August 19, 2011 8:57 pm
Warm weather means enjoying dinner al fresco, hosting neighborhood get-togethers and lounging outside. To create the perfect backyard retreat before summer ends, consider these three steps:
• Get Decked Out – Spend more time enjoying – rather than maintaining – your outdoor living space with materials that need only soap and water to keep a "like new" appearance for decades. Wood-alternative decking resists fading, staining, scratching and mold – even after years of heavy foot traffic and exposure to the elements. It's available in a variety of rich colors, to suit any of your outdoor needs and wants. Add a modular railing system with mix and match posts, caps and rails to truly set your deck apart from others in the neighborhood.
• Find the Best Seat Outside the House – Look for outdoor dining and seating options that combine livable design with worry-free durability. Always think about how your products will stand up against the sun, rain, wind, saltwater or snow. Expect the worst so that your tables, chairs, etc., don't need to be taken inside every time storm clouds roll in. Continue customizing your own style and look with the furniture you select.
• Brighten Up – Light up the night and extend the amount of time you can spend outside – while saving money on maintenance and energy costs – with proper lighting for the deck. Find a lighting scheme that works for your area, but that will be energy efficient as well. Consider long-life LED lighting that prevents voltage drops and features an optional dimmer and timer.
"An outdoor living space should be just as comfortable and stylish as a home's interior, while reflecting personal tastes and interests," says Ron Kaplan, chairman, president and CEO of Trex.com. "Take time to examine product samples and seek online resources, which provide ideas and support throughout the process – from product selection and design to installation.
For more information, visit www.trex.com.
August 19, 2011 8:57 pm
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury recently released the July edition of the Obama Administration’s Housing Scorecard—a comprehensive report on the nation’s housing market. The latest housing data offer continued mixed signals as home prices improved slightly but showed continued strain from foreclosures and distressed homes. Also, as more homeowners secure mortgage relief, fewer borrowers entered the foreclosure pipeline in June. The full report is available online at www.hud.gov/scorecard.
“This month’s housing data paint a mixed picture of conditions in the market—despite growing evidence of progress in the broader economy,” says HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. “We’re continuing to see a slight improvement in home prices and a decline in mortgage defaults as our foreclosure prevention programs reach more borrowers upstream in the process. But we have much more work to do to help the market recover and to reach the many households there and across the nation who still face trouble.”
“Tens of thousands of additional homeowners are getting real relief from the Administration’s programs every month,” says Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. “These programs are setting standards across the industry that are yielding more sustainable assistance for homeowners in the face of the worst housing crisis in a generation.”
The July Housing Scorecard features key data on the health of the housing market and the impact of the Administration’s foreclosure prevention programs, including:
• Fewer homeowners fell behind on their mortgages during the month of June. In June, 4.4% of prime mortgages were at least 30 days late—a significant decline from the peak of 5.9% seen in 2010. Moreover, seriously delinquent prime mortgages – those at least 90 days late or in foreclosure – remained approximately 22% below a high of 1.9 million recorded last year. As new delinquencies decrease across the nation, the number of new homeowners seeking assistance through the Administration’s programs may also decrease.
• The Administration’s recovery efforts have helped millions of families deal with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Nearly 5 million modification arrangements were started between April 2009 and the end of May 2011.This includes more than 1.6 million HAMP trial modification starts, more than 938,000 FHA loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions, and nearly 2.4 million HOPE Now proprietary modifications, reflecting the reach of standards developed in the Administration’s programs. While some homeowners may have received help from more than one program, the total number of agreements offered continues to more than double the number of foreclosure completions for the same period (2.1 million). In June, nearly 32,000 additional homeowners received a permanent modification through the Administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP); more than 760,000 homeowners across the country have received a HAMP permanent modification to date with a median payment reduction of 37%.
• Even as new delinquencies continue to fall, eligible homeowners entering HAMP have a high likelihood of earning a permanent modification and realizing long-term success. The rate of modifications moving from trial to permanent is up to 74%, and the average time to convert from a trial to permanent modification is down to 3.5 months. Homeowners in HAMP modifications continue to perform well over time, with re-default rates lower than those on industry modifications. At one year, more than 84% of homeowners remain in their HAMP permanent modification.
For more information, visit www.Treasury.gov.
