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

New-Home Sales Rise 1.3 Percent in October

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

Sales of newly built, single-family homes inched up 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 307,000 units in October, according to newly released data from the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain is from a downwardly revised rate in the previous month, and marks the best pace of new-home sales activity since this May.

"Builders have been seeing some marginal improvement in sales activity over the past few months, particularly in select markets where consumer confidence is higher due to improved economic conditions," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "While this trend is encouraging, overall sales activity is still well below normal due to the effects of overly tight credit conditions for builders and buyers, the continued flow of distressed properties on the market, and inaccurate appraisal values on new homes."

"Today's report is right in line with our forecast for modest and gradual improvement in sales activity through the remainder of the year," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Particularly encouraging is the fact that builders continue to hold down their inventories to match the current sales rate, with the number of new homes for sale now down to a sustainable, 6.3-month supply."

Regionally, new-home sales held unchanged in the Northeast and gained 22.2 percent in the Midwest and 14.9 percent in the West in October.

Meanwhile, the nationwide inventory of new homes for sale held at an all-time record low of just 162,000 units in October, which is a 6.3-month supply at the current sales pace.

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Help for Community Associations and Homeowners

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

With more than 60 million Americans living in 315,000 U.S. homeowners associations and condominium communities, tension, frustration and conflict are inevitable.

Associations can face a range of problems—from financial strife related to the current economic climate and housing crisis to conflict between homeowners and association leaders. Issues can involve mandatory homeowner fees, budgetary shortfalls, home foreclosures, architectural guidelines and rules enforcement related to yard signs, holiday decorations, flag poles, pets and parking.

Fortunately, there is free help and information—for homeowners, association leaders and community managers.

The nonprofit Community Associations Institute (CAI) offers free, downloadable information that can help homeowners better understand how associations should function and how to improve communities that are failing to meet resident expectations. Included are:

• An Introduction to Community Association Living—an online presentation that explains the nature, obligations and benefits of living in a common-interest community.
• Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities—42 principles and practices to help associations promote harmony and reduce the potential for conflict.
• Community Association Governance Guidelines—12 principles that can help association boards identify and meet basic benchmarks of responsible governance.
• Model Code of Ethics for Community Association Board Members

By knowing your rights and the rules and regulations of normal homeowners associations, you can know what to expect and better your living situation.

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Home Builders Applaud Congress for Restoring Higher FHA Loan Limits

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently applauded Congress for reinstating for another two years the higher conforming loan limits for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), noting that this is an important step to help mend the struggling housing market.

“We commend congressional leaders in both parties and each chamber of Congress for taking this action to boost overall mortgage liquidity in the marketplace, create jobs, and provide homeowners and homebuyers with safe and affordable financing,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.

“Restoring the higher FHA loan limits will help to stabilize home values, provide constancy while private investors re-enter the market, and enable millions of creditworthy consumers to get home loans with the best mortgage rates and lowest fees and down payment requirements,” he adds.

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Simple Steps for Choosing Childcare

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

Earlier this fall, an unlicensed childcare worker in Lincoln, Nebraska was charged with criminal child neglect, only one of many recent childcare and daycare employees to come under such scrutiny. These continued problems with childcare institutions have left many parents concerned. With this series of practical steps, parents can minimize the chances of placing their kids in an unsuitable facility. Basic vigilance and a little research can help parents make more informed and ultimately safer decisions.

Parents have a great deal of power with which to investigate a childcare service’s history and its true values. Doing this kind of work on the front end can ultimately minimize the risk of trouble down the road.

1. Pursue all possible avenues of research. Do not only conduct online searches, but also ask family and friends for referrals or recommendations.

2. Call the manager and inquire about general policies and practices. If possible, visit the facilities in person.

3. Interview other parents who use, or have used, a particular facility in the past. Ask why they find it to be either acceptable or not.

4. Take your child to the facility and watch how he or she interacts with other kids. If your child gives the impression that something is “off,” trust that instinct and keep looking.

5. Ensure that the childcare facility you are considering is licensed. Also make certain that it is well-staffed and that the facilities are clean.

There is no such thing as being too thorough when investigating a childcare facility. Doing the proper research in advance is ultimately what keeps parents from unwelcome surprises.

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The Art of Toasting: Raising a Glass with Class

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

When you deliver your holiday toast, what words will you say? What pithy wisdom, humorous thoughts or warm expressions will you share with family and friends?

Like fine wine itself, a toast is an opportunity to savor. Over the next few weeks, countless people will stand up and say a few words at holiday meals, office parties and various New Year's festivities. Delivering a toast is a classic form of public speaking. It's an easy way to make a connection with an audience, either formally or informally. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you are preparing to give a toast at your next social function:

Be Brief. Keep your comments short and they'll have a greater impact. Talk for more than a couple of minutes and the guests will grow antsy.

Be Bold. Step up and act confident. Speak loudly and clearly.

Be Prepared. Know what you want to say ahead of time. Your words might inspire reflection or provide some much-needed laughter, so make the most of the moment- don't wing it.

Be Fresh. Your drink shouldn't be stale and neither should your words. Clichés and platitudes mean little to listeners; be original and speak from the heart.

Be You. Don't try to be hilarious if that's not who you are. Skip the serious message if it doesn't feel right. Just be yourself.

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Simple Tips for Real Christmas Tree Care

December 12, 2011 9:48 pm

Real Christmas trees are a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays, filling the home with a fresh evergreen scent and unmatched appearance. To maintain your tree throughout the season, follow these simple tips for proper care.

Stand Strong – Traditional reservoir-type stands are the most effective way to maintain tree freshness and minimize needle loss. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter.

