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

Housing Affordability Rises to Record Levels

June 15, 2011 8:57 pm

Nationwide housing affordability during the first quarter of 2011 rose to its highest level in the more than 20 years it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data released recently.

The HOI indicated that 74.6% of all new and existing homes sold in the first quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. This eclipsed the previous high of 73.9% set during the fourth quarter of 2010 and marked the ninth consecutive quarter that the index has been above 70%. Until 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65% and never reached 70%.

"With interest rates remaining at historically low levels, today's report indicates that homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "While this is good news for consumers, home buyers and builders continue to confront extremely tight credit conditions, and this remains a significant obstacle to many potential home sales."

Syracuse, N.Y. was the most affordable major housing market in the country during the first quarter of the year. In Syracuse, 94.5% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $64,300.

Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.; Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.; Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, Ind., where 98.6% of homes sold during the first quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning a median income of $61,400. Other smaller housing markets near the top of the index included Monroe, Mich.; Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Elkhart-Goshen, Ind.; and Springfield, Ohio.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org/hoi.
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Top Five Tips for Summer Entertaining

June 14, 2011 2:57 pm

With summer right around the corner, so is the season for entertaining. This summer, try trading in your burgers and hot dogs for a little more glam, while remaining under budget. Check out these tips from celebrity style and entertaining expert Robert Verdi for throwing the perfect fashionable fete.

1. Bottle Up the Excitement: Grab guests' attention, and evoke beach-time nostalgia with a unique message in a bottle invitation. Use a clear glass bottle and fill it with a little bit of sand. Then roll up your invite and insert it with a string attached for easy access. For a truly personal touch, hand-deliver it to each guest!

2. Go Tribal: Tribal inspirations are making a mark on this season's attire. It's easy to bring this trend to life at home by introducing native elements into your décor such as hand-carved wooden candlesticks or animal print rugs. Make the most of your budget by picking up some tribal printed material at your local fabric store and draping it over your table. This versatile piece not only adds instant summer style to your room but can later serve as a stylish sarong making you a fashion hit at the beach.

3. Stay Cool: Creating your own style statement often means putting a new twist on traditional wardrobe items. You can apply the same concept to entertaining by using your favorite vase or pitcher (glass or ceramic are perfect) as a non-traditional wine cooler. Simply fill the container of your choice with ice and place the wine bottle inside.

4. Dine under the Stars: Make the most of your outdoor space this season by transforming your rooftop or backyard into an outdoor cafe. A mix of citronella candles and colorful tea lights will keep the pests away and help set the mood for an intimate evening affair. For an added fashionable touch, try draping a vibrant pashmina over each chair. This adds a burst of color to your space and gives guests a way to keep warm if the night gets chilly. Finally, set all of your foods on large trays ahead of time for an easy and quick way to serve guests without making multiple trips to the kitchen.

5. International Tastes: True fashionistas take their style cues from the fashion capitals of the world. Why not do the same when it comes to your party menu? Trade in the typical barbecue burgers and hot dogs for gourmet treats with international flair. For example, create a buffet of easy-to-eat Italian treats such as caprese salad skewers with mozzarella and summer ripe tomatoes, prosciutto-wrapped melon balls or olive tapenade crostinis.
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Savvy Home-Office Design Tips

June 14, 2011 2:57 pm

Forget the home office. Create a home haven to run your home-based business.

"Today's new breed of virtual professional doesn't just want a home office. They need a dynamic, high-function, home-office haven," according to Philadelphia interior designer Donna Hoffman. "High performance clients need to develop home work environments that provide enhanced focus, enhanced creativity and enhanced pleasure."

Today's urban developers have recognized this virtual professional niche and, in response, they are advertising what would have been a second small bedroom or even alcove as the home office. However, Hoffman says they are missing the mark entirely by casting them as lifeless, "work-less" utilitarian spaces that are cold and uninviting.

"It's barely a step up from the office cubicle. Today's high performance virtual executive craves better life balance, which now includes home work environments that are not only high function, but also high octane for enhanced productivity, and high pleasure for enhanced focus, creativity and satisfaction. In other words, a computer, a swivel chair and writing desk just don't cut it," she says.

Here are interior design tips for creating high-output, high-satisfaction home offices that will make work a pleasure.

