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

Choosing Your Most Sustainable Mortgage Option

May 8, 2013 1:08 am

I recently ran across some good advice from Scott Sheldon (bayarearealestatetrends.com) who blogs about how the shrinking inventory of available housing is taking some homebuyers' focus off the bottom line.

Sheldon says pre-approved buyers typically focus on purchase price, when in most cases, it’s the monthly payment over time relative to the purchase price that dictates whether or not that particular property can be identified as an opportunity.

Sheldon goes on to say that consumers are beginning to place more emphasis on sustainable payment over time considering they could be paying more for the property than anticipated. And today's real estate market conditions are causing many buyers to switch mortgage loan programs during the pre-approval phase and well into after they’ve gotten into contract.

While qualifying for the mortgage is the end result, to perform on a purchase contract, Sheldon says the appropriate loan program promoting long-term payment sustainability becomes the next critically important piece of the puzzle.

In his blog, Sheldon details the following borrowing options:

• Conventional loans represent the lowest cost combination of rate and payment over time. This type of financing represents the cream of the crop available in the market today. When it comes to conventional loans, twenty percent down to avoid monthly mortgage insurance, with the lowest possible payment being 3 percent is common.

• FHA loans—including first-time homebuyer options—are typically geared toward consumers entering the real estate market for the first time. This type of financing, however, is eligible for anyone and is not solely a first-time homebuyer program.

• Fannie Mae's Homepath.com program offers two main advantages: no appraisal requirement and no monthly mortgage insurance requirement. The cost of these two advantages comes in the form of a higher risk based pricing, an inherently higher cost loan.

• VA loans for military families through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs guarantees loans for veterans looking to purchase real estate. The program allows for 100 percent financing and no money down and does not contain any monthly mortgage insurance.

Source: www.bayarearealestatetrends.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Natural Fun Takes a Backseat to Tech Time for Kids & Families

May 8, 2013 1:08 am

From weekday afternoons huddled in front of gaming consoles to weekends spent downloading the latest smartphone app, kids today spend a significant amount of time indoors tethered to technology. A survey commissioned by Busch Gardens® found that 85 percent of moms worry that their children don't experience enough natural, unstructured outdoor playtime – the kind of activity so common in previous generations.

According to the survey of nearly 900 moms conducted by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Busch Gardens®, kids spend only two hours during the week participating in natural, unstructured activities such as playing tag, riding bikes, and exploring nature, and these activity levels increase only slightly on the weekends to a little more than two hours.

"As parents, we remember our own moms opening up the screen door on a summer day and telling us 'go outside and play,' and we did, playing with friends from the neighborhood, roller skating and concocting elaborate games," said Stacy DeBroff , founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting. "We fear we're raising a generation of kids with 'Natural Fun Deficiency' who rarely play outside unless as part of planned activities with a coach nearby carrying a whistle and a clipboard."

Based on the survey results, both moms and kids see technology as a deterrent to kids playing outside – 68 percent of moms think their kids spend too much time plugged in, and 44 percent of kids prefer texting to kickball.

However, the obstacles to outdoor-based family time include more than just technology. More than two-thirds of moms feel that family fun often takes a backseat to day-to-day obligations.

Here are some tips to combat 'Natural Fun Deficiency':

For Kids
• Keep it Low-Key: Don't worry about creating a master outdoor curriculum for kids. Instead, encourage them to build a fort, suggest they invite the new neighbor kids over for a backyard soccer game, or challenge them to make the ultimate mud pie.

• Team Up with Fellow Moms: When it comes to planning play dates, the survey showed that almost 60 percent of moms never or rarely think about organizing an outdoor-focused get-together, despite the fact that 75 percent of moms want their kids to be more open to outdoor adventure. Work with other moms to banish time in front of the TV or gaming console and instead suggest that kids go outside for a backyard scavenger hunt or game of kickball.

• Group Learning Activities: Surprise the kids with learning experiences disguised as pure fun.

For Families

• Plan a Family Getaway: According to the survey results, 70 percent of moms rely on vacations as a time for kids to unplug and get away from technology. Planning a family getaway can be a great way for everyone to set aside pressures and obligations and re-connect as a family.

• Explore the Great Outdoors: To jumpstart natural, outdoor fun, identify vacation spots with enough outdoor activities to entice everyone in the family. For example, a beach vacation offers opportunities for swimming, water sports, and beach exploration, while a visit to a theme park provides everything from thrill rides to water fun to animal encounters in natural settings.

