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

Summer Travel Trends - 4 Tips for Worry-Free Travel

June 22, 2011 8:57 pm

With summer officially here, many will plan to pack up, fill up and head out of town in pursuit of some relaxing time away from home. How are travelers vacationing this summer, and what's on their minds as they prepare for their trips? A recent survey of U.S. adults revealed the following:

Their home away from home - Among those polled who are planning a summer vacation, nearly two-thirds (63%) will be staying at a hotel or other kind of rental property, like a condo or resort. Despite tough economic times, only 33% plan to stay with friends and family.

Extras are king
- Fifty-two percent of those polled note they're looking for added perks and benefits more often than they did 12 months ago. Breakfast is a favorite complimentary offering with 87% surveyed taking advantage of this added perk when they travel.

The cost of getting away - Sixty percent of those polled think it will be more expensive to travel this summer than last, while 18% feel it will be less expensive. Twenty-two percent feel costs will be about the same.

While many Americans continue to watch their spending habits more carefully in all areas, including travel, there are many options to keep a vacation budget in check. Sparks added that planning carefully and choosing the right property can play a large role in keeping a lid on expenses.

Consider the following tips when making plans for travel:

1) If you like it, book it. Waiting to book in hopes that you'll get a better rate can easily backfire - rates may rise and the property could fill up, leaving you disappointed and without a place to stay.

2) Stack up the value. Lots of incentives are available for summer travelers. Look beyond a great rate to find options like free nights on a multiple night stay, gift cards, spa credits, complimentary dining, and more. A family of four can save around $40 a day if the hotel provides free breakfast, a favorite added perk as mentioned above.

3) Take the load off family and friends. While staying with loved ones can be an economical choice, the lack of privacy and tight quarters can add unexpected stress to what should be a relaxing vacation time. Consider booking multi-room suites or vacation rentals, which are great options for family travelers. You'll have the comforts of home, more space and conveniences, and a lower cost versus booking several separate hotel rooms.

4) Plan it carefully. Read recent reviews to get other travelers' perspectives on the property you're considering. Make sure you know what's included in the stay, and what's not, to avoid any surprise fees. Also, if you don't belong to any rewards programs, now is the time to sign up so your summer getaway can begin building credits for you.

Source: Hotels.com
Tags:

Summer Tips for a Damage-Free Move

June 22, 2011 8:57 pm

Although most movers find summer the most convenient time to move, it’s often difficult to beat the heat and get everything accomplished in time. Regardless of the season, perfect packing and planning are two key factors toward a successful move. If you do decide to move in the summertime, here are a few tips to help you avoid distractions and get the job done with ease.

When packing, make sure to have hefty packing tape on hand to safely secure all boxes. Properly label each box and make a list of its contents. If a box is holding certain breakables, clearly mark it as fragile so movers or other family members are aware of its contents. As always, avoid sending valuables, plants or basic necessities with a moving company.

Electronics should always be moved in their original box. Use plenty of bubble wrap or paper towels to properly pack the item. Styrofoam or cloth towels also work great to safely transport TVs, stereos, computers and more. Wrap up all cords and tie them tightly to avoid any accidents.

Glassware should be wrapped and packed individually. Use sturdy boxes that will be able to handle all the weight of the glass. Use a soft cloth for packing silverware.

All pieces of furniture should be padded with blankets or bubble paper and secured tightly to avoid damage during the move. If any legs or pieces can be removed, do so and wrap them separately. Utilize the cushions as extra padding during the process. If moving a dresser, either take the drawers out or make sure to securely fasten them so they don't open during the move.

Don't let the heat and stress exhaust you. With a steady plan in place, you can complete your move and be back on the beach in no time!

Source: Relocation.com Blog
Tags:

Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy Joins 326 Members of U.S. Congress Calling for Changes to Proposed QRM Regulations

June 22, 2011 8:57 pm

A coalition of 44 consumer organizations, civil rights groups, lenders, real estate professionals and insurers joined with Members of Congress today urging regulators to make important changes to proposed mortgage lending regulations. The Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy released a joint white paper detailing how the proposed risk-retention regulation, and the failure to properly define exemptions for Qualified Residential Mortgages (QRM), would significantly harm creditworthy borrowers while frustrating the nation's fragile housing recovery.

The proposed QRM definition is part of the risk-retention regulations required by the Dodd-Frank Act, which Congress enacted last year. The risk-retention provisions require the issuers of mortgage-backed securities retain a portion of the risk of potential loss on those assets. Recognizing that requiring risk retention would impose increased costs even on creditworthy borrowers, Congress specified that well-underwritten mortgages with consumer-friendly features – "qualified residential mortgages" –should be exempt from the risk-retention requirement and directed regulators to promulgate regulations to establish the exemption.

Policymakers are concerned that aspects of the proposed rule requiring borrowers to have at least a 20% down payment or equity to qualify for the exemption go beyond Congressional intent and could hurt, rather than help, the housing recovery. Congress considered and rejected a down payment requirement in the Dodd-Frank legislation because it determined that the cost of excluding responsible middle-class families would exceed the modest improvement in default rates.

