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May
15

(BPT)—Staging your home ensures a speedy, profitable sale—if the senses are considered. Prospective buyers interpret a potential home through all of their receptors, and that includes senses like sight and smell. To stage to this effect, remember the three Ds: Deep-Clean the Selling Points Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes—but they must be immaculate to do so. In the kitchen, clean inside appliances that are staying put: the dishwasher, oven and refrigerator. Replace the filter in the range hood, if you have one, and polish windowpanes to a sparkling finish. In the bathrooms, de-scale glass shower doors and showerheads and scrub the grout. Clean metal drain grates, and add in a few drops of sweet-smelling essential oils to maintain a "freshly-cleaned" aroma. Deter Odors Most households have their own unique scent, likely indistinguishable to the seller, but potentially a turn-off to buyers. Neutralize smells, malodorous or otherwise, with a naturally-derived fragrance, such as lemon or eucalyptus. If possible, warm up a buyer-friendly combination of scents (think cinnamon, clove, orange and vanilla) on the stove just before a showing—it's low-cost, fast, and heightens the "welcome home" atmosphere. De-Clutter "Invisible" Areas Many sellers fall into the trap of staging only the "visible" areas of their home—but a discerning buyer will look at the "invisible," too, such as cabinets, closets, drawers and the garage. Disorganized, full-to-bursting invisible areas can read cheap, cramped or poor-quality to buyers, which can lead to low-ball offers, or, worse, no offers at all. De-cluttering is particularly paramount in the garage, where buyers are seeking a sense of spaciousness. If your garage is loaded with moving boxes, consider storing them in a rental unit while your home is on the market. Source: Aura Cacia Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
28

Credit scores factor into the majority of lending decisions, including those for mortgage and rental applications. In most of these scenarios, lenders determine an applicant's eligibility by weighing his or her FICO® Score. Credit Score FICO recently rolled out an enhanced version of their Score Simulator that helps prospective homebuyers and renters understand the impact their actions have on their credit scores. The tool simulates actual FICO Scores, allowing users to enter multi-action simulations and providing side-by-side comparisons with data from the three major credit bureaus. The what-if simulations include over 20 distinct actions, such as: • Forgetting to Pay a Bill • Increasing a Credit Account Limit • Maxing Out a Credit Card • Paying Down a Credit Card Balance • Refinancing a Mortgage • Taking Out a Car Loan "Because FICO Scores are used in more than 90 percent of U.S. lending decisions, consumers want to better understand how their actions might affect FICO Scores," says Geoff Smith, vice president of Consumer Scores at FICO. "The newly enhanced FICO Score Simulator enables consumers to run simulations using the actual FICO Score 8 formula, as well as data from all major credit bureaus. This is an extremely easy-to-use and valuable tool for anyone who wants to understand how their financial behavior could impact their FICO Scores." The Score Simulator can be found at myFICO.com. Source: FICO® Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
28

Quality materials matter in any remodel—and when renovating the kitchen, no material matters more than the cabinets.   "One of the most critical times in a remodel or new construction is when customers order their kitchen cabinets," says Greg Truex, senior director of the at-home practice at J.D. Power. J.D. Power recently released their annual report of the kitchen cabinetmakers ranked highest in customer satisfaction, rated by factors including design, operational performance and price. The top five are: 1. Thomasville 2. SEKTION (IKEA) 3. American Woodmark 4. KraftMaid 5. Hampton Bay Also included in the report are the purchasing behaviors of kitchen remodelers. Notably, 66 percent are first-time kitchen cabinet buyers, and 34 percent have not purchased a kitchen cabinet in nine years—possibly signaling a correlation between the rankings and the preferences of newer homeowners. Source: J.D. Power Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
21

Whether you're moving across town or across the country, getting ready takes lots of pre-planning. From Real Simple magazine, a moving checklist: Two Months Before • Sort and Purge – Go through every room in your home and decide what you will take and what you will get rid of. Plan a garage sale and/or gather up your charitable donations now. • Get Estimates – Get a few onsite moving estimates—not over the phone—in writing. Keep all estimates, receipts and notes in a binder. • Transfer School Records – Arrange for all school records to be transferred to the new school district. Six Weeks Before • Gather Supplies – Start stockpiling moving boxes, tape and markers. • Pare Down – Begin using up stuff you don't want to move, like frozen foods and cleaning supplies. One Month Before • Choose a Mover – Get written confirmation of the date, costs and details. • Start Packing – Begin with things you use least often, like extra dishes, out-of-season clothing and recreational items. Label boxes in terms of content, and where in the new house they should go. • Separate What You Will Carry – Stow away any valuables, like jewelry or important papers, that you will be transporting yourself in a safe box. • Change Your Address – Do it online or at your local post office. Alert your bank, credit card issuer, utility company and any magazine providers to the change. Ask a neighbor to check your mailbox for a few weeks after your move. • Forward Medical Records – Arrange to have them sent to your new medical provider. Two Weeks Before • Withdraw Your Safety Deposit Box – Store valuables in your safe box at home. • Confirm Moving Arrangements – Call the moving company to confirm the date and time. One Week Before • Refill Prescriptions – Be sure you have enough for several weeks. • Get Serious about Packing – Pack suitcases for each family member with enough to wear for a few days. Two Days Before • Defrost the Fridge/Freezer – Give away any perishables. Moving Day • Sign Mover Inventory List – Keep a copy for your records. Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
17

Selling your home can be exciting, but unfortunately, it can also heighten the risk of crime when showing the home. A recent blog from realtor.com® outlined the following points to remember—all of which will be practiced by your real estate agent.
  • Schedule an appointment for showings.
  • Keep records of every guest's identity.
  • Watch for unexpected guests.
  • Do not show your house without your real estate agent, or if you are otherwise alone.
Most importantly, the blog advised: trust your instincts. Instinct is generally the best self-protection tool. If a visitor makes you feel uncomfortable, be alert. Warning signs include:
  • He or she spends too much time in one room, checking windows, doors or even security devices;
  • A couple separates during the showing (Professional burglars usually have one person talking to the agent or seller as a distraction, while the other wanders around, planning an act);
  • He or she asks questions in an effort to make you reveal habits or schedules, such as what time everybody goes to work and/or school, what you do on the weekend, etc.
After the showing, be sure to lock your doors and windows—a recent article noted one case in which a rogue visitor unlocked a window at an open house and returned later to burglarize the property. Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
8

(BPT) - In pop culture, myths can sometimes be mistaken for truth. Common ones, like, "don't swim for a half hour after eating," or "we only use 10 percent of our brain," are false even though they're widely taken for fact. Adjustable rate mortgage The adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) earned a bad rap after the 2006 housing crisis. The problem was, before the crisis, many borrowers were able to qualify for more home than they could actually afford by using interest-only, No Income Verification or No Ratio ARM products. When the housing market tanked and many houses lost value, some homeowners with rising mortgage payments either foreclosed or walked away from their properties. Fast forward 10 years to today. The ARM is back to show potential homebuyers it's not the villain of the housing market. It's time to debunk the myths that give ARMs the "bad guy" reputation it doesn't deserve. MYTH: ARMs are unstable and aren't a good option while the Feds are raising rates. This myth stems back to the days of the 2008 recession. It's like saying, "dial-up is the fastest way to access the Internet," it's just not true anymore. All ARM loans have annual and lifetime caps, so there's built in protection. If stability is what you're concerned with, consider an ARM with a longer adjustment period. For example, Navy Federal Credit Union's 5/5 ARM adjusts only once over the initial 10-year period. Interest rates rise and fall in cycles. Even if rates are increasing now, that doesn't mean they won't be on the downturn when you arrive at your potential adjustment point. Many ARM mortgage holders never refinance to a fixed rate because the many ups and downs of the market happen in-between their adjustment points. Refinancing is always an option for those with ARMs. Just remember to calculate closing costs on your refinance to make sure you're actually improving your situation. Research and the guidance of a trusted lender will be the winning combo for saving money over the life of your mortgage. MYTH: ARMs are only for people who want to be in a home for a few years. Not true. ARMs have fixed intro periods that can vary from one to even 15 years. If you think you'll own that home for five or six years, a fixed mortgage rate may have a higher interest rate over that span. So why spend the extra money associated for the added security of a fixed rate? "The potential savings on an ARM, can range from $10,000 to $20,000, compared to a 30-year, fixed rate jumbo mortgage," said Katie Miller, Navy Federal vice president of Mortgage Lending. "That's enough money for a down-payment on a car, or part of your child's college tuition." Again, it pays to plan for various scenarios based on how long you plan to own the home. MYTH: Rates only rise when you have an ARM. The term "adjustable" gives the misconception ARMs are unstable. The ARM is very similar to a fixed-rate mortgage; both offer a 30-year term with no prepayment penalty and early payoff options, among other similarities. The intro rate period (usually a lower rate) and potential rate changes (up or down) over the life of the loan is what makes an ARM unique. Knowing your cap and what the difference in payments are over the life of the loan protects you, even if rates are on a roller coaster. Knowledge is power as an ARM holder. That "power" helps you make necessary calculations to figure out a yearly breakeven point should your interest rate increase and your introductory rate savings begin to decrease. Check out an ARM vs. Fixed-rate Mortgage Calculator to see if this type of mortgage works for you Like any myth, do your research before accepting it at face value. If you add up the ARM's initial savings plus the cost to refinance, an ARM is hard to beat from a financial standpoint, and that, is the truth.
April
1

(BPT) - Spring is here! This season of new beginnings also marks the start of the year's busiest real estate period. According to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, the housing market in 2016 is set to be quite active with a 3 percent increase in total home sales compared to the previous year. If you're planning to enter the housing market this year, buying or selling a home is a big decision and you can count on plenty of competition. To ensure you make the correct home buying or selling decisions, it's important to do your research and arm yourself with valuable information.     'Selling or purchasing a home is one of the biggest and most important transactions many consumers will make in their lifetime,' says Tim Haynes, president of American Home Shield (AHS). 'It's important for everyone involved to make smart decisions that will help a home stand out in a competitive real estate market, and at the same time, protect against costly breakdowns.'   For both home buyers and sellers, AHS recommends preparing for what will happen vs. what might happen. A home warranty not only helps protect a home's systems while it's on the market, but also helps provide buyers with additional confidence in their purchase. For an already financially stretched homebuyer, it's important to know that a home warranty covers what homeowners insurance doesn't - the repair/replacement of home system appliances.   To help you make the most of the spring home season American Home Shield offers these tips.   * Sellers: improve curb appeal. First impressions matter. Take your home's exterior from drab to fab. Trim shrubs, mow the lawn and remove all dirt/debris from around the outside. Make sure the house numbers, mailbox and lighting fixtures near the front door look inviting. Add plants and comfy furniture to the porch for a welcoming touch.   * Sellers: optimize the space. Add the illusion of extra square footage by using the same paint in a lighter shade across rooms to create a seamless transition. Remove family photos and any customized decorations so the buyer can picture living in the home. Be sure to keep the master bedroom gender neutral. Lastly, have a professional cleaner shine the home, especially often-neglected areas like carpets, ceiling fans and baseboards to make a bigger impact.   * Buyers: do your homework. Narrow your home search to particular areas and neighborhoods that appeal to you with regard to housing prices, school districts and work commuting times. Determine your budget and stick to it. Familiarize yourself with the real estate market and your rights as a homebuyer. Know your credit score and take steps to improve it, if necessary.   * Buyers: ask the right questions. Don't be afraid to directly ask the seller 'what's wrong with the house?' Ask to see disclosure forms around any issues with the house and check the age/condition of major home systems, like heating, plumbing, electrical and air conditioning - this can cut your costs in the long run. Additionally, an independent professional home inspection is highly recommended. This is an investment that can pay for itself many times over, especially if hidden defects are found.   American Home Shield is the nation's largest home warranty company, servicing homes for over 45 years offers tips to arm and has a trustworthy network of over 3,000 contractors. For more information and helpful home buying and selling tips from American Home Shield, visit www.ahs.com or the Home Matters Blog and YouTube Channel, which have hundreds of maintenance tips, videos and content for homeowners to help protect homes from the inside out.
March
24

With home prices on the rise and mortgage rates still relatively low, now is the ideal time to buy a home. But in this type of market, competing offers can shut you out of the home of your dreams if you're not prepared.     Beat the competition this home buying season with these 3 tips, courtesy of NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit corporation.   1. Seek professional guidance. More than two-thirds of homebuyers in a recent NeighborWorks survey said that the home buying process is complicated. The best way to get a thorough understanding of the process is to consult with a real estate professional. If you find your finances are lacking, you may also want to meet with a housing counselor, who can offer additional support.   "The housing market is tough right now, with fewer homes for sale on the market than usual, and new mortgage rules and many mortgage products from which to choose," says Marietta Rodriguez, spokesperson for NeighborWorks America. "To be in the strongest position to make an offer that is accepted, consumers have to be prepared. That's where initial consultation with a housing counselor is a great first-step."   2. Build a budget. National surveys have shown that less than one-third of consumers have a budget. Go into this home buying season with a budget that includes potential changes in commuting costs after purchase, home maintenance expenses, and even estimates for changes in life circumstances (such as becoming a parent or paying for college) to have a leg-up on the competition.   "Once all the numbers are on the table, it's easier to see what type of home suits a family's budget and needs, what might be necessary financial trade-offs, and what could be a direct line to trouble," says Rodriguez.   3. Remain informed. The supply of homes on the market will be tight this season. Getting into a bidding war could weaken your resolve, and could push you beyond your means financially. In these circumstances, don't be tempted to forgo important steps in the process, like the home inspection.   "Forgoing a home inspection to move up a place in the bidding process could be costly down the road if problems and defects with the home arise," says Rodriguez." NeighborWorks recommends that homebuyers have a home inspection, and know as much as possible about the inside of a home as the outside."   Follow these three tips to ensure you stay ahead of the competition, and remember: contact a real estate professional. He or she can help you see you through from pre-approval to close.   Source: NeighborWorks America Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
19

Trees are hardy plants, and their roots fight back against man-made limits around them. In urban and suburban landscapes, tree roots are often forced to grow between buildings or under driveways and walkways-and they can cause costly damage if left unchecked.   "Before you plant a new tree in your yard, you need to understand how a tree could damage your property, and take appropriate measures to prevent that damage," says Tchukki Andersen, a board-certified Master Arborist and staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).   Woody tree roots thicken as they grow, gradually pushing shallow roots toward the surface. Since soil near the surface is best suited for root growth, most tree roots are just below the surface, placing them directly in conflict with man-made obstacles. Where the soil is covered by a solid driveway or patio, upward growing roots will grow against the underside of the pavement or pavers.   "Most damage is found six feet or less from the tree, since roots become smaller and less damaging the further they are from the trunk," says Andersen. "Keep this in mind before you plant. That small sapling could become a large shade tree with roots spreading 30 or 40 feet outward from the trunk."   Some homeowners, masons and landscapers manage intrusive roots by grinding down or removing them. This can be expensive, and is harmful to the tree. Wounding a tree's roots creates points of entry for pathogens, leaving a tree vulnerable to disease. Cutting major roots also reduces a tree's ability to absorb nutrients and water, leaving it more susceptible to drought. In addition, cutting roots can reduce a tree's structural support, which increases the danger the tree will topple onto your house in high winds.   When cutting problem tree roots, remember: • The farther you cut from the trunk, the less threat to the tree's health, and the less danger of creating a hazard. • Avoid cutting roots greater than 2 inches in diameter. • Prune roots back to a side or sinker root (one that is growing downward) when possible. • Roots recover from being severed when you cut them cleanly with a saw, instead of breaking them, and mulch and water well after pruning. • Consult a qualified arborist when cutting within a distance equal to five times the trunk diameter to the trunk. To avoid cutting tree roots altogether: • Installing physical root guides and barriers that redirect tree roots down and away from hardscapes with minimal impact on the tree. • Curve new hardscape features, such as a driveway or patio, around the tree roots. • Suspend hardscape features on small pilings to bridge over roots.   Ultimately, the best way to keep the trees and their roots on your property from causing damage is to select species that match site conditions, Andersen says, and to avoid planting large shade trees within 12 feet of hardscapes. In areas within five to seven feet of a paved area or structure, plant trees that grow to a mature height of less than 30 feet. In areas within seven to 10 feet of a paved area or structure, plant trees that grow to a mature height of less than 50 feet. Reserve trees that mature to higher than 50 feet for areas with at least 12 feet of clearance around the trunk; this allows adequate space for the roots. A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best trees to plant. Source: TCIA Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
17

Buyers in the market for a home this spring can expect lower mortgage rates across the board.   According to the Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) stands at 3.68 percent, and the 15-year FRM stands at 2.96 percent.   "The 10-year Treasury yield ended the survey week exactly where it started; however the solid February employment report boosted the yield noticeably on Friday and Monday," explains Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac's chief economist. "Our mortgage rate survey captured the impact of this temporary increase in yield, and the 30-year mortgage rate rose 4 basis points to 3.68 percent. This marks the second increase this year. Nonetheless, the mortgage rate remains 33 basis points lower than its end-of-2015 level."   The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) stands at 2.92 percent, according to the survey.   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
13

(BPT) - Spring is one of the most popular times of year to clean up your home inside and out, make renovations and take steps to ensure it operates efficiently for the rest of the year. But after the long winter months, the list of projects can pile up. This year, focus on six key areas to repair, replace and refresh around your house now - to avoid spending more time and money later.     1. Repair your roof and gutters. Inspect the roof to check for loose or cracked shingles. Also, be sure to look at indoor ceilings for any signs of water leakage and get started on repairs before more damage occurs. Take a look at the gutters to see if there are areas in need of repair as well, and tackle them now before there's too much rain.   2. Repair and reseal your deck. Remove debris and sweep the deck clean. Fix broken or bent boards and pushed up nails. Choose a cleanser formulated for your deck surface - whether for wood or composite - and apply a new coat of sealer and stain. A local home improvement center can advise you on formulations for your particular needs.   3. Replace your furnace. As you make home upgrades, this is also a good time to upgrade your furnace for greater home comfort and lower energy bills. For example, American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning's Gold S9V2 Gas Furnace is extremely efficient in heating your home and offers quiet operation. Standing at just 34 inches high by 17-1/2 inches wide, it's compact enough to fit in tight spaces, like a closet or basement. And with a 96 percent gas efficiency (AFUE) rating, it's one of the most efficient furnaces on the market.   4. Replace windows and doors. Older windows can let unwanted air and moisture into your home. Installing newer, more efficient models will not only save money on cooling in summer and heating in winter, but they can bring the look of your home up to date. Replacing your front door in a great color and style can also add to your home's efficiency and instantly add curb appeal.   5. Refresh with paint. There's nothing like a new coat of paint to transform and update the look of a home. It's also one of the easiest and most economical home improvement projects you can undertake. Check out your local paint store for ideas and suggestions to help you visualize your home in fresh new colors.   6. Refresh your indoor air. The spring and fall months can trigger allergies, so consider adding an indoor air cleaner. An American Standard AccuClean whole-home system, for instance, can remove up to 99.98 percent of airborne particles and allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mildew, pet hair and dander and fungus and bacteria, so everyone in your home can breathe easier.   Lastly, renew your commitment to home maintenance by creating a yearly schedule of home projects. Mark your calendar with target dates to remind yourself to complete key tasks - including what to focus on for the next season, before the colder months arrive.
March
10

Buyers new to homeownership have a lot to learn in their first go-around-and recently released insights reveal just how important education is.   According to an analysis by Freddie Mac, borrowers who received classroom and home study counseling had reductions in their subsequent rates of serious delinquency of 26 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The same data show that borrowers who received individual counseling averaged a 34 percent reduction in their rate of serious delinquency.   "Freddie Mac believes objective, unbiased homebuyer education and counseling can improve the ability of borrowers to make prudent homeownership and home financing choices," says Sean Becketti, chief economist at Freddie Mac. "The benefit is likely to be greatest for first-time homebuyers, and, as a result, Freddie Mac requires financial literacy education for first-time homebuyers who take advantage of Freddie Mac's low-down-payment program, Home Possible Advantage."   The information gleaned from the analysis, which confirms that pre-purchase education can lead to positive outcomes for homeowners, comes at a pivotal time for the housing market.   "Housing was one of the few bright spots in the economy last year, and we expect continued improvement in 2016," says Becketti. "The imbalance between demand for housing and the supply of both houses and apartments has supported rapid growth in both house prices and rents. The gap between demand and supply will not be closed any time soon; thus, we project continued house price appreciation in 2016."   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
2

(BPT) - If you're in the market for a new house this year, don't be fooled by the brisk chill in the air - the spring house-hunting season is actually closer than you think. That means now is the perfect time to start your planning. Space requirements such as bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage are essential, but a house is more than just shelter, it's your home, and the great ones not only have everything you need, but everything you want.   house   "Each family lives in their home differently," says Beazer Homes Senior Creative Manager Michael Phillips. "Some buyers prefer a private dining room, while others want an open-concept kitchen with a more casual eating area. Where one buyer might prefer an owner's suite on the main level, others may want all their bedrooms on the upper level."   Although every home buyer's needs are unique, the market is often dictated by common trends. To better understand your own buying preferences and to see if you're aligned with others in the real estate marketplace, take a look at these five home-buying trends.   1. Function over aesthetics. When you think kitchen trends, you probably think of design features like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. While both these options remain popular and are common in new construction, surveys by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) found that buyers were extremely interested in functional attributes like new appliances, eat-in layouts, walk-in pantries and double sinks.   2. Living rooms are no longer a must. Given today's diverse home-buying population, the formal living room is becoming less prevalent. "Many buyers would rather use traditional living room square footage in a new way," said Phillips. "We're seeing families using the living room as a home office or choosing to forgo the space altogether in exchange for extra square footage in other areas of the home."   3. New is number one. According to the NAHB, more than half of surveyed buyers want to purchase a new home. It can be a challenge for buyers to find everything they desire in a resale home, and because renovations are often costly and time consuming, it's hard to deny the appeal of purchasing a brand-new home that is move-in ready.   4. Let there be (energy-efficient) light. Home buyers have coveted homes that make good use of natural light for years and that trend is continuing in 2016. In addition to large windows, NAHB research shows homeowners are putting an increased emphasis on the energy savings that accompany the installation of high-performance windows.   5. Make it your own. Personalizing a new home is easier and more affordable than ever before, thanks to offerings like Beazer's Choice Plans, which are flexible floorplans that allow you to personalize the most lived-in spaces in your home at no additional cost. Whether you want a kitchen for entertaining or a breakfast nook for family dining, an office space instead of an extra bedroom, you choose … and Beazer won't charge you for selecting the best layout for your lifestyle. You can learn more about your options and how to create your own dream home at https://ift.tt/1T8gBiv.   Start your preparation today It's never too early to start preparing for shopping for a new home. The more work you do ahead of time, the more time you can spend exploring the market. So start your research now and you'll be moved into the home of your dreams before you know it.
February
26

Generally, homeowners undertake home improvement projects for one of two reasons: to enhance their quality of living, or to increase the value of their home. The best improvements, however, pay off whether staying or selling.     The projects worth the most of their investment are: 1. Boost Natural Light – Buyers love balanced, natural light- and you probably do, too! To make the most of the light entering your home, install ENERGY STAR®-qualified, no-leak skylights in the kitchen or bathrooms. Skylight blinds can help control the amount of light at any given time of day, giving you (and buyers) the ability to enhance the ambiance of the home.   2. Install a Deck – Whether seeking to spend more time outdoors or to attract potential buyers, adding a deck (or upgrading an existing one) can be well worth the cost. A composite deck can recoup up to 75 percent of its expense at resale, and a wooden deck can recoup up to 64 percent, according to Remodeling magazine's Cost vs. Value Report.   3. Repaint the Exterior – Repainting the exterior of your home is a big job, but a valuable investment whether seeking to update its appearance or entice buyers. Your color choice can also affect your utility bills-lighter colors deflect heat from the home, for example. If you're selling in the near future, a fresh coat of paint can help increase perceived value.   4. Update the Kitchen – Kitchens sell homes, and are also the center of most households. Even a minor kitchen remodel can recoup more than 83 percent of its cost at the time of resale, according to Remodeling magazine's report. The most cost-effective projects are to replace old cabinet hardware, upgrade faucets and lighting, and invest in quality countertops.   Whether you plan to place your home on the market or intend to stay put for years to come, it pays to invest in improvements that boost both resale value and your enjoyment of your home. Source: Brandpoint Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
25

Mortgage rates have moved lower for the sixth week in a row, prodded by ongoing market volatility, according to Freddie Mac's recently released Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).   mortgage   "The 30-year mortgage rate dropped another 7 basis points [last] week to 3.65 percent," says Sean Becketti, chief economist at Freddie Mac. "[Last] week's drop leaves the mortgage rate just 6 basis points above last year's low of 3.59 percent."   The average 15-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 2.95 percent with an average 0.5 point, according to the survey, and the average 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.83 percent with an average 0.4 point-both decreases.   "In a falling rate environment, mortgage rates often adjust more slowly than capital market rates, and the early-2016 flight-to-quality has run true to form," Becketti says. "The 30-year mortgage rate has dropped 36 basis points since the start of the year, while the yield on the 10-year Treasury has dropped 59 basis points over the same period. If Treasury yields were to hold at current levels, mortgage rates might well sink a little further before stabilizing."   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
19

(BPT) - In a relationship, you count on your significant other to be there with you through the good and the bad. They are your best friend, your confident and your closest ally. And you count on being able to have important conversations with them as well.     One of those important conversations every couple should have focuses on money and each person's respective financial goals, especially if you are planning to purchase a home. However, 33 percent of married or partnered adults have difficulty discussing money with their significant other, according to a Wells Fargo survey. "I think money is one of those topics most couples put off discussing because it can be sensitive," says Arlene Maloney, senior vice president, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. "However, if you don't discuss money before entering into a major credit purchase, like homeownership, you open yourself up for potential problems down the road."   Purchasing a home is one of the largest investments most people make in their lifetime. When two people decide to achieve the goal of homeownership together, it's important to understand not only your own finances and credit profile but your partner's finances and goals as well.   To help you broach this conversation with your partner, here are some things you should discuss before you move forward:   Where you will live and what you want to purchase. Do you want to live in the city or the suburbs? Are you set on a single-family home or a condo? Do you want to build your home or purchase an established property? Having answers to these questions will help you speak to a lender and learn more about how the type of home you choose may affect loan approval requirements or what options exist if you want to build your home. You'll also learn if any bond or down payment assistance programs may be offered in the municipalities you are considering.   Your partner's credit score. Lenders use customers' credit profiles to help determine your ability to repay a loan. When purchasing a home with someone else, both of your credit scores are considered. In most cases the lowest middle score between the two of you will be used. If you or your significant other has a very low score this may not only impact the loan amount you receive but also the interest rate. It may even prevent approval. If one of the credit scores is very low, as a couple you might discuss only one person applying for the mortgage loan.   Have an honest conversation about debt. An important factor that lenders evaluate is your debt-to-income ratio. This varies by mortgage program but a good rule of thumb is to ensure your debt level is at or below 36 percent of your gross monthly income. Having an overabundance of debt could impact the amount of the loan or whether you receive mortgage approval.   How much money can you put toward the purchase? It isn't necessary for you to put 20 percent down but most loan options require some sort of down payment. In many cases lower down payment options require mortgage insurance, which will increase your monthly payment.   Will one or both of you be on the note? If purchasing a home with someone else, each of you must qualify in order to be on the note, and both of you are responsible for the debt. If only one person is on the note, the other may not engage in any transactions regarding the loan, including refinancing, or application for modification. If one of you has less desirable credit, you may decide that only one of you will apply for the mortgage. You should also consult your state's attorney general's office to see if any community property laws exist in your state. Such laws could make a spouse legally responsible for any debt acquired by the other spouse after marriage. If such a law exists in your state, it's important you are aware of it.   Purchasing your first home is an exciting time and, for many people, a sign of success. But while you may want to rush out and start the shopping process now, take your time. Having a conversation with your significant other about the topics above beforehand will ensure you're both on the same page and set you up to make the most of your future and the home it includes.   To find answers to your other questions about credit and homeownership, visit Wells Fargo's Smarter Credit Center or https://ift.tt/1PsDjxL.
February
15

