Date Archives: August 2014

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  Overwhelmed with the idea of buying a home? It can be a lot to handle, so try thinking of home-buying like dating. It's a process that's sometimes frustrating, but ultimately you'll be glad you held out for "the one." Here are some things to remember. Make sure you're worth the investment. "Are you homeowner material" is kind of like, "Are you boyfriend or girlfriend material?" Banks, like dates, aren't going to take a chance on someone they don't see a future with. That means a credit score above 600 will increase your chances of getting approved for a homeowners loan. It'll cost you money. Think of it as a "wine and dine" process – you're going to have to woo a loan program with a down payment 3.5 to 20 percent of the price. After that, it's common practice to spend about 30% of your gross income on your mortgage. Compromise. Your relationship with the seller will be one of compromise – price and closing details are something you'll probably have to go back and forth on. If you're unsure of how much you should be offering, read our guide on how to determine an appropriate amount. Accept that nothing's perfect. The home for you probably won't be perfect. But overall, will the home make you happy the way a true love can? Remember, if you can change your mate's habits, you certainly can tear down a wall or redo a floor to get exactly what you want. Trust your friends. Think of your CENTURY 21® American Homes Agent as the friend who will help guide you through the process. They'll introduce you to prospects, give you advice, and just generally be your support until you sign and close. The road to home-buying isn't easy, but it's worth it. Just remember that with the help of these steps, you'll be living your happily ever after in the home that suits you.  

Modern kitchens are generally built with space and convenience in mind. But if you're living with an older kitchen, there are easy additions you may want to consider to maximize available space and cooking area. A modern, luxury kitchen. The Wall St. Journal's home and living editors provide their top six suggestions:  
  • Kitchen island – A kitchen island can double or triple both food preparation and storage space. An inexpensive portable island can give you space and flexibility.
  • Wall oven – It's a lot easier to baste a turkey at eye level than it is when it's below the stove – and there's something to be said for the extra elbow room it will give you when you are multi-tasking in the kitchen. Lastly, a wall oven with two compartments gives you extra baking space and the availability of convection or rotisserie options.
  • Cabinet organizers/lazy susans/pullout shelves – Easy access to pantry items and pots and pans make food preparation easier and faster. Consider having lazy susans, pull-out shelves and other organizers built into your kitchen cabinets.
  • Pot and pan racks – If cabinet space is an issue, think about wall-mounted racks to keep you most-used pots and pans within easy reach. A trip to the home store or a look online will yield plenty of options.
  • Dishwashers – Today's large capacity and energy-efficient dishwashers are a boon to the family cook. Install one if you don't already have one built in – or replace the one you have if it's more than seven or eight years old.
  • Ventilation system – Experts say that cooking churns out airborne contaminants like nothing else in the home – and even food that smells great while it's cooking doesn't smell so good hours or days later. With the right ventilation system, odors and contaminants will become a thing of the past.
  Published with permission from RISMedia.

Whether you're a new homeowner or have been handy with a wrench, snake and other tools for years, there are some situations that require more than a plumbing amateur's skills. From the kitchen sink to the toilet and pipes underneath your home, these problems can occur at any time. As a homeowner, you should know how to handle them and when to call a professional.  


