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

Will Google+ Take a Huge Cut Out of Facebook?

September 28, 2011 8:57 pm

Over the last year, Google had the velvet ropes out, only allowing in a limited number of people as they continued to beta-test their circle system and refine their social network. With the red carpet now rolled up, Google has extended the invite to everyone, making Google+ poised to take a huge cut out of Facebook.

Facebook is too large to falter though, right? Wrong.

Jay Correia, owner of the nationally recognized web design company, DreamCo Design, and many others in the technical arena are beginning to think otherwise.

It was just a few years ago that MySpace was the social network of choice. What caused the shift then? Facebook made many gains by learning from its predecessor’s mistakes. It also dug its hands into the Internet by offering up development tools to webmasters, allowing site visitors to log in or check in to various websites using their existing Facebook accounts, thus bolstering a huge user convenience factor.

With Google+ now hitting the shelves, it looks like the tides are about to turn. Fox News has also reported that Google appears to be working on rolling out a built-in voice feature that will allow members to communicate directly with one another via phone. Recent trends data also displays a huge increase in traffic for Google+ and a buzz about the web with the network receiving a huge influx of searches.

With an estimated 50 million people already signed up since launch, Google+ seems well on its way to taking a chunk out of Facebook.

Google+ has ramped up privacy and security, two gaping holes many users of Facebook have always been concerned with. It also offers up superior social networking functions with the circle system, allowing users to organize their social network like never before. Google also has the ability to eventually tie in Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, and many of its other pre-existing products into the network.
Google has even teamed up with search rivals Yahoo and Microsoft by allowing users to easily import contacts to invite to a user’s Google+ account, thus making the network grow that much faster.

The most important element involving the shift involves Google’s ability to self promote. Owning the most visited URL in the world certainly makes it easy to expose millions of people to anything you offer on the cheap.
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New PSAs to Prompt Homeowners Facing Mortgage Trouble to Reach Out for Help

September 28, 2011 8:57 pm

The Ad Council, in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have joined together to launch a new phase of their Foreclosure Prevention Assistance Public Service Advertising (PSA) Campaign. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the Making Home Affordable® Program’s free resources and assistance for homeowners who are struggling with their mortgage payments.

One in 11 homeowners nationwide has missed two or more mortgage payments. Many struggling homeowners delay conversations about their mortgage concerns and enter foreclosure without ever reaching out for assistance. The new PSAs notify homeowners facing mortgage trouble that options other than foreclosure are available, and the sooner they act, the more options they have for the best possible outcome.

The Foreclosure Prevention Assistance campaign encourages homeowners to call 888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak one-on-one with a HUD-approved housing expert to discuss the solutions that are available based on their individual circumstances. In addition, the program website, MakingHomeAffordable.gov, serves as an online resource for struggling homeowners to learn about options other than foreclosure.

Created pro bono by Schafer Condon Carter, a Chicago-based advertising agency, the new television, radio, print, out-of-home, and online PSAs have been created in English and Spanish. The PSAs aim to inspire homeowners who are unsure of where to turn to reach out for help as soon as possible.

“The Making Home Affordable Program has already assisted over a million homeowners," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Housing counselors are ready to continue their work with homeowners to discuss specific solutions for their mortgage problems. Struggling homeowners do not need to work through their concerns alone. The key is encouraging homeowners to pick up the phone now to explore their options.”

“We are proud to continue our partnership with Treasury and HUD on this critical issue of home foreclosures that affects so many Americans,” says Peggy Conlon, president and CEO, the Ad Council. “We are confident that these new PSAs will resonate with homeowners struggling with their mortgages and encourage them to call 888-995-HOPE or visit the website to learn what they can do to prevent foreclosure.”

The Ad Council will distribute the new PSAs to more than 33,000 media outlets nationwide. The new advertisements build on the successful nationwide campaign first launched between Treasury, HUD and the Ad Council in the summer of 2010. The PSAs will air in advertising space donated by the media.
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Termite Terror: Prevent Them from Taking A Bite Out of Your Budget

September 27, 2011 8:57 pm

Drywood termite swarming season is about to begin and homeowners everywhere are preparing to open their wallets to protect their houses from structural damage.

“I have seen termite swarm eruptions in grocery store parking lots, the middle of a huge lawn and of course in nearly 18,000 homes,” says Michael Allen, owner of Century Termite Control and author of the book Top Secrets of the Termite Industry; What Termite Companies Don’t Want You to Know, That You Should Know.

The cost of tenting an American home to get rid of termites ranges from $1,300 to over $3,000 depending on the size of the home and the pest control company you choose. Allen says if homeowners know what signs to look for they shouldn’t have to pay a penny to professionals.

“These chemical companies are multi-million dollar machines. They push their products to pest control companies that are supposed to push it to homeowners. The price keeps going up and there is just no reason for it. Termite companies aren’t helping homeowners do anything they can’t do by themselves.”

