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

Renovating Design Trends for Move In

October 24, 2012 4:16 am

Buying a home is one of the most important purchases a consumer can make. Whether purchasing a house to live in or use as an investment property, there are certain steps every new homeowner should take to customize his or her space and potentially increase the property’s resale value.

With a new move-in likely comes the changing of locks. Well, if the locks have to change, why not the whole door? A new entry door can not only increase curb appeal and serve as a quick and easy facelift to the exterior of your home, it can also improve the safety and energy efficiency of the house. Masonite doors, for example, are built for durability and designed to impress. With endless styles in fiberglass and steel, Masonite entry doors can add beauty to any home while providing a secure, reliable passageway.

Indoors, two of the best investments that can improve the value of a home are kitchen and bathroom renovations. According to the 2010 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine, these two rooms provide the greatest return on investment, and as the saying goes, kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. If a pricey renovation isn’t in the budget, there are still simple steps to change the appearance of these rooms without the hassle or price tag of a full remodel.

An ugly bathroom can be a deal-breaker for potential buyers, so bathroom renovations are certainly a wise investment. According to Consumer Reports, nearly 30 percent of the 121 million adults who recently completed a home-improvement project were involved in a bathroom remodel. There are quick ways to upgrade a bathroom with a limited budget.

Choose a modern, high-efficiency toilet (HET)
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person uses about 100 gallons of water every day, and the largest culprit is the bathroom. The toilet alone uses 27 percent of household water. So, replace the most important seat in the house with a sleek and modern water-conserving model.
Upgrade the plumbing fixtures

The faucet and showerhead are two of the most used items in the bathroom. Beyond turning the water on and off, these fixtures can make a design statement. Replace the faucet and showerhead with new fixtures. Save money by keeping fixtures in the same spot and simply replacing them. A decorative bathroom faucet and stylish showerhead will not only increase the value of a home, but also “wow” your guests.

Save room in a small bathroom…upgrade to a glass shower enclosure
An ongoing trend among remodelers is the option to rip out the bathtub, as it frees up a lot of room when replaced with a glass shower enclosure. While usually a fixture of high-end bathrooms, a glass shower enclosure works well in small bathrooms because valuable floor space is not eaten up by the thickness of a shower/tub unit. Adding a customized shower glass door can add the dimension needed to make a small bathroom appear bigger, and can be installed in a configuration that will show off the space to its best advantage.

Modest kitchen updates can be a homeowner’s best bet for a big return on investment, netting on average 80 to 85 percent. According to Remodeling Magazine, high-end kitchen remodels don't return as much as mid-range or minor kitchen renovations. Replacing kitchen countertops are one of the easiest ways to make a visual impact and give your kitchen an entirely new look. Two of the most popular and affordable countertop choices are acrylic solid surfaces and quartz surfaces.

Source: Kleber and Associates

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Moving Cross-Country

October 23, 2012 4:14 am

For homeowners planning to move cross-country, a few extra steps might be necessary before you can successfully relocate. While having all the necessary packing materials handy is important, having a complete plan is a must for a move so far. Here are a few tips for those making the move:

Make sure to conduct thorough and complete research on the new town or city you are moving to. Investigate the safety of the neighborhood and area, and ask plenty of questions about home prices and valuation in the area. You can never be too careful, and you want to make sure that your family will be safe and that your home won't depreciate in value.

Hiring professional movers is a great idea for those uprooting their entire lives. For some, this step might not be necessary if you plan on buying mostly new belongings once in your new home. For those with lots of items, a mover might be the best way to go. Make sure to do some comparison shopping when searching for a professional mover.

While any move is a big one, going across the country requires a hefty amount of planning. Experts recommend planning two to three months in advance before the planned move date in order to give you proper time. This way, moving families have plenty of time to research, plan, and maybe even have a yard sale to sell some of their stuff before deciding what to move with them. Depending on the distance of the move, consider taking a pre-move trip out to your destination in order to visit a few different neighborhoods and scout out the local area. One can never be too prepared when moving across the country.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keeping Safe when Cycling in the Winter

October 23, 2012 4:14 am

The winter months are drawing closer and most of us will have already noticed it getting colder and darker. A number of cyclists will be thinking about putting their bike away until the weather perks up. However, a large number of cycling enthusiasts will not want to give up cycling just yet. Winter cycling can push your endurance, but can be very enjoyable and liberating.

