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

Like a Color? Just 'Chip It'

February 9, 2012 3:30 am

Next time you’re surfing the Web and come across a color that moves you, capture it and replicate it with a new interactive tool from Sherwin-Williams: “Chip It!”

This innovative Web-based tool allows consumers to select any online image and instantly identify the Sherwin-Williams paint colors that correspond to the colors contained within the picture. This allows consumers to identify the colors that inspire them while browsing the Internet in order to use them for their own decorating purposes.

To get started, consumers create a profile at www.letschipit.com and then add the Chip It! bookmarklet to their Internet browser toolbar. This bookmarklet allows users to identify up to ten Sherwin-Williams paint colors represented in online photos simply by scrolling over the image. From there, consumers can add the photo and corresponding color palette to their Chip It profile, share the creation socially or print it out.

"We know that finding the right color is the biggest roadblock for consumers when they are ready to paint a room – they want it to be right the first time," says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. "Consumers seek inspiration from a wide range of places. We want to help them take that inspiration and turn it into a reality."

For more information, visit www.letschipit.com.

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HUD Adds 31.5 Million Dollars in Funding for Very Low-Income Seniors

February 9, 2012 3:30 am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced the addition of $31.5 million in funding aimed at providing very low-income senior citizens with access to affordable housing. The funding is designed to help non-profit organizations in five states produce additional accessible housing, offer rental assistance, and facilitate supportive services for the elderly.

The capital advances and rental subsidies are provided through HUD’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly. Section 202 grants provide very low-income elderly persons 62 years of age or older with the opportunity to live independently in an environment that provides support services to meet their unique needs. In addition to funding the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of multifamily developments, HUD’s Section 202 program also provides millions of dollars in rental assistance so that residents in selected developments only pay 30 percent of their adjusted incomes.

HUD provides Section 202 funds to non-profit organizations in two forms:
  • Capital Advances. This is funding that covers the cost of developing, acquiring, or rehabilitating the development. Repayment is not required as long as the housing remains available for occupancy by very low-income elderly persons for at least 40 years.
  • Project Rental Assistance Contracts. This is funding that goes to each development to cover the difference between the residents’ contributions toward rent and the cost of operating the project.
Residents must be “very low income” with household incomes less than 50 percent of their median for that area. However, most households that receive Section 202 assistance earn less than 30 percent of the median for their area. Generally, this means that a one-person household will have an annual income of about $13,500.

Source: hud.gov

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6 Tips for Fighting Winter Weight Gain in Pets

February 8, 2012 9:30 am

Winter weight gain is an all too common struggle, and not just for humans. Weight gain in dogs and cats is more prevalent in the winter as well. When a dog that's used to getting a daily walk around the neighborhood is now only running outside for speedy breaks – or a cat that's accustomed to a romp around the yard is now reluctant to spending time outdoors – it naturally follows that the food they've consumed is not being burned as energy. Plus, when colder temperatures set in, activity levels drop, metabolisms slow, and hibernation mode sets in. It's the age-old evolutionary method for preservation.
To help pet parents keep winter weight gain at bay, petMD.com offers the following tips:
  • Create an exercise plan. This can include brisk walks, weather permitting, or activities like fetch modified for indoor play.
  • If getting enough activity may prove troublesome, consider cutting back on calories. This can mean cutting back on treats or decreasing the amount of kibble doled out. If you're worried about your pet feeling deprived, add fresh vegetables into the mix. Carrots make a great treat substitute.
  • Visit your veterinarian at the start of winter to get an accurate picture of your pet's current health. It is easier to maintain if you know what you're starting with.
  • If your pet is on the heavier side, or has a history of weight issues, continue to see your veterinarian once a month for a check-up to make sure the weight is not creeping on.
  • Learn the signs indicative of a pet being overweight or obese. The two areas it is easiest to spot weight gain in are the spine and the ribs.
  • If weight gain still does occur, consult your veterinarian for a cat or dog weight loss plan. You do not want to cut back drastically on food without a veterinary opinion.
The most important thing for pet parents to remember is that prevention is key. Stopping winter weight gain from occurring is much easier than helping your pet lose weight.