August 18, 2011 8:57 pm
By Paige Tepping
While long commutes to and from work can get old very quickly, using your time in the car effectively can go a long way toward helping you start and end your day on the right foot. Instead of stressing about the long lines of traffic that are going to make you late, the following tips will help you take advantage of your commute time.
On the way into work:
-Make a mental list of what needs to get done when you arrive at the office so that you can hit the ground running.
-Reach out to clients/customers. If you constantly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, making phone calls on the way into work is a good idea – of course, be sure to use a hands-free device while driving.
-Schedule appointments. Most offices (doctors/dentist etc.) are open in the early morning, so take the time to schedule appointments before the day ends and you forget to call.
-Find a talk show that you enjoy listening to or listen to a book on tape. This way you’ll be relaxed and ready to go by the time you get to work.
On the way home from work:
-Catch up with family and friends. If you’ve been putting off calling your parents, siblings and friends, take the time to catch up once you leave the office for the day.
-Unwind. Use your time on the road to unwind before you get home and you have to worry about making dinner, helping the kids with homework, etc. Listen to your favorite CD or radio station and don’t worry about things that didn’t get done.
-Decide on dinner. If you haven’t already decided what you are putting on the table for dinner, make a final decision on the way home from work. This way you can stop at the grocery store on your way home if needed. By having a meal already planned by the time you get home, you will be less apt to order take out.
August 18, 2011 8:57 pm
You probably noticed an increase in your water bill this month. During peak water use, usually in late July or early August, the average American uses about four times as much water than they do the rest of the year. From taking more frequent showers to watering the lawn to even washing additional loads of laundry, it all adds up.
"Aside from watering your lawn later in the day, there are many other summer water-saving tips that many people don't think about," says John Senescall, general manager of a Minneapolis-based plumbing and drain-cleaning service provider.
Here is a recommend list of plumbing precautions to save your wallet from the summer heat, while saving energy and staying within the family budget.
1. Check the temperature setting on your water heater. It should be set no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding and reduce energy use. Summer is a good time to turn the temperature down, especially when away on vacation.
2. Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. To clean mineral deposits from the showerhead, unscrew it, soak it in vinegar overnight and then gently scrub with a toothbrush to remove deposits.
3. Check washing machine hoses for rupture. Turn valves on and off to check for leaks.
4. Make sure that yard drains, gutters and downspouts are cleaned out, open and free of debris.
5. Check outdoor faucets and hose bibs to make sure water flows freely.
6. Beware of standing water. Excess water can result from leaky or broken pipes or a damaged sewer line. Standing water is not healthy for children or pets, and is a breeding ground for insects and germs. Inspect the yard for areas that are too wet or have unusual plant or grass growth.
7. Conserve water. Water your lawn before sun up or after sun down to reduce usage.
8. In humid weather, ductwork may sweat and cause condensation. This can cause a backup if the drains are not clear. If you have an attic installation, be sure to check for water in the drain pan, which could potentially ruin your ceiling.
August 18, 2011 8:57 pm
With interest rates lower than they've been in 15 years a lot of consumers are looking to save money on their monthly mortgage payments. Although this is a great option for many borrowers, choosing the right type of refinance is a very important decision.
You can save money by refinancing at the similar term you started with or you can shave years off your mortgage by refinancing into a shorter term mortgage, potentially without upfront costs. Some borrowers are waiting for the rates to bottom out before considering a refinance; the problem with that is there is really no consistent, verifiable way to predict which direction rates will go in the future. At this time with the current financial markets in such a "perplexed" state, no one can reliably predict the short term direction of mortgage interest rates.
The best refinance option depends on the specific borrower and their current economic condition and what the near future holds for them and their lifestyle choices. For example, an ARM may be the right fit for someone who knows they are going to be moving for one reason or another in the next five to seven years. They can get a short term ARM that will have a very low interest rate for a number of years. This could add up to be a significant savings over their current mortgage. If you are not planning on moving but would like to cut down on the number of years you will be paying your mortgage you could reduce your term in a refinance from the most popular 30 year fixed to a 20, 15 or 10 year fixed. The rates will be more attractive and the amount of interest you will save could be very significant over the term of your loan.
Before considering any refinance, you should take a very good look at the current mortgage, the interest rate, and how long you have been paying it off. Additionally, in today's environment it is very important to have a good understanding of home values in your neighborhood. In most cases, values have come down over the past few years and a reduced value on your home could influence your ability to refinance. Lastly, as mentioned above, know what your short- and long-term ideas are for staying in the current home or possibly moving to a new location.
