June 29, 2011 8:57 pm
Fannie Mae recently issued new standards for mortgage servicers regarding the management of delinquent loans, default prevention and foreclosure time frames under the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Servicing Alignment Initiative. The new standards, reinforced by new incentives and compensatory fees, require servicers to take a more consistent approach for homeowner communications, loan modifications and other workouts, and, when necessary, foreclosures.
"These new standards give homeowners facing difficulty making their mortgage payments a clear, consistent process," says Jeff Hayward, senior vice president of Fannie Mae's National Servicing Organization. "We want homeowners to be able to understand their options when facing foreclosure, and we want servicers to reach homeowners early in the process, communicate frequently and clearly, and help homeowners avoid foreclosure."
These standards require servicers to implement consistent processes across a number of areas, and hold them accountable if they do not.
Borrower Contact. Under the new standards, servicers must achieve "quality right party contact" with borrowers. This includes building a strong customer-service relationship with homeowners, determining the reasons for their delinquency, assessing their ability to pay, and educating homeowners on the availability of foreclosure prevention options. Fannie Mae's borrower contact standards will increase servicer effectiveness in reaching homeowners, bring greater consistency and clarity to servicer communications with homeowners, and increase the likelihood that servicers will contact homeowners early in the default process, which is one of the most important factors in reaching a resolution that avoids a foreclosure. During the first 120 days of delinquency, homeowners will be contacted both verbally and in writing to complete a mortgage modification or other solution to remain in the home, or enter into an arrangement to exit the home without a foreclosure.
Foreclosure Timelines. Servicers must follow clear timelines for referring loans to foreclosure, setting a date of sale for foreclosed properties, and use of designated counsel, and they will face compensatory fees for timeline violations. These standards will bring greater consistency, fairness, and efficiency to a process that has too often been characterized by inconsistency, abuse, and delay—to the detriment of mortgage investors, homeowners, and communities alike. Once 120 days of delinquency have passed, the foreclosure process will begin.
"We hope this step will encourage any homeowner who has not yet acted to work with the servicer to pursue all options to avoid foreclosure," says Hayward. "But even in situations where foreclosure can't be avoided, we believe this process and this timetable will help motivate all participants toward resolutions that will ultimately stabilize neighborhoods as quickly as possible."
Incentives and Compensatory Fees. Fannie Mae will provide incentives for servicers to complete loan workouts earlier in a homeowner's delinquency, and charge compensatory fees when servicers fail to make quality right party contact. Incentives and fees will be based on clear benchmarks. These steps are intended to help improve servicer performance and hold servicers accountable for their effectiveness in assisting homeowners. Compensatory fees remain a possibility for servicers who do not process foreclosures in a timely manner.
Between January 1, 2009 and March 31, 2011, Fannie Mae helped over 500,000 struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. Implementation of the new servicing standards will speed further progress and ensure greater clarity for servicers on how to work with homeowners.
For more information, visit www.FannieMae.com.
June 28, 2011 8:57 pm
By Paige Tepping
Increasing your home's appeal can make all of the difference when trying to sell. By preparing your home now, you can control exactly how your property appears to potential buyers and hopefully stage it in a way that plays to its strengths. Here are even more recommendations for what to do when preparing and staging your home for showings.
Make minor repairs
The small stuff does count, especially with first-time home buyers. Focus on the minor repairs that will make your home visually appealing. The best ways to improve your home include:
-Repairing ceilings and wall cracks
-Repairing faucets, banisters, handrails, cabinets, drawers, doors, floors and tile
-Caulking and grouting tubs, showers, sinks and tile
-Adding fresh paint to ceilings, walls, trim, doors and cabinets
-Tightening door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and electrical plates
-Lubricating door hinges and locks
Showcase the kitchen
The heart of any home is the kitchen. If you are going to spend any money on renovations, this is the one area where you will see the greatest return. Even with a modest budget, focusing on a few key areas can make a great difference in getting the asking price for your property. The best ways to showcase the kitchen include:
-Replacing cabinet doors and hardware
-Installing under-cabinet lighting
-Replacing light fixtures
-Replacing outdated shelving with pantry and cabinet organizers to maximize space
-Baking cookies or cupcakes to create a homey smell during a showing
Furniture placement can enhance the space of your home while giving buyers an idea of how to best utilize the space with their own belongings. Take some time to rethink how different areas in your house could be used. Some ideas to think about include:
-Moving couches and chairs away from walls in your sitting and family rooms to create cozy, conversational groups.
-Creating a reading corner in the master bedroom
-Clearing an empty room to set up a reading space
-Turning an awkward space into a home office
-Setting the dining room table with your best china
-Set wine glasses in front of the fireplace or next to a Jacuzzi tub
Light up the house
Create a sense of openness and cheerfulness in your home through its lighting. To improve the lighting try:
-Opening shades and drapes to let the sunshine warm and brighten rooms
-Installing brighter light bulbs in rooms that tend to be dark
-Adding additional lamps for ambient lighting
-Turning on all the lights for a showing
Add fresh touches
You can easily add color and style to your home by adding fresh touches throughout. Some ideas to consider include:
-Placing fresh floral arrangements in the entry and master bedroom
-Placing bowls of bright-colored fruit in the family room and the kitchen.
-Filling an empty corner with a potted leafy plant
-Setting new hand soap in the bathrooms
-Displaying fresh towels near sinks
June 28, 2011 8:57 pm
When buying your very first home, it's important to have a list of necessities you want and need in a home. It's also important to know what to look for, including red flags and possible issues that may become problematic later. Although the seller has undoubtedly staged the home to perfection, make sure you look for the following when touring a home:
Kitchen appliances are some of the most important items that come with the house. They're costly and crucial to your overall lifestyle. Be sure to ask many questions about the age of all appliances and open them up to get a good idea of their condition.
Check ceilings for water damage, cracks or leaks--they may be indicators of possible structural damage that you may not want to deal with.
Outside, look at the gutters, patio and examine the overall exterior conditions. Ask questions about what types of materials have been used. This may help you decide if the asking price is really worth the type of investment you'd be getting into.
Inquire about the plumbing in all bathrooms. Make sure no work is needed, as plumbing repairs can get very expensive. Also ask about any other type of important system, such as the heating or cooling systems. You don't want to be stuck with a pricey repair right from the start. Asking now prevents surprises later.
Buying your first home is a very exciting time. By being prepared and knowing what to look for, you can ensure a smooth and swift transaction from beginning to close.
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.