Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

Spring Cleaning is a Good Time for Preventive Home Maintenance

April 19, 2013 3:10 am

 As homeowners are starting spring cleaning projects, they should also give a thought to insurance too. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department recommends taking the time for minor fixes now, to save homeowner insurance claims later.

"Making sure things are in good working order this spring can make a big difference in home safety, as well as insurance matters," said Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine.

One of the most commonly overlooked areas during spring cleaning is behind your washer and dryer. Lint can escape a poorly-connected dryer filter hose and build up against the wall, causing a fire hazard.  Household appliance fires are one of the most common reasons given for homeowner insurance claims. Other homeowner damage and claims can be prevented with these simple tips:      

Kitchen fires – The majority of fires begin in the kitchen due to food left unattended on the stove or the ignition of built-up grease. Thoroughly clean the oven and stove top.

Fireplace ashes – After cleaning out the fireplace, don't discard ashes in a combustible container and don't store them in, or around, the house or garage.  Store discarded ashes away from your home and be sure you have poured water into the container so that any remaining embers are extinguished.

Washing machine hose – Check the washing machine hoses for dry rot, cracking and tightening. Hoses should be replaced every few years. Water to the unit should be turned off when not in use.

Refrigerator ice maker line – Check lines annually since they can become pinched and start to leak, causing damage to flooring and cabinets. 

Sinks and toilet valves – As your home ages, regularly check all plumbing fixtures and connections. Look for corrosion and rust around valves. If your home is more than 20 years old, consider having a plumber check and replace all connections and hoses. 

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Insurance

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

First-Quarter Economic Growth Stronger Than Expected

April 18, 2013 3:10 am

Recent data indicate that economic growth in the first quarter has accelerated to an above-trend—but likely unsustainable—pace of 3.2 percent, according to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group. A significant buildup in business inventories provided a one-time boost to first quarter growth and is expected to resume a more balanced level in the second quarter. Meanwhile, several other key indicators late in the first quarter, including a downbeat March jobs report, were soft, presaging a more moderate pace for the rest of the year. The Group expects growth to come in at approximately 2.3 percent for 2013—still modest by recovery standards, but a pickup from the 2012 and 2011 pace of 1.7 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively.

“The April forecast reflects the growing realization that 2013 is off to a good start from a GDP perspective, but we expect the stronger-than-expected first quarter pace to slow somewhat in the second quarter,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “On the downside, tax hikes, sequestration, and the euro-zone crisis still pose significant risks to our forecast, and the fiscal tightening will likely affect consumer spending and other economic activity in coming months. However, the housing recovery continues to broaden and may be more robust than we anticipate, helping to offset fiscal headwinds.”

The continued housing recovery and rising home prices are expected to provide a cushion to growth this year and present the most likely source of upside to the forecast. Residential investment has made a positive or neutral contribution to economic growth for seven consecutive quarters, ending in 2012, with similar activity expected in 2013. Housing’s contribution to growth also continues to climb, as sales reached multi-year highs in the early stages of 2013.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Tips for Throwing a Successful Housewarming Party

April 18, 2013 3:10 am

After you move into a new home and your family is settled, a housewarming party is the perfect way to introduce your home to your friends, extended family and new neighbors. In order to ensure a successful soiree, proper planning must be taken into effect. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:

Decide on a budget.
The very first step is to decide on a budget. Depending on the space, you may need to limit your guest list. If money is a bit of an issue, stick to close friends only and consider having a potluck. Once a budget has been determined, you can continue making decisions from there.

What kind of party will it be?
You can mold your party into any sort you'd like. Choose a theme or have a costume party, if you'd like, but be sure to tell your guests well in advance. In addition, plan some activities or games. If you are blending many different groups together, try a nice icebreaking game that will assist your guests in getting to know each other. If themes and games don't suit your taste, create a playlist to set the tone for your party. To really set the tone, music is a must.

Make your menu decisions early. Decide on the menu early so you can give yourself plenty of time to go shopping for food. Cook or prepare anything you can in advance to give yourself some breathing room on the day of the party. Have some vegetarian options available, and be sure to choose items that adhere to your budget.

Be a good host and introduce everyone early on. Be sure to introduce your guests to each other upon their arrival. If you are learning names for the first time yourself, introducing that person to someone else is a great way to make sure you remember it yourself. Walk your guests around the party when they arrive and be sure to offer and refill the guests' beverages.

