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

Saturday St. Patrick's Day Poses Increased Risk

March 15, 2012 4:18 am

Newly released data on offenders monitored 24/7 for alcohol consumption shows that when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday, drinking violations increase 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year—and that's for offenders who know they're being monitored and whose consequences are often time in jail.

According to Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which monitors 14,000 DUI and other alcohol-involved offenders each day, the newly released data shows that when the St. Patrick's Day Holiday falls on a Friday or Saturday, violation rates skyrocket 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year. The study looked at holiday drinking for the last seven years.

The data underscores the challenges of the holiday for law enforcement as well as the risks posed by problem drinkers. The additional risks that go with a weekend St. Patrick's Day are no surprise to law enforcement, who are already warning celebrants of the additional measures they can expect to see over the holiday weekend this year. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving (ITFDD), regardless of the day of the week, St. Patrick's Day sees the second-highest rate of DUI arrests in the state, right after Halloween.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Appraisal Institute Advises US Sentencing Commission to Require Appraisals

March 15, 2012 4:18 am

Speaking at a hearing in Washington, D.C., the Appraisal Institute recently urged a federal judicial agency to require the use of real estate appraisals when calculating loss in mortgage fraud cases. The Appraisal Institute is one of the nation's largest professional associations of real estate appraisers.

In prepared written testimony, Appraisal Institute President Sara W. Stephens, MAI, told the U.S. Sentencing Commission, "We believe the Commission should adopt a special rule for determining the fair market value of real property if the mortgaged property has not been disposed of by the time of the sentencing. However, this rule should require use of real estate appraisals prepared by qualified appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, as opposed to tax assessments, to ensure fairness and consistency."

Stephens explained that the Appraisal Institute and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers oppose the proposed amendments to the federal Mortgage Fraud Sentencing Guidelines because the amendments propose using tax assessments, and not real estate appraisals, to determine fair market value when the property in question has not been sold.

"Real estate appraisals prepared by qualified real estate appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice are clearly preferable to tax assessments for the circumstances described in the amendments," Stephens said in her written testimony.

She said that condition and quality inspections are necessary as part of a credible and thorough valuation of a property, noting that tax assessments do not include such inspections. She also said tax assessments rely on public records data, which can be inaccurate and therefore reduce the reliability of the valuation.

Stephens also noted that reassessment periods vary widely by jurisdiction, and that some jurisdictions have not reassessed property in several decades. "In these cases, if a tax assessment is used in the calculation of a mortgage fraud sentence, it is likely to overstate the loss to the bank, and potentially inflate the sentence of someone convicted of mortgage fraud," she noted, adding that fairness requires use of a real estate appraisal.

Stephens also said that assessed value may not conform to market value. And she said the two appraisal organizations recommend that the Commission establish a special rule relating to the qualifications of real estate appraisers. "We suggest those performing these appraisals have earned a designation from a nationally recognized professional appraisal association who awards the designation based on demonstrated competency that requires approved classroom training in appraisal practice, experience requirements, and preparation of a demonstration appraisal report or appraisal review report or a comprehensive qualifying examination," she said in her written testimony.

Section 1079A of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if appropriate, to amend the federal sentencing guidelines applicable to mortgage fraud and financial institution fraud offenses and to consider whether the guidelines appropriately account for the potential and actual harm to the public and the financial markets from those offenses.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to Spot a Mortgage Scam

March 15, 2012 4:18 am

While the landmark $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement was just announced last month, scammers have wasted no time capitalizing on the vulnerability of desperate homeowners.

The settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers was signed by federal and state officials Feb. 9, and will provide assistance for homeowners in order to compensate for the faulty foreclosure practices offered by mortgage servicers following the housing market crash. According to the nonprofit credit-counseling agency Money Management International (MMI), although real compensation is still months away, there have already been numerous reports of scam operations popping up across the country.

“While the government has been cracking down on foreclosure scams, it is important for you to remain diligent in keeping your personal information safe,” advises Jo Kerstetter, vice president of education and community relations for MMI.