  Clogged Drains or Toilets When the water that's sitting in a bathtub, toilet or sink won't go down the drain, you have a problem. Start the repair process by first determining what caused the problem. Is it a clump of hair or a grease build up? Something worse, perhaps? Whatever the case, finding out about it first is essential to finding a solution.   Most toilet clogs can be handled with your trusty plunger. The clog in your drain will likely go away if you use a commercial grade drain cleaner. If you decide to use a commercial drain cleaner, wear gloves and a protective mask at all times. If the clog persists after a few times, it might be time to call the professionals. Don't overdo it with the drain cleaner because you might end up hurting yourself and damaging the pipes.   Professional plumbers have tools that can help identify the problem much easier, such as snakes and video cameras. They'll be able to use one of their many de-clogging tools to remove your clog in no time. Burst Pipe Regardless of the reason, a burst pipe can cause thousands of dollars in damage if not rectified in an appropriate amount of time. The best way to fix a burst pipe is with a C clamp. The first step is to turn off the water completely. Then, place a piece of rubber over the exposed area of the pipe. Secure the rubber by placing a piece of wood on top and then tightening down both pieces with a C clamp. Make sure you tighten the C clamp until both the piece of wood and rubber are secure. In most cases, burst pipes can only be fixed temporarily by homeowners. Once you've turned off the water and secured the pipe, call a professional; they might have to replace the pipe altogether.   Leaky Fixtures A leaky fixture, such as a faucet, can be extremely annoying. Luckily, you only need a few tools and some basic knowledge to fix this type of problem.   First, remove the handle by removing the screw that attaches it to the faucet. Then, try tightening the packing nut which is located at the base of the stem. After you've tightened this nut, place the handle back onto the faucet and test to see if the leak is gone.   If this simple process doesn't work, you may need to replace some necessary parts, such as washers or nuts, or it may be time to get a new faucet altogether.   No Hot Water Lack of hot water is an issue that millions of people across the United States experience on a daily basis. If you have an electric water heater, some of the causes may be a tripped circuit breaker, a bad thermostat or a faulty electric heating element. Once you've finished the troubleshooting process, the best thing to do is to replace any parts that you find are broken. Most plumbers have extensive knowledge of water heaters and should be contacted immediately.   Source: Mammoth Plumbing Published with permission from RISMedia.

"Bidding for a new home can get pretty fierce in today's market," said Gibran Nicholas, Chairman of CMPS Institute, an organization that trains and certifies mortgage bankers and brokers.  "In some cases, you may be competing with more than a dozen other buyers who are bidding on the same property."  Here are three potential solutions to avoid getting outbid on your new home: Bidding on a home 1 - Turn in your loan paperwork BEFORE you place an offer.  In many cases, you are bidding against cash buyers who don't need to wait for financing approvals. Look at it this way: if you were the seller, would you prefer to do business with a buyer who needs to wait for financing approvals, or a cash buyer who can close the deal quickly?  "That's why it's important to be proactive," Nicholas said.  "Provide your mortgage lender with things like your source of down payment funds, your asset documentation, your credit report and your income documentation.  This way, you'll be in a better position to close the deal quickly and compete with those cash buyers."   2 - Pay cash, but do it right. "Keep in mind that you only have 90 days after closing to place a mortgage on a property that you bought with cash if you want to secure your tax deduction," Nicholas said.  "In order to get that loan approval after closing, you'll need to document the source of funds that you used for your cash purchase. Talk to a CMPS professional for more details so that you can avoid problems down the road."   3 - Consider lender-paid mortgage insurance. Lender paid mortgage insurance allows you to accept a slightly higher interest rate in exchange for no mortgage insurance. "This is very useful because it's often less expensive than FHA insurance or Private Mortgage Insurance," Nicholas said.  "The lower monthly payment that results with this option can help you to afford a higher priced home, or at least get more comfortable paying at or above list price for the home you want."   Source:   Published with permission from RISMedia.

