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

FTC Action Puts Robocallers Out of the Telemarketing Business

March 29, 2012 4:30 am

The Federal Trade Commission put a robocall operation out of the telemarketing business under a settlement resolving FTC charges that it bombarded consumers with more than two billion calls pitching a variety of products and services, including worthless extended auto warranties and credit card interest rate-reduction programs. 

The final settlement order against SBN Peripherals, based near Los Angeles, which did business as Asia Pacific Telecom Inc., is part of the FTC's ongoing crackdown on deceptive robocallers. The order bans the defendants from telemarketing and requires them to give up roughly $3 million in assets. 

The FTC's complaint alleged that the defendants delivered illegal prerecorded phone calls falsely claiming the caller had urgent information about the consumer's auto warranty or credit card interest rate. Consumers who pressed "1" for more information were transferred to telemarketers who used fraudulent practices to sell inferior extended auto service contracts or worthless debt-reduction services. According to court papers filed by the court-appointed receiver, from January 2008 through August 2009, the defendants completed approximately 2.6 billion outbound robocalls that were answered by approximately 1.6 billion consumers, approximately 12.8 million of whom were connected to a sales agent. 

As alleged in the complaint, the defendants violated the law by using robocalls to contact consumers without their written permission and called telephones listed on the National Do Not Call Registry. To make it difficult for consumers to identify the seller, the FTC also alleged that the defendants' robocalls often transmitted caller ID information vaguely identifying the caller as "SALES DEPT" and displaying telephone numbers registered to an offshore company it controlled called Asia Pacific Telecom. 

The Commission vote approving the proposed consent order was 4-0. It is subject to court approval. The FTC filed the proposed consent order in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

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Baby Boomers Keep on Truckin'

March 28, 2012 4:28 am

Although the country’s most famous generation is aging, they are showing no signs of slowing down, according to consumer research firm Scarborough. Baby boomers, who make up 35 percent of the U.S. adult population, are living up to their revolutionary legacy, showing the nation that their heyday is far from over by taking pleasure in life's adventures. 

In the past 12 months, baby boomers have attended a professional sporting event (36 percent), attended live theater (22 percent), visited an art museum (14 percent), attended a rock concert (12 percent) and gone to the symphony or opera (9 percent). The group is also 11 percent more likely than all American adults to have eaten at a seafood restaurant or steakhouse in the past 30 days. 

Baby boomers are also 9 percent more likely than all U.S. adults to have traveled domestically for business or vacation purposes in the past year and 3 percent more likely to have engaged in foreign travel for business or vacation purposes in the past three years. Nine percent of baby boomers have visited Europe in the past three years and 12 percent vacationed in the Caribbean in the same time frame. Their enthusiasm for travel also keeps them feeling lucky – 9 percent of baby boomers have visited Las Vegas in the past year and 34 percent visited any casino in the same time frame. 

Baby boomers are also spending money to make their home lives more entertaining as well. Nearly half (45 percent) of baby boomers live in a household with a digital video recorder and 30 percent live in a household with a video game system. Baby boomers are 21 percent more likely than all American adults to live in a household with a pool, hot tub or spa and 7 percent of baby boomers live in a household with a motorcycle. Baby boomers also take great pride in the appearance of their homes as 27 percent have had landscaping done in the past year and they are 21 percent more likely than all American adults to have spent $10,000 or more on home improvements in the past year. 

Baby boomers can be found reading national news (28 percent), making travel reservations (23 percent) and gaining medical services and information online (14 percent). On the radio, baby boomers listen to Adult Contemporary (30 percent), News and Talk (28 percent), and Classic Hits (25 percent). The kinds of television shows boomers typically watch are Movies (57 percent), Local Evening News (53 percent), Comedies (47 percent), and Local Morning News (44 percent). 

Baby boomers are 22 percent more likely than all American adults to be employed full-time and are 32 percent more likely to own a home valued at $500,000 or more. They are 23 percent more likely than all American adults to have an annual household income of $100,000 or more and are 9 percent more likely to hold at least a college degree. 

