January 17, 2012 4:24 am
Saving money is often one of the most common New Year's resolutions. And since owning a home is easily one of the biggest expenses the average person will have in their lifetime, saving money around the home is crucial. Even for those who are able to pay off their mortgage, the cost of annual maintenance - plus the little luxuries we tack on - can really add up. In order to save some money this upcoming year on home-related expenditures, consider these steps:
Refinance. Interest rates are low right now, so take a look at your current mortgage and assess if it would be wise to refinance. Cutting even $100 from your monthly mortgage payment will mean huge savings over the life of your loan. Be sure to understand the terms of the refinance, as sometimes the cost to refinance does not outweigh the savings.
Shop your homeowners insurance. We often overlook the cost of homeowners insurance because it is escrowed and paid as part of our monthly mortgage payment. However, you could be greatly overpaying for homeowners insurance, which would increase your monthly mortgage payment unnecessarily. While you're at it, ask your home insurance agent to package in your car insurance policy to get additional discounts, typically up to 20%.
Reduce energy waste. Take a look at your monthly energy bills to see how much energy you are really using each month. Make efforts to reduce energy usage in the winter cold and summer heat by properly sealing windows and doors that could be susceptible to drafts. Set your thermostat a few degrees cooler during the day when no one is home to save on unnecessary heating and cooling.
Skim down your cable, phone and Internet. Oftentimes, when homeowners set up their television, Internet and home phone service they get talked into a bigger package than they need. Do you really need the fastest Internet speed? How many of those 245 television channels do you actually watch? See if you can save yourself a few hundred dollars a year by downgrading your service package.
Get smart at the grocery store. We often think of our food costs as a necessity- therefore, we justify the expense. However, a little bit of frugality can go a long way when you're working the aisles at your local market. Get in the habit of clipping coupons and checking the sale papers to make some smart food shopping choices.
For more information, visit HomeownersInsurance.com.
January 17, 2012 4:24 am
A recent national survey conducted by GfK Roper Custom Research finds that less than 50 percent of homeowners surveyed know that they are responsible for repairs to the water line on their property. Further, the report goes on to state that one-third of all homeowners responding actually assume that their local utility is responsible for the cost of a burst water line between their house and the street, when this is usually not the case.
"One of the challenges of homeownership is that the potential for expensive repairs is always out there," says Tom Rusin, chief executive officer of HomeServe USA. "The fact that homeowners don't know about their responsibilities in these situations serves to make unexpected and expensive repairs harder to handle."
To protect yourself in the case of an unexpected emergency, homeowners can be prepared with a service repair plan that helps cover the cost of expensive water service line repairs. Typically the homeowner is responsible for the water service line from the curb or well casing all the way to the home, connecting to the water heater, sinks, showers and more. Temperature changes, shifting soil or the age of the line can all cause the line to become damaged. Many times this results in a loss of water pressure or a loss of water altogether. In other instances, the effects will not be noticed until there is a spike in the water bill due to an underground leak. Repairing a water service line can cost more than $2,000.
A well-protecting plan provides consumers thousands of dollars in coverage for a low monthly fee and will dispatch a contractor to make any necessary repairs should a problem arise.
For more information, visit www.homeserveusa.com.
January 17, 2012 4:24 am
As the nation's unemployment rates slowly recover, the apartment industry continues to see strong demand for new employees in order to keep up with a growth rate that is expected to increase as people opt to rent apartments.
Approximately 35 percent of U.S. households are renter households, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is up 4 percent from 2004. It is likely to climb even higher as the number of renter households increases anywhere from 360,000 to 470,000 annually over the next decade. Ultimately, that increase will translate into the creation of more well-paying jobs in the apartment management industry, which has come through the recent recession relatively unscathed by the layoffs and downsizing that have plagued other businesses.
"The reality is that at no point in time have we seen a significant reduction in the number of apartment units in the United States," says National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) President Maitri Johnson. "Every year we keep adding to the apartment stock, and we keep adding jobs. That has not been the case with many other industries during the past few years."