• The Family Who Plays Together, Stays Together: Support kids' newfound outdoor experiences by creating fun, easy-to-arrange family activities. Take advantage of extended daylight hours to eat dinner on the patio or schedule an impromptu picnic dinner in the backyard. Or walk the dog as a family each weekend morning.

Source: Busch Gardens

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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What Will Really Make You Happy?

May 7, 2013 1:08 am

The idea of a happy and meaningful life has become unnecessarily complicated in some circles, says author and certified positive psychology coach Lynda Wallace, who left a high-powered executive career with Johnson & Johnson to pursue her real passion—helping individuals and groups achieve greater happiness and success.

“Happiness has been appropriately cited as a goal in political debates on issues from taxation to the social safety net to marriage equality, but the debate is often confused,” says Wallace, author of “A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life,” which topped Amazon’s Self-Help Best Seller list.

“Some people claim that happiness is all in your DNA or bank account. The truth is that happiness is largely a matter of everyday choices and actions. There are straightforward, well-researched and effective things every one of us can do to create greater happiness in our lives and in the lives of those we care about.”

The essential elements of a happy life are not mysterious, she says.

Research shows that the happiest people do four basic things that make the difference: they focus on what is good and positive in their lives; cope effectively with life’s inevitable challenges; develop strong relationships; and pursue meaningful goals.

“We can all become happier by putting our efforts into these areas,” Wallace says.

One of the first steps we can take is to get past some of the common misperceptions about happiness that can stand in our way. Wallace offers these four examples.

• Misconception 1: Happiness is about getting the big things right. It’s natural to think that if we were suddenly rich, beautiful and living on the beach somewhere, we’d be happy. But that type of good fortune turns out to have a surprisingly small impact on happiness. The happiest people are most often not those in the most enviable circumstances, but those who cultivate positive emotional outlooks and actions. So how can we do it? “Take concrete steps to practice optimism, gratitude, kindness and self-compassion in your everyday life,” says Wallace. “The cumulative effect of those everyday choices can have a tremendous impact on how you experience your life.”

• Misconception 2: Happy people suppress negative emotions. Happy people actually experience sadness, grief, worry and other so-called negative emotions nearly as frequently as unhappy people do. The difference is what happens when those feelings occur. Happier people are generally able to experience negative feelings without losing hope for the future. “They give themselves permission to feel sad, angry or lonely, but they remain confident that things will get better. As a result, their sadness progresses into hope and action rather than regressing into anxiety and despair.”

• Misconception 3: Pursuing happiness is self-centered. The strongest of all conclusions drawn by researchers into emotional well-being is that our happiness is determined more by our relationships with other people than by any other single factor. The happiest people build their lives around good, trusting relationships. “If other priorities are getting in the way of your relationships,” says Wallace, “take steps to shift the balance back to where it will really make a difference.”

• Misconception 4: I’ll be happy when I achieve my goals. Have you ever noticed that when someone wins the Super Bowl or an Academy Award, or when you achieve a long-sought ambition, that wonderful sense of accomplishment and happiness seems to fade faster than you’d expect? “That’s just the way our brains work,” says Wallace. “Committed goal pursuit is one of the keys to a happy life, but most of the happiness we get from striving for goals comes while we’re making progress toward them, not after we achieve them. That’s why it’s so important that we choose goals that are in synch with what we love and value, and that we make a conscious effort to enjoy them along the way.”

Source: www.lyndawallace.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Garden Detective: Clues to Determine and Deter Unwanted Animals in Your Yard and Garden

May 7, 2013 1:08 am

Holmes and Watson, Riggs and Murtaugh, Starsky and Hutch—when it comes to sleuthing out just what critter is munching on your spring garden, you may feel like your partnership with Mother Nature is as contentious as any that ever graced the big, or small screen. After all, how are you supposed to fight the "crime" of a decimated garden if you can't identify the suspect who's been devouring your daylilies?

And while Mother Nature may happily grace your garden with rain, warmth and sunshine, she may not always be on the same team when it comes to keeping critters out of your gardens and landscapes. Foraging pests can destroy your yard literally overnight.

It is possible to thwart garden thieves, but first you have to know what animals have been dining on your plants and shrubs. Once you've identified the culprits, you can settle on effective animal repellents that will persuade pests to leave your garden alone. Here are some facts to get your detective work under way:

Devouring deer - Ragged bites, typically a foot or more above the ground indicate deer damage. Deer are notorious for devouring gardens and landscapes. You'll see them, and their offspring, every year, making dinner of your daisies, daylilies and other ornamental plants.