The biggest spenders of the baby boom generation are the High-Earning Baby Boomers (HEBBs), defined by Scarborough as baby boomers who live in households that have an annual income of $100,000 or more. HEBBs account for 9 percent of the American adult population and are more than twice as likely as all American adults to own a second home or other real estate property for investment.

They were nearly two and a half times more likely than all Americans to have spent $10,000 or more in the past year on remodeling their homes. HEBBs live in households that are 82 percent more likely than all American households to have a 401K plan, and more than twice as likely to have a college savings plan. 

HEBBs can be found in large cities where earning potential is reportedly higher. Among the top local markets for HEBBs are: Washington, D.C. (18 percent of all adults); San Francisco (16 percent); New York (14 percent) and Boston (14 percent).

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Is Your Auto Insurance Sufficient? Time to Look Again

March 28, 2012 4:28 am

While you may believe you have ample car insurance, the cars on the road around you may not.

According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), about 14 percent of drivers nationwide (roughly one in seven) are uninsured. That means that of the nearly 5.5 million car accidents in 2009, nearly 770,000 involved an uninsured driver. While this number usually decreases as unemployment rates improve, it’s a prudent idea to make sure your insurance is sufficient for covering an accident with an uninsured driver. 

According to North Carolina attorney Dre Fleury with the law firm Crumley Roberts, the minimum required coverage is usually not enough. 

"You can't always avoid an auto accident, but you can protect yourself financially, and you may find that for just a few extra dollars per month you could quadruple your coverage," advises Fleury. 

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for ensuring enough coverage. Factors such as age, driving record, where you live, family size and much more can affect your insurance costs and coverage needs. 

"Policies can be very detailed and highly personalized, but the key areas you want to review are liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage," says Fleury. "Medical payments coverage is also a great thing to have in your policy. 

"It's not just uninsured or underinsured drivers who pose a risk," adds Fleury. "If you're at fault in an accident, not having enough liability coverage could wipe you out financially, and the person you injure can even come after your home, assets and more." 

To help balance out the increased costs of liability insurance, Fleury suggests decreasing your collision and comprehensive insurance if you have an older car with no loan. 

Source: Crumley Roberts, LLP

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New App Helps Gardeners Succeed

March 28, 2012 4:28 am

If you’re lacking in the green thumb department, a new app might be just what you need. The recently launched GardenMinder™ App for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch is now available on the App Store. Created by Gardener's Supply and Green Mountain Digital, the app helps you start and maintain a healthy vegetable garden with built-in reminders and how-to's. 

The GardenMinder App helps both new and experienced gardeners plan, maintain, and record the progress of their kitchen vegetable gardens with various features, including: 

• A visual garden planner tool. Start with a pre-planned herb and vegetable garden or create your own using GardenMinder's built-in image and information library, which contains more than 70 of the most common vegetable types.
• Weekly alerts and 'Gardening Success Reminders.' Weekly reminders are tailored to only the crops you grow and based on frost dates for your locations. Go through and check off your reminders as you complete them. You will then receive weekly push notifications to remind you of your upcoming garden activities.
• Easy-access to 'How-To's.' GardenMinder's planting and care instructions, plus troubleshooting tips and a plant encyclopedia detailing the most popular vegetable crops, are easily accessible in the app.
• Create your own 'Personal Garden Journal.' Capture your garden in a journal with before-and-after photos, note planting progress, monitor growth, etc., you’re your personalized own GardenMinder. How-to's are linked in each reminder for easy access. You can tag each entry with a specific vegetable and share your success with friends via Facebook or email. This tool helps track your successes—and problems—for next year. 

For more information, please visit www.greenmountaindigital.com.

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Economic Index for Euro Area Increases in February

March 27, 2012 4:28 am

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the Euro Area increased 0.8 percent in February, rising to 105.2 (2004=100), following increases of 1.1 percent in January and 0.5 percent in December.