The snows may not be fully melted, but the first signs of spring are closing in-and with them comes the impulse to clean and de-clutter in the annual rite we call spring cleaning. But while some items get tossed without a second thought, consumer blogger Jacob Hurwith urges us to dig deeper, suggesting 10 things we really need to get rid of:   Old Shoes– It may be comforting to see those 27 pairs of shoes in your closet, but deep down you know that at least half of them will never be worn again. They have no purpose or sentimental value. Pitch them.   Unmatched and Outgrown Clothing – If there are odd gloves or socks cluttering the drawers, give up hope that mates will appear. Pitch them, and give your kids' outgrown clothes to charity or to a family with younger kids.   Wire Coat Hangers– If you've amassed a collection from the dry cleaners, take them back to the store. It will make room in your closets for plastic or wooden hangers that really do keep clothes looking presentable.   Old Tupperware – Plastic Tupperware can break down after years of use in microwave or dishwasher, releasing chemicals into your food. Replace them with glass containers or inexpensive disposable plastic to be thrown away after a couple of runs through the dishwasher.   Old Pillows – Pillows older than two years have probably lost their oomph and purpose. Test yours by folding them in half. If they pretty much stay folded, it's time to replace them with new ones – and well-used mattresses should be replaced after seven or eight years.   Dated Technology – We all have those old cords lying in the back of the closet, a dated printer we hope works again or a computer that barely runs. It's time to get rid of them. Tip: Try bringing old tech to an electronics store in town. You may get a credit.   Old Makeup – Makeup, like food, can expire or lose potency. Cream products typically expire within six months to a year after purchase, dermatologists tell us, and mascara often only lasts three months before becoming a bacteria threat.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
11

Open houses may be staged to look like a home decor dream, but don't let that distract you from the real reason you're there: to potentially buy a home. Make sure you can look past the neatly arranged furniture and focus solely on whether the house would be a good fit for you and your family. To help, here's a home buyer's checklist of things you might have missed at first glance.   OpenHouse   Windows – Look specifically if they are facing the right direction to let sunlight in, and whether they open to a nice view (versus directly toward another neighbor's window).   Under the Sink Cabinets – Check for possible signs of water damage due to leaky plumbing.   Electrical Outlets – Make sure there are enough outlets for the appliances and other electronics you'll be using. If not, you can decide if that's a renovation you'd like to make.   Storage Space – Don't just look to see if there's enough closet space, but look for closet placement. Also check that the storage is in a convenient location.   Appliances – If they're included in the house, make sure they're in good condition. They should be on and working while you're there.   Under the Rugs – Lift up any rugs to check the condition of the floor underneath.   Floor Level – Check to see if the floors are level. Place a marble or another small, round object on the floor and see if it rolls consistently in one direction.   Attic – If the house has one, make sure it's well insulated.   Water Spouts – Runoff from the gutters should be pointed away from the house, so take a step outside to see if this is the case.   This list isn't all-inclusive, but it's a good place to start. Talk to a CENTURY 21 American Homes agent to see what else he or she might add.   Source: https://www.century21.com/real-estate-blog/home-buyer-checklist-what-to-look-for-in-an-open-house/
February
9

Market conditions as they stand make now the ideal time to sell your home. Even so, to sell quickly and for the best price, it's important to position your property favorably. Some steps that can help: 1. Go beyond buyer expectations… Most house hunters expect pre-owned homes to have at least some issues. Exceed this expectation by fixing major flaws ahead of listing your home on the market.   2. …but don't overspend. The fact is, many upgrades just don't recoup their cost at resale. Your REALTOR® can help you determine the most worthwhile repairs for your market.   3. Draw your timeline, but remember… If there's no turnaround pressure on the sale of your home, take some time to get your home in tip-top shape.   4. …the waiting game can backfire. It's unwise to wait for home values to rise before listing your home for sale. With more buyers on the hunt for a home, now is prime time to sell.   5. Say no to an overinflated price. No matter how highly you perceive your home, it's just that-a perception. The best way to price your home is with a comparative market analysis (CMA), supplied by your REALTOR®, that spells out local market values.   Source: RISMedia's Housecall Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
30

Tax refunds present an opportunity to better your financial health. Unfortunately, many refund recipients don't take advantage of it.   "A tax refund often feels like 'free' money, and many people use the funds to splurge on expensive items they wouldn't otherwise purchase," says Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for Take Charge America, a national non-profit credit counseling agency. "However, a refund presents a unique opportunity to use the money to improve your family's financial wellbeing now and in the long term."     If you receive a refund this year, consider using it in one (or all!) of the following ways:   1. Pay Off Debt – When you receive your refund, resist the urge to spend it on a shopping spree, fancy dinner or pricey vacation. Instead, use your refund to pay down credit card balances, student loans, auto loans or other debt.   2. Pay Down Your Mortgage – Direct your refund toward your mortgage principal. Even one extra payment each year can shave noticeable interest off your mortgage.   3. Boost Your Savings – If you're debt-free, put your money toward your emergency savings fund, retirement plan or college savings account.   4. Adjust Your Withholding – File a new W4 to increase your allowances and pay the appropriate amount of taxes throughout the year. Use the IRS withholding calculator and aim for the number of allowances that satisfies 100 to 110 percent of last year's tax payment.   5. Use Direct Deposit – Set up an automatic deposit to direct the money you would have spent on excess taxes into an interest-bearing savings account. You won't notice the difference in your paycheck- it's money that would have been withheld for taxes-but your contributions will quickly add up.   "While it's fun to receive a wind-fall of cash, it's important for consumers to understand the IRS isn't giving away money-they're returning money they borrowed, interest-free, all year long," adds Sullivan. "It's a good idea to adjust your withholdings to break even and make your money work for you-not just the government-throughout the year."   Source: Take Charge America Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
27

If an inspector is coming to look at your home before you list it, you may have a few questions. What will the home inspector be looking at? How can you prepare for the inspection?   A home inspector   For insight and answers, we turned to the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), who've outlined many steps you can take before your pre-listing inspection-and most can be done at little or no cost to you. These include:
  • Removing grade or mulch from contact with siding; six or more inches of clearance is preferred.
  • Diverting all water away from the house, i.e. downspouts, sump pump, condensation drains, etc.; grade should slope away from the structure.
  • Painting all weathered exterior wood and caulk around trim, chimney, windows and doors.
  • Sealing asphalt driveways, if cracking, and pointing up masonry chimney caps.
  • Cleaning or replacing the HVAC filter.
  • Testing all smoke detectors to ensure they are in safe working condition.
  • Having the chimney, fireplace or wood stove cleaned and providing the buyer with a copy of the cleaning record.
  • Ensuring that all doors and windows are in proper operating condition, including repairing or replacing any cracked window panes.
  • Ensuring that all plumbing fixtures (toilet, tub, shower, and sinks) are in proper working condition; checking for and fixing any leaks; caulking around fixtures if necessary.
  • Installing GFCI receptacles near all water sources.
  • Checking to ensure that the crawlspace is dry, installing a proper vapor barrier if necessary, and removing any visible moisture from a crawlspace.
  • Checking that bath vents are properly vented and in working condition.
  • Removing paints, solvents, gas, etc., from crawlspace, basement, attic, porch, etc.
  • Having clear access to attic, crawlspace, heating system, garage and other areas that will need to be inspected.
  • Turning on all utilities, including water, electric, water heater, furnace, air conditioning and breaks in the main panel.
Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
21

This year's housing market is expected to favor sellers-and for buyers, those circumstances will likely result in multiple-bid situations. Whichever camp you fall into, it's important to understand how to navigate this type of market in order to achieve the best possible outcome in the transaction.     "The 2016 housing market is forecasted to be mainly a seller's market, filled with increasing home prices, relatively low inventory and fierce competition between buyers," says realtor.com® Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke. "Buyers looking to close this year need to keep an open mind and be prepared to move quickly when they find a home that meets their needs. For sellers, it's about understanding the ins and outs of their local market so they can optimize the price of their home and close quickly."   For homebuyers, Smoke recommends: Being the early bird – Over 85 percent of buyers who plan to purchase in the next year intend to buy in the spring or summer of 2016, according to a recent realtor.com® survey. With roughly 50 percent more listings inventory relative to the number of potential home sales expected in January and February, buyers who start their search early face less competition with nearly the same number of homes.   Comparison shopping for mortgages – Mortgage rates are expected to reach 4.65 percent and prices are predicted to rise 3 percent year-over-year in 2016. Buyers planning to finance their purchase should put as much effort into getting the right mortgage as they do finding the right home. A lower interest rate can make the difference in qualifying for a home and save thousands over the life of the loan.   Considering a new home – In 2016, the number of new homes on the market is expected to grow more rapidly, resulting in a 16 percent increase in new home sales year-over-year. Buyers should consider the new home options in their market; they are likely to have less competition and to enjoy a broad selection of homes. While new homes are typically higher in price, they are usually larger and offer performance advantages and warranties that could reduce operating and maintenance costs.   For home sellers, Smoke advises: Listing during peak season – Unlike buyers, demand benefits sellers. Prime home buying season begins in April and reaches its peak in June, according to a realtor.com® analysis of home sales. Sellers who list their home during the prime spring and summer months benefit from a larger population of buyers and potential bidding wars, which often result in higher prices and faster closings.   Pricing a home to the market – In 2016, prices are expected to increase nationally 3 percent year-over-year. Local prices changes are anticipated to be more dramatic. Sellers who work with a local REALTOR® to optimize the price of their home based on its unique features and surrounding neighborhood are often able to receive the highest price for their market and sell more quickly.   Offering incentives – Last year, 37 percent of all sellers offered incentives to attract buyers. Sellers who are open to negotiating beyond price are more likely to find scenarios that result in wins for both sides resulting in a potentially faster sale and more seller profit.   Source: realtor.com® Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
14

The housing market continues to move toward stability, most recently with the addition of two more states, Kansas and New York, to the outer range of stable housing activity, according to the Freddie Mac Multi-Indicator Market Index® (MiMi®). The most recent MiMi value indicates the overall national market is in the outer stable range, as well.   housing   "The strong annual change of 6.31 percent is the best improvement we've seen in the MiMi on a year-over-year basis since July 2014," explains Len Kiefer, Freddie Mac's deputy chief economist. "While strong home purchase applications and rising home values in some markets are contributing to this improvement, it's largely more of a reflection of mortgage delinquencies continuing to decline at a steady pace, especially in those hardest hit markets, and a better employment picture overall."   According to the Index, 32 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, have MiMi values in stable range; 53 of the top 100 metro areas have MiMi values in a stable range; and 43 of the 50 states and 89 of the 100 metros have shown an improving trend over the last three months.   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
7

(BPT) - It's an all too familiar monthly event: you write out a rent check and wait for the funds to disappear from your bank account. But what if instead of making endless payments on something you don't own, you could own a home of your own? When you finance a home purchase with a mortgage, you build equity and increase your percentage of home ownership with each payment made.     'Homeownership may sound like a big step, but it's not as out of reach as you might think,' says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance.   Vanderbilt Mortgage offers these tips to home financing to help you realize a place of your very own:   Assess your financial situation. Before you even begin to look at homes, you should know what you can afford. Consider your debt-to-income ratio which is your monthly income compared to your total monthly bills. After figuring your ratio you will have a better idea as to what you can afford for a mortgage payment. To determine what your monthly mortgage payment might be, use an online mortgage calculator.   Budget and save. Financing a home begins with budgeting to ensure you have an appropriate down payment. Be sure to set a realistic goal and use the idea of your future home as an incentive to stick to it. You can set up a savings plan, evaluate your current spending, and consider earning extra income to help reach your savings goal. Don't forget to celebrate your achievements along the way toward reaching your goal!   Maintain your credit. There are a number of ways you can build your credit, ranging from opening a checking or savings account to paying all of your bills on time. Getting a secured credit card can also help to build your credit. Be sure to monitor how often you use the credit card and how much you spend so as not to create revolving credit debt. Try to minimize your outstanding debt and keep existing debts in check.   Apply for a loan. Know ahead of time what information and documents you'll need to complete a home loan application to help make the application experience as easy as possible. Documents needed may include: proof of income, employment information from the past two years, state-issued identification, proof of residency, and your social security card. Brush up on home loan terms so you can be knowledgeable throughout the process.   Stay on track with your payments. After you have moved into your dream home, be sure to make your mortgage payments in full and on time. If you can, plan an optional early mortgage payoff by making additional payments toward your principal balance each month.   Care for your home. The financial responsibility of owning a home is just the beginning. You worked hard to finally get to this point, so why not keep your home in top shape? Create a home maintenance checklist and make a point to regularly go through it. Keep track of routine items like checking HVAC filters, cleaning the sink disposal and cleaning out the gutters. Follow this guide to fulfill your dream of owning a home. For more information on home financing, visit vmfhomeloan.com.  
January
6

(BPT) - Rain, sleet, ice and snow - no matter what form it's in, precipitation can lead to major winter damage resulting in many issues for home and business owners. Icy roads, ruptured pipes and ice dams are all complications brought on by winter water, and the threat may be even greater this season according to national weather predictions.     The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting this winter to be wetter-than-average in many parts of the country. Additionally, when you consider the threat of El Nino looming for certain regions, proper seasonal preparation is especially important this year.   'When it comes to winter weather, it pays to be prepared for the worst,' says Peter Duncanson, director, disaster restoration system development at ServiceMaster Restore. 'Preparing now is important, as excessive precipitation combined with freezing or near-freezing temperatures can cause significant damage overnight.'   To protect yourself and your home from winter's harshest weather, here are four must-do tips.   * Understand your insurance policy. If something goes wrong at your house, you want to know you're covered. That means now is the perfect time to review your insurance policy closely. As you do so, pay special attention to what is and is not specifically covered, as it applies to winter weather conditions. You may find gaps in your policy where additional coverage is needed.   * Keep your gutters flowing. Your gutters are one of your home's most important defense mechanisms when it comes to water removal - but only if you keep them clean. Clear your gutters of debris as soon as possible and repair any leaks to ensure proper water flow. Keeping your gutters clear does more than just rid your home of excess water, it also stops the possibility of ice dams - a very expensive seasonal hazard. Once your gutters are clean, make sure your downspouts are clear of debris as well, and that they properly divert water several feet away from your home's foundation.   * Fortify your foundation. Water damage to your home's foundation can easily cost thousands of dollars so it's worth your time to reinforce it in advance. Take a trip around your house and inspect the foundation for cracks or small holes where water can seep in. Even a few inches of water can damage your carpet, drywall, wood floors or the foundation itself.   * Prevent pipes from freezing. A frozen pipe that ruptures can be one of the most destructive winter water accidents. To protect against frozen pipes, insulate your home's outdoor pipes with a faucet cover or even a towel. You should also ensure pipes that border an exterior wall are well insulated. This will keep the pipes warm and reduce their risk of bursting. On the coldest nights, it's a good idea to open faucets a small amount, allowing water to drip into a drain to keep water moving through the pipe. You can also leave cabinet doors open underneath sinks to circulate air and protect against freezing. Follow these four steps to help your home enter the spring nice and dry. To learn more about ServiceMaster Restore, visit ServiceMasterRestore.com.
December
21

(Family Features)-Some home maintenance jobs require a significant investment of time and specialized equipment, but there are many projects you can accomplish efficiently with basic tools and the right approach. Follow these tips to get started.   Dollarphotoclub_71333957   Update your toolbox. Take inventory to ensure your collection is complete, and replace damaged or rusted tools. Your toolbox is also a good place to store common repair items such as adhesive.   Get ahead of potential problems. For example, have a plunger on hand to prevent clogged sinks and toilets from causing water damage, and keep gutters and filters clean to prevent structural damage or fire. You can also protect your home and valuables from damage by using adhesive to secure precious items from getting knocked over, and protect floors from traffic damage by securing rugs and felt pads to furniture.   Take a helping hand. Most phones have levels and flashlights that can help with minor jobs, and your phone's calendar can be set with recurring reminders so that you'll never miss a maintenance date. In addition, find creative ways to make tasks easier.   Get organized. Daily home maintenance tasks like cleaning are easier when they are done along the way rather than letting them pile up, creating a bigger job. Store everyday needs in each room, or on each floor. For maximum efficiency, keep cleaning supplies in both the bath and the kitchen, and a broom and vacuum on each floor.   Source: GlueDots.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
December
17

Economic headwinds will be offset in the coming year by a tightening labor market and a renewed decline in gasoline prices, according to Fannie Mae's Economic & Strategic Research Group-a heartening forecast that could bode well for the housing market. The ESR Group expects the economy to grow 2.4 percent in 2016.   2016 housing growth   "After a year of modest improvement, we continue to believe economic growth will close out 2015 at 2.2 percent before gaining momentum early in 2016," says Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Although consumers have been more cautious in recent months, preferring to save rather than spend, we believe they will pick up their spending pace next year amid solid job gains and resulting growth in incomes. The unsustainable third-quarter inventory investment will likely subtract significantly from economic growth in the current quarter as that stockpile unwinds, but the inventory correction should wrap up early in the year. The trade deficit also continues to weigh on growth, driven by a strong dollar and lackluster overseas growth, but recent housing data support our view that residential investment will help fill the void.   "Home sales will likely remain subdued in the near term, but private residential construction spending started the fourth quarter on a strong note and housing demand is looking up as we head into next year," continues Duncan. "The rebound in purchase applications suggests that sales will gain momentum in the first quarter after retreating slightly in the current quarter. For all of 2016, total home sales are projected to rise 3.9 percent. We believe that further easing of mortgage lending standards will combine with a positive household formation outlook to help the housing sector expand."   Source: Fannie Mae Published with permission from RISMedia.
December
5

If you and your family celebrate Hanukkah, this week will involve lighting the menorah. But in all the holiday fun, it's easy to forget that having an open flame in your home is always cause for greater safety measures. Here are some tips for a safer holiday.  
  1. Place your menorah on a sturdy, non-flammable surface: Your menorah, especially when lit, should rest on a stable fixture in your home. You and your family's guests may accidentally bump into a wobbly table and knock it over. Non-flammable surfaces like glass, metal, or marble work best.
  2. Keep the menorah and matches out of children's reach: Make sure that your menorah is positioned in a place where your children can enjoy it, but is out of their reach so they don't hurt themselves. Be sure to store all matches and lighters safely after each candle lighting; kids may find them if left out.
  3. Never leave a lit menorah unattended: All the excitement of the holidays can sometimes lead to carelessness. When burning, the menorah should always be under some sort of supervision.
  4. Place menorah out of reach of pets: Furry friends are eager to join in on the holiday festivities. They could be drawn to the new object in your home and want to investigate, so keep it at a height where they can't get their paws on it.
  5. Use only non-flammable menorahs: This may seem like an obvious tip, but it's worth reiterating. Any ornamental menorahs made by your kids in arts and crafts should be admired, but not used in your Hanukkah ceremony.
  6. Don't walk around with lit candles: Choose the area of your home where your menorah will be lit, then keep it there. Don't carry your menorah from room to room to avoid potentially dropping it.
  7. Decorate with care: The area surrounding your menorah often receives extra decorations. That is absolutely fine, as long the adornments are non-flammable and not likely to tip over and displace the menorah.
  8. Place your menorah in a secluded area of your home: You're already going to put your menorah out of reach of children and pets, but it's equally important to keep the menorah out of your home's general flow of traffic to avoid accidentally knocking it over.
  Following these helpful fire safety tips will ensure that you and your family have a pleasant and safe Hanukkah celebration. Source: blog.century21.com
December
4

Average fixed mortgage rates remain largely unchanged as analyst expectations turned from world events to the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) October minutes, Freddie Mac recently reported. According to Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.97 percent with an average 0.6 point; the 15-year FRM averaged 3.18 percent with an average 0.5 point.   steadyrates   "Treasury yields stabilized about 5 basis points below last week's level as the market shrugged off economic data and world events and turned its attention to the minutes of the October FOMC meeting," says Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti. "In response, the 30-year mortgage rate ticked down a basis point to 3.97 percent. The FOMC minutes were couched in careful Fed-speak, and early market reaction was mixed, with most analysts reading their own expectations into the minutes."   Additionally, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.98 percent with an average 0.5 point, and the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.64 percent with an average 0.3 point.   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
26

Turned down for a mortgage? You're not alone. Many borrowers are finding it difficult to navigate lending requirements and reapply for a loan to buy a home, despite significant improvement in the housing market.   Mortgage contract   If your mortgage application was rejected, take heart. Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit and housing counseling agency, says prospective homebuyers can successfully reapply if they consider the following factors:   Cash Flow – One of the primary roadblocks to obtaining a mortgage is cash flow. At a minimum, borrowers need a 3-percent down payment and about 3% of the mortgage for closing costs. They must also take moving and ongoing maintenance costs into account, including utility deposits, appliances, a lawn mower, curtains and other miscellaneous expenses. As a general rule, prospective homebuyers should have at least $10,000 saved before shopping for a home.   Credit – Many young people today haven't used credit, aside from student loans, so lenders have difficulty assessing their ability to pay back the home loan. Borrowers who fall into this bucket need to focus on building a positive credit history with three trade lines, such as a credit card, auto loan and signature loan, for at least two years before attempting to reapply.   Lifestyle – Many consumers assume if they can qualify for a loan, they can afford a house. With lenders approving 31 percent of gross salary for a house payment and 43 percent for all debt service, it's easy to buy a house one can't afford. It's important to remember the mortgage is only part of the financial picture. Ongoing costs such as commuting, utilities, HOA fees, landscaping and general home maintenance need to be seriously considered, as well. It's wise to limit house payments to 28 percent of gross income, and all debt service to no more than 34 percent.   "Many individuals and families are ready to pursue their dreams of homeownership after overcoming financial struggles, but they don't always have a clear picture of what it takes, or how a mortgage could impact their long-term financial picture," says Sullivan. "The more knowledge they obtain before entering the lending process, the better."   Source: Take Charge America Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
19

(BPT) - Owning a home is part of the American Dream, yet standards on income, credit and debt are making it tougher to buy a home than it was 10 years ago. Even though requirements are relaxing, only three out of five borrowers get approved. millennials While stricter standards make it tougher for young families to qualify for a mortgage, millennials said they understand why these standards exist and think the tougher requirements won't stand in their way of buying a home.   In fact, millennials today are serious about doing what's required to get a mortgage. The research surveyed 1,000 millennials who don't own a home and found 35 percent plan to buy within five years. What's more, millenials are taking steps now to turn their dreams into a reality by getting their credit in order, paying down debt and saving for a down payment.   'Income is a key to opening the doors of homeownership for millennials, and they're more than committed to it; they're actively planning for it,' says Anthony Hsieh, chairman and chief executive officer, loanDepot LLC. 'Our improving economy is making it practical for millennials who want to own their own homes in a few short years to get ready now. Their strong desire to become homeowners, coupled with the commitment of getting their finances in order, suggests a renewal in first-time buyer demand may be possible if we sustain necessary economic and market conditions.'   With their prospects improving as the economy picks up, millennials are forming households faster and making more money compared to a few years ago. One in three millennials said an increase of 15 percent or less in income will be enough to turn them into homebuyers, a significant proposition for the economy.   Because mortgage lenders use debt-to-income to evaluate a borrowers' ability to repay a loan, student debt is a growing burden on millennials interested in financing a home. Unlike medical debt, student debt carries an equal weight to credit card debt. Nearly half of those surveyed said it's unfair to weigh both types of debt equally.   As for the tougher requirements to getting a mortgage, millennials do think the tougher standards guard against risky loans and will help prevent another mortgage crisis. More than half say making it easier to get a mortgage will result in more foreclosures.   If you have student debt and want to buy your first home, here are a few ideas and tips to help you prepare:   * Lower your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). DTI is your total monthly income as compared to your total monthly debt payments. Most lenders will only lend to you if your DTI is at or below 43 percent. So to lower it, try to increase your income by pursuing a promotion or raise, finding a higher-paying job or taking on part-time work. Decrease your required monthly debt payments by refinancing or consolidating student loans and paying down any credit card balances.   * Get your credit score in order. Analyze your credit report before you start the home buying process. Dispute incorrect derogatory information and ensure all three credit-reporting bureaus list all of your positive information. Pay all your bills on time, reduce credit card balances to 30 percent of the credit limit or lower, and don't open new credit cards if you already have a few.   * Save for a down payment. Make a budget for each month before it starts, with a plan for spending and saving, and stick to it. Stash away extra money from bonuses, overtime or financial gifts on your birthday or holidays. Find a roommate to help pay your rent or move into a less-expensive rental. Do freelance or contract work on the side. Sell unneeded stuff on Craigslist.
November
18

(BPT) - You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This steadfast advice isn't just for interviews and first dates; it's also applicable to your home.   curb_appeal   Whether it's a potential buyer or simply a visitor, within seconds of seeing your home's exterior, that first impression will be made. That's why experts from home builders to real estate agents sing the praises of stellar curb appeal.   If you're thinking of selling your home or just want to give it a facelift, here are ways you can increase your home's curb appeal:   Revamp the roof Your roof is an important element of the exterior design aesthetic. If a dingy old roof is killing your curb appeal, a style and color upgrade can breathe new life into your home's facade. The first step is to evaluate roofing options for style cohesion with your home's existing siding. For a traditional look, try TAMKO's Heritage shingle line with colors and tones that mimic what's found in nature. Some styles are manufactured to resemble wood shake for a classic upscale look at a lower cost. Visit www.tamko.com for facade inspiration.   Shake up shutters Don't be tempted to ignore your shutters. Much like how jewelry adds the perfect finishing touch to an outfit, stylish shutters in attractive hues can pull your home's entire front exterior look together. Shutters provide a great opportunity to add a splash of color for a touch of personality to your home's exterior without going overboard. Pull shutters down and clean them up with soap and water before adding a fresh coat of paint. Make sure to get enough paint so you can freshen your front door in the matching color as well for a coordinating look that can enhance curb appeal.   Pretty the patio Front patios should convey an inviting appearance that complements the entryway. For dated and dirty concrete slabs, special paint can instantly provide an eye-catching focal point that looks like new. For old or rotting wood surfaces, consider replacing that deck or patio surface with composite deck boards like Evergrain Composite Decking. This compression-molded product creates the look of wood without painting or staining. Finish beautifying patio spaces with a few extra touches that warm the area. Depending on the space parameters, the addition of a wicker chair, a few potted plants and a new welcome mat can make a world of difference in boosting curb appeal.   Love the landscaping Overgrown plants, messy mulch and low-hanging tree branches can kill curb appeal fast. Take a look at your home from the street and notice whether plants and landscape beds could use a tidy touch. Keeping bushes and trees neatly trimmed can increase curb appeal, but don't stop there. Deadhead flowers and pull plants that are past season. Finally, add a fresh layer of mulch to cut down on weeds and provide a freshly landscaped look.
November
13

Using credit responsibly is an integral part of personal financial health. Not only is credit a key factor in securing loans for a home, vehicle or other major purchases, landlords often look at credit before approving new renters, as well.   creditworthy   "Improving and maintaining a positive credit history is important for people of all backgrounds, ages and life phases," says Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. "A few credit missteps can set back your financial goals significantly, even years in some cases."   To do just that, Sullivan recommends the following tips.   1. Limit the Number of Cards People are bombarded with dazzling credit card offers, but applying for too many can negatively impact credit while also increasing the risk of deep debt.   2. Avoid Fees Credit card companies charge fees for late payments-even when it's just a day or two-and for exceeding card limits, even if it's only a few dollars. Worse, exceeding limits or making late payments may trigger a higher interest rate and show up on your credit report.   3. Pay Off Balances Every Month Many people fall into the trap of making just the minimum payment, but paying off balances ensures consumers aren't wasting money on interest.   4. Never Get a Cash Advance The prospect of quick cash is tempting, but advances almost always come with hefty fees and high interest.   5. Don't Close Old Accounts… While this may seem counterintuitive, closing a card may negatively impact your credit because it reduces credit-to-debt ratio and credit history, both major factors credit bureaus use to calculate scores.   6. …Unless There Is a Steep Annual Fee In this case, the benefits of closing the account may outweigh the potential effect on credit.   7. Review Statements Each Month It's important to check your account statements monthly to ensure they are accurate and that you understand the terms.   8. Opt-Out of Prescreening Minimize the temptation to open new cards by opting out of pre-screened offers at optoutprescreen.com.   9. Use the Perks Credit cards offer perks beyond travel rewards and cash back, but many don't know about them. Agreements spell out all of the benefits, from buyer protection and car rental discounts to extended warranties and free airport lounge access.   10. Use Cards Online With identity theft on the rise, use credit when making purchases online. If your number is stolen, you will not be out any money while the card company investigates. With debit cards, the money may be inaccessible while the situation is being resolved.   Source: Take Charge America Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
5