1) Beauty Counts. "Aesthetic pleasure" is a key driving force that compels our desire to spend time in any environment. Ignore this truism and you will have a nails-on-the-chalkboard-bad experience every time you go to work. To ensure optimal focus and pleasure beyond the functional needs, take care to load the office design with the precise colors, textures and ambiance the owner craves. "Enhance the aesthetic, and watch productivity and focus rise as well," Hoffman explains.

2) Function comes first. In today's savvy home-office design, the aesthetic needs count big, but as with all design, function must come first. Critical questions must be addressed to cover all functional needs. Determine exactly the tasks that need to be supported and by way of which furnishings. Note precise activity zones and storage access for both long- and short-term storage. Identify clear organizational needs right down to whether you’re a righty or lefty. Remember to add pleasurable function, too. Need a mini-coffee station in the office or a second workstation for the kids to sit at when they bounce in after school and want to do some homework nearby? Carefully think out what you'll need and want before getting started to ensure maximum functionality.

3) If possible, have a door to close. Boundaries in a home office are important, as is the ability to walk away from the job. Otherwise, the temptation is to sneak in to check one more thing, and before you know it, you're really working 12-hour days. In darker spaces, Hoffman suggests adding French doors with ruched fabric to create the sense of boundary and window at the same time. For apartment dwellers who are working with alcoves, consider a beautiful screen placed at the threshold when it's quitting time.

For more information, visit www.interiorsbydonnahoffman.com.
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A Growing Number of Job Openings in Construction

June 14, 2011 2:57 pm

Labor market data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (JOLTS data) indicate that the number of job openings in the construction sector grew during the month of April. Using seasonally-adjusted data, open positions in April totaled 96,000, up from 68,000 in March and the highest level of openings since March 2010. The March 2010 total of 100,000 open positions was in fact a one-time spike associated with stimulus projects, and was the highest level reported for construction since late 2008.

Consistent with last month’s JOLTS reporting, the U.S. labor market continues to show limited signs of improvement, with hiring and job opening rates proceeding along an upward trend line after the dramatic declines in 2008. A stimulus-fueled uptick (along with hiring for the 2010 decennial census) can be seen in the data in early 2010, followed by an increase in the layoffs rate.

For the construction market, an increase in the rate of job openings has continued in 2011. For April, the number of job openings in the construction sector reached 1.7% of total positions, the highest rate since 2008, albeit equaling certain months associated with the end of phases of the home buyer tax credit program.

The 2011 year is still looking to be the first year since the onset of the Great Recession when total construction sector hires will exceed sector separations (quits, layoffs and other departures). However, as of April, the JOLTS 2011 year-to-date totals indicate total hires just barely exceed total separations.
Nonetheless, total employment in the residential construction sector (builders and trades contractors for single-family, multifamily, land development and remodeling) is still off more than 1.4 million from the peak employment level of 3.45 million for April of 2006.

For more information, visit NAHB's Eye on Housing blog at eyeonhousing.wordpress.com.
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Home Improvement Season Officially Begins as To-Do Lists Grow

June 13, 2011 8:57 pm

The spring and summer seasons launch a busy time for home remodeling and improvement projects as homeowners spruce up for entertaining, listing their home for sale, or increasing the property's value. A slowly warming housing market has made staying a popular trend among homeowners who choose to remodel versus losing money on a sale. For those who must move, cost-effective projects that make a home more visually appealing or structurally sound is a great way to entice potential buyers.

"Prepping your home for remodeling or improvements of any type is important whether you're working with professional installers or readying your space for a 'do it yourself' project," says Ann Sawyer, Power Home Remodeling Group's vice president of operations & installations. "Preparation is key to a smooth installation and avoidance of time-consuming project pitfalls."

Keep the following tips in mind before home improvement projects begin:

• Have a plan: Communicate with your contractor well before the scheduled installation date about project requirements. Open communication about expectations and a timeline will limit the chance of unexpected surprises after the project is underway. Also be sure to have a source of electricity readily available, especially when working outdoors.

• Start with a clean slate: Store knick-knacks, art work and family photos to ensure they don't become damaged during renovation. Dismantle window treatments and move furniture into a different room of the house. Store fixture plates, screws and hardware in individually labeled plastic bags for reinstallation when the project is finished. Also be sure to cover carpet and flooring in high traffic areas with a drop cloth to protect it from paint, dust and debris.

