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

What to Expect From a Housing Counselor

June 26, 2012 1:56 am

As a still recovering economy continues to affect many homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments, more and more Americans are forced to consider reaching out for help.

For those facing foreclosure — or who fear they may face it in the future — a call to a HUD-certified housing counselor can help. In fact, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) highlights the effectiveness of housing counseling in helping homeowners remain in their homes.

To help homeowners better understand the housing counseling process, the financial experts at MMI offer the following rundown of what to expect from a session with one of MMI's HUD-certified housing counselors:

Prior to calling, make sure you know and/or have access to the following information, as the counselor will ask for these things in order to better assess your situation: your monthly income; monthly expenses; debts and assets; and mortgage information – including servicer, payment amount, interest rate, amount of loan, date loan was acquired and your last contact with servicer.

A typical phone call lasts about an hour and begins with the privacy disclosure. Your counselor will then take time to answer any questions you may have. You will then be asked to discuss your specific hardship (the reason you're having difficulty making payments), which will give your counselor an accurate understanding of your situation in order to make the best possible recommendation.

Your counselor will explain your options based on your specific situation. Upon gathering the necessary information (listed above) and reviewing your specific hardship, your counselor will recommend the nonprofit resources and services that will be of most benefit to you. Then you will be offered information on all of the options available to you, as well as the foreclosure information specific to your state.

You will then review an action plan, which your counselor will create based on the information covered in the session. You will receive a written copy of the action plan, which will be used to prepare a recommendation to your lender based on the option that best fits your needs (if you choose an option).

At the conclusion of the counseling session, you will be offered the opportunity to participate in a conference call with your lender to go over the recommendation and see if your lender will be able to assist you. You should note that, while telephone contact is not required and is completely optional, it is an important part of the process in order for your lender to help you avoid foreclosure.

In the event you are not able to work with the lender to keep your home, you will be told what to expect and you may be offered a post-foreclosure counseling session. In this session you will learn more about what to expect after you transition out of the home.

If you are already in foreclosure, the most important thing you can do is stay in contact with your lender and seek help as soon as possible. While the foreclosure process varies by state, there a number of options that may allow you to slow or suspend the foreclosure activity — all of which your counselor can explain to you in detail.

Source: Money Management International

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Vanilla Top Ice Cream Flavor with Americans

June 25, 2012 1:56 am

Vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor, premium ice cream is the best-selling type of ice cream and frozen yogurt is resurging in popularity among Americans. These are a few of the findings from a recent survey of International Ice Cream Association (IICA) member companies, which make and distribute an estimated 85 percent of the ice cream and frozen dessert products consumed in the United States. IICA and the International Dairy Foods Association, its umbrella organization, announced the results of the recent survey today at the 30th Annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party, the official launch of National Ice Cream Month, which runs throughout the month of July.

Of the companies participating in the survey, 92 percent said that vanilla is the most popular flavor among their consumers. Chocolate chip mint and cookies-and-cream ice cream tied for second place with 3.7 percent saying it was most popular.

Premium ice cream, which has a lower amount of aeration and a higher fat content than regular ice cream, is the most popular variety with consumers, according to the ice cream company survey. Nearly 70 percent cited premium ice cream as the most popular product, while 10 percent said that novelties are most popular. Novelties are defined as separately packaged single servings of a frozen dessert, such as ice cream sandwiches and fudge sticks.

While survey participants noted a strong demand for premium ice cream and novelties, 52 percent said they are seeing increased demand for frozen yogurt. Nearly 15 percent of respondants said they are also seeing an increased demand for no-sugar-added ice cream.

When asked about inclusions, which are ingredients added to ice cream, the majority of companies surveyed said that pecans are the most popular nut and strawberries are the most popular fruit added to their frozen products. Sixty percent of the participating companies named pecans most popular, and 32 percent cited peanuts as most popular with their consumers. More than three-quarters of respondents named strawberries as the top fruit, while 12 percent said cherry and another 12 percent named raspberries as the favorite fruit inclusion.

Among novelties, the ice cream sandwich is most widely made; 91 percent of participating companies make and market ice cream sandwiches. Nearly 75 percent of the companies responding offer an ice cream cone novelty. Bars, sticks and mini-cups are also popular products, according to the survey, which allowed for more than one response in this category.

Approximately 1.53 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts were produced in the U.S. in 2011. The U.S. ice cream industry generated total revenues of $10 billion in 2010.

Source: International Ice Cream Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Introducing 'America's Vainest Cities'

June 25, 2012 1:56 am

Tampa, Fla., is home to the vainest people in America, while the citizens of Des Moines, Ia. are the least concerned with appearances, according to a report in Men's Health magazine.