Whether for free or a fee, numerous websites offer credit scores. However, according to a recent FICO® report, the majority of credit score inquirers believe they're receiving their FICO Score, when, in fact, they're receiving a non-FICO score.   Credit   "Because other credit scores look similar to FICO Scores, consumers have no way of determining, through the credit score itself, whether or not it's a FICO Score," says Jim Wehmann, executive vice president for scores at FICO. "Credit scores are unlike other products; the consequences of not recognizing credit scores from different companies can be much more serious. The new research findings bring to light an important issue: if the majority of consumers are confused about these non-FICO credit scores being provided to them, then millions of Americans are likely to be mistaken about their actual creditworthiness."   As a separate study recently revealed, FICO Scores are used in more than 90 percent of decisions involving approval of credit applications in the United States, including mortgage loans. According to the FICO report, over 80 percent of consumers believe the non-FICO credit scores they obtain are scores widely used by lenders to make credit decisions.   The mathematical formulas used by each scoring company are unique and create credit scores for the same consumers that are often significantly different from their FICO Scores-sometimes 100 points or more.  With such large score differences, not understanding that the credit score obtained isn't a FICO Score can cause consumers to over- or underestimate how a lender will view them, with serious consequences for financial health and wellbeing.   Today, the holders of more than 100 million consumer credit accounts have access to their FICO Scores for free through the FICO Score Open Access Program. Source: FICO Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
22

(BPT) - The home loan process can seem intimidating, especially for a first-time homebuyer. It is not a simple process, but it doesn't have to be too complicated. There are many resources available to help you prepare for your home buying journey, and your mortgage lender can answer the questions you have throughout the process.   mortsteps   'We're finding that many of our customers come into the home loan process with limited knowledge of how the home loan process works,' says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. 'It's important to take the time to familiarize yourself with the process so you know what to expect.'   Here are some of the key steps to the home loan process, as well as some tips to help you understand what you can expect:   1. Preparation and self-assessment Before you dive head-first into buying a home, make sure that you know how much you can afford. The first step is to calculate your 'debt-to-income ratio.' You can do this by adding up your current monthly bills then subtracting your total current income. This will help you determine whether you can afford a mortgage payment, and if so, what amount might fit into your budget. Using an online mortgage calculator is a good way to help you determine what the estimated cost of your monthly mortgage payment will be. Doing these calculations first will help you assess your resources and determine your budget to purchase a home.   2. The loan application Download a blank loan application ahead of time so you can look it over and familiarize yourself with it. This will give you an idea of the information you need when completing and submitting the application. The necessary documents may include: proof of income, proof of employment for the past two years, proof of identity, proof of residency and your social security card.   3. Origination and Underwriting Origination - The loan officer will review your financing options, work with you to complete the credit application and create the loan account. Underwriting - An underwriter will review the application and determine the level of credit risk you represent based on your credit score, income, existing debt and down payment. You may be asked to provide additional information about your finances during this step.   4. Satisfying loan conditions and full loan approval In this step, you will receive a 'conditions to approval' list from your lender, which outlines the tasks you must complete before the loan can be closed. For example, the lender may ask for additional documentation to verify income, savings or emergency funds or other proof that you can afford to repay the loan. At this point in the process the lender may offer a conditional loan approval and start the document verification process. If you accept the conditional loan approval offer, once all conditions have been met, the lender will issue a full loan approval.   5. Processing Once you've selected your dream home, you'll sign a purchase agreement with the seller. The purchase agreement tells the lender how much you have agreed to pay to purchase the home. The lender may then have the home appraised and will provide you with a copy of the appraisal.   6. Closing In the final step of the process, the lender works with a title company to obtain and review a title report and then finalize your title on the home. The titling company receives a closing package, which contains the documents that need to be signed, recorded and become part of your mortgage loan file. At the closing, you will sign all closing documents and pay any closing costs. The lender then receives all of this signed paperwork to complete the process. Once this process is complete, you're ready to move into your dream home. The home loan process may take some time, but these steps are well worth the wait. For more mortgage and loan resources, visit: www.vmfhomeloan.com.  
October
15

Average mortgage rates across the board continue to remain below 4 percent, most recently falling due to weak employment numbers. According to Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.76 percent with an average 0.6 point. The average 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped below 3 percent to 2.99 percent, also with an average 0.6 point.   Real estate investment   The PMMS® also reports the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 2.88 percent (with an average 0.4 point), and the 1-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 2.55 percent (with an average 0.2 point).   "Calling the September jobs report disappointing is an understatement," says Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac's chief economist. "The sputtering U.S. economy added only 142,000 jobs. To make matters worse, there were downward revisions to the prior two months. Hourly wages were flat, and the labor force participation rate fell to 62.4 percent, the lowest rate since 1977. In response, Treasury yields dipped below 2 percent, triggering a 9 basis point tumble in the 30-year mortgage rate to 3.76 percent." Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
8

Many factors play a role in the process of purchasing a home – none understood less than title insurance. Put simply, title insurance protects your investment from title issues that may arise after buying or refinancing a home, such as lost, forged or incorrectly filed deeds or liens on a property, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).   Title Insurance   To gain a clearer understanding of title insurance, take a look at the facts recently shared by the NAIC:  
  • Lenders typically require title insurance; however, you are not required to use their recommended title company or agent. Keep in mind that by federal law, affiliated (referral-based) relationships must be disclosed to you in writing.
  • Title insurance can be purchased from a licensed title insurance company or agent. Attorneys may also have the authority to sell title insurance, depending on their jurisdiction.
  • When comparison shopping, inquire about services and fees, both included in the title premium and not. Be sure to ask about discounts.
  • When selecting a policy, take time to assess your options. As stated above, your lender will likely require a lender's policy for the amount of the loan, which protects the lender from title issues that may occur after buying the home. Though you may have to pay the policy premium, coverage will decrease as the mortgage is paid off.
  • Though you are not required to buy one, an owner's policy for the full price of the home (and potential legal costs) protects you if title issues emerge after purchasing the home. Coverage will remain as long as you own an interest in the home.
  • Depending on your area, you may also have the option to purchase an enhanced owner's policy, which covers approximately 20 percent more than a standard owner's policy.
  • Policy endorsements may be available to you, as well. An endorsement, which you may or may not have to pay for, covers a specific issue, such as a mechanic's liens.
Source: NAIC Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
1

Buying a home for the first time can be cumbersome. You've never done it before, so it's normal to feel a bit overwhelmed. Luckily, we've pulled together some of the common mistakes first-time home buyers make. Learn from them, and you may have a smoother home buying process.  
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  • Forgetting About Costs:
Your mortgage will probably not be the only cost when it comes to buying a home. Smaller costs like property insurance, taxes, electric and water bills, and other fees may start to pile up. Before buying a house, you may need to look further into your savings to figure out if you can pay for all of these additional charges.
  • Looking for a Home Before the Loan:
Once you find a house and decide to buy it, you don't want to spend time wondering if you can afford it. Knowing your budget, and that you are a qualified buyer before you begin your search may make the process easier and more efficient. Once you decide that it's time to buy a home, get pre-approved for a loan.
  • Not Hiring Professionals:
Moving isn't as simple as packing up your stuff and renting a van. It takes a village to move into a new neighborhood. Your team can only be as good as your weakest link, so you may want to ensure that you have only the best players. Get your home buying team in place before starting the search.
  • Being Too Picky:
There's nothing wrong with knowing what you want when it comes to buying a home. But if your "must-have" list get too long and too specific, you may end up looking for your perfect house for a very long time. Also, remember that you can make changes once you move in. It may be wise to take the time to figure out what you really need versus what you want. If you are unsure where to start, our checklist may help!
  • Lacking Vision:
Some of the open houses you attend may not look move-in ready. But plenty of homes have hidden potential. When you look for a home, try to look past the 70's shag rugs and lava lamps. Imagine what the home will look like after you've moved in with all of your own belongings, or try to envision the structure of the home without the stuff inside it. This will be an important skill, especially if you're looking to buy a fixer-upper as your first home.
  • Ignoring the Future: 
If you plan on living in this house for a long time, you may want to think ahead. You may decide to have kids in a few years, and then you'll have to worry about another set of questions. Will there be enough bedrooms? Is the house located in a good school district? These may be things to think about when buying your home. So whether you're just starting to think about buying your first home, or you've already spent some time looking, there may be a lot to learn from this list of mistakes.
  Source: Century 21 Blog
September
27

Is your home in need of a makeover? One of the simplest ways to refresh the look of your home is through seasonally-inspired décor.   fall color   "Fall is the perfect time to add color to your walls and update décor in your home, ahead of the busy holiday season," says Julie Richard, Ace Hardware design expert. "Whether you're looking to add a pop of color with a decorative statement piece, or apply a fresh coat of paint to a room that needs a lift, our advice will help you bring transformative updates to life during the most colorful time of year."   Organic and timeless, autumn's foliage lends itself to warm, neutral color palettes and vintage décor paired with deep greens and jewel tones, says Richard and colleagues Katie Reynolds and Nathan Fischer, also Ace design experts. The trio recommends updating your home with these color trends:   1. Green – Bring this trend to life in your home by painting a statement piece using a vibrant green, or by painting an accent wall in a muted olive tone. 2. White – Give your living room more depth and dimension with new baseboards (that are at least five inches high) in a creamy, opal white. To really transform the look of your space, paint the floor in a stark white. 3. Black – Dark furniture against white walls can help make a bold statement in an otherwise neutral space. Paint base cabinets or your favorite piece of furniture in a shade like black chiffon for a crisp, classic look. 4. Blue – Add doses of color in complementary shades, such as sky blue walls with orange accessories, to add character and flair to a room. 5. Pink – Don't overlook the ceiling! Add a hint of blush to the ceiling to simulate the appearance of a slight glow.   Source: Ace Hardware Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
27

(BPT) - Many homeowners with a passion for cooking desire a kitchen that mirrors those of renowned chefs. To achieve this, various design elements and simple upgrades can be incorporated to create the ideal kitchen that combines ultimate functionality with sophisticated style.   ChefKitchen   Faucet makeover Culinary enthusiasts spend a lot of time at the sink. A faucet that simplifies tasks is a necessity and the Brizo SolnaArticulating Kitchen Faucet is a culinary-driven innovation offering flexibility and control in the kitchen. Boasting crisp, contemporary lines, the articulating arm can be adjusted to position the two-function spray wand at various heights and angles - extend the arm up or outward to fill large pots or lower into the sink to reduce splash during clean-up. Beyond function, its Scandinavian inspiration brings a streamlined architecture to any kitchen.   Storage space Just as great recipes call for top-quality ingredients, great kitchens need excellent tools. Maximizing storage is key for those with an impressive collection of kitchen tools and culinary essentials. Avoid overwhelming renovations and make the most of storage options by thinking 'outside the cabinet' to fully accommodate needs. For a crisp, modernized look, arrange pots and pans in a line on the wall with a linear rack. Take organization a step further by incorporating a magnet bar for sharp utensils, ensuring tools are close at hand without getting in the way. Store culinary tools and flatware in expandable drawer dividers to ensure all cabinet space is utilized and the counter remains clutter-free.   Inside garden Bring the outside in with a miniature herb garden for fresh flavor enhancements when you need them. Spaces in front of a kitchen window with natural light are ideal for an indoor garden. Various herbs in 3- or 4-inch pots can be grouped together in stylish trays to keep humidity high. For an extra splash of color, add edible flowering plants to the garden, such as lavender, lemongrass and violet. These homegrown herbs can be used as garnishes, to layer flavor into a dish or even in cocktails for at-home entertaining.   Designated task stations Commercial restaurants work well with cooking stations for seamless preparation and execution. Designate specific areas for every facet of meal preparation to aid in overall organization and evoke the look and feel of a five-star kitchen in your home. In most top-rated kitchens, food preparation is commonly performed between the sink and refrigerator to ensure all needs are met for retrieving, rinsing and chopping. Added elements like a deep sink and wide counter space make these tasks efficient and restaurant quality. Transforming the kitchen into a chef-centered space is simple with clean, purposeful upgrades. For additional information on the Solna Articulating Faucet or to learn about other Brizo product offerings, visit www.brizo.com.
September
24

Real estate was once again named the best long-term investment, topping stocks, mutual funds, gold, savings accounts, CDs and bonds as the preferred means to long-term gains, according to a recent Gallup poll.   investment   For the Americans surveyed, investment preferences broke down as follows:  
  • Real Estate – 31 percent
  • Stocks/Mutual Funds – 25 percent
  • Gold – 19 percent
  • Savings Accounts/CDs – 15 percent
  • Bonds – 6 percent
  Most importantly, all major gender, age and income groups agreed that real estate is the best long-term investment, signaling growing confidence in opportunities for housing for Americans from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Source: Gallup Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
20

A number of factors play a role in how color is perceived in a home. While choosing a room color is a deeply personal choice, it's helpful to understand how certain influences can help guide paint color choice, says Noelle Parks, an interior design professional with Dunn-Edwards Paints®.   fallpaint   Parks recommends homeowners follow these guidelines when selecting paint colors.   1. Choose color based on desired mood. From high-energy red to mellow blue, psychological responses to color inform effective and stimulating home design. Consider the ambience of the room before choosing a color. Will it be a lively dining room? A peaceful study? A luxurious bedroom?   Warm tones like red, orange and yellow evoke energy, playfulness and action – great for spaces for interaction like dining rooms or kitchens. Cool tones including green, blue, indigo and violet shades create tranquil and soothing environments. Try cool tones for places of relaxation and meditation, like the bedroom.     2. Use neutral colors as a base. Neutral colors pair well with many shades. White, the most neutral of colors, coordinates with almost every other shade. Crisp and elegant, white opens up spaces and provides a clean, well-designed look.   Brown keeps color schemes grounded with its earthy tones and works best with an accent color. Black adds drama and is often used as an accent to embolden other tones.     3. Consider lighting. Color looks different on a swatch in a store, and on the wall at home at different times of day with different amounts of light. It's imperative to test colors under the lighting conditions at home to see how the paint will truly appear. If there's a lot of natural sunlight, consider a deeper, richer color.     4. Pay attention to details. Permanent features like the flooring, architectural trim, moldings and columns will affect how color appears and blends with the rest of the room. Dark flooring, for example, will go well with lighter wall colors as opposition creates interest and visual excitement. Or, the design on a large piece of furniture may inform the color choice of the overall room.     5. Take climate and windows into account. Typically, warmer colors are more acceptable in cold climates and cooler colors in warmer regions. A south-facing window orientation suggests a cool to neutral color preference, while a north-facing window suggests the use of a warmer color.   Source: Dunn-Edwards Paints® Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
17

A number of products and services exist to help homeowners protect what will likely be the largest investment they'll make – buying a home. The key to their effectiveness is gaining a clear understanding of various industry terms, defined by the non-profit National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA).   homegloss   Home Service Contract/Warranty A home service contract provides service, repair or replacement due to normal wear and tear on major, built-in household appliances and systems. Most cover items such as dishwashers, ovens, wiring and plumbing systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC).       Many contract providers also offer a menu of optional items such as pool pumps, spas and freestanding appliances such as refrigerators and clothing washers and dryers for an additional fee. Rural homeowners may also elect to add septic tanks or well pumps.   At an average cost of $550 a year, contracts historically renew annually. In recent years, many providers have begun to also offer coverage on a month-to-month basis.   Qualified contract providers maintain a toll-free service call line 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the convenience of their customers. Dispatch of a trusted local service provider usually occurs within 3-5 business days, with expedited options for emergency situations.   Service calls average approximately $75 and protect the homeowner's pocketbook, as some repairs and replacements have the potential to run thousands of dollars with no contract in place.     Builder's Home Warranty A builder's home warranty is very different from a home service contract or warranty. These warranties, provided by the builder on a new home, are designed to offer coverage on the actual workmanship and materials used in the home's construction.     Product and Extended Warranties Retailers and manufacturers frequently offer warranties on the purchase of on the goods – such as electronics and automobiles – they make and sell directly to the public through retailers. These new product warranties are generally active for a limited time to safeguard against existing defects in the product.   Extended warranties are just that – warranties that extend beyond the original warranty period. At purchase, retailers may offer to extend a new product warranty for an additional price. These new product or "retail" warranties are part of a separate industry, aside from the home service contracts/warranties.     Insurance There is little similarity between home service contracts and insurance. Insurance protects a homeowner against partial or total damage or loss to the structure itself or possessions in the home. Insurance protects against sudden and fortuitous events such as fire, wind, hail, theft, collision or other accidents. Insurance does not cover breakdowns due to normal wear and tear. The two products complement each other – they do not overlap.   Homeowner's insurance also provides liability coverage against accidents in the home or on the property.   If a tree falls on the exterior air conditioning unit of a home, it s covered by insurance. If an air conditioner stops blowing cold air, it is covered by a home service contract or warranty.   In most states, it is not legal for a home service contract to cover anything which could be covered by insurance.   Source: NHSCA Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
13

(BPT) - The rituals of fall include sending kids back to school, raking leaves and cheering on the hometown football team. In addition, a new fall tradition has emerged for America's nearly 74 million homeowners - home improvement.   fallhome   This fall promises to be particularly popular for home projects. Lower gas prices are boosting people's discretionary income and Metrostudy's latest Residential Remodeling Index points to a continued rise in activity. Like many trends, there isn't one particular reason fall has emerged as a popular time for home improvement, several factors play a role.   Energy efficiency is top of mind With colder weather on the horizon, homeowners shudder at the thought of higher heating costs. They upgrade windows, layer in more insulation, service or replace old furnaces and, in some cases, do all of the above.   The weather is nice Home improvement projects can be hard and even grueling work, particularly for DIYers. Lower temperatures and humidity create a much more comfortable environment for getting things done (and rhetorically keeping your cool when obstacles inevitably arrive).   The holiday entertaining wow factor Everyone wants their home to sparkle when they welcome family and friends during the holidays. Completing a home improvement project during the fall sets up a big reveal when the holidays roll around.   Falling prices Fall is an excellent time to save money by finding great deals on home improvement supplies and service. Year-end sales begin and discounts can be steep. Retailers like Lumber Liquidators, with their annual Yard Sale in October, often have discounts to clear inventory before the New Year. Also, contractors are busiest during the warmer months - their business cools as the weather does. Facing tight timelines and tighter budgets, homeowners often need to prioritize their projects. Installing hardwood floors often provides a high return on investment, both from a quantitative (home value) and qualitative (pride in ownership) standpoint. No matter what a homeowner chooses to do during the fall home improvement season, it will help reduce cabin fever during the winter months.
September
11

As an additional incentive, an increasing number of home sellers are purchasing home service contracts on behalf of buyers, according to the National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA). For first-time buyers benefitting from these contracts, it's important to:   homebuywecont   1. Review the home service contract to be sure you understand all terms and conditions. Home service contracts generally provide service, repair or replacement for items such as dishwashers, ovens, disposers, electrical and plumbing systems, and most importantly, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC).   2. Maintain all appliances and household systems to keep them in efficient operating order. You will benefit from uninterrupted service as well as potential energy savings.   3. Request optional coverage if you feel you may need coverage on items not typically specified under the standard coverage, such as a swimming pool, septic tank or spa.   4. Keep a copy of your contract easily accessible and post the provider's toll-free service number in a visible location, like the refrigerator door.   5. Call your contract provider at the first sign of trouble. Do not call a repair contractor directly. One of the benefits of your home service contract is that your provider works with a network of prequalified and licensed contractors in your area. If a breakdown (such as a lack of water or heat) poses an actual risk to your health or safety, most providers will work to expedite emergency repairs. 6. Follow up with your provider if for some reason you are not satisfied with the service provided. They will work with you to resolve your concern. 7. Note when your contract expires. For your convenience, many companies will provide automatic renewal of your contract. If you do not wish to renew, contact your provider right away to exercise your cancellation rights.   Source: NHSCA Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
3

It's an age-old question: should you rent or buy? If faced with this dilemma, consider the following questions, courtesy of the American Bankers Association (ABA).   Buy or Rent?   1. How much do you have saved? Start with an evaluation of your financial health. Figure out how much money you have for a down payment or deposit on a rental. Down payments are typically 5 to 20 percent of the price of the home. Security deposits on rentals are usually about one month of rent and more if you have a pet. Be sure to keep enough in savings for an emergency fund. It's a good idea to have three to six months of living expenses to cover unexpected costs.   2. How much debt do you have? Consider all of your current and expected financial obligations like your car payment and insurance, credit card debt and student loans. Make sure you will be able to make all of the payments in addition to the cost of your new home. Aim to keep total rent or mortgage payments plus utilities to less than 25 to 30 percent of your gross monthly income.   3. What is your credit score? A high credit score indicates strong creditworthiness. Both renters and homebuyers can expect to have their credit history examined. A low credit score can keep you from qualifying for the rental you want or a low interest rate on your mortgage loan. If your credit score is low, you may want to take steps to raise your score, which could improve the terms you're offered, before entering a loan or rental agreement.   4. Have you factored in all the costs? Create a hypothetical budget for your new home. Find the average cost of utilities in your area, factoring in gas, electricity, water and cable. Find out if you will have to pay for parking or trash pickup. Consider the cost of yard maintenance and other costs like replacing the air filter every three months. If you are planning to buy a home, factor in real estate taxes, mortgage insurance and possibly a homeowner association fee. Renters should consider the cost of rental insurance.   5. How long will you stay? Generally, the longer you plan to live someplace, the more it makes sense to buy. Over time, you can build equity in your home. On the other hand, renters have greater flexibility to move and fewer maintenance costs. Carefully consider your current life and work situation and think about how long you want to stay in your new home.   Source: ABA.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
August
30

A well-maintained deck can provide years of outdoor enjoyment for family and friends–not to mention, a major selling point for buyers. To keep your deck looking its best, the experts at HomeAdvisor.com recommend following these seven tips.   deck   1. Inspect for Rot – The devastating effects of wood rot and decay can be mitigated with regular inspection. Examine the deck's ledger board, support posts, joists, boards, railings and stairs for signs of trouble, including soft spots and splitting, peeling pieces. 2. Fasten Weight-Bearing Board – To ensure your deck remains structurally sound, remove any nails attaching the deck to the home and replace with half-inch stainless or galvanized steel lag screws and bolts. If you notice a gap between the house and the deck, tighten the bolts. 3. Clean Flashing – Clear out any mud or debris caking the flashing, which helps to prevent board rot. Assess the flashing for compromised caulk or other signs of breakage. If the flashing is dated, consider hiring a professional deck contractor to replace it. 4. Secure Railings – Most municipal codes require deck railings to be at least three inches high and four inches apart, but check with your local authority to see what mandates exist in your area. Periodically, pull on the railings and banisters to ensure stability. 5. Evaluate Stairs – Take a look at stair risers and stringers (which hold the steps up from the side) to ensure they are securely attached. Generally, stair treads must be no more than four inches high–contact your local government office to be sure. 6. Tighten Fasteners – Fasteners are what hold deck boards together, such as nails, screws and anchors. Be sure to tighten loose fasteners and replace any that have rusted or corroded–leaving them in can speed up deterioration of the wood, and make your deck sag or sway. 7. Reapply Finish – If your deck's finish has seen better days, consider reapplying with a waterproof finish that protects from mold, mildew and pests. To extend the finish, keep your deck free of leaves and dirt. Source: RISMedia's Housecall Published with permission from RISMedia.
August
28

It can be easy to get lost and confused during the home buying process. Proper planning is paramount. It's also helpful to learn from other people's mistakes. Here are some of the most common errors people make when shopping for a new home.   Not budgeting for everything: Yes, this sounds obvious, but many people forget about some of the costs of buying a home. There are added costs such as furniture and appliances, DIY projects, moving fees, or your first mortgage payment. This last one is especially important-setting a budget may help you determine how much you can comfortably afford to pay for your mortgage.   Neglecting your credit score: Your credit score will play a major role in the home buying process. This 3-digit number might be the thing that keeps you from your new home! Credit reports often contain errors or misinformation, so it's important to retrieve your report ahead of time and fix any errors before sending it out to lenders. Looking at your credit reports may also give you a better idea of what interest rates you can expect so you can make room for them in your budget.   Trusting verbal agreements: A home seller can verbally accept your bid and still turn around and give it to someone else if a higher bidder comes along. So before you celebrate your new home, make sure you've signed paperwork!   Skipping the home inspection: You can't expect the seller to tell you about all the potential problems you might face if you buy their home. There might even be issues with the house that the seller isn't aware of, which is why it's crucial to hire an inspector to take a look through the house. An inspector will examine the overall foundation and structural features of a house. It's their job to find these areas of concern so that you don't have to worry about them later on! (Tip: Don't be too reliant on the inspector. You may catch these problems that they sometimes miss.)   Sweating the small things: Don't like the color of a house or the wallpaper inside? Is there something about the kitchen that you just can't stand? Don't sweat the small things! Focus instead on the location and the overall structure of the house. Once you move in you can change the small things you don't like and make your house a home!   If you avoid these mistakes and work closely with a CENTURY 21® Affiliated Sales Associate, you may just find the home you've been searching for!   Source: https://www.century21.com/real-estate-blog/dont-make-these-5-common-home-buying-mistakes/
August
27

(BPT) - From tools and stools to trunks and junk, it seems the garage is home to just about everything these days - except the car. As summer gear is put away and preparations for winter months begin, fall is the perfect time to organize the garage, reinforce garage safety and move the car back inside.   Check out these steps from the experts at The Lehigh Group to organize your garage:   Clear the clutter
Sort through and throw out rusty tools, broken toys, worn-out sports gear and other items you haven't used in the last year and recycle, donate or sell usable items. Then, group remaining items into categories, such as holiday decorations, gardening tools and sports equipment to begin the organizing process.   Create a parking space
Divide the area into zones, making sure to designate a parking spot for the car. Allow enough space for vehicle doors to fully open and for individuals to walk around without bumping the car. Sweep this area to avoid tracking dirt and debris into your car or home.   Keep necessities at the ready
Store small items in a clean, dry place for maximum organization. For flexible storage - and to transport tools easily - the Crawford Safe-Mount Mobile Caddy features a bin with mesh pockets to store everything from weed picks to gloves, and a wall mount bracket to keep tools off the garage floor.   Go vertical
When zoning your garage, don't forget the walls and ceiling. Install hanging shelves, pegboards, storing rails and overhead storage systems to open up floor space and enjoy a more organized system to visualize your tools. Keep a sturdy step stool or ladder handy to safely reach overhead equipment.   Securely store heavy items
With 70 percent of Americans using the garage to store equipment, such as saws and power tools, it's important to ensure these large and potentially dangerous items are properly anchored. Always remember to follow all manufacturer instructions regarding weight limits when using wall hooks, rails and shelving.  
August
21

According to a recent Bankrate.com national survey, mortgage rates have declined to a two-month low, sparked by a surprise devaluation of the Chinese yuan. By itself, such an action has little effect on the U.S. economy, but the consequent drag on economic growth from a larger trade deficit and a further downward influence on inflation could prompt the Fed to delay the first interest rate hike.   slide2monthlow   According to the survey, the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate slid to 4.04 percent, and the average 15-year fixed mortgage rate ticked lower as well, to 3.26 percent.   Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) were on the downswing also, with the 5-year ARM dipping to 3.20 percent and the 7-year ARM dropping to 3.39 percent.   The larger jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage rate stepped back to 4.00 percent, still remaining below the smaller conforming 30-year fixed mortgage.   At the current average 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 4.04 percent, the monthly payment on a $200,000 loan is $959.45.   Source: Bankrate.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
August
18

(BPT) - Though summer is winding down, for many families, hectic moving schedules are still underway. Whether you are moving this season or planning for a move in the near future, consider some helpful guidelines on packing up, moving out and settling in without a hitch - plus, the latest technologies to turn your new house into a home.   movingtips   Here are five tips to help you minimize moving stress and settle in quickly:   Make a list, measure it twice. After celebrating the signing of your new home (congratulations!), it's time to begin the moving process. Even before you start packing, it's important, if possible, to visit your new home with a tape measure. Carefully measure and take note of the square footage and dimensions of every room in your new home. Do the same with any existing appliances and furniture you plan on relocating to your new home to ensure that everything fits through the door and in the space. LG's moving guide (www.lg.com/us/moving) is designed to help and includes tips on measuring your current appliances to make sure they'll fit. If you're purchasing new large appliances or furniture, be sure to measure everything in the store or take note of each item's dimensions online to make sure it fits. Removing or replacing a refrigerator, for example, is a time-consuming and expensive task that can be avoided with careful planning. If you aren't able to visit before moving in, ask your broker or real estate agent for a copy of the floor plan.   Pack strategically, unpack easily. Pack and label items by category, such as dishes, winter clothes and books, or by appropriate area, such as bedroom, kitchen and living room. To limit damage, be sure to pack fragile and valuable items carefully with padded packaging, and communicate fragile items clearly with your movers. To save even more hassle, pack a couple of boxes of essential items, specifically for the first night in your new home, which would otherwise be hard to find. You'll thank yourself when items such as cleaning supplies, fresh linens and a coffeepot are right at your fingertips. Staying organized is key to avoid losing your belongings - resulting in saving time and unnecessary re-purchasing expenses in the process.   Find savings and convenience in new technology. Moving is a common time to buy new electronics - and there are some simple ways to make these new purchases more customizable than ever. For example, rather than choosing surround sound speakers that require lots of cumbersome wiring to install, select a wireless speaker and TV surround sound system like LG's Music Flow. It offers a range of speakers and soundbars that you can mix and match to create a customized and easy-to-use home audio system for your new living space. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and Google Cast built in, systems like this let you can stream your favorite online music services, including Spotify and Pandora, straight from your mobile device. There's no need for additional hardware or wires.   Share your new address. Take initiative and update your employer, bank, school, doctors, pharmacist and credit card company with your new address as early as possible. This can affect billing statements and formal records, which are a headache to change at a later date. Be sure to call your electric, cable and internet companies to swap your address, and inquire about any potential changes in your service. Sign up for USPS mail forwarding to ensure all of your mail reaches you in a timely manner. And don't forget to keep your friends and family in the loop! It's a busy and exiting time, so share your news!   Upgrade your appliances. If you're not planning to bring your current laundry appliances to your new home, look for a new ENERGY STAR washer and dryer with the latest cleaning technologies that help make clean-up a breeze and save on your electric bill, too. One such example is LG's top-load laundry pair with the dryer featuring an EasyLoad door, the first machine to open two ways. The unique door can be accessed from the top (hamper style) to easily toss in wet clothes from the washer and sideways to quickly unload clothes into the basket. This makes it easier than ever to drop in and unload laundry.   For additional tips on moving and settling into a new space, as well as a complete, eight-week timeline, check the helpful LG moving guide (www.lg.com/us/moving). It's impossible to anticipate every bump in the road, but having a thorough yet flexible plan will help minimize stress and ensure the moving process goes smoothly.
August
14

