June 28, 2011 8:57 pm
Many families across the country will spend the Fourth of July holiday away from home, basking on beautiful beaches, traveling to see relatives or maybe just visiting friends for a backyard barbecue. To fully enjoy those activities and other summertime pursuits spent away from home, homeowners should take precautions to safeguard their residences when they're not around. Crime rates across the country often start to peak as temperatures rise during warm weather months – the same time that many families leave their homes unoccupied and unprotected.
"A home is the biggest financial investment that most people will make in their lifetimes, but it is also the place where they raise their families, build memories and share their dreams for the future," says Florida REALTORS® 2011 President Patricia Fitzgerald. "It just makes sense to take steps to protect something so priceless."
Homeowners can take these simple precautions to make their homes less of a target for criminals:
No "Home Alone:" Before leaving your home during the day, make it look as if someone is still at home by using timers on lights in various rooms. Even though daylight hours are longer during the summer, it may still get dark faster than you expect or you may return home later than anticipated, and taking this step ensures that your home appears occupied at all times.
No Open Door Policy: Ensure that all doors leading to the home and garage are locked, even when leaving for short periods of time. The typical burglary takes less than five minutes, and unlocked doors, combined with an empty home, put out the "welcome mat" for crime.
Someone to Watch Over Me: Be landscape smart. Shrubbery and other plants can grow very rapidly during the warm, wet summer months, so keep them trimmed to allow your neighbors to keep an eye on your home. Also, an unkempt yard could be viewed as a sign of an empty home to a burglar.
A Key Reminder: When leaving home, take your house keys along or leave a spare set with a trusted neighbor. Never leave a key under a welcome mat, in a mailbox or other hiding spots – most burglars know where to look.
Crime Doesn't Take a Vacation: If you're planning to be away from home on vacation for more than a day or two, ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway and pick up your mail and newspapers – or be sure to make arrangements to cancel the paper and hold the mail. Disable your garage door opener and manually lock it from the inside, and don't forget to check that the door leading from the garage to the home is locked, too.
For more information, visit http://media.floridarealtors.org.
June 27, 2011 8:57 pm
By Paige Tepping
When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home's appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. Take the following recommendations when preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.
Tip #1: Refresh the exterior
First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers won’t even leave their car if they don’t find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your home’s exterior include:
-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.
-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.
-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.
Tip #2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape
Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your home’s interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers’ impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:
-Mowing and edging the lawn.
-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.
-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.
-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.
-Weeding and mulching plant beds.
-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.
-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.
-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.
Tip #3: Create an inviting entrance
The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:
-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.
-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.
-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.
-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.
Tip #4: Reduce clutter and furniture
A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:
-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.
-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.
-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.
-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.
-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.
-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.
-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.
Tip #5: Clean, clean, clean
The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer's perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer's decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:
-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.
-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.
-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.
-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.
-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.
-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.
June 27, 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 percent 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.
June 27, 2011 8:57 pm
Combine the expectation of divorce for new couples hovering around 50% with a variety of studies that suggest money is the most divisive topic for couples, and you get a formula for disaster. But one expert thinks it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jane Honeck, CPA and author of The Problem With Money? It’s Not About the Money!, believes that while a SmartMoney Magazine survey revealed that 70% of all couples talk about money at least once a week, the communication isn’t very effective. Honeck has some good advice that can help couples make arguments about money a thing of the past.
“Focusing on an overall vision and money plan will keep both of you moving in the same direction,” she says. “Once you have done that, the small everyday decisions about what to spend your money on take care of themselves with little or no effort. When we have clear communication and know why we do something, the ‘what to do’ with our money is easy.”
Honeck’s tips include:
• Talk: Money is still a taboo topic and we often don’t have a clear idea about how our partner thinks or feels.
• Find Balance: Balance power around money. One person making all the decisions and having all the control is a recipe for disaster. Find ways for you both to be equally engaged in all money decisions.
• Make Decisions: Decide together what is mine, yours and ours. Most couples have their own hybrid system for what works best. Find the one that is best for both of you.
• Define Your System: Have a clearly defined money management system all the way from who handles the mail to who sends out the checks. Without a well thought-out operational plan, things fall through the cracks.
• Address Problems: When things get tough, address problems immediately (no secrets allowed). Avoiding the issue only makes it more toxic and drives a wedge in the relationship.
• Perform Checkups: Schedule an annual money checkup with each other. Things change and just like our physical health, money management needs an annual checkup to keep it healthy and relevant.
• Talk a Little More: Talk, talk and talk some more. The most important thing is to have open communication with no blame or shame. We all have hang-ups around money. Treat your partner with compassion.
“At the end of the day, couples need not argue about money,” she adds. “And it’s not just about communication. It’s about making a plan, and sticking to it together. Information gives you power over your finances. Not talking about them, not making a plan and not coordinating as a team makes you a victim of your finances. If you control your finances, they will never control you or your marriage.”