It's essential that cyclists ensure that their bicycles are maintained properly, and now is a good time to do this. It is important to make sure the brakes are correctly adjusted and responsive and the tires are checked more regularly for surface cuts as well as pressure. It is also best to clean the bike more often to prevent corrosion from the salt and slush on the road.

Cyclists should also keep themselves safe on the roads by wearing bright and reflective clothes in order to ensure they are visible. It would also be good to wear the correct layers including a wicking base layer, warm mid-layer and a windproof jacket - and don't forget your extremities, so windproof cycling gloves and overshoes are a good addition to the wardrobe.

It's also essential to make sure that the bicycle lights are working. Legally, bike users must have a white front light, a rear red light as well as a rear red reflector and amber reflectors on the pedals, when cycling at night or in poor visibility.

Ice and snow is usually where commuters will draw the line and use public transport, but if you still don't want to put your bike away, shops will usually stock special winter tires with metal inserts to help with traction.

There are many benefits to carrying on cycling during the winter. Cold weather cycling is generally at a lower intensity, ideal for building endurance levels and burning body fat. It can even boost your vitamin D levels, which offers a whole host of physical and mental health benefits. Most of all, cyclists can enjoy themselves all year round.

Source: Cycle Stuff Direct

Published with permission from RISMedia.


HARP Loans Continue Strong Pace in August

October 23, 2012 4:14 am

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its August Refinance Report, which shows that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans refinanced through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) accounted for nearly one-quarter of all refinances in August. Nearly 99,000 homeowners refinanced their mortgage in August through the HARP program with more than 618,000 loans refinanced since the beginning of this year. This continues the strong pace of HARP refinancing with the program on target to reach a million borrowers in 2012. The continued high volume of HARP refinances is attributed to record-low mortgage rates and program enhancements announced last year.

Also in the report:

-Since the program’s inception in 2009, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have financed more than 1.6 million loans through HARP.

-In August, borrowers with loan-to-value (LTV) ratios greater than 105 percent continued to account for more than half the volume of HARP loans as HARP enhancements were fully implemented in the second quarter of 2012.

-In August, nearly 18 percent of HARP refinances for underwater borrowers were for shorter-term 15- and 20-year mortgages, which help build equity faster.

-In August, HARP refinances represented nearly half or more of total refinances in states hard-hit by the housing downturn – Nevada, Arizona and Florida – compared with 24 percent of total refinances nationwide.

-Also in August, HARP refinances for borrowers with LTV ratios greater than 105 percent accounted for more than 70 percent of HARP volume in Nevada, Arizona and Florida and more than 60 percent of the HARP refinances in Idaho and California.

Source: FHFA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Know When Debt is a Four Letter Word

October 22, 2012 4:12 am

Debt is a four letter word. For many people it has the same connotation as many other four letter words. However, not all debt is bad. For example, most people could not afford to pay cash for a home, but instead must acquire a mortgage loan. Because a home will most likely increase in value during the time it takes to pay off the mortgage, mortgage debt is considered a good investment. In general terms good debt is defined as debt that allows someone to invest in the future such as business loans, student loans, mortgages and real estate loans.

Bad debt is generally defined as debt acquired for something that immediately loses value or has no potential to increase in value. Using that definition, a car loan would be considered bad debt. Many people purchase vehicles and are upside down (owe more than the car is worth) in their loans mere months after purchasing. It is also a common practice to purchase a meal with a credit card that has a balance that may not get paid off for three months or more. The meal that was enjoyed at the time and forgotten later ends up costing more because it is not paid for when consumed. Paying interest for dinner, even a nice dinner, charged to a credit card is bad debt.

Here are a few tips to avoid and reduce bad debt:

• Don't carry balances on your credit cards. If you do purchase something that cannot be paid off at the end of the month, make certain you can pay it off in 90 days or less.
• Purchase a used or less expensive new vehicle and make sure you make a substantial down payment. A smaller loan will help assure you do not become upside down in your auto loan.
• Don't use credit cards to purchase clothing or consumables unless you will be paying the balance off each month.
• Be wary of spending more than you can pay off each month on rewards credit cards. Paying interest charges will negate the promised benefit of the rewards.

For consumers who have more bad debt than they can handle, certified credit counselors can be sought to help develop a plan to pay off the debt and avoid future bad debt.