(BPT) - Homeownership is a dream for many Americans, and maybe it's one of yours as well. Making this dream a reality requires hard work, dedication and the proper preparation. You must figure out where you want to live, what type of home you desire, what you can afford and also how your credit rating may impact your home-purchasing goals.   credmort   Your credit rating can play an important role in the home buying process, and your creditworthiness could also affect the amount that you can borrow, the interest rates you will qualify for and your ability to obtain a mortgage loan in the first place.   'A consumer's credit is one of the biggest factors that goes into the mortgage-application process,' says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. 'Before applying for a loan, it is crucial to get your credit in the best shape you possibly can.'   To help you build good credit and increase your ability to obtain better loan terms, Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. offers these tips for improving your credit:     Pay your bills on time Late or missed payments on any of your credit accounts, such as credit cards, mortgages and other loans, could cause a drop in your credit score. To prevent this, make your payments on time. Making additional payments whenever possible and paying extra toward the principal balance will also help to keep a good payment history and decrease the payoff timeline. Using an Extra Principal Payment Calculator tool can also help you calculate the savings that come with paying extra - generating additional motivation to do so.   Minimize any outstanding debt and keep existing debt manageable Paying your statement balances in full instead of letting debt accumulate can improve your credit scores, which may result in better terms being offered from lenders. Lenders often check your credit report when you apply for a loan and measure the amount of debt you're carrying against the loan amount they've requested. Excessive debt is one of the factors that could cause a lender to decline your application.   Avoid applying for unnecessary credit Credit applications can appear as inquiries on credit reports, which may suggest to lenders that an applicant is taking on additional debt. Be aware of advertising or sales promotions that offer purchase discounts if you apply for a credit card. Even these cards could show up as inquiries on your credit report. These inquiries remain on credit reports for two years. Instead of applying for additional credit, use your existing lines of credit to showcase your responsible credit management by paying bills on time and paying off the debt quickly.   "There are a lot of steps you can take to improve your credit, but it's important to remember that credit scores don't change overnight," says Hamilton. "It takes time to increase your credit rating, and while it may feel like a slow-moving effort, it is well worth the wait when you get to open the door to a home of your own for you and your family." Source:  vmfhomeloan.com.
August
11

When back-to-school time approaches, it is important for parents to ensure their children know what to expect.   backtoschool   "Parents need to begin transitioning children into the back-to-school routine early enough so they have time to adjust -- mentally and physically," says Richard Peterson, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care vice president. "Waiting until right before school begins is not an effective strategy for a smooth start to the school year."   To help get your children acclimated to the start of a new school year, start by:   Getting children excited. Get your children ready for school by making back-to-school shopping a family affair. During a shopping trip for new school supplies, let children cross off items from their lists as they fill the cart. This will keep them involved and excited during the process.   Establishing a school year schedule. A few weeks before school begins, set – and stick to – a realistic bedtime to allow children to get the recommended 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Playing school. Gather books, paper, pencils, and crayons and play school with your children. Let them be the teachers and you be the student. As you play, ask your children how they feel about starting school. This is a great time to talk about anxieties or concerns they may have as they start a new school year.   Attending back-to-school events. Find out about back-to-school activities or events, such as meet and greet with teachers. This is a great opportunity to get your children familiar with their school surroundings and comfortable with their new teachers.   Practicing the morning routine. Before the first day of school, figure out how long it will take for everyone to get out of the house on time. If your children will be walking to school, practice the route showing them where to stop and if necessary, how to cross the street. If your children are bus riders, show them where to catch the bus and review the bus rules.   Getting your own routine in check. Make sure you know what you need to keep the busy morning schedule running smoothly. To make more time in the morning, consider handling tasks like setting the coffee maker, preparing lunches and reviewing homework at night. And, practice your new routine before the stress of the school year really hits.   Source: Kiddie Academy® Published with permission from RISMedia.
August
7

As uncertainty about the economy pushes Treasury yields lower, average fixed mortgage rates have moved down for the third week in a row, according to the recent Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).   mortratestrickledown   Dipping just below four percent, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.91 percent with an average 0.6 point. The 15-year FRM averaged 3.13 percent, also with an average 0.6 point.   In addition, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.95 percent with an average 0.4 point. The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.54 percent with an average 0.3 point.   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
31

If you've recently purchased a new home, or if you're about to, you've likely given a lot of thought to all of the responsibilities that come with it: mortgages, insurance and - sooner or later - renovations and repairs. While the responsibilities can seem overwhelming, owning a home is exciting and rewarding too. You just need to know what to do and what not to do to avoid unexpected expenses.     New Homeowner Do's: There are a few home maintenance projects that should top the to-do list of every new homeowner. According to a recent article, these include:
  1. Checking your HVAC system: If your HVAC system wasn't serviced before you purchased the house, inspect air filters and other components for anything in need of repair or replacement.
  2. Inspecting gutters and downspouts: Make sure that your gutters or downspouts have been cleared of debris. If they're clogged, moisture could build up and leak over into your roofing or foundation - a predicament that will most likely require costly repairs. Also look for cracks or holes in the system; these could cause the same issues.
  3. Look for leaks: Air and water leaks - whether in your insulation, your pipes or your walls - can lead to a number of issues in your home. They're the perfect entry for pests, and they also offer a prime opportunity for air to seep out, which can force your HVAC system into overdrive. Fix leaks immediately with weatherproofing, caulking or more insulation material.
  4. Assess insulation: Attic and basement insulation are crucial to protecting your roof and foundation from moisture, pests and interior temperature fluctuations. If there are holes, missing pieces or other issues with your insulation, you will need to have it augmented or replaced. You can install some kinds of insulation yourself; others require the help of a professional.
  5. Upgrade appliances: Depending on the age of your appliances, now might be a good time to upgrade to newer, more energy-efficient models. Replacing one or more of your appliances will pay back in utility bill savings, whether you replace your washer and dryer, dishwasher, microwave or refrigerator.
  New Homeowner Dont's: There are also some new homeowner mistakes you should avoid. Making these mistakes could lead to the need for costly repairs and renovations down the road:
  1. No routine care: While the house might have passed a home inspection, you need to keep it up to snuff; if you don't, you could find yourself paying for major repairs within a year. Routine care includes seasonal maintenance like roof inspection and repair, gutter cleaning, deck repair and cleaning, and so forth. Ignoring these areas or waiting another year before attending to them could lead to more trouble - and money spent - than necessary. Don't wait.
  2. Renovating too soon: Although you may have considered a kitchen or bathroom remodel going into the purchase of your home, it's best to wait at least one year before you renovate a room. You need to get to know the house and confirm that there aren't more crucial repairs that need your budget and attention first. Otherwise, you could get halfway through your remodel only to find that your foundation is in serious disrepair - and that you have no money to fix it.
  3. Overspending: As a new homeowner, you have a lot of costs to factor into your budget, including mortgage payments and an increased utility bill. If you invest in remodeling projects or landscaping in the first year - without giving yourself some time to get used to your new budget - you could end up in the red. Spend a year getting to know your new home budget, then think about spending money on improvements.
  4. Dreaming too big: If you don't have the money to remodel in the first year but want to do it anyway, you might try to DIY. We've all watched the DIYNetwork, HGTV - programs that make it all look simple. But we have to be realistic. These DIYers are experts who have worked in the field for years. Most homeowners have no prior experience, and our projects generally show our lack of expertise. If you attempt a DIY remodel, you will likely spend thousands to have a professional redo your work.
  5. Taking the lowball offer: When you start hiring contractors for home projects, you're going to run into those who quote far below the average bid. While you might be tempted to hire these pros, DON'T. As the saying goes: you get what you pay for. More than likely, you'll end up hiring another pro to fix a shoddy job.
  Conclusion Being a homeowner comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of opportunity - some of it exciting and some not so much. It's important to keep up on routine maintenance, as well as be prepared for everything that may come your way before you invest in major home improvements. Take this quiz to see whether you're ready to be a new homeowner or need a little more time to prepare.   Sourece: blog.century21.com
July
24

Though some homebuyers who bought 10 years ago have not broke even on their investment, buyers today can break even in two years or less, according to a recent Zillow® analysis. Nationally, homebuyers today can break even in an average of 1.9 years.   reward   "It's very clear that when it comes to maximizing gains from an investment in real estate, timing really does matter a great deal," says Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. "However, timing isn't everything, and trying to time the market perfectly is incredibly difficult, even for professionals.   "There are any number of factors to consider when purchasing a home, only one of which is the potential for financial gain," Humphries adds. "Potential buyers should always place their personal needs and their family's needs first, and make the decision to buy only when they are ready to make a significant investment of both their time and money. Just because the math might say to buy or rent in a given area, personal preferences and situations vary greatly, and there is no one answer that is right for everybody."   Source: Zillow Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
17

If you are on the fence about buying a home, consider this: waiting to buy could cost thousands in accumulated wealth. According to a recent realtor.com® report, the financial penalties of delaying or forgoing on a home purchase have become very steep – the average buyer is estimated to gain $217,726 (in today's dollars) in wealth over a 30-year period.   dontwait   Although some markets are more buyer-friendly than others, national data shows homeowners see significant financial benefits as compared to lifetime renters. In nearly 90 percent of metro areas, buying a home produces a financial benefit of at least $100,000 over 30 years.   "This analysis looks solely at the financial reasons to buy a home, based on assumptions about rising mortgage rates and changes in home values," realtor.com® Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke says. "It's important to remember that a home purchase decision is deeply personal. Potential buyers need to consider factors such as upcoming life events, job security and potential relocation, in addition to financial benefits, because they too can have a significant impact on ownership."   Source: realtor.com® Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
10

Mortgage rates recently dropped in response to global uncertainty, helping to keep buyer activity strong toward the close of the homebuying season, according to Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).   greece   The results of the survey found the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaging 4.04 percent, and the 15-year FRM averaging 3.20 percent. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.93 percent. The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.50 percent.   "Yields on Treasury securities declined this week in response to investor concerns about events in Greece and China," explains Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti. "Mortgage rates fell as well, although not by as much as government bond yields.   "Overseas volatility is likely to persist for some time, providing some restraint on potential U.S. rate increases. In addition, the minutes of the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee suggest the Federal Reserve will proceed cautiously–monitoring events both overseas and in the U.S. to ascertain the appropriate moment to begin raising short-term interest rates. As a result, mortgage rates may remain in the neighborhood of 4 percent for a while."   Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
3

Your credit score has a critical impact on your housing options, and healthy credit is essential to buying a home or renting one. "An important step to finding a home, whether you're renting or buying, is ensuring that you have a good credit history," says Frank Keating, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association (ABA). "A strong credit score can open doors to better homes and lower mortgage rates."   buyercredit   To build a good credit history, the ABA recommends adopting these habits.   1. Request a copy of your credit report–and make sure it is correct. Your credit report illustrates your credit performance, and it needs to be accurate so that you can apply for other loans, such as a mortgage. Everyone is entitled to receive a free copy of his or her credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies, but you must go through the Federal Trade Commission's website at https://ift.tt/o2j1vQ or call 1-877-322-82281-877-322-8228 FREE. Note that you may have to pay for the numerical score itself.   2. Set up automatic bill pay. Payment history makes up 32 percent of your VantageScore credit score and 35 percent of your FICO credit score. The more you pay your bills on time, the better your score. Avoid missed payments by setting as many of your bills to automatic pay as possible.   3. Keep balances low on credit cards and 'revolving credit.' Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. You often can increase your scores by limiting your charges to 30 percent or less of a card's limit.   4. Apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed. Keep this in mind the next time a retailer offers you 10 percent off if you open an account. If you need a new line of credit, don't jump at the first appealing offer; compare rates and fees offered through mail solicitation, on the Internet or at your local bank.   5. Don't close old paid off accounts. According to FICO, closing accounts can never help your score and can in fact damage it.   6. Talk to credit counselors if you're in trouble. Using legitimate, non-profit credit counseling can help you manage your debt and won't hurt your credit score. For more information on debt management, contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit by visiting www.NFCC.org.   Source: ABA.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
June
29

(BPT) - If you're planning to take on a home improvement project, you're in good company. A recent report by the Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard University predicts that the home improvement industry is expected to post record-level spending this year. As you prepare for your renovation, it's important to review your financing options based on the size of the project, your intended repayment plan and whether you plan to use a contractor or do it yourself. Some financing options to consider:   RENOVATION Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) - A HELOC can provide ongoing access to funds using the equity in your home, which typically results in lower interest rates than unsecured credit. This type of credit may also provide you potential tax benefits. Consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest. Mortgages with Built-In Renovation Financing - These loans help homeowners complete renovations with a loan amount that is based on an appraiser's estimate of what the property value will be with completed improvements. This is also an option for aspiring homeowners who purchase properties that need repair. Whether a home purchase or a refinance, this option finances the renovations and mortgage in one loan.   Cash-Out Refinance Mortgages - A cash-out refinance replaces your current mortgage with a new and larger mortgage that pays off your current balance and allows you to use the equity in your home to provide additional funds for other purposes.   Credit Card - Credit cards can be used for large or small purchases and may earn rewards, which can add up to significant benefits when you're making big home improvement purchases. However, credit cards often have higher interest rates than other loan or credit options, which should be taken into consideration.   Personal Loans and Lines of Credit - These personal credit options typically offer quick credit decisions and access to funds in a day. Lines of credit provide ongoing access to funds.   Savings - If you have a do-it-yourself project or a small renovation, accessing your savings might be an option. By paying cash, there is faster access to funds and nothing to repay.   Your bank may not be the best source for what color to paint your room or which walls to move, but it can help you identify your financial options. Each option has its associated benefits and considerations, and your bank can provide valuable information to help you make informed decisions about which options are right for you.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
June
26

(BPT) - Whether you're looking to make a first-time purchase, refresh an existing home or simply leverage built-up equity for other reasons, it's important to figure out which path is right for you and understand the lending options available.   First-time buyers must start with determining what is affordable. In addition to the mortgage payment, housing costs will include property taxes, homeowners insurance and fees, such as homeowner association dues. Altogether, costs should be no more than 28 percent of monthly gross income and should leave room to continue servicing other debt, such as student loans, credit cards or auto loans.   mort guide   When preparing to buy a home, work through credit pre-approval to be ready with a strong offer when the opportunity arises. In addition to reviewing credit history, a loan originator will consider the amount of the down payment. A down payment typically ranges from 3-20 percent, and one that is less than 20 percent may require you to purchase mortgage insurance. A mortgage originator, however, can provide a variety of lending options to optimize your investment, from 15- and 30-year mortgages to fixed and variable terms.   If planning to make some improvements to a much-loved residence, consider financing the updates through a home equity line of credit (HELOC). Eligibility depends on how much equity has been built up in the home and the lender's loan-to-value ratio. A HELOC works much like a credit card and offers flexibility. A minimum amount is paid monthly, and interest applies to the amount borrowed.   Before embarking on a remodeling project, do some homework. Start with the lender to determine the value of the home and the loan amount available. Then, establish a budget, leaving room for unexpected expenses. Work with a reputable professional to define the project and its requirements, and shop around for bids and recommendations to confidently select a contractor. Some lenders offer checklists to help get the most from the investment.   Another option for financing a project through a home's equity is a home equity loan (HELOAN). As with a mortgage, the loan is granted as a lump sum and is paid back in installments over time, typically 10-15 years and at a fixed rate locked in at the time of securing the loan. A HELOAN works well for a one-time goal to improve the value of a home. Be mindful that either a HELOAN or a HELOC introduce some uncertainty, as monthly expenses will increase and must be maintained to avoid foreclosure risk.   Remember to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation. Start with a lender who can help you identify financial options available to home buyers and owners today. With careful planning and budgeting, the financing you need may be well within reach.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
June
18

Owning a home comes with its fair share of expenses, including mortgage and insurance payments and maintenance costs, but how much can a new homeowner reasonably expect to spend on unexpected repairs?   homerepair   "My recommendation for homeowners is to take a few simple precautions before moving into their home," says Marianne Cusato, HomeAdvisor.com. "Complete a sewer inspection, check that the insurance policy covers water damage, and set money aside for home emergency projects. Homeowners should plan on spending 1 percent of their home's purchase price on repairs and emergencies each year."   According to HomeAdvisor.com data, more than half of homeowners encountered unexpected home projects within the first year of owning a home. More than half also spent more time on projects than originally anticipated, and less than half spent more money than anticipated.   The most frequently cited emergency projects include blocked toilets and pipes, a clogged drain, a broken heating or cooling system and water leaks. These unexpected repairs can cost homeowners anywhere from $199 to $2,068, according to HomeAdvisor.com.   In the first year of homeownership, most new homeowners tend to focus on improvements that increase curb appeal, such as installing landscaping, a sprinkler system, wood fence or deck. According to HomeAdvisor.com, the average cost of these outdoor projects is $12,850. Source: HomeAdvisor.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
June
14

As one of the busier times of year for real estate activity, summertime is ideal for sellers hoping to unload their homes for top dollar. If your home is on the market this summer, stand out from the pack with these outdoor staging tips, courtesy of the experts at Point2.com.  

outdoorstaging

  1. Invite Buyers In It's no secret curb appeal matters to buyers, but too often, minor details are overlooked when setting the stage out front. To roll out the welcome for buyers, replace your worn welcome mat with a summery alternative, and install large house numbers in a prominent location that can be viewed from the street.   2. Shine Up Windows Cleaning windows inside and out can be taxing, but it makes a noticeable difference. For the exterior sides of the windows, scrub off any accumulated film from tree pollen and polish until glistening. Buyers will be pleased to see not only a sparkling home outside, but a light-filled interior as well.   3. Showcase Small-Scale Color In lieu of a costly exterior paint job, choose specific areas outside to add pops of color. Window boxes bursting with blooms are often well-received by buyers, as well as container plantings. If the exterior could use refreshing, consider re-painting the front door before recruiting a professional to do the entire home.   4. Spotlight for Safety Make sure the outdoor spaces around your home, including the front entrance, deck, patio, and walkways, are appropriately lit. Updated light fixtures are not only aesthetically pleasing, but are an added safety feature to the home.   5. Maintain the Landscape A well-kept home speaks volumes to buyers, and the exterior is no exception. Whether you hire a professional landscaper or DIY, trim the lawn and any hedges – the latter can be a trip hazard if left untouched.   6. Deck Out the Deck Whether your home features a deck, patio, porch or other outdoor living area, take time to power wash the surface to remove any debris. If your outdoor furniture is lacking, consider purchasing a fresh set, complete with all-weather cushions and pillows in vibrant colors.   7. Make Pool Picture-Perfect Pools can be a make-or-break feature for buyers, so play it up as best you can. After having the pool cleaned by a professional, take care to skim the surface for any debris that accumulates between buyer visits. Be sure the pool cover, mechanized or otherwise, is free of damage and the filtering system is in proper working order. Source: RISMedia's Housecall Published with permission from RISMedia.
June
10

With more Americans preferring to buy instead of rent and others believing now is a good time to sell, housing is right on track with forecasted improvements this year, a Fannie Mae survey recently reported.   housing   Based on the survey, a growing number of Americans say now is a good time to buy a house, climbing back up to 66 percent. The amount of Americans who believe it is a good time to sell also increased, surpassing a survey record.   "Things are looking up for housing," says Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Those saying it is a good time to sell a house hit a survey high of 49 percent. Also, the percentage of consumers telling us their household income is significantly higher than 12 months ago grew six percentage points to 28 percent over the past two months."   Additionally, more than half of Americans expect rents to rise, further boosting optimism for buying a home. Source: Fannie Mae Published with permission from RISMedia.
June
8

(BPT) - Perhaps your home is in pretty good shape - newish roof, well-maintained furnace and air-conditioning, and fresh paint throughout. Or maybe you've bought a brand-new house that's move-in ready. Even though you don't really need to do a thing to the home, you may still have the urge to update. But what can you do when everything is already just about perfect?   skylight   Engaging in some out-of-the-ordinary upgrades can enhance a home's livability, your enjoyment of it and - in some cases - its resale value down the road. Before you settle on an upgrade, ask yourself these key questions:   * Will it improve the home's livability? * Will it improve the healthfulness or security of the home environment? * Is it a special feature that appeals to your lifestyle? * How difficult/easy will it be to maintain? * Does it have hidden dollar value?   Here are some out-of-the-ordinary improvements that can increase enjoyment of a home while adding value:   Skylights Skylights are a surprisingly affordable upgrade and it's easy to see the lifestyle benefits they bring, including their ability to make both small and large areas seem even larger. Skylights differentiate a home's appearance while significantly increasing the amount of natural light that enters a room - a huge bonus in spaces where wall windows aren't practical or desirable, such as master closets or baths where privacy is paramount. Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered, fresh-air skylights, like those from Velux America, also provide passive ventilation that improves indoor air quality. Fresh-air skylights operate with a programmable touch pad remote control that also manages energy efficiency boosting accessories like blinds. Available in designer colors and patterns, solar powered skylight blinds further allow homeowners to control the amount of light and warmth that enters or leaves the room through the skylight. Solar powered skylights and blinds, along with installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. To learn more visit www.whyskylights.com.   Swimming pool The value of a swimming pool is subjective, so the most important questions to answer are whether a pool will fit your lifestyle and if you'll be up to maintaining it. Pools can be a great way to relax or get in some exercise, bond with the kids or enjoy play time with friends. But you'll have to do some work for that fun, including regularly cleaning the pool, adding chemicals as needed and keeping the pump, lights, heater and other systems in good condition. You must also be aware of safety and take appropriate measures to protect children and pets when they're near the pool.   Sunroom A sunroom won't improve your home's energy efficiency the way a skylight can, but if the home has a great view or you relish communing with nature, a sunroom can help boost your mood. While some expert do-it-yourselfers may be able to tackle a sunroom addition on their own, most homeowners will want to work with a professional contractor to ensure the structure is sound, well-insulated, efficient and built to code.   Backup generator While a backup generator is not a common home improvement, installing one could be beneficial if your home is in a storm-prone area where power outages occur regularly. A generator may also be an important home enhancement if you have critical electrical systems that must stay on, such as medical devices for a homebound patient. When you're considering upgrading a home, keep in mind that resale value isn't the only consideration. It's equally important that the upgrades make sense for the home and your lifestyle.
June
4

If you are considering buying a home, understanding your credit report and score is the first step toward obtaining financing for your purchase. According to a recent TransUnion report, a majority of would-be homebuyers remain misinformed about the mortgage process, including the factors dependent on credit scores and steps to improve credit before buying.   mort cred score   "Leading up to a home purchase is a particularly important time to check and understand your credit score, as it affects lending rates and mortgage terms," explains Ken Chaplin, SVP at TransUnion. "We recommend prospective home buyers begin regularly checking their score at least three months before securing a mortgage in order to maximize their potential for the best financing options."   Per the report, half of potential homebuyers correctly identified what factors can be impacted by a credit score, including interest rates, the amount they can borrow and their mortgage lending terms.   Less than half of potential homebuyers, however, understand their credit score measures the amount of debt they hold, the risk of not repaying back a loan, or the financial resources they have to pay back loans. About a third of prospective homebuyers incorrectly believe increasing their income or closing old accounts before applying for a mortgage would help improve their scores.   A nearly equal amount of potential homebuyers believe one month prior to purchasing is a suitable timeframe to check credit scores. One month gives homebuyers little time to take action if they discover fraudulent activity like identity theft or old, unpaid credit card debt that could negatively affect their score.   After reviewing your credit report and score, take time to research loans, rates and brokers before signing a contract. Doing this work ahead of time will pay off later with a better rate and terms. Be realistic with what you can afford. The larger your down payment, the wider your options. Putting more money down, up front, will help ensure you pay less each month.   Source: TransUnion Published with permission from RISMedia.
May
29

Homeownership remains a major goal for Americans, with almost three-quarters considering a home a good investment, according to a recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) report. A nearly identical percentage anticipates becoming homeowners in the next five years.     home_ownership     The report found about half of Millennials and Gen Xers expect their next home to be larger, while approximately three-quarters of Baby Boomers and War Babies (members of the Silent Generation) expect their next home to be smaller or of equal size to their current home. Single-family detached homes are the preferred future housing choice for all generations, but the report reflects growing expectations for duplexes or townhouses, particularly among Millennials.   The report also indicated preferred community attributes, including:   • Environment (Including air and water quality) – 87 percent • Access to Fresh, Healthy Food – 73 percent • Green Space (Including parks) – 50+ percent • Reduced Car Usage – 52 percent • Pedestrian-Friendly Neighborhoods (Including sidewalks and crosswalks) – 50 percent • Public Transportation – 32 percent • Walkability – 20 percent   However, the report found that Americans face significant community barriers to these preferences. Many minorities and Millennials report living in areas that lack easy access to safe places for outdoor physical activity, active transportation systems such as bike lanes, healthy food options and safe walking conditions.   The disparity between what these groups want and what is available has presumably contributed to somewhat greater discontent with their quality of life than is expressed by Americans as a whole, the report concludes.   Source: ULI Published with permission from RISMedia.
May
21

Did you know many homebuyers are financially unprepared to purchase a home? According to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), almost half of respondents report being "least prepared" to buy a home – a sign that education is needed, especially for first-time buyers.   homebuyers   Prepare your finances well in advance of searching for a home. Here's how.   1. Make a Financial Plan Knowing where to start means conducting a complete review of how your household budget is managed. Comparing income and expenses, reviewing debt, and tracking savings are just a few of the ways to measure readiness for homeownership.   2. Review Your Credit Report and Score Because a mortgage is the largest debt a person is likely to carry in their life, credit history can be a deal breaker or a dream maker. A credit report may be obtained without a score for free once every 12 months from each of the three bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Once a copy is obtained, review it for discrepancies and dispute any differences. Do this at least six months in advance of applying for the loan, allowing time for inaccuracies to be corrected. Along with the free credit report, a score can be purchased for a small fee. Because the score is critical to mortgage approval and competitive interest rates, it is worth taking a look before submitting the loan application. Lender guidelines vary, but a FICO score of 760 is typically the threshold for the most favorable interest rates.   3. Start Saving A down payment is typically no less than 20 percent of the purchase price of a home, and coming up with the money may be a significant pain point. A down payment is essential to limit the amount borrowed, as well as increasing the chance of having more favorable mortgage terms. 4. Decide the Type of Loan After you've selected a lender, decide whether to take on a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate loan, which are the most common of the many different types of financing available. For those planning to remain in the home for a long time, a fixed-rate mortgage helps add stability by keeping the payment the same for the life of the loan. Those expecting their stay in the home to be no longer than five to seven years may be better served by an adjustable-rate loan, where they could benefit from lower rates in the short term.   5. Pre-Qualify for a Loan It is important to know the limits of what is affordable before beginning to shop for a house. A good place to start is by becoming pre-qualified with a lender. This free service can typically be done in-person, online or by phone. The lender will need to gather some financial information and will offer a general idea of the amount of mortgage loan available based on the information provided. This non-binding estimate is the best way to know how much house would be affordable.   6. Become Pre-Approved for a Loan Applying for a mortgage typically involves a cost and is done by supplying detailed financial documentation to the lender. The lender will use this information in conjunction with information obtained by pulling a credit report to determine the amount and terms for the loan. This is not a final approval for a loan, but is a significant step toward that outcome.   7. Lock in the Rate If you like the interest rate being offered when pre-approved, lock it in by getting the commitment in writing. It can take time to find a home, negotiate a price and secure funding. Locking a rate for a reasonable period of time helps make room to complete the process without risking a less-favorable interest rate.   Source: NFCC.org Published with permission from RISMedia.
May
18