More than 320 current members of Congress agree. The Senate co-signers called the proposed QRM regulation "unduly narrow" and reiterated that "well-underwritten loans, regardless of down payment, were not the cause of the mortgage crisis. House members argued that the proposed QRM "would particularly harm first-time and minority home buyers" and urged regulators "to consider lower-down payment loans that have mortgage insurance (MI) as constituting a QRM."

The Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy submitted the white paper, "Proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage Definition Harms Creditworthy Borrowers While Frustrating Housing Recovery" to regulators as a joint comment letter. The 44 organizations that signed on to the white paper call on regulators to "redesign a QRM that comports with Congressional intent: encourage sound lending behaviors that support a housing recovery, attract private capital and reduce future defaults without punishing responsible borrowers and lenders."

The white paper identified a number of significant problems in the proposed QRM framework:

High Down Payment Requirements Not Necessary for Creditworthy Borrowers. An increase in the down payment requirement from 5% to 20% lowers default rates by about three-quarters of one percentage point on average based upon recent historical loan performance data.
Down Payment Requirements Put Homeownership Out of Reach for Creditworthy Borrowers. It would take a family with the national median income of $54,474 approximately 16 years to save a 20% down payment (plus closing costs) to purchase the median price home of $172,900 (2010 data). A 10% down payment requirement is little better; it would take a median income family almost 10 years to save for a 10% down payment. These are conservative estimates that assume all savings go toward the down payment and that the family is not also saving for retirement, education or other purposes.
Existing Homeowners Are Also Harmed by This Proposal. Sharp declines in home prices in recent years mean that more than half (52%) of current American homeowners have less than 25% equity in their homes, the standard that will be required to get a QRM-eligible refinance mortgage. The impact is even worse in the nation's hardest hit housing markets.
Congress Rejected Down Payment Requirements, Focused on Quality Underwriting. Congress required regulators to take into consideration "underwriting product features that historical loan performance data indicate result in a lower risk of default." With respect to low down payment loans, the statute specifically recommends eligibility for the QRM standard loans that are covered at the time of origination by mortgage insurance or other credit enhancements to the extent these protections reduce the risk of default.
Creditworthy Minority Households Will Be Particularly Hard Hit by the Narrow QRM Standard. These families already have significantly lower before-tax family incomes and net worth than white households, which translate into sharply lower homeownership rates. Current underwriting standards are already very restrictive, and the unduly narrow QRM proposal will further tighten standards for creditworthy lower income and minority families.
Regulators Have Offered No Formal Estimate of the Cost Impact of Risk Retention and the Narrow QRM Exemption. The regulators acknowledge that, by design, as many as 80% of today's borrowers would not be eligible for QRMs, but they made no formal attempt to estimate the cost of imposing risk retention on the vast majority of the market. Most private estimates of the cost of risk retention indicate that loans that do not qualify for the QRM (e.g., those without 20% or more in down payment or equity) will cost almost a full percentage point more than exempt QRMs.

Some fear that the narrow QRM will delay the return of fully private capital back into the mortgage market. This is contrary to the purpose of the QRM, which was intended to define well-underwritten, safe, and stable mortgages that would attract responsible liquidity back to the private market and be accessible to a broad range of borrowers. Says mortgage securitization pioneer Lew Ranieri: "The proposed very narrow QRM definition will allow very few potential homeowners to qualify. As a result, it will complicate the withdrawal of the Government's guarantee of the mortgage market and delay the establishment of broad investor confidence necessary for the re-establishment of the [residential mortgage backed securities] market."
Tags:

8 Tips toward Unplugging on Vacation

June 21, 2011 2:57 pm

You have your iPhone, your BlackBerry or your Android. You have your laptop or netbook with wifi. It's hard enough to unplug for the weekend, let alone an entire vacation, but for your own sanity and even that of your coworkers, you need to. There's no reason to take a vacation only to spend it working. The beach might be great, but think about how much better it would be if your phone was left in your hotel room.

Vacations are meant to help employees recharge so they can return to work re-energized and refocused. But if you're constantly checking in with the office, you won't get a real break. To help you unplug and look forward to your vacation, here are eight tips:

1. Plan ahead. Coordinate your vacation time with your co-workers, team and other executive staff to ensure that things run smoothly while you're out.
2. Designate your main point of contact and give them a detailed account of all your projects and work commitments along with your emergency contact information.
3. Try to leave the majority of your work-related hardware at home.
4. Inform your key accounts, vendors and clients when and how long you'll be out of the office.
5. If you have a lot of projects that will need attention while you're out, consider distributing your projects among your co-workers or team.
6. If you can't resist the temptation to check in, try to set up specific times or days you will be checking messages.
7. Leave your mobile devices in your room so you can concentrate on family and friends and not be tempted to check in during the day.
8. If you receive urgent voicemails or emails while you're out, ask your main point of contact to troubleshoot the issue.

Remember, your health is important and taking a vacation may be all the help you need.

