December 22, 2011 9:52 pm
If you're planning to travel during the new year, you can help protect your home while you're away by following these simple tips:
1. Make it look like you're home. Install timers on interior lights so they turn on and off periodically. Many timers cost less than $25. Some more costly products are capable of varying the time that your lights turn on. Also consider leaving your radio on and tuned to an all-news or talk show station.
2. Disconnect and remove all exterior electrical decorations before you leave to reduce the chance of fire and theft. Install exterior lights controlled by motion sensors to make your home a more difficult target for prowlers.
3. Discontinue your newspaper delivery temporarily. Be sure to give several days notice so your order can be processed in time.
4. Ask someone to collect any free papers or sales materials left near your house. When fliers and papers are left on a driveway day after day, it's a sure sign that no one is home.
5. Have the post office hold your mail. This can be initiated by calling the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 and listening to the option for putting a vacation hold on your mail. You can make arrangements up to 30 days in advance of your vacation; at minimum, two days will be needed to process your request.
6. Ask a friend or neighbor to park a car in your driveway occasionally and keep an eye on your place. If police regularly patrol your neighborhood, give law enforcement authorities your schedule so they can watch for suspicious activity. If there's a crime-watch program, notify the person in charge.
7. If you have an alarm that is monitored, tell the alarm company you will be away. If possible, provide a phone number where you can be reached.
Before traveling, take these simple steps to help protect your property.
December 22, 2011 9:52 pm
The National Association of REALTORS® supports legislation introduced recently that provides sensible reform of the secondary mortgage market and protects the interest of taxpayers.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) introduced the legislation, “The Mortgage Finance Act of 2011,” in the U.S. Senate. The bill creates a limited-term, government-chartered secondary mortgage market mechanism, the Mortgage Finance Agency, that would focus on the securitization of loans meeting the “qualified residential mortgage” (QRM) standard crafted by Sens. Isakson, Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) for the Dodd-Frank Act.
“We commend Sen. Isakson for putting forth this legislation. As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR is committed to working with Congress on a solution that protects U.S. taxpayers while continuing to allow Americans access to the dream of homeownership,” said NAR President Moe Veissi. “Any new secondary mortgage market model must ensure that mortgages are affordable and always available to creditworthy buyers, especially in times of economic distress; ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected; require sound underwriting standards; and provide for rigorous oversight. We think this legislation creates the framework to accomplish that.”
NAR has long recommended a considered, responsible approach to reforming the secondary mortgage market. Toward that end, the association established a set of principles and recommendations that include facilitating the flow of capital into the mortgage market in all market conditions; establishing entities with a separate legal identity from the federal government, but still serving a public purpose; ensuring risk-based pricing of loan products or guarantees; and requiring the highest standards of transparency and soundness with respect to disclosure and structuring of mortgage-related securities.
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
December 22, 2011 9:52 pm
Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates largely unchanged and near their record lows helping to keep housing affordability high for those borrowers who are in the market. The 30-year fixed dipped to 3.99 percent, and at 3.27 percent, the 15-year fixed averaged just slightly above its all-time low of 3.26 percent on October 6, 2011. According to the report:
• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.99 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending December 8, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.00 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.61 percent.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.27 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.30 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.96 percent.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.93 percent this week, with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.90 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.60 percent.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.80 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.27 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.
According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac, “Thirty-year fixed-rate loans have declined 0.62 percentage points from a year ago, and median sales prices on existing homes are off 4.7 percent in the year ending with October. These low rates and home prices have pushed housing affordability to record highs this year. For instance, the National Housing Affordability Index, which dates back to 1971, reached another all-time record high in October for the sixth time in 2011, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Monthly principal and mortgage interest payments accounted for a mere 12.6 percent of median family incomes that month. This level of affordability likely contributed to the rise in conventional mortgage applications for home purchases over the week of December 2nd to the most in nearly a year."
For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com.