(BPT) - From wall stains to washing machines, indoor stains and smells can be a challenge to tackle. Luckily, there are surprisingly simple methods to erase them for good. Here are a few tips to freshen up the most stubborn spots in your home.   primer   Conceal wall stains with primer Have your kids made artwork of your walls, or has your leaky roof caused a water-damaged mess? Tough wall stains like these can be hard to get rid of, but are easily sealed by applying a high-quality, stain-blocking primer. For example, KILZ Hide-All Primer Sealer covers problem areas on surfaces from drywall and woodwork to concrete and brick. It even masks over dark stains without allowing color to bleed through. With only a one-hour drying time before applying a topcoat, this is the perfect one-weekend project to cross off your list. KILZ primer can also seal off odors caused by pets or smoke.   Eliminate refrigerator odors Refrigerators are subject to a variety of spills and odors. Making time for fridge maintenance can help prevent unusual odors and keep your food fresh longer. To cleanse and polish your fridge, begin by emptying the contents of your fridge and throwing out, recycling or composting any food that is expired or beginning to smell.   Next, pull out any removable drawers or shelving and place them in the sink. Using a damp, soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge, wipe down these pieces, the interior of your fridge and the door with a multi-purpose cleaner. Or, mix two tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of hot water for a natural soap alternative. Don't forget the seams of the shelves and rubber door seal.   If your fridge requires an extra-deep cleaning, unplug it while you work to avoid wasting energy. Before putting all of your food back into the fridge, wipe down the exterior of each jar or container with a damp cloth. Repeat this process every two or three months for the best results.   Make grout lines shine Tile surfaces are prone to dirt and debris, especially in bathrooms or high-traffic areas. To keep tile looking fresh and new, grab an old toothbrush or electric toothbrush for a deeper scrub. Before you start, wash the surface with water then mix two parts baking soda with one part water. Scrub the resulting paste into the cracks and crevices, then douse with water again. If the grout lines are stained, spray a mixture of equal parts vinegar and warm water onto the area and brush. After a final rinse, the grime will be gone.   Prevent a moldy washing machine If you own a front-loading washing machine, you've probably noticed the unpleasant smell that can linger after completing a load of laundry. Despite being more energy-efficient, these machines have a tendency to hold odors and harbor mold. To clean and prevent grimy buildup, try this: instead of detergent, cycle two cups of vinegar and a quarter-cup of baking soda on a hot setting. When it's done, use a clean sponge to scrub down the inside. Finally, rinse with a plain-water cycle, and you'll see (and smell) the results.   Whether in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry room, tricky stains and odors in your home can be a tough job, but with these four tips you'll be able to eliminate a few messy tasks in no time.  
May
14

Research recently released by TD Bank revealed that 37 percent of those who purchased a home in the past 10 years – and 43 percent of those who did so within the last two years – required mortgage insurance (MI). Of those who required PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance), 65 percent said that the addition of a mortgage insurance premium left them paying a higher monthly mortgage payment than they originally expected.   pmiinsurance   The study surveyed more than 2,000 Americans who have purchased a home in the past 10 years. The findings indicate the growing impact PMI has on mortgage payments, which is often required when homebuyers are unable to make a 20 percent down payment to purchase a home. With average PMI costing approximately $100 per month, mortgage insurance can become a significant expense for many borrowers before they reach 20 percent equity in their property. Further, FHA loans now require MI for the life of the loan which considerably increases the total cost of homeownership for borrowers who cannot make a 20 percent down payment.   "PMI has had a definitive impact on many homebuyers – including making them rethink or delay the purchase of a home in light of not being able to meet monthly mortgage payments," said Michael Copley, executive vice president, Retail Lending, TD Bank. "While FHA loans may be available, homebuyers, especially first-time buyers, may not realize the options available to them that don't require PMI insurance."   Other findings include: • 27 percent of those who purchased a home within the last 10 years felt that PMI costs impacted the home they purchased. For those who purchased a home in the last two years, that number increased to 35 percent. • 53 percent of respondents reported experiencing a negative impact because of the additional cost of PMI. Over four in ten of those requiring PMI reported having to cut back on small and daily purchases and/or larger household purchases.   Generations are Feeling the Pinch The survey also found that 43 percent of Millennials (ages 18-34) did not make a 20 percent down payment and required mortgage insurance, as compared to 37 percent of Gen X-ers (ages 35-54) and 23 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 55 and older).   • Regardless of age, respondents felt that the impact of PMI left them paying more than expected – 60 percent of Millennials, 60 percent of Gen X-ers and 58 percent of Baby Boomers. • Compared to Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers, Millennials requiring PMI felt most impacted in home purchasing decisions, such as delaying the purchase of a home or purchasing a smaller home (30 percent vs. 18 percent for Gen X-ers and 14 percent for Baby Boomers). • 46 percent of Millennials responded that they've had to cut back on small/daily purchases and/ r cut back or delay larger household purchases due to the additional cost of PMI, while 38 percent of Gen X-ers and only 26 percent of Baby Boomers experienced similar cut backs when requiring PMI. Prospective buyers should meet with a lender or financial institution to find a loan solution that meets their needs and monthly budget. Homeownership is always attainable with the right financial planning. Published with permission from RISMedia.
May
12

(BPT) - What makes someone decide a home is the right fit? If you're selling your home with an open house, there's a lot you can do to wow would-be buyers. Make the best impression and boost offers with these five tips.   show-ready   1. Work from the Outside In – Poor curb appeal can turn buyers off before they step foot inside your home. Make sure the outside is every bit as beautiful as the inside. Paint the exterior if you need to, plant flowers and mow the lawn.   2. Clean Up Shop – It sounds simple, but it's amazing how many homeowners don't clean their homes before an open house. If nothing else, the kitchen and bathrooms must be spotless. If you don't feel you can get your home ready on your own, hire a professional cleaning service to do the job for you. The money you spend will be well worth it when your home sells quickly and for top dollar.   3. Cut the Clutter – Even the cleanest homes still feel messy if there's too much clutter. Before your open house, adopt a minimalist lifestyle to keep your home as clutter-free as possible. 4. Eliminate Stale Odors – Don't underestimate the benefit of fresh air in your home. Consider using essential oils to keep your home smelling great throughout showing. Simply tap a few drops and some salt into a decorative bowl and place near a sunny window or heat register to diffuse the aroma.   5. Make Wise Investments – If your home requires improvements, allocate funds for the rooms buyers care about most – the kitchen and the master bedroom. A granite countertop, new appliance, additional closet or fresh coat of paint will work wonders when it comes time to sell.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
May
8

One of the most stressful times for a home seller/buyer is that short period of time between when a bid is accepted and the inspection comes back, as you never know what might turn up.   Inspector   Many times, an inspection will uncover hidden problems or other defects that will change the offer and put the negotiating power in the buyer's favor. Things like rotting floors, mold in the attic or termites on the deck have been enough to kill deals altogether.   The problem with a buyer getting an inspection and pulling out because they didn't like the results is that normally, you don't know what they didn't like and you don't have access to their inspector's report. This can be frustrating because if you knew the problem, you could get it fixed.   One way to ensure that the inspection doesn't offer any real surprises is to arrange for an inspection yourself prior to putting the home on the market. By doing so, you will discover any problems ahead of time, which will give you the opportunity to make the necessary fixes.   While the inspector won't necessarily be the same as the one a potential buyer brings in, a professional inspector should be able to come up with most of the same things that anyone would find. Inspectors have specific knowledge in all aspects of home construction, including plumbing, wiring and other components, so their findings shouldn't vary much.   Your inspector will work with you to identify hidden problems such as leaks in the roof, possible water damage, remodeling efforts that don't meet current building codes, or improperly grounded outlets. Once you have the list of potential issues, you can either repair the problems or reduce the price of your home accordingly. Making certain repairs before you put your house on the market makes sense when the repairs are relatively small and inexpensive. For larger items, it may be better to take money off the asking price and let the buyer fix or replace these things once they move in.   If you have a pool, you should also consider hiring a separate pool inspector since pools are typically a big draw among prospective buyers.   While the price of an inspection will run you a few hundred dollars, it'll be well worth it when you think of the alternative of losing a sale because of something that could have easily been fixed ahead of time.   Keep in mind that if you do get an inspection and discover something is wrong, most states require you by law to let the buyer know. If you conceal a defect from the buyer and the buyer's inspection doesn't discover it, the buyer can sue later if it's discovered. But if you fix the problems or just let the buyer know prior to the deal, you will be okay.   To learn more about pre-sale inspections, contact our office today.     Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
30

Closing

  Congratulations, you've found a home that is ideal for you and your family. It has all your wants and needs, and it's even in your price range. You've placed a bid and the buyer accepted it! You are finally getting ready to sign your name on the dotted line and buy your home. You're not quite done yet, there is another step that you have to go through - the closing process. Here are some things you should know before going into your closing.
  1. Read everything: Ask your lender and attorney for the documents prior to the closing. It's important to have the documents beforehand so you can make sure everything is correct. Not reading your documents before the closing can hurt you because there may be a typo or two, which can set back the entire process. Double and triple check everything. Review your loan and mortgage documents and get everything in order.
  1. Bring a check: Your documents will show how much you owe. Bring your checkbook. You should also bring a form of identification.
  1. Walk-through: The contract should allow you to walk through the property twenty-four hours before the closing. Bring your documents with you so you can reference them to make sure that the home is in the condition stipulated in the contract.
  1. Ownership: The whole point of closing is to transfer ownership from the buyer to the seller. Before closing, a title company will come in and make sure the deed, taxes, and other items that may affect the property are in good standing. Once that is squared away and the buyer and the lender approve of everything, you can both sign the closing documents, ultimately making you the owner of the home.
Closing can bring unexpected events, but if you are prepared and stay positive, things can run smoothly. This is an exciting time, so after everything is settled, take your new keys and enjoy your home!
April
29

As the housing recovery continues, kitchens and bathrooms remain the most popular areas for investment by homeowners, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Kitchens, in particular, remain the center of operations within the home, with energy-efficiency, water conversation and healthy home materials topping the list of homeowner must-haves.   kitchenbathdesign   "The major point of emphasis in kitchen design nowadays revolves less around actual cooking activities," says Kermit Baker, AIA chief economist. "Rather, homeowners are looking for kitchens that are gathering spots for family and entertaining, as well as serving as a hub for electronic devices and recharging stations.   "Another important trend we see appearing more, not only in kitchens but the entire project, is specifying healthier construction components such as paint, caulking, glues, grout and other potentially high VOC (volatile organic compounds) products, that may contain harmful ingredients and off-gas noxious fumes or vapors over time as they are curing."   The survey concluded that the most popular kitchen products and features are:  
  • LED Lighting
  • Computer Area/Recharging Station
  • Larger Pantry Space
  • Upper-End Appliances
  • Double Island
  • Adaptability/Universal Design
  • Drinking Water Filtration Systems
  Based on the survey, the most popular bathroom products and features are:  
  • LED Lighting
  • Doorless Showers
  • Adaptability/Universal Design
  • Large Walk-In Showers
  • Stall Shower without Tub
  • Water Saving Toilets
  • Radiant Heated Floors
  Source: AIA Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
27

Homeowners must consider several factors when planning an exterior home remodel – and curb appeal tops the list, according to a recent CertainTeed survey. When asked which factor was most important to an exterior remodel, 39 percent of respondents cited curb appeal, followed by 26 percent naming return on investment and 21 percent indicating outdoor living and lifestyle considerations.   homeupgrades   "In home design, there is an increased interest in individualization and creativity – true for both interior and exterior design," says Mike Loughery, CertainTeed. "We've found that homeowners want healthy, energy-efficient homes that offer complete comfort and curb appeal, but don't always know the best way to start."   Here, CertainTeed names the best home investments that can help meet curb appeal, return on investment and outdoor living goals:  
  • Better Insulation
  • Cool Roofing
  • Solar Panels
  • Geothermal Heating/Cooling Solutions
  • Low-Maintenance Vinyl Siding, Decking and Railing
  • Patios/Gazebos
  • Outdoor Kitchens
  Source: CertainTeed Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
24

(BPT) - When you're about to buy a house, it's easy to get excited about its great location, spacious floor plan or beautifully decorated interior. Before signing on the dotted line, use this checklist to help avoid some potentially costly surprises and anticipate repairs or upgrades that may be needed.   home_repairs   Roof - Ask when the current roof was installed. Is it the original roof, or has it been replaced, repaired, or covered over with new shingles in certain spots? Are there known leaks, and if so, where are they? Have any of the leaks caused damage to the attic or interior? Also look at the chimney to see if it's properly sealed around the edges and whether the gutters need repair.   Windows and Doors – Next, take a look at the windows to see if there is any condensation between the glass panes. If so, it could mean window replacements are in order. Once you get inside the house and close the front door, see if any light is coming through between the edge of the door opening and the wall. This gap is an indicator that the door may need to be replaced since air can escape through it and cause higher energy bills.   Lighting and Electrical – Throughout the interior rooms, many homes are staged to appeal to buyers with attractive lighting that shows off the space to its best advantage. You may love the way the lamps look in the bedroom, office or kitchen, but more importantly, check out how many electrical outlets there are and whether they are in convenient locations. Also, make sure you check to see if the lamps are masking the fact that there are no ceiling fixtures in each room. Will you need to rig up extension cords or invest in electrical work in order to support all the lamps, ceiling fixtures, appliances and electronics you wish to use?   Furnace – At the basement level, be sure to check out the heating system. If the current furnace is more than 10 years old, it may be operating at a much lower level of efficiency than the latest manufacturing standards require, resulting in higher energy costs. Newer models can operate at nearly 20 percent higher efficiency than the government minimum standard, for the ultimate in energy efficiency.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
21

(BPT) - It's a cruel coincidence that spring homebuying season corresponds with another far less pleasant one - termite swarming season. When eager homebuyers emerge from winter hibernation to look for their dream homes, termites emerge, too, say the experts at the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).   termites   If you'll be buying or selling a home this spring, the NPMA offers some valuable termite information:  
  • The average homebuyer and homeowner might have difficulty spotting the evidence of a termite infestation. Termites chew through wood, flooring and other materials behind-the-scenes, so it can take years before the signs of an infestation are visible to the untrained eye. An inspection by a licensed pest professional is the best way to detect an infestation of wood-destroying organisms (WDOs) - especially if you live in a termite-prone area of the country.
  • A WDO inspection is different from a simple structural inspection. Buyers should be sure to have their prospective home inspected by a licensed pest professional. The inspection will last about an hour, and the specialist will probe the home from top to bottom to look for telltale signs of termite damage. After the inspection is over, the specialist will report to the buyers what he or she has found, and an estimate of how much it might cost to remediate any termite damage he or she has discovered.
  • Different states have varying laws about termite inspections. Some may require one before a home can be sold, while others do not. Check with your REALTOR® about the laws in your state, and keep in mind that many lenders will require a pest inspection be done in addition to a structural inspection - especially if the home you are buying is in a termite-prone area.
  • Termite detection, remediation and control are not do-it-yourself tasks. If an inspector finds signs of a termite infestation and damage, you'll need professionals to remedy the problem. Buyers who discover problems before the sale is final will be better able to negotiate with the seller to take care of the problem. In some states, the law may not allow the sale to be finalized until the damage is addressed, and lenders may refuse to finalize a mortgage for a home with unresolved termite issues.
  • If the termite inspection shows your new home is pest-free, congratulations! After the sale is finalized, be sure to take steps to protect your home from termites going forward, including having the home inspected for termites at least once every three years, and every year if you live in an area prone to termite infestations.
  Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
19

(Family Features) Before you grab your toolkit or enlist the help of a professional for spring projects this season, do your wallet a favor and conduct some research.   spring_home   HomeAdvisor's most recent True Cost Report found that 38 percent of homeowners don't know how much it will cost to hire a professional for home projects, and nearly 70 percent are concerned about overpaying as a consequence of not having reliable cost information.   If you've got any of these projects on the agenda this spring, keep in mind these tips.  
  • Repairing the roof: Maintaining the roof protects a home from the elements and can raise property values. Small repairs keep a roof in good shape for several years and help avoid costly damages. Most homeowners assume repairing a roof can be costly. In fact, the average roof fix only costs $550, according to the True Cost Report.
  • Remodeling a kitchen: Kitchen remodels boost a home's resale value and add functionality to the most utilized space in a home. Many factors go into remodeling a kitchen, including flooring, plumbing, appliances and electrical, so bear in mind these additional costs when budgeting.
  • Remodeling a bathroom: Homeowners can choose from different types of bathroom remodels, depending on style preferences and budget. The average cost of remodeling a bathroom is $9,000, says HomeAdvisor.
  • Painting the home's exterior: Painting the home's exterior not only boosts its curb appeal, but it also acts as a home's primary defense against weather, insects, and other damage. Consider your region's climate before selecting a color and/or finish.
  • Installing landscaping: Landscaping can dramatically change the look of a house and property. Adding landscaping such as an outdoor patio, flowers or shrubs can increase the value of a home. The True Cost Report points to an average cost of $2,938 for landscaping.
  Source: HomeAdvisor Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
17

According to Bankrate.com's weekly national survey, mortgage rates pulled back this week, with the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate dipping to 3.79 percent and the average 15-year fixed mortgage rate inching lower to 3.03 percent.  

lowmortrate

  The jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage set a new record low of 3.90 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) were mixed, with the 5-year ARM nosing higher to 3.08 percent and the 10-year ARM drifting down to 3.54 percent.   Mortgage rates are at a 23-month low, a fact which could motivate buyers off the sidelines, particularly with the likelihood of higher rates later in the year. As evidenced by recent uneven data, the cold winter put a chill on the economy. The softness in economic releases continues to keep everyone guessing about the timing of the Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.   Source: Bankrate.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
10

The final walk-through is an important part of the home buying process. This step gives a buyer the opportunity to assess the home top-to-bottom before closing. Although a home inspector can accompany a buyer during the final walk-through, it's essential for the buyer to evaluate the home as an inspector would. To successfully complete the final walk-through, keep in mind these tips.  

walkthrough

  1. Have your contract, inspection report and any seller disclosures handy when walking through the home. These documents will help you determine if any new issues developed after the inspection, and which repairs, if any, were included in the agreement.?   2. Inspect both the exterior and interior of the home, paying special attention to any issues the seller agreed to resolve before closing. This is crucial, especially if the seller has already vacated. Spend some time assessing the landscape and grounds, as well as confirming that all doors and windows not only open and close properly, but are also secure.   3. Inside the home, test the HVAC system and all appliances included in the contract. Turn on and off all lights, both inside and outside, and check the temperature and water pressure for all faucets. Remember to flush toilets to ensure there are no drips or leaks.   4. Before completing the final walk-through, be sure to ask for working keys to every door, alarm codes, garage openers and any appliance or system manuals. It's also a good idea to ask for copies of receipts for any repairs the sellers paid for.     Source: RISMedia's Housecall? Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
2

(BPT) - It's a sobering truth in real estate: sellers often have to spend money to make money. Even if your home is relatively new, you still face costs associated with getting it ready to show, such as repainting interior rooms or hiring professional cleaners and stagers. If your home could use some TLC and updating, spending as little as $5,000 on key upgrades could improve its appeal for buyers - and ensure a speedier sale at a better price.   Here are five upgrades you can make for under than $5,000 to help put your home at the top of every buyer's must-see list.   mbr   1. Upgrade Your Entryway Replacing an old, dated or worn entry door can be a cost-effective way to ensure buyers get a good first impression when they walk in your house. Whether you choose a fiberglass, wooden or steel model, installing a new entry door can cost a few thousand dollars, yet the return on investment at the time of resale can be significant. A fiberglass entry door returns about 72 percent of its investment, while a steel door recoups more than 100 percent of its value, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report. Enhance your new door with attractive plantings, fresh paint and clean windows around the entryway to create a memorable, attractive entry for just a few thousand dollars.   2. Increase Natural Light More buyers are becoming aware of the mood- and productivity-enhancing benefits of natural light, and homes with big, bright windows have always been in demand. Adding windows to a room can be a costly, time-consuming affair. Not so with a skylight. For well under $5,000 and in just a day or two, a professional can install an Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered, no-leak fresh air skylight, Professional installation costs nationally range from around $900 to $2,325, with an average of $1,400, according to HomeAdvisor.com. The most popular rooms in the home for fresh air skylights are baths, where they provide privacy in addition to natural light, and kitchens, where they vent cooking odors and humidity naturally while brightening a much-used workspace.   3. Beautify a Master Bathroom Bathrooms and kitchens sell homes. Making a few cosmetic upgrades to even a small master bath can help increase a home's appeal and value. For less than $5,000 you can easily repaint, upgrade faucets, replace old cabinet hardware and add decorative touches like designer towels. In addition, take a look at the floor or countertops - two cost-effective upgrades that can wow buyers. Since counters don't make up that much square footage in most bathrooms, replacing them with granite can cost just a couple thousand dollars. Tile flooring is also a relatively inexpensive way to improve a bathroom's look and usability.   4. Heat Things Up in the Kitchen Kitchen remodels can offer high ROI for sellers, but a full remodel may be outside your budget. If you've already done the obvious - like repainting and de-cluttering - it's time to look for a few more cost-effective improvements that will appeal to buyers. Shabby, outdated appliances can hinder a speedy sale, so consider replacing them with new ones. You don't necessarily need to install top-of-the-line, high-priced appliances to make a good impression, either. Newer, Energy Star-qualified appliances represent savings for buyers down the road.   5. Lavish Landscaping No single aspect of your home has a greater impact on a buyer's first impression than the landscaping. A great front yard sets the tone for the rest of the home, appealing to buyers on a number of levels, including beauty, practicality and savings. With $5,000, you can accomplish a lot in terms of landscaping. You can sod a small front yard, add decorative planting beds to a lush lawn, or even install shade trees that will both beautify the yard and enhance the home's energy efficiency in summer. Decorative concrete stamping of walkways and driveways is another cost-effective way to improve a home's curb appeal.   Whether it's a buyer's market or a seller's market, no one wants to see their home linger long before selling. A few simple upgrades can help ensure your home gets plenty of attention this selling season. Published with permission from RISMedia.
April
1

More than half (54 percent) of respondents in a recent Fannie Mae National Housing Survey™ believe it would be easy to get a home mortgage, a record-high trend bearing out amid continued strengthening in employment and overall housing sentiment.   Dollarphotoclub_60245643   "We continue to see strength in attitudes about the current home buying and selling environment and consistently high shares of consumers saying they expect to buy a home on their next move," says Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae.   According to the survey, the share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months increased to 48 percent. Those who say it is a good time to buy a house remained at 67 percent. Those who say it is a good time to sell decreased by 4 percentage points to 40 percent.   The share of respondents who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months fell to 46 percent. The share of respondents who believe the economy is headed in the right direction increased three percentage points to an all-time survey high of 47 percent.   Source: Fannie Mae Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
27

(BPT) - When it comes to buying your first home, a lack of knowledge and experience can lead to costly mistakes. One in four first-time homebuyers say they are completely unfamiliar with the mortgage financing process, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Even among those with an understanding of the overall process, the report found that many first-time homebuyers still had significant knowledge gaps in important areas such as available mortgage rates, closing costs, down-payment requirements and income required to qualify for a loan.   1sttime   First-time homebuyers can become mortgage-ready with these tips.   1. Adjust your budget. A mortgage payment can increase your monthly housing expenses, so prepare by calculating what that amount will be and begin saving that same amount every month so you can get used to the budget change in advance.   2. Plan for a down payment. Nearly all home loans will require you to put some money down as a down payment. Some home loans may require as much as 20 percent of the purchase cost as a down payment, although some Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans may require less. Decide on the amount you think you'll need and create a savings plan to help you reach that goal.   3. Consider the location and type of home you want to buy. Many factors influence the cost of a home, including its location, size, style and more. A larger home in a high-income area will generally cost more, and property taxes will be higher on a bigger, newer, well-located home. Many first-time homebuyers find manufactured or mobile homes are a good option. Knowing the estimated cost of the type of home you want to purchase can help you better manage your budget.   4. Stay on top of your credit. Lenders will consider your credit score and report history when determining your mortgage eligibility and the interest rate they may offer you. Make sure to review your credit report in advance. You can download a free credit report once a year from all three major bureaus at https://ift.tt/o2j1vQ. If you're planning to apply for a mortgage, it's a good idea to review your report more frequently and to consider paying to obtain your credit score from at least one major bureau. If your report contains errors, work with the credit bureaus to have them corrected before you apply for a mortgage.   5. Keep current on monthly bills. While it's important to save toward a down payment, don't let monthly bills slide. Paying your bills on time every month can help increase your credit score, and a good payment history is something lenders look for when reviewing your credit report. Use online tools like email reminders and automatic payment options to help ensure you never miss or make a late payment.   6. Work on your debt. If you have delinquent balances, bring them up to date as quickly as possible. If you carry a lot of revolving credit card debt, you may want to work to reduce it by paying more than the monthly minimum payment. While it helps to have a report that shows no late payments, the most important thing is to not have any delinquent balances before you apply for a mortgage.   7. Plan for escrow. In addition to the amount you will need each month toward repaying your mortgage, you'll need escrow - an amount added to and collected with each monthly mortgage payment that is applied toward annual homeowners' insurance premiums and/or taxes. Estimating taxes and total insurance costs can help you better understand how much your escrow will be each month, and you'll be able to budget more accurately as you prepare for homeownership. Don't forget that this amount may adjust every 12 months if your insurance premium or taxes change for the next year.   8. Take advantage of educational resources. Check out resources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).   Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
21

Warmer weather is encouraging homeowners to break out lawn mowers, trimmers and other lawn and garden equipment for spring maintenance. To operate machines safely, it's important that users understand safety procedures and set expectations with others who operate or are nearby these machines, says the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI).   lawn   OPEI recommends the following safety tips when operating mowers, chain saws, trimmers, edgers, generators and other outdoor equipment used for landscape management.   • Use the right equipment for the task. Mowers and hedge trimmers are designed to help you manage a landscape as efficiently and productively as possible. Select a "right-sized" product for the job. Ask your retailer/dealer for assistance in size, capabilities, power sources and features that fit your needs.   • Assign the right person to use the equipment. Only allow responsible adults who are familiar with the instructions to operate the machine. Do not let children use outdoor power equipment. These machines should not be operated by young people who are not physically or developmentally ready to assume the responsibility of operating a powerful machine.   • Alert nearby people of work to be done. Confirm the locations of pets and children, and ask that they be kept out of the area and supervised.   • Read the operator's manual to understand the controls of your equipment. Know how to stop the machine quickly. Do not remove or disable guards or safety devices.   • Regularly inspect your equipment. Check for loose belts and missing or damaged parts. Drain and responsibly dispose of old oil and put in fresh oil before starting equipment that has been in long-time storage. Install clean air filters so your engine and equipment will run optimally.   • Have your mower's cutting blades sharpened so it will operate more efficiently, cutting your lawn cleaner and making it healthier.   • Know your terrain. When operating on slopes, select the appropriate machine. Keep away from drop-offs and other hazards such as water. Uneven terrain could overturn the machine.   • Clear the area being managed. Remove debris, wires, branches, nails, rocks or metal that may become projectiles if thrown by lawn mower blades and other equipment.   • Dress properly. Wear substantial shoes, long pants and close-fitting clothes. You may want eye or hearing protection.   • Observe safe fueling procedures. Fill your gasoline tank only when the engine is cool. If you need to refuel before completing a job, turn off the machine and allow the engine to cool. Never light a match or smoke around gasoline.   • Do not use gas with more than 10 percent ethanol (E10) in your mower. Some gasoline filling stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or other fuel blends, but this higher ethanol fuel is dangerous-and is in fact illegal-to use in your mower or in any small engine equipment. • When putting away last season's equipment, clean it and be sure to drain and responsibly dispose of fuel. Don't leave fuel sitting in the tank for more than thirty days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.   Source: OPEI Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
17

