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

Going Green? Tips on Making Eco-Friendly Improvements to the Bathroom

April 21, 2011 2:57 pm

By Keith Loria

RISMEDIA, April 21, 2011-Most real estate experts will tell you that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses. A bathroom is also one of the easiest places in the home to upgrade to become environmentally friendly. For those looking to appeal to potential home buyers who consider "green" improvements a priority, there are several options you can focus on.

"When remodeling, you should use fixtures that save water; replace old windows with new energy-efficient windows; and add counter tops and flooring made from recycled materials, such as recycled glass mosaic tile," said Jennifer Powers, an interior designer with New York-based Scott-Ulmann.

Considerable water and money can be saved when you make a bathroom as water-efficient as possible. Saving water is easy with the addition of a low-flow showerhead, a low-flow faucet aerator, or a dual-flush toilet, which can save thousands of gallons of water each year.

"The low-flow aerator adds air to the water and helps to spread the water over a larger area so less water is needed," said Jim Byrne, a member of the organization Tree Living. "They restrict the overall flow of water but increase the force and pressure, making a small amount of water very effective."

Also, if your toilet was installed prior to 1994, it uses two to seven times more water than modern toilets. Any toilet bought after 1994 uses 1.6 gallons per flush or less. That's a great reason to upgrade.

For lighting in the bathroom, consider making the switch to fluorescent with electronic ballasts or halogen lighting. Adding energy-efficient large windows can also allow for great natural light.

Not everything has to be a big expense. There are plenty of low-cost improvements that can be done to make the bathroom greener. "An easy fix is to replace your shower curtain with one made from an eco-friendly product," Byrne said. "More attention is being paid to the toxic vapors that come from soft plastics, and shower curtains are no exception. Those interested in a green solution may want to use linen or cotton instead."

An energy-efficient bathroom should also have a properly functioning vent fan to draw out the hot, moist air from the bathroom. This will keep your summertime cooling costs under control.

The addition of a vapor barrier is also recommended, as it will separate the room from the rest of the house so that heat from the bathroom doesn't affect your home's cooling costs.

Powers said to also consider using natural stone products that act as a natural insulator and can help keep floors cool during the summer and warm during the winter months.

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Appraisal Institute Issues Earth Day 'Call for Collaboration' to Real Estate Community

April 20, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 20, 2011--In celebration of Earth Day, the Appraisal Institute today called on the world's real estate community to join in helping ensure reliable valuations for sustainable "green" buildings. The Appraisal Institute is the nation's largest professional association of real estate appraisers and has members in 60 countries.

"The Appraisal Institute is the world's leading authority on green valuation, but producing reliable property valuations requires a collaborative effort," said Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA. "Data is vital for appraisers to do their jobs, and we often need cooperation from others involved in real estate transactions to get it. Earth Day is the perfect reminder for us all to work together. When we do, everyone will benefit, including homeowners and buyers."

Earth Day will be celebrated April 22. Growing out of the first celebration in 1970, Earth Day Network works with more than 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

Magdziarz said that appraisers need to have all information from underwriters, builders, real estate agents and home inspectors related to energy efficient features in order to recognize them and to make appropriate, market-based adjustments. Appraisers frequently ask for ratings information, blueprints and specifications of properties' conservation features but are not provided the information - either because those involved in their construction, sale or financing mistakenly believe they are not applicable to the appraisal process, or because the data are not generally available.

Magdziarz acknowledged that misconceptions about green valuation exist among many non-appraisers, including a failure to realize that cost does not always equal value.

"It's not yet clear how well the market recognizes the actual or perceived benefits of a green building," Magdziarz said. "Do potential buyers view green features as enhancements to a property's market value or as over-enhancements? The answer likely depends on the particular property and the local real estate market."

Magdziarz pointed out that that appraisers don't determine the market; they reflect what's happening in the market.

"If appraisers have access to the data they need, they can produce more reliable opinions of value," he said. "Then builders and consumers would begin to see the return on investment, and the demand for new green construction could increase. This will drive the market toward a more sustainable building process, which holds immeasurable environmental benefits for all involved. This Earth Day, that's worth celebrating."

For more information regarding the Appraisal Institute, please visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.