Fresh Cut – If the tree has been cut within the past 12 hours, it is not necessary to recut the trunk. If it has been more than 12 hours since harvest, remove a 1/4-inch disk of wood from the base of the trunk before placing the tree in the stand. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle or into a V-shape, which can make it far more difficult to hold in a stand and reduce the amount of water available to the tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient at taking up water and should not be removed. Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.

Water, Water – Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Don't bruise the cut surface of the trunk or get it dirty. Do not use additives in the water. Clean water is all that is needed to maintain freshness. Check the stand daily to make sure the water level does not go below the base of the tree.

Temperature Control – Keep trees away from heat sources (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption. The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.

Light Use
– Choose lights that produce low or no heat, such as miniature or LED lights, to reduce drying of the tree. Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set. Do not overload electrical circuits and always turn off tree lights when leaving the house or going to bed.

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Prevent Home Fires This Holiday Season

December 12, 2011 9:48 pm

With increased activity in the kitchen and heightened energy use to combat the cold, families are at greater risk of home fires during the winter holiday season. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is encouraging families and communities across the country to take simple precautions to ensure that this celebratory time of year does not result in a fire-related tragedy.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics indicate that 30 percent of all home fires and 38 percent of home fire deaths occur during the months of December, January and February. Additionally, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths result from fires that occur in homes without working smoke alarms.

Many of these simple precautions seem like common sense, but are often overlooked due to the hectic nature of the holiday season. In addition to taking preventative measures like testing smoke alarms, it is critical that families create and practice their fire escape plan to minimize tragedy if a fire does occur.

Follow these basic safety guidelines to help protect your family, guests and home from holiday home fires:

-Stay in the kitchen when food is cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States.

-Keep children at least three feet away from cooking appliances. Never leave a child unsupervised while cooking or when an electric or gas stove is within reach.

-Keep towels, pot holders, curtains and other flammable items away from hot surfaces.

-With greater activity in and around your home comes increased energy use. Be careful not to overburden your electrical system.

-Keep space heaters out of high-traffic and exit areas, and at least three feet away from any combustible materials.

-Do not use space heaters in rooms where children are unsupervised.

-Turn space heaters off when you go to sleep or leave the room. Never leave a space heater unattended.

-Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test smoke alarms once a month to ensure they are working properly.

-Make sure everyone in your family recognizes the sound of the smoke alarm and knows what it means.

-Plan for a fire emergency before it happens. Be sure to explain your family fire escape plan to overnight houseguests and babysitters.

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Adjustable Mortgage Rates Hit Record Lows

December 12, 2011 9:48 pm

Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC) recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates changing little and remaining near their historic lows while adjustable-rate mortgages averaged new record lows. The 30-year fixed has averaged at or below 4 percent for the fourth consecutive week.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.98 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending November 23, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.00 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.40 percent.

The survey showed that the 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.30 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.31 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.77 percent.

Additionally, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.91 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.97 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.45 percent.

The one-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.79 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.98 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.23 percent.

"Mortgage rates eased slightly this week with fixed-rate loans hovering above all-time lows and ARMs reaching a new nadir,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac. “The high-degree of home-buyer affordability in recent months translated into a 1.4 percent pickup in existing home sales during October, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). NAR also reported that contract cancellations were up in October as well, which restrained sales from achieving a stronger rebound."

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Is Your Roof Reindeer-Ready?

December 9, 2011 3:44 pm

While Santa and his elves are finishing up toy making and preparing to pack the sled, there's an important job homeowners have to do to prepare for the upcoming Christmas holiday - make sure their roof is Reindeer-ready.

To be sure the roof is ready for everything winter has in store, including reindeer, look for the following, all of which can be done safely from a ladder:

1. For homes with asphalt shingles, look for black areas indicating cracking shingles.
2. For homes with shake or shingles, look for pieces that are curled upward, split, broken off or missing.
3. For homes with slate roofs, look for black areas that indicate slate is missing.
4. Look for heavy wear around the valleys, the areas where water runs off the roof into the gutters.
5. Look at the materials around the chimney and vent pipes and check for cracks, gaps and missing or fractured caulking.
6. Check eave overhangs for water damage.
7. Use binoculars to check around the chimney, trim and other flashings for signs of cracks, shingles that are coming up off the roof and general wear.
8. Conduct an interior inspection for stained or discolored ceilings, which most likely indicates roof problems.
9. Check your gutters for asphalt shingle granules. Lots of granules means less coverage on your roof.
10. Remove branches, twigs and leaves from gutters and clear out down spouts to allow for snow and ice run off.

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Don't Be Caught Without a Life Insurance Policy

December 9, 2011 3:44 pm

In a comprehensive study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, 2010, researchers discovered significant spikes in both cardiac and non-cardiac deaths during the holidays. Researchers looked at 57.5 million U.S. death certificates spanning the years 1979 to 2004. It found 42,325 more people died of natural causes during the two-week Christmas/New Year holiday period than would normally be expected, given a typical winter. There also were increases in every major disease group of one-to-ten percent and in every demographic group of three-to-nine percent.

They also warned this unfortunate holiday trend is on the rise.

Additionally, the rate of insurance policies issued drops during the month of December, which compounds the problem even more. During the winter holidays, most people would rather be spending time with family than thinking about life insurance. Many add it to their “New Year’s Resolution” list, but by that time, it could be too late. With this in mind, it's crucially important to not put off opening a life insurance policy until the near year.

Whether one is searching for short-term life insurance or whole life insurance, there is always a solution that allows families the protection they require and the ability to obtain coverage affordably and efficiently. Coverage is subject to age limitations and acceptance is based on a few simple health questions on the online application.

Life is unpredictable and the last thing a person needs is an excuse to put off the financial responsibility to their family due to extensive and time consuming life insurance applications and medical exams.

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