June 24, 2011 8:57 pm
Vinyl siding remains the market leader in exterior cladding on new single-family homes sold and is the only exterior cladding to gain marketshare for the second consecutive year, up two points to 36%, according to recently released 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data. In fact, vinyl siding has been the market leader for 16 consecutive years and has increased five share points in the past five years.
"Vinyl siding remains the preferred exterior cladding because it offers a mix of benefits that no other exterior cladding can offer: beauty, low maintenance, durability and sustainability," says Jery Y. Huntley, president and CEO of the Vinyl Siding Institute, Inc.
Regionally, vinyl siding's share remains unchanged except in the Northeast where it gained five points and is the market leader with 84% share. In the Midwest, it is the leader with 70% market share for the second year in a row. Vinyl siding's share remains steady at 30% in the South, second only to brick.
The data also shows that vinyl siding is the market leader for new single-family homes sold in all price points up to $499,000. It has seen strong gains in homes sold in the $250,000 to $299,000 range, with an increase of seven share points to 36%. Additional gains of five share points were made in homes sold in both the $300,000 to $399,000 and $400,000 to $499,000 price points. While stucco is used most often on homes sold between $500,000 and $749,000, vinyl siding has seen continuous growth and is only three share points behind stucco with 30% market share.
"Vinyl siding can suit any taste at any price point and can beautifully replicate the look of wood without the maintenance worries," says Huntley.
For more detailed results from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, visit http://www.vinylsiding.org/mediaroom/dataandstats/2010_Census_Data.pdf.
June 24, 2011 8:57 pm
As the summer heat beats down and energy prices are on the rise, many homeowners are seeking to trade in their old air conditioning units for more energy-efficient models in hopes of controlling costs. When shopping, however, choose wisely.
"The common perception seems to be bigger is better," says Marjorie Kass, managing director for MXenergy. "In fact, recent studies suggest that one third to one half of home central air units are actually oversized. Rather than leading to greater cooling it results in greater inefficiency and higher costs."
Customers should take three factors into account when shopping for a new cooling system.
1. High Efficiency
Customers should look for in-room units with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) greater than 10 and for a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) higher than 12 in central units.
2. Proper Sizing
Contractors should consult the manuals produced by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, which examine a home's size, insulation, direction and window placement to determine proper unit size. Oversized units turn on and off more frequently, actually creating greater inefficiency and higher costs for the homeowner.
3. Proper Installation
Homeowners need to make sure new units are installed by trained, licensed contractors to ensure proper installation and, therefore, proper efficiency.
Kass reminds customers that the quest for lower cooling bills doesn't end simply with the purchase of a new air conditioner.
"No matter how energy efficient your home air conditioner is there are still simple actions you can take that will further boost your energy savings and reduce your carbon footprint," she says. Installing a programmable thermostat, insulating the roof and attic, choosing and using quality window blinds and awnings, and providing shade for outdoor units can also significantly increase energy saving.
For more information, visit www.mxenergy.com.
June 24, 2011 8:57 pm
Despite the ups and downs of the housing market, homeowners and non-owners alike consider owning a home essential to the American Dream. That's the key finding of a recent survey of people likely to vote in 2012 that was conducted on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C.
"The survey results show that Americans see beyond the immediate housing market to the enduring value of homeownership," says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "An overwhelming 75% of the people who were polled said that owning a home is worth the risk of the fluctuations in the market, and 95% of the homeowners said they are happy with their decision to own a home," Nielsen says.
"Homeownership is worth the risk, pure and simple," says Neil Newhouse, a partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies. "Even though the market is weak, people who don't own say they want to buy a house. Almost three-quarters of those who do not currently own a home, 73%, said owning a home is one of their goals. And among younger voters who are most likely to be in the market for a home in the next few years, the percentages are even higher," Newhouse says.
One of the more striking aspects of the survey results is the intensity of sentiment among potential voters, according to Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. "People believe overwhelmingly that owning a home is an anchor to the American Dream," she says. "It's an anchor to your retirement, and it's an anchor to your personal economic well-being."
Among the other survey results:
• Homeownership and a retirement savings program are considered by voters to be their best investments.
• 80% of homeowners would advise a close friend or family member just starting out to buy a home.
• Saving for a down payment and closing costs is the biggest barrier to homeownership.
• Americans believe that owning their own home is as important as being successful at their job or being able to pay for a family member's education.
"Owning a home isn't just a policy to people," says Lake. "It isn't just a commodity to people. It is a core value."
This national survey of 2,000 likely 2012 voters was conducted May 3-9, 2011 by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.nahb.org/VoterPoll.
June 23, 2011 8:57 pm
Radon exposure is the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer and leads to an estimated 21,000 deaths each year. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration, and the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veterans Affairs have joined forces to help save lives and create healthier home and school environments for America’s families. The plan brings together commitments that help to reduce exposure to radon and protect the health of Americans through leveraging and advancing existing state, local, and national programs.
