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

More than 50 Percent of Americans Over 65 Now Use the Internet

June 11, 2012 6:04 am

For the first time in Internet history, more than half of all U.S. adults over the age of 65 use the Web. This news comes from research conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which reveals that 53 percent of the over 65 set use the Internet. In addition, about 70 percent of Web-oriented seniors say they go online every day. Pew also reported that over 1/3 of seniors on the Internet, age 65 and older, use social networking websites, and 18 percent do so every day.

According to Mashable.com, "This is a high number, especially considering 66 percent of all adult Internet users access social networking sites."

"It's great news for the relaunch of our website and PhotoVideogram App on Grandparents Day in September as the 'Grandparents.com Social Network,'" says Jeffrey Mahl, President of Grandparents.com. "The 50+ demographic is adopting the Web at an ever accelerating rate, which enhances our strategic marketing plan to grow in the online business with America's greatest, most talented and experienced national resource - our grandparents! They have so much to give back."

Grandparents.com presented its business plan yesterday at the National Investment Banking Association Conference in New York City. An important element of the plan is creating a diverse Grandparents.com network of companies under the 'Grand' brand, each with a focus on products and services attractive to grandparents and people over 50 - from dating, gaming, entertainment, travel and leisure, to insurance, retirement planning, and investments. "The more tech-savvy they get, added Mahl, the more our audience will enjoy our offerings."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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A Check-Up for Your Garage Door

June 11, 2012 6:04 am

As the American home has evolved over the years, so too has the garage—both in the way it looks as well as its newfound functionality as the main entranceway to the home. In fact, more than 70 percent of homeowners enter and exit their home through the garage door, relying on it as the new front door.

Since the garage door now plays such a key role in many homeowners' daily lives, garage industry professionals, installers and leading manufacturers of garage doors and openers have teamed up to offer easy-to-follow tips for maintaining the safety and security of this access point, such as the following from LiftMaster:
  • Maintenance. To keep the garage door properly maintained and functioning safely, be sure to keep all moving parts of the door clean and lubricated, including the steel rollers.
  • Balance. To check balance, start with the door closed and pull the opener release mechanism so you can maneuver the door by hand. If the door is balanced (properly spring-loaded and running freely on its tracks), you should be able to lift the door smoothly without much effort and it should stay open about three or four feet above the floor.
  • Safety reverse. Since 1993, all automatic openers manufactured for the U.S. must include a safety reversing feature such as infrared sensors or "photo eyes." These sensors are installed near the floor on either side of the garage door opening. Once the invisible laser beam between the two sensors is broken by an obstruction, the door reverses automatically. If your opener lacks a similar safety reversing feature, it's time to get a new opener.
  • The six-inch rule. The photo eyes mentioned above should not be installed higher than six inches above the garage floor. If the eyes are installed higher, a person or pet could get under the beam and not be detected by the photo eyes.
  • Sensitive technology. Test your door's sensitivity by placing a two-inch thick piece of wood or a roll of paper towels in the path of the door before closing it. If the garage door does not automatically reverse and retract back to the open position, then the opener needs to be adjusted or purchase a newer model that comes with photo eyes.
  • Prepare for weather. Be prepared as summer heat and storms turn to summer outages. Once power is lost to the home, an automatic garage door opener will also be impacted. Ensure your opener is equipped with a battery back-up system.
Source: LiftMaster

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CDC: High School Smoking Rate Reaches New Low

June 8, 2012 6:00 am

According to a recent statement by Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the recently released Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that the U.S. has cut high school smoking by more than half since rates peaked in 1997; the smoking rate reached a new low of 18.1 percent in 2011, falling from a high of 36.4 percent in 1997.

According to Myers, “The dramatic decline in youth smoking is a remarkable public health success story, reversing a large increase from 1991 to 1997. It means a healthier future for millions of children and will reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs resulting from tobacco use, the nation's number one cause of preventable death.”