To determine the rankings, Men's Health added up each city's percentage of Botox users, folks who go for dye jobs, and people who will spend anything to look younger. Also tallied were sales of at-home hair dyes, teeth whiteners, and shapewear , as well as per-capita rates of cosmetic procedures, cosmetic dentists, plastic surgeons, and tanning salons. Foursquare provided information on where people check into those salons most often.

The 10 Most Vain and 10 Least Vain cities are as follows:

Most Vain

      Least Vain 

Tampa, FL

      Memphis, TN

Plano, TX

      Toledo, OH

Atlanta, GA

      Detroit, MI

Las Vegas, NV

      Burlington, VT

Dallas, TX

      Fort Wayne, IN

Pittsburgh, PA

      Kansas City, MO

Houston, TX

      Fargo, ND

Miami, FL

      Sioux Falls, SD

San Francisco,CA 

      Lincoln, NE

Providence, RI

      Des Moines, IA

Source: Men's Health magazine

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Existing-Home Sales Constrained by Tight Supply in May, Prices Continue to Gain

June 25, 2012 1:56 am

Limited supplies of housing inventory held back existing-home sales in May, but sales maintained a strong lead over year-ago levels and home prices are on a sustained uptrend in all regions, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.55 million in May from 4.62 million in April, but are 9.6 percent above the 4.15 million-unit pace in May 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said inventory shortages in certain areas have been building all year: "The slight pullback in monthly home sales is more likely due to supply constraints rather than softening demand. The normal seasonal upturn in inventory did not occur this spring. Even with the monthly decline, home sales have moved markedly higher with 11 consecutive months of gains over the same month a year earlier."

There are broad-based shortages of inventory in the lower price ranges in much of the country except the Northeast, and in the West, supply is extremely tight in all price ranges except for the upper end. "REALTORS® in Western states have been calling for an expedited process to get additional foreclosed properties onto the market because they have more buyers than available property," adds Yun. Widespread inventory shortages also are found in much of Florida.

Total housing inventory at the end of May slipped 0.4 percent to 2.49 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.6-month supply at the current sales pace; there was a 6.5-month supply in April. Listed inventory is 20.4 percent below a year ago when there was a 9.1-month supply. Unsold inventory has trended down from a record 4.04 million in July 2007; supplies reached a cyclical peak of 12.1 months in July 2010.

"The recovery is occurring despite excessively tight credit conditions and higher downpayment requirements, which are negating the impact of record high affordability conditions," Yun explains.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types rose 7.9 percent to $182,600 in May from a year ago, the third consecutive month of year over year price gains. The last time there were three back-to-back price increases from the same month a year earlier was from March to May of 2006. "Some of the price gain results from a shrinking share distressed homes in the sales mix," Yun explains.

Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts - accounted for 25 percent of May sales (15 percent were foreclosures and 10 percent were short sales), down from 28 percent in April and 31 percent in May 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 19 percent below market value in May, while short sales were discounted 14 percent.

All-cash sales slipped to 28 percent of transactions in May from 29 percent in April; they were 30 percent in May 2011. Investors, who account for the bulk of cash sales, purchased 17 percent of homes in May, down from 20 percent in April and 19 percent in May 2011.

Source: The National Association of REALTORS®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Perils of Resume Padding

June 22, 2012 1:52 am

Recent headlines have brought renewed focus to the issue of resume padding. According to a recent survey by, 8 percent of Americans admit to embellishing or exaggerating information on their resume.

As some recent corporate scandals have highlighted, the consequences of resume padding can be severe. More than a quarter of the people who admitted padding their resumes — 27 percent — said they subsequently lost their job when the false information was later discovered. An additional 3 percent said they were not offered a job after their resume padding was uncovered.

Resume padding involves presenting false or misleading information about one's education, work experience, professional credentials, job skills or other important personal data.

"With the Internet, employers now have more means to verify information on a resume," explains Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor with "Even connections with other people via social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn can reveal inconsistencies with the information that you are presenting to employers. In this age of social networking, people need to be careful not only that their information is truthful and accurate, but also that they are not saying one thing to one person or company, and something different to someone else — whether it's an employer, prospective employer, friend, family member or acquaintance."


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Shared Households Increased 11.4 Percent from 2007 to 2010

June 22, 2012 1:52 am

In 2010, there were 22.0 million shared households in the United States, an 11.4 percent increase from 2007, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report. This total of shared households accounted for 18.7 percent of all households, up from 17 percent in 2007.

The report, “Sharing a Household: Household Composition and Economic Well-Being: 2007–2010,” analyzes data on household composition and income from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey. The report reveals that adults joined or combined their households in greater numbers and in higher proportions following the most recent recession than they did prior to the recession.

