a down payment. With new private mortgage insurance, this could be several thousand dollars.
Tip 2: Once the buying process starts, be prepared for the closing to take some time. If it is a short sale, this could be four-to-five months. The loan process is also taking longer, around 45 days on the average, and additional delays often occur.
Tip 3: Be on the lookout for properties that will soon need a new roof or A/C. Home insurance policies can require new ones before they issue a policy and the mortgage lender requires homeowners insurance. This can cost the buyers more upfront dollars.
Tip 4: Before putting in an offer, ask the REALTOR® to explain all the possible things that could require more time and money at or before closing. As an example, the bank may require additional appraisals. A bank-approved appraiser may be required.
Tip 5: Be sure the REALTOR® goes over all of the fine print before an offer is submitted. Be aware of all the possible things that could go wrong and how it could impact the buying process up front.
With a real estate professional to help both buyers and sellers navigate the process, you can be know what to expect in the home buying process...and what to avoid.
January 18, 2012 4:26 am
For the fifth consecutive year, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity to help build a simple, decent and affordable home.
The 79th annual Christmas tree will be milled into lumber after the holiday season and will return to its home state of Pennsylvania to be used in the construction of a Habitat home in Philadelphia.
"We're thrilled to be receiving the Rockefeller Tree and grateful to Tishman Speyer for this donation," says Frank Monaghan, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. "We know the tree will bring as much joy to a Habitat family as it has to the visitors of Rockefeller Center."
"The beloved tradition of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree brings joy to people around the world," says Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. "We are so grateful that once again the lumber from the tree will help build a home, strengthen a community and offer a family a better future."
Habitat used the 2007 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lumber to help build a home in Pascagoula, Miss., in partnership with a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Lumber from the 2008 tree was used to help build shelving in a multi-unit building constructed by Habitat for Humanity – New York City. The 2009 Rockefeller Christmas tree lumber was used in the construction of a home in Stamford, Conn. Last year's tree was used for the framing of exterior walls of a home built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, located in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York.
For more information, visit www.habitat.org.
January 18, 2012 4:26 am
On average, an approximate one-quarter-million homes and offices have at least one room damaged by a frozen pipe per year. In order to ensure your home stays safe and your pipes don’t freeze, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® suggests three easy-to-remember steps: Foam, dome and drip.
Foam: Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. By keeping your water warmer, you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the cold, winter months.
Dome: Place an insulating dome or other coverings on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of water pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak.
Drip: Allow a slow drip from your faucets to reduce the buildup of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the released pressure in the water system will reduce the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town and suspect the temperature will drop, turn off the water and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way pipes won’t freeze and you won’t return home to a mess.
Your local home improvement store will have all of the tools and expertise you will need to complete these steps. Foam, dome and drip your way to a safe winter season free of costly home repairs.
For more information, visit www.greatwinterweatherparty.org.
January 17, 2012 4:24 am
Saving money is often one of the most common New Year's resolutions. And since owning a home is easily one of the biggest expenses the average person will have in their lifetime, saving money around the home is crucial. Even for those who are able to pay off their mortgage, the cost of annual maintenance - plus the little luxuries we tack on - can really add up. In order to save some money this upcoming year on home-related expenditures, consider these steps:
Refinance. Interest rates are low right now, so take a look at your current mortgage and assess if it would be wise to refinance. Cutting even $100 from your monthly mortgage payment will mean huge savings over the life of your loan. Be sure to understand the terms of the refinance, as sometimes the cost to refinance does not outweigh the savings.
Shop your homeowners insurance. We often overlook the cost of homeowners insurance because it is escrowed and paid as part of our monthly mortgage payment. However, you could be greatly overpaying for homeowners insurance, which would increase your monthly mortgage payment unnecessarily. While you're at it, ask your home insurance agent to package in your car insurance policy to get additional discounts, typically up to 20%.
Reduce energy waste. Take a look at your monthly energy bills to see how much energy you are really using each month. Make efforts to reduce energy usage in the winter cold and summer heat by properly sealing windows and doors that could be susceptible to drafts. Set your thermostat a few degrees cooler during the day when no one is home to save on unnecessary heating and cooling.
Skim down your cable, phone and Internet. Oftentimes, when homeowners set up their television, Internet and home phone service they get talked into a bigger package than they need. Do you really need the fastest Internet speed? How many of those 245 television channels do you actually watch? See if you can save yourself a few hundred dollars a year by downgrading your service package.
Get smart at the grocery store. We often think of our food costs as a necessity- therefore, we justify the expense. However, a little bit of frugality can go a long way when you're working the aisles at your local market. Get in the habit of clipping coupons and checking the sale papers to make some smart food shopping choices.
For more information, visit HomeownersInsurance.com.
January 17, 2012 4:24 am
A recent national survey conducted by GfK Roper Custom Research finds that less than 50 percent of homeowners surveyed know that they are responsible for repairs to the water line on their property. Further, the report goes on to state that one-third of all homeowners responding actually assume that their local utility is responsible for the cost of a burst water line between their house and the street, when this is usually not the case.