Ravenous rabbits - If plant damage is low to the ground—a few inches above the soil—and includes stems clipped cleanly at an angle, you're probably dealing with rabbits. These four-legged foragers will eat just about any kind of vegetation, including your fabulous flowers, bushes and other woody plants. If you don't want bunnies nesting and raising families near your garden, remove brush and other debris that could provide them with shelter.

Voracious voles - When flower bulbs disappear from the ground or plant roots go missing, chances are you have voles—mouse-like creatures that burrow underground and that are highly destructive to gardens. Exit holes are further indications that voles are tunneling under your garden. Teeth marks around the base of trees, droppings or trails in the grass can also indicate the presence of voles.

Greedy groundhogs - Mounds of dirt beside burrow entrances are a sure sign of groundhogs, a garden pest that eats just about every type of green plant. Groundhogs can destroy a garden. These solitary herbivores live in burrows underground.

Once you've identified the culprits assaulting your garden, you'll need the right tools to take care of them. Most traditional pest-control measures—row covers, netting, noise deterrents, predator urine or even human hair strewn around the yard—simply don't work. Fences can do the job, but they're expensive and you may live in a community that restricts the type and height of fences you can erect.

Some small animal repellents, however, do work. Bobbex-R is all-natural, environmentally friendly and proven effective at protecting ornamental plantings from small, four-legged garden critters. In testing by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the product—which works through smell and taste aversion—received a 100 percent efficacy rating at repelling rabbits. Usable in any weather, it won't burn plants or wash off. Use it as a bulb dip to deter underground damage, or spray it at the mouth of burrows to prevent animals from re-entering. It’s safe for humans, pets, birds and aquatic life, too.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Multifamily Industry Launches New "Apartments. We Live Here." Campaign

May 7, 2013 1:08 am

The National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) today unveiled a new integrated campaign titled "Apartments. We Live Here." The campaign tells the story about how in communities across the country, apartments work—helping people live in a home that's right for them. Whether it's young professionals starting out, empty nesters looking to downsize and simplify, workers wanting to live near their jobs, married couples without children or families building a better life, apartment homes provide a sensible choice to meet their specific housing needs.

Utilizing print, radio and digital ads, direct mail and a new, experimental info-driven experience at www.weareapartments.org, the campaign highlights the 35 million apartment residents building their lives and the $1.1 trillion economic contribution the industry and its residents add to the economy each year.

"'Apartments. We Live Here.' is about connecting policymakers all across the country not only with the dollars and jobs associated with multifamily construction and operations, but with the millions who call an apartment home," said Kim Duty, NMHC Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Industry Initiatives. "Communities are stronger when they have a mix of housing, and that includes apartments."

"Our population is changing and we need housing options like apartments to keep up. In 1955, married couples with children made up 44 percent of America, but today they're only 20 percent. The fastest growing groups over the next decade will be young adults and empty nesters—those who may find apartments a good fit. We need more housing choices for America, which is what the 'Apartments. We Live Here.' campaign is all about," said Greg Brown, NAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.

The advertisements serve as a window into the home of apartment residents by highlighting their personality through snapshots of their daily lives. The first wave of the campaign will begin in Washington, D.C. on May 6.

The ads and additional campaign information can be found at http://weareapartments.org/about-campaign.

Sources: NMHC, NAA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tips to Ease First-Time Homebuyer Jitters

May 6, 2013 1:08 am

Traditionally, spring marks a busy period of time for housing market activity. With the heat of summer seemingly only weeks away, first-time homebuyers should learn strategies for finding their ideal home while keeping financial priorities in check. Buying a home can be the largest and most important financial decision one can make, so it is important to be aware of all the factors that go into making a responsible purchasing decision.

The first step is figuring out how much you can afford to spend on homeownership, which means an honest assessment of the household balance sheet. Once you have a clear idea of where you stand financially, you can then make a responsible decision of what you can afford, including your down payment, monthly mortgage costs and other expenses like utility costs, property insurance and taxes.

Here are a few tips:

Making an affordability assessment
Housing costs, including mortgage payments, property insurance and taxes, should not take up more than one-third of your income. In addition to this, servicing your overall debt, including loans, utilities, credit card payments and lines of credit, should not account for more than 40 percent. If you can land safely within these parameters, then homeownership is an affordable and realistic option.