Myers also emphasizes that the CDC research provides powerful evidence to elected officials that the implementation of specific strategies is highly effective, including higher tobacco taxes, tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, strong smoke-free laws, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

The survey also shows that high school smoking declines have been more gradual in recent years, falling by 17 percent from 2003 to 2011 after dropping by 40 percent from 1997 to 2003. Myers points out that smoking declined sharply when cigarette prices skyrocketed and funding increased for tobacco prevention programs immediately after the 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies. But smoking declines have since slowed as tobacco companies countered cigarette tax increases with deep price discounts and states slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs in recent years.

“To continue and accelerate progress, elected officials at all levels must step up implementation of the solutions that we know work,” says Myers.

This year, the CDC launched the nation's first-ever, paid national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. “The FDA must continue to effectively implement its new authority over tobacco products, and Congress must continue to fund the Prevention and Public Health Fund that supports disease prevention initiatives such as the CDC's media campaign,” says Myers.

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More Than 4 Million Homes at Risk for Hurricane Storm-Surge Flooding

June 8, 2012 6:00 am

A recently released report indicates that just over four million homes in the U.S. along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are at risk of hurricane-driven storm-surge damage, with more than $700 billion in total property exposure.

The annual Storm Surge Report, released by information and analytics provider CoreLogic, details exposure of single-family homes to storm-surge damage within several predefined geographic areas in the United States. In the Atlantic Coast region alone, there are approximately 2.2 million homes at risk, valued at more than $500 billion. Total exposure along the Gulf Coast is nearly $200 billion, with just under 1.8 million homes at risk for potential storm-surge damage.

"Though more frequently impacted states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana get the most attention when it comes to hurricane vulnerability and destruction, Hurricane Irene made it very clear last summer that hurricane risk is not confined to the southern parts of the country," said Dr. Howard Botts, vice president and director of database development for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions. "That's why we felt it was important this year to highlight storm-surge risk in a brand new way to establish a better understanding of exposure throughout the states that are most at risk of a direct hurricane hit. As we got a glimpse of during Irene, our 2012 report shows even a Category 1 storm could cause property damage in the billions along the northeastern Atlantic Coast and force major metropolitan areas to shut down or evacuate."

Storm surge is triggered primarily by the high winds and low pressure associated with hurricanes, which cause water to amass inside a storm as it moves across the ocean before releasing as a powerful rush overland when the hurricane moves onshore. In addition to the property damage and potential lives lost to flooding, the speed and force associated with storm-surge waves can significantly increase geographic and economic impact in hurricane disaster areas.

According to Botts, "Homeowners who live outside of high-risk flood zones are not required to carry flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and may not be fully aware of the risk storm surge poses to their home or property. When a storm strikes the coast, storm-surge flooding can inundate homes far inland and cause significant losses from powerful surge waters, damaging debris and standing water left behind."

According to the 2012 report, Florida tops the list of states with the highest total number of properties at risk of being impacted by the effects of storm-surge risk at approximately 1.4 million homes and with the highest total potential exposure to damage at more than $188 billion. Louisiana ranks second in total properties at risk with nearly 500,000, while New York is second in total value of coastal properties possibly exposed at $111 billion. Differences in the rankings between the total number of properties and total property value at risk are due to varying levels of home values, trends in primary residence versus vacation homes, and population density between the states throughout the Atlantic and Gulf regions.

At the metro-level, cities examined in the analysis include New York, N.Y.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Miami, Fla.; New Orleans, La.; Tampa, Fla.; Boston, Mass.; Houston, Texas; Cape Coral, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Charleston, N.C.; Bradenton, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Mobile, Ala. and Corpus Christi, Texas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, two of the top five and five of the top 20 most densely populated cities in the U.S. are located along either the Gulf or Atlantic Coast. The report reveals that the 10 cities with the highest total potential exposure to storm-surge damage represent more than two million properties, with total property value at risk exceeding $420 billion. The New York City metropolitan area, which encompasses northern New Jersey and Long Island as well, contains both the highest total number of properties as well as the highest financial exposure of properties at risk, with estimated values at more than $168 billion.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Apartment and Condominium Market Shows Ongoing Improvement in First Quarter

June 8, 2012 6:00 am

The Multifamily Production Index (MPI), a leading indicator for the multifamily market released by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), recorded its highest reading since the third quarter of 2005 with an index level of 51.