Source: Money Management International (MMI)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Moving Into a New Home? Here's What You Should Do and Know

October 22, 2012 4:12 am

Whether you are a first-time homebuyer or simply moving up, when you first arrive to your new home, there are certain things you should do and know.

1) Consider changing the locks. You never know who really has keys to your home, so changing the locks is always a smart idea. Add a deadbolt for a little additional protection. It won't cost you much, but the peace of mind will be invaluable.

2) Check for leaks. Although home inspections should take care of this, checking for leaks never hurts. Check all faucets, toilets and the water heater for any signs of leakage and fix them right away.

3) Wipe down your cabinets. Before unpacking your dishes, be sure to give your cabinets a good scrub down. Use a non-toxic cleaner and replace any contact paper, if necessary.

4) Search and evict unwanted houseguests. This means mice, termites, roaches, or any other creepy crawly that you don't want in your home. Hopefully, you can go it alone, but if you need to hire a professional, do so. Some problems, like termites, can get worse the longer you wait. Nip it in the bud.

5) Get cozy with the circuit breaker box and main water valve. Knowing where these two things are and how to use them is crucial when you own a home. Know what fuses control which parts of your house and label them clearly. This can prevent accidents or injury if you're ever working on the house's electrical system or wiring.

Source: HouseLogic

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Do I Sell My Timeshare? 5 Top Tips

October 22, 2012 4:12 am

If you're looking to sell a timeshare or vacation ownership, make the right decision when it comes to listing these properties. Here are a few tips and points to keep in mind when you're trying to sell.

How many years of experience does the company you've chosen to list with have within the resale sector?

This is one of the most important factors when choosing a company to help you with the sale of your ownership. Companies with many years of expertise within the resale sector are always the best companies to deal with. If they have been selling timeshares for longer than a decade, then they must have a tried and tested method for finding timeshare buyers for ownerships worldwide.

Make sure the company is fully compliant with governmental law.

There are many companies out there to choose from, however, very few comply with the strict timeshare laws put it place by their respective governments. Some companies will state they are members of certain industry governing bodies; however, this is not enough in some cases. Make sure that the company's paperwork complies with National and International law in the areas they are trading from.

Place your ownership where buyers are looking.

This may seem a logical thing to do, however, too many owners pay for marketing and do not get any exposure whatsoever. This can be checked very easily by searching for relevant terms pertaining to your ownership i.e., "timeshare resales at Marriott Son Antem." Always check results on Google as this gives the widest search, greatest traffic and best possible chance of selling.

Beware of exit programs!

Over the last few years, many exit companies have sprung up offering owners the chance to alleviate their ongoing worldwide timeshare membership for an initial cost. This gives owners expectations of removing themselves from their ongoing yearly commitments and the impression that they will not receive any further maintenance bills. Sadly, in most cases, this is not the case.

Pricing your ownership to sell.

When pricing your ownership to sell, be realistic with the timeshare resale value. There are many companies within the industry that will over-value your ownership. If you over-value your ownership, it doesn't matter how many potential clients see it for sale -no one will inquire.

Source: Visions of the World Ltd

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Cruise Insurance Myth Busters and Other Helpful Tips

October 18, 2012 4:08 am

Despite a chilling start—cruise vacations in 2012 are climbing the popularity charts with travelers of all ages. From river cruises to cuisine cruises to the more familiar Caribbean cruise, there's no shortage of floating vacations to choose from. But whether you opt for spirited adventure on the high seas or restful and tranquil sailing, remember to protect your trip from things that go bump in the night with travel insurance.

Statistically, cruises are considered one of the safest forms of travel, but oftentimes things can and do go wrong. For protection against the unexpected, travel insurance is truly a traveler's best friend. Just like cruises and friends however, there are different kinds of insurance and choosing which one is right for you can be daunting. To clear up some of the mystery, here are five travel insurance myths debunked:

1. I Don't Need It, Nothing Will Go Wrong: Though we hope never to use or need it, travel insurance can provide a tremendous amount of security and peace of mind for a small fraction of the cost of your trip. Travel insurance provides coverage for a wide-range of travel risks, including:

• Trip cancellation (if you have to cancel)
• Trip interruption (if your travels are brought to an unexpected end while on your trip)
• Medical coverage (if you need emergency medical coverage or an augmentation of your current health benefits)
• Medical evacuation protection (air ambulance service)

2. All Insurance Plans Are the Same: There are hundreds of insurance policies to choose from and just like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. The key is to compare, compare, compare. Shop around to get the best plan for your needs at the right price.