Here are four ways to protect your home from termites, according to Allen:

1. Stop the pheromones and you’ve stopped the termites. All termites line the tunnels they dig with pheromones, a scent that the bugs follow to get to and from your home. It’s a way of communicating to the other termites to follow the scent and find food. “All you need to do is break that line of pheromones with store-bought orange oil or a home made mixture and the termites won’t know how to get to your house anymore,” says Allen. “It will be as if they’ve lost the map and put up an electric fence.”

2. The north side of your home is especially vulnerable. Because the north side of your home gets the least amount of sun, more moisture can accumulate in the wood (cellulose), softening it up for the termites to eat. Try to keep the north side as dry as possible by turning away sprinklers and trimming back trees and overgrown vegetation that are blocking the sun. Other than swarming these insects never leave the infected wood for water. They rely only on the trapped moisture in the cellulose for a complete life cycle.

3. Decorative finishes create easy access points for termites. Termites can enter where the brick or decorative finish material touches the ground. They crawl up between the gaps to get to the wood. This happens at the mudsill line. Get familiar with and measure your home’s mudsill line.

4. Bait stations lead termites to your home. Many unscrupulous pest control companies recommend putting bait stations in your home, but bait stations don’t work. The smell from the bait attracts termites and encourages them to build underground roads and highways close to your home. While some may take the bait and die, most of the insects will never get as far as the queen. There are millions of termites in an infected home. Killing even thousands a day will not make a dent. The remaining termites will just wind up feasting on what’s close to the bait station—your home. Any pest control company that wants to put a bait station in your house is not as interested in solving your termite problem as they are in forcing you to be a return customer.

“You can pay the pest control guys several thousand dollars,” says Allen, “or you can put in a little elbow grease to get rid of the pests by yourself and keep those few thousand dollars in your own bank account.”
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Teen Drivers: Back in School and Back on the Roads

September 27, 2011 8:57 pm

Back to school means crayons, notebooks, packed lunches and more teen drivers on the road. Driving safety may not be the first thing on your teen’s mind when the school season is in full swing, but teaching their teen safe driving practices should be the first thing on a parent’s mind.

Getting behind the wheel can be a big responsibility for any teen, especially driving during the busy school year. As a parent, it may be hard to send your teen off to school as a young driver, but arming them with safety knowledge can help them be a more confident driver and give you some peace of mind.

Here are some teen driving tips for you to share with your young scholar:

• Wear seatbelts.
• Don’t speed.
• Keep your hands on the wheel at all times.
• Be a defensive driver. Not everyone on the road is going to be as safe as you, so watch out for other unsafe drivers.
• Don’t drink or do drugs. This impairs judgment for driving and could potentially end in a fatality—not to mention, it’s illegal.
• Pay attention to the road while driving. Don’t get distracted with cell phone, radio, or passengers. Driving is a very important responsibility.
• If you are driving a sibling, make sure you are following the state laws regarding seatbelts, boosters or car seats.
• Be aware of bus stops, school zones and walkers and bikers.

For more information, visit www.Foremost.com.
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Only One in Five Consumers Feel Protected From Fraud During Mobile Banking

September 27, 2011 8:57 pm

The results of a joint study between ThreatMetrix and The Ponemon Institute entitled “Mobile Payments & Online Shopping Survey of U.S. Consumers” have recently been released. The survey, which looked at U.S. consumers who self-reported they are active users of the Internet, revealed that only 21% feel they are completely protected against fraudsters when conducting mobile banking activities.

The majority of respondents (46%) feel somewhat, but not completely protected from fraud in this channel, with 23% reporting they do not feel protected at all. An additional 10% are still unsure about the level of fraud prevention measures surrounding mobile banking.

“Mobile banking is still a very new strategy for consumers and banks alike,” says Bert Rankin, vice president of marketing, ThreatMetrix. “The big question here is how banks can overcome this barrier to mobile adoption, and enable consumers to feel more secure when conducting transactions from their smartphone. While our survey results showed that many consumers found this functionality to be convenient, the overwhelming majority are still hesitant about mobile banking.”

According to the survey results, only 29% of consumers said they have indeed conducted mobile banking. Of those who have used mobile banking, half reported they did so out of convenience. Of those who expressed they have not used a mobile device for banking purposes, the same percentage (51%) cited it was because of diminished security. Twenty-three percent indicated that privacy concerns inhibited their use of mobile banking.

Along with mobile banking, mobile payments still have a long way to go for widespread adoption, according to survey results. In the survey, a mobile payment – sometimes known as a mobile wallet – was defined as “an alternative payment method." Instead of paying with cash, check or credit cards, a consumer can use a mobile phone to pay for a wide range of services and digital or hard goods. Sixty percent of surveyed consumers have never made a mobile payment, despite the fact that the majority own a smartphone.