Coming up with the down payment
In general, the bigger the down payment you come up with, the less interest you'll pay over the life of your mortgage. Financial institutions may offer special accounts designed to help you save for that first home. Consider opening a savings account specifically to fund your down payment. One easy way to save is to set up an automatic monthly deposit from your checking account to your savings account, allowing you to build the balance over time.

Choosing the right mortgage for you
Your mortgage needs to fit in with the rest of your financial priorities -- which could mean increased flexibility or security. Consider the following when choosing your mortgage:

• Choose a shorter amortization period - In general, the shorter the life of the mortgage, the lower the overall interest cost. Consider choosing a 20-year amortization rather than a 30-year amortization to save you money on interest costs and help you become debt-free sooner.

• Fixed vs. variable - Variable-rate mortgages have been a winning strategy over the long term, but fixed rate mortgages (currently at historic lows) provide cost certainty and peace of mind.

• Stress-test your mortgage payments - Use a mortgage payment based on a higher rate to stress-test your budget; total housing costs (mortgage payments, property taxes and insurance, etc.) should not consume more than one-third of household income.

Applying for pre-approval
A pre-approval establishes the amount you can reasonably afford to borrow towards the purchase of your first home. Consider the following benefits to getting pre-approved:

• Have a good idea of your finances - You will receive a better idea of how much you are qualified to borrow, saving time looking at homes that meet your affordability range. Your term and amortization, as well as estimated monthly payments, are provided at approval so you can use these figures when planning your overall budget.

• Moving quickly - If you are pre-approved for a mortgage, you'll be able to move quickly to make an offer when you finally find the perfect home for you.

Source: BMO Harris

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Spring Season Raises Growing Concerns for Deck Collapses

May 6, 2013 1:08 am

Spring is synonymous with deck season and barbecuing, but is also the time of year when the majority of deck collapses occur. There is also a heightened risk of deck failures in areas that get a considerable amount of winter moisture, and freeze and thaw weather.

An improperly built or deteriorating deck can cause unnecessary and often serious injuries, even death. Between 2003 and 2007, deck failures or collapses caused close to 35,000 injuries and several deaths in North America. With over 40 million decks and patios in North America over 20 years old, there is a significant safety concern as collapses have been increasing at an alarming rate, causing injuries and property damage.

"The reasons behind a deck collapse can range from the age of the deck, to poor maintenance, exceeding load capacity and poorly built systems," said Tory Weber, CEO of SigmaDek. "We see homeowners who put a hot tub on the deck, fill it with thousands of pounds of water, then add eight people to it, and never do an inspection first."

The North America Deck and Railing Association shares tips for consumers to consider before deck season. They should look for:

• Split and decaying wood: This includes ledger board, support posts, joists, deck boards, railings and stairs.
• Sound flashing: Flashing is a metal or plastic guard that directs water out and away from sensitive areas. It's often installed where the deck and house come together, keeping moisture and debris from collecting between the house and the deck's ledger board.
• Loose or corroded fasteners: This includes nails, screws or anchor in the ledger board.
• All railings and banisters are secure.
• Stairs are in place and secure.
• Any source of fire is placed well away from flammable surfaces.

Source: SigmaDek

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mortgage Rates at or Near All-Time Record Low

May 6, 2013 1:08 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates moving lower for the fourth consecutive week continuing to support the ongoing housing recovery. The 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage hit a new all-time record low at 2.61 percent for the week, as did the 5-year ARM at 2.58 percent. The previous record low for the 15-year fixed was 2.63 percent set the week of November 21, 2012.

Notable Highlights

• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.40 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending April 25, 2013, down from last week when it averaged 3.41 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.88 percent.

• 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.61 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.64 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.12 percent.

• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.58 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.60 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.85 percent.

• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.62 percent this week with an average 0.3 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.63 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.74 percent.

"The housing market is getting a boost with mortgage rates hovering at or near record lows. For instance, existing home sales averaged an annualized pace of 4.94 million over the first three months of this year, the most since the fourth quarter of 2009,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “More impressively, new home sales topped 424,000 during the first quarter, which was the strongest since the third quarter of 2008. The sales pickup is helping to support house-price gains. For instance, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported that February marked the thirteenth consecutive month that it has recorded an annual rise in its U.S. house price index, which rose by 7.1 percent in the twelve months through February, the most since May 2006. Even with these gains, this U.S. index is still 13.6 percent below its peak set in April 2007."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Aging in Place? These Kitchen Design Trends Are Really Hot

May 3, 2013 1:06 am

As more homeowners are making the commitment to aging in place, I continue to seek out new resources to help folks with ways to transition their homes for the “'extended stay.” So it was great to discover aging in place expert Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS (www.mjpdesign.com), a relatively close neighbor from Connecticut. She noted that design trends toward more open spaces and generous daylight have forced designers to use fewer wall cabinets and the response from consumers is tremendous.