As always, display gratitude for your guests' time.
Be sure to send thank you notes, when appropriate, to thank your guests for their time and any gift they may have given you. Share any photos or videos you may have captured at the party or give out small favors the night of. If one of your guests has an event of their own in the near future, try to make a point to attend. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way.

It's not hard to make your housewarming event a great success, but planning is crucial toward achieving this goal. Start your planning as early as possible and enjoy!

Source: Relocation.com Blog

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Tips for Working with Professional Landscapers

April 18, 2013 3:10 am

If you're trying to sell your home this spring, working with a professional can boost your home's curb appeal and attract possible buyers to the door. As any landscaper wil tell you, the condition of your lawn can have a big effect on the value of your home. If you plan on hiring some help, here are a few tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Talk to several landscapers before deciding to hire one. Scheduling consultations with multiple landscapers is important. Have them come survey your property and make recommendations on what needs to be done. Use them as consultants, helping you narrow down the work that needs to be done versus extra frills you would like to add to the process. For smaller tasks such as mowing, weeding, gardening or raking, you may want to consider hiring a local teenager or family member in order to save money.

Request estimates. Now that you know what it is you want to have done, request an estimate from at least three of the consultants you met with. Depending on the company, costs could range greatly and the differences could be thousands of dollars. According to the Consumers' Checkbook, a tree-removal job could cost anywhere from $1,935 to $6,300 and lawn care could range from $229 to $805. Finding out what each company will charge you for the job is crucial to staying on budget.

Don't be hasty when it comes to saying 'yes.' If your landscaper suggests an add-on of any sort, think it through before OK-ing it. Oftentimes, the landscaper you hire will recommend various fertilizers, treatment or sprayings, but make sure there is a good reason and necessity for it. The more your landscaper provides, the higher your bill will be.

Quite possibly the most important step: Don't pay until the job is finished. If possible, pay nothing until the job is fully completed. If the landscaper requires a payment, do so with a credit card. If the job isn't finished to your satisfaction, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. By not paying up front, you also have more leverage in terms of ensuring that the job is completed the way you want it. Keep this in mind while you're hiring professional help.

Hiring a professional landscaper can improve your curb appeal by leaps and bounds. However, keep these tips in mind to make sure you get the most for your money.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Consumers' Checkbook

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Deep Clean Forgotten Areas of Your Home

April 17, 2013 3:08 am

(Family Features) Common household items can suffer from the wear and tear of everyday use, but a few simple cleaning tricks will help keep them in good condition and extend their lifespan, saving you money and angst in the long run. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Dryer: Make sure to empty the dryer’s lint trap on a regular basis. Keeping this often forgotten area lint-free will increase the efficiency of a standard tumble dryer by allowing warm, moist air to flow freely out of the appliance as clothing dries.

Additionally, keep in mind that some brands of dryer sheets can leave an invisible film on the lint trap. To test yours, run water through it - if it holds water, it’s suffering from build-up. If this is the case, scrub it with a stiff brush and soapy water every six months.

Carpet: Vacuum at least once a week to remove the dust and debris that settles in carpet fibers on a regular basis. If you have shedding pets, or family members w ho suffer from allergies, you may need to vacuum more frequently. Deep clean your carpet at least twice per year to remove the dirt, stains and allergens vacuums can leave behind.

Shower Head: If the water pressure in your shower is less than ideal, chances are your shower head is suffering from mineral deposits that inevitably accumulate over time. To promote better water flow, remove the shower head from the wall, if possible, and soak in white vinegar for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly in the sink, reattach to wall and turn on the water to observe your shower head working at its best again.

If you can’t remove the shower head from the wall, bring the solution directly to the problem: slip a rubber band tightly over the shower head, fill a plastic bag with white vinegar and submerge the shower head until all holes are covered. Secure in place with the rubber band and soak 15 to 20 minutes before removing.

Refrigerator: Commonly overlooked, the refrigerator’s condenser coils – often located in the back on older units and beneath the doors on newer models – are instrumental in allowing the appliance to cool properly. Since dust, grime and pet hair can build up on the coils, it’s important to clean them twice a year to ensure your refrigerator is running as efficiently as possible. To do this, unplug the unit for safety, then locate the condenser coils. Vacuum them with the wand attachment of your vacuum, going back over any stubborn areas with a stiff brush if needed. If there’s still grime left, you can use a rag and warm, soapy water, but make sure to let the coils dry completely before plugging the unit in again.

Once they’re on your radar, these simple cleaning tips are easy to incorporate into your routine. With a little time and upkeep, you’ll find the items you use on a daily basis are in better shape than ever before.