Said Jean-Claude Manini, The Conference Board senior economist for Europe: "The LEI for the Euro Area rose for a third consecutive month in February, boosted once again by investor and business confidence. However, the recent volatility of business confidence highlights the fragility of the near-term improvement and, in particular, the weakness of domestic demand for the Euro Area as a whole. Economic activity may have contracted for a second consecutive quarter, but the likeliest scenario based on the LEI still suggests that subdued growth in economic activity will resume in the coming months."

The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index® (CEI) for the Euro Area, which measures current economic activity, decreased 0.1 percent in February. The index stands at 102.4 (2004 = 100) according to preliminary estimates. The CEI remained unchanged in January and decreased 0.1 percent in December.

The eight components of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® for the Euro Area include:
  • Economic Sentiment Index (source: European Commission DG-ECFIN)
  • Index of Residential Building Permits Granted (source: Eurostat)
  • Index of Capital Goods New Orders (source: Eurostat)
  • EURO STOXX® Index (source: STOXX Limited)
  • Money Supply (M2) (source: European Central Bank)
  • Interest Rate Spread (source: ECB)
  • Eurozone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (source: Markit Economics)
  • Eurozone Service Sector Future Business Activity Expectations Index (source: Markit Economics)

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How to Declutter for Spring

March 27, 2012 4:28 am

Now that it’s officially spring, the urge to clean and declutter descends upon many homeowners. The prospect of tackling spring cleaning, however, can be overwhelming, to say the least. Here are some helpful tips from Apartment Finder to make spring cleaning quick and efficient so that you can get out and start enjoying the great weather.
  • Make a plan. Decide which projects take priority. Does your closet need a massive redo? Are your kitchen drawers so filled with clutter they won’t open? Are you buried under an avalanche of assorted storage containers every time you open your kitchen cabinet? Once you decide what you want to tackle, put it on your calendar. Setting a date will keep you from finding excuses to put it off, and it will give you time to plan.
  • Be creative. You have a target date and a list of projects—now what? Before you begin, think about what storage features you are lacking. Be creative. For example, try using bins to create easy weeknight meals in a basket. A bin labeled “spaghetti night” would contain pasta, a jar of sauce, and a loaf of Italian bread.
  • Make some room. If you’re like most people, your closet might also be in serious need of attention. Shoe organizers and storage bins are always useful in the closet. Take everything out of the closet until you have an empty space. Sort everything you haven’t worn or used in the past year into two piles: toss and give away. Place items back into your closet by type (pants, skirts, suit jackets, etc.). If you have empty wall space in your closet, add hooks (the removable type is perfect). The more hooks, the better—use these for belts, ties, and scarves.

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Guidelines for Purchasing a Home Warranty

March 27, 2012 4:28 am

A home service contract, otherwise known as a home warranty, provides homeowners with peace of mind that the cost of repairing or replacing an appliance or major system will be covered. However, many people are unaware of exactly how a home warranty works. The Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC), a leading advocate on behalf of consumers and the home service contract industry, offer the following guidelines for purchasing a home warranty.

What is a home service contract?

The typical home service contract is a one-year contract that protects a homebuyer or current homeowner against the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of major systems and appliances that breakdown due to normal usage or defects in materials or workmanship. A home service contract can:
  • Lessen the risk of costs and delays if a system, system component or appliance malfunctions during the selling process
  • Help to resolve issues discovered during the home inspection stage
  • Reduce any after-sale liability by a seller
  • Add value and improve marketability of homes
  • Increase a buyer's confidence in their home investment
Who sells home service contracts?
REALTORS®, builders and independent providers sell home service contracts. A home service contract can be purchased at any time, including at the time of purchase, and is usually transferable to a new owner, although a small transfer fee may apply.

What is the difference between a home service contract and homeowner's insurance?

