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

Home Improvement Season Officially Begins as To-Do Lists Grow

June 13, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keeping Passwords Secure is Crucial for Safety on the Web

June 13, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: New York Times

HUD Allocates Funding for HIV/AIDS Housing

June 13, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

Cost Saving Ideas for Kitchen Cabinet Upgrades on a Budget

June 10, 2011 8:57 pm

By Keith Loria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By using a standard cabinet size and a good plan of your kitchen space, you will be able to provide this space with a great design all by yourself.

Minority Homeownership Award Winners Help Sustain American Dream

June 10, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

REALTOR® Alex Chaparro, past chairman of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, led the awards presentation and panel discussion with the HOPE Awards winners. The seven winners were chosen based on impact, innovation, minority focus, leadership, and contributions to increase affordable housing, in the areas of education, finance, leadership, media, housing project, public policy, and real estate brokerage. The winners were presented with trophies and $10,000 honorariums.

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Now is a Good Time to Buy a Home; Mortgage Insurance Seen as Beneficial

June 10, 2011 8:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

10 Tips to Conserve Water

June 9, 2011 8:57 pm

With summer rapidly approaching rain may start to slow down, so it's more important than ever to conserve water. From checking the kitchen faucet to watching your laundry loads, there's plenty we can all do to save water.

Here are some tips on how you can conserve water and reduce the environmental impact of water consumption both indoors and outside the home:

1. Water your lawn only when it needs it. An easy test to tell if your lawn needs water is to simply walk across the grass. If you leave footprints, it's time to water. (An added benefit of watering less often is that fewer, deep-soaking waterings encourage deep root growth and stronger turf.)

2. Water in the early morning. As much as 30% of water can be lost to evaporation by watering during midday.

3. Set your lawn mower one notch higher to make your lawn more drought-tolerant.

4. Use drip irrigation hoses to water plants and water in the early morning or evening.

5. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk, driveway, or patio.

6. Forego the hose and wash your car with a bucket and sponge instead. According to EPA WaterSense, a hose left running can waste as much as six gallons per minute while a bucket and sponge uses only a few gallons to do the job.

7. Keep a bottle of cold tap water in the refrigerator. You'll avoid the cost and environmental impact of bottled water and you'll have cold water available in the summer without running the faucet.

8. Run dishwashers and clothes washers only when they are full. If you have a water-saver cycle, use it.

9. Adjust the water level of your clothes washer, so that it matches your load size.

10. Regularly check your toilet, faucets and pipes for leaks and have them fixed promptly. An easy test for toilet leaks: Place a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color tints the water in the bowl without flushing, there's a leak. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter changes at all, you probably have a leak.

Source: Pennsylvania American Water

Selling Your Home? Avoid These Mistakes

June 9, 2011 8:57 pm

Now is a great time to buy real estate and even though it's a buyers' market, you can still leave the transaction as a satisfied seller. Oftentimes, sellers may get ahead of themselves and accidentally make a crucial mistake that can lessen his or her selling power. In order to ensure success, remember the following when trying to sell your home:

Don't assume that staging isn't important to the selling process. You want your home to look as good as possible so that potential buyers can picture themselves living their lives there. Whether you choose to stage your home yourself or to hire professionals, you may be able to present your home with the illusion of a higher value. According to a recent study, 94.6% of homes that were professionally staged sold in 33 days or less. Paint your buyers the perfect picture by appropriately staging your home.

Let your furniture help you sell. To accurately stage your home, you must have furniture to show. Attempting to sell an empty house is never putting your best foot forward. Empty houses give buyers the feeling of emptiness and can sometimes be depressing. Walls may look in need of a paint job and the feel of the home may be too cold to entice a bid. Remember, the home must look warm, appealing and lived in.

Clutter is never good. No matter how many children a buyer may have, clutter will never be overlooked or understood. If you have children of your own, it may be tempting to let your home's clutter take over to give the home a "lived in" feel, but don't give in. Bathrooms and kitchens are especially important, as is the outside of the home as well. A clean, tidy atmosphere goes a long way in the minds of buyers.

Hide all traces of your cat or dog. Don't be fooled into thinking that everybody loves pets. Pets should be crated and stored away during each and every showing. Pack up all toys, bones, etc., and make them disappear. You would also be naïve in thinking that your home didn't have a certain pet smell. Steam cleaning carpets is a great idea. Get the help of a pet-less friend's nose and clean, clean, clean!

Selling your home can be a great experience and a rather satisfying one as well. However, sellers must be prepared for the market and be willing to go the extra mile to prepare their home for the big sale.

Source: AOL Real Estate

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey

June 9, 2011 8:57 pm

Mortgage applications increased 1.1% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 20, 2011.

The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 1.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 0.9% compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index increased 0.9% to its highest level since December 10, 2010. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1.5% from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 0.8% compared with the previous week and was 3.1% higher than the same week one year ago.

The four-week moving average for the seasonally adjusted Market Index is up 5.2%. The four-week moving average is up 1.2% for the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index, while this average is up 7.1% for the Refinance Index.

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 66.8% of total applications from 66.7% the previous week. This is the highest refinance share since January 28, 2011. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 5.8% from 6.3% of total applications from the previous week.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 4.69% from 4.60%, with points decreasing to 0.69 from 0.93 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio loans. The effective rate also increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.78% from 3.75%, with points decreasing to 1.04 from 1.22 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate also decreased from last week.

Brighten Up your Rental without Using Paint

June 8, 2011 8:57 pm

Renters may find it challenging to give their place a new look without the help of a fresh coat of paint. If you find you need a change but don't want to break any of your lease's rules, here are a few things you can do to make your rental feel brand new again.

Put up some temporary wallpaper. Temporary wallpaper is easy to hang and easy to remove, making it perfect for coating boring white walls. It's vinyl coated and self-adhesive, but won't ruin the paint or wall underneath.

Create your own wall murals. Easy-to-remove murals can be created from your own artwork or digital photos. Consider finding a photo you love and enlarging it. These murals can be put up or taken down at your leisure, and even moved from room to room.

Brighten or darken a room with new light fixtures. If the lights in your rental don't suit your taste, buy new ones. Install them in each room to provide the lighting that you find most comfortable. Be sure to keep all original fixtures and pieces; you will have to restore them upon your departure.

Hang mirrors in smaller sized rooms to create the illusion of space.

Layering rugs works well to give a room a splash of color or design. Even in a white-walled room, you can still work brightness into its color scheme.

Think about how you dress the windows. Take down metal blinds and replace them with new ones of your choice. More stylish brands can be found at any home improvement store and can give the room your own touch of character, personality and color.

Although you may be limited with what you can do to your rental apartment, townhouse or condo, be creative. With a few key changes, you can splash a brand new color scheme and style into your home.

Source: Washington Post