Kerstetter offers the following tips to help avoid a scam:
  • Don’t panic. Mortgage scams are effective because the scammer is able to exploit the fear of a person who is in a desperate, vulnerable state. Don’t let fear cause you to make irrational decisions.
  • Never act under pressure. Don’t sign a contract or disclose information before doing your research. You can always request to receive any information in writing.
  • Trust your gut. If someone is offering you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Stay informed. Make sure you obtain detailed information about your foreclosure deadlines. If you want to know if you qualify under the Settlement, contact your bank or loan servicer directly.
  • Don’t release any personal financial information. If you are contacted by someone who claims to be from your financial institution and wants you to “confirm” or help them identify your personal account information, it is likely a scam. Rather than releasing information, ask for their contact information and tell them you’re going to call them back.
  • There is no fee involved in the National Mortgage Settlement. If you are contacted in any way from someone asking for money in return for a speedy settlement payment, they are scamming you.
For more information about mortgage assistance relief scams, visit FTC.gov. If you have questions or concerns about your mortgage loan, consider meeting with a HUD-certified housing counselor to discuss your options.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to Take the Chill out of Selling Your Home

March 13, 2012 4:18 am

While you may be waiting for the temperature to rise before putting your home on the market, there are many ways to effectively market your home in late winter and early spring. Here are some great cold-weather tips from Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale:
  • Heat it up: If you are planning an open house or have showings scheduled, turn up the thermostat and make the home warm and inviting. A cold home shopper will race through a house and start questioning the windows and insulation.
  • Light it up: For homes with fireplaces, this is the perfect opportunity to show the potential buyer how cozy a fireplace can be. Leave some marshmallows and sticks nearby and invite those seeing the home to test it out.
  • Take care of snow and ice: If the property you’re selling is in a snowy climate, make sure that the walk is clear, the driveway is shoveled and put down salt to control any icy surfaces. If you aren’t currently living in the home that is for sale, make sure to hire someone to clear it for you.
  • Use photographs: If you have a beautiful lawn, stellar landscaping or an outdoor pool or deck, take some eye-catching photos of these amenities during the warm months and display them during a winter showing so buyers can get a better understanding of what the outside truly offers.
  • Schedule open houses: Winter and early spring is a great time to take advantage of less competition. Many serious buyers often come out during the winter months, including corporate clients who usually need to relocate within the first quarter of the year.
  • Emphasize the positives: Does your street get plowed quickly? Is it near public transportation to make it easier to get to work in the snow? Is it within walking distance of stores? Does it have a great hill for the kids to sled down in a safe environment? If so, accentuate these features.
Since a lot of people are waiting until spring to put their home on the market, having your home ready to show now is a great way to beat the rush.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Americans Saving not Spending Refunds

March 13, 2012 4:18 am

According to a new survey from Taxsoftware.com, only 10 percent of American taxpayers plan to spend their anticipated federal and state tax refunds on vacations, down dramatically from 30 percent last year when a similar poll was taken. Most Americans said they will use their refunds to pay off debts (29 percent) or add to their savings or investments (27 percent).

According to Taxsoftware.com, which launched an iPad app for federal tax returns in 2011, the survey results reflect consumer caution and conservatism in the face of a recovering economy.

In comparing results of the two surveys, the new poll found that of the 67 percent of Americans who expect to receive tax refunds this year:
  • Fewer people plan to spend their refunds on savings or investments this year than in 2011 (27 percent vs. 66 percent) or to pay off debts (29 percent v. 59 percent).
  • Fewer individuals plan to make home improvements (8 percent vs. 31 percent), buy products such as cars, electronics, or furniture (8 percent vs. 23 percent) or pay mortgages or education loans (5 percent vs. 19 percent).
  • Fewer people plan to give their refunds to charity (2 percent vs. 15 percent).
  • Those who plan to "do something else" with their refunds dropped to 9 percent from 38 percent in 2011.
The survey was conducted Feb. 12 - 15, 2012 by Ipsos, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The survey consisted of a national sample of 1,005 responses by adults 18 years of age or older from Ipsos' U.S. online panel and were interviewed online.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tips to Keep Your Credit Cards Secure