  • Home service contracts typically cover the major systems in your home in the event of breakdown or malfunction including electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and built-in appliances such as ranges, washers and whirlpool baths.
  • Homeowner's insurance covers the structure of a home and personal belongings in case of a fire or natural disaster such as hurricanes and lightning, and provides liability coverage in case someone is injured on the property.
  • Home service contracts are optional in real estate transactions.
  • Homeowner's insurance is almost always required, especially if the buyer has a mortgage.
  • A home service contract is not a substitute for a homeowner's insurance policy. A home service contract is a beneficial supplement to a homeowner's insurance policy as homeowner's policies generally do not cover items for breakdowns or malfunctions due to normal wear and tear or defects in materials or workmanship.
Do I need to be buying or selling a home to purchase a home service contract?
No. A home service contract provides valuable protection for current homeowners when a system or appliance fails.

Can I transfer my home service contract to the new buyer of my home?
Most home service contracts are transferable and may offer the option to allow the buyer to change or upgrade the service contract. A low-cost transfer fee may apply.

Can I customize the home service contract to meet the needs of my home?
Yes, but fees may apply. You may be able to purchase a home service contract that covers smaller appliances such as ceiling fans and built-in microwaves. Additional fees apply for coverage for private wells and septic systems.

How are contractors screened?
SCIC member companies typically put their contractors through a rigorous screening process that includes state license verification, detailed reference verification, and background checks.

How do I file a claim?
Homeowners are given a toll-free number to call. The home service contract company will verify your coverage and dispatch an independent contractor to assess the problem and replace or repair the item as necessary. A service fee, $50 on average, is charged per service visit.

What Can Cause a Denial of Payment?
  • Improper maintenance
  • Code violations
  • Unusual wear and tear
  • Improper installation
What is generally NOT covered?
  • Outdoor items such as sprinklers
  • Faucet repairs are not covered under all plans
  • Garage door openers
  • Spas or pools, unless specific coverage is requested
  • Permit fees
What are the consumer's responsibilities?
Home service contract coverage varies from state to state and from policy to policy so the consumer needs to:
  • Request a copy of the contract before buying
  • Read the provisions carefully and become thoroughly familiar with all coverage, limitations and exclusions
  • Carefully fulfill all contract responsibilities, such as regular filter changes for your heating/air conditioning systems
  • Keep the service contract paperwork, original receipt(s), and all maintenance records
  • Research the service contract company
Source: Service Contract Industry Council

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Healthy Lawns and Landscapes Boost First Impressions

March 26, 2012 4:26 am

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, “curb appeal sells 49 percent of all homes.” Episode one of national lawn care service TruGreen’s new webisode series shares three tips for updating your home’s first impression this spring, just in time for the peak home-selling season.

Tip 1: Watering Right

Improper watering of your lawn and landscapes can be a drain on your home’s curb appeal. In spring, check the working condition of sprinkler heads and related water lines to ensure they’re functioning properly. Also, make sure your automated or manual watering method efficiently covers the landscape. You can place a one-inch deep, empty food can in the middle of your lawn to measure depth of water collected each watering cycle.

Don’t over or under water your lawn. Give your lawn and landscape a slow, steady watering about once a week, and adjust your watering schedule depending on your area’s rainfall, grass and soil type. Be aware of local water restrictions.

Tip 2: Complement with Color
Create an instant pop of color and help your home’s curb appeal bloom this spring. Consider your home’s exterior when selecting flowering plant combinations for plant beds, window boxes or front porch planters. With a white house, any color combination will work well. With a yellow house, red or pink blooms tend to complement best.

Dead plants can quickly wilt your home’s walk-up allure. When preparing to plant, ensure proper drainage, nutrients and moisture for healthy root systems and blooms.

Tip 3: Grass vs. Weeds
Grass is starting to compete with weeds for space and nutrients this spring. However, a lawn care approach that works in one region of the country doesn’t necessarily work the same in another area.
According to Ben Hamza, Ph.D., TruGreen expert and director of technical operations, TruGreen will design a custom plan to provide your yard exactly what it needs to give your lawn the right start.

For more information, please visit TruGreen.com.

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Tightest Housing Markets in the U.S.

