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

Traffic Infractions: Their Severity and Impact on Insurance Rates

October 6, 2011 8:57 pm

Traffic infractions can vary from minor to very serious and how an insurance company rates them varies as well. Drivers should know how these types of infractions affect premiums and when to shop around for a better rate.

When a driver is given a ticket, it may cause an increase in premiums depending on the type. It may also cause a much higher increase if it is a major or serious infraction. Even with a serious infraction you can still shop for a better insurance rate as there are insurance companies who cater to this market specifically.

Minor Infractions Mean Smaller Increases

Drivers can generally expect that an insurance company will raise rates for some of the following, treating them as minor infractions:

• Speeding tickets for speeds less than 49 km/hr over (this may vary)
• Running a red light or stop sign
• Failure to obey a traffic sign
• Failure to signal before making a turn or changing lanes
• Following too closely (tailgating)

Most minor infractions will cause some type of increase. However, there are a few minor infractions that may not result in an increase at all, depending on the insurance company’s rules. An example of these would be a parking violation or a red light camera ticket.

Major Infractions Result in Higher Rates
Drivers can expect to see heftier increases on their insurance premiums in the event of a major traffic infraction. These infractions are considered more serious than a minor infraction and result in a higher insurance increase. Again, there are no hard and fast rules for what an insurance company will define as a major infraction, but the following will often make the list:

• Speeding tickets for speeds more than 50 km/hr over (again, this may vary)
• Speeding in a school zone
• Driving while uninsured
• Passing a school bus with red lights flashing

When a driver receives a ticket for a major infraction, odds are good their insurance will rise in accordance with the severity of the violation. Of course, each insurance company makes their own determination on rate increases and on what is considered a major offence.

Serious Infractions Mean Serious Consequences
A serious infraction is not just serious to insurance rates but can have legal consequences as well. These might include large fines, loss of driver’s license or even jail time. They are considered serious because they are usually very dangerous actions that could put lives in danger and in some cases have already caused injuries or death. Some of the actions that fall into this category include:

• Careless or dangerous driving
• Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
• Vehicular manslaughter
• Assault with a vehicle
• Failing to stop after an accident
• Failing to stop for a police officer
• Illegal street racing

Drivers who face these kinds of violations are often not thinking about their insurance rates at first and it may come as a surprise later when the rate increase occurs.

No matter the type of infraction, insurance companies can only charge an increased rate for a specific amount of time. This is generally three years (from the date of conviction, not the date that you got the ticket) but may vary from company to company. Be prepared by knowing exactly when the infraction will fall off and follow up on it. Some insurance companies will leave the increase in rate on the policy until the next renewal date. A new company, however, may not be bound by this, so be sure to take the time to shop around.

Source: InsuranceHotline.com
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Avoid Common Mistakes as an Investor

October 6, 2011 8:57 pm

Given the current economy and housing market, now is as good a time as ever to purchase real estate with the intent of renting. For investors looking to hold on to a property for the long haul, there is great money to be made with the right plan in place. However, nothing is ever a sure-shot. If you plan on picking up a piece of rental housing, be sure to avoid the following mistakes to ensure long-term success:

Don't assume a cheap deal is a good one. It's true that there are definitely inexpensive properties out on the market, but don't be too hasty when deciding to buy one. If the neighborhood or area is deserted and vacant, it won't be that appealing to future renters and you could run the risk of having your rental go uninhabited. Do some homework about the town, city or neighborhood before you sign the dotted line.

Don't overlook various costs. Sure, the price is attractive, but have you factored in closing costs? How about maintenance or repair costs? Do the math before buying so you can be sure to not bite off more than you can chew.

Every day your property is empty, you lose money. Avoid any type of extended vacancy in your property. If the property is empty, you aren't making any money. Between tenants, be sure to clean and repair quickly so that a new one can move in.

Understand that being a landlord is hard work. Don't assume that you will get to sit back and watch the rent checks flood in. Not only will there be maintenance work to do throughout the year, but you should also have concerns about finding the right tenants to rent the place. If your renters stop paying, it could take weeks or months to properly evict them. Some landlords may even run into issues relating to theft. Properly screen all possible candidates whenever possible.