It is important to ask a lot of questions about your lender and their way of doing business. Are they brokers? What banks do they use for mortgages? How long have they been in business? Can they supply references? It is also important to shop around for competitive rates on your transaction. Referrals are a great way to locate a mortgage person that you can trust. Ask your friends and family who they have had experience with and start your search with those that get favorable remarks.
When refinancing, be sure to understand the costs associated with the refinance. In some situations, the breakeven point when paying closing costs can be way too long to make it an effective move. However, if your mortgage lender offers a true no-point, no-closing- cost loan, it is probably a good reason to start the process right away.
For more information please visit www.PoliMortgage.com.
August 17, 2011 8:57 pm
The number of cups of coffee you have per day could signal a possible addiction to caffeine. Although many of us often kid about needing coffee for survival, how serious is coffee addiction and when should you cut back on your intake?
The more coffee you drink, the higher your tolerance for caffeine. Since caffeine affects your body's performance, it is still technically a drug. With consumption rising around the country, Americans are finding that they need more and more coffee to wake up in the morning and get through their days.
For those who crave coffee or feel lethargic without it, it could mean early warning signs of addiction. Irritability and trouble sleeping at night are also red flags to be aware of if you are consuming copious amounts of the beverage every day. If you drink five or more cups per day, you may want to think about how you can cut back, decrease your tolerance or maybe even stop drinking it at all.
The easiest way to start the treacherous task is to start small. If you wake up in the morning and have three cups, cut it down to two. If you purchase coffee each morning, try turning your large into a medium or a small. Over the course of the week, you'll see some substantial differences in the amount of coffee you are consuming.
For those bold enough to quit cold turkey, remember to get rid of any coffee products in your cabinets or fridge so you don't tempt yourself. Although it will take lots of will power, some may find this method easier than trying to control a modest amount of caffeine intake. Headaches and irritability may come with the territory, but all side effects will fade after four to seven days. Once over the hump, you will be well on your way to controlling those cravings.
Some coffee drinkers may have genes predisposing them toward high consumption of caffeinated beverages, but with enough determination and willpower, anyone can break the habit or at least cut way back.
August 17, 2011 8:57 pm
When you've finally chosen the perfect color tone for your walls and added furniture to a newly decorated room, a new rug is often the final piece in the home decoration puzzle. With the ability to add a touch of character or ambience to your room, the right rug serves as an essential style tool.
Choosing Between a Traditional and Modern Rug
The type of rug you choose will depend on many factors, including room setting, personal style and the space available. Traditional rugs will support a room's natural design without overpowering it. Crafted from a range of sumptuous fabrics and warm weaves, the function of a traditional rug transcends mere design. Add warmth to a wood floor, add tone to natural carpets or just create a sophisticated ambience in any room. The function of traditional style and design is multiple.
However, traditional rugs are not for everyone. If you have already selected a neutral color or base palette for your room, a bold and colorful modern rug could be the creative spark that really brings your room to life. With a wide range of colors, styles, sizes and patterns available, the only thing holding you back is your own taste or imagination.
Weaving Magical Comfort
Once you have settled on a style, you will need to choose a fabric. Whether you want the soft feel of synthetics or the warm feeling of pure wool between your toes, you're sure to find a rug suitable for you. For example, fans of a contemporary rug design can choose a super stylish shaggy rug. As well as adding a textured dimension to any room, these rugs provide greater durability and stain resistance.
Choosing the Perfect Rug
Despite so much choice, choosing the perfect rug is not always easy. Match your personal style with the latest trends in color, pattern and fabric to make your room work for you.
August 17, 2011 8:57 pm
The growing trend of homeowners staying in their existing houses longer due to economic challenges has had a colorful effect on homes. People are taking the opportunity to personalize their homes more with colorful exterior accents and they're not stopping with just a splash of paint.
According to national color expert Kate Smith, homeowners are taking steps to express their personalities by adding color to everything from their roofs to their entry doors to their window frames.
"Today's homeowners are looking beyond variations of whites and beiges to set off the key accent points of their homes, such as louvers, trim and window frames," says Smith, president of Sensational Color. "With the realization that they're going to be staying in their current houses longer comes the commitment by people to truly personalize their homes. This has resulted in eye-catching neighborhoods.