March 26, 2012 4:26 am

A simple measure of tightness in a market for owner-occupied housing is the homeowner vacancy rate (number of homes for sale divided by the number either for sale or owner-occupied). Builders are often interested in markets that are tight by this measure, because it indicates prospective buyers will have difficulty finding a suitable home among the available existing units.

Several federal government surveys provide homeowner vacancy rates, but the one with the greatest geographic detail by far is the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). In a recent study, NAHB tabulated the most recent (2010) ACS data for all metropolitan areas in the country.

Overall, the tightest markets tend to be relatively small: Corvallis, Ore. (with a homeowner vacancy rate of 0.23 percent), Lebanon, Pa. (0.49 percent), Billings, Mont. (0.54 percent), San Angelo, Texas (0.61 percent), and Eau Claire, Wis. (also 0.61 percent).

The two tightest large markets in 2010—Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y. and Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.—were also the two tightest large markets the last time NAHB looked at the ACS data in 2008.
The NAHB study provides a rundown of the top-10 metros according to nine key measures, including: owner-occupied housing units; homeownership rate; homeowner vacancy rate; share of single-family detached homes; value of homes owned; homeowner incomes; growth in stock of single-family detached homes; and share of homes built recently. It also has a spreadsheet that shows how more than 350 other metro areas stack up in each category.

Read the original article at the National Association of Home Builder blog, Eye on Housing, www.nahb.org.

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FTC Legal Action Stops Alleged Mortgage Relief Scammers

March 26, 2012 4:26 am

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court has halted an operation that took in more than $1 million by allegedly selling homeowners bogus mortgage relief and foreclosure rescue products, including a scam that falsely promised to get help for homeowners who joined others to file so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits against their lenders. This is the FTC’s first case against alleged scammers who pitch these kinds of lawsuits.

The order also freezes the operation's assets and appoints a permanent receiver to run it while the FTC moves forward with the case. Among other things, the agency will seek money for possible refunds for consumers.

As part of its continuing crackdown on mortgage relief scams, the FTC filed a complaint against Santa Ana, California-based Sameer Lakhany and five companies he controlled. Lakhany also did business using three websites, HouseHoldRelief.org, FreeFedLoanMod.org, and MyHomeSupport.org. The complaint charges that the defendants victimized hundreds of consumers with two related scams.

In one scam, the FTC claims the defendants masqueraded as a specialty law firm, Precision Law Center, and sent out direct mail resembling a class action settlement notice, holding out the false promise to consumers that if they sued their lenders along with other homeowners in so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits, they could obtain favorable mortgage concessions from their lenders or stop the foreclosure process. In fact, the defendants allegedly operated a sham law firm and only engaged attorneys briefly to file the lawsuits, after which either the defendants neglected the suits, or the suits were dismissed. According to the FTC, they charged $6,000 to $10,000 in advance, but failed to get the results they promised.

The material also allegedly claimed that 80 to 85 percent of these suits are successful, and that consumers might also: receive their homes free and clear; have their principal balance reduced to 70 percent of the current value and their interest rate reduced by half; be refunded any accrued interest, penalties, and charges; improve their standing with credit reporting agencies; and receive monetary damages.

In the other scam, the defendants allegedly promised but failed to deliver relief from affordable mortgages and foreclosures, typically charging consumers between $795 to $1,595 each for a so-called “forensic loan audit.” According to the FTC, the defendants told consumers these audits would find lender violations 90 percent of the time or more, and that the resulting legal leverage would force their lender to give them a loan modification that would substantially improve their mortgage terms. The defendants falsely portrayed themselves as non-profit, free, accredited, or HUD-certified housing counselors with special qualifications to help obtain mortgage loan modifications and avoid foreclosure. They promised consumers that the forensic loan audit would be the only charge not covered by their “free” service, and that if the “audit” did not turn up any violations, consumers could get a 70 percent refund and still obtain a loan modification. They also told consumers their loan modification requests would be seriously delayed without the audit, according to the complaint.

In its complaint, the FTC charged the defendants with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, now known as Regulation O.

For more information, please visit www.ftc.gov.

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