"One of the challenges of homeownership is that the potential for expensive repairs is always out there," says Tom Rusin, chief executive officer of HomeServe USA. "The fact that homeowners don't know about their responsibilities in these situations serves to make unexpected and expensive repairs harder to handle."
To protect yourself in the case of an unexpected emergency, homeowners can be prepared with a service repair plan that helps cover the cost of expensive water service line repairs. Typically the homeowner is responsible for the water service line from the curb or well casing all the way to the home, connecting to the water heater, sinks, showers and more. Temperature changes, shifting soil or the age of the line can all cause the line to become damaged. Many times this results in a loss of water pressure or a loss of water altogether. In other instances, the effects will not be noticed until there is a spike in the water bill due to an underground leak. Repairing a water service line can cost more than $2,000.
A well-protecting plan provides consumers thousands of dollars in coverage for a low monthly fee and will dispatch a contractor to make any necessary repairs should a problem arise.
For more information, visit www.homeserveusa.com.
January 17, 2012 4:24 am
As the nation's unemployment rates slowly recover, the apartment industry continues to see strong demand for new employees in order to keep up with a growth rate that is expected to increase as people opt to rent apartments.
Approximately 35 percent of U.S. households are renter households, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is up 4 percent from 2004. It is likely to climb even higher as the number of renter households increases anywhere from 360,000 to 470,000 annually over the next decade. Ultimately, that increase will translate into the creation of more well-paying jobs in the apartment management industry, which has come through the recent recession relatively unscathed by the layoffs and downsizing that have plagued other businesses.
"The reality is that at no point in time have we seen a significant reduction in the number of apartment units in the United States," says National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) President Maitri Johnson. "Every year we keep adding to the apartment stock, and we keep adding jobs. That has not been the case with many other industries during the past few years."
The multifamily housing industry employs more than 1 million people, not including the thousands of others working in industries that provide products and services to apartment communities. Large national apartment management companies may hire as many as 2,000 new employees in any given year. These employees often come from a variety of college backgrounds, including business, marketing, communications or facilities maintenance.
Managing apartment communities requires a team of employees performing a variety of functions such as management, customer service, accounting, business analysis and preventive maintenance. A recent search of job postings on ApartmentCareers.com highlighted open positions for an accountant, webmaster, maintenance technician, housekeeper and regional marketing director.
John Cullens, president and founder of ApartmentCareers.com, said few industries can provide a career that is not only portable – virtually every community has a few rental homes or an apartment community – but also provides a variety of career paths, good pay and good benefits. The apartment industry is particularly attractive to new college graduates who may lack the experience needed for well-paying jobs in other industries. Once exposed to the opportunity to manage a $3 million budget, a team of six employees and a real estate asset valued at over $20 million, most recent graduates realize that they have found their niche.
"The apartment industry has a constant need for new employees to not only keep pace with the growth we are seeing in the industry and the construction of new rental units, but also to fill those positions that open as a result of standard employee turnover and baby boomer retirements," says Johnson. "Multifamily housing is an industry that doesn't require all employees to have advanced degrees. Our workforce is very diverse, and people can find good jobs at all levels."
With more than 95 million (and growing) Americans living in rental housing, the industry's job opportunities are only expected to increase in the coming years.
For more information, visit www.apartmentcareerhq.org.
January 16, 2012 4:24 am
The holidays are over and hopefully your home is free from holiday decoration and debris. With temperatures dropping outdoors, now is the perfect time to pick up some mini projects to brighten the inside of your home and create a new feel for the new year.
Explore your crafting side: If you're snowed in with nothing to do, pick up that arts and crafts project you've been procrastinating on forever. Make a collage for your bedroom or living room, or maybe paint an old lamp or vase. Artistic expression gives your home a unique look and provides you with a fun activity that will also be quite productive.
Bring the essence of the outdoors, indoors: Just because it's cold and dreary outside doesn't mean you can't be thinking spring. Buy and frame an inexpensive poster that reminds you of your favorite season. You can also go to a florist and pick up your favorite flower or plant. Anything you can do to bring light, color and feelings of warmth inside will be beneficial for your mental state throughout the long, cold winter.
Brighten the scene: Check all of the light bulbs in the house to make sure they're all working. With the sun setting much earlier, you need all of the light you can get at night. Consider replacing your light fixtures for a more modern look. There are plenty of directions to take a lighting project in. Speak to an electrician or lighting professional if you really want to change the lighting in your home.
Repaint a room during the rare warmer days: If the temperature permits, consider repainting a room in your house to give it a fresh look. Wait for a warm day, so that you can properly ventilate the house, then go at it. New colors work great to brighten rooms and lift spirits, or if you are the artistic type, paint a design or painting on one portion of a wall. Painting is the perfect do-it-yourself project, and weather permitting, is the perfect winter task to take on.
With a little creativity, you can brighten up your home and give it new life for the season. By the time spring has sprung, your home will be prepared with a warm, fresh feel.
January 16, 2012 4:24 am
Many people typically think of sunrooms as a summer addition - a place to soak up the sunshine and bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor living. But these tips serve as a reminder to homeowners that sunrooms, conservatories and patio enclosures, when built properly, can easily be a cozy cold-weather retreat.