The multifamily housing industry employs more than 1 million people, not including the thousands of others working in industries that provide products and services to apartment communities. Large national apartment management companies may hire as many as 2,000 new employees in any given year. These employees often come from a variety of college backgrounds, including business, marketing, communications or facilities maintenance.
Managing apartment communities requires a team of employees performing a variety of functions such as management, customer service, accounting, business analysis and preventive maintenance. A recent search of job postings on ApartmentCareers.com highlighted open positions for an accountant, webmaster, maintenance technician, housekeeper and regional marketing director.
John Cullens, president and founder of ApartmentCareers.com, said few industries can provide a career that is not only portable – virtually every community has a few rental homes or an apartment community – but also provides a variety of career paths, good pay and good benefits. The apartment industry is particularly attractive to new college graduates who may lack the experience needed for well-paying jobs in other industries. Once exposed to the opportunity to manage a $3 million budget, a team of six employees and a real estate asset valued at over $20 million, most recent graduates realize that they have found their niche.
"The apartment industry has a constant need for new employees to not only keep pace with the growth we are seeing in the industry and the construction of new rental units, but also to fill those positions that open as a result of standard employee turnover and baby boomer retirements," says Johnson. "Multifamily housing is an industry that doesn't require all employees to have advanced degrees. Our workforce is very diverse, and people can find good jobs at all levels."
With more than 95 million (and growing) Americans living in rental housing, the industry's job opportunities are only expected to increase in the coming years.
For more information, visit www.apartmentcareerhq.org.
January 16, 2012 4:24 am
The holidays are over and hopefully your home is free from holiday decoration and debris. With temperatures dropping outdoors, now is the perfect time to pick up some mini projects to brighten the inside of your home and create a new feel for the new year.
Explore your crafting side: If you're snowed in with nothing to do, pick up that arts and crafts project you've been procrastinating on forever. Make a collage for your bedroom or living room, or maybe paint an old lamp or vase. Artistic expression gives your home a unique look and provides you with a fun activity that will also be quite productive.
Bring the essence of the outdoors, indoors: Just because it's cold and dreary outside doesn't mean you can't be thinking spring. Buy and frame an inexpensive poster that reminds you of your favorite season. You can also go to a florist and pick up your favorite flower or plant. Anything you can do to bring light, color and feelings of warmth inside will be beneficial for your mental state throughout the long, cold winter.
Brighten the scene: Check all of the light bulbs in the house to make sure they're all working. With the sun setting much earlier, you need all of the light you can get at night. Consider replacing your light fixtures for a more modern look. There are plenty of directions to take a lighting project in. Speak to an electrician or lighting professional if you really want to change the lighting in your home.
Repaint a room during the rare warmer days: If the temperature permits, consider repainting a room in your house to give it a fresh look. Wait for a warm day, so that you can properly ventilate the house, then go at it. New colors work great to brighten rooms and lift spirits, or if you are the artistic type, paint a design or painting on one portion of a wall. Painting is the perfect do-it-yourself project, and weather permitting, is the perfect winter task to take on.
With a little creativity, you can brighten up your home and give it new life for the season. By the time spring has sprung, your home will be prepared with a warm, fresh feel.
January 16, 2012 4:24 am
Many people typically think of sunrooms as a summer addition - a place to soak up the sunshine and bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor living. But these tips serve as a reminder to homeowners that sunrooms, conservatories and patio enclosures, when built properly, can easily be a cozy cold-weather retreat.
While sunrooms and patio rooms do make an excellent warm-weather family hub, that only tells part of the story. Getting a true year-round sunroom means getting a glass room addition with a superior build quality that can be used during even the coldest months, with no need to abandon it as soon as the winter weather arrives. The difference between cheaply-made three-season rooms and a four-seasons sunroom is that the latter is a room addition you can utilize all year long, even when it's cold outside.
When buying a Sunroom or Conservatory, it's the glass that makes all the difference in providing insulation in the colder winter months. Try to find energy-efficient glass, exclusive to its own room, that does just that. The sunroom will block out more of the heat in the summer and stay warmer during the winter, allowing the homeowner to enjoy year-round comfort, even when there's thick snow on the ground.