“With nearly one in 15 homes affected by elevated levels of radon and thousands dying each year from radon-induced cancer, it’s time to step up our actions in the federal government,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says. “Through the Federal Radon Action Plan, we’re working with partner agencies to raise awareness about the threat of radon in our homes and to take steps to mitigate this hazard. Together our efforts will help reduce radon exposure and make our homes, schools and communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.”
The Federal Radon Action Plan brings together government agencies to demonstrate the importance of radon risk reduction, address finance and incentive issues to drive testing and mitigation, and build demand for services from industry professionals. The plan will help spur greater action in the marketplace, create jobs in the private sector, and significantly reduce exposure to radon. The plan includes strategies to reach low-income families, many of whom do not have the resources to make the simple fixes necessary to protect their homes and loved ones. With the help of all agency networks, approximately 7.5 million buildings and homes in the United States will be able to receive information and build awareness around this serious public health risk.
The plan includes federal government actions to reduce radon risks:
- Launching a cross-government outreach initiative to educate families about the health risks associated with radon exposure and the solutions to address the risks.
- Incorporating radon testing and mitigation into federal programs.
- Investing in new standards and updating codes for measurement and mitigation in schools, daycare facilities, and multi-family housing.
- Establishing incentives that drive testing and mitigation in the private and public sectors.
Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas. Approximately one in 15 American homes contains high levels of radon. EPA and the Surgeon General urge people to test their homes for radon at least every two years. For more information, visit www.RadonPlan.us.
June 23, 2011 8:57 pm
By Keith Loria
No one wants to buy a house with a mold problem but these sneaky little spores aren’t always easy to detect.
“Mold is a fungus and although some molds are visible and even odorous, mold can also grow between walls, under floors and ceilings, or in less accessible spots, such as basements and attics,” says Roger Harris, an inspector in Coral Gables, Fla. “Indoor mold can cause health related problems and is a costly, time-consuming problem to fix.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, including hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.
“Mold spores are very easily aerosolized,” says James Mallory, president of Washington-based Environix Air Quality. “Once they are disturbed, hundreds of thousands of spores can fill the air within a short period of time. Because of this, containment procedures are necessary to prevent contaminating the entire house or building.”
Mold grows best in water-soaked materials (paneling, wallboard, carpet, attics), but can survive in almost any damp location. Preventing water damage is one of the keys to stopping mold. Many indoor mold problems begin with an aging, weathered, leaky roof that may allow water to enter the home.
“Water can damage attics, walls and ceilings, and homeowners may not be aware of the problem until it is too late,” Harris says. “Mold thrives and spreads in water-damaged areas that are not properly dried and maintained. Prevent water damage by making sure that your home's roof is properly maintained.”
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of disputes over mold between sellers and buyers. A wise seller would put a specific mold disclaimer into the real estate sales contract and encourage in the sales contract that the buyer hire and rely upon the buyer’s own independent mold inspection and testing of the home by a certified mold inspector.
“You do need to comply in good faith with all of your state’s laws,” says mold expert Phillip Fry, who has written five books on the subject. “If you know your home or property has a water, mold, or other environmental problem, or if you have a reasonable suspicion that there may exist such a problem, you would be wise to remedy the water problem, mold infestation, or environmental threat prior to even offering the property for sale and prior to even listing the property for sale with a REALTOR®.”
In some states, real estate agents or brokers have a duty to disclose problems they know exist. Appraisers should also notify you of any obvious sign of a mold problem if the value of the property can be affected.
Most home buyers rely on a home inspector to look for mold, and while they will mention obvious signs of water damage and the possible presence of mold, it is not their job to seek out mold. You should always be sure to ask an inspector of any possible mold damage.
Remember, if you are house hunting, you should learn how to detect mold in homes, get the seller to disclose mold issues, and negotiate around any mold problems that come to light in the course of the sale.
June 23, 2011 8:57 pm
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced recently that $3.6 million in Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants will be awarded in fiscal year 2011 to assist in the transformation, rehabilitation and preservation of public housing and privately owned HUD-assisted housing.
“Our Choice Neighborhoods Initiative rewards communities that use innovative tools to tackle concentrated poverty holistically,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The initiative expands on the bipartisan success of the HOPE VI program by recognizing that we must link affordable housing with quality education, public transportation, good jobs and safe streets."
As part of HUD’s overall plan to revitalize areas of concentrated poverty, the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants are intended to help transform distressed public and assisted housing into sustainable, mixed-income housing that connects to key services, such as education and transportation, and supports positive outcomes for the neighborhood’s families. Eligible applicants are public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit developers that apply jointly with a public entity. Applicants must demonstrate their plan to revitalize the neighborhood through public-private partnerships that seek to develop high-quality public schools and early learning programs, public transportation, and improved access to jobs and well-functioning services.
These grants will enable communities to create a comprehensive “transformation plan,” or road map, to transform public and/or assisted housing within a distressed community to create a choice neighborhood. This Federal support provides a significant incentive and catalyst for the local community to take critical steps toward neighborhood transformation.
Applicants have until August 8, 2011 to apply for the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants. HUD anticipates awarding approximately 12 grants with a maximum award of $300,000 each.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.