March 13, 2012 4:18 am

In today's world of email, text messages and social media, consumers need to be extra diligent to safeguard their personal information. MasterCard suggests taking the following precautions to keep your credit cards secure and prevent fraud:
  • Be skeptical of unsolicited phone calls, email, text messages, or social media messages if they request credit card data or personal information such as passwords, date of birth, social insurance number, etc.
  • Examine links contained within emails or on any email attachments sent by an unknown or un-validated source no matter how harmless or familiar the title appears; instead, delete the message unless you are able to confirm the sender is legitimate.
  • If you followed an email link to a website (or a text message to a voice recording system) and provided card data that later seemed suspicious, contact your credit card issuer immediately so your account can be protected.
  • Guard against compromise by ensuring your home computer(s) have up-to-date anti-malware, anti-spam, and firewall software installed.
  • Keep close track of your credit cards, regularly review statements for unknown purchases/cash advances, and contact your issuer if you see any such unusual transactions.
  • Do not share your credit card and PIN details via email or text message.
  • The vast majority of merchant websites are reputable - though you should leave a suspicious site immediately if you suspect it is not what it claims to be.
If you suspect your credit card has been used fraudulently, contact your credit card firm immediately. Most companies will not hold you responsible for purchases made illegally.

Source: MasterCard Canada

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Retirement or... 'Rehirement'?

March 12, 2012 4:18 am

Thanks to a changing economic landscape and lifestyle desires of 50+ workers, the concept of retiring may one day become a thing of the past.

According to a recent article by Amy Chulik for the Careerbuilder.com blog, “The Hiring Site,” the fading out of traditional retirement may not be so far off the mark. Fifty-seven percent of workers ages 60 and older said in a recent Harris Interactive study that they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company. Some workers are postponing retirement out of economic necessity; they just can’t afford to quit. Others, however, are choosing to continue the nine-to-five routine for a variety of reasons.

The survey, conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder and PrimeCB.com (CareerBuilder’s job site for mature workers and retirees) among 3,023 hiring managers and HR professionals and 878 U.S. workers ages 60 and older, also found that 11 percent of respondents said they don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire.
That said, there were a significant amount of respondents who do see retirement as an option within the next several years:
  • 1-2 years (26 percent)
  • 3-4 years (23 percent)
  • 5-6 years (22 percent)
  • 7-8 years (7 percent)
  • 9-10 years (7 percent)
  • More than 10 years (4 percent)
On the flip side, Chulik reports that many employers are actively seeking older job candidates. According to the survey:
  • 43 percent of employers plan to hire workers ages 50 and older this year.
  • 41 percent said they hired workers ages 50 and older in 2011.
  • 75 percent of the employers surveyed would consider an application from an overqualified worker who is 50 or older, with 59 percent of those employers saying they would do this because mature candidates bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and can mentor others.
Chulik adds that older workers have been found to have a host of other advantages as well, including quitting less, being absent less, and having better social skills and job performance than their younger counterparts.

As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out, many workers are moving away from a traditional “retirement” concept and instead seeking “rehirement.”

“Whether mature workers are motivated by financial concerns or simply enjoy going to work every day, we’re seeing more people move away from the traditional definition of retirement and seek ‘rehirement,’ Haefner explains in Chulik’s article. “At the same time, employers are seeing the value these mature workers can bring to an organization, from their intellectual capital to their mentoring and training capabilities. In a highly competitive job market, mature workers can use these skills to their advantage.”

Source: thehiringsite.careerbuilder.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Keeping Your Home Safe When Selling

March 12, 2012 4:18 am

Security issues might not be top of mind when you’re knee deep in the process of putting your home on the market, however, home sellers should take certain precautions to keep themselves and their belongings safe.

According to Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale, the home-sale process, which includes open houses, frequent showings, and an influx of strangers into your home, poses certain risks. However, by taking a few safeguards, says Tisdale, you can put your mind at ease.

The easiest solution is to remove valuable jewelry, fine art or collectables beforehand, storing them with a friend or family member. If that’s not an option, Tisdale suggests finding a place to hide valuables within the home—or, consider packing them in a suitcase you pop into the car whenever you leave for a showing.

The same consideration should be taken for personal information and paperwork. Filing cabinets that contain documents with account or social security numbers should be securely locked. And, unfortunately, lock up your medicine cabinet as well, a place where people often steal from, says Tisdale.

When you return to your home after a showing, make sure that all doors and windows are locked. Prospective buyers will often open windows or doors to make sure they work properly or to see another part of the home. Although it may seem far-fetched, Tisdale reports that there have been incidents where people unlock doors when looking at a home and then go back later to steal things.

One unsavory tactic involves two people coming into the home—one who explores rooms and one who distracts the agent. If you’re home is in a high-crime area, consider hiring a security guard or off-duty police officer to keep an eye on your home during the showing.