Source: CareerCast.com
Tags:

CredAbility Selected by HUD to Help Homeowners with Reduced Income Apply for Federal Funds to Avoid Foreclosure

June 21, 2011 2:57 pm

CredAbility, a national nonprofit credit counseling agency, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to accept applications from homeowners in 17 states for the new Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program (EHLP). This program will provide $1 billion to help an estimated 30,000 homeowners in 27 states and Puerto Rico avoid foreclosure.

To apply for funds, homeowners must contact a nonprofit credit counseling organization approved by HUD. CredAbility has received approval to take applications from homeowners in the following states: New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Washington, Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Kansas, Utah and New Mexico.

EHLP was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It is designed to complement the Hardest Hit Fund by helping homeowners who have fallen behind on mortgage payments due to unemployment or large medical expenses bring their mortgage loan current and make future mortgage payments. Homeowners who meet certain criteria can apply to receive mortgage assistance for two years or up to $50,000, whichever comes first.

To be eligible for the program, homeowners must meet the following conditions:

• Involuntary unemployment or underemployment caused by adverse economic conditions or a medical emergency or serious injury
• A minimum 15% reduction in income
• A minimum three months delinquent on mortgage payments and at risk of foreclosure as of June 1, 2011. Homeowners must have a letter from their mortgage company verifying these conditions.
• A reasonable likelihood to resume full monthly mortgage payments by the end of the program's second year
• Income must be less than 120% AMI (Area Median Income) or $75,000 or below
• Income will be evaluated along with the income of anyone else on the mortgage note. Only the income of the persons on the mortgage note will be used to determine eligibility.

Qualified homeowners will receive a zero-percent interest loan that covers the amount of mortgage payments past due on their primary residence. It will also pay 100% of the delinquent amount due to cover property taxes, mortgage and hazard insurance premiums, homeowner association fees and foreclosure-related fees. The loan does not have to be repaid, as long as the homeowner continues making mortgage payments on time for five years.

For more information, visit www.CredAbility.org or call 800.984.0979 to begin the qualification process. Applications will be available soon and will be accepted until July 22. After that date, applications will be reviewed by counseling agencies to determine which homeowners are eligible for the program. All homeowners who qualify will be notified before October 1.
Tags:

NAR Grants Help Make Homeownership an Affordable Opportunity

June 21, 2011 2:57 pm

Seventeen local and state REALTOR® associations have been awarded over $60,000 through the Housing Opportunity Program Grants, a National Association of REALTORS® grant program. The funds will be used by the associations to promote and expand affordable housing opportunities in their communities.

“REALTORS® strive to preserve and expand housing opportunities for all Americans,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “The Housing Opportunity grants program and its recipients are working hard to build communities across the country with affordable housing opportunities for families who might not otherwise be able to purchase a home in that area. Through these grants, homeownership can become an attainable dream for many hard working American families.”

NAR’s Housing Opportunity Program Grants was established in 2006. Individual grants of up to $5,000 are awarded twice per year, in April and October. Since the program’s inception, more than 150 grants totaling over $500,000 have been awarded.

The grants support a wide range of housing opportunity activities, including: housing symposia; home buyer education or housing fairs; counseling and financial literacy efforts; down payment or closing cost financial assistance programs; public opinion surveys; and REALTOR® affordable housing education.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
Tags:

Checklists are Essential When Hunting for Rentals

June 20, 2011 8:57 pm

For renters out on the prowl for a good house, apartment or condo, having a checklist before you hunt will save you loads of time and frustration. Having a checklist will narrow down your needs and wants while also guiding you toward asking the essential questions before signing a lease.

Outside the rental:

The first and most important question to ask is, "Do I feel safe in this neighborhood?" Research the area on the Internet and do a drive-by before meeting with the landlord or REALTOR®. If you visit during the day, try to think about how you'd feel late at night. If the area doesn't feel secure, you should not inquire any further.

Is the unit close to highways, public transportation or necessary amenities? Do you have to travel far for grocery stores, ATMs or gas? These are all important things you'll need to have close by and they definitely should weigh heavily in the decision-making process.

Is the building well kept? How the building is kept up on the outside (and in the hallways) is a good indicator of how the individual units will be cared for. What will happen if you need something replaced? The general care of the building will give you a good idea as to what you will likely experience later.

Inside the rental:
Once you finally view the apartment, examine its appearance and cleanliness. Look in closets and test out all lights and sinks. How is the water pressure? Do all of the windows open easily? Don't accept everything at face value. Test them out and make sure they work.

Ask questions about the walls or listen carefully. How much sound can be heard next door? Is the unit near a main road? Can you hear the traffic? These items may not be important as you're conducting a walk-through, but think about how you'll feel on a work night. All of these factors will become crucially important should you decide to live there.

Creating yourself a checklist of items to investigate before signing a lease will help you find the perfect places for you or your family. The more you learn now, the less chance you'll be in for surprises later.

Source: Relocation.com Blog
Tags:

Comparing Life Expectancies in the U.S.

June 20, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Data was studied from 3,138 counties, 10 cities and 197 countries and territories. For more information, visit http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org.
Tags:

Rental Assistance Provided to Help Families Stay Together

June 20, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
Tags:

6 Tips to Keeping Your Home Cooler

June 17, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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