However, 84% of consumers indicated that it is “important” or “very important” for online-payment service providers to express a commitment to protect them against fraud and other abuses – especially in the mobile channel.

“Many of today’s payment providers have yet to fully embrace and promote their fraud prevention strategies,” says Rankin. “This is reflected in consumer preference to use either credit cards or PayPal when making a mobile payment today, as these payment methods are most familiar to consumers.”

Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they prefer PayPal, with 53% indicating a preference for just using a credit card. “Other payment processors like Google Wallet and CheckFree should be aware that fraud is a very real concern and often a barrier to consumers using these services when shopping from a mobile device.”

For more information, visit www.ponemon.org and www.threatmetrix.com.
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Home Appliances – A Leading Causes of Residential Water Damage

September 26, 2011 8:57 pm

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety found that water damage related to home appliances was one of the top 10 reasons given for residential water loss, with failures costing an average of $5,300 after the deductible was paid.

After reviewing over 500 washing machine-related claims, it was determined that over half of the problems reported occurred when the supply hose (which carries water into the machine) failed. Machine overflows and drainage failures accounted for the next 28%.

The life span of the washing machine has to be taken into account when looking at the failure rates, especially as it relates to internal component failure, machine leaks, or burst hoses. These three elements combined account for two-thirds of all washing machine failures. Most appliances were about eight years old when the first failure occurred. Since most hoses are not replaced until they fail, it was determined that the age of the failed hose was approximately the same as the machine it serviced.

Most machines are only slightly older when their internal components begin to break down. The motor/pump assembly was the usual culprit, accounting for 40% of all claims that were examined.

It was also determined that the location of the washing machine in the home can have an effect on the frequency and severity of the loss when failures do occur. For machines located in lower levels or basements, the presence of a sump pump or other drainage device often prevented more serious water damage from occurring. Units located on upper floors put them in close proximity to valuable electronic or furniture items, which can substantially increase the cost involved with any water damage event.

It is recommended that homeowners install washing machines either in the basement or upper floors of the home. Machine failures on the first floor of a home account for 30% greater losses due to their position relative to other valuable items.

In order to minimize the damage caused by a malfunctioning machine:

• Look for signs that the supply hose may be ready to fail. If the tube is worn or there are visible "blisters," go ahead and replace the hose.
• When replacing the supply hose, opt for a reinforced steel braided hose.
• If the connections are loose, tighten them down. Loosening often happens as the result of a move or relocation of the unit.
• Replace hoses every five years, whether you think they need them or not. This lets you stay ahead of any wear and tear.
• Be sure to turn the water valves off completely if you are going to be gone for a period of several days.

Finally, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to reduce the risk of other types of washing machine-related water losses. Never overload a machine, always use a detergent designed for this type of use and try to operate washing machines when someone is home.

Source: waterdamagelocal.com
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Tackle Small House Repairs to Prevent Larger Problems

September 26, 2011 8:57 pm

Given the recovering economy, some homeowners may be delaying smaller home repairs to save their hard-earned cash. However, delaying smaller issues could lead to larger problems down the road. Here are a few repairs that you would be best off not ignoring.

Never neglect your annual HVAC inspection. By having an HVAC inspection at least once a year, you can ensure that your heating, air conditioning and ventilation are all working properly. The inspection may find that the furnace blower isn't working properly, which can prevent a broken heat exchanger down the road. You may also find that the reversing switch in the heat pump is broken. If handled sooner rather than later, you can save hundreds (or thousands) of dollars by replacing these items for $100-300. It will also save you extra money on your heating bills.

Chimney inspections are also important. For $150, you can have your chimney inspected and cleaned, removing creosote buildup and helping to prevent water from leaking in. If too much moisture gets in and ruins the chimney liner, you may have to drop thousands of dollars on a new one. Again, spending a couple hundred dollars to clean it and make sure it has the appropriate capping and calking will save you thousands later on.

Regular termite inspections are not only beneficial, but will also give you peace of mind. Once a year, in the spring or summer, have an inspector come search your property for flying or grounded termites. The average homeowner loss for damage caused by these little buggers is nearly $3,000, but some losses can reach as high as tens-of-thousands of dollars. For under $200, you can rest assured.

Dryer vent cleaning can prevent clog-ups that cause fires in many homes. Excess lint in the vents can overheat, catch fire and possibly burn your entire home to the ground. Clean these vents out at least once a year to protect your home and belongings.

Source: Bankrate
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A Sense of Community – Getting to Know Your New Neighborhood

September 26, 2011 8:57 pm

By Paige Tepping

Moving to a new city/town can be a daunting experience, especially until you know your way around. If you spent a good part of your summer looking for a place to live, packing boxes and eventually moving into your new home, fall is a great time to explore your new area. Once all of your belongings are unpacked and put away (and even if they aren’t), the following tips will help you get to know the place you now call home.