Source: Bissell

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Consumer Spending Index on a Steady Course

April 17, 2013 3:08 am

The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) ticked down slightly in March, but has remained relatively steady with a reading over 4.0 the past five months. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

"The drastic ups and downs among factors including wages, home prices and unemployment claims have subsided, delivering more stability to the Index, which remains at a level consistent with real personal consumption growth of around 2 percent at an annual rate," said Patricia Buckley, director, economic policy and analysis, Deloitte Services LP, and author of the monthly Index. "Rising real home prices and small but steady consumer spending increases are among factors suggesting the country may be poised for growth this year, should the economy avoid negative impacts from Europe's financial troubles or the debt ceiling debate this summer."

The Index, which comprises four components — tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices — fell slightly this month to 4.12 from a reading of 4.37 the previous month.

"Consumers have maintained their level of spending in recent months and retailers should be encouraged by the economic signals," said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader. "However, retailers do not have the wind entirely at their backs this month: Consumers with their tax refunds may be a welcome sight in April, but the month will come without the usual Easter holiday to boost sales. Retailers should simultaneously focus on consumers' pent up demand and tax refunds, coaxing shoppers to leave behind the winter's chill and replace the items that were on the back burner, while giving them a promotional incentive to combine those purchases in the retailer's store."

Highlights of the Index include:

Tax Burden: The tax burden moved down only slightly from the previous month, but was up 2.01 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Initial Unemployment Claims: Claims moved down to 355,750 in February, a 3.1 percentage point decrease from a year ago.

Real Wages: Hourly real wages modestly dipped to $8.74 from the previous month, but remain relatively flat from the previous year.

Real New Home Prices: Real new home prices moved up 0.6 percent to $106,027.

Source: Deloitte

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Low Inventories Driving Permit Growth

April 17, 2013 3:08 am

While recent economic reports suggest that home building took a pause at the beginning of 2013, leading indicators point to more growth for housing in the months ahead.

Per data from the Census Bureau, housing starts were down 8.5 percent in January. However, all of the loss was in the multifamily segment, where construction fell from an unusually high annualized rate of 365,000 in December to a steadier 277,000 rate in January. On a year-over-year basis, starts of multifamily units in properties with five or more units remain up 35 percent. Single-family starts were virtually unchanged in January at a 613,000 rate, up 0.8 percent from December.

Narrowing in on the custom home building market, roughly defined as owner-built or owner-hired contractor-built homes, quarterly Census data indicate a declining market share as other forms of home building pick up. As of the end of 2012, custom home building fell to a quarterly total of 30,000 starts, placing the one-year moving average of market share of total single-family starts at 24 percent. This is down from the cycle high of 31.5 percent set during 2009, although the share remains elevated compared to historical conditions.

The NAHB Housing Market Index (HMI) continued its pause in February with an index value of 46, down one point from the December and January level of 47. Builders remain just shy of the 50 mark, at which a majority of builders are optimistic versus those that are not. Nevertheless, the index rose consistently from April to December 2012 as builders saw more serious buyers in their models and offices.

Consistent with this long-run improvement of building conditions, housing permits continued their steady increase to a high not seen since mid-2008. The Census Bureau reported total permit activity was up 1.8 percent and the rise was evenly spread across single-family, up 1.9 percent and multifamily, up 1.5 percent.

New home sales increased significantly in January, with the months’-supply measure of inventory dipping to the lowest value in eight years as housing demand continues to return. The Census Bureau reports that on an annual seasonally-adjusted basis, new homes sold at a 437,000 pace in January, up 15.6 percent from December and 28.9 percent from a year ago. The improvement was broad based in all four Census regions. The surge in sales and already low inventories reduced the months’ supply to 4.1, the lowest since March 2005.

Existing home inventory is down as well. Per the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), existing home sales increased 0.4 percent in January from a downwardly revised level in December, and were up 9.1 percent from the same period a year ago. Total housing inventory at the end of January decreased 4.9 percent from the previous month to 1.74 million existing homes for sale. At the current sales rate, the January 2013 inventory represents a 4.2-month supply compared to a 4.5-month supply in December, and a 6.2-month supply of homes a year ago. The January housing supply is the lowest since the 4.2-month supply reported in April 2005.

And the NAR Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) foreshadows more growth. A forward-looking indicator based on signed contracts of existing home sales, the PHSI increased 4.5 percent in January 2013 to 105.9, up sharply from the downwardly revised 101.3 in December. The January 2013 PHSI was 9.5 percent higher than the same period a year ago and is the highest since April 2010 when the home buyer tax credit was expiring. Prior to the tax credit, the last time the PHSI was this high was the 107.9 level reached in February 2007.