"As homeowners replace major components of their homes, they place greater value on finding products with a long life span, lower maintenance and style. They are seeking out both a noticeable change and an improvement from existing products on the home. The ability to add a creative element, personal touch or signature color tends to 'bond' homeowners even more closely with their living spaces."
According to Smith, one of the hottest trends for exterior enhancements is to select vinyl windows with exterior color frames that complement the overall look of the home. She cites color, energy efficiency, style and low maintenance as being qualities that today's consumers are looking for.
"With their minds on sustainability and their eye on good design, many homeowners are investing in color as a way to express themselves and reinvent their current homes," she says. "A window is like a two-sided canvas. The colors on the frame exteriors enhance the home's overall appearance from the street. When you get inside and select stylish woodgrain frame interiors and premium hardware finishes, you're adding beauty to the room settings. That's a 'win-win' experience for any homeowner."
August 16, 2011 8:57 pm
By Paige Tepping
There are countless books and websites dedicated to hobbies, but many of us aren’t certain where to begin when we say that we want to choose a hobby. While many people still find enjoyment in participating in activities they took part in throughout their youth, there are those of us who are constantly looking for something new to try. If you’re looking to get involved in a new hobby, the following steps can help you get started.
Step One: Create a list. Write down any hobbies that you may want to take part in. Is that clarinet you played throughout high school sitting in the back of the closet collecting dust? Have you always been interested in painting but could never find the inspiration to get started? Even if you aren’t 100% sure what type of hobby you want to pursue, let the sky be the limit.
Step Two: Think through the pros and cons. Go through your entire list and write down the pros and cons associated with each potential hobby. Be sure to think about what will make it easy/difficult to take up and stick with each hobby you listed. Take the time to really think through each reason you are jotting down and don’t be afraid to write down why you are skeptical about starting a particular hobby. By putting your fears in writing, you may be more apt to work through them and pick a hobby that you never thought you’d enjoy.
Step Three: Do some research. Do some preliminary research and figure out exactly what you’ll need to get started. For instance, if you’re interested in getting started in music, you may need an instrument, lessons, music books, etc. Ask your friends and family if they have any of the items you need lying around—you may be able to take up a new hobby for not a lot of money.
Step Four: Get started. Pick one hobby that you want to focus on and be sure to pick up all the required tools, material, etc. that you need. Keeping a journal or blogging about your experience in starting a new hobby is a great way to hold yourself accountable and keep tabs on your progress.
August 16, 2011 8:57 pm
Over one year ago, Fannie Mae launched KnowYourOptions.com, a consumer website to educate distressed homeowners about options that may be available to them, which has welcomed more than 400,000 visitors and more than 1.5 million page views.
"KnowYourOptions.com has seen almost half a million visits in the last year, with the most popular pages being our interactive Options Finder and the modification calculator," says Jeff Hayward, senior vice president of Fannie Mae's National Servicing Organization. "These tools are reliable, informative and easy to understand. In addition to our network of Mortgage Help Centers and Mortgage Help Network Partners across the country, Fannie Mae is using the Web to reach struggling homeowners. KnowYourOptions.com is an integral part of our effort to prevent foreclosures whenever possible and stabilize neighborhoods."
Key features of KnowYourOptions.com include:
• Interactive Options Finder to help homeowners identify options that might be right for their situation;
• Calculators to help borrowers understand how many of the options would apply to them, including refinance, repayment, forbearance and modification;
• Videos featuring real homeowners discussing how they received help and housing counselors providing advice;
• A virtual assistant to walk homeowners through key areas of the site; and
• Next steps and helpful forms, including a financial checklist and contact log to help borrowers be prepared when contacting their mortgage company or housing counselor.
The site features interactive tools presented to homeowners within two categories: options for those who want to stay in their home and options for those who may want to leave. A very popular feature on the site is the award-winning interactive video simulation called WaysHome™. Viewers choose from several role-playing options, and then play the part of a homeowner struggling to make mortgage payments. They make decisions for their character and experience the positive outcomes or negative consequences of those choices. Helpful tips and advice are included along the way.
KnowYourOptions.com is designed to bring the best information and guidance together in one place so that struggling borrowers can focus on finding solutions that work for their particular circumstances.
For more information, visit KnowYourOptions.com.