Another great benefit of any sunroom or conservatory is the way it can flood a home with natural daylight. Exposure to natural light makes people feel healthier and much lighter in spirit, so a room addition that lets in a lot of light is a great way to keep those "winter blues" away.
When it's too cold to venture outdoors, a sunroom will bring the outside inside, 365 days a year. It can serve as a wonderfully tranquil space to enjoy the plants, trees, birds and other wildlife in the backyard all from the comfort of an armchair. At night, it's a romantic spot to do a little star gazing, or watch the gently falling snow from in front of the fireplace.
During the summer months, it's easy to live life outdoors, but it's just as easy to forget how tight a home may be on space, especially during those long winter days when families can be all cooped up together. Sunrooms, conservatories or patio rooms are more than just an extended porch; they can make great playrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and kitchen extensions. Matching the addition to a family's needs creates a comfortable home for all to enjoy, winter or summer.
For more information, visit www.FourSeasonsSunrooms.com.
January 16, 2012 4:24 am
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) concurs with a finding by the Federal Reserve that excessively tight mortgage lending standards are hampering a housing and economic recovery.
“The Federal Reserve’s report to Congress confirms what we have been saying for some time: That extraordinarily tight credit conditions are preventing creditworthy borrowers from obtaining home loans and this is harming the housing market and the broader economy,” says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.
Nielsen adds that the lack of credit extends to housing construction loans as well, which is crippling the housing industry and preventing construction of new homes in markets that need and want them. “In scores of markets across the country that are exhibiting signs of job growth and where the inventory of new homes is nearly exhausted, builders should be hiring workers to break ground on new housing developments,” he says.
In its message to Congress, the Fed said that “restoring the health of the housing market is a necessary part of a broader strategy for economic recovery.”
Housing can act as a job catalyst if regulators and lending institutions return to prudent underwriting standards that do not exclude creditworthy borrowers and if they move to restore the flow of credit to viable home building projects.
In normal times, housing accounts for more than 17 percent of the nation’s economic output. Constructing 100 new homes creates more than 300 full-time jobs, $23.1 million in wage and business income and $8.9 million in federal, state and local tax revenue.
With cash-strapped municipalities across the land desperately searching for new revenue sources, home building can increase the property tax base that supports local schools and communities.
“Removing the obstacles limiting access to mortgage credit and enabling builders to obtain construction loans to build in markets where demand is firming is imperative to get housing back on track, to put our nation back to work and to keep the economy moving forward,” says Nielsen.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
January 13, 2012 4:18 am
Drivers should be aware that there are many other types of distracted driving - not just using a mobile device. Drivers should understand the various types of distractions and be sure these bad habits are avoided when driving a car.
Driving a vehicle requires a driver’s full attention. When drivers take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, their accident risk can double and cause serious damage to themselves and other people. Distracted driving can harm not only yourself, but others as well. It’s the driver’s responsibility to be alert and drive safely.
Here are some quick facts:
• One study showed that nearly 80% of crashes involve some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event.
• Driver distraction is estimated to be a contributing factor in eight out of every 10 police-reported crashes.
• The average driver needs to keep track of 3,000 items during rush hour. (This includes signs, traffic lights, other vehicles, passengers and pedestrians, road and weather conditions, and more).
• Talking on cell phones (hand-held or hands-free) while driving makes drivers 4 times more likely to crash.
Types of distracted driving to avoid
• Using a mobile device – cell phone or GPS
• Reading maps
• Grooming – applying make-up
• Eating or drinking
• Programming the radio or changing CDs
• Carrying on a conversation with passengers
• Tending to children or pets
• Looking at billboard signs
If you are caught using a mobile device, police may issue a ticket for the offence that will vary in cost. Your ticket will be put on your driving record and may cause your car insurance rate to increase.
Tips to stay safe while driving
• Turn off cell phone while driving; only use cell phones when the vehicle is parked or be sure to purchase a Bluetooth device.