Home sales are certainly receiving a boost from continued improved housing affordability conditions. Low interest rates helped produce a slight gain in nationwide housing affordability amid relatively stable house prices in the final quarter of 2012. The NAHB Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) rose to 74.9 percent, up from 74.1 percent in the third quarter. The HOI is the share of new and existing homes sold in a quarter affordable to a family earning the median income. An HOI of 74.9 means that 74.9 percent of all homes sold in the last three months of 2012 were affordable to families earning the national median income ($65,000).

Low inventories and improved housing demand conditions inevitably mean home prices are rising. The monthly Federal Housing Finance Agency national price indexes were 1.4 percent for the last quarter of 2012 and 5.9 percent for the year. The quarterly Case-Shiller national indexes were up 2 percent for the quarter and 7.3 percent for 2012.

Rising prices are also likely connected to improved foreclosure statistics. For example, recent data from the Mortgage Bankers Association National Delinquency Survey indicated that the foreclosure starts rate fell to 0.7 percent at the end of 2012, the lowest reading since the first half of 2007 and the largest quarterly decline ever recorded in the survey. However, rising home prices may affect the housing affordability and the level of investor and cash-buyer housing demand in the months to come.

Home prices are not the only costs going up. Recent Producer Price Index data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the prices for certain building materials have risen sharply. Gypsum prices rose 12 percent in January from December, mirroring a steep increase at the beginning of 2012, and are now 27 percent above year-ago levels. The pattern of price increases for wood products has more closely reflected improvements in the housing market. Producers of gypsum and OSB have blamed the recent price increases on reduced productive capacity (mothballed plants and equipment) following the long drought in housing.

Amid these market updates, NAHB recently took a deeper dive on a few analytical topics. New research examines the role that the wave of recent refinancing activity has had on household mortgage debt burdens. In fact, refinancings now account for 72.5 percent of all mortgage applications. Since 2010, the share of such refinanced mortgages that yield a lower loan amount has exceeded those that produce at least a 5 percent larger amount. Combined with lower interest rates, these actions have been part of the deleveraging process that has helped heal household balance sheets.

In another review, NAHB economists examined bond market growth and the role of asset-backed securities, finding that between 1980 and 2007, mortgage-related and asset-backed securities accounted for the majority of growth in the U.S. bond market.

Finally, NAHB recently published the Remodelers’ Cost of Doing Business Study, a nationwide survey of residential remodelers detailing information regarding income statements and balance sheets for 2011. Among the findings of the report, the average residential remodeling company collected about $1.1 million in total revenue and reported a 3 percent net profit margin.

Source: NAHB blog, Eye on Housing

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Americans Hold Dangerous Misperceptions about Risks of Heavy Drinking

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

At-risk drinking (four or more drinks per day for men; three or more for women) is common in the U.S. but many people don't consider it a problem. According to a recent national survey of American adults released this month by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a nonprofit provider of mental health screening programs, half of all men and one-third of women had at least one at-risk drinking episode in the last year. Furthermore, one-fifth of Americans believe that regardless of how much a person drinks, it isn't a problem unless there are negative impacts on their personal relationships or work performance.

"These findings reinforce just how important National Alcohol Screening Day is," said Douglas G. Jacobs , M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and medical director of Screening for Mental Health, Inc. "Despite public opinion, at-risk drinking increases your chances of developing alcohol use disorders—such as alcoholism—as well as other physical and mental health problems. In the U.S., about 18 million people have an alcohol use disorder. The screenings allow individuals to assess their drinking habits and have an opportunity to connect with local support resources."

The telephone poll, conducted by Anderson Robbins Research, surveyed 1,000 American adults between March 22 and 28 and gathered information on drinking habits, opinions, and perceptions. Interviews were conducted by professional interviewers. Respondents were randomly selected for inclusion in the survey and were interviewed on cell phones and landlines.

Other key findings include:

• Seven in 10 respondents (68 percent) said they'd be likely to speak with a health care provider if they thought they might have a problem with alcohol, but this drops to just half (51 percent) among those who had the most at-risk drinking episodes (20+ times) in the past year.

• One-fifth (20 percent) feel that drinking heavily is a phase that many kids go through, but that it will not hurt them in the long run. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), people who started drinking before age 15 were 50 percent more likely to become alcohol dependent as adults. The same was true to a lesser extent for those who started drinking between ages 15 and 17.

