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 Starts Rise 7.2% in March 2011

May 3, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, May 3, 2011-Nationwide housing starts rose 7.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 549,000 units in March 2011 from an upwardly revised number in the previous month, the U.S. Commerce Department recently reported. This gain was represented in both the single- and multifamily sectors, and was mirrored by substantial improvements in building permit issuance for the same period.

"While the overall rate of new-home production remains quite low and is still being weighed down by significant uncertainties among both home builders and buyers, this latest report is encouraging," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "It means that some builders are cautiously beginning to re-stock their extremely thin inventories of new homes in anticipation of gradual improvement in consumer demand as the economy slowly inches toward recovery."

"The modest improvement in new-home production and permitting in March is in line with our forecasts for incremental gains through the spring buying season," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "While our builder members continue to experience a great number of challenges with regard to competition from foreclosed and short sale properties, low appraisal values and tight credit conditions, they have noted slight improvements in interest among qualified buyers, and they need to be ready to meet the demand as it materializes."

Gains in new-home production were seen across the board in March, with upward movement registered in both the single- and multifamily sectors as well as three out of four regions. On the single-family side, a 7.7% gain to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 422,000 units partially offset a big decline in the previous month. Multifamily starts also gained back a portion of the ground they lost earlier, with a 5.8% increase to 127,000 units.

Regionally, housing starts posted double-digit gains of 32.3% in the Midwest and 27.6% in the West, as well as a 5.4% gain in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, issuance of building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose by an impressive 11.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 594,000 units, more than offsetting the previous month's decline. Single-family permits rose 5.7% to 405,000 units, while multifamily permits rose 25.2% to 189,000 units.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

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Tips for Working with Professional Landscapers

May 2, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011--If you're trying to sell your home this spring, working with a professional can boost your home's curb appeal and attract possible buyers to the door. As any landscaper would tell you, the condition of your lawn can have a big effect on the value of your home. If you plan on hiring some help, here are a few tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Talk to several landscapers before deciding to hire one. Scheduling consultations with multiple landscapers is important. Have them come survey your property and make recommendations on what needs to be done. Use them as consultants, helping you narrow down the work that needs to be done versus extra frills you would like to add to the process. For smaller tasks such as mowing, weeding, gardening or raking, you may want to consider hiring a local teenager or family member in order to save money.

Request estimates. Now that you know what it is you want to have done, request an estimate from at least three of the consultants you met with. Depending on the company, costs could range greatly and the differences could be thousands of dollars. According to the Consumers' Checkbook, a tree-removal job could cost anywhere from $1,935 to $6,300 and lawn care could range from $229 to $805. Finding out what each company will charge you for the job is crucial to staying in budget.

Don't be hasty on saying 'yes.' If your landscaper suggests an add-on of any sort, think it through before OK-ing it. Sometimes your company might recommend various fertilizers, treatment or sprayings, but make sure there is a good reason and necessity for it. The more your landscaper provides, the higher your bill will be.

Quite possibly the most important step: Don't pay until the job is finished. If possible, pay nothing until the job is fully completed. If the landscaper requires a payment, do so with a credit card. If the job isn't finished to your satisfaction, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. By not paying up front, you also have more leverage in terms of ensuring that the job is completed the way you want it. Keep this in mind while you're hiring professional help.

Hiring a professional landscaper can improve your curb appeal by leaps and bounds. However, keep these tips in mind to make sure you get the most for your money.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Consumers' Checkbook

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Spring Cleaning: Spruce Up Your Home Safely

May 2, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011--Winter is finally a distant memory and the fresh, clear air just might be giving you that burst of motivation to do the unthinkable: spring cleaning (with the windows open, no less). When the time comes, most of us can't wait to rid ourselves of things we do not need, give our home a good dusting, mow the lawn, clear the gutters and maybe even add a fresh coat of paint to the walls. Nothing seems more important than refreshing both our home and mind of dust and clutter.