A recently released TransUnion survey shed light on consumer confusion when it comes to credit scores. In fact, nearly half of all consumers falsely identified rental (45 percent) and cell phone (47 percent) payments as those that directly affect their score; however, these are not regularly reported to credit bureaus.   credit   While consumers who frequently review their credit report incorrectly identify some aspects of it, consumers who rarely or never review their credit report have an even higher level of confusion. Among survey respondents who reported checking their report in the last 30 days, half mistakenly believe their full employment history (55 percent) and income level (41 percent) are included in their reports.   Surprisingly, even consumers who characterize their credit as "excellent" or "good" had trouble identifying credit report factors. Among those who characterized their credit as "excellent," 49 percent mistakenly thought rental payments are included in their report, yet currently they are not regularly reported to credit bureaus in the same way that auto and mortgage payments are reported.   According to the survey findings, there are several noteworthy points of confusion about what affects a credit score and what information is included in credit reports, as follows:  
  • Pay raises: Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents who've checked their credit report in the last year incorrectly believed an increase in income improves their score.
  • Credit inquiries: Forty percent of respondents who've never checked their report are unsure how it affects their score, and 20 percent who checked their report in the last year mistakenly believed checking their report would decrease their score.
  • Paying down debts: Sixty-one percent of those who checked their report in the last 30 days erroneously believed paying off debts from late payments automatically increases their score.
  • Trended information: Seventy percent of those who've checked their report in the last year incorrectly assumed that it reflected recent changes or trends in their finances over time.
  To help consumers better understand their credit scores and reports, TransUnion debunked these common myths:   Myth #1: Your score drops if you check your own credit. Fact: Viewing your credit report counts only as a "soft inquiry" and doesn't change the score. "Hard inquiries" by a lender or creditor, though, can slightly lower your credit score.   Myth #2: I should close old or inactive accounts to help my credit score. Fact: This might actually have the reverse effect of lowering your credit score because it can shorten the measured duration of your credit history.   Myth #3: Paying off a negative record means it's taken off your credit report Fact: Generally, negative records like collections or late payments will remain on your credit reports for up to seven years.   Myth #4: Co-signing doesn't mean you're responsible for the account. Fact: If you open a joint account or co-sign a loan, you will be held legally responsible for the account, meaning activity on the joint account as well is displayed on the credit reports of both account holders' reports.   Myth #5: Making on-time rental, utility and cell phone payments helps my credit score. Fact: While outstanding rental, utility and cell phone debt that has gone to collections can negatively affect your score, generally, on-time payments are not regularly reported to credit bureaus.   Myth #6: My credit score reflects recent changes or trends in my payment behavior. Fact: Historically, credit scores have not incorporated trended credit information, meaning they are a moment-in-time glimpse at consumer risk.   Source: TransUnion Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
12

Owning a home for the first time is exciting, but that excitement can fade quickly if faced with extensive (and expensive) damage. New homeowners often inadvertently cause damage that can cost thousands of dollars or more in repairs.   mistake   The Home Book authors David MacLellan, George Wolfson and Douglas Hansen recommend steering clear of these common first-time homeowner mistakes.   1. Overloading Upper Cabinets in Kitchen Avoid stacking heavy dishes in an upper cabinet, which is only supported by the wall behind it. Shelves may begin to sag if the cabinet struggles to bear the weight. At worst, your cabinet can detach from the wall completely.   2. Using Attic or Garage Trusses as Storage Despite many homeowners doing otherwise, storing items on top of garage or attic trusses can lead to sagging, increasing the possibility that the roof may collapse. If you truly need the additional space, consult a structural engineer who can advise you as to the best course of action.   3. Tinting Dual-Pane Windows Many new homes have dual-pane windows, which help insulate a home by sealing 'dead air' between two panes. Tinting can disrupt the reflection of the sun's rays, trapping hot air in the dead air space. Heat can cause the elastic seal to rupture, eliminating insulation.   4. Disconnecting Bathroom and Laundry Vent Fans The noise may bother you, but disconnecting a bathroom or laundry vent fan can increase water vapor, adversely affecting drywall and electrical outlets and leading to damages from dry rot, mold and mildew. Turn the fan on during each use of the room.   5. Irrigating against the Home When installing an irrigation system, ensure that irrigation spouts spray away from the home and add-on structures. It seems like a no-brainer, but it can happen in places where you least expect it, including the posts of an overhead deck.   6. Altering Finished Grades If you'd like to install a walkway, patio, drainage system or even a pool, make certain that your contractor doesn't just pour concrete over the existing finished grade. Doing so can result in water flow towards the home, which can cause the foundation to shift. A shifting foundation can lead to both interior and exterior damage – a costly, and preventable, repair.   7. Improperly Installing Add-on Structures Before installing any structure, such as a trellis, sun screen or lanai, check with your municipality for any building codes that may apply to your situation. Do not nail or bolt the structure directly the exterior wall. Homeowners who do so run the risk of dry rot from rainwater collection.   Source: RISMedia's Housecall Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
9

When it comes to selling your home, first impressions matter. According to the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB), it's critical to put your best foot forward when putting your home on the market. The NAMB outlines these dos and don'ts for preparing your home for sale.     ????????????????????????????????   Do: Consider curb appeal. "Curb appeal is a huge draw for buyers," says Don Frommeyer, CEO, NAMB. "If you live in a cold state, consider creating a winter planter with cold-weather plants like winter berry holly or noble fir. At the very least, invest in a new doormat and keep the driveway clear of ice and snow. Warm lights glowing in the window will also be welcoming."   Invest in updates that matter. "People will pay top-dollar for homes with updated kitchens and bathrooms," says Frommeyer. "If you can make even the barest improvements to these rooms, you will see a huge return. Update the yellowing tile in the bathroom or invest in new cabinetry. At the very least, purchase new shower curtains, bath rugs, and the like."   Keep it bright. "Open all the curtains, turn on all the lights, even if it is in the afternoon," says Frommeyer. "Replace all dead light bulbs. Crack open doors to the pantry or laundry room so people won't be afraid to peek inside. And tidy up in forgotten places like inside the fridge or oven…people will be looking in there, and if they see mold or burnt food, they will be very turned off."     Don't: Overdo it on the heat. "People tend to overcompensate when they know that potential buyers are coming to look at their home in the winter time. They crank up the heat to make the place warm and welcoming," says Frommeyer. "But that can backfire. The air will be dry and stale, plus the buyers will probably be too warm as they will be bundled up in coats. So keep the heat at a reasonable setting and have your humidifier set between 40-60 percent."   Expect people to use their imagination. "If you have a crazy color choice in one (or more) of your rooms, you might think that people will look past that," says Frommeyer. "But that can prove difficult for buyers. Garish paint and wacky décor choices will make them uneasy, no matter how beautiful your home is underneath your collection of animal heads. Paint over those wild colors and put away any crazy items that might garner a laugh or a raised brow."   Source: NAMB Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
6

Spring cleaning your home can be overwhelming without help. If you're a parent, enlist your children with these creative (and fun!) ways to clean, courtesy of Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert for Merry Maids.   springclean • Host a Fashion Show Go through closets and play dress up with the kids. Put away the show-stopping outfits and make piles of items that no longer fit to donate or discard.   • Skate Over Dust Remove furniture and rugs from hardwood surfaces in your home and have your kids slide over the floor with microfiber cloths wrapped around their feet (supervision required). Have a trash bag on hand to collect dust afterwards.   • Celebrate Christmas in Spring Help children sort through toys and games that are no longer being used for donations. Bonus - kids may re-discover items they love!   • Establish a Finders Keepers Rule Entice little ones to help with cleaning under couch cushions or beds with a finders keepers rule, letting them know that any money found while cleaning is theirs for the taking. Hide coins in places that need the most attention, and provide each child with a jar to collect their spring cleaning savings.   Source: ServiceMaster Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
5

According to Bankrate.com's weekly national survey, mortgage rates unwound a recent increase last week, with the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate pulling back to 3.90 percent. The 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.29 discount and origination points.   int rates   The average 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.15 percent while the larger jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage settled at 4.07 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were down also, with the 5-year ARM falling to 3.22 percent and the 7-year ARM sinking to 3.44 percent.   Mortgage rates moved lower last week after indications that maybe the Federal Reserve isn't going to raise interest rates as soon as markets had thought. The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's January meeting showed a hesitancy to raise interest rates on the part of Fed members. The concern was that despite recent signs of improvement in the job market and overall economy, raising interest rates too soon could douse the recovery. Since mortgage rates and long-term bond yields move in anticipation of Fed interest rate moves, any change in the outlook for Fed action can have a pronounced effect on mortgage rates. Source: Bankrate.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
March
2

Furnaces have been operating overtime in order to combat frigid weather, which likely has led to an increase in heating bills. By taking some simple steps, homeowners can reduce their costs without sacrificing warmth.   Digital Thermostat  
  • Open the blinds on the south side of your home during sunny days, but keep the blinds closed on cloudy days and at night.
  • Use a programmable thermostat and set it to 68 degrees Fahrenheit when you're at home and 65 degrees when sleeping or away.
  • Turn off non-essential lights, appliances, electronics and other equipment.
  • Postpone, whenever possible, using electric appliances such as dishwashers, dryers and cooking equipment during on-peak or mid-peak price periods.
  • Check to see that weather stripping around your doors, fireplace dampers and attic hatches are in place and intact.
  • Check your furnace filter and replace immediately if needed.
  • Keep supply and return air vents clear of furniture and appliances so your furnace can work more efficiently.
  Source: PowerStream Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
25

Moving to a new home can be life-changing. The reasons for a move vary: you may have a growing family, you might be empty-nesting, or you may just need of a change of pace. But how do you know you're really ready to move? Watch for these classic signs:   move   You've thought through the details. You've worked out the logistics – where you want to live, when you want to move, what kind of home you want – and feel confident about your decision. Your family situation is changing. Shifting family dynamics may mean it's time to either move-up or downsize. If your household spatial needs are changing, re-evaluate your current residence to determine whether it's time for a new chapter. You did your homework. Investing in a new home is not to be taken lightly. You've taken steps to align your finances with your goals – you've saved enough for a down payment, crunched numbers, kept tabs on interest rates and corrected any errors on your credit report. You're ready to make a dream come true. Perhaps you've always wanted to own a home in the suburbs. Or a waterfront property. Or a horse ranch. If you're ready to transition to your ideal home, it may be time for a move. Source: RISMedia's Housecall Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
21

Five to 10 minutes may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly when cooking a weeknight meal. According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, the average difference between actual time spent in the kitchen and what respondents desired is eight minutes.   kitchen   With that goal in mind, create the ultimate time-saving kitchen with these expert tips from chefs, designers, organizers and more.  
1. Design for efficiency. The work triangle – connecting the sink, fridge, and cooktop – is still the baseline for maximum efficiency. But in two-cook kitchens, it often makes sense to have a second triangle, possibly designated around an island counter with a prep sink.   2. Think ahead. One of the top cooking gripes in Consumer Reports' survey was that it takes too much time to plan. A slow cooker is handy for make-ahead meals. Most have nonstick interiors that help with cleanup, saving you even more time after the meal.   3. Minimize maintenance. Some materials and finishes are harder to care for than others. Stainless-steel appliances remain popular, but if fingerprints are a concern, consider installing a model with a smudge-resistant finish. As for flooring, vinyl held up best in Consumer Reports tests against scratches and dents.   4. Contain the clutter. In the kitchen, try to store things close at hand. For example, dishes and flatware should be kept in a cabinet next to the dishwasher; cutting boards and sharp knives belong near the food prep counter. Creating a separate landing spot, ideally just off the kitchen or along its perimeter, for mail, school papers and the like will help keep counters clear.   5. Make it a family affair. Look for ways to enlist other members of the household. If kids are present, designate a lower cabinet for everyday dishes or flatware, allowing young ones to help set the table.  
Source: Consumer Reports Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
19

Mortgage holders: Do you know your interest rate? According to a recent Bankrate.com report, just over a third of mortgage borrowers (35 percent) aren't completely sure of the interest rate they're paying. One in seven mortgage holders reported being "not too confident," "not all confident" or simply have no idea what their interest rates are.     "Your mortgage is one of the most important numbers in your financial life, and there's a good chance that one of your neighbors has no idea regarding how much he or she is paying," says Holden Lewis, senior mortgage analyst at Bankrate.com. "Given how far mortgage rates have fallen, these people could be missing substantial opportunities to save money by refinancing."   Mortgage rates are well below historical norms. The average fixed-rate 30-year mortgage is now 3.80%. It was well above six percent as recently as 2008, and in 2000, it was close to eight percent. Refinancing a $200,000 loan from 6% to 3.80% would save $267 per month; refinancing from 8% to 3.80% would save $536 per month.   Analysts expect mortgage rates to rise in the coming months.   Source: Bankrate Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
18

(BPT) - The kitchen is the heart of the home and a top-selling feature with homebuyers. Does yours convey style and functionality? Whether you've just completed a remodel or you're looking for ways to upgrade your existing kitchen, a tile backsplash will instantly transform the space into an eye-catching masterpiece.   Luxury home kitchen with a granite island.   'Tile backsplashes are timeless, providing the ideal transition between the cabinetry and the countertop,' says Kirsty Froelich, design director for The Tile Shop. 'It's one of the number one ways homeowners can add value to their kitchen while adhering to their personal design preferences. Best yet, the process can be simple and enjoyable.'   Froelich offers her top tips for designing a stylish backsplash for your kitchen without headaches or stress:   1. Determine your style profile and take action Start by looking at Houzz, Pinterest and home magazines to see what styles you're drawn to. Are you more contemporary, vintage or transitional? It can help to see backsplashes in person to get a true idea of how different materials look, feel and reflect light. For up close and personal inspiration, attend your local Parade of Homes, or visit a showroom environment like The Tile Shop to view multiple styled vignettes.   2. Follow your vision When exploring tile or stone, think about whether you want the backsplash to be a focal point or more subdued. Subway tiles in neutral tones are timeless for those who prefer a muted backsplash. If you're looking to make a statement, clean and tumbled white marble is trending right now. Slate is comforting and earthy where metallic offers a more eye-catching and contemporary look. For added personality, consider designs with color, patchwork or patterns. 'Pop art' is also really hot right now (e.g., incorporating Andy Warhol visuals into the backsplash design).   3. Consider product type and maintenance requirements A backsplash isn't necessarily maintenance-free, so know how much time you're willing to spend before making a final design decision. If you prefer low maintenance, the best route is ceramic tile. If you are drawn to the beauty of natural stone, keep in mind that there's minimal annual maintenance, including resealing the surface to ensure the product's integrity and beauty last.   'One of my current favorite backsplash looks is a new globally influenced Decor Mayflower pattern featured in The Tile Shop's 2015 Spring Design catalog,' says Froelich. 'It coordinates with the Treviso solid ceramic tiles that are available in three beautiful colors. Each piece has a handmade look and feel inspired by classic looks from long ago. This collection will definitely add a wow factor to your backsplash.'   'Another collection I love is the Devonshire Cararra marble. It's crisp, clean and particularly elegant when set in herringbone pattern by itself or when paired with a picture frame design incorporating polished mosaic and marble profiles.'   4. Know your budget Before digging into any home improvement project, it's important to know your budget. Convey your visions and cost parameters to any experts you work with, such as a contractor or interior designer. Bring a sample of your cabinetry and countertop, or a picture of your kitchen, to the designer or showroom you're working with. It will help them maximize your budget while achieving your vision.   5. Add personal touches When finalizing your design, consider adding unique characteristics. Above the sink or cooktop are good places to do something more decorative. If appropriate, you might decide to add a niche with a cutout that has tile on the interior that matches the exterior tile or create a picture frame design using a completely different style of tile and stone that complements the backsplash to make a statement. Additionally, if you are doing a backsplash in a bar area, it's a great place to have fun with materials and shapes.   'Adding a backsplash does so much to dress up a room and complete the space,' says Froelich. 'The most common mistake I see homeowners make is letting indecisiveness cause the project to be delayed. Alas, the above tips will help create a clear path toward a backsplash design they can feel confident in and admire for years to come.'
February
16

Buying an older home can net you lots of charm and character, often at a more affordable price than you'd pay for a newer model. But, say home improvement gurus, a few strategic renovations can go a long way toward making it more comfortable and efficient.   door     Renovation expert Bob Vila, host of TV's popular "This Old House," suggests the top six projects new owners may want to plan for when they move into an older home:   New front door – Replacing a decades-old front door will do more than improve your home's curb appeal. A high quality new door will enhance energy efficiency and provide more dependable security.   New windows – Old windows are drafty and hard to operate. Replacement windows that meet Energy Star® guidelines are not only beautiful and easy to open but will save you hundreds of dollars a year on heating and cooling bills.   Updated electrical system – Modern life involves a lot of gadgets. If you are experience tripped circuits, buzzing noises, or dimming lights when you turn something on, a licensed electrician can update your system to make it safer and more compatible with today's electronics.   More open floor plan – Older homes were built with smaller, boxed-in rooms that were fairly easy to heat. If you long for a more open floor plan, a licensed contractor can remove barriers and design a brighter, airier, more inviting arrangement of space.   Floors worth a second look – Owners of older homes often find the happy surprise of hardwood flooring under worn linoleum and carpets. If that's the case, think about refinishing. In any case, check it out before installing new tile or carpeting.   Cook's kitchen – An older kitchen can be a cheerful and homey gathering place. But if you're not happy with the old cabinetry and countertops, replacements for both are a great investment – not just for you, but as a draw for new owners when and if you decide to sell the house.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
12

(BPT) - It's rare to get something right the very first time you try it, but when it comes to buying your first home, a lack of knowledge and experience can lead to costly mistakes. One in four first-time homebuyers say they are completely unfamiliar with the mortgage financing process, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Even among those with an understanding of the overall process, the report found that many first time homebuyers still had significant knowledge gaps in important areas such as available mortgage rates, closing costs, down-payment requirements and income required to qualify for a loan.     first     'Not having all the information available could lead to consumers paying a higher interest rate or failing to secure an affordable mortgage for the home they want,' says Eric Hamilton, president of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. 'While most first-time homebuyers understand the importance of their credit report score in securing a mortgage, it's important they arm themselves with comprehensive knowledge. Fortunately, there's plenty of useful information out there for borrowers who want to do their homework before diving into the loan process.'   Vanderbilt Mortgage offers eight tips for first-time homebuyers:   1. Adjust your budget A mortgage payment can increase your monthly housing expenses, so prepare by calculating what that amount will be and begin saving that same amount every month so you can get used to the budget change in advance. Use a free online payment calculator to help you predict your payment and understand your current debt-to-income ratio.   2. Plan for a down payment. Nearly all home loans will require you to put some money down as a down payment. Some home loans may require as much as 20 percent of the purchase cost as a down payment, although some Federal Housing Administration loans may require less. Decide on the amount you think you'll need and create a savings plan to help you reach that goal.   3. Consider the location and type of home you want to buy. Many factors influence the cost of a home, including its location, size, style and more. A larger home in a high-income area will generally cost more, and property taxes will be higher on a bigger, newer, well-located home. Many first-time homebuyers find manufactured or mobile homes are a good option. Knowing the estimated cost of the type of home you want to purchase can help you better manage your budget.   4. Stay on top of your credit. Lenders will consider your credit score and report history when determining your mortgage eligibility and the interest rate they may offer you. Make sure to review your credit report in advance. You can download a free credit report once a year from all three major bureaus at https://ift.tt/o2j1vQ. If you're planning to apply for a mortgage, it's a good idea to review your report more frequently and to consider paying to obtain your credit score from at least one major bureau. If your report contains errors, work with the credit bureaus to have them corrected before you apply for a mortgage.   5. Keep current on monthly bills. While it's important to save toward a down payment, don't let monthly bills slide. Paying your bills on time every month can help increase your credit score, and a good payment history is something lenders look for when reviewing your credit report. Use online tools like email reminders and automatic payment options to help ensure you never miss or make a late payment.   6. Work on your debt. If you have delinquent balances, bring them up to date as quickly as possible. If you carry a lot of revolving credit card debt, you may want to work to reduce it by paying more than the monthly minimum payment. While it helps to have a report that shows no late payments, the most important thing is to not have any delinquent balances before you get pre-qualified for a mortgage.   7. Plan for escrow. In addition to the amount you will need each month toward repaying your mortgage, you'll need escrow - an amount added to each monthly mortgage payment that is applied toward annual homeowners' insurance premiums and/or taxes. Estimating taxes and total insurance costs can help you better understand how much your escrow will be each month, and you'll be able to budget more accurately as you prepare for home ownership. Don't forget that this amount may adjust every 12 months if your insurance premium or taxes change for the next year.   8. Take advantage of educational resources. From lenders' websites to government agencies, it's easy to find plenty of information online. Check out resources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration.
February
10

If you're a homeowner considering a move, you may be wondering what's next. Do I need to renovate the kitchen? Repaint the exterior? Replace the flooring? Before taking on a costly remodel, consider this: these measures don't always recoup the highest percentages in return. Many sellers have much more success by investing in upgrades that boost their home's value in the process. The best part? Both sides of the transaction profit.   Consumer Reports recommends completing these updates:         1. Paint key rooms. In the grand scheme of things, painting is one of the least expensive ways to freshen up your home for sale, but it can cost up to $300 a room if you're hiring a pro to do your entire home. Save big by painting just a few select areas: high-traffic rooms, like the kitchen and bathrooms, and rooms with brightly-painted walls. You can save even more by doing the project yourself – a gallon of paint averages about $30.   2. Spruce up the exterior. Your home's exterior is the first impression for many buyers online and in person. Aside from keeping up with maintenance like mowing the lawn and trimming shrubs, assess the outside of your home for any repair work – a fading front door, cracked siding or a loose step – that needs to be completed before selling. And don't forget about the roof. If it needs to be replaced, choose an inexpensive but durable option, like standard, three-tab asphalt shingles. They cost approximately $75 per 100 square feet, including installation.   3. Upgrade the bathroom. Bathrooms can become a point of contention for buyers if they're not in tip-top shape. Rather than taking on an expensive renovation, make minor upgrades that have an impact. Caulk the tub, re-grout tile, and install new fixtures. Larger, less costly fixes are also a possibility if you know where to look – a new vanity, for instance, can cost less than $1,000 if you shop around.   4. Make kitchen repairs. Buyers want to be wowed by the kitchen, but that doesn't mean you have to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to make that happen. Focus on making repairs that cost well under $500, like tightening a leaky faucet or eliminating burn marks on countertops. For a cheap alternative to repainting your cabinets, consider updating your hardware in a modern finish.   5. Clean, clean, clean. Even if the home has been renovated top to bottom, a messy appearance can be the ultimate deal breaker. Fortunately for sellers, de-cluttering and de-personalizing doesn't have to cost a dime. A short list that will help buyers visualize living in the home:  
- Vacuum, dust and wipe all surfaces regularly while your home is on the market. - Pare down closets to the bare essentials. - Replace family or otherwise personal photos with neutral wall art. - Cut clutter in cabinets and on bookshelves. - Keep counter and tabletops clear, especially during an open house.  
If the project is overwhelming, consider hiring a professional cleaning service or organizer to cut through the chaos. A pro can cost anywhere from $600 to $2,500.     Source: Consumer Reports Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
6

(BPT) - Have you ever wished you had more space in your home? Maybe you'd use the space to pursue a hobby, host out-of-town guests or just spread out and get some quiet time to yourself. The space you desire could already be in your home in your basement. If your cellar is nothing but a series of unfinished areas used for storage, you're not getting all the benefits you could be from the space.     20989144     Making the most of your basement doesn't have to mean costly contractors and expensive remodeling scenarios. Several easy DIY projects that you can take on alone, with the aid of the right tools, can help you gain that extra space you wish for.   Ready to get started? Give these projects a try:   * Build walls. Adding drywall to your basement has a big impact on the space immediately. Use 2-by-4s to mark where the walls will stand and place studs 16 inches apart. Then nail the panels to the wall where the edges meet the studs and cover the seams with drywall tape. Once the walls are up, mud the seams and areas where nail pops appear. A drywall saw or power saw will help you shape your drywall perfectly, but if you don't own one, you don't have to buy one. It's more cost efficient to simply rent it instead for this one-time project. Your local American Rental Association member rental store will have what you need. Don't forget to add drywall stands to your rental list.   * A touch of paint. A fresh coat of paint means you won't have to stare at those drab walls in your new space. You can paint the space by hand, but if you have a large basement and you want to give every room that professional look, rent a paint sprayer instead. The cost is worth the time saved.   * Freshen up your floor. If your basement is completely unfinished, you probably have cold, concrete floors. How you improve them is up to you. If you want the polished, marbled look, consider renting concrete floor finishing equipment for a look that's sure to amaze. And if the appearance of hardwood is more your style, laminate flooring panels are inexpensive and easy to install. Lastly, if you want the feel of carpet beneath your feet, don't forget to add the pad first to make those future steps a pleasure.   * Eliminate the stink. Your new basement is coming together, now what can you do about that musty basement smell? A dehumidifier can help. You can purchase one at your local home goods store and when you get it home, try to place it near the washtub sink if your basement has one. This will allow you to drain right into the sink and save you from having to empty the dehumidifier regularly.   * Install a sump pump. Now that you've refinished your basement, don't let water damage ruin all your hard work. A sump pump can protect against flooding issues and installing one is easy. Most new homes have a location marked for a sump pump; it will look like a small well. Follow the water pipes in your home and you can find it. Once you do, purchase a sump pump from your local home goods store and follow the easy instructions to install in less than an hour.   The extra space you have dreamed of has been with you all along. Transform your basement from barren to beautiful and you'll be creating a space you can enjoy for years to come. To learn more about renting the tools you need for your home improvement projects, visit RentalHQ.com.
February
6

Many expectant parents upgrade to larger homes when baby's on the way. If you're thinking of buying a new home to accommodate your growing family, it's important to assess certain factors you may not consider otherwise, including:         Master Bedroom Proximity – Is the master bedroom on a separate floor from the others? Will you want to be adjacent to your baby's nursery, or are you comfortable with sleeping down the hall? Always consider the layout of the bedrooms before buying.   Pool Safety – If you're seeking a home with a pool, keep in mind that your child will likely venture outside before he or she knows how to swim. Is the pool appropriately gated, with no holes or gaps in fencing? Are all latches and locks in proper working order? Is the door leading outside secure?   Property Hazards – Evaluate the home for any potential dangers, including stairs, tree roots or uneven pavers. These can be easily overlooked by a curious child and lead to unnecessary injury.   Street Location – Take into account how far your home is from a busy area. Is the home located on a congested street? What is the posted speed limit in the area and how fast do cars typically drive through the neighborhood? Are there streetlights and crosswalks nearby?   Published with permission from RISMedia.
February
3

Whether you're planning to sell your home, or you simply want a more updated look, there are any number of cheap, simple fixes, from new paint to new curtains, that will improve its overall appearance. But, said home contractor Scott McGillivray, host of HGTV's Income Property, these seven relatively inexpensive fixes can give you more return on investment (ROI) than many – both in terms of home improvement value and easy-on-the-eye enhancement you can enjoy.     Start with these, McGillvray blogged: Kitchen hardware – Today's drawer and cabinet pulls come in dozens of styles and finishes. Installing a style that appeals to you can immediately make a dated kitchen look more modern and functional.   Refinished hardwood deck – An attractive deck is high on the list of improvements with proven ROI – especially if the deck is more than 100 square feet in size. Heated floors and towel racks – In cold weather regions, heated tile floors and/or heated towel racks in the bathroom can add a surprising amount of value – especially is there is no other heat source in the room.   Chic moldings - One of the easiest ways to get a high-end look at a reasonable price is with applied moldings on living room and dining room baseboards and ceilings.   New front door – Dollar for dollar, a new front door delivers a terrific ROI – as are other exterior updates like new windows and siding, which are highly appealing to future buyers looking for security and insulation. Garage storage – Shelves, organizers, and work benches in the garage can make any homeowner's life easier. No need for custom work. You'll find all you need at home improvement stores. Neatness counts – Nothing ensures curb appeal and improves a home value more than thorough and consistent maintenance, McGillvray said. So mow the lawns, clean the gutters, and keep the windows clean.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
20

If you're considering a home improvement project, you may need a permit. Permits can cost as little as $25 and up to $1,000 or more, or can be calculated as a percentage of the total remodeling budget.   Remont   How do you know if you need a permit? Permits are generally not necessary for projects that update the aesthetics of the home, such as new appliances, flooring and carpeting. Major renovations, such as a kitchen or bath remodel, almost always need a permit. A good rule of thumb is to evaluate whether the project will disrupt the layout of the home, i.e., cutting a new window or tearing down a load-bearing wall.   For safety purposes, some municipalities require permits for projects that can affect the wellbeing of the home's occupants. These projects include things like electrical wiring, plumbing or a new fence.   If you'll be enlisting the help of a qualified contractor, research their practices before hiring. Don't be afraid to ask for the contact information of the person responsible for pulling permits, and verify that they are, in fact, playing by the book. Your contractor should also tell you if their estimate includes permit fees – if not, ask.   If you're going to complete the work yourself, always check with your local permitting department before beginning any project. Talk to someone who can tell you whether a city inspection is necessary and what documents are needed before you apply. Source: Homes.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
18