Peterson also points out that more renovations include placing appliances at comfortable heights. Peterson says she used to be a lonely voice encouraging splitting double ovens so each might be placed at a more accessible height, but today, clients are asking for them.

She says beware, however, because this is one of those Universal Design concepts that only works when it fits into the design.

Another source, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Charlie Hudson of Hudson Remodeling in Lynden, WA offers these aging-in-place/universal-design tips:

• Install bath and shower grab bars. When properly installed, grab bars are effective in helping prevent slips and falls. Typically, they are the first item people turn to when looking to improve bathroom safety.

• Replace a traditional tub with a walk-in shower unit. Wonderful step-free shower units can be created in the same space currently used for a bathtub. Walk-in showers can be installed as prefabricated units or as a custom project using materials like tile and glass.

• Consider remodeling to add a ground floor master suite. This type of remodel not only allows seniors to stay in their own home as long as possible, it can also help those recovering from injury or illness.

• In the kitchen, relocate (or raise) the level of your dishwasher to make loading/unloading easier; install pull-out shelves in lower cabinets for easier access.

• Change hardware throughout the house; using levers or “D” pulls can make it easier for all abilities to open and close doors and cabinets.

• Install handrails along interior and exterior staircases; make sure those areas are well lit as well.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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A Seller's Guide to Multiple Offers

May 3, 2013 1:06 am

With the real estate market heating up for spring, if you're selling your home, you could find yourself in the position of receiving multiple offers on your house in a short span of time – even within one day. So, with the ball in your court, how do you decide which offer is most attractive to you?

If you are considering multiple offers, the first thing your real estate agent may want to do is to make it clear to all parties that you have or expect several offers, and that all prospective buyers should be putting forward their "best offer." Although you and your agent are under no obligation to disclose the existence of multiple offers, it will probably benefit you as negotiations begin. Since you and your agent are the only party with visibility to all of the offers, you have the upper hand – each prospective buyer, without visibility to the terms of competing offers, will be forced to put forth the very best that he or she can manage in the hope of winning the sale.

As you peruse the terms offered, here are a few things to think about that may make some of the offers more attractive than others:

• Price. At first glance, it seems intuitive that you would want to accept the offer for the greatest amount of money for your house. If you have multiple offers in front of you, you may be tempted to take the highest offer. And while a fair price is a large part of what makes an offer attractive, there are some additional terms that you should consider as well.

• Closing date. When do you want the sale to close? If you are hoping for a quick close to the sale so that you can get into a new home or just to ensure that the sale is finalized and there are no surprises, you should take into consideration what each buyer is offering in terms of the closing and possession dates. Conversely, if you need to stay in your home a while longer while you are waiting on a new home or because you want to finish out a school year, it might be wise to accept a bid that will allow you to move out at a later date. You may want to also state which closing date you want, up front so that offers come in with dates that are attractive to you.

• Buyer's financing. If you are serious about accepting an offer, you're going to want to make sure that the sale will actually go through. Your buyer's financing is of paramount importance; if a buyer is a risk to secure financing, you may want to look elsewhere. How can you determine this? Always consider a pre-approval letter over a mere pre-qualification. Pre-approval suggests a very good bet that the buyer's lender will extend financing based on a completed assessment of the buyer's risk. A buyer who is willing to put down a large amount of earnest money should also be seen as serious about the offer they are making.

• Other contingencies. You will want to examine the contingencies listed in each buyer's offer. An offer contingent upon the buyer selling an existing home is far less attractive than an offer with no such contingency. Aside from a regular home inspection, a buyer may also request additional inspections for pests, air quality, asbestos, and other features of the property. A buyer with fewer of these requests may be more attractive to you than a buyer whose purchase is contingent upon multiple inspections.

Although it may seem like there is a lot to consider when comparing multiple offers, it's an enviable position to be in. The sluggish real estate market of the past few years has meant that fewer sellers have seen concurrent multiple offers. If you are fortunate enough to end up with multiple offers to choose from, consult your real estate agent and discuss which offer best fits your needs.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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