If you're tired of looking at the same old living space, but can't afford new furniture, California room designer Erin Pedersen suggests eight ways to give your living room new life without spending a lot of money: Update Your Living Room   Rearrange it – Simply repositioning the furniture can make a huge difference. Cut out paper pieces to scale and waltz them around a sheet of paper cut to match your room until you find a new arrangement that works.   Paint it – A fresh coat of paint can do wonders to change the look of a room, especially if you contrast your chosen wall color against white baseboards and woodwork.   Add a rug – Whether your floors are wood or carpeted, an inexpensive area rug can liven up a space with little cost or effort. Swap out artwork and accessories – Changing out a few of the knick knacks in the room – and/or the prints hanging on the walls – can breathe new life into the space. Accessories are among the least expensive pieces in a room, so start over when you tire of them. Make it seasonal – Speaking of accessories, set a bowl of seashells on the mantelpiece in summer, and accessorize with beach or pastel pieces. In winter, switch to baskets of pine cones and candles in autumn's deeper hues.. Throw in the pillows – Adding splashes of color is another great way to liven up a room. Comb the home store for pillow colors you want to live with. Light it up – If you have an overhead fixture, think about replacing it with something more contemporary. If you're happy with the fixture, help bounce light around the room with a couple of new table lamps or wall sconces. Paper it – Wallpaper, out of fashion over the past few years, is now making something of a comeback. Try papering one wall for accent. Try one of the new repositional papers you can peel off and toss if you tire of it. Published with permission from RISMedia.

(Family Features) Creating a happy, energized home during the warmer months starts with getting organized. Set the mood for summer with these fun, simple and creative tips:   Summer Fun     Get "chore-ganized." Before heading off to bed, take a few minutes to do basic prep work for the next day: slicing fruit for breakfast, portioning out sandwich meat for lunch, laying out clothes for the next day. Finish up by swiping counters for a clean slate in the morning. Taking care of a few chores the night before provides a few extra minutes to spend with the kids or relax over coffee before the start of a new day, which will give your mood a much-needed boost.   Cut down chore time. Improve your mood by checking laundry off your to-do list. Streamline the process by clearing up clutter and creating plenty of open room for sorting and folding. Put all of your laundry-related items on shelves within reaching distance of the washer and dryer. A mounted ironing board is perfect for smaller spaces – you can keep it out of the way, yet easily accessible.   Elevate the ambiance. Sensory triggers can affect your mood in positive way. Create a relaxing environment with lamps, dimmer switches and candles. Choose light bulbs that mimic natural light. Consider hanging a fixture in the center of the room and additional smaller lights around the periphery to create a wash of warm, beautiful light and eliminate any dark, shadowy spots.   Source: Snuggle Published with permission from RISMedia.