However, statistics show that thousands of people injure themselves during their annual clean, whether it be using a step ladder, a lawn mower or moving furniture. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges people to take the proper safety precautions to reduce the number of spring cleaning-related accidents.

Statistics:

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • In 2010, more than 35,500 people injured themselves using a stepladder.
  • Over 41,000 Americans injured themselves while gardening or using gardening equipment.
  • More than 127,000 were injured while operating a lawn mower.

AAOS Expert Advice:

"Spring cleaning can bring on many injuries for a variety of reasons. Specifically, people tend to do too much too soon," said orthopedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson, Michael A. Flippin, MD. "Many common injuries including tendonitis, sprains, strains or breaks can be prevented with proper technique like bending at the knees when lifting instead of from the back, or securing and stabilizing a ladder before climbing. These are simple precautions that are overlooked too often."

AAOS Safety Tips:

  • Proper techniques for lifting, carrying and bending should be part of any spring cleaning project to avoid back injuries:

    • Separate your feet, shoulder-width apart, and keep your back upright. Bend at the knees while tightening the stomach muscles.
    • Lift with your leg muscles as you stand up; don't try to lift any object by yourself if it is too heavy or an awkward shape.

  • When gardening, avoid prolonged repetitive motions during activities such as digging, planting, trimming and pruning, and take frequent breaks.
  • Use a sturdy step stool instead of a counter or furniture, such as a chair or the couch, when dusting high hard to reach areas.
  • Ladders used for chores such as washing windows, painting, cleaning gutters and trimming trees should be placed on a firm, level surface. Never place a ladder on ground or flooring that is uneven, soft or wet.
  • Use care with extension cords; be sure they are properly grounded. To avoid tripping or falling, do not drape extension cords across spans of crossing walkways.
  • When working on a ladder, over-reaching or leaning too far to one side can make you lose your balance and fall. Your bellybutton should not go beyond the sides of the ladder. Never climb a ladder without a spotter.
  • When mowing the lawn, be sure to wear proper footwear and eyewear for protection.
  • Use a mower with a control that stops it from moving forward if the handle is released. Never pull backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary carefully look for others behind you when you do.
  • Children should be at least 12-years-old before they operate any lawn mower, and at least 16-years-old for a ride-on mower.
  • Read product labels for proper use and wear protective clothing and gloves when using chemicals for gardening or cleaning. Store all chemicals at the appropriate temperature, which is usually indicated on the package. Make sure they are located in a place that is out of reach of both children and pets, and never place chemicals into unmarked containers or containers labeled for a different substance.
  • Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration and keep a cell phone within reach in case of accident or injury.

For more information, visit www.aaos.org/.

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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Align Guidelines for Servicing Delinquent Mortgages

May 2, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011--Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco has directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) to align their guidelines for servicing delinquent mortgages they own or guarantee. The updated framework will establish uniform servicing requirements as well as monetary incentives for servicers that perform well and penalties for those that do not.

"FHFA's directive to align Enterprise policies for servicing delinquent mortgages should result in earlier servicer engagement to identify the best solution available for homeowners, given their individual circumstances," DeMarco said.

The updated guidelines also address the so-called "dual track" by requiring servicers to contact borrowers as soon as they become delinquent and focus solely on remediating that delinquency. The foreclosure process may not commence if the borrower and servicer are engaged in a good-faith effort to resolve the delinquency. The servicer must conduct a formal review of each case to ensure a borrower has been considered for foreclosure alternatives before the loan is referred for foreclosure. Even after foreclosure processing begins, financial incentives are provided to encourage servicers to continue to help borrowers pursue a foreclosure alternative.

Consistent with statements recently issued by federal and state regulators, this initiative is intended to deal with identified problems in mortgage servicing. The updated framework will streamline and expedite borrower outreach, align mortgage modification terms and requirements, and establish a consistent schedule of performance-based incentive payments and penalties. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will each issue detailed guidelines to their servicers in the second and third quarters of 2011.