In spring 2007, there were 19.7 million shared households — defined as a household with at least one "additional" adult. An additional adult is a person 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and is neither the householder, the spouse nor the cohabiting partner of the householder. By spring 2010, the number of shared households had increased to 22.0 million while all households increased by only 1.3 percent.

"Although reasons for household sharing are not discernible from the survey, our analysis suggests that adults and families coped with challenging economic circumstances over the course of the recession by joining households or combining households with other individuals or families," reports Laryssa Mykyta, an analyst in the Census Bureau's Poverty Statistics Branch and one of the authors of the report.

The report compares official poverty rates to personal and household poverty rates. Official poverty rates compare total family income with a threshold that varies with family size and composition. Household poverty rates compare household income with the relevant threshold. Personal poverty rates compare the income of the individual, couple or subfamily with the relevant threshold.

For adults heading shared households, both official and household poverty rates for 2010 were lower than for their counterparts in other households.

This contrasts with personal poverty rates. Personal poverty was 8.2 percentage points higher for householders in shared households than for householders who were not in shared households in 2010 (21.7 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively).

The difference between official and personal poverty rates was more dramatic for additional adults. While 15.7 percent of these adults were classified as in poverty using the official measure, 45.9 percent had personal income below their poverty threshold.

"It is difficult to assess the precise impact of household sharing on economic well-being," adds Mykyta, "but the higher personal poverty rates for adults heading shared households suggests that this group has fewer individual resources than their counterparts. However, lower official and household poverty rates among adults who head a shared household suggest that household sharing lessened economic strain."

Source: The Census Bureau

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Rent or Buy? How to Decide

June 22, 2012 1:52 am

Today is a tempting time to buy a home with interest rates and prices at their lowest levels in years. Deciding whether to buy or rent can be complicated, and potential homebuyers have a lot to consider. As part of National Homeownership Month, the American Bankers Association (ABA) offers these key questions to help real estate consumers make wise financial choices when considering buying a home.
  1. How much can you afford to put down? Can you afford the monthly payment? A mortgage down payment of 5 - 20 percent of the selling price is typical, but can vary depending on the situation. The size of the down payment will impact the monthly cost. Assess your financial health, determine how large of a down payment you can afford and consider if you can then afford the monthly cost.
  2. What other debt do you have? Consider all of your current and expected financial obligations and ensure you are able to make all the payments. Aim to keep total rent or mortgage payments plus other credit obligations less than 35 - 40 percent of your monthly income. If you can't keep payments below that, you may be better off renting for a while or searching for a more affordable home.
  3. What is my credit score? Can I qualify for a good interest rate? A high credit score indicates strong creditworthiness, which qualifies you for better interest rates on a mortgage. Maxing out your credit lines and paying bills late will lower your credit score, and the impact of a credit score on interest rates can be significant. For instance, a borrower with a score of 760 could pay nearly 2 percentage points less in interest than someone with a score of 620. That equates to over $3,000 less in mortgage payments each year. If your credit score is low, you may want to delay buying a home and take steps to raise your score.
  4. How much will taxes, monthly maintenance or other fees cost? Owning a home means you will have to pay real estate taxes and other costs like insurance and maintenance. However, owning a home can bring tax savings at the end of the year. Remember to factor in these costs and incentives. Renters have neither these costs nor tax advantages.
  5. How many years will I stay here? Generally, the longer you plan to live someplace, the more it makes sense to buy. Over time, you can build equity in your house where renters do not. Yet, renters have greater flexibility to move as they don't have to worry about finding new tenants.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Most Awkward Money Moment? Credit Card Declined

June 21, 2012 1:50 am

Whether it's splitting a dinner bill or turning down a co-worker for a donation for his child's school, awkward money moments abound in today’s world. According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for, having a credit card declined tops the list of worst money-related situations.

While getting a credit card declined is the most awkward money moment for 40 percent of U.S. adults, a variety of other sticky money situations made the list:
  • Feeling pressured to donate to a charity on behalf of a co-worker, family member or friend – 34 percent
  • Saying no to giving money to a panhandler or beggar – 30 percent
  • Feeling pressured to chip in on a group gift at work, like for a baby shower or wedding shower – 26 percent
  • Sharing salary/wage amounts with co-workers – 25 percent
  • Splitting a dinner bill or check with a large group of people – 17 percent
  • Figuring out a gift to get a partner for special occasions, like a first anniversary or a first birthday together – 13 percent
"It's inevitable that some financial situations can be tinged with tension, but honesty is always the best policy," says Jackie Warrick, president and chief savings officer at "Respect your budget and trust your gut to make the right decision. Don't feel pressured to spend money on something or share something you'd rather not, and expect others to do the same."

