January 16, 2012 4:36 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 4:32 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
January 13, 2012 4:32 am
In an effort to continue stabilizing home values and improve conditions in communities experiencing high foreclosure activity, Acting Federal Housing Administration Commissioner Carol J. Galante recently extended a temporary waiver of FHA’s anti-flipping regulations through 2012.
“This extension is intended to accelerate the resale of foreclosed properties in neighborhoods struggling to overcome the possible effects of abandonment and blight,” says Galante. “FHA remains a critical source of mortgage financing and stability and we must make every effort that to promote recovery in every responsible way we can.”
With certain exceptions, FHA rules prohibit insuring a mortgage on a home owned by the seller for less than 90 days. In 2010, however, FHA temporarily waived this regulation through January 31, 2011, and later extended that waiver through the remainder of 2011. The new extension will permit buyers to continue to use FHA-insured financing to purchase HUD-owned properties, bank-owned properties, or properties resold through private sales. It will allow homes to resell as quickly as possible, helping to stabilize real estate prices and to revitalize neighborhoods and communities.
The extension announced is effective through December 31, 2012, unless otherwise extended or withdrawn by FHA. All other terms of the existing Waiver will remain the same. The Waiver contains strict conditions and guidelines to prevent the predatory practice of property flipping, in which properties are quickly resold at inflated prices to unsuspecting borrowers. The Waiver continues to be limited to sales meeting the following conditions:
• All transactions must be arms-length, with no identity of interest between the buyer and seller or other parties participating in the sales transaction;
• In cases in which the sales price of the property is 20 percent or more above the seller’s acquisition cost, the Waiver will apply only if the lender meets specific conditions, and documents the justification for the increase in value; and
• The Waiver is limited to forward mortgages, and does not apply to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) for purchase program.
Since the original waiver went into effect on February 1, 2010, FHA has insured nearly 42,000 mortgages worth more than $7 billion on properties resold within 90 days of acquisition.
FHA research finds that in today’s market, acquiring, rehabilitating and reselling these properties to prospective homeowners often takes less than 90 days. Prohibiting the use of FHA mortgage insurance for a subsequent resale within 90 days of acquisition adversely impacts the willingness of sellers to allow contracts from potential FHA buyers because they must consider holding costs and the risk of vandalism associated with allowing a property to sit vacant over a 90-day period of time.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
January 13, 2012 4:32 am
So you've made the decision to go paperless? Congratulations! That filing cabinet of papers in the guest room can now be eliminated. Whether in an office or at home, the ubiquitous paper giant looms over everyone and promises to rob them of precious time and resources. Most are in a hurry to get this problem under control. Choosing a good electronic document system and even some new hardware, like a fast scanner, may be necessary to get started.
There are several factors involved when selecting a solution. Without proper preparation and consideration of all your needs, you may select a paperless tool that cannot grow with you. Below are 5 pitfalls and some meaningful advice to help avoid them when attempting to go paperless:
Pitfall 1. Doing more work to be paperless than necessary. Go paperless only where possible and practical. If situations cost too much time or money, it probably isn't worth doing so. If you're too busy to make the change, you are best off waiting. However, look for a paperless solution that can offer hands on service to capture and shred the current paper mess. More importantly the solution should be able to help you. Keep the effort going with a simple method to continually capture documents in regular intervals.
Pitfall 2. Letting paper pile up. When looking at a mound of paper covered in a month's worth of dust, it becomes very difficult to imagine that the information there could be important. The problem is that people often don't review paper as it comes into their hectic lives. Identifying a solution that can provide physical assistance with sorting through paper is a must. Consider using the “keep or discard” method. As soon as a piece of mail or other paper is received, decide immediately whether to keep it or discard it and stack them in two separate piles. A little bit of this everyday beats waiting until the paper piles out of control.