Talk to your neighbors. If you’re looking for a good place to go celebrate a birthday or you’re more interested in a quiet night out, your neighbors will most likely have a few good recommendations for whatever it is you’re looking for. This is even a great way to just get to know your neighbors.

Go exploring. One of the best ways to get to know a new place is to get in the car and go for a drive or put on your sneakers and take a walk. Set aside an afternoon to explore your new community and be sure to write down names of restaurants and other areas of interest that are worth coming back to check out. Just getting out of your house/apartment to explore for a few hours will give you more of a sense of community.

Surf the Web. The Internet is a great place to find information about your new home’s surrounding community. A good place to start is your town/city’s website, as this will give you a good idea regarding what restaurants, stores, parks, etc. are in the area.

Use your social networks. You have spent years adding people to your Facebook friends list, and while you may not keep in touch with many of them, some may actually live in the area. If you find that an old friend or acquaintance lives in the area, send them a private message and tell them that you are new to the area and would appreciate any suggestions regarding fun/interesting things to do.
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Multifamily Housing Production Index Shows Improvement

September 23, 2011 8:57 pm

The multifamily housing market continued to show improvement in the second quarter of 2011, as the Multifamily Production Index (MPI) compiled by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) increased for the fourth consecutive quarter.

The MPI rose from 41.7 in the first quarter of the year to 44.4 in the second quarter. It is the highest quarterly reading since 2006, and continues the trend of generally improving conditions in the market for new multifamily housing that has emerged since the MPI dropped to a record low of 16.0 in the third quarter of 2008.

The index provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, construction of market-rate-rent units, and construction of "for sale" units. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse. In the second quarter of 2011, a majority of developers saw improvements in the production of low-rent and market-rate units.

"Multifamily rental construction is trending upward, and it is definitely the brightest sector in the broader housing market," says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "However, the entire housing market continues to be very fragile and subject to many external pressures, including an ongoing shortage of financing for new projects."

Looking forward, developers' expectations about multifamily construction for the next six months improved in the second quarter in all three market components: low-rent, market-rate-rent and for-sale multifamily. However, Crowe cautions that the current climate of overall economic uncertainty is making builders and consumers cautious and having a dampening effect on expectations.

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry's perception of vacancies, increased slightly from 35.0 in the first quarter of 2011 to 36.1 in the second quarter. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies. Crowe notes that recent small increases in the MVI follow an extended period of improvement, and over the past three quarters the MVI has been lower than at any time since the second quarter of 2007. Crowe also notes that multifamily developers and property owners expect vacancy rates to decline over the next six months.

"Even though multifamily is trending upward, production is still very low in a historic context and in the context of what we project is necessary to meet long-term demand," Crowe says.

He adds that the Multifamily Production Index and the Multifamily Vacancy Index have emerged as leading indicators for the multifamily market, providing information about potential movement in Census Bureau tabulations in advance of their release.

For more information, visit www.NAHB.org/mms.
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Tips for Winterizing Summer Cottages and Vacation Homes

September 23, 2011 8:57 pm

The weather is getting cooler and the leaves are changing color, so many people will be closing their summer homes for the season within the next few weeks. It's important to make sure cottages and vacation homes are properly secured to help protect them during the winter months.

Many vacation homes and cottages are located in areas that experience freezing temperatures in the winter, notes Lisa St. Onge, an assistant vice president with a nationwide insurance company. “This causes the potential for frozen pipes and other headaches for homeowners.”

That’s why it’s important to take the time to make sure your vacation home is properly secured for winter, St. Onge notes. “Preparing your home in advance will save you time and money and make it easier for you to open your home for the summer next year.”

Here are a few tips and reminders:

• Unplug all appliances.
• Drain the water system to prevent pipes from freezing.
• Secure windows and doors, inspect for other openings and remove all food to keep rodents out.
• Adjust the thermostat. In colder climates, thermostats set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit will help to prevent pipes from freezing. In warmer climates, air conditioning should be turned on to prevent humidity damage.
• Clean gutters and downspouts.

“Checking these items off your list as you close up for the season can make a huge difference and prevent little things that may be undiscovered or unrepaired for months from becoming much more serious, very costly problems,” St. Onge says.

Many vacation homeowners don’t return until the following summer, so it’s also important to make sure your home looks lived in. Here are a few tips to make your home look occupied while you’re away for the season:

• Put interior and exterior lights on timers or motion detectors.
• Stop mail and newspaper service.
• Hire someone to clear snow from your driveway.

“Winterizing your home properly—and making sure it looks lived in while you’re away—will make coming back in the spring and summer more enjoyable,” says St. Onge.
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