Staying open is key to defusing awkward money moments, but they're likely to still happen in some social situations. When asked to describe their specific most awkward money moments, U.S. adults from a random sample reported the following:
  • Knowing someone owes me money, but not being sure how to go about reminding him or her
  • Reaching a tollbooth and realizing you don’t have cash to pay the toll
  • Attempting to pay for a company dinner and having credit card declined
  • Splitting a dinner bill when after only having salad and water, while the other party had filet mignon, a large appetizer and wine

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Getting Smart About Your Debt

June 21, 2012 1:50 am

Americans' recent push to eliminate their debt is placing many families at risk. The most recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit shows that Americans reduced their debt by approximately $100 billion since the fourth quarter of 2011. However, according to Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney, CFP®, Americans who reduce debt without setting up a plan to manage it, risk their long-term financial security.

"We tend to think about debt far too simplistically. Witness the movement in this country from the notion that borrowing is a good growth strategy to the conviction that all debt is bad," says Blayney. "Consumers need to take a more sophisticated approach to debt, one that allows for investment while maintaining a reasonable amount of risk that won't jeopardize a family's financial well-being. Smart debt management can help Americans as they seek to rebuild their net worth," says Blayney.

Creating a debt management plan is one of the 12 steps in CFP Board's year-long "12 for '12 Approach to Financial Confidence." Blayney recommends consumers consider five key points when deciding to take on debt:

  • The duration of assets and liabilities: Consumers should be hesitant to take out short-term loans to finance long-term assets. For example, financing a long-term asset such as a home with short-term loans from credit cards is an ill-advised decision. When payment comes due at the end of the month for your credit card, you won't be able to use the value from your home to pay the bill. By the same token, borrowing long-term for a short-term asset can spell trouble as well. Taking a 10-year loan for a used car that won't make it until next year leaves you with debt years after the car you purchased is already in the junkyard.  
  • Your liquidity: Sometimes it is not possible to perfectly match the duration of our assets and liabilities. In this case, take your liquidity into account when deciding to take on debt. For example, you might decide to refinance your mortgage at a lower rate, without increasing the outstanding balance. However, to take advantage of this strategy, you may need liquidity in the form of cash to pay the refinancing's upfront costs and points.
  • Interest rate risk: What happens to your debt when interest rates rise? If you borrowed money at a variable interest rate, such as a margin loan, the cost of the loan will track the increased level of interest rates. If, at the same time, increased interest rates negatively impact your asset holdings, you may experience a classic margin squeeze. It's important to assess the amount of interest rate risk exposure that is in your balance sheet. A CFP® professional can help you make this determination.
  • Financial priorities: You may be determined to get those credit card balances eliminated as soon as possible. However, it may be wiser to direct your extra cash first toward 401(k) contributions in order to get an employer match, or to set up an emergency fund, so you have some protection should unexpected expenses arise. It is a question of balancing your short- and longer-term priorities in a way that makes most sense for your individual circumstances.
  • Ratio of discretionary to non-discretionary expense: Most debt has to be serviced every month, thus becoming a recurring fixed, non-discretionary expense. The larger these expenses, as compared to other expenses that you have more control over in terms of their amount and when they are paid, the less planning room you have to react to changing circumstances. This is particularly important to retirees who may be living off of their investment portfolios. When the market takes a steep drop, the best strategy is to avoid taking money from investments. But if you have a large debt burden, this may not be possible. Taking this risk into account, it may be advisable to eliminate debt, even when interest rates on loans seem extremely favorable.

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Government Refinance Applications More Than Double in Latest MBA Survey

June 21, 2012 1:50 am

Mortgage applications decreased 0.8 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 15, 2012.

The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 0.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased more than 1 percent compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index increased 1 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index fell 9 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased more than 9 percent compared with the previous week and was 2 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 81 percent of total applications from 79 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 4 percent of total applications.

During the month of May, the investor share of applications for home purchase was at 6 percent, unchanged from the previous month, even though regions including East South Central and South Atlantic increased by 0.5 percent.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,500 or less) decreased to 3.87 percent, matching the lowest rate in the history of the survey, from 3.88 percent, with points increasing to 0.49 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,500) decreased to 4.06 percent, the lowest rate in the history of the survey, from 4.12 percent, with points decreasing to 0.38 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA increased to 3.72 percent from 3.71 percent, with points decreasing to 0.47 from 0.59 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.25 percent from 3.23 percent, with points decreasing to 0.45 from 0.48 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs decreased to 2.75 percent, the lowest rate in the history of the survey, from 2.78 percent, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.49 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.