Pitfall 3. Using too many tools at once. Scanners, cameras, smartphones, cloud resources, computer and phone software are everywhere. Many become overwhelmed with the resources and often cannot settle on the best one. The new paperless user winds up with a fragmented and sometimes duplicated electronic filing system. It is necessary to determine what functions are most important and prioritize the tool selections focusing on those that provide most of what is needed.
Pitfall 4. To store on the cloud or to store onsite. That is the question. Both choices offer considerable benefits, but come with an equally disturbing number of challenges. Storing at home or in the office is very safe when using an encrypted hard-drive and a frequent, consistent backup schedule is implemented. The solution is often a one time and low cost outlay for hardware. The challenge is that like most electronic devices, no one can predict when they are going to fail. And it is just a matter of when, not if. Online document storage offers a sound solution as long as paying a regular monthly fee is acceptable. Cloud systems rarely lose data and they are very secure. Check for those that are used in larger businesses or financial institutions with government recommended security protocols. The cloud solution should be robust but easy to use.
Pitfall 5. Printing stored documents rather than using alternative read or share methods. This has got to be one of the most confounding challenges with going paperless today. Many professionals are still printing documents to review, approve and route throughout an organization. Although this style takes up precious resources, it is a very challenging habit to break. Everyone in the organization will need to commitment to the idea of embracing a no waste attitude. If done successfully, hundreds or thousands of dollars can be saved in printing equipment and services.
Anyone can learn to review documents without printing them. Over a short period of time most will find it easier to scan through information on a screen rather than print. Running a quick search for keywords in an online document is simple on screen, as opposed to scanning through printed pages for keywords.
For more information, visit PaperErasers.com.
January 12, 2012 4:32 am
Remodeling is a fun and exciting way for homeowners to spice up their homes. With a slower economy, many are choosing easy, do-it-yourself projects to stretch their paychecks and meet lower budgets. One of the most common of these is interior painting.
"Nearly everyone agrees that some jobs, like reroofing or electrical work, are best left to the pros, but most people think they can do their own painting," said Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute. "And, generally speaking, they're right."
According to Zimmer, many people regard painting as a weekend project. As such, they want to see some results by Sunday’s end. "That's a realistic goal, but to achieve it, you have to plan out the job and be well-organized," she said.
1. Move all of the furniture out of the way. Push it to the center of the room, and use plastic sliders for heavy items to avoid heavy lifting. Cover all couches and furniture with plastic, blankets or old sheets. Drop-cloths are a great idea and will protect your floors from accidental sprays of paint.
2. Cleanse all of the surfaces you are going to paint with a sponge and household detergent solution. You definitely want a clean surface before starting the job. Give the surfaces ample time to dry before continuing.
3. No one likes multiple trips to the store—make a list and grab all the necessary paint, tools and accessories you need in one fell swoop. The Paint Quality Institute has a helpful checklist at www.paintquality.com.
4. Buy 100 percent acrylic latex interior paint. It’s technologically advanced and top quality. Some of these durable paints serve as a double agent—as both a primer and paint—and are better at hiding whatever color is underneath. Another plus, you may only need a single coat. It’s a great way to save time, money and effort.
5. Tape the edges of surfaces that you will be painting. Doing so will help you quicken the job, saving lots of your precious time. In addition, it’s way neater too.
6. Working from the top down is the smartest way to tackle the project. Paint the ceiling first, then move on to the walls, the windows and trim, and lastly, paint the baseboards. Following this exact order will prevent paint spatter or drip marks and will also prevent you from needing to do much touch-up work.
7. Assuming that you use the paint suggested above, clean up will be simple. These types of paints are water-based and can quickly be cleaned off of painting tools with just soap and water.
8. Another plus to using top quality latex paint: it won’t have as strong of a paint smell. You can put a freshly-painted room back into service almost immediately.
Source: The Paint Quality Institute
January 12, 2012 4:32 am
Many people looking for unoccupied homeowners insurance for an empty residence will find that the process can be difficult. Many companies will not cover such a dwelling or charge high premiums because of the increased risk associated with vacant properties. The chance of burglary and vandalism are higher. The potential of unnoticed damage which can compound problems and costs also increases. There may also be an issue with squatters.