• Attend to personal grooming prior to driving.
• Eat or drink before entering the vehicle.
• Preset GPS device before getting on the road.
• Be well rested.
It is crucial for driver and passenger safety to remain alert at all times while driving. Make sure to stay focused and pay attention to the road. Everything else can wait – the main concern is to arrive safely. Don’t forget that causing an at-fault accident will likely impact insurance premiums significantly.
Source: InsuranceHotline.com, The Insurance Bureau of Canada
January 13, 2012 4:18 am
In an effort to continue stabilizing home values and improve conditions in communities experiencing high foreclosure activity, Acting Federal Housing Administration Commissioner Carol J. Galante recently extended a temporary waiver of FHA’s anti-flipping regulations through 2012.
“This extension is intended to accelerate the resale of foreclosed properties in neighborhoods struggling to overcome the possible effects of abandonment and blight,” says Galante. “FHA remains a critical source of mortgage financing and stability and we must make every effort that to promote recovery in every responsible way we can.”
With certain exceptions, FHA rules prohibit insuring a mortgage on a home owned by the seller for less than 90 days. In 2010, however, FHA temporarily waived this regulation through January 31, 2011, and later extended that waiver through the remainder of 2011. The new extension will permit buyers to continue to use FHA-insured financing to purchase HUD-owned properties, bank-owned properties, or properties resold through private sales. It will allow homes to resell as quickly as possible, helping to stabilize real estate prices and to revitalize neighborhoods and communities.
The extension announced is effective through December 31, 2012, unless otherwise extended or withdrawn by FHA. All other terms of the existing Waiver will remain the same. The Waiver contains strict conditions and guidelines to prevent the predatory practice of property flipping, in which properties are quickly resold at inflated prices to unsuspecting borrowers. The Waiver continues to be limited to sales meeting the following conditions:
• All transactions must be arms-length, with no identity of interest between the buyer and seller or other parties participating in the sales transaction;
• In cases in which the sales price of the property is 20 percent or more above the seller’s acquisition cost, the Waiver will apply only if the lender meets specific conditions, and documents the justification for the increase in value; and
• The Waiver is limited to forward mortgages, and does not apply to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) for purchase program.
Since the original waiver went into effect on February 1, 2010, FHA has insured nearly 42,000 mortgages worth more than $7 billion on properties resold within 90 days of acquisition.
FHA research finds that in today’s market, acquiring, rehabilitating and reselling these properties to prospective homeowners often takes less than 90 days. Prohibiting the use of FHA mortgage insurance for a subsequent resale within 90 days of acquisition adversely impacts the willingness of sellers to allow contracts from potential FHA buyers because they must consider holding costs and the risk of vandalism associated with allowing a property to sit vacant over a 90-day period of time.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
January 13, 2012 4:18 am
So you've made the decision to go paperless? Congratulations! That filing cabinet of papers in the guest room can now be eliminated. Whether in an office or at home, the ubiquitous paper giant looms over everyone and promises to rob them of precious time and resources. Most are in a hurry to get this problem under control. Choosing a good electronic document system and even some new hardware, like a fast scanner, may be necessary to get started.
There are several factors involved when selecting a solution. Without proper preparation and consideration of all your needs, you may select a paperless tool that cannot grow with you. Below are 5 pitfalls and some meaningful advice to help avoid them when attempting to go paperless:
Pitfall 1. Doing more work to be paperless than necessary. Go paperless only where possible and practical. If situations cost too much time or money, it probably isn't worth doing so. If you're too busy to make the change, you are best off waiting. However, look for a paperless solution that can offer hands on service to capture and shred the current paper mess. More importantly the solution should be able to help you. Keep the effort going with a simple method to continually capture documents in regular intervals.
Pitfall 2. Letting paper pile up. When looking at a mound of paper covered in a month's worth of dust, it becomes very difficult to imagine that the information there could be important. The problem is that people often don't review paper as it comes into their hectic lives. Identifying a solution that can provide physical assistance with sorting through paper is a must. Consider using the “keep or discard” method. As soon as a piece of mail or other paper is received, decide immediately whether to keep it or discard it and stack them in two separate piles. A little bit of this everyday beats waiting until the paper piles out of control.