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Survey Shows Jump in Student Loan Debtors Seeking Help

February 8, 2012 9:30 am

With student loan debt now topping U.S. credit card debt and few or no options available for distressed borrowers (including parents who co-signed loans and now face the loss of nest eggs, retirement homes and other assets), America faces the very real possibility of another major economic threat, according to a new survey and report from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA).

The NACBA survey of 860 bankruptcy attorneys nationwide found that:
  • More than four out of five bankruptcy attorneys (81 percent) say that potential clients with student loan debt have increased "significantly" or "somewhat" in the last three-four years. Overall, about half (48 percent) of bankruptcy attorneys reported significant increases in such potential clients.
  • Nearly two out of five bankruptcy attorneys (39 percent) have seen potential student loan client cases jump 25-50 percent in the last three-four years. An additional quarter (23 percent) of bankruptcy attorneys have seen such cases jump by 50 percent to more than 100 percent.
  • Most bankruptcy attorneys (95 percent) report that few student loan debtors are seen as having any chance of obtaining a discharge as a result of undue hardship.
  • More than four out of five bankruptcy attorneys (82 percent) see the limited availability of student loan discharge in bankruptcy as "a big problem" barring a fresh start for clients.
  • Seven out of 10 bankruptcy attorneys see the lack of ability to separately classify student loan debts for debtors using chapter 13 as a "big problem."
  • Nearly two out of three bankruptcy attorneys (65 percent) say that student loan provider debt collections have become "much more" or "somewhat more" aggressive in the last 18 months.
  • More than three out of five bankruptcy attorneys (61 percent) dealing with potential student loan debtor clients have seen cases of debts more than 15 years old still being pursued.
  • Titled "Student Loan 'Debt Bomb': America's Next Mortgage-Style Economic Crisis," the companion NACBA paper points out:
  • College seniors who graduated with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $25,250, up five percent from the previous year. Borrowing has grown far more quickly for those in the 35-49 age group, with school debt burden increasing by a staggering 47 percent.
  • Students are not alone in borrowing at record rates, so too are their parents. Loans to parents for the college education of children have jumped 75 percent since the 2005-2006 academic year. Parents have an average of $34,000 in student loans and that figure rises to about $50,000 over a standard 10-year loan repayment period. An estimated 17 percent of parents whose children graduated in 2010 took out loans, up from 5.6 percent in 1992-1993.
  • Of the Class of 2005, borrowers who began repayments the year they graduated, one analysis found 25 percent became delinquent at some point and 15 percent defaulted. The Chronicle of Education puts the default rate on government loans at 20 percent.
During January 2012, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) invited more than 4,500 of its members to participate in an online survey. With 860 completed responses tallied, the online survey attracted a high percentage (19 percent) of potential respondents. The full survey questions and responses are set out in the survey report at http://www.nacba.org.

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Fed Actions Drive Mortgage Rate Expectations

February 8, 2012 9:30 am

The majority of Americans continue to expect no change in mortgage rates over the next 12 months, according to results from Fannie Mae's January 2012 National Housing Survey. At the same time, their expectations for home prices have improved for the fourth month in a row, with respondents expecting prices to go up by 1.0 percent, on average, during the year. Consumer sentiment is improving from its depressed level last summer, with current attitudes very similar to those of a year ago. Forty-four percent of respondents expect their personal financial situation to improve, up from 40 percent a month ago, and 30 percent of Americans believe the economy is on the right track, up from 22 percent last month and up for the third straight month since November 2011.