The MPI, which measures builder and developer sentiment about current conditions in the multifamily market on a scale of 0 to 100, rose from 49 in the fourth quarter to 51 in the first quarter. This is the seventh consecutive quarter that the index has increased.

The MPI provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, market-rate rental units and “for-sale" units, or condominiums. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse. In the first quarter of 2012, the MPI component tracking builder and developer perceptions of market-rate rental properties recorded an all-time high of 69, while low-rent units dipped slightly to 53. For-sale units increased to 37, which is the highest reading for this component since the fourth quarter of 2005.

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry's perception of vacancies, dropped to a level of 31, the lowest recording since the inception of the index in 2003. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies. The MVI has decreased considerably in the last three years, after peaking at 70 in the second quarter of 2009.

Historically, the MPI and MVI have performed well as leading indicators of U.S. Census figures for multifamily starts and vacancy rates, providing information on likely movement in the Census figures one to three quarters in advance.

Source: nahb.org

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New Challenges in Keeping Kids Safe Online

June 7, 2012 5:58 am

A new survey of Internet use by tweens (10 to 13 year olds) revealed that parents are doing a good job monitoring their children's online behavior, including talking to them and setting guidelines and restrictions for Internet use on home computers. Yet there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to keeping tweens safer when they use mobile and other connected devices.

Parents used to only have to worry about monitoring the home computer to keep their kids safer online. But today, Internet use is doubling every two years, and kids have access to the Internet through mobile devices, such as smartphones, handheld games, game consoles and tablets. The average family uses five Internet-enabled devices at home.

The Tween Internet Safety Survey, commissioned by Cox Communications in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), found that nearly all tweens (95 percent) use mobile devices to go online.

Mobile devices and gaming consoles are widely used by tweens to access Web content, and the survey revealed a lack of guidelines and controls on these devices that can leave tweens vulnerable. While 68 percent of parents surveyed said they monitored their child's Internet behavior on mobile devices, the survey showed that only 1 in 5 (17 percent) actually use basic parental control features such as age appropriate Web content filtering on smartphones, tablets and game consoles.

Parents and tweens acknowledged that fewer controls exist on mobile devices and gaming consoles than on computers. The survey revealed that many parents are not using the monitoring software and parental control tools available on their tweens' mobile devices because they are not familiar with how they work.
  • 83 percent of tweens use a gaming console to access the Internet at home.
  • 51 percent of the parents in the survey said they monitor their child's Internet behavior on gaming consoles.
  • 65 percent of parents said they were aware of and knew how to use parental controls on mobile devices and gaming consoles with Internet access.
The survey results also showed a gap between what tweens are doing online and what their parents believe they are doing.
  • 82 percent of parents surveyed considered themselves very knowledgeable about what their tween does online, and for the most part, believed their tween practices safe online behavior.
  • However, many of the tweens surveyed admitted to engaging in risky online behavior, including breaking the rules, accessing inappropriate content, and covering their tracks as they go; often unbeknownst to parents.
    • 44 percent admitted they've looked at or watched something online that their parents wouldn't approve of. (Only 28 percent of parents were aware of this.)
    • 34 percent have lied to parents about what they've done online. (Only 18 percent of parents were aware of this.)
Many children are facing risks online without their parents' knowledge.
  • 42 percent have received a personal message from someone they didn't know. (Only 22 percent of parents were aware of this.)
  • 17 percent have received an email or online message with pictures or words that made them feel uncomfortable. (Only 7 percent of parents were aware of this.)
  • 12 percent have already been bullied by someone online. (Only 6 percent of parents were aware of this.)

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Surging Enrollment Outpaces On-Campus Housing Demands

June 7, 2012 5:58 am

A 38.7 percent increase in university enrollment over the past decade is creating a shortage of on-campus housing nationwide, according to a new white paper from the National Multi Housing Council's (NMHC) National Student Housing Council (NSHC). The analysis utilized U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Census Bureau data between 2000 and 2010 to identify on-campus housing needs across the country.

"The tremendous size of Generation Y, combined with economic uncertainty, have pushed enrollment to new heights over the past decade," says Jim Arbury, NMHC's vice president of Student Housing. "This has put tremendous pressure on universities across the country as they attempt to keep up with the demand for on-campus living, offering a new opportunity for student housing firms."