Pitfall 3. Using too many tools at once. Scanners, cameras, smartphones, cloud resources, computer and phone software are everywhere. Many become overwhelmed with the resources and often cannot settle on the best one. The new paperless user winds up with a fragmented and sometimes duplicated electronic filing system. It is necessary to determine what functions are most important and prioritize the tool selections focusing on those that provide most of what is needed.
Pitfall 4. To store on the cloud or to store onsite. That is the question. Both choices offer considerable benefits, but come with an equally disturbing number of challenges. Storing at home or in the office is very safe when using an encrypted hard-drive and a frequent, consistent backup schedule is implemented. The solution is often a one time and low cost outlay for hardware. The challenge is that like most electronic devices, no one can predict when they are going to fail. And it is just a matter of when, not if. Online document storage offers a sound solution as long as paying a regular monthly fee is acceptable. Cloud systems rarely lose data and they are very secure. Check for those that are used in larger businesses or financial institutions with government recommended security protocols. The cloud solution should be robust but easy to use.
Pitfall 5. Printing stored documents rather than using alternative read or share methods. This has got to be one of the most confounding challenges with going paperless today. Many professionals are still printing documents to review, approve and route throughout an organization. Although this style takes up precious resources, it is a very challenging habit to break. Everyone in the organization will need to commitment to the idea of embracing a no waste attitude. If done successfully, hundreds or thousands of dollars can be saved in printing equipment and services.
Anyone can learn to review documents without printing them. Over a short period of time most will find it easier to scan through information on a screen rather than print. Running a quick search for keywords in an online document is simple on screen, as opposed to scanning through printed pages for keywords.
For more information, visit PaperErasers.com.
January 12, 2012 4:16 am
Remodeling is a fun and exciting way for homeowners to spice up their homes. With a slower economy, many are choosing easy, do-it-yourself projects to stretch their paychecks and meet lower budgets. One of the most common of these is interior painting.
"Nearly everyone agrees that some jobs, like reroofing or electrical work, are best left to the pros, but most people think they can do their own painting," said Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute. "And, generally speaking, they're right."
According to Zimmer, many people regard painting as a weekend project. As such, they want to see some results by Sunday’s end. "That's a realistic goal, but to achieve it, you have to plan out the job and be well-organized," she said.
1. Move all of the furniture out of the way. Push it to the center of the room, and use plastic sliders for heavy items to avoid heavy lifting. Cover all couches and furniture with plastic, blankets or old sheets. Drop-cloths are a great idea and will protect your floors from accidental sprays of paint.
2. Cleanse all of the surfaces you are going to paint with a sponge and household detergent solution. You definitely want a clean surface before starting the job. Give the surfaces ample time to dry before continuing.
3. No one likes multiple trips to the store—make a list and grab all the necessary paint, tools and accessories you need in one fell swoop. The Paint Quality Institute has a helpful checklist at www.paintquality.com.
4. Buy 100 percent acrylic latex interior paint. It’s technologically advanced and top quality. Some of these durable paints serve as a double agent—as both a primer and paint—and are better at hiding whatever color is underneath. Another plus, you may only need a single coat. It’s a great way to save time, money and effort.
5. Tape the edges of surfaces that you will be painting. Doing so will help you quicken the job, saving lots of your precious time. In addition, it’s way neater too.
6. Working from the top down is the smartest way to tackle the project. Paint the ceiling first, then move on to the walls, the windows and trim, and lastly, paint the baseboards. Following this exact order will prevent paint spatter or drip marks and will also prevent you from needing to do much touch-up work.
7. Assuming that you use the paint suggested above, clean up will be simple. These types of paints are water-based and can quickly be cleaned off of painting tools with just soap and water.
8. Another plus to using top quality latex paint: it won’t have as strong of a paint smell. You can put a freshly-painted room back into service almost immediately.
Source: The Paint Quality Institute