If a residence is vacant for more than 30 days, a standard policy may become invalid. In order to find homeowners insurance that will cover this type of property for a reasonable price, here are four things that should be known to reduce risk and help lower rates.
1. Make the home look occupied. There are many things that can be done, such as asking a neighbor to park their car in the driveway and putting lights on a timer. It is also recommended to leave furniture in the home when securing your home. Be sure to also have newspapers and other mail stopped.
2. Prepare the central heating and water. If a house will be empty during the winter months, the risk of frozen pipes and water damage increase. By keeping the heat on at a low setting, this risk is reduced.
3. Set up regular inspections. The majority of problems with vacant properties are simply because of unnoticed issues and compounding damage and costs. By having a trusted third party make regular visits, this can be avoided and add peace of mind.
4. Secure the property and remove valuables. All entry points should be secure with an alarm set. Valuables should be removed so they do not attract attention that could lead to burglary.
By following these tips, you can reduce the risk and hopefully use it as leverage to receive lower insurance rates.
For more information, visit www.HomeownersInsurance.net.
January 12, 2012 4:32 am
Pending home sales continued to gain in November and reached the highest level in 19 months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 7.3 percent to 100.1 in November from an upwardly revised 93.3 in October and is 5.9 percent above November 2010 when it stood at 94.5. The October upward revision resulted in a 10.4 percent monthly gain.
The last time the index was higher was in April 2010 when it reached 111.5 as buyers rushed to beat the deadline for the homebuyer tax credit. The data reflects contracts but not closings.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the gains may result partially from delayed transactions. “Housing affordability conditions are at a record high and there is a pent-up demand from buyers who’ve been on the sidelines, but contract failures have been running unusually high,” he said. “Some of the increase in pending home sales appears to be from buyers recommitting after an initial contract ran into problems, often with the mortgage.
“November is doing reasonably well in comparison with the past year. The sustained rise in contract activity suggests that closed existing-home sales, which are the important final economic impact figures, should continue to improve in the months ahead,” Yun added.
Pending home sales are not affected by the recently published rebenchmarking of existing-home sales because the index uses a different methodology based directly on contract signings, and is adjusted for seasonality.
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 8.1 percent to 77.1 in November but is 0.3 percent below November 2010. In the Midwest, the index increased 3.3 percent to 91.6 in November and is 9.5 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 4.3 percent in November to an index of 103.8 and remain 8.7 percent above November 2010. In the West, the index surged 14.9 percent to 121.2 in November and is 2.9 percent higher than a year ago.
January 11, 2012 4:32 am
People are living longer today. The century-long expansion in the world’s population that is 65 and older is the product of dramatic advances in medical science and health lifestyles. Currently, 13 percent of the U.S. population is 65 and older, up from 4 percent in 1900. As baby boomers turn 65 in high and higher annual numbers, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be over age 65 and about 5 percent over 85. All this calls for growing care and services for the elderly population and pre-planning for lifestyles in the future.
The senior housing industry has been growing dramatically over the last 15 years as many adult children are now in the workforce and unable to provide the attention to their parents’ needs, whether physical or social. There are a number of things to be considered when choosing lifestyle alternatives.
-Location. Keeping your parents close to home should not be the number one consideration. Although it is important that the community be convenient for family and friends to visit, being close to amenities they need and trust will make their senior living experience rewarding and more fulfilling.
-Type of community. Visiting to make sure the current residents have similar interests, backgrounds and values will allow for a more enriching life in the golden years. Many communities invite prospective residents to tour their community and enjoy lunch with the community, which is a wonderful way to ascertain if the culture is a fit. Many communities offer a weekend stay to experience more fully what the community has to offer.