(MCT)-It may still be hard to find the home of your dreams with the limited inventory for sale. But at least when it comes to getting a mortgage, you might have more options as lenders loosen some of their standards. Five Housing Trends for Summer Here are some of the housing trends you should expect to see this summer.   Mortgage Rates Remain Surprisingly Low Mortgage rates have surprised many industry observers who expected rates to rise this year. Rates remain near the bottom and it is unlikely they will spike this summer. "Rates are falling as a direct relationship to the fact that the economy is not healing as fast as everybody thought it would," says Anthony Hsieh, CEO of loanDepot. The Mortgage Bankers Association's latest forecast says the 30-year fixed rate could average 4.9 percent by the third quarter and reach 5 percent by the end of 2014. But there's a good chance rates will remain stable through the summer, says Peter Grabel, senior mortgage loan originator for Luxury Mortgage Corp. in Stamford, Conn. "I don't feel there's any reason for rates to change a lot," he says. Still, if you like the rate you have today, don't waste time. "They are not that much off all-time lows. There's only room for them to go in one direction and that's up."   Lending Standards Loosen Up Getting a mortgage these days is obviously not as easy as it was during the housing boom, when pretty much anyone could get a loan. But after years of tightening, it seems like the standards are loosening up a bit. "We are seeing underwriters have a little more flexibility with some common-sense issues," Grabel says. "That's not a suggestion we are going back to the old days." Standards have loosened mostly for larger loans because they are not the types of loans that get sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The institutions have their own guidelines and lenders must follow them if they want to sell the loans after they issue them. Mel Watt, the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, recently says his office will change some of the guidelines to allow lending to borrowers with slightly lower credit scores. The FHFA oversees Fannie and Freddie. "Mel Watt reversed course for the first time in many years to say we have to loosen the current lending standards," Hsieh says. Some lenders also are allowing lower credit scores on FHA loans. Many lenders required borrowers to have a credit score of at least 640 for an FHA loan.   Creative, Non-QM Mortgages Emerge When new mortgage regulations were implemented this year, many lenders says they would not lend outside the guidelines provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's qualified mortgage rule, or QM. They says it would be challenging for many borrowers to be able to get approved for a home loan once the rules went into effect. Loans that meet QM's requirement offer lenders a certain level of protection against borrowers' lawsuits. But now that lenders are slowly becoming more comfortable with the rules, some are once again offering creative loans that don't meet QM requirements. "There are some places offering non-QM loans," says John Walsh, president of Total Mortgage Services in Milford, Connecticut. "I think you will see more investors enter that space because there is an opportunity there." Borrowers usually don't know whether or not they are getting a loan that meets QM requirements unless they are told they can't get a loan because of new regulations and the lender explains the details. But it is helpful for certain borrowers, including some who are self-employed and those seeking larger loans, to have access to lenders that go outside the QM lending box.   Discounts on FHA Loans Homebuyers with small down payments have long relied on FHA loans, or loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. But the cost of mortgage insurance on FHA loans increased significantly in recent years and it's an obstacle to many borrowers. The government is trying to ease some of that burden for borrowers who are willing to go through housing counseling before they purchase a home. "It's a pretty decent discount that you would get," Walsh says. "If you get a $200,000 loan, you are going to save $1,000 upfront and 10 basis points yearly." On that same loan, that would translate into about $17 per month in savings. "For people that are aware of it, it would be crazy not to take advantage of this program," Walsh adds. "Plus, the counseling service should help people understand what it really means to buy a house."   Home Prices Take a Summer Break The spring homebuying season wasn't as good as people in the industry had expected. But for now, home prices seem to be taking a break. That's good news for those planning to buy a home this summer. Part of the reason home prices have increased so rapidly in some places is a shortage of homes available for sale, experts say. "In the New York City area, rents are so high and there's still tremendous demand for buying," Grabel says. "But people are getting stretched already. I don't think that can continue much longer." Investors and institutional investors also have contributed to higher home prices as first-time homebuyers get squeezed out of the market, Hsieh says. "We are in an unsustainable recovery," he says.   Polyana da Costa is the senior mortgage reporter for Visit Bankrate online at ©2014 Distributed by MCT Information Services Published with permission from RISMedia.

Annual Checkup(BPT) - There's no better time than now to give your home the attention it deserves. Give your windows and doors an annual checkup before cold weather arrives to help add comfort, save energy and cut home maintenance in the long-run.   Inspect interior and exterior finishes. Over time, paint and stain can weather away. Flaking or peeling may mean that it's time to refinish or replace the unit. When replacing windows or doors, consider factory prefinished wood, fiberglass or vinyl options that don't need painting or staining. Look for damaged exterior surfaces or signs of leaks. Check your sprinkler system to make sure it's watering your lawn and landscape, not soaking your windows or doors. Cracked or deteriorated wood may be a sign of water penetration. Leaks can linger and affect interior walls, floors or ceilings, so look closely for discoloration or other moisture signs.   If you spot a problem, track its trail. For example, discolored trim around a window might actually be caused by moisture entering a ways away. With a leaky roof, water may run down inside the wall and appear at the window. Contact a professional for help in making home repairs.   Clear windowsills and tracks of dirt and debris. Sand, leaves, insects or pine needles stuck in weather-stripping can affect the performance of your windows and doors. Open the windows and clean the opening with a soft brush, like a dry paint brush or vacuum attachment. Do the same for sliding patio doors. Try opening and closing. Open your windows and doors to make sure moving parts work, and units close properly. Replace worn or broken parts. Inspect weather-stripping. Re-attach loose weather-stripping around windows or doors, and replace material that's ripped or torn.   Replace or repair broken locks. If locks feel loose or don't work smoothly, replace them. Keep windows and doors locked when not in use. Locks help hold doors and windows tightly, to lock out rain, wind, snow and insects. Inspect weep and breather holes. Weep holes on the exteriors of windows allow excess moisture to escape, while breather holes allow air exchange within certain components. Clear blocked holes of dirt or debris with a wire or toothpick.   Check exterior sealants and caulk on and around windows and doors. Pay attention to areas susceptible to rain, water and extreme sunlight. Remove damaged material and reapply sealant.   Feel for signs of air leakage around the window or door. Improperly installed windows or doors can be drafty, decrease energy efficiency, and allow unwanted moisture into your home. To help save on utility bills and keep your home more comfortable year-round, replace drafty old, leaky windows with new, ENERGYSTAR-qualified versions.   Published with permission from RISMedia.