Don't assume that owning a rental is the same as owning a home. There are many laws that vary by state that all landlords must abide by. Renters will always make various demands and requests and will definitely take up some of your time. Hiring a property manager is also an option, but with it comes yet another added expense. Make sure you are mentally and financially prepared to take on the task of becoming a landlord.

By being prepared and learning about what it truly takes to become a landlord, you can avoid making one of these common investor mistakes.

Source: www.wsj.com
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Housing Must Remain Nation's Top Priority, Say REALTORS

October 6, 2011 8:57 pm

We need to keep housing first on the nation’s public policy agenda, because housing and homeownership issues affect all Americans, and a housing recovery is necessary for the nation’s economic well-being.

That was the message delivered by National Association of REALTORS® President Ron Phipps recently during the New Solutions for America’s Housing Crisis forum, where he joined a panel of experts to discuss solutions for addressing the country’s housing and economic challenges. The event was hosted by Economic Policies for the 21st Century and the Progressive Policy Institute.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, REALTORS® know that issues like affordable financing, natural disaster insurance, the mortgage interest deduction, and foreclosures and short sales don’t just affect people who own a home—homeownership shapes communities and strengthens the nation’s economy,” says Phipps. “America needs strong public policies that promote responsible, sustainable homeownership and that will help stabilize the nation’s housing market to support an economic recovery.”

Phipps said that housing is not recovering at the rate it should be and called on legislators and regulators to do no harm. He said that proposed legislation and regulatory rules or changes to homeownership tax benefits need to help America out of today’s economic struggles and not further harm consumer confidence or exacerbate problems within the fragile real estate industry.

Overly stringent standards and lower mortgage loan limits are preventing qualified borrowers from getting loans, and Phipps called on lenders and regulators to reduce the overcorrection in underwriting standards for mortgages. He urged support for policies that ensure qualified borrowers can obtain safe and sound mortgages in all markets at all times and encourage sound lending without high downpayment requirements.

“REALTORS® support strong underwriting, but too stringent standards are curtailing the ability of creditworthy consumers from obtaining mortgages to purchase a home, and that’s impacting the recovery,” says Phipps. “Making mortgages available to creditworthy home buyers and streamlining loan modifications and short sales will help stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and reduce the rising inventory of foreclosed homes.”

Phipps recommended that political and industry leaders work together to help reshape real estate and put the country back on the right track. “Our goal is to help ensure that anyone in this country who aspires to own their own home and can afford to do so is not denied the opportunity to build their future through homeownership,” Phipps says.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
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Mobile Users Have Mixed Feelings About Location-Based Coupons

October 5, 2011 8:57 pm

Sharing their location with retailers in order to receive discounts may be worth the privacy risk for the majority of mobile consumers. Sixty-seven percent somewhat/strongly agree that location-based coupons are very convenient and useful according to a recent mobile survey among smartphone and tablet users conducted by Prosper Mobile Insights™. Respondents answered questions directly on their mobile devices.

Further, one in four (25.6%) mobile users say they would prefer to receive coupons on a smartphone or tablet automatically when they are near a store. However, double that number (51.1%) would prefer to receive coupons on their device via email. Manually searching for coupons, scanning QR codes and receiving promotional texts/IMs also rank higher than automatic location-based coupons. Receiving discounts on the spot, though, appears more popular than “checking in” through social media (only 10.3% would prefer this method):

Coupon Preferences on Smartphones/Tablets
Receive via email: 51.1%
Manually search for them: 32.2%
Scan a QR code when inside a store: 31.9%
Receive via text or instant message: 31.0%
Receive automatically when near a store: 25.6%
Check-in through social media: 10.3%
Don’t want to receive coupons at all on device: 18.1%

While 81.9% are open to receiving coupons on their smartphone or tablet in one form or another, location-based coupons do raise privacy concerns—44.8% are somewhat/very concerned about their location being tracked or other security issues. 29.6% are neutral while 25.6% are not concerned.

The majority of Mobile Users engage in shopping behaviors on their smartphones or tablets. Most conduct research: 76.4% browse or look for a product or service; 73.0% use their device to locate a store or store hours; 48.9% research specific products; and 45.7% read customer reviews on their smartphone or tablet. Interestingly, 42.2% have used their smartphone or tablet as a coupon (scanning a bar code, showing a text to a cashier, etc.) Nearly two in five (39.7%) have also made a purchase directly on a mobile device and 36.2% have scanned a QR code.

For more information, visit: www.prospermobile.com.
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Experts' Forecast for 2011 Prices Improves

October 5, 2011 8:57 pm

The home price picture for this year is shaping up to be a little better than it looked in June, according to the September 2011 home price expectations survey of 111 leading housing economists and experts sponsored by MacroMarkets LLC.

With just three months to go, the average prediction for the price decline this year from last year’s levels improved from a 3.52% price decline predicted by the experts in June to 2.53% in the latest survey. The survey is based upon the projected path of the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index over the coming five years.

However, longer term price prospects registered by the experts were less clear and varied widely, from a 19.2% increase by 2015 to a 5.7% decrease. The average prediction called for an average annual rate growth rate of only 1.1% through 2015.

“Relative to historical norms of average annual home price growth rates, the projected 1.1% nominal figure is dim, especially if broader inflation picks up (as many people think it will) within the coming five years,” says Terry Loebs, founder of Pulsenomics LLC, the firm that conducts the survey for MacroMarkets.

Loebs notes that the data still reveal a wide variety of individual views among panelists regarding a recovery in the U.S. housing market. Loebs says, “The erosion of price expectations in the face of record-low mortgage rates and the wide dispersion of views among many professional forecasters are symptoms of persistent dysfunction and imbalances in this country’s housing market.”

In the September survey, the panelists also offered their views of the likelihood, desirability and necessity for further government intervention in the U.S. housing and mortgage finance markets in the coming 12 months. Almost three-quarters (73%) of the respondents who shared a view think that further policy action is “highly likely” or “likely,” while more than half (57%) said such action is undesirable, and almost half (49%) said additional government action is unnecessary.

For more information, visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.
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Is it Worth the Cost?

October 5, 2011 8:57 pm

A stressful part of putting your home on the market is trying to figure out what to fix and upgrade to get the very best price. An experienced agent will recommend projects to consider and ones to avoid. After all, just because you put money into a renovation project doesn’t mean you will recoup the money in a sale.

Caprice Atwell, a REALTOR® from Florida, recommends consulting Remodeling Magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report” for a breakdown of typical returns on renovation projects large and small. The 24th annual edition, published earlier this year, contains input from some of the country’s top remodeling professionals and ranked 35 remodeling projects for highest returns. In many cases, smaller-scale renovation projects recoup more of their initial cost than larger, pricier ones, according to the report. For example, a minor $20,000 kitchen upgrade returns 72.8% of renovation costs, but a more expensive $58,000 kitchen remodel only retains 68.7% of its value on resale.

Surprisingly, the report noted that exterior upgrades recoup more of their costs than interior renovations -- a trend that’s been building for the past five years. What’s the hottest exterior upgrade according to this year’s report? Replacing the front door with a steel entry door, which typically returns more than 100% of its cost.

The report also lists garage doors as a wise investment, returning up to 83% of their original cost when the home sells. Other prudent outdoor renovations include siding and window replacement, returning 80% and 72.4 %, respectively.

Interior improvements retaining the most value include attic renovations and basement remodels, recouping 72.2% and 70%.

“Just like an addition to the home, an unfinished space—such as the attic or basement—will instantly add value and livability to your home, as it increases the square footage and changes the way your family lives in it,” says Will Tomlinson, owner of a North Carolina-based renovation and remodeling company. “You will be transforming a space that likely gets very little use into a fully functional area for your family to enjoy.”

The report also notes that non-essential features have less resale value. Sunroom additions recoup only 48.6% of renovation costs; home office remodels, 45.8%; and backup power generators, 48.5%.

Of course, homeowners’ needs and budgets dictate their choice of home improvement projects. Still, it helps to know projects’ cost vs. return ratio when making the final decisions.
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Setting the Stage for a Home Sale

October 4, 2011 8:57 pm

“You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

This saying strikes a chord in the real estate industry, where many buyers are quick to jump to a conclusion about a potential home after just one glance. That’s why an increasing number of homeowners are employing professional home stagers to prepare their homes for sale.

“Much of what staging accomplishes happens on a subconscious level,” says Carla Grammatica, a consultant with a New York-based staging company. “You are trying to create a positive association between your house and the prospective buyer. Anyone can change a paint color after they move in, but first impressions are difficult to undo.”

"With 91% of buyers searching first on the Internet for homes, MLS photos and virtual tours are extremely important in the selection process," says Melanie Tisdale, a media coordinator for a brokerage in Florida. "Staging, as a priority instead of as a last resort, will give sellers key advantages."

Stagers help eliminate clutter, give advice on adding colors, help in rearranging furniture and bring in various items to help spruce up a home.

“One of the most important things is getting rid of things that look messy,” Grammatica says. “Life can get messy, especially with kids and storage issues, but you have to pretend that’s not how you live. You have to pretend your house is [always] neat and well-maintained.”

That means picking up shoes from the hallway, removing papers from tables and furniture and even taking down personal items—such as diplomas, pictures and trophies.
—that clutter the walls.

Professional stagers take into account buyer demographics and buying psychology, and they use design elements in planning out the rooms, space and lighting.

“Some people think that staging is simply cleaning and packing up some of your things, but it is so much more than that,” says Linda Barnett, an Indianapolis–based certified staging professional. “Understanding traffic patterns and highlighting the positive attributes of a home while downplaying its negative features, all go into play.”

One tip Tisdale recommends is packing away unneeded items—such as seasonal clothes and old books—and put them in storage. It’s also important not to overwhelm potential buyers with wild colors and furniture, she says, even if you think it makes your home “special.”

Remember, making your home look like a model rather than lived-in can make all the difference in selling a home.
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Soggy Spring and Scorching Summer Add to Fall Home Maintenance Needs

October 4, 2011 8:57 pm

Thirty-three of the forty-eight continental states experienced above-average rainfall last spring (not to mention more rainfall in the past few weeks for much of the South and North). An extremely warm summer followed "hot on the heels" of all that rain. The result? Many outdoor spring cleaning projects did not get marked off the homeowner's to-do list. Fall offers one more chance to get outdoor spaces and gear clean and protected before winter's arrival puts the deep freeze on outdoor projects.

Start at the top. For a small space, clogged gutters can cause big damage, because water doesn't drain properly. Instead, it can damage everything from the foundation, wood and landscaping to the roof – and it can even find its way indoors to cause damage there. Check out tools that allow you to bypass the ladder and clean the gutters from the ground.

Wet paint. Jeff Wilson, host of multiple programs on the DIY network and HGTV, says, "I worked for a painter who said a paint job would last twice as long if you cleaned the siding every two years. Removing dirt and killing the mold, mildew and algae on a surface helps to eliminate some of the paint's enemies."

Take the opportunity to check for bare patches of wood where the paint has blistered and peeled. Since exterior coatings like paint and stains shouldn't be applied when temperatures are over 90 degrees, fall is a good time for touch-ups.

Don't pay the price for snow and ice. Wood decks and fences, as well as concrete walkways and patios, can all be damaged over the winter by water absorption and repeated freeze/thaw cycles (or wet/dry cycles), which cause cracking. Clean them, then apply a waterproofing coating to stop water absorption over the winter. These types of products do recommend minimum temperature guidelines for application, so check the label on the product you are using.

Bring it on inside. It's also a good idea to clean any outdoor furniture, cushions or hammocks that you're going to store and bring in fragile garden decor or pots. Put your lawnmower to sleep for the winter by sharpening the blade, changing the oil, and adding a bit of fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. Do the same for trimmers, tillers, etc. All other gardening tools should be cleaned, sharpened if necessary, and lightly oiled before putting them away, too.

Next, drain hoses. Any water left in them may freeze, expand, and burst the hose, so this is a critical step. While many newer homes will have frost-free spigots outside, older homes won't. Shut them off from the inside if possible or cover them with an insulated cover if it regularly falls below freezing.

Clean-up on good deals: Reward yourself and get ready to greet spring 2012 in style. Fall is the time retailers offer great clearance discounts on all types of outdoor furniture, cushions and accessories. Check online as well as at traditional "brick and mortar" stores.

Source: www.thompsonswaterseal.com
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Tips to Prevent Ice Dams This Winter

October 4, 2011 8:57 pm

With winter fast approaching, now is the time to take action to prevent the type of ice dams that caused tremendous damage – and resulted in expensive repairs – for many homeowners last year.

“Ice dams that form along your roof can cause major damage,” says Sean Welch, a senior assistant vice president for an insurance company. “As ice builds up, it prevents water from melted snow and ice from draining off the roof, so the water leaks into your house and goes under your roof and inside your home, causing costly damage to walls, ceilings and insulation.”

Homeowners can take the following steps to help prevent ice dams from affecting their homes:

-Make sure the ceiling is airtight, so warm, moist air doesn’t flow into the attic space.
-Increase ceiling and roof insulation to minimize the amount of heat that rises into the attic.
-Use weather-stripping around entryways to the attic.
-Seal around attic ducts, light fixtures, chimneys and fans to prevent heat from melting snow.
-Make sure the attic is well ventilated so that any warm air is replaced with cold outside air.
-Clean debris from gutters and drains to allow for proper drainage.

“Proper insulation and roof ventilation can help prevent ice dams from forming, helping protect homes from damage – while also helping to reduce energy bills,” Welch says.

Anyone building a new home or re-roofing an existing one also should install protective membranes under the roof covering, to help prevent water from leaking through. These are watertight barriers that extend from the lower edge of the roof up the slope at least 24 inches past the exterior wall line. This protective layer is often required by building code for new homes and re-roofing in areas where ice dams are known to occur.

With early preparation, homeowners can prevent ice dams from happening even before winter arrives.

Source: Amica Insurance
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Remodeling Activity Reaches Record Levels

October 3, 2011 8:57 pm

With millions of Americans either unable to secure a mortgage or having to remain in their current home because they cannot sell the property, remodeling activity continues to soar. BuildFax has unveiled its BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI) for July 2011 and it shows that remodeling activity reached a record high during the month. The data also indicates that as consumers are putting more discretionary income into their homes, there are now a record number of under-insured properties from coast to coast. 

The latest BFRI shows that July 2011 became the month with the highest level of remodeling activity since the Index was introduced in 2004. During these historically difficult economic times there has been an upswing in the sales of building materials and the number of renovations greater than $10,000. These factors, and the fact that many consumers have not increased the insurance on their homes to account for the remodeling, puts many homes at risk as owners are not carrying the proper level of insurance for the new, true value of their homes. 

"As millions of Americans believe that they will not be able to secure a new home due to a variety of factors, including tight credit, limited buyers and challenging job prospects, they are more and more turning to renovating and remodeling their current properties, sending remodeling activity to record levels," says Joe Emison, vice president of Research and Development at BuildFax. "However, this remodeling boom is leaving many of these properties under-insured, as the value of these renovations are often not being captured by the homeowners’ insurance companies." 

July Signifies 21 Consecutive Months of Industry Growth
The latest BFRI, detailing remodeling activity from July 2011, indicates that residential remodeling activity registered the 21st-straight month of year-over-year gains, demonstrating that many Americans are continuing to remodel their current homes, rather than purchasing new homes. 

The July 2011 index rose 24% percent year-over-year—and for the 21st straight month—in July to 130.4, the highest number ever in the index to date. 

For more information, visit www.buildfax.com.
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