Notable facts from the research report include:
  • The 38.7 percent increase in enrollment led to a 21.4 percent growth in the number of students living off campus.
  • While every state saw enrollment increases, Arizona, District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and West Virginia experienced some of the greatest surges in enrollment.
  • Most states have been unable to maintain the same percentage of students housed in dorms. States with the highest on-campus shortages are Arizona, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon.
  • Only five states (California, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland and Utah) have been able to provide enough additional dorm beds to maintain dorm residency levels against growing enrollments.
Source: National Multi Housing Council

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Average 15-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage Breaks Barrier, Falls to 2.97 Percent

June 7, 2012 5:58 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing fixed mortgage rates following bond yields lower to new all-time record lows. The 30-year fixed averaged 3.75 percent setting a new all-time record low for the fifth consecutive week. The 15-year fixed averaged an unprecedented 2.97 percent bringing three of the four benchmark mortgage rates below 3 percent for the first time in Freddie Mac's weekly survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.75 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending May 31, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.78 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.55 percent.

The 15-year FRM last week averaged 2.97 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.04 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.74 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.84 percent last week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.83. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.41 percent. Meanwhile, the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.75 percent for the week with an average 0.4 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.13 percent.

According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac, "Market concerns over tensions in the Eurozone led to a decline in long-term Treasury bond yields helping to bring fixed mortgage rates to new record lows last week. Compared to a year ago, rates on 30-year fixed mortgage rates are almost 0.9 percentage points lower, which translates into nearly $1,200 less in annual payments on a $200,000 loan. Meanwhile, the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite home price index (not seasonally adjusted) showed annual home-value gains in March in seven cities and a monthly gain in 12 cities."

Source: Freddie Mac

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10 Quirky Roadside Attractions to See This Summer

June 6, 2012 5:58 am

The great American road trip is the highlight of many travel bucket lists and this summer is the perfect time for travelers to cross that trip off the list. Jamie Jensen, author of the popular “Road Trip USA” travel guidebook, shares his top 10 roadside attractions for an unforgettable summertime adventure.

1. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Built in the 1970s, and celebrated in an eponymous 1980s hit by Bruce Springsteen, Cadillac Ranch consists of 11 classic 1950s Cadillacs buried nose-down in the southern Great Plains, right along old Route 66 outside Amarillo, Texas.

2. Wall Drug, Wall, S.D.
Photo opportunities abound at this famous roadside business, founded in 1931, thanks to the 80-foot-long dinosaur, a replica of nearby Mt. Rushmore, a 520-seat cafe, and shops for everything from postcards to cowboy boots.

3. Lucy the Elephant, Margate, N.J.
Immediately south of Atlantic City, there stands a classic remnant of the Jersey Shore's glory days: Lucy the Elephant, a six-story wood-and-tin pachyderm. Built by a Philadelphia real estate speculator in the 1880’s to draw customers to his newly laid-out community, this landmark was used around the turn of the 20th century as a tavern and now holds a small museum of local history.

4. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The town of San Luis Obispo is home to one of California's most noteworthy pop culture landmarks, the Madonna Inn, which offers more than 100 unique rooms, each decorated in a wild barrage of fantasy motifs. There are the bright pink honeymoon suites known as "Just Heaven" and "Love Nest," and an Elvis-worthy "Safari Room" covered in fake zebra skins with a jungle-green shag carpet.

5. Carhenge, Alliance, Neb.
At the edge of Nebraska’s rolling Sand Hills, the small town of Alliance presents you with Carhenge. Built in 1987 as part of a local family reunion, Carhenge is a giant-sized replica of the famous Druid ruin, Stonehenge; this one, however, is built entirely out of three dozen late-model American cars, stacked on top of one another to form a semi-circular temple.

6. Clark's Trading Post, Lincoln, N.H.
For nearly a century the main draw at Clark's Trading Post has been the chance to “See Live Bears!” as they perform a series of entertaining tricks—rolling barrels, shooting basketballs through hoops, and riding scooters. Don’t miss Clark’s gift shop, which is stocked with all the wonderfully tacky stuff retro-minded road-trippers drive miles to find.