Other key highlights from the survey include:

Homeownership and Renting
  • On average, Americans expect home prices to increase by 1.0 percent over the next 12 months, continuing the upward trend started in October 2011.
  • Twenty-eight percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months (up 2 percentage points since last month), while 16 percent say they expect home prices to decline (down 2 percentage points since last month). Fifty-one percent say prices will stay the same.
  • Only 8 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go down in the next 12 months, down 2 percentage points from December.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to buy stayed at 71 percent this month, while the percentage who say it is a good time to sell dropped by 1 percentage point to 10 percent.
  • On average, respondents expect home rental prices to increase by 3.2 percent over the next 12 months, down from 3.5 percent in December.
  • The same percentage of respondents as last month say rental prices will go up (43 percent), go down (5 percent), and stay the same (46 percent).
  • Sixty-four percent of respondents say they would buy their next home, while 30 percent say they would rent their next home, down 1 percentage point from last month.
The Economy and Household Finances
  • The percentage of respondents who say the economy is on the right track continued to rise this month, reaching 30 percent, an 8 percentage point increase since last month. The percentage who say the economy is on the wrong track dropped to 63 percent, a decline of 6 percentage points.
  • A larger share of respondents (44 percent) say their personal financial situation will get better over the next 12 months than say it will stay the same (41 percent), continuing the gains seen last month.
  • Seventeen percent of respondents say their income is significantly lower than it was 12 months ago (down 2 percentage points since November), while 62 percent say it has stayed the same (up 3 percentage points).
  • Thirty-six percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months, a 3 point decrease from last month and the lowest level in the past 12 months.
Source: Fannie Mae

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Americans Not Comfortable Using Technology to File Tax Returns

February 7, 2012 4:38 am

A majority of Americans are concerned that their personal and financial information would not be kept private and secure if they file their state and federal tax returns on the Internet, according to the results of a new national poll. The survey was commissioned by Taxsoftware.com, which launched an iPad app for federal tax returns in 2011.

This year, apprehension spiked over security and privacy issues related to every high-tech device people would use to file tax returns, including smartphones (54 percent), desktop computers (53 percent), laptop computers (52 percent), personal digital assistants (41 percent) and iPads (41 percent).

Comparisons between the 2012 and 2011 Taxsoftware.com survey results follow:
  • 54 percent now have some level of concern about using smartphones, up from 43 percent last year.
  • 53 percent now have some level of concern about using desktop computers, versus 49 percent in 2011.
  • 52 percent now have some level of concern about using their laptop computers, up from 44 percent last year.
  • 41 percent now have some level of concern about using personal digital assistants, versus 32 percent in 2011.
  • 41 percent now have some level of concern about using iPads, up from 31 percent last year.
"While Internet-related security issues are weighing more heavily on the minds of taxpayers today than in 2011, it's important to keep the latest poll numbers in perspective. When our survey was first conducted in 1997, a whopping 83 percent of Americans had worries about Internet-based tax filing. The lesson here is that, over time, tens of millions of people have grown comfortable filing their taxes online," said Taxsoftware.com spokesperson Mickey Macedo.

"Whether this year's spike in concerns is a blip or a trend, only time will tell," Macedo said.

The survey was conducted Jan. 30-31, 2012 by Ipsos, and consisted of a national sample of 1,006 responses by adults 18 years of age or older. The sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. adult population according to U.S. Census data.

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Foreclosure Mediation Can Save Millions of Homes, Says New Report

February 7, 2012 4:38 am

According to a new report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), a proven solution is already in place to head off the mounting foreclosure problem in the United States. The report, “Rebuilding America: How States Can Save Millions of Homes through Foreclosure Mediation,” documents how states with strong programs are preventing foreclosures while saving money for investors and taxpayers.