-Staff. Is the staff appropriately dressed, personable and outgoing? Do the staff members treat each other in a professional manner? Does the staff call residents by name and interact warmly? The answers to these questions will determine quite a bit toward whether the community is right for your loved one.
-Medical needs. Does the community have on-site medical supervision? If not, is there an agency that is associated with the community that can help when needed?
Finding and choosing a housing option for an aging loved one can be a difficult process. Be sure to keep seniors' needs as your top priority in order to find a community that properly suits them.
For more information, visit www.alternativesforseniors.com.
January 11, 2012 4:32 am
Winter is steadily upon us and the last thing you need is for something to go wrong with your heating system and not know where to go first. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, be prepared and use these tips to help find a contractor:
Study up - Find out about license and insurance requirements for contractors in your state. Before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your heating needs.
Ask for referrals - Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for contractor referrals. You can also contact local trade organizations for names of members in your area.
Call references - Ask contractors for customer references and call them. Ask about the contractor's installation or service performance, and if the job was completed on time and within budget.
Find special offers - A heating and cooling system is one of the largest purchases you'll make as a homeowner. Keep your costs down by checking around for available rebates on energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. Begin your search at www.energystar.gov.
Look for ENERGY STAR - ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offer significant long-term energy savings. Contractors should be able to show you calculations of savings for ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment.
Expect a home evaluation - The contractor should spend significant time inspecting your current system and home to assess your needs. A bigger system isn't always better; a contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows. A good contractor will inspect your duct system (if applicable) for air leaks and insulation and measure airflow to make sure it meets manufacturers’ specifications.
Get written, itemized estimates - When comparing contractors' proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. The lowest price may not be the best deal if it's not the most efficient because your energy costs will be higher.
Get it in ink - Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It'll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.
Pass it on - Tell friends and family about ENERGY STAR. Almost one-quarter of households knowingly purchased at least one qualified product last year, and 71 percent of those consumers say they would recommend ENERGY STAR to a friend. Spread the word, and we can all make a big difference.
January 11, 2012 4:32 am
A new year marks a perfect time to start new routines and many of the resolutions people make involve trying to lead healthier lives. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) offers this list of five reasons consumers should make bottled water a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in 2012.
1. Choose bottled water for safety and convenience – Available in many different sizes, including 3- and 5-gallon containers used in bottled water coolers; 2.5-gallon refrigerator-size containers; and “on-the go” half-liter (16.9oz), one-liter, and 1.5 liter convenience-size packages, bottled water is always ready to quench your thirst. At home, in the office, or on the move, consumers can drink bottled water with confidence throughout the day. Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety and quality and it comes sealed in 100 percent recyclable containers.
2. Choose bottled water for its great taste – When water tastes better, it’s more likely to be consumed, and staying hydrated is important for your health, even during winter’s colder months. Many people enjoy bottled water because of its crisp, refreshing taste and with options that include spring, mineral, sparkling and purified, bottled water has a lot to offer.
3. Choose bottled water instead of sugary or caffeinated drinks – According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans get up to one-third of their daily calories from sugary beverages. Making the switch to refreshing zero-calorie bottled water could help reduce up to 700 calories/day or 255,500 calories a year! Drinking water also helps to curb your appetite; a healthy option for reducing calories and maintaining proper hydration.
4. Choose bottled water for its ability to multi-task – Need a cooler pack to bring your lunch to work? Pop a bottled water in the freezer the night before and toss it in your lunch bag as you head out to work. The frozen bottle will chill your meal and then provide a healthy, zero-calorie beverage to enjoy. A bottled water in each hand doubles as weights during a hike or run; handy fitness aids you can consume when you’ve finished your workout.
5. Choose bottled water because it’s the healthiest choice – Choosing to lead a healthy lifestyle can sometimes mean a lot of changes in your life. Opting to drink bottled water makes one of your most important decisions also one of the easiest. Fitness experts recommend staying hydrated throughout the day. What better way to do just that than to choose bottled water when it’s time for a drink?