7. Collinsville Catsup Bottle, Collinsville, Ill.
Across the Mississippi from St. Louis, the town of Collinsville has become nearly-world-famous for the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, which rises south of Main Street. Constructed in 1949 on the grounds of what used to be the Brooks Catsup Company, this decorated water tower was restored by the people of Collinsville as a super-size symbol of local pride and perseverance.

8. South of the Border, S.C.
Located just south of the North Carolina state line at I-95 exit 1, South of the Border is a 135-acre assembly of sombrero-shaped fast-food stands, giant video arcades, souvenir shops, a sombrero-clad concrete brontosaurus and 20-story Sombrero Tower giving a panoramic view of the Interstate.

9. Paul Bunyan, Bemidji, Minn.
Standing along a lakeshore in the Great North Woods of Minnesota, brightly painted statues of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox have been drawing visitors to the town of Bemidji since 1937. Next to Paul and Babe, the Bemidji visitors center boasts a fireplace made with stones from every U.S. state (apart from Alaska and Hawaii, which weren't states when the fireplace was built), and shares space with a small museum of taxidermied wildlife and odd historical items, including Paul Bunyan's ax.

10. World's Largest Six Pack, La Crosse, Wis.
The Mississippi River town of La Crosse Wisconsin is host to the World's Largest Six-Pack, which stands right along the Great River Road. Used as a fermentation tank for a local brewery, when full, the Six Pack holds enough beer to fill seven million real-life cans.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mastering the Art of Toss Pillows: 9 Simple Do's and Don'ts

June 6, 2012 5:58 am

Much more than an accent color, decorative pillows have come into their own as one of the least expensive and most cost-effective ways to personalize furniture and change a home's décor. With more open floor plans today—and fewer walls to hang art on—they can also be conversation starters.

"The perfect scarf or bracelet can turn an ordinary outfit into an extraordinary one," says Kris Woodcock, VP of Merchandising, Ashley Furniture HomeStore. "In the same way, the perfect combination of toss pillows can turn an ordinary room into a showstopper."

Many exciting new pillow trends are making their debut, from couture, nubby and boldly-patterned choices, to a bolder mix of pillow styles together. Follow these nine simple do’s and don’ts to mix and match decorative toss pillows to create a look that’s right for you.

1. DON'T use cheap-looking pillows. Nothing ruins a good-looking sofa more than dated or poor quality pillows, while nothing transforms an inexpensive sofa more than high-quality, fashion-forward toss pillows.

2. DO match the mood of your pillows to the mood of your sofa. Choose toss pillows the same way you chose your sofa - based on your lifestyle and tastes. Use dressy pillows with a dressy sofa; casual pillows with a casual sofa.

3. DON'T use pillows that are duller, or a lot lighter than the sofa. There's an exception to every rule, but decorators agree that decorative pillows look best when they're darker, brighter or bolder than the sofa.

4. DO use pillows in a similar style. For an elegant look, stick with satiny or faux-fur fabrics. For a global look, stick with earthy or exotic fabrics. For a modern look, stick with bright or geometric fabrics.

5. DON'T use pillows too big (or too small) for the sofa. Large throw pillows on a small sofa will make it look even smaller. Small pillows (or too few of them) on a large sofa will look dwarfed.

6. DO use toss pillows with related colors. Forget about fancy color theories. Simply choose pillow colors with something in common, such as hues all inspired by a country landscape or a summer fruit salad.

7. DON'T feel compelled to use the pillows that came with your sofa. Factory pillow choices are intended to appeal to as many people as possible rather than to personal tastes. Be different.

8. DO mix patterns and textures. Choose pillows that look like they came from the same place or era, then mix nubby with smooth. To mix patterns, simply repeat the colors in each decorative pillow, while differentiating the pattern's motif or scale.

9. DON'T play it too safe. Be bold with memorable colors or textures.

If you're still defaulting to the pillows that came with the sofa, use this simple formula to mix things up a little: First, make sure each pillow contains at least one color in common with another pillow, then mix together plain pillows with patterned choices and pile pillows for an amazing look.

Source: Ashley Furniture HomeStore

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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