"Once fully implemented by the servicing industry, the Enterprises' aligned policies should give homeowners a greater understanding of the process and faster resolution by requiring earlier contact, more frequent communication, and prompt decisions," said DeMarco. "Equally important, the newly aligned policies will minimize taxpayer losses by ensuring that Enterprise loans are serviced efficiently and fairly."

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How to Buy or Sell a Handicapped-Accessible Home

April 29, 2011 2:57 pm

By Michael Walsh

RISMEDIA, April 29, 2011--If you are elderly or physically impaired, a property that facilitates increased mobility is essential. Such properties not only allow improved access to your home in a general sense, but also the improved ability to move from one part of the property to the other without needless exertion or the risk of harm. In addition, properties with improved mobility access can be highly beneficial to your sense of independence and well-being. Residential elevators, stair chairs and wheelchair lifts are key pieces of equipment which can support you in this way.

Buying a home with a residential elevator, stair chair or wheel chair lift

If you're looking to buy a home, or are looking to buy a home for a mobility-impaired individual, one great place to start is by contacting local community organizations who specialize in aged care or care for the physically handicapped. These organizations will be knowledgeable in the types of suitable properties available locally, and will have existing networks with relevant communities, vendors and intermediaries who will be able to help you.

Contacting local real estate agents directly is another excellent way to find a property fitted with a residential elevator, stair chair or wheelchair lift. While these fittings may be mentioned in some real estate listings, often they are not, meaning that you may be missing out on hearing about a property that is relevant to your needs. Ask your real estate agent to keep a record of local properties that are designed with wheelchair accessibility or accessibility for the mobility impaired in mind, and have them contact you whenever a property that meets your needs is put on the market.

There are also certain factors that you should take into consideration. These include factors such as speed and loading capacity, as well as whether the equipment is accompanied by a regular maintenance service. Some types of equipment will be better suited to some users than others, so bear in mind how the product will be used when you're making your purchasing decision. Another factor to consider is the age of the device and whether there is a valid warranty in place.

Selling a home with vertical transportation facilities

If you're looking to sell a property that is fitted with a residential elevator, stair chair or wheel chair lift, then there are a number of steps that you can take to ensure that you find an appropriate buyer. First, have a technician inspect your equipment to ensure that it's in good working order, and have them provide an assessment about its longevity and maintenance requirements. You should also ensure that you have detailed information about the equipment's specifications and instructions for use on hand, as well as the manufacturer's warranty if still valid.

When putting your home on the market, make a point to emphasize the fact that your property has been fitted to ensure increased mobility for the elderly or the mobility impaired. This can be a strong selling point, particularly if you live in an area with a large population of one of these groups. If you live in a location that has a high proportion of retirement villages, homes and residential care facilities, then pitching your home as being fitted to provide enhanced independence and safety of mobility for residents can be an excellent way of helping to get ahead of the competition.

It can also be worth contacting or having your real estate agent contact local groups or organizations in the community who may specifically be on the look-out for properties with provisions for the elderly or mobility impaired. Doing so will help target a market not necessarily picked up by traditional real estate marketing and will raise greater awareness about your property, increasing the likelihood that you'll find a buyer who will benefit from your home's residential elevator, stair chair or wheel chair lift. You may wish to allow a potential buyer to see the equipment in action first to reassure them that it will be suitable to their needs; doing so can help with the decision-making process.

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Protect Your Blossoming Plants from Deer and Other Hungry Animals

April 29, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 29, 2011--With summer just around the corner, your yard and garden are wide open for deer, rabbits and other problem animals to feast upon. It's important to know that these animals can potentially destroy gardens resulting in costly financial loss, and one thing gardeners should always consider is that an animal will eat just about anything, if it is hungry enough.