The National Consumer Law Center® (NCLC®) is a non-profit organization specializing in consumer issues on behalf of low-income and other vulnerable people. This nationwide report reviews existing programs in 19 states and makes recommendations for best practices for all states to adopt, using foreclosure mediation data from the last three years to draw its conclusions. The report includes examples of programs that are more successful (Connecticut, Nevada, and New York) and those that are less so, and provides a history of documented servicer problems and the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

Highlights and key recommendations from the report include:
  • Foreclosure mediation programs and conferences provide substantial community benefits at little or no cost. Mediation fees average from none to less than $1,000, typically paid by the homeowner and/or the mortgage lender. In comparison, investors lost an average $145,000 per home foreclosure in 2008, and foreclosures just in California have resulted in nearly $500 billion in aggregate direct and indirect costs.
  • Effective mediation programs do not prolong foreclosures. Most mediation programs work within the time frames for existing state laws. In Philadelphia, for example, the typical foreclosure case spent 53 days in a foreclosure conference while the average time frame to complete an uncontested foreclosure was 10 months.
  • Foreclosure mediation programs connect borrowers with housing counselors. Borrowers who receive housing counseling are much more likely to avoid foreclosure and obtain affordable as well as sustainable loan modifications. According to a recent study, 63 percent of borrowers who obtained modifications with counseling sustained the modifications, while only 8 percent of borrowers who obtained modifications without counseling sustained them.
  • Not all foreclosure mediation programs are equal; all states should adopt foreclosure mediation programs with enforceable standards and robust outreach as permanent features of state foreclosure laws as quickly as possible.
  • Strong foreclosure mediation programs can work hand-in-hand with other tools to rebuild the nation's broken mortgage market and should be used to maximize HAMP modifications. As documented in previous NCLC reports, servicers can make sustainable loan modifications yet many choose not to do so. The modified loans' default rate over one year dropped from 56.2 percent in 2008 to 25.7 percent in 2010. HAMP loan modifications were the most sustainable of all with a 19.4 percent (2010) and 17.3 percent (2011) redefault rate after one year.
  • Policymakers can use mediation programs to help preserve minority homeownership; gains made over the last decade are vanishing. Many minority families were initially targeted for unaffordable subprime loans, and are denied loan modifications more often and steered into less affordable non-HAMP loan modifications more frequently than non-minority homeowners. Mediation programs provide needed oversight over practices that continue to disproportionately impact minorities.

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Know Your Water-Line Responsibilities

February 7, 2012 4:38 am

A recent national survey conducted by GfK Roper Custom Research finds that less than 50 percent of homeowners surveyed know that they are responsible for repairs to the water line on their property. In fact, according to the report, one-third of all responding homeowners assume their local utility is responsible for the cost of a burst water line between their house and the street, when this is usually not the case. Such lack of awareness often leads to unexpected and expensive repairs for homeowners.

Typically the homeowner is responsible for the water service line from the curb or well casing all the way to the home, connecting to the water heater, sinks, showers and more, explains HomeServe, a company that offers Water Service Line Protection. Temperature changes, shifting soil or the age of the line can all cause the line to become damaged. Many times this results in a loss of water pressure or a loss of water altogether. In other instances, the effects will not be noticed until there is a spike in the water bill due to an underground leak. Repairing a water service line can cost more than $2,000.

If a water line does break, don’t panic. The following will determine the degree of the problem and how you react to it:
  • The point of the leak on the water main.
  • The time of day the water line break occurs.
  • The severity of the water main break.
  • The age and type of the existing water line.
If the water main break occurs inside the basement, a sewer trap can be opened to give immediate relief or a sump pump with a float switch can be installed until a water line repair crew arrives. Typically, if the water line break is in the front of the house or the roadway, waiting for service during normal work hours poses no danger or threat to your property. If water service is interrupted to your property, oftentimes, a temporary connection will be made to a neighbor’s house.

Companies such as HomeServe offer service plans for treating such water-line issues, which entitles you to 24/7 service. Find out the local water main servicers in your area and add their numbers to your emergency contact list.

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'Dirty Work' Still Left to Women

February 6, 2012 4:36 am

The role men play inside the home has certainly started to evolve compared to 30 years ago, and most men seem to be stepping up to help with household chores. But is it enough and are they given credit for their efforts by their female counterparts? Apparently not. The makers of Scrubbing Bubbles® recently released the second annual Dirty Work Index™ survey, and found when it comes to cleaning, women still play the dominant role and in fact, may not be ready to share the spotlight even though they want more help.