December 22, 2011 3:50 pm
With the holidays officially over, it's time to get reorganized for the new year. If your home is in disarray, you may feel the need to take some time to get cleaned up and prepared for what's to come. The following tips can help you return to normalcy:
Clutter control: Make room for your new belongings by weeding out some of your old ones. For every new item you receive, donate or toss an older version. Challenge yourself to rid your closet of outworn or rarely used items. Alternately, you can try filling every leftover holiday mailing box in your home with items to donate to Goodwill or charity. Regardless of what you fill them with, you'll be surprised by how much clutter you conquer.
Sort before you store: With the rush over, it's very tempting to throw all ornaments and decorations in a box and never think twice about it. However, if you take the time to sort your holiday items, you'll be glad you did come December 2012. Organizing your holiday cookware, decorations, specialty linens, etc., will make next year's decorating process that much easier and may save you some space in the basement or attic.
Rid yourself of those white elephants: Don't allow those unwanted gifts to overtake your home. Designate a spot in your home for "regifts." Write a little note about who gave you the item to prevent any awkward mistakes in the future. You may even want to consider a white elephant exchange party where each guest brings an item they'd like to regift. Some venders online may allow you to sell unwanted items. Amazon Marketplace and Ebay are great sites to start, depending on the item. Appropriately dealing with these gifts is important to controlling the clutter in your house.
Start the new year off right with a clean and clutter-free living space. The time invested in the clean-up process will be time well spent.
December 22, 2011 3:50 pm
Many people looking for unoccupied homeowners insurance for an empty residence will find that the process can be difficult. Many companies will not cover such a dwelling or charge high premiums because of the increased risk associated with vacant properties. The chance of burglary and vandalism are higher. The potential of unnoticed damage which can compound problems and costs also increases. There may also be an issue with squatters.
If a residence is vacant for more than 30 days, a standard policy may become invalid. In order to find homeowners insurance that will cover this type of property for a reasonable price, here are four things that should be known to reduce risk and help lower rates.
1. Make the home look occupied. There are many things that can be done, such as asking a neighbor to park their car in the driveway and putting lights on a timer. It is also recommended to leave furniture in the home when securing your home. Be sure to also have newspapers and other mail stopped.
2. Prepare the central heating and water. If a house will be empty during the winter months, the risk of frozen pipes and water damage increase. By keeping the heat on at a low setting, this risk is reduced.
3. Set up regular inspections. The majority of problems with vacant properties are simply because of unnoticed issues and compounding damage and costs. By having a trusted third party make regular visits, this can be avoided and add peace of mind.
4. Secure the property and remove valuables. All entry points should be secure with an alarm set. Valuables should be removed so they do not attract attention that could lead to burglary.
By following these tips, you can reduce the risk and hopefully use it as leverage to receive lower insurance rates.
For more information, visit www.HomeownersInsurance.net
December 22, 2011 3:50 pm
Your credit score can affect many aspects of your life. The biggest, perhaps, is the ability to secure a mortgage should you be in the market for a home. The better the score you have, the less your debt will cost you in the long run. It's important to take control of your credit score before beginning the buying process. If you want to boost your score, here are a few tips to get that number heading in the right direction.
If you don't know what your score is or you are worried it might have errors, don't hesitate to contact one of the three big credit bureaus and request a report. Each bureau is required to give every requesting consumer one free report once a year. Check your report for errors and get them corrected as soon as possible. Send the credit agency a certified letter explaining what is wrong and include any documents that may support your claim. You don't want your score to suffer due to inaccurate records.
If you have missed any payments in the past, catch up as soon as you can. Within a few months, your score will improve if you get current and stay current. The negative weight on your score will lessen over time, erasing the negative marks from your record for good. Once you are current, do everything you can to ensure that payments are on time.
Going forward, keep your balances below your limit. Just because you have a certain credit limit doesn't mean you have to use it all. The less available credit you use, the better. Some credit card companies have been lowering credit amounts without telling consumers. If this happens to you, it could negatively affect your credit score because your utilization ratio will increase. The bureaus recommend using 33 percent below your available credit. Remember, a small amount of debt on multiple cards is better than having just one or two cards with a large bulk of debt. Spread out your spending, and keep those balances low.