"If food is scarce, deer and other animals can lose up to a quarter of their body weight over the winter months, and that means that they're hungry come spring, so it is prime time for problem animals to feast on your yard," says Bob Reynolds, CEO of Shake-Away, Inc. "The best way to get these pests away from your valuable plantings is to take advantage of the predator-prey relationship animals have. By using coyote urine granules to recreate the predator scent, you can naturally deter animals from the area where it is applied."

According to Reynolds, the top garden offenders that can be damaging your garden this summer are:

  1. Deer/Elk
  2. Rabbits
  3. Domestic cats
  4. Squirrel
  5. Chipmunks
  6. Groundhogs
  7. Possums
  8. Rats
  9. Shrew
  10. Vole

"No gardener wants deer munching on their vegetables or cats romping through that prized flower bed," says Ron Boyce, research scientist, Shake-Away, Inc. "Unsightly fences only solve the problem until the pests find a way around them. In addition, chemicals could potentially harm both animals and the plants, however, when animals smell a predator, their instinct is to stay as far away as possible."

Garden-safe and pet-friendly, predator granules (such as coyote or fox) are 100% non-toxic and cause prey animals to instinctively leave an area where they detect a predatory threat. They are also 100% natural and certified organic with no lingering yard or garden odor that is detectable by humans.

For more information, visit www.shake-away.com.

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Mortgage Rates Inch Lower

April 29, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 29, 2011--Mortgage rates remained below the 5% mark, with the benchmark conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate inching lower to 4.95%, according to Bankrate.com's weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.37 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage stepped down to 4.14%, and the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate reset the low point of the year at 5.40%. Adjustable rate mortgages were also lower, with the average 5-year ARM dipping to 3.69% and the 7-year ARM dropping to an even 4%.

Mortgage rates were lower this week, but the movement in mortgage rates continues to be tame. Mortgage rates have remained within a one-third percentage point band since mid-December. The Federal Reserve did little to rock the boat, holding interest rates steady and changing very little in the post-meeting statement. While the Federal Reserve confirmed that they will halt their bond purchases at the end of June, this has been widely expected and any resulting volatility in bond yields or mortgage rates is far from certain. Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds.

The last time mortgage rates were above 6% was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33%, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.95%, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,067.54, a difference of $174 per month for anyone refinancing now.

Survey Results

30-year fixed: 4.95% -- down from 4.96% last week (avg. points: 0.37)

15-year fixed: 4.14% -- down from 4.16% last week (avg. points: 0.37)

5/1 ARM: 3.69% -- down from 3.7% last week (avg. points: 0.37)

For a full analysis of this week's move in mortgage rates, visit http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/mortgage-rates-display-little-motivation.aspx?ic_id=tsLgpic2.

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Managing a Healthy Relationship with Your Landlord

April 28, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 28, 2011--When renting an apartment, house or condo, keeping the peace with your landlord and managing that relationship is important to your overall happiness and housing stability. Sometimes, that relationship falters, putting the renter in an unpleasant struggle for power. By knowing your rights and what you can do in the case of an increasing problem with your landlord, you can deal with the situation and alleviate it as soon as possible. Here are some facts and tips that can help:

It is your right to live in a properly repaired and habitable property. Your lease most likely requires that your landlord keep your housing in a habitable condition. If there is a problem, don't hesitate to contact your landlord and request a repair. If the landlord refuses, then you have a problem. Contact your state's Department of Housing Preservation and Development with complaints. The state will then send an inspector to check out the problem and, if serious enough, can impose a violation upon the landlord.

To maintain a stable rent, negotiate sooner rather than later. Tenants rarely have control over the cost of rent or subsequent rent increases. Talk to your landlord early. If his or her rental income is secured for an elongated period of time, your landlord may be open to a stabilized or lower monthly rent.

Protect yourself against landlords holding your security deposit. Oftentimes, renters take issue with extra charges that end up coming out of security deposits upon vacating. To prevent any such issue, be sure to take photos of the apartment or condo before you move in. If any problem arises, tell the landlord that you have detailed photos of the place in its vacant state and start the negotiation from there.