According to the survey, when it comes to cleaning, women think they do it all. In fact, 58 percent of women say it's their "job" to clean, and a quarter (25 percent) of all women feels as if they are the cleaning "leader" in their homes. Conversely, more than half of women confided that they want more overall help from their partner or spouse, but 38 percent don't trust them to meet their standards of cleanliness.

However, the survey revealed that men are helping around the house—they just aren't receiving credit where credit's due. Forty-five percent of men surveyed say it's their job to clean and contribute to the household accordingly. More surprisingly, nearly 75 percent of men claim to clean to make their spouse or partner happy – demonstrating they do care about helping out and are picking up the slack.

From February 2012 through June 2012, author and speaker John Gray will be offering tips and advice to couples on how to conquer household chores and create more harmony at home on the Scubbing Bubble Facebook page. In the meantime, he offers this advice for creating the best atmosphere at home:
  • Define the roles: It's important to identify all the household chores and discuss who will have ownership of each.
  • Discuss expectations: The results showed that women don't trust men to meet their standards of clean. Gray recommends that women actually show men how they want the house cleaned and that couples discuss what clean means to each of them.
  • Look for time-saving cleaning tools: Stock your home with cleaning products that are easy to use and efficient.
  • Remember to say thank you: Whether or not the bathroom shines the way you want, don't forget to say thank you for making the effort.

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8 Ways to Protect Yourself from an Appliance Fire

February 6, 2012 4:36 am

Appliances can pose a fire hazard even when they are not in use, according to a recent investigation by Consumer Reports. While human error can play a role, especially in fires involving cooking appliances and clothes dryers, Consumer Reports' in-depth analysis of federal fire data revealed that only about half of all appliance fires could be attributed to human mistakes—much of the rest appear to be caused by problems with the appliances themselves.

In fact, in the past five years, more than 15 million appliance units have been recalled by the CPSC and manufacturers for defects that could cause a fire; 7.3 million (almost half) of the recalled units were dishwashers. Consumer Reports offers the following eight steps homeowners can take to protect themselves:
  1. Register new appliances. It is critical that consumers register their products with manufacturers in order to be promptly notified in the event of a recall. Consumers concerned about their privacy or junk mail need only provide manufacturers with their name, contact information and the appliance's model number.
  2. Check for recalls. Consumers can sign up for alerts at www.recalls.gov. Those who move into a home with existing appliances should record their make and model and check company websites for any recalls or review customers' experiences with those products at www.SaferProducts.gov.
  3. Install fire-prevention equipment. Each level of a home and every bedroom should have a working smoke alarm. Consumer Reports recommends smoke alarms have both photoelectric and ionization sensors to provide the fastest response to any type of fire. Also, keep one full-floor fire extinguisher (rated 2-A:10-B:C or greater) on every level, plus a smaller supplemental unit in the kitchen.
  4. Inspect power cords. Check for frayed power cords and never route electric cords (including extension cords) under carpeting, where they can overheat or be damaged by furniture.
  5. Check home wiring. The electrical wiring in older homes cannot always handle the demands of modern appliances. Systems should be inspected by a qualified electrician. An upgrade to wiring may cost several hundred dollars, but is likely worth the added expense.
  6. Practice kitchen safety. Unattended cooking is a common fire-starter, whether using a range or microwave oven. If small children are home, maintain a kids-free-zone of at least 3 feet and use back burners when possible. Consumers should unplug their small appliances, including toasters and coffeemakers, when not in use and or when planning to be away for long periods.
  7. Clear range hoods. Grease buildup in range hoods is another fire hazard, so be sure to clean the vents regularly.
  8. Keep dryer vents clear. Clean the lint screen in the dryer regularly to avoid buildup, which has been listed as a factor in many fires. Use rigid metal dryer ducts instead of flexible ducts made of foil or plastic, which can sag and let lint build. Check ducts regularly and remove any lint buildup.
Source: www.ConsumerReports.org

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