While sunrooms and patio rooms do make an excellent warm-weather family hub, that only tells part of the story. Getting a true year-round sunroom means getting a glass room addition with a superior build quality that can be used during even the coldest months, with no need to abandon it as soon as the winter weather arrives. The difference between cheaply-made three-season rooms and a four-seasons sunroom is that the latter is a room addition you can utilize all year long, even when it's cold outside.
When buying a Sunroom or Conservatory, it's the glass that makes all the difference in providing insulation in the colder winter months. Try to find energy-efficient glass, exclusive to its own room, that does just that. The sunroom will block out more of the heat in the summer and stay warmer during the winter, allowing the homeowner to enjoy year-round comfort, even when there's thick snow on the ground.
Another great benefit of any sunroom or conservatory is the way it can flood a home with natural daylight. Exposure to natural light makes people feel healthier and much lighter in spirit, so a room addition that lets in a lot of light is a great way to keep those "winter blues" away.
When it's too cold to venture outdoors, a sunroom will bring the outside inside, 365 days a year. It can serve as a wonderfully tranquil space to enjoy the plants, trees, birds and other wildlife in the backyard all from the comfort of an armchair. At night, it's a romantic spot to do a little star gazing, or watch the gently falling snow from in front of the fireplace.
During the summer months, it's easy to live life outdoors, but it's just as easy to forget how tight a home may be on space, especially during those long winter days when families can be all cooped up together. Sunrooms, conservatories or patio rooms are more than just an extended porch; they can make great playrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and kitchen extensions. Matching the addition to a family's needs creates a comfortable home for all to enjoy, winter or summer.
For more information, visit www.FourSeasonsSunrooms.com.
January 16, 2012 4:24 am
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) concurs with a finding by the Federal Reserve that excessively tight mortgage lending standards are hampering a housing and economic recovery.
“The Federal Reserve’s report to Congress confirms what we have been saying for some time: That extraordinarily tight credit conditions are preventing creditworthy borrowers from obtaining home loans and this is harming the housing market and the broader economy,” says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.
Nielsen adds that the lack of credit extends to housing construction loans as well, which is crippling the housing industry and preventing construction of new homes in markets that need and want them. “In scores of markets across the country that are exhibiting signs of job growth and where the inventory of new homes is nearly exhausted, builders should be hiring workers to break ground on new housing developments,” he says.
In its message to Congress, the Fed said that “restoring the health of the housing market is a necessary part of a broader strategy for economic recovery.”
Housing can act as a job catalyst if regulators and lending institutions return to prudent underwriting standards that do not exclude creditworthy borrowers and if they move to restore the flow of credit to viable home building projects.
In normal times, housing accounts for more than 17 percent of the nation’s economic output. Constructing 100 new homes creates more than 300 full-time jobs, $23.1 million in wage and business income and $8.9 million in federal, state and local tax revenue.
With cash-strapped municipalities across the land desperately searching for new revenue sources, home building can increase the property tax base that supports local schools and communities.
“Removing the obstacles limiting access to mortgage credit and enabling builders to obtain construction loans to build in markets where demand is firming is imperative to get housing back on track, to put our nation back to work and to keep the economy moving forward,” says Nielsen.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
January 13, 2012 4:18 am
Drivers should be aware that there are many other types of distracted driving - not just using a mobile device. Drivers should understand the various types of distractions and be sure these bad habits are avoided when driving a car.
Driving a vehicle requires a driver’s full attention. When drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, their accident risk can double and cause serious damage to themselves and other people. Distracted driving can harm not only yourself, but others as well. It’s the driver’s responsibility to be alert and drive safely.
Here are some quick facts:
• One study showed that nearly 80% of crashes involve some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event.
• Driver distraction is estimated to be a contributing factor in eight out of every 10 police-reported crashes.
• The average driver needs to keep track of 3,000 items during rush hour. (This includes signs, traffic lights, other vehicles, passengers and pedestrians, road and weather conditions, and more).
• Talking on cell phones (hand-held or hands-free) while driving makes drivers 4 times more likely to crash.
Types of distracted driving to avoid
• Using a mobile device – cell phone or GPS
• Reading maps
• Grooming – applying make-up
• Eating or drinking
• Programming the radio or changing CDs
• Carrying on a conversation with passengers
• Tending to children or pets
• Looking at billboard signs
If you are caught using a mobile device, police may issue a ticket for the offence that will vary in cost. Your ticket will be put on your driving record and may cause your car insurance rate to increase.
Tips to stay safe while driving
• Turn off cell phone while driving; only use cell phones when the vehicle is parked or be sure to purchase a Bluetooth device.
• Attend to personal grooming prior to driving.
• Eat or drink before entering the vehicle.
• Preset GPS device before getting on the road.
• Be well rested.
It is crucial for driver and passenger safety to remain alert at all times while driving. Make sure to stay focused and pay attention to the road. Everything else can wait – the main concern is to arrive safely. Don’t forget that causing an at-fault accident will likely impact insurance premiums significantly.
Source: InsuranceHotline.com, The Insurance Bureau of Canada