(BPT) - The average American spends an hour a day in the kitchen preparing food and cleaning up afterward, according to the American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Add in the time it takes to put groceries away, load and unload dishwashers, organize cabinets and pantries or just hang out, and you spend a whole lot of time in your kitchen.   Modern Kitchen with a hardwood floor.   But do you really enjoy that time? Whether cooking is your favorite activity or you would rather clean the bathroom, the livability and usability of your kitchen can directly affect how you feel about the time you spend there.   If you're considering a kitchen renovation - among the most popular and profitable of all home improvements - keep in mind the value of upgrades that will enhance the efficiency, practicality and beauty of the space. This type of improvement will not only pay off at the time of resale, but can improve the time you spend in your kitchen.   Here are three key kitchen upgrades that can elevate the appeal and usability of your kitchen:   Improved natural lighting and ventilation The positive effects of natural lighting on mood are well documented. If your kitchen is small and dark, it can feel dingy and tired, no matter how new your appliances or shiny your granite countertops. Consider adding natural light sources such as skylights and roof windows. Not only can these natural light sources improve the feel of your kitchen, they can decrease the need for artificial lighting.   What's more, if you opt for an Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered fresh air skylight, like those made by Velux, you can improve your kitchen's ventilation as well. These skylights create a chimney effect that passively vents fumes, odor, humidity and cooking smoke from the kitchen without the need for a noisy, less efficient exhaust fan. Adding energy efficient solar blinds can allow you to control the amount of sunlight that enters your kitchen, closing the blinds to keep the room cooler in summer and opening them to admit more warming light in winter. Operated by remote control, solar skylights and blinds, as well as the installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. Visit www.veluxusa.com to learn more.   Upgraded fixtures Sinks and faucets are functional essentials for a kitchen, but they can - and should - also make a design statement. Replacing a basic, dated faucet and swapping out an older sink can have a significant impact on the overall look and utility of a kitchen - for a fraction of the cost of grander renovations.   It's possible to find new sinks that fit virtually any design taste. Stainless steel provides a sleek, modern look while delivering outstanding durability. Apron sinks, which come in a variety of materials, blend well with a rustic design theme. Undermount and integrated sinks eliminate unsightly edges on countertops. You can also find a variety of basin styles in virtually every material, from single to double basins and prep sinks.   Whatever sink you choose, be sure to accent it with a high-tech faucet. Pull-down faucets make cleaning and filling pots a breeze, while touch-free faucets allow you to turn the flow of water off and on without ever touching the faucet itself - thereby avoiding the spread of germs. A vast array of colors, styles and handle types ensure you can find an upscale faucet that improves usability and looks great in your kitchen.   Energy-efficient appliances Appliances are a kitchen element well worth a little extra investment. Considering how much the average American family uses their refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and stove, improving the usability and efficiency of these appliances can both elevate your enjoyment of the kitchen and save you some money in the long run.   In the typical American home, appliances represent 13 percent of the household's total energy consumption, according to the Department of Energy. Replacing older appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models can reduce your energy costs. For example, replacing an older refrigerator with an Energy Star certified appliance could reduce your energy costs as much as $300 over the lifetime of the refrigerator, according to the Department of Energy.   What's more, newer appliances offer many of the high-tech features that make life in the kitchen easier, from touchscreen interfaces and temperature controls on dishwashers to Wi-Fi enabled refrigerators. For more kitchen ideas visit www.houzz.com.
January
16

(BPT) - When buying a first home, most people are making one of the biggest purchases of their lives. Without home buying experience, it's hard to separate fact from fiction.     'Buying a first home can be exciting and stressful for most young buyers, especially the financing process,' says Clete Thompson, vice president at imortgage, a division of loanDepot LLC. 'There's a lot of paperwork, many choices, and sometimes budgets don't stretch very far. Our licensed loan officers specialize in helping first-time buyers navigate the home finance process, which can be stressful if you're not working with a seasoned professional.'   To help first-time buyers, the experts at imortgage are uncovering prevalent myths about financing a home purchase:   Myth: It takes a 20 percent down payment to buy a home. Reality: Required down payment amounts vary by type of loan and they are on average much smaller than people think. Last year, the median down payment for all first-time buyers was 6 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. One reason is that many first-time buyers use FHA loans, which require down payments as low as 3 to 3.5 percent. VA loans require nothing down for qualified veterans or active military personnel. If you want to take out a conventional loan, many lenders do require 20 percent down, but you can lower that percentage with private mortgage insurance. There are also hundreds of down payment assistance programs that eliminate or reduce down payment requirements for qualified borrowers.     Myth: If you owe a lot of student loan debt, there is no way you can get a mortgage. Reality: Don't assume that having a lot of student loan debt automatically disqualifies you from getting a mortgage. The key factor is not necessarily the size of your loan obligation, but the amount of your total monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income. This is called DTI. imortgage, for example, has approved thousands of loans to first-time buyers whose monthly student loan payments were as high as $300, and many more could qualify by increasing their monthly income.     Myth: If your credit score is low, you should not even try to get a mortgage. Reality: Millions of potential buyers assume they will not be approved for a mortgage even though many could qualify, according to a national survey commissioned by loanDepot LLC. Today, median FICO scores for mortgages to buy a home are 683 for FHA loans and 754 for conventional loans. But hundreds of thousands of buyers with scores lower than those are getting mortgages if they have good income and low levels of debt.     Myth: Buying a home isn't a good investment. Reality: Real estate, like other assets, rises and falls based on supply and demand. Over the past two years, home values in most markets have been rising. While all real estate is local, if you bought a home in March 2012, by August 2014 the national median home price as measured by Case-Shiller had risen 29.6 percent.     Myth: The mortgage-interest tax deduction is going away. Reality: Though the deduction has its critics, most observers believe it is unlikely that Congress will eliminate the mortgage interest deduction any time soon. Many states also allow homeowners to write off the interest they pay on their mortgages from their state income taxes. Check with your accountant or CPA on if you can qualify for this type of tax deduction.     Myth: I'm about to get married and the wedding is so expensive I won't be able to buy a home. Reality: According to TheKnot, the average wedding has 138 guests who typically give a gift valued at $100 each. That's $13,800 in spatulas, baking pans and other things. If every guest contributed to a Down Payment Fund, you could have enough saved for a down payment on a $276,000 home in San Diego.     'These are just a few of the myths about home buying that surface frequently in our conversations with first-time buyers,' says Thompson. 'I always advise potential buyers, especially first- time buyers, to get in touch with one of our local imortgage loan officers if they're interested in straight answers to specific questions about financing a home. We are here to help.'
January
11

(BPT) - Unless you majored in accounting, the thought of filing your own income tax return may evoke feelings similar to your first job interview. Though understandable, this is an unfounded fear, given the simple taxes most individuals have in their early to mid-20s and the easy digital tax programs available.   Tax accounting   "All you need to file your own tax return is a little self-confidence, the desire to get your maximum refund, and a computer or mobile device," says TaxACT spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. "You're well qualified to do your taxes because you're the expert of your finances."   Follow these tips to successfully file your taxes for the first time and every year after that.   Don't procrastinate. Waiting until the last minute causes undue stress, and rushing increases the potential for typos and overlooked information. While you can do your taxes in one fell swoop, it's unnecessary. Online tax programs save as you go, so you can stop and finish at your leisure. You may reap benefits from starting early because many tax programs point out potential savings requiring action before December 31 or April 15.   Compare tax products before using them. Read expert and user reviews. Look at the situations and tax forms each includes, as some require you to upgrade for certain forms. If you have to file a state return, compare prices. Using a mobile filing app? Choose one that also provides access to your data on a browser for convenience and peace of mind in case you lose your smartphone or tablet.   Gather all forms and documents. Before starting your return, compile all tax forms and documents, including:  
  • Form W-2 from your employer (Received by January 31)
  • Form 1099 if you're self-employed or a contractor
  • Form 1098-E from your lender if you've paid student loan interest (Even if you don't receive this form, you can still deduct interest paid.)
  • Form 1098-T for tuition paid and scholarships or grants received
  • Statements for retirement savings accounts
  • Receipts for charitable donations
  After filing, keep these papers or make electronic copies to save with a copy of your return. Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
7

Following a move by mortgage lenders to loosen standards for homeowners, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will begin backing home loans with down payments as low as three percent. This could bode well for the millennial generation, many of whom have yet to own their first home.     "This is exactly what our industry needed to propel millennials into homeownership for the first time and to keep Main Street growing and thriving," said Don Frommeyer, CEO of NAMB – The Association of Mortgage Professionals.   Under the new programs, first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income individuals who finance a fixed-rate mortgage can expect a less stringent lending process as opportunities for loan approvals without the required five percent down payment become readily available.   Applicants seeking the lower down payment must demonstrate an ability to repay the loan, secure mortgage insurance and attend pre-purchase counseling.   Source: NAMB Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
4

(BPT) - Making a New Year's resolution is common, and many people set goals for ways to improve themselves. If you have set a goal to lose weight, learn a new skill or get promoted, congratulations. But while you are striving to attain your personal goal, have you ever thought of setting a goal to refresh your home in a way that will have your friends talking?     Setting a home improvement goal is more common than you may think and you can make a dramatic improvement to your home with a complete remodel. You can take on several smaller projects - any time of the year - that will leave you loving your home all year long. Here are a few ideas to get you going.   * A fresh coat of paint. Nothing reinvents a room like a fresh coat of paint. Yet many people put off painting a room because they can't afford professional painters and they don't have time to do the job themselves. But you can achieve that professional quality finish at a fraction of the time and cost by visiting RentalHQ.com and renting your own paint sprayer. Use your sprayer to add a neutral color, which provides visual appeal and works with most furniture patterns, leaving you plenty of decorating options.   * Change hardware. Faucets and cabinet hardware can quickly date a room. Replacing hardware can add beauty to your kitchen without adding a lot of extra cost. Be sure to find knobs and pulls that are the same size as the existing ones so you don't have to re-drill the cabinets. Do this for any furniture and in any room for an instant decor face-lift.   * Replace old tile. Outdated tile can make a bathroom look old and dull. Replacing it with new tile that is in style will give the space a rich, modern look. Tiling is a DIY project that anyone can tackle with the right tools. Rent the necessary items like a tile stripper, a tile saw and a mortar mixer to keep your costs down.   * Update curtains and blinds. Textiles play a major role in the overall decorating scheme of a room. New window treatments offer an inexpensive way to introduce bold color and patterns for an instant refresh. Pair your new curtains with decorative throw pillows for a striking impact to the living room.   * Recreate your flooring. If your carpet doesn't need to be replaced but it could use a little refreshing, cleaning your carpets will do the trick. If you can't afford to hire professional carpet cleaners or you feel like taking on the project yourself, renting a carpet cleaner can give your carpets the professional look you've been dreaming of. And if you have hardwood floors that need to be refurbished, renting a floor sander is an excellent first step for this project.   Home improvement projects do not have to include a complete overhaul to provide a new look. These smaller projects will dramatically improve your home all year long. To learn more about the tools you can rent for your next project and to see more ways those tools can help you, visit rentalhq.com.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
1

  With uncertainty over mortgage rates growing and new Fannie- and Freddie-backed programs rolling out next year, those seeking to buy a home will continue to contend with changing standards. If you're planning to become a homeowner, take these steps before borrowing. 2015 1. Get preapproved. Stay ahead of the game by actually getting preapproved for a loan – not by getting an estimate from a lender. Not sure if you've been officially preapproved? Take note of what your mortgage professional does – if your credit report was submitted to an underwriter, you're in good shape.   2. Don't alter your credit habits. Don't risk hurting your credit score while securing a mortgage. Keep all balances within normal range and avoid opening or closing credit cards – your debt-to-income ratio may suffer. 3. Avoid moving funds. To mitigate your financial liability, put off moving funds until after you've closed on the home. That means no cashing out on investments, retirement accounts or CDs. Additionally, don't use your savings to pay off debt or fund a CD – this can be a red flag to lenders.   4. Get your down payment gift early. If family is helping you with a down payment, have them deposit the money in your account more than two months prior to applying for a loan. You'll avoid hassle with the banks trying to track down the source of the funds.   5. Create a PDF of all documents. Round up all documents related to your finances: bank statements for checking, savings and investment accounts, pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns and canceled rent checks. Compile these into one PDF for your lender's convenience.   6. Be prepared to write letters. Lenders will want to know details about every potentially harmful financial scenario before approving your loan. If there are any discrepancies in your financial history, such as frequent moves in a short amount of time or a substantial monetary gift, be prepared to explain these situations thoroughly in a letter.   7. Cut costs on mortgage insurance. The new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs require as little as three percent for a down payment – but insurance premiums through the FHA will come at a higher cost. Opt for private mortgage insurers, which generally have cheaper premiums.   Source: Bankrate.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
December
28

Financing the cost of the holidays with the cost of keeping your home warm and safe during the winter season may be more than many families' budgets can handle. But keeping your family warm doesn't have to break the bank. Generac recommends these cost-effective fixes:   1. Top Off Your Attic Insulation A high percentage of heat loss occurs through the roof because of poor insulation. Make sure your attic is insulated with the minimum R-value for your climate (up to R-49 for northern). Also, check the rim joist areas above the foundation walls in the basement and plug any gaps with fiberglass insulation.   2. Dial Down the Thermostat Tried and true, because most people can live comfortably with a lower temperature around 68 degrees. Setting it lower than that when you're away or asleep will also save energy. Consider purchasing a programmable thermostat that will lower the temperature automatically during off-peak times. 3. Replace or Insulate Drafty Windows You can literally hear your money flying out the window when a winter wind blows on old windows. Consider replacing old windows with energy-efficient ones. Another option is to put up window insulating kits. The clear plastic film can increase coziness by reducing drafts, saving energy and avoiding the costs of window replacement.   4. Fill Gaps with Caulks and Sealants Replace old caulk joints around your window and door trim (both inside and outside) that can shrink and leak energy over time. Use a spray foam sealant to fill in the gaps left around pipes, wires, TV cables or bath and dryer vents penetrating your foundation or siding. 5. Get an Energy Audit Most local utilities can help arrange a home energy audit to pinpoint where to focus your winterizing efforts. One essential tool is a thermal-imaging camera, which uses infrared technology to show where heat is escaping the house. In many areas, the cameras are available to rent, so try one out before winterizing to know exactly what needs to be done to lower your heating bill.   Source: Generac Published with permission from RISMedia.
December
25

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 76.4 million baby boomers. This statistic has an interesting implication for the real estate market. Many baby boomers will be in the market to downsize from the home where they raised their family to a smaller house or apartment. Here are a few tips for helping baby boomers find the right home for the next chapter of their lives.     1. Friends and Family: Living in a close proximity to friends and family will increase the likelihood that baby boomers will have companionship and someone to care for them should the need arise. Plus, who wants to watch their grandchild's first steps over video chat.   2. Accessibility: As people age, walking up stairs may become burdensome or impossible. Look for houses or apartments with ramps, stair lifts, or elevators. Similarly, make sure that all the housing you look at is wheelchair accessible.   3. Storage: Downsizing is an emotional process for many reasons - including the fear of losing the memories attached to the home and the belongings it contains. Almost every parent has a box of notes, art, cards, macaroni necklaces, and other memorabilia from their kids and grandkids. Recommend that they open a storage unit so that they can keep things with sentimental value even after they move.   4. Neighborhood: Ideally the neighborhood will have classes and activities for baby boomers. It will also be good to look for neighborhoods with good hospitals and doctor's nearby. Bonus points if there is a golf course close!   Whether you are an agent or a friend or family member, these tips will help you make a baby boomer's transition easier.   Source: https://blog.century21.com/2014/12/how-to-help-baby-boomers-find-a-home/
December
18

(BPT) – Buying a home is one of the most important investments you'll make for yourself and your family. Before making a purchase, ask yourself these four questions. Determining the answers in advance will allow you to enjoy your new home now and in the years ahead.     1. What exterior style speaks to you? Your home is an extension of your lifestyle and a reflection of your personality. When shopping for a new house, contemplate curb appeal. First impressions matter, so it's important to consider architectural style, exterior color and details like trim and landscaping.   2. Is your home protected from the elements? With the climate ever-changing, extreme weather is a reality in all corners of the country. Look for homes with siding and trim products that protect from hurricanes, blizzards, wind, wildfire and more.   3. Is your new home built using sustainable products? Green building continues to be a growing trend, in part because an energy-efficient home can save you money on heating and cooling bills. By choosing a home clad in 100 percent sustainable and efficient material, you're consuming less energy and reducing your environmental footprint.   4. What maintenance will your new home require? Selecting a home made with low-maintenance building materials can lower the chances of large ticket home repairs in the future. Ensure the materials have a strong warranty to protect your investment.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
December
11

First-time home buyers are expected to re-emerge in the new year after mostly staying out of the market in the aftermath of the housing crisis. That's one of realtor.com®'s five top housing predictions for 2015.
2015
"The residual financial effects of recession-driven job losses and subsequent unemployment have impeded Millennials' entry into the home-owning market," says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com®. "In 2015, increases in employment opportunities will empower younger buyers to return to the market and fuel the continued housing recovery. If access to credit improves, we could see substantially larger numbers of young buyers in the market. However, given a high dependency on financial qualifications, this activity will be skewed to geographic areas with higher affordability, such as the Midwest and South."     Realtor.com®'s top five housing predictions for 2015 are:
  1. Millennials to drive household formation. Households headed by Millennials are expected to see significant growth in 2015, particularly as the economy continues to make gains. Millennials are expected to drive two-thirds of household formations over the next five years, according to realtor.com®'s report. The forecasted addition of 2.5 million jobs next year, as well as an increase in household formation, are the two factors that realtor.com® points to in driving more first-time home buyers to the housing market.
  2. Existing-home sales on the rise. Existing-home sales are projected to rise 8 percent year-over-year in 2015, as more buyers enter the market. Distressed properties will make up a smaller share of that growth, unlike in 2012, when a similar increase in existing-home sales was mostly driven by distressed properties.
  3. Home prices will rise. Home prices are expected to continue to edge up in 2015, with realtor.com® forecasters predicting a 4.5 percent gain. "While first-time home buyers have many economic factors working in their favor, increasing home prices will make it more difficult to get into high-priced markets such as San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.," realtor.com® notes in its report. "As a result, first-time home buyer activity is expected to concentrate in markets with strong employment and affordability, such as Des Moines, Iowa; Atlanta; and Houston."
  4. Mortgage rates to inch up to 5 percent. In the middle of 2015, mortgage rates are expected to increase as the Federal Reserve increases its target rate by at least 50 basis points before the end of the year. That will likely bring the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to an average of 5 percent by the end of 2015. (It's currently averaging 3.89 percent, according to Freddie Mac.) The 1-year adjustable-rate mortgage, on the other hand, is expected to rise more minimally. "Lower ARM interest rates will influence an uptick in buyer interest for adjustable and hybrid mortgages," realtor.com® notes. "While still at historic lows, rate increases will affect housing affordability for first-timers trying to break into the housing market and will be another factor pushing them to less-expensive locales."
  5. Housing affordability will decline. Affordability for homes, based on home-price appreciation and rising mortgage interest rates, will likely fall by 5 to 10 percent in 2015. However, the decline in affordability likely will be offset by an increase in salaries next year for many households. "When considering historical norms, housing affordability will continue to remain strong next year," realtor.com® notes.
  Source: realtor.com®
December
9

(BPT) - The heat is definitely on this winter. With winter storms hitting many parts of the country early in the season, furnaces are plugging away, causing rising heating bills. Space heating is the largest energy expense in the average U.S. home, accounting for 45 percent of energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Consumers are looking to keep their homes cozy as the temperature continues to drop, while also having manageable utility bills.   fire-place   To help homeowners combat the cost of heating a home during the winter months, Bobby DiFulgentiz, an energy efficiency expert with Lennox Industries, suggests looking at various spots around the house to keep the warm air in and the cool air out.   'Many places around the home can allow warm air to escape, wasting heating dollars. This causes your heating system to work overtime to keep your house comfortable,' DiFulgentiz says. 'It's important to take a look at the attic, fireplace, windows and your furnace to ensure your home is ready to combat the cold efficiently. The little time it takes to make a few quick checks and adjustments in a home can yield dividends in savings and comfort in the long run.'   Attic: The attic is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to heat loss. If you are experiencing high heating bills and having difficulty keeping your home warm, it could be time to add insulation. DiFulgentiz says that attic insulation should be approximately five inches deep. Homeowners can hire a professional or install additional insulation themselves with portable blowing units available for rental at home improvement stores.   Fireplace: To prevent warm indoor air from escaping the home, DiFulgentiz reminds homeowners to keep fireplace dampers closed when not in use. However, always make sure the damper is fully opened before starting a fire. Look for any gaps in the mortar between bricks, as they can allow moisture to build up and compromise the roof's integrity. Also check for soot buildup in the chimney, and if necessary, hire a professional chimney sweep to perform a thorough cleaning.   Furnace: DiFulgentiz recommends having your furnace thoroughly inspected by a company with certified technicians. In addition, changing furnace air filters at least once a month and vacuuming the heater vents in the living areas of the home will help keep your heating system clean and working efficiently. If your furnace is more than 15 years old, Lennox recommends upgrading to a high efficiency unit, such as the high efficiency Lennox SLP98 Variable-Capacity Gas Furnace.   Windows: Air leaks caused by cracks or holes around windows and doors can enable warm indoor air to escape and cold outside air to seep in, preventing you from maintaining a consistent indoor temperature. DiFulgentiz suggests sealing cracks with caulk or weather stripping, particularly in the exterior joints of your home where brick or siding fits against another material, such as wood. In addition, drapes, shutters or insulating shades can be installed on windows and doors to increase energy efficiency and help prevent heat loss.   To learn more about home energy efficiency and how to save money on utility bills, visit https://www.lennox.com or on Facebook at https://ift.tt/1wega8J.
December
7

(BPT) - The days are flying quickly past, and the holiday season will be over before you know it. If you haven't completed - or even started - your holiday gift shopping yet, don't worry; there's still plenty of time to get everything accomplished.   holiday gifts   First, be sure to find an idea for everyone on your list before you even think about shopping. With your ideas written down on a piece of paper, you'll be efficient in checking each and every name off your list. If the ideas are causing you the most problems, try an Internet search. Keywords to use can include 'gifts for mom' or 'musical gifts for a teenage boy.' And if your list includes people with hobbies, be sure to try an Internet search using those keywords as well.   Since you're already at the computer looking for ideas, you might as well continue using it to make your purchase. There's a good chance you can find the same item for sale on several different vendor sites. A quick online search will help you find the item for the best price, and you might also discover you can get the present gift wrapped as well. When comparing prices, be sure to confirm that the vendor can ship your gift on time, what the cost is for shipping, and whether the company has a return policy.   You also can go online to find excellent discounts and coupons for the items on your list. For example, Ebates.com provides discounts and coupons for vendors, and also rewards you with cash back on your purchases once you've finished your shopping. So not only are you able to find the item you wish to purchase with a free shipping offer or at a discounted price, but you'll also receive a percentage of your purchase as cash back to be used however you want.   Before you finalize your purchase, make certain it will arrive before the holiday. Online retailers will provide you with last-minute shipping information so you will know when it's too late. You'll also know if you need to pay more for a faster shipping service. Websites like Ebates often have discounts on expedited shipping. The good news is, if you ship the present online while sitting at your computer at home or at the office, you can avoid the long holiday lines at the post office.   If you haven't started your holiday shopping yet, your secret is safe. With these tips, you can check every name off your list with minimal effort and know that every gift will be delivered in time for Christmas day.
December
4

Choosing whether to purchase a new or pre-owned home is a critical decision for homebuyers, and it's important to know the reality behind some misconceptions about buying a new home.   New Home   KB Home, one of the nation's largest and most recognized homebuilders, debunks three myths associated with buying new construction.   Myth #1: A new home is more expensive than a pre-owned home. Fact: New homes can be built to accommodate any budget. Buyers can select from a variety of floor plans tailored to meet a range of budgets, so they only pay for what they value. Also, with standardized energy-efficient features, monthly utility expenses can be lower than those of an older home or rental property.     Myth #2: A new home will have features I don't want. Fact: While it's true that some new home builders produce communities in bulk and sell speculative inventory homes, homebuyers typically get to select the floor plan and features that best fit their needs and preferences before construction begins.     Myth #3: Buying a pre-owned home is better for the environment. Fact: Just like today's cars run much more efficiently than the clunky gas guzzlers of the past, all new homes use energy far more efficiently than a typical pre-owned home. In addition, new homes utilize sustainably-sourced or recycled-content products whenever possible when building, and often employ advanced supply chain management and recycling practices to minimize waste in the home construction process.     Myth #4: I won't save money buying a new home. Fact: There are a lot of ways that purchasing a new home can lower the total cost of homeownership. Along with saving on energy and water bills, homeowners generally save on renovations and repairs. More importantly, homeownership can offer long-term financial advantages, including the opportunity to deduct mortgage interest payments from your income taxes and the potential to build equity in your home.   Search For New Homes Here Source: KB Home Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
30

The Internet makes holiday shopping so easy-no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.   cybermonday   But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from USA.gov can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:  
  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments-the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.
  • Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.
  • It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.
  • Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.
  • Use caution buying digital assets like books and music-they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.
  Source: USA.gov   Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
28

(BPT) - When you're about to buy a house, it's easy to get excited about its great location, spacious floor plan or beautifully decorated interior. Yet the old saying, 'beauty's only skin deep' can apply to any home, especially if you're considering an older, previously owned property. Before signing on the dotted line, use this checklist to help avoid some potentially costly surprises and anticipate repairs or upgrades that may be needed.     checklist     Start at the top: the roof Ask when the current roof was installed. Is it the original roof, or has it been replaced, repaired, or covered over with new shingles in certain spots? Are there known leaks, and if so, where are they? Have any of the leaks caused damage to the attic or interior? Also look at the chimney to see if it's properly sealed around the edges and whether the gutters need repair.     Windows and doors Next, take a look at the windows to see if there is any condensation between the glass panes. If so, it could mean window replacements are in order. Once you get inside the house and close the front door, see if any light is coming through between the edge of the door opening and the wall. This gap is an indicator that the door may need to be replaced since air can escape through it and cause higher energy bills.     Lighting and electrical Throughout the interior rooms, many homes are 'staged' to appeal to buyers with attractive lighting that shows off the space to its best advantage. You may love the way the lamps look in the bedroom, office or kitchen, but more importantly, check out how many electrical outlets there are and whether they are in convenient locations. Also, make sure you check to see if the lamps are masking the fact that there are no ceiling fixtures in each room. Will you need to rig up extension cords or invest in electrical work in order to support all the lamps, ceiling fixtures, appliances and electronics you wish to use?     Get to the bottom of furnace efficiency At the basement level, be sure to check out the heating system. If the current furnace is more than 10 years old, it may be operating at a much lower level of efficiency than the latest manufacturing standards require, resulting in higher energy costs. Newer models, such as Trane's XC95m gas furnace, for example, can operate at nearly 20 percent higher efficiency than the government minimum standard, for the ultimate in energy efficiency. A qualified Trane dealer can advise you on the best solution for any home.     Know what you can't see: indoor air quality One thing you can't see is the quality of the home's indoor air. Nearly 72 trillion particles enter a home every day, making the air inside up to five times more polluted than the air outside. Adding a Trane CleanEffects Air Cleaner to the heating and cooling system can remove 99.98 percent of airborne particles including dust, pollen, pet hair and dander, dust mites, mildew, lint, fungus, most tobacco smoke, cooking grease, and even bacteria from the filtered air - so everyone in your new home can breathe easier.  
November
20

You may fall in love with a home based upon it's online listing but don't forget to visit it in person before you make the commitment. Visiting an open house is a great way to get a feel for the property and see if it will work for you and your family.   Keep these things in mind during the open house to ensure that you get the most out of your visit.     1. Keep a poker face: Don't be overly enthusiastic. It is best to remain calm, cool, and collected. Dull your emotions, whether good or bad, so you don't compromise your position as a buyer. (Boston.com)   2. Pay close attention: Pay attention to everything. Keep a look out for cracks in walls and ceilings, damages to the floors, and the windows. Watch the other attendee's reactions to certain things. If you see people abruptly leaving, there may be something wrong with the home. If people are mingling and taking their time it may be a sign that it will be a home with a lot of offers. (AOL)   3. Ask before taking photos: While looking at homes, it's helpful to take photos to help you remember specific features of the home. During an open house, or any showing, it's best to ask the homeowner before you start snapping pictures. (Frontdoor)   4. Look but don't snoop: Storage can be a deal breaker when it comes to buying a home. If there isn't enough room in closets and cabinets, it may sway your opinion. Look through storage spaces but don't go rummaging through people's belongings. Respect their home and their space. (Frontdoor)   5. Don't bad mouth the home: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at the open house. You may walk into a house and dislike it, but try to keep harsh opinions to yourself. Wait until you leave the open house to voice your opinion. You never know who may be listening and how it could work against you in the future. (Frontdoor)   6. Ask questions: Ask the owner, your real estate agent, and the listing real estate agent any question you might have.   Use these tips at every open house to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your home buying experience.   Source: https://blog.century21.com/2014/11/open-house-advice-for-buyers/
November
19