3. There's No Best Time to Buy Insurance: The early bird isn't the only one rewarded for his timely action. To receive the most benefit from your travel insurance policy and be eligible for optional benefits like Cancel for Any Reason and Pre-Existing Medical Conditions, purchase your policy within 10 to 30 days of your first trip payment.

4. I Get All the Protection I Need with Insurance from the Cruise Line: Insurance from a third-party source is easy to buy but more importantly, it offers 1) greater choice of plans, 2) enhanced protection coverage, including Financial Default protection and missed connection benefits and 3) better reimbursement benefits that provide financial reimbursement for canceled trips rather than a cruise voucher or credit.

5. All of My Medical Needs Can Be Managed Onboard: It's true that all cruise ships have fully equipped medical facilities and staff onboard to handle most emergencies, still, medical evacuations - transporting a passenger from the ship to a hospital on shore - occurs more often than we realize. The cost of a typical evacuation to the nearest hospital can quickly exceed the limited coverage offered by most cruise lines and leave you with a hefty balance to pay. Medical evacuation policies offering up to $2 million coverage can be purchased from third parties as a stand alone policy or a benefit included in comprehensive travel policies. These plans provide evacuation to the nearest appropriate care facility or, in some cases, to your hospital of choice depending on the company and plan.

For more information, visit

Published with permission from RISMedia.


68 Million Americans Believe It's OK to Strategically Default on Mortgages

October 18, 2012 4:08 am

Nearly 68 million U.S. adults (32 percent) believe homeowners should be able to strategically default on their mortgages without any consequences, according to recent survey results. The survey of 1,026 U.S. adults, conducted online by JZ Analytics last month also found that 28 million Americans (13 percent) would likely strategically default on a mortgage and 36 million Americans (17 percent) know someone who has strategically defaulted on a mortgage.

"Our research into the consumer opinion of the economic crisis of 2008 found alarming results," says John Zogby, senior analyst at JZ Analytics. "What jumped out is how many Americans feel it is acceptable for homeowners to walk away from a mortgage and go into foreclosure. If Americans carry on with that mindset, it will continue to cause problems as the economy undergoes a slow recovery."

A strategic default is when a homeowner, who has the financial ability to make the payment on a house that is worth less than is owed on the mortgage, decides to walk away and let the house go to foreclosure. Some of the survey respondents feel homeowners should be able to strategically default on mortgages because they believe the mortgage market has been a scam for many years, built on false promises that took advantage of people that didn't understand what was happening and they never had a chance of paying the mortgage off.

Other Key Findings:

• Stretch the Truth—The survey found that 36 million Americans (17 percent) would exaggerate personal information to obtain credit.
• The New Normal—According to the survey, 77 million Americans (36 percent) believe it's socially acceptable to have a poor credit score.
• Fear of Identity Theft—The survey also discovered that 75 million Americans (35 percent) are more afraid of becoming an identity theft victim than five years ago.

Source: JZ Analytics

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Rates Hit All-time Record Lows for Second Consecutive Week

October 18, 2012 4:08 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates falling to new all-time record lows for the second consecutive week on mortgage securities purchases by the Federal Reserve and indicators of a weakening economy. The Federal Reserve's purchase of long-term fixed mortgage securities allowed the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at 2.69 percent to fall below the 5-year ARM's rate at 2.72 percent. The last time the average 15-year fixed was lower than the 5-year ARM was the week ending October 15, 2009.

News Facts

• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.36 percent with an average 0.6 point for the week ending October 4, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.40 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.94 percent.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.69 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.73 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.26 percent.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.72 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.71 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.96 percent.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.57 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.60 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.95 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Borrowers may still pay closing costs, which are not included in the survey.

"Fixed mortgage rates fell again this week to all-time record lows due to the mortgage securities purchases by the Federal Reserve and indicators of a weakening economy. The final estimate of growth in Gross Domestic Product was revised down to 1.3 percent in the second quarter, representing the slowest growth in a year," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac. "In addition, personal incomes rose only 0.1 percent in August, while July's increase was revised downward. And finally, pending home sales in August fell 2.6 percent, well below the market consensus forecast of a slight increase."

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.