• Mesh new with old: When installing new flooring, counter tops or appliances, pay close attention to measurements. Baseboards that were installed with carpeting may need to be adjusted to accommodate wood flooring. Similarly, a dingy door and trim could be an eyesore in a freshly painted room. Be sure to match finishes when replacing hardware like drawer pulls, doorknobs and towel bars. An old brass doorknob is certain to clash with a sleek new pewter faucet. Keep these details in mind throughout the renovation to ensure a satisfying end result.

• Consider project requirements: Some of the most difficult remodeling projects involve electricity and plumbing. It's important to consider the voltage of the electrical current and outlets in your home before plugging in a new appliance. Wire and hose length are also vital considerations before remodeling. For example, it is important to remember that an appliance must be pulled away from the wall for maintenance when planning the layout of a room. Homeowners looking to complete a project themselves must also remember to obtain the appropriate licensure from their local municipality for major renovations.

For more information, please visit www.PowerHRG.com.
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Keeping Passwords Secure is Crucial for Safety on the Web

June 13, 2011 8:57 pm

A "good" password can be the difference between safety and security on the Internet and being a victim exposed to cybercrime. How can you make sure your passwords don't become easy targets for hackers and fraudsters? Follow these tips:

Make sure your passwords are at least 10 characters in length. Researchers have found that it would take a hacker over 19 years at a one-hundred-billion-guesses-a-second rate to try out every combination possible in order to hack your password. With a 10-character password, the odds are on your side!

Make sure you use different passwords. Although it may be easy to use the same one or two passwords, resist temptation. Given the off-chance that your password is hacked, having different passwords with various functions means that the hacker won't have access to everything. If you suspect that one of your passwords has been compromised, change it immediately and make sure it's considerably different from all of your other ones.

Always encrypt your passwords. If you use a password service to store all of your passwords, make sure the service doesn't store the actual passwords. Rather, make sure they are stored in encrypted forms only. Services such as these will only decrypt the information when you have retrieved it.

Toss the dictionary aside. Don't use common words that can be found in the dictionary. The best passwords are combinations of random letters, numbers and characters. The more gibberish combinations you can use, the better, and remember--10 characters or more.

The more caution you take when creating your passwords, the safer your information will be. By following these tips, you can work to prevent yourself from ever becoming a victim of crime or fraud on the Internet.

Source: New York Times
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HUD Allocates Funding for HIV/AIDS Housing

June 13, 2011 8:57 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that it is offering up to $9.1 million to address the critical housing needs of low-income persons and families living with HIV/AIDS, including homeless individuals and families. HUD’s funding notice is offered through the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) Program.

“These grants will allow States and local communities to forge new partnerships and develop strategies to meet the housing needs of low-income and homeless persons living with HIV/AIDs,” says Mercedes Márquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for Community Planning and Development. “By offering our local partners these funds, we are giving them the necessary tools to provide real hope for those who might otherwise end up on the streets without the care they need.”

HUD is making grants available for new community partnerships to develop an Integrated HIV/AIDS Housing Plan (IHHP). The IHHP is a collaborative process that will seek to improve the delivery of housing and services to low-income individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS. Applications must be submitted by August 2, 2011.

HOPWA grants support the Obama Administration’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and the Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Together these initiatives address goals to: prevent and end homelessness; increase the supply of affordable housing; and increase the coordination of mainstream housing resources and other health and human services.
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Cost Saving Ideas for Kitchen Cabinet Upgrades on a Budget

June 10, 2011 8:57 pm

By Keith Loria

When walking into a kitchen, the eye is almost immediately drawn to the cabinets, so if your home has dated or worn-out cabinetry, it could be a big negative to home buyers.
The challenge is that installing new cabinets can be expensive. Luckily, there are other options to starting anew.

If you’re getting tired of looking at your old kitchen cabinets but don’t have the inclination or the budget to undertake replacing them, painting can offer an attractive alternative.

“Wooden cabinets can easily be freshened up with color and a new stain and it makes the kitchen seem brand new,” says Peter Jannovich, a home-interior painter in Fairfax, Va. “Whether the existing cabinets are a dark stain or are already painted and in need of some refreshing, with the proper materials, some time and some patience, you can make quite a difference in a fairly short time. I have worked with more people in the past year on simply painting them than I ever have before.”

You can also keep the wood look by having the cabinets stripped, bleached and refinished.