(BPT) - You know that moving into a new home can be one of life's biggest stressors - the packing, the paperwork, the unpacking and of course finding the nearest coffee shop. Making your new house feel like your home can help alleviate some of this stress and provide a safe-haven for some much needed relaxation. new home       'Everyone has a different sense of what home is,' says Elizabeth Lindmier of The Art Institute of Colorado. So while the same aesthetic won't work for everyone, she offers her top five tips to start you in the right direction.   1. Texture and textiles - Instead of having a bunch of hard surfaces, cozy up your home with something soft or textured. This could be a blanket, curtains or area rugs. These items will also provide some acoustical value so noises aren't echoing in an empty space.   2. Comfort - Have some place in your home where you can relax, recharge and feel at ease. 'Make a space where you would like to spend time,' Lindmier says.   3. Color - A monochromatic scheme with pops of colors can bring you into a place where you feel comfortable and happy. 'Do your research on color theory before painting any space,' says Lindmier. 'Different colors can spark different moods, emotions and even behavior. Discover what you'd like a given space to accomplish, and use colors as a tool to create such environment.'   4. Lighting - There should be aesthetically pleasing lighting. Look at the difference between warm and cool lighting colors to decide what helps achieve the look you want. Also consider task, ambient and accent lighting for your space. 'Lighting plays a key role in any home,' Lindmier says. 'Through lighting design you can highlight design and architectural features, create lighting which is more useful to the human eye, and work with natural light while keeping energy use to a minimum.'   5. Clutter/stuff - 'Less is more, but make it more meaningful,' says Lindmier. Get rid of your clutter. When sitting in your space, make sure you can look around and adore the things you see.   "Mies van der Rohe's old adage, 'less is more,' certainly holds true here," says Jackie Barry, Interior Design instructor at The Art Institute of Houston - North. "Select significant pieces of furniture and art to move. You don't need to have or show everything you have all in one room."   Barry also advises incorporating a concept called biophilic design, which recognizes the inherent need of humans to interact and affiliate with nature to achieve and maintain optimum health and well-being. "Bring the outside in; don't neglect good views to the outside, accentuate them," she says. "Let your garden and landscaping work for you on the inside. Connecting with nature can also have a calming and a comforting effect."   For more information about The Art Institutes, visit artinstitutes.edu.
November
13

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates hitting fresh lows for the year for the second consecutive week amid declining bond yields. At 3.92 percent the average 30-year fixed rate is at its lowest level since the week of June 6, 2013.   mortgage   "Fixed mortgage rates continued to fall last week after the yield on 10 year Treasuries dropped to their lowest point of the year," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Existing home sales beat expectations in September clocking in at an annual rate of 5.17 million units, up 2.4 percent from August. Housing starts were up 6.3 percent in September adding a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.017 million units. Building permits rose 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.018 million units in September."   The survey shows:  
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.92 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending October 23, 2014, down from the previous week when it averaged 3.97 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.13 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.08 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from the previous week when it averaged 3.18 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.24 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.91 percent last week with an average 0.5 point, down from the previous week when it averaged 2.92 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.00 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.41 percent last week with an average 0.4 point, up from the previous week when it averaged 2.38 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.60 percent.
  Source: Freddie Mac   Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
3

With cold weather slated for the months ahead, homeowners everywhere are seeking ways to cut down on energy costs. Black Hills Energy recommends homeowners implement cost-effective fixes – many costing less than $20 – to eliminate sources of energy waste.   save energy   "Nearly half of all energy use during the colder weather months is dedicated to heating homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency," said Jill Linck, Energy Services Division for Black Hills Energy. "We want to arm consumers with simple ways to increase heating efficiency in their homes, as well as to check other, less obvious sources of energy waste, including appliance use."   In honor of Energy Awareness Month, the experts at Black Hills Energy recommend checking these energy consumers for cost-saving solutions.
  • Air leakage: Air leakage occurs when cold outside air enters and warm air escapes through cracks and openings, increasing the cost of keeping a home at a consistently comfortable temperature. Feel for leaks by floating your hand around the perimeters of doors and windows, electrical outlets, and even cable and telephone line entry points, then seal any problem spots using caulk and a $5 caulking gun. Adding weatherstripping to doors and windows is another low-cost way to keep the winter chill out and the warm air in.
  • Dirty air filters: Dirty furnace air filters can clog and cause higher resistance of air flow, particularly during high-usage months. Diligent cleaning of air filters each month for about $20 with filter spray and oil, and replacing them about every three months keeps warm, clean air flowing throughout a home.
  • Kitchen culprits: It's hard to resist opening the oven door to check on baking cookies or a Thanksgiving turkey, but did you know the temperature inside an oven drops 25 degrees every time the door is opened while in use? This increases cook time and wastes energy. Instead, turn on the oven light for a peek inside. When using the stovetop, use the right sized pot or pan for each burner – for example, a six-inch pan atop an eight-inch burner wastes 40 percent of the burner's energy.
  • Duct leaks from the furnace to the vent: HVAC ducts that leak conditioned air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to heating and cooling bills. Sealing seams with duct mastic means a furnace doesn't have to work overtime to keep your family cozy. Duct mastic is available for under $15 per gallon, and can be applied with an inexpensive paint brush.
  • Thermostat control: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adjusting a thermostat down 5 degrees to 10 degrees while you're asleep or while you're out of the house can help you save on heating and cooling bills. Utilize programmable thermostats for when you're typically out of the house, too. A good rule of thumb is to keep the thermostat set to 68 degrees.
Source: Black Hills Energy Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
30

A recent Federal Trade Commission study showed that approximately 26 percent of consumers have credit report mistakes that could lead to higher loan and insurance payments. More than a quarter of participants in the study found at least one error on their credit reports, and five percent had errors serious enough to affect loan terms.   Search for credit   "Credit reports play a crucial role in determining consumers' financial discipline and responsibility," said Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Chairman of Debt.com. "Detecting credit report errors allows consumers to correct inaccurate information that could potentially lead to denied loans and high interest rates."   Dvorkin advises that consumers review their credit report and take steps to correct any issues. He recommends:   Correcting errors on credit report - Consumers should check their credit score at least three months before making a purchase. If they identify mistakes, consumers should write a letter to the credit bureau and organization responsible for reporting the inaccurate information. In the letter they should explain why the information is incorrect and what should be changed on the credit report.   Asking for a credit-line increase - The credit utilization ratio is one of the major factors that contribute to the overall credit score. Using too much of the available credit can have a negative impact on a credit score. While it's possible to fix this issue by paying down debt, sometimes consumers may not be able to afford it. To avoid having a low score, consumers should call their card provider and ask for a reduction of their interest rate. This could help consumers to pay off their balance quicker.   Consolidating your debt – Another quick way for consumers to improve their credit score is to consider consolidating their credit card debt. This can make it easier to pay down debt and also increase the average age of revolving credit lines, which can help the credit utilization ratio.   Consumers shouldn't add an installment loan to their credit portfolio "just because," but if they are in need of a student or personal loan, they may be able to quickly improve their credit score. Creditors want to see that consumers can handle a wide array of debt, so having this type of loan can be beneficial. If consumers are in dire need of improving their score, taking out a small personal loan that they can pay back over time could help.   Using an old card – If consumers have a card that they haven't used in a while, they can start making purchases with it again. Not using a card for an extended period of time could lead to credit card providers no longer reporting it to the three major bureaus. By simply using an old card, consumers can increase their credit utilization ratio and extend their history.   Source: Debt.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
30

Halloween is a night filled with candy, costumes, a bit of fear and a lot of fun, but it can also be a dangerous night if you don't take the proper safety precautions. With ghosts, goblins, vampires and zombies roaming the streets, it's important that parents and children review safety protocols before trick-or-treating.   halloween   "Halloween is a magical evening where kids get to transform into anything they want to be," said Allstate's Executive Vice President of Product Operations Steve Sorenson. "But it's most important for them to be safe. By following a few basic safety tips, everyone can do their part to make the holiday a memorable occasion for all the right reasons."   Parents should take the following steps to ensure safety.  
1. Review all appropriate pedestrian and traffic safety rules with children. 2. Make sure costumes, wigs and accessories are fire-resistant. 3. Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to make sure they are visible if children are out after dusk. 4. Make certain that masks have large eye holes and nose and mouth openings. Parents should encourage children to remove their masks before crossing the street. 5. Provide well-fitting costumes and shoes to avoid trips and falls. 6. Make certain that swords and other accessories are made from cardboard or flexible materials. Children should not carry sharp objects. 7. Travel only in familiar, well-lit areas and avoid trick-or-treating alone. 8. Carry flashlights with fresh batteries to help children and motorists see more clearly. 9. Look both ways before crossing the street and use established crosswalks whenever possible. 10. Walk on sidewalks and not in the street. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the far edge of the road facing traffic.  
Source: The Allstate Corporation Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
23

With the rollout of FICO's updated scoring system slated for the near future, it's important for consumers to continue to practice good credit habits. The Better Business Bureau advises that FICO 9 will result in these three changes, which may impact your credit score.   credit score concept   1. Lack of credit history will be a non-factor. FICO 9's new algorithm assesses loan risk instead of history, eliminating challenges for young adults or those with little to no credit.   2. Medical debts will hold less weight. Incurring debt from a medical circumstance is often unavoidable. Once FICO 9 goes into effect, experts estimate that those with medical debt and an otherwise good credit history will see a 25-point increase in their score.   3. Collected debt will not be heavily evaluated. Debts paid to a collections agency will have much less of an impact thanks to a forgiveness policy that could result in the addition of 100 points or more to your score.   Source: BBB Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
22

(BPT) - How much do you spend on utilities? Are you looking for ways to save? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a typical American household spends about $2,100 on energy bills each year. Most of that expense comes from a home's energy use during the winter heating season. A quick home checkup can help you can reduce these costs, prepare for winter and enjoy energy savings.   WINDOW   Properly installed and maintained windows and doors can help keep your home more comfortable year-round. Save on heating costs by preparing your windows and doors for winter with these tips:  
  • Clear sills and moving parts of dirt and debris. Debris like sand, dirt or leaves can get caught in windowsills and moving parts of windows or doors. Clean these areas with a dry paintbrush to create a tighter seal and enhance window and door performance.
  • Check weather stripping. Re-attach or replace missing or worn weather stripping around windows and doors. Loose weather stripping can let cold air in during the winter and out in the summer, reducing energy efficiency.
  • Reapply caulk or sealant around windows and doors. Reseal areas around windows and doors that may have been exposed to heavy weather or extreme sunlight - creating breaks in caulk or sealant - to help reduce potential drafts and leaks.
  • Installing snap-in blinds or shades. Install snap-in blinds or shades to help insulate your home from cold outdoor temperatures.
  • Repair or replace damaged exterior surfaces. Cracked or deteriorated wood associated with water penetration may allow moisture or cold air to leak into your home. Look closely for signs of moisture leakage and replace damaged wood. Consult a professional to help correct any roof or drainage problems around your home.
  • Install storm doors. Storm doors add an extra layer of protection and help reduce air and moisture leakage.
  • Replace old windows and doors with energy-efficient ones. If you have single-pane glass, clear glass, or older windows or doors, you may be paying more to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer. Replace old windows with energy-efficient, double or triple-pane glass versions made with insulating argon, or install new durable fiberglass doors to help save money and energy year-round.
  Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
16

  Freddie Mac (OTCQB: FMCC) recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates falling back near their lows for 2014.     mortgage rate decline     "Fixed mortgage rates were down on a week filled with bleak forward projections from the Federal Reserve and concern over growth in Europe," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Despite gloomy vernacular from the Fed, mortgage purchase applications were up 2 percent on the week and the labor market added 248,000 jobs, beating expectations and lowering headline unemployment to 5.9 percent."   Fixed mortgage rates average as follows:  
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.12 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending October 9, 2014, down from last week when it averaged 4.19 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.23 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.30 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.36 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.31 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.05 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.06 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.05 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.42 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.64 percent.
    Source: Freddie Mac Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
13

(BPT) - The leaves and the weather don't need to be the only things to change this season. As the cooler temperatures send you indoors, start adding home improvement projects to your to-do list.   Why now? According to a recent survey by Houzz.com, 78 percent of homeowners are looking to improve the look and feel of their space; while 54 percent are looking to add functionality. Here are a few project ideas to get your home feeling and looking fabulous.   fall     From boring to bold baths The bathroom topped the 2014 Houzz & Home Survey renovation project list - likely since its one room in the house that's used every day. If your bathroom is boring, basic or just outdated, it's time to make a change - even on a budget.   Faucets are a simple and affordable way to instantly renew the look and functionality your bath. Moen's Darcy bathroom collection, available at The Home Depot, includes transitionally styled faucets with a soft-modern look and water-saving benefits to offer the best of form and function and give you a beautiful bath in no time. The collection is also available in Moen's Spot Resist Brushed Nickel finish, so you'll save time cleaning, too, as it helps resist water spots and fingerprints.   Weather the winter wisely No one wants to spend money on high energy bills, but according to the National Resources Defense Council, approximately one-third of a home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors that aren't insulated properly. Don't throw money out your windows; updates such as weather stripping can keep out cool air while keeping the needed warm air in.   And don't stop there; simple tasks, such as replacing worn-out caulk, insulating your outlets, and prepping your windows with plastic cling for the winter months can significantly reduce your heating and cooling bills.   Quick and convenient kitchen upgrade Cool weather means less barbecuing and more indoor cooking. As the entertaining hub and family gathering place, it's no wonder the kitchen is the second top renovation project on the Houzz list. What are homeowners looking to update? Twenty-one percent want a new kitchen faucet.   From prep to clean-up, the kitchen faucet is a major workhorse - and a focal point - in the kitchen. So, if you're living with a builder basic, it's time for an upgrade. Pulldown faucets are a popular choice, such as the new Hensley kitchen faucet from Moen. Not only will it add a heightened aesthetic and functionality with its Spot Resist Stainless finish, but it also features Moen's innovative Reflex system, that self-retracts and securely docks to provide smooth operation and easy movement, offering a more convenient kitchen experience. In addition, the faucet features Microban antimicrobial protection - built-in to the faucet finish - to help inhibit the growth of stain- and odor-causing bacteria, mold and mildew. For more information, visit moen.com.   Get fired up Nothing feels better on a cold night than getting cozy by a fire, but be sure your fireplace is prepped for the season. For a wood-burning fireplace, inspect the chimney for nests or cracks. Next, be sure to clean it thoroughly to remove creosote, which is unburned fuel, to prevent unwanted fires. For gas-burning fireplaces, be sure the airways of the pilot and main burners are working properly and the blower is clean. Finally, be sure you have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, as well as an operational fire extinguisher nearby. Soon you'll (safely) enjoy the warm glow during cold winter days.   Focus on fixtures and fans As the days get shorter and there's less natural light, you may notice your fixtures a lot more. For added illumination and energy savings, update incandescent bulbs with brighter, ENERGY STAR-rated bulbs which use about 75 percent less energy and last 10 to 25 times longer. Next, focus on your ceiling fans. Start by cleaning the blades with a gentle detergent and switch the blades to rotate clockwise. Changing this setting pushes warm air down into the room, making it feel warmer while saving up to 15 percent on heating costs.   Check off your home improvement to-do list with these simple changes. Your home will look and feel fabulous, and be more efficient, as the cooler weather approaches.  
October
9

The U.S. economy is showing renewed vigor and is poised for a pickup in growth, according to a recent report by TD Economics, an affiliate of TD Bank.   Housing Market   "Job growth is gaining speed and confidence is rising," says TD Chief Economist, Craig Alexander. "The strength in job growth will support consumer spending and energize housing demand, shifting the economy into third gear."   After averaging 2.2 percent in 2014, the economy is forecasted to grow by 3 percent in 2015. With faster growth, the unemployment rate will continue to fall, reaching 5.5 percent by the end of next year.   Stronger job and income growth will support the housing market. "The dearth of new household formations is strongly related to the lack of job opportunities among young people," says Alexander. "As employment rises, the housing recovery should also pick up speed as these first-time buyers come back into the market."   Between January and August, the economy generated over 1.7 million jobs, nearly 300,000 more than the average over the previous three years. The acceleration in job growth has been accompanied by broader signs of labor market improvement. Businesses are reporting high levels of job openings and increasing confidence in the durability of the economic recovery.   With the expected improvement in growth over the next year, the economy is likely to have shown sufficient progress for the Federal Reserve to begin raising short-term rates.   "After almost seven years of zero interest rates, the recovery in 2015 will have finally moved to a stage where rates can begin to move higher," says Alexander. "But, this will occur gradually."   TD Economics expects the Federal Reserve to begin its rate hiking cycle mid next year and bring the fed funds rate up to 0.75 percent by the end of the year. By the end of 2016, the fed funds rate will likely only be at 1.75 percent – still high enough to stimulate the economy.     Source: TD Economics Published with permission from RISMedia.
October
4

(BPT) - Prioritizing a home-improvement wish list is never easy. Do you put design and aesthetics ahead of functionality? Or do you choose comfort and convenience over energy efficiency and cost savings?   appliance   If you've found yourself trying to figure out which home improvement project to tackle next, take another look at your list and see if some of your projects could actually double up on the benefits and give you style, comfort and energy efficiency all at once. The following projects are designed to do just that by giving you the most bang for your buck:   1. Appliance update - Does your dishwasher make so much noise you have to move to another room to have a conversation? Have you replaced the inner plumbing of your toilets at least once? These are indicators that you have older appliances in your home, and it may be that they are guzzling water, draining electricity and even disrupting your life. Installing new, Energy-Star appliances can save you money on electric and water bills, and also give your home a new, fresh look. Today's appliances are styled to give your bathroom or kitchen a beautiful new look, matching any color or style theme.   2. Redecorating - To some homeowners, redecorating equals added and unnecessary expense. But some quick and simple updates can dramatically change how you feel in your space. Fresh paint and rearranging can do wonders. Add window treatments to bring a look of luxury into your home and motorize them with Somfy technology to ensure a larger return on your investment. Motorization not only offers comfort and privacy at the touch of a button, but also makes your home smarter by reducing energy costs with sun sensors that automatically adjust your window treatments. Did you know the U.S. Department of Energy claims that closing draperies can help reduce heat gains in the summer by 33 percent and that opening drapes in the winter can reduce heat loss in a warm room by 10 percent? Motorize your shades or draperies to prevent the money figuratively going out the window. Plus you don't have to worry about kids or pets getting tangled in those dangling cords.   3. Back splashes - Installing a back splash around your kitchen will provide something more than just a nice-looking space. Back splashes are also good for protecting your walls from food stains, water damage and scratches caused by active cooks in the kitchen. They're easy to clean, too, saving you the expense of having to repaint the walls frequently. And they can increase your home's value just by giving your kitchen an updated look. If you notice good success with back splashes in your kitchen, consider carrying the project through to your bathrooms as well.   4. Ceiling fans - Give your furnace or air conditioner a break by circulating the already warm or cooled air with ceiling fans. They're designed to spin in one direction in the winter months, drawing down the warm air that hovers by the ceiling; conversely, they spin in the other direction in the summer to spread cool air throughout the room. Plus, ceiling fans come in so many styles and colors; you can easily find one to blend in with the theme of your rooms and decor.   5. Reusable plants - Home improvement projects aren't just for the inside of your house - your landscaping might be on the list, too. To make the most of your landscaping, choose perennial plants you can propagate over the years, saving you the expense of needing to buy new or replacement plants. Plus, by using plants like hostas, irises, lilacs and even roses, you can grow your gardens over the years to look exactly the way you want in shape, color, size and height.   With these five home improvement projects that give you more, it will be easier for you to prioritize your to-do list and really make it count.
October
2

According to a recent survey by BMO Harris Bank, the majority of Americans (80 percent) across all ages say they are knowledgeable about how to achieve a good credit rating. Half check their score once a year, while 30 percent check it every few years or less. One fifth do not know their score.   credit score   On average, Americans believe a good credit score is 660. Among millennials, that number drops to 625, and those aged 35-54 and 55 and older believe a good score is 675.   Overall findings indicate that while most Americans believe they have a solid understanding of what a good credit score is, there is confusion around attaining it. Harris offers a number of basic tips to manage and improve a credit score, including:   Check your credit report. This should be done at least 60-90 days before applying for a loan in order to make sure that the report is correct. If it is incorrect, notify a credit agency before you apply for a loan. Checking your score will not change the number. Pay your bills on time. When a bill is paid late, or is even 30 days past due, it can show up on your credit report for up to seven years. Use credit when needed. If you never use credit of any kind, it doesn't mean that you'll have a great credit history. Lenders generally prefer to see some type of satisfactory payment history.   Use your cards lightly. Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. You often can increase your score by paying the balance off and keeping it low.   Consider that credit needs to be built up. A credit score is something that can take time to improve, so don't expect immediate changes and plan ahead. Your credit behavior can take months to be reflected in your score.   "The good news here is most Americans are not far off in what they believe is considered a good score, which we generally tell customers is in the 680-720 range. However, there's some room for improvement," notes Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, Head of Retail Banking, BMO Harris Bank. "Encouraging education around credit scores is a major focus for us. A credit score stays with you as you go through your financial life, and can impact major decisions."   Survey results cited in this report are from interviews with an online sample of 1,004 Americans conducted between July 2nd and July 4th, 2014. The margin of error for a probability sample of this size is ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.   Source: BMO Harris Bank   Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
26

  When it comes to property investment, timing is everything. Ultimately, choosing the right time to enter the market will have a significant impact on the long-term success of your investment. But how can you as an investor know whether the timing is right? Global property portal Lamudi has compiled a list of 10 tell-tale signs that now is the time to start building your investment portfolio.   Investment   1. You are financially ready. You have saved enough for the down payment and you have also established your emergency fund. You have taken into account home maintenance expenses. Your credit history is good and you are able to meet all the financial obligations.   2. You have set your long-term goals. You have a clear picture in your mind of the purpose of your investment and you are flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances. You are not hesitant and when the timing is right, you are able to adapt to the market needs and the development of technologies.   3. You have done your research. You know the neighborhood of your future property well enough to foresee the coming trends and the possible changes in the community. You have researched all the schools in the area as well as the best commuting means and you are able to predict the next homebuyers needs.   4. You have chosen a stable economy. The area is financially stable, economic trends are promising and equities are surging. No demographic fluctuation or no irregular variation of population have been recorded in the area.   5. You understand the country's policies regarding real estate. The policies of the region promote and encourage a positive, innovative environment as well as drive further economic growth. The tax policy in the country is positive for homeowners. Global innovation index is rising in the area.   6. Infrastructure projects are underway and likely to lead to an increase in property values. The infrastructure of the area is being developed with a focus on: transport, energy, solid waste and water management developments.   7. The region is moving toward sustainable development. The region's awareness of global and local environmental issues is increasing, the demand for eco-friendly homes as well as for sustainable rural and urban development is rising. As more and more people head toward sustainable living, investing in sustainable property will increase its value in the future.   8. The location draws a lot of interest. Whether it is the best travel destination or the hot jobs spot, the location is always on the top of the search engine. It has become a successful startup hub already or is planning to do so in the coming years, driving a lot of job seekers into the area. The number of enrolled students is increasing every year, the area draws interest of international students.   9. You have found a reliable real estate agent. If you are an overseas buyer, it is particularly crucial to make sure you have a good representative on the ground. Your real estate agent is trustworthy and knows the local market well enough to be able to help you make the choice.   10. You have researched local differences in the property market. Whether you plan to invest in a residential property and turn it into a rental or an office space, you are fully aware of all cultural differences that might occur when you deal with a property seller.   Source: Lamudi Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
18

  School is back in session, but many people still have questions about a subject that is rarely taught in the classroom: their credit. Here, credit reporting bureau Experian explains the truth behind these common credit questions.   Credit Score What is my credit report used for? Credit reports often are referenced to help lenders quickly and objectively decide whether to grant consumers credit and under what terms. Information from credit reports can be used for select employment, rental housing, licensing, insurance and other specific business relationship decisions. Consumers also can check their credit reports for signs of identity theft or use them to better understand what influences credit so they can make more informed financial decisions.   Typical credit reports include the following main categories of information:  
  • Identification: the consumer's name, current and previous addresses, telephone number, reported variations of his or her Social Security number, date of birth, employer and spouse's name
  • Account history: specific information about each account, such as date opened, credit limit or loan amount, balance, monthly payment, payment status and payment history
  • Public records: bankruptcy filings, court records of tax liens and monetary judgments
  • Inquiries: a record of those who have reviewed a consumer's credit information
  How often are credit reports updated? In general, creditors forward information to the credit reporting agencies monthly after payments for that billing cycle are posted. Because billing cycles vary, account updates are received by the credit reporting agencies throughout the month. However, it is important to note that lenders are not required to report account information to the national credit reporting agencies. Participation is entirely voluntary. What do I need to know about my credit score? Credit scoring is a separate process from credit reporting. Lenders and other credit grantors obtain consumers' scores by selecting the scoring methods that are most predictive of risk for their specific kind of business. There is not one credit score. In fact, there are hundreds of credit scoring systems used by lenders. However, a credit score results from information in a consumer's credit report, translating various score factors into a simple number. This enables lenders to make more objective, consistent lending decisions - and make them more fairly and quickly.   Consumers also may track their own credit scores from a number of sources, including Experian.com. Any score consumers receive through a consumer score disclosure service, such as a credit reporting agency, will explain what the number means in terms of general credit risk and will describe the factors from the credit report that most influenced the score.   Credit score factors are the elements from consumers' credit reports that shape their credit scores. They could include:  
  • Payment history
  • Credit usage
  • Average age of accounts
  • Account types
  • Inquiries
  Factors like total debt, types of accounts, number of late payments and age of accounts affect credit scores; however, information such as marital status, age and occupation does not. Credit factors indicate what elements of a consumer's credit report most affected the credit score at the time it was calculated.   Source: Experian Published with permission from RISMedia.
September
11

(BPT) - Buying a new house is an exciting time in your life. Because it is one of the most important investments you'll make for yourself and your family, there are many important factors to consider. Before making a purchase, take these four questions into account. Having the answers will allow you to enjoy your new home now and in the years ahead.   home 1. What exterior color palette speaks to you? Your home is a reflection of your personality and can be an extension of your lifestyle. When buying or designing a new house, contemplate its curb appeal. First impressions matter, so it's important to consider architectural style, exterior color and details like trim and landscaping. Coordinate the trim, soffits and doors with the primary siding color for a polished look. To help, look to popular and complementary color combinations developed by the color professionals at James Hardie: https://ift.tt/1nG2Svx.   2. Is your home protected from environmental elements? With today's ever-changing climate, extreme weather is a reality in all corners of the country. From hurricanes and blizzards to wind and wildfires, select siding and trim products that help protect your home. Consider your options carefully. Vinyl siding can melt and wood is susceptible to rot.   3. Is your new home built using sustainable products? Green building is popular these days, in part because an energy-efficient home can save a homeowner money on heating and cooling bills. By choosing a home clad in 100 percent sustainable and efficient material, you're consuming less energy and reducing your environmental footprint.   4. What maintenance will your new home require? Selecting or buying a home made with low-maintenance building materials can lower the chances of large ticket home repairs, or prevent them altogether. Wood siding and trim requires frequent repainting or replacement, and vinyl may warp, melt or fade. Considering durable and longer-lasting fiber cement siding can minimize the need for repairs.
September
8

Mornings on school days can be mayhem for families. In fact, nearly half of moms say that their children run out of time to get ready in the morning, often skipping breakfast to catch a ride to school. Beat the meltdown and ensure your child eats a well-balanced breakfast with these morning hacks. back to school 1. Stage a path to the door the night before so everyone knows where they're going.   2. Select outfits at night. Be sure to check weather in advance and plan accordingly.   3. Pack lunches ahead of time. After dinner, pack the non-chilled items in the lunchbox and leave it on the counter for quick packing of cold items in the morning.   4. Brush teeth and wash face in the morning shower, or take baths the night before.   5. Sunshine helps you wake up. Open the shades and let the light in.   6. Place jackets and backpacks in a central location to grab on the way out. Use a hanging shoe organizer with pockets to keep essentials and accessories by the door.   7. Reward with what works for your child. For example, electronics and other activities they get to do in the car.   8. Motivate and track time with a music playlist. Everything is more fun and moves more quickly with tunes, and you can track how much time has passed.   9. Care for yourself. Have a workout bag in the car and consider getting up earlier to have some personal time before the day gets going.   Source: Johnsonville Foods Published with permission from RISMedia.
August
26

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.
August
25

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.  

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  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.