If your home does not have a security system, now may be the time to install one, Tisdale advises. Adding a security system will not only deter burglars but can also be a strong selling point of the house. Also, if you are selling a home in which you’re not currently living, consider installing motion sensors that will automatically turn on lights when it’s dark. You can also put a few lamps on a timer so it appears someone is home when you’re out.

Lastly, Tisdale recommends that home sellers enlist their neighbors to help keep an eye on their home, and to introduce the neighbors to your REALTOR® so they are not alarmed when he or she is in your home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Boost Your Refund with Home-Related Tax Breaks

March 12, 2012 4:18 am

Homeownership is not only a long-term investment for your family and your future, but an important annual tax benefit. The tax experts at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® advise homeowners not to overlook the many credits and deductions that can add thousands of dollars to their refund amounts.

Be sure to review the following tax breaks available covering home-related areas, such as:
  • Mortgage Interest: The amount of mortgage interest paid on a principal residence or second home is deductible and generally reported on Form 1098. Taxpayers can also deduct all the points paid to purchase the residence, even if some have been paid by the seller. If certain requirements are met, the points may be deducted in full in the year paid. Otherwise, they may be deducted over the life of the mortgage. Seller-paid points that taxpayers claim as an itemized deduction reduce the cost basis of the home.
  • Buying a Home: Most of the expenses incurred when buying a home are not deductible. However, there are certain closing costs that are added to the basis of your residence. Keeping track of the basis of your home is important because when selling, it is needed to calculate any gain or loss.
  • Property Taxes: Taxpayers may deduct real estate property taxes in the year paid. They may be reported on Form 1098, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage. Taxpayers may also be able to deduct some of the taxes paid during closing. The taxes must be the responsibility of, and paid by, the taxpayer.
  • Energy Credits: There are energy credits available for making energy efficient changes to a home. For 2011, the credit is limited to 10 percent of the cost of improvements, up to a lifetime total of $500. The credit will be further limited for each category of improvement.
  • Home Improvements: Home improvements are not generally deductible on a tax return. Instead, the cost of improvements is added to the basis of the home and helps keep any gain below the $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing jointly) exclusion amount when the house is sold.
For those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of a foreclosure or short sale on their home, there are tax breaks available as well. Foreclosures and short sales are treated as both a home sale and a canceled debt. When the house is a taxpayer's primary residence, and they have lived in and owned the home for two of the last five years, any gain up to $500,000 on the disposition is tax-exempt. In addition, the canceled debt (mortgage still owed) is excluded from taxable income, as long as it is less than $2 million and is for the taxpayer's principal residence.

Source: www.jacksonhewitt.com

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5 Ways to Know When You’re Done

March 9, 2012 4:12 am

If you’re like most people, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Worse yet, when we finally do get on a productivity roll, there always seems to be a distraction waiting in the wings to throw us off course. But the reality, says author Jason Womack, is that we could actually accomplish a lot more each day if we can learn to recognize and acknowledge when we’re done.

“One of the biggest time wasters we all face is spending too much time on those things that don’t require it,” says Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach, and author of the new book, Your “Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.” “When we do so, we lose the time we actually should be spending on more difficult or time-intensive tasks. But when you learn to recognize when you’re done with a task, you’ll have valuable minutes and maybe even hours added back into your day.”

Womack offers the following five tips for learning how to recognize when you’re done:
  • Stop majoring in the minors. Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then, we convince ourselves that we “just didn’t have enough time” to get to the harder stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you’re done and freeing up time during your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential.
  • Before you start your work day, think about what your high leverage activities are and what your low leverage activities are, says Womack. For the low leverage activities, force yourself to move through them as quickly as possible. With these tasks, often perfection isn’t necessary. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice.
  • Don’t overwrite emails. Much of your time each day gets eaten up by email. Make a conscious effort to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened, advises Womack.
  • Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls. Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you’ve allotted for them. Set an hour for a meeting and you’re sure to go the full hour. Pay close attention to how much of your meeting is actually spent focused on the issues at hand. Know the meeting’s objectives before you begin so that you can get to them right away.
  • Set your own deadlines and stick to them. It’s very easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or things others think you should do. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions.
  • Know when it’s time to ask for help. Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? Did you walk away from it for a while and then come back to it hoping you’d suddenly know what to do? Sometimes knowing when you’re done is knowing when you, specifically, can’t take a project any further. Wasting time on something you’re never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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