Another popular option is to reface the cabinets, which involves applying a new wood veneer to the cabinet bases and installing new doors and drawers. There are many companies that specialize in this and it improves the look dramatically.

“We remove all existing doors and drawer fronts from your cabinets. All visible cabinet surfaces are then refaced with our exclusive double lamination system in the color of your choice,” says Robert Harrington, a kitchen remodeler from Westchester, New York. “Beautiful, new matching doors with brand new hinges and hardware of your choice are installed. If desired, we can replace your countertops, backsplashes and sinks as well. We also build and install additional cabinets or islands.”

Since most of what you see when you look at the cabinets are the doors, re-facing does an amazing job of transforming the kitchen, experts say. Meanwhile, the interiors stay the same.

Another strong fix is adding dovetail joints, which generally last longer than butt joints, and metal draw glides instead of plastic. Next, you may consider purchasing quality, ready-to-assemble units because such units come in standard sizes that will allow you to avoid the expense of getting professional help.

By using a standard cabinet size and a good plan of your kitchen space, you will be able to provide this space with a great design all by yourself.
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Minority Homeownership Award Winners Help Sustain American Dream

June 10, 2011 8:57 pm

While the past few years have been challenging for many, owning a home continues to be a goal for Americans of every background, according to John D. Trasviña, assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Assistant Secretary Trasviña says that for the housing market and struggling homeowners, the past few years have been filled with uncertainty and adversity, and that work needed to be done to restore faith in the value of owning a home, which helps shapes communities and strengthens the nation’s economy.

“It’s been a long journey and we’ve faced many challenges, but I believe that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that goal. We must all work together to defend and protect the American dream of homeownership,” he says.

Trasviña also praised the winners of the 2011 HOPE (Home Ownership Participation for Everyone) Awards, a national industry awards program that recognizes individuals and organizations for helping minority home buyers minimize and overcome barriers to owning and sustaining a home.

“I commend the HOPE Awards winners for the work they are doing—thousands have achieved and sustained homeownership because of your help. It takes vision to be a leader and there is no doubt that your service and vision are helping to dramatically change and improve the lives of so many people. Thank you for what you have accomplished,” says Trasviña.

REALTOR® Alex Chaparro, past chairman of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, led the awards presentation and panel discussion with the HOPE Awards winners. The seven winners were chosen based on impact, innovation, minority focus, leadership, and contributions to increase affordable housing, in the areas of education, finance, leadership, media, housing project, public policy, and real estate brokerage. The winners were presented with trophies and $10,000 honorariums.
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Two-Thirds of Americans Think Now is a Good Time to Buy a Home; Mortgage Insurance Seen as Beneficial

June 10, 2011 8:57 pm

Americans are more optimistic about their home-buying prospects than residents of other countries, with nearly two-thirds of Americans saying now is a good time to buy a home, according to the new Genworth International Mortgage Trends Report.

The local economic outlook, concerns about property affordability and worries about future unemployment are among the issues listed by survey respondents as obstacles to their purchasing a home. Yet these economic concerns have not translated into excessive mortgage stress among U.S. home buyers. According to the survey, 87% of Americans who bought their first home in the past 12 months expected to easily meet their mortgage repayment obligations in the coming year, a slight improvement over the 85% who comfortably met their mortgage payments in the 12 months prior to the survey period.

Due to affordability issues – high home prices, higher costs of living, or fear of rising interest rates – the average age of first-time home buyers has risen in all countries except India over the last 40 years. The average age at which a person in the U.S. was able to purchase a first home rose from 27.3 in the 1970s to 31.6 in the 2000s.

One aspect of the home buying process that appears to be universally recognized as a benefit in countering this trend is private mortgage insurance. In the U.S., 88% of survey respondents said private mortgage insurance helps them buy a home with a smaller down payment. And 60% of Americans said private mortgage insurance helps them buy a home sooner.

"The U.S. is the most optimistic among all the markets surveyed about buying a home," says Kevin Schneider, Genworth president. "Nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed believe now is a good time to buy a home, and a majority believe mortgage insurance can help them purchase a home sooner and with a lower down payment. We hope that federal and state lawmakers recognize this pent-up demand and enact policies that foster prudent homeownership. Regulators should develop a qualified residential mortgage rule that will strengthen underwriting standards without denying the dream of homeownership to credit-worthy Americans."
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