Buying a home is an incredibly important decision. We recommend working with a CENTURY 21 ® American Homes real estate professional who can provide insights and advice throughout your home buying process.       There are lots of questions you can ask your real estate agent but here are five starters.   1. Should I even buy at all?   Perhaps you're not ready to buy yet, and renting is a smart plan at the moment. Discuss the varying costs, how long you plan to stay in the area, and whether a rent-to-own plan (where you begin a lease with the option to buy down the road) is a better fit. We hope that these questions help you find your dream home. Use the resources found on to help you throughout the process of finding a home.     2. May I see a Comparative Market Analysis for this area?   A Comparative Market Analysis (CMA), is a comparison of one home to other similar homes that have recently been on the market. Use it to understand if the price of the homes you're looking at is on par with the price of other homes in the neighborhood or similarly sized homes. You can find more details about how to use a CMA in our glossary.     3. What is the neighborhood like?   You are not just moving into a home, you are moving into a neighborhood. Your neighborhood determines your school district, your commute, your neighbors, your taxes, and more. Ask questions that indicate whether the neighborhood is right for you and your family. We recommend driving to work at rush hour times to measure the commute, visiting the school your kids would attend, visiting the home during different times of day, and learning about local hospitals and doctor's offices. Find out more here!     4. How flexible is this home's asking price?   Ask your REALTOR® to help you hone in on a good but fair initial offer. Too low, and it could seem insulting; too high, and you're at a disadvantage. Find out more about how your CENTURY 21®  American Homes real estate professional can help you determine the right price.     5. Will they accept a lease option?   A lease option is an arrangement whereby a buyer and seller agree to rent a home until the buyer is able to make a purchase. Your CENTURY 21 American Homes real estate professional can ask if the seller would be willing to go through with a lease option. If you and the buyer decide that this option works well for you learn more about the process.   Source:

hammockWhether you're spending your summer curled up with a favorite book, listening to music or just enjoying the view, hammocks are the perfect spot for outdoor lounging. They require almost no maintenance once they're hung up, but hanging one is no easy task. String your hammock up quickly by following these steps:   1. Weigh your options before purchasing. There are two common types of hammocks: traditional, which are designed to hang loosely, and ones with spreader bars, which keep the hammock taut. Spreader bar hammocks keep the hammock open, so no one gets wrapped up in the material.   2. Select your support. Choose two, sturdy trees that show no signs of rot. Maple, oak or beech varieties work best. Traditional hammocks must be hung 6 to 8 feet above the ground, to accommodate the material dipping. Spreader bar hammocks can be hung 4 to 5 feet from the ground.   3. Measure the distance. Whether you have a traditional or spreader bar hammock, try to use trees that are distanced enough so that your hammock is stretched out completely. In most cases, trees are not placed ideally and homeowners will have to extend the hammock with a chain. Make sure the chain isn't more than 18 inches on either side to avoid tearing.   4. Hang it up. Secure the hammock with tree-fastening straps, which sometimes come with the hammock. If you're buying separately, look for straps that have a loop and a metal ring. Attach the straps with S-hooks to the hammock, and enjoy your new backyard retreat.   Source: Zillow Blog   Published with permission from RISMedia.

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