• At-risk drinking is highly correlated with age and gender. Men under age 35 are the most likely (71 percent) to report at-risk drinking and women over age 55 are the least likely (21 percent).

• Over three-quarters (77 percent) of Americans think pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether, while one-fifth (20 percent) think an occasional glass of wine is fine. According to NIAAA, no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Consuming any kind of alcohol can potentially harm an unborn child.

Source: Screening for Mental Health

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

Gas Heat Pumps - the Next Generation Boiler?

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

Gas heat pumps (both gas engine and absorption systems) are a well-proven product in the commercial building and industrial sector. Gas heat pumps could play a major role in the residential heating market in the future.

The first products have already entered the residential market (8 million boilers are sold across Europe every year), and some predict a golden future for the technology - but the market is at an embryonic stage today, with the first products only just hitting the market and many more still under development.

"The technology is full of potential," says Lindsay Sugden, head of Delta-ee's heat pump research. "We see serious effort from major industry players to bring more products to market, which will create serious competition for gas boilers. Sales today are only just getting going. Successful product launches and falling costs will be critical if sales volumes are to reach tens of thousands of units a year by 2020."

New in-depth research on gas heat pumps by Delta-ee, which analyses the current market and outlook for residential scale gas heat pumps in Europe, indicates that the best potential for gas heat pumps lies in markets such as the UK, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy.
"Four of the five biggest boiler companies in Europe have either developed their own gas heat pump, or are working with a specialist manufacturer to offer one," says Sugden. "Of course this isn't the only low carbon technology the heating industry is backing, but it's in the mix - and also being backed by several major European utilities."

Four reasons why gas heat pumps may have a strong future:

• Lower energy bills: A GHP will provide lower running costs than a condensing gas boiler - improvements in efficiency over time will increase these savings. But the capital cost will have to fall substantially from current or future low volume production levels to provide a compelling customer proposition.

• Consumer and installer acceptance: Gas is familiar and trusted, particularly in gas-dominated markets like the Netherlands, UK and parts of Germany - making gas heat pumps a more straight-forward sale than some other low carbon options - as well as relatively straightforward to install compared to many other low-carbon heating options.

• Retrofitability: New GHPs poised for launch in the next year provide a relatively good fit with residential heating systems - relatively compatible with current heat distribution systems, and relatively compact in size.

• Low carbon credentials: GHP can give carbon reduction relative to a gas boiler by 30 percent, and uses refrigerants with low or zero global warming potential.

Hurdles which will need to be overcome first

Robust, reliable products working at a high efficiency and at low enough prices is a must - further investment is required for several products to reach the market, and product developers must reach desired specifications. Awareness of gas heat pumps amongst policy makers and other stakeholders is low. This will need to change to ensure the technology is integrated into incentive frameworks, standards and wider government policy. Installers will need to have confidence in the product, and be trained to install it. And existing or new supply chains and distribution networks will need to incorporate the technology or be built.

Source: Delta Energy & Environment

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags:

A Record Number of Homeowners Are Starting Their Own Vegetable Gardens This Spring

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

According to Hometalk, a social network dedicated to home and garden projects, more American homeowners are starting their own vegetable gardens this spring. According to the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) 2013 Winter Gardening Trends Research Report, "The number of households growing edible plants is expected to increase by 11.3% for 2013." According to a survey by The National Gardening Association, food gardening in the U.S. is on the rise.

Factors such as the rising price of food crops, concerns about food crop safety, and a new rise in digital gardening information have contributed to the upsurge of households growing edible plants. From university extension service websites to interactive gardening forums, more information and better information about growing vegetables are free and accessible. While the same old gardening challenges persist, like insect control and soil chemistry, Internet gardening information gives first time gardeners a leg up. Of course, gardening books always existed, but a homeowner would have to go to the library or book store to seek out a gardening book, which means that he'd already need to be interested in starting a vegetable garden. The Web, through social networks and viral blog posts, has introduced the idea of DIY vegetable gardening to the desktops of people who would never have considered it.

"Vegetable gardening is one of the most popular topics on Hometalk. Nothing compares to the excitement of seeing your hard work bear fruit (or vegetables!) so naturally, gardeners are inclined to share those success stories with like-minded people," says Miriam Illions, the director of Community Development on Hometalk.com. "Through these posts, you learn the specifics of how they achieved their success. You can then implement great ideas that might take you years to figure out through trial and error on your own."

Source: HomeTalk

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tags: