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

Comparing Life Expectancies in the U.S.

June 20, 2011 8:57 pm

According to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, how long you live depends a lot on where you live.

A wide variation was found comparing rates in U.S. countries. The life expectancy for men ranged from 65.9 to 81.1 years, while women's expectancy ranges were between 73.5 to 86 years. These numbers are behind other countries, such as Japan and Canada. In 2007, men's life expectancy was 75.6 years while women's expectancy was 80.8 years. These numbers were rated 37th in the world.

The location of where you live is also a factor. In the U.S., men live the longest in Fairfax County, Virginia, while women live the longest in Collier, Florida. Men and women live the shortest in Holmes County, Mississippi. Some counties in states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Virginia have had increases of more than five years of life expectancy since 1987.

The study suggests that these numbers cannot be described by the size of the nation, racial diversity or economics. Rather, they point to the high rates of obesity, tobacco use and other preventable risk factors that perpetually widen the gap between the U.S. and other countries.

Worldwide, men live the longest in Iceland (80.2 years), with Hong Kong, Switzerland, Australia and Japan finishing the top five. Woman live the longest in Japan (86.2 years) followed shortly by Hong Kong, France, Switzerland and Italy.

Data was studied from 3,138 counties, 10 cities and 197 countries and territories. For more information, visit http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org.
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Rental Assistance Provided to Help Families Stay Together

June 20, 2011 8:57 pm

In 2009, an estimated 423,773 children lived in foster care in the U.S., as case workers helped to reunite them with their families or primary caregivers. Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced nearly $15 million to help public housing authorities reunite foster children with their parents or prevent them from ever entering the foster care system.

HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP) will make 1,931 Housing Choice Vouchers available for families whose inadequate housing is the primary factor in the separation or near separation from their children. In addition, FUP vouchers will provide stable housing for young adults (ages 18-21) who left or are aging out of the foster care system, preventing them from becoming homeless.

“It’s heartbreaking to realize that thousands of children live in foster care or are forced to live with other families simply because their parents can’t afford a home,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The funding provided today will keep thousands of families together under one roof.”

This funding allows local public housing authorities to work closely with local child welfare agencies to identify families with children in foster care or who are at risk of being placed in foster care and youth at risk of homelessness. These vouchers, like HUD’s Housing Choice Vouchers, allow families and youths to rent housing from private landlords and generally pay 30% of their monthly income towards rent and utilities.

According to the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, it costs the federal government approximately $56,892 annually per family to place children into foster care. Yet the cost to provide housing and supportive services to one family averages less than $14,000 annually. Through this investment in FUP to reunify families who are separated due to housing problems, HUD will reunite nearly 3,500 children with their parents, thus saving $74 million in annual foster care expenditures. Cost savings are also considerable for young people aging out of foster care. The average annual cost of a FUP voucher for young adults is $5,600—a tenth of the estimated costs associated with undesirable outcomes such as homelessness, incarceration, and residential treatment.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
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6 Tips to Keeping Your Home Cooler

June 17, 2011 8:57 pm

The month of June has brought warm temperatures all over the country. While you may be tempted to crank up the A/C, remember that you won't be nearly as excited to see that electric bill next month. To save some money and energy, here are six tips that might just help.

1. Avoid heat build-up in your home – The best way to keep your home cool is to keep the heat out. This can be done by closing the drapes on windows facing the sun (east-facing windows in the morning and west-facing windows in the afternoon). You should also try to avoid heat-generating activities, such as cooking, on hot days or during the hottest part of the day. If you are cooking, use your range fan to vent the hot air out of your house. By reducing the amount of heat in your home, you will have to use less energy to cool it.

2. Use ventilation and circulation to cool your home – Instead of automatically turning on the air conditioner on hot days, try cooling your home with window and ceiling fans. Circulating air can make your home feel cool and comfortable in a much more efficient way than air conditioning. There is also the option of a whole house fan (a large ventilating fan installed in the attic that expels hot air out of your home) which can circulate air throughout your entire home.

3. Keep air conditioning efficient and to a minimum – When you do have to use air conditioning, there are ways to make it more efficient. First of all, turn up the temperature setting on your air conditioner by a couple of degrees. Most people keep the temperature setting lower than it needs to be, hence using more energy than is needed to keep your home cool. It is recommended that you keep the temperature at about 25° C (77° F). Also, remember to turn off your air conditioner once your home has reached a comfortable temperature. By coupling minimum air conditioning with reducing the amount of heat entering your home, you can keep it cool without using excess energy. It isn’t recommended that you leave your air conditioner on when you leave your house, but if you’re going to do so, turn the temperature setting up a few more degrees to about 28° C (82° F) while you’re gone. Also, remember to turn off your air conditioner if you’re going to be away from your home for more than a day. It is also important to make sure your cooling vents aren’t blocked so that the energy being used is going towards actually cooling your home and not being wasted. Furthermore, keep rooms that don't need cooling, such as closets, closed off when the air conditioner is running.

4. Make sure your home isn’t losing cool air – By weather-stripping and caulking around windows, doors and electrical outlets on outer walls, you can prevent losing cool air from your home and prevent hot air from getting in. Improve your home’s insulation on outer walls, again to keep cool air in, and hot air out. You should also consider installing storm doors for the same reasons if your home doesn’t already have them. If you have a fireplace, keep the flue closed. This provides an extra barrier against the escape of cool air. All of these options will make cooling your home more efficient and will save you money on your energy bill.

5. Select energy-efficient cooling systems – If you’re in the market for a new cooling system, there are many new technologies that are much more efficient than older versions. As with other appliances, you should look for the Energy Star logo and compare the amount of electricity each uses.

6. Use the coolest parts of your home – On hot days, parts of your house will naturally stay cooler than others. For example, if you have a basement it will remain cool even during the hottest part of the day (this is because the cool air in your home will sink down to your basement). One way you can reduce the amount of energy used to cool your home is to do more in cooler areas of your home. This way, you won't have to use energy to stay cool.
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5 Ways to Connect Your Rooms with Color

June 17, 2011 8:57 pm

By Barbara Pronin

Do the colors in your home play well together? If not, you may have a missing link that will unify your living space and make even the smallest home look smoothly harmonious.

When redecorating, the goal is to create a flow from room to room that unifies the whole. Here are five tips for working with color:

Use a color thread – Give each room its own personality while ensuring a cohesive feeling by using a single hue as a theme that runs throughout. You can use this unifying color in the woodwork of each room—the baseboards, door and window frames and ceiling molding—or as a recurring color in the furniture and accessories in each room. You may want to limit your palette by using the same two or three colors in varying shades and intensities throughout the home.

Crosslink with color – In adjoining areas, such as the kitchen and family room, you can unify the look even when painting them different colors by using the same trim color throughout and/or by bringing touches of each area’s color into the other. You can further connect them by using flooring or area rugs that include both colors in each room.

Unify with white trim – Painting all of the trim the same shade of white is a sure way to create a sense of flow. Note that there are many shades of white. A sour cream white is one hue that contrasts crisply with bold colors while harmonizing with softer ones.

Use a limited palette – Open floor plans maximize the feeling of space without increasing square footage, but you can give each space its own personality by choosing subtle colors that work well together. Limit your use of color to two or three and use them in varying amounts in each room.

Play with light – Light changes the appearance of any color. Applying the same can of paint to two rooms will create a different look depending on how much natural light comes into each room. To achieve a feeling of continuity, choose two closely related shades of the same color and apply the lighter one to the sunnier space. This works well for L-shaped rooms, where one area is brighter than the other.
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HUD Awards Nearly 34 Million to Create Education Centers

June 17, 2011 8:57 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded 10 public housing authorities nearly $34 million in grants recently that will be used as seed money to create early childhood education and adult training facilities for public housing residents.

"If America is to win the future, we need to out-educate the rest of the world,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “This funding helps public housing agencies that want to provide these services but lacked the resources. This is an investment to make certain we connect affordable housing with quality education and training resources.”

HUD’s Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities (CFCF) Program provides funding to public housing authorities for the construction, rehabilitation, or purchase of facilities that will offer early childhood education, adult education and job training programs. It is designed primarily for public housing residents, but can be utilized by residents in the surrounding community.

The purpose of the facilities is to offer comprehensive, integrated education and employment services to help public housing residents achieve long-term economic self-sufficiency.

HUD required successful applicants to illustrate their ability to get firm financial commitments of at least 5% to leverage the HUD grant. The applicants were also required to identify at least one education and/or training supportive service provider, such as a community college, that would partner with the housing authority to provide education and employment services at the facility. All of the grantees surpassed this requirement by forming partnerships with many local organizations in the community.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
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7 Lawn Care Tips for the Summer Season

June 16, 2011 8:57 pm

The summer is less than a week away and with it comes weeds, bugs and, of course, more time needed to tend to your lawn. Here, learn how you can make the most of the season with these summer lawn care tips:

1. Proper watering and water conservation is important at any time of year, but particularly when heat and a lack of rain lead to water deficits and drought.

2. Evaluate your lawn regularly for signs of irregular color and texture. These can be signs of damage that may result from pests or disease.

3. Proper year-round lawn care keeps a lawn healthy and prevents weeds, disease and pests. But sometimes, insects you may not notice can travel from the yard to your home. To stop them, hire pest control to keep the bugs on the outside. You can also reduce their outside presence by treating the lawn for insects such as fleas and ticks, and fire ants.

4. While lawns are generally the focal point of most yards, don’t forget about trees and shrubs. Well-maintained landscaping adds dimensionality to a home and increases its value.

5. In the heat of the summer, you may be tempted to mow your lawn in shorts and flip flops, but remember, you need to stay safe: wear long pants and closed-toed shoes.

6. Also, no matter what outdoor activity you’re enjoying, be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water.

7. The essentials of good summer lawn care are watering, fertilizing and proper mowing. However, sometimes an underlying problem (such as bare spots or severely damaged turf) requires additional measures.

Follow these tips and take care of your lawn so that you can enjoy countless hours of outdoor fun and relaxation throughout the entire summer.
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REALTORS® Advocate Mortgage Liquidity for Creditworthy Home Buyers

June 16, 2011 8:57 pm

The pendulum on mortgage credit has swung too far in the other direction after the recent housing downturn and is putting an unnecessary burden on creditworthy consumers, impeding the economic and housing market recoveries. That’s what a panel of industry experts told several thousand REALTORS® gathered at a special symposium, Ensuring Mortgage Availability for Creditworthy Homebuyers, during the REALTORS® 2011 Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, the National Association of REALTORS® believes that we cannot have a viable housing or economic recovery until creditworthy home buyers are able to obtain mortgage financing,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “Reforms were needed to get rid of the harmful products that led to the housing meltdown, but continuing to curtail access to affordable credit for qualified home buyers affects the entire economy.”

Panelists offered their perspectives on the current state of the industry and identified numerous challenges impacting the availability and accessibility of mortgage financing and agreed that making it harder for those who can afford a safe mortgage does not further the goals of the housing or economic recovery.

David H. Stevens, former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Federal Housing Administration commissioner, told attendees the entire financial industry made bad decisions regarding risky loan products and there is no doubt that reforms are needed to get back to a level of sustainable access where qualified consumers are able to achieve homeownership.

According to the 2011 NAR Member Profile, 34% of REALTORS® reported that the most important factor in limiting their clients’ ability to buy a home was difficulty in obtaining a mortgage.

“The industry needs to work together to collectively ensure there are accessible and affordable mortgage products available to meet current demand as well as that of the 17 million individuals who will require housing in the next decade,” says Stevens, incoming president and chief executive officer for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

When asked if there has been a shift in America’s perspective about the value of owning a home following the downturn, Stevens was optimistic, saying affordability is better today than it’s ever been and if consumers are well qualified, have a job and can afford a mortgage they’ll realize it’s a better financial option and has greater social benefits such as more stable communities, better education, and lower crime.

Other panelists agreed that owning a home continues to be a goal for many families and that many Americans still consider buying a home a good long-term financial investment.

NAR also has concerns about the proposed risk retention regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act that requires lenders that securitize mortgage loans to retain 5% of the credit risk unless the mortgage is a qualified residential mortgage (QRM). High down payment requirements are being proposed by federal regulatory agencies as part of the QRM exemption. Most Americans still consider having enough money for down payment and closing costs to be the biggest obstacles to buying a home. According to NAR estimates it could take as many as 14 years for the average family to save for their down payment.

Higher down payments do not have a meaningful impact on default rates; NAR supports a reasonable and affordable cash investment requirement coupled with quality credit standards, strong documentation and sound underwriting.
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BuildFax Remodeling Index for April 2011 Reveals 18 Months of Consecutive Growth in Home Remodeling Activity

June 16, 2011 8:57 pm

BuildFax unveiled its BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI) for April 2011 and it shows that the beginning of spring had many across the country remodeling and renovating their homes. The report reveals continued year-over-year gains, with data demonstrating that consumers are continuing to invest in remodeling, despite some economic struggles. In addition, the Index reveals that there were 10% more remodels in April 2011 compared to April 2004, the first month tracked by the Index.

The latest BFRI index indicates that residential remodeling activity registered the eighteenth-straight month of year-over-year gains, demonstrating that many Americans are continuing to remodel their current homes. This monthly report provides month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons on trends in remodeling activity for the entire United States, as well as for the four major regions of the country: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West.

“April traditionally sets a baseline for the rest of the year in residential remodeling activity, and April 2011 is the best we’ve seen since the beginning of the index in April 2004,” says Joe Emison, vice president of Research and Development at BuildFax. “The BFRI is indexed to start at 100 in April 2004 and here we are seven years later, after significant drops in housing value, and the index is almost 110. That means there were almost 10% more residential remodels in April 2011 than in April 2004. Given the relatively pessimistic economic news that we heard about April, including a slowing recovery, this is a nice surprise for the industry.”

All regions posted month-over-month gains. The West was up 16.8 points (18%) year-over-year and up 5.3 points (5%) month-over-month. The Midwest was up 10.7 points (17%) month-over-month, recovering slightly from a lower-than-average March. The Northeast was up 3.2 points (5%) year-over-year and 9.1 points (14%) month-over-month, and the South was up 9.6 points (11%) year-over-year and 10 points (12%) month-over-month.
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Things to Think About Before Renting a Vacation Home

June 15, 2011 8:57 pm

Renting a private home for a family vacation is becoming an increasingly popular trend. It provides the luxury of having an extended family all stay under one roof, while allows for kitchen accommodations that can help save money on food costs. However, renters should be aware that they may not always be getting what they were promised or what they saw in the photos.

In order to prevent any mishaps, know the following before you book a private home for your vacation:

Ask specific questions about the sleeping configurations. Although a place "sleeps four" doesn't mean the accommodations are necessarily identical (bunk beds, anyone?). Know the exact layout before booking and work out the sleeping arrangements beforehand. If there is a huge difference in quarters, adjust the cost-split ratio accordingly. Doing so will get everyone on the same page so you can enjoy your vacation time immediately upon arrival.

Are you bringing your pets? Most listings will specify whether or not pets are allowed on the premises. Understand that if you choose to bring your pet anyway, you may risk the chance of losing your security or damage deposit. Some properties hire a housekeeping service, running a higher risk of getting busted for breaking the rule. If you want to bring your cat or dog, make sure you find a rental that welcomes them.

Know what's in the kitchen. Some rentals may come with kitchens, but without the necessary staples. If you want to save by eating in, make sure you ask the property owner what exactly is there or you may be stuck eating cereal and milk all week long. Again, asking in advance avoids surprises.

What kinds of transportation will you need? Figure out the transportation specifics ahead of time. If you're traveling with more families than just your own, multiple vehicles will be ideal so that some can go off on separate excursions. If you want to avoid renting a car, look for a place closer to different kinds of public transportation. Figure out how you'll get around and what your options are before booking your summer rental.

Make sure the rental meets your Internet needs. For some, a handy smartphone may serve them just fine, but others may need Wi-Fi included. Be sure to check the property's description to see if it's included in the price. Yes, it's always important to "unplug" from the office for a while, but what about restaurant reviews, directions, or entertainment purposes? If you need to have the Web, don't assume your rental will come equipped.

The more information you can garner before booking your rental the better off you will be. Know exactly what you're looking for and use this to help secure the perfect rental for your family or group.

Source: AOL Real Estate
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Wind, Rain, Hail, Lighting: Is Your Home Ready to Weather the Storm?

June 15, 2011 8:57 pm

As spring transitions to summer, homeowners should still be cautious about protecting their homes from a variety of inclement weather that can strike at any time.

"Much of the property damage caused by extreme weather can be easily averted," says Matt Witkowski, vice president of a Michigan-based insurance company. "Simply keeping your structures and grounds in good repair goes far. Then when severe weather threatens, a bit of picking up and latching down usually takes care of the rest."

Before the storm:


• Prepare an emergency "kit" to cover injury, power failure, heat loss, being stranded and evacuation. Consider first aid and essential medications, non-perishable foods/fresh water, flashlight/fresh batteries, fire extinguisher, and protective clothing.
• Regularly inspect your home and grounds. Keep gutters and downspouts clear of debris to avert backups.
• Check your roof for loose or damaged shingles, seal around flashings and chimney; remove dead tree branches; check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
• Make sure the fireplace and chimney are inspected and cleaned annually.
• Weather-stripping is invaluable against destructive weather.
• Where possible, move cars, boats, other vehicles, etc., into an enclosed area.
• Finally, when storms threaten, secure or anchor loose or flyaway items too large to bring in.

After the storm:


• Inspect your home for damage, and if you find damage, take preventative action to reduce risk of further loss. If your roof is damaged, cover it as soon as possible with tarps secured with ropes and nails. If your home is badly damaged, leave until it can be properly inspected.
• Report downed or sparking power lines, broken gas, or water mains. Avoid downed power lines and standing water. Don't attempt to drive across flowing water, downed power lines or enter barricaded areas.
• If you are without power, turn off all electrical equipment and avoid opening the refrigerator or freezer to keep food safe longer.
• If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system. Do not run a generator inside the home or garage.
• During clean up, don't pile debris near power lines. Always exercise care when using a chain saw or any other power tools.
• When it is safe, take photos of damaged areas and possessions. Notify your insurance agent and provide an address and phone number to reach you.
"All these safeguards are economically prudent and easy to complete," says Witkowski. "However, despite your best efforts, weather-related property damage may occur. Plan ahead for loss. Document your belongings by video or make a list for your insurance company, and consult with your independent insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage."
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