Keep old accounts open...even if you don't use them often. Part of your score is based on how old your accounts are. Closing older accounts erases the credit history that was accumulated through those accounts. To prevent a credit card company from closing your account, use it every now and then to keep it active. Even miniscule charges will suffice and protect your account and history.
Don't be afraid to check your score as often as you want. You checking your own score is seen as a "soft inquiry" by the credit bureaus. By checking often and properly managing your debt, you can be well on your way to raising your credit score.
December 21, 2011 9:50 pm
There are many ways to make the New Year greener and healthier. Just making a few small changes can have a great impact on the planet and personal health. There are many easy changes to implement into daily life to make the world a greener place.
Composting: Building a compost pile as a homeowner is an easy way to add many beneficial ingredients to the soil while reducing garbage volume at the same time. It can also benefit the community by reducing the nearly 25% of compostable landfill waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Recycle paper and electronics: Recycling is beneficial in many ways and can be a convenient and an environmentally conscious step in the coming year. Anything from paper and plastics to metals and electronics can be recycled. This can save on the consumption of resources, the amount of landfill space being used and energy use. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators, causing dangerous heavy metals and toxins to build up with serious environmental risks.
Go plastic free: Get rid of plastic once and for all this year by switching to reusable whenever possible. One way to save money and protect our environment from the harmful effects of plastics and the chemicals used and the emissions given off in producing them is to use reusable stainless steel water bottles and always carry cloth grocery bags anytime you are shopping.
Plant a garden: With the smallest amount of outdoor space, a garden can produce a wide variety of nutritious foods. Gardening can bring you back to nature while providing you and your family fresh wholesome foods with many benefits. If you don’t have room, consider a container garden or small herb garden to enhance your culinary experience.
Laundry: Whenever doing laundry, make sure it is a full load and wash clothes in cold water using a safe non-toxic laundry soap and hang clothes to dry for a clean, fresh and environmentally friendly way to do your laundry in 2012.
Support local farmers and eat in season: Most grocery store food has been picked in the fields, sent to distribution centers and shipped thousands of miles before ever hitting your grocery store shelf. In contrast, when you purchase from local farmers, you are not only putting a face with your food, but your food has been picked within a day or two of purchasing, making it ripe and delicious. Buying fresh local food has many advantages, including reduced vehicle pollution and packaging needed, while encouraging fresh and often-times organic and pesticide-free produce for better nutrition.
Unplug appliances and electronics: When it is time for an upgrade, consider purchasing new energy efficient models with an Energy Star label that guarantees that the product is energy efficient. This label is sponsored by the Department of Energy and the EPA and can offer substantial savings. If you are not in the position to purchase a new appliance, unplug the one you have if and when it is not needed or in use.
Turn it off: Turn the water off while brushing teeth and the lights off every time you leave the room. Consider purchasing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and energy efficient CFL or LED light bulbs.
Use eco-friendly cleaning products: With just a few common household items, you can make your own cleaning products when you need them. Making your own cleaning products with ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon and tea tree oil can save you money, time and the packaging required for the store-bought brands. Homemade cleaners are also safer and healthier when using non-toxic ingredients.
Never purchase paper towels or napkins again: Instead, use old washcloths cut into smaller squares, old socks for dusting, old t-shirts cut up for cleaning and reusable cloth napkins and hand-towels while out and about.
Borrow or buy used: Borrow your books, music and movies from your local library to save money while cutting down on the paper and ink needed to manufacture new. Set up online accounts with Ebay, freecycle.org or shop thrift stores and garage sales when looking for anything from clothing to furniture.
December 21, 2011 9:50 pm
A recent survey revealed that while the number of mobile shoppers is increasing dramatically, they are using their mobile devices to research products more than they use it to make purchases. Shoppers are comfortable making purchases from their home computers, but are more hesitant using their tablets and mobile phones to buy online. The survey found that 58 percent of shoppers have made purchases via their mobile phone as compared to 94 percent who have made purchases via laptops and 75 percent via tablets. For those who shop with their phone, 79 percent use it to research products, 73 percent to browse stores, and 77 percent to compare prices. Of the 58 percent of shoppers who make purchases via their mobile devices, 69 percent use both the mobile browser and apps to buy products (18 percent only use apps; 13 percent only use a mobile browser).