Never withhold rent as a revenge tactic. By withholding rent, your landlord has all he or she needs to begin an eviction case against you for failure to pay. Two wrongs won't right your situation. By continuing to pay on time, you still have the upper hand in a legal or verbal conflict with your landlord.

Every renter hopes to never take issue with the landlord, however, if a problem arises, knowing your rights and exercising them when necessary could help you through a tough situation.

Source: AOL Real Estate

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Consumers Choose to Pay Credit Cards vs. Mortgage

April 28, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 28, 2011--A study released by the credit reporting bureau TransUnion shows a shift in consumer credit card paying habits as a result of the recession. The new pattern finds consumers more likely to pay their credit card charges before they pay their mortgage; and this trend has occurred for the last three years in a row.

Steven Stark, general counsel and COO for A New Horizon Credit Counseling Services, stated, "This just confirms what we have seen among our clients; they would prefer to default on their over-leveraged mortgages in favor of paying off their credit card balance." Stark added, "This change in the traditionally expected payment priority is clearly related to home devaluation and high unemployment."

The study found that the new payment pattern has become increasingly popular among consumers, with the percentage of consumers who are delinquent on their mortgages and current on their credit cards rising to as high as 7.4% in Q3 2010 (from 4.3% in Q1 2008). Conversely, the percentage of consumers who are delinquent on their credit cards and current on their mortgages decreased to its lowest level ever at 3.03% in Q4 2010. This rate had been at 4.1% in Q1 2008.

Not unexpectedly, the lowest credit-scoring segment continues to be the highest number of consumers delinquent on their mortgages. The rate for consumers in this segment who were delinquent on their mortgages but current on their credit cards during Q4 2007 was just over 19%, but rose to 30.4% in Q4 2010.

However Stark cautions, "We have also noticed that while consumers have struggled to remain current on their credit cards, these balances continue to grow steadily larger for a significant majority of the same population that has been hardest hit by unemployment and failed businesses during the recession. Anyone finding themselves in this pattern should consult with a reputable credit counseling agency to review what options are available to them."

For more information, visit http://www.anewhorizon.org.

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Tips for Finding the Right Neighborhood for Your Family

April 28, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 28, 2011--When making the decision to move your family, it's imperative that you find a neighborhood that best suits your family's lifestyle, needs and wants. Researching a new neighborhood before getting too far into the buying process is crucial in order to ensure a smooth settling. While you're considering a new location, keep the following in mind:

Keep your eyes peeled: Observing the neighborhood at various times of the day is a good way to get a feel for the overall safety of the neighborhood. Be sure to visit at night as well as during the day. Pay attention to things like noise, traffic and parking. Though these may not be the first things you would think about when visiting, they will be highly important to you should you decide to move there.

Research the local hospitals: How far away will your potential new home be from a hospital? Is that particular hospital well established? Conducting some online research about the hospital's reputation is a good idea as well, especially for families with ailing members.

Check up on the school system: For those with children or those who may have them in the future, the school system should be one of the top areas of concern when considering a move. School ratings can be viewed online, along with various forums of parental commentary. What are others saying about the town's teachers, education, after-school programs, etc.? If you can, ask others in your neighborhood about the schools. By doing so, you'll ensure that you are comfortable with where you will be placing your children.

There are many other aspects that would warrant research. Crime rates in the town or city are a large concern for many new homeowners. Visit the local parks both during the day and at night. How safe are they? What kinds of stores are in the neighborhood and do the store hours match your lifestyle? Will you need any sort of public transportation? Look into schedules for busses, trains or taxis, if necessary.

A successful move doesn't solely depend on the property you purchase. To increase your family's chances of successfully settling into your new home, research the neighborhoods and towns that the property is located in. The more you know, the better your transition will be.

Source: Relocation.com

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