What consumers are purchasing also differs from their buying behavior on laptops. Laptop shoppers’ most popular items to buy online are consumer products like clothing and electronics, but shoppers buy more digital products like music and apps on their mobile devices. On mobile phones, 70 percent of shoppers purchased digital goods, 60 percent purchased consumer products, 46 percent purchased services, and 38 percent purchased consumable goods. The majority of shoppers (76 percent) say ease of use is the reason they would buy one category of products over another and 34 percent cite price point as the reason why they would buy in one category over another.
While the use of mobile devices is increasing, the survey results strongly indicate that mobile devices are currently much better for window shopping than for buying - especially when it comes to consumer products. Mobile shoppers are still more comfortable purchasing using their laptops, although tablets are widely used for research and shopping. This demonstrates that consumers are open to new technology, but until mobile shopping is as easy as shopping on larger devices and security concerns are addressed, they will be more reluctant to fully embrace mobile buying.
December 21, 2011 9:50 pm
Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s (the “Enterprises”) foreclosure prevention activity increased in the third quarter of 2011 and totaled nearly 2 million foreclosure prevention actions since the beginning of conservatorship in 2008. During this period, the Enterprises completed one million loan modifications, helping borrowers stay in their homes.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s third quarter 2011 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report, the increase in completed foreclosure prevention activity in the third quarter was driven primarily by loan modifications and repayment plans. Two-thirds of all borrowers who received loan modifications in the third quarter had their monthly payments reduced by over 20 percent. Additionally, the Enterprises' cumulative refinancings through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) increased 11 percent during the third quarter to nearly 928,600 loans.
Also in the report:
-The Enterprises have completed nearly 2 million foreclosure prevention actions since the start of conservatorship. Nearly 1.7 million of these actions have allowed borrowers to retain homeownership, with more than one million being permanent loan modifications.
-Loans modified since the start of HAMP are performing substantially better compared with loans modified in earlier periods.
-Serious delinquency rates continued to decline. However, the percentage of loans that have missed one payment increased during the third quarter.
-REO inventory declined for the fourth consecutive quarter as property dispositions continued to outpace acquisitions in the third quarter.
To view the third quarter 2011 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report, visit: http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/22826/3q11FPRF.pdf. For more information, visit www.fhfa.gov.
December 21, 2011 3:50 pm
As with most decorating choices, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But with so many carpeting choices in today’s marketplace, it’s wise to know something about the basics of style and durability before you head for the store.
While many consider wool carpet best overall for sheer luxury and durability, carpets made of nylon or polypropylene are today’s two most popular choices--and the two best performing fibers. Polyester, which has great softness, is good for bedrooms, but for heavier traffic areas, nylon is perhaps the best option, with polypropylene a close second.
Work with an experienced sales representative to choose the style most practical for your family, your lifestyle and your pets. Apart from fiber, the carpet style will make a difference in overall look.
Berber: Loop-style carpeting features loops of the same height and performs well even in high-traffic areas. Many popular berber styles feature flecks of a darker color on a lighter background.
Cut pile: Loops are cut, leaving individual yarn tufts. Durability depends on the type of fiber, the density of the tufts and the amount of twist in the yarn. Cut pile carpet is available in a variety of finishes from plush velvet for a more formal look to Saxony, frieze or textured pile, which minimize footprints and vacuum marks.
Cut-and-loop: A combination of cut and looped yarns; provides a variety of surface textures including sculptured effects in squares or swirls.
Multi-level loop: Has two or three different loop heights to create pattern effects and surface texture. It also provides a more casual look.
Patterned or print: By using yarns of varying heights and treatments, patterned carpets offer everything from pin dots to floral designs to geometric prints.
When comparing carpets and carpet brands, remember the higher the density (how close the tufts are spaced together) and the tighter the twist, the better the overall performance.
Source: Consumer Reports