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How to Prevent Break-ins

April 20, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 20, 2011--With Spring comes warmer temperatures, open windows and less time indoors--all tempting aspects for burglars prowling the neighborhood looking for a score. With a little extra thought, there are many ways you can deter burglars and prevent a break-in from happening at your home. Keep the following in mind to burglars from ravaging your home:

Avoid using a catalog-bought hiding place. Refrain from hiding your keys outside in fake rocks, statues, or other commonly known catalog hiding places. Burglars are always on the hunt for these dead giveaways. In fact, experts recommend not hiding a key anywhere outdoors at all.

Check and repair your locks or add new ones. Your home is only as secure as your locks. The most common type of forced-entry tends to be from damaging doors. Multiple deadbolts with one-inch throw bolts will keep your home safe and deter amateur burglars from the scene.

Examine the exterior of your home. Look for easy hiding places in your yard that burglars may try to make use of. Trim extremely large bushes or shrubs and remove overhanging branches that a burglar could use to get to an upper balcony or window. For extra security, add multiple motion-detecting lights around the yard to illuminate your property if a lurker attempts to enter. Try to think like a robber and use that mindset to strengthen your home's outdoor security.

Deal with the patio door. Sliding patio doors are also a common entry point for intruders. Place dowels in newer sliding doors to keep them from opening wide. Older doors with plastic bumpers are easy to knock off track. Reinforce them by adding flat-head screws far enough in to make up for the extra slack.

Don't leave packages outside for too long. Having any expensive electronics delivered to your house? Try to bring packages inside as soon as possible. Conversely, don't leave broken down cardboard boxes for these items outside for pickup. Doing so basically announces to everyone in passing that you just purchased an expensive item. Cut it up and bag it or dispose of it elsewhere.

In addition, keep in touch with neighbors regarding neighborhood safety. Starting a Neighborhood Watch is a great way to get everyone in your neighborhood on the same page. Report any suspicious activity to the police and trust your instinct. By keeping these things front of mind, you will hopefully keep your home and family safe and secure.

Source: Consumer Reports

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HUD to Offer Grants to Fix Housing-Related Health Hazards

April 20, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 20, 2011-The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it is making grants available to help eliminate lead-based paint and other housing-related health hazards from lower income homes. The funding will help protect young children as well as other vulnerable populations.

HUD is making these grants available through its Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control, Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration, Healthy Homes Production and Asthma Interventions in Public and Assisted Multifamily Housing Grant Programs.

"These grants are critical for states, counties and cities who are on the front lines of protecting our children from lead hazards and other residential hazards," said Jon Gant, director of the office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. "While we have made remarkable progress toward eliminating lead poisoning in children nationwide, now is the time to focus on reaching the finish line. We look forward to communities applying for these grants so that they can help make older housing safer and healthier for children."

HUD is making grants available through the following programs:

-Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control (LHC) and the Lead Hazard Reduction (LHRD) grant programs - These grants will identify and control lead-based paint hazards in eligible, privately-owned housing for rental or owner-occupants. Application due date: Thursday, June 9, 2011.

-Healthy Homes Production - This grant program is modeled after the previously successful Healthy Homes Demonstration and Lead Hazard Control grant programs, and will enable public and private grantees to address multiple housing-related hazards at the same time. Application due date: Thursday, June 9, 2011.

-Asthma Interventions in Public and Assisted Multifamily Housing Grant - These grants will develop, implement and evaluate multifaceted programs for the control of asthma among residents of federally assisted multifamily housing. HUD is targeting asthma because it is a common illness that especially affects disadvantaged populations, and because multi-pronged interventions, such as reducing exposure to environmental triggers, can help control the disease. Application due date: Thursday, June 9, 2011.

HUD is providing an opportunity for applicants through its Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Grant Program. Prospective grantees will be able to apply for supplementary funding to promote and develop a local Healthy Housing initiative, building on their lead hazard control program, to address multiple housing-related health hazards in accordance with best practices HUD has identified.

HUD requires prospective grantees to submit their applications electronically via www.grants.gov. Any changes to HUD-published funding notices will be made available to the public through a Federal Register publication and published on Grants.gov. Applicants are urged to sign up for Grants.gov's notification service to receive periodic updates or changes to this grant offering.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

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Consumers Have the Motivation - But Lack the Money for Home Improvement

April 19, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 19, 2011--The arrival of spring brings not only warmer weather, but also spring cleaning and the undertaking of do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement projects. Much to the chagrin of home improvement stores, the DIY home improvement market has seen a 21% decline from 2005-2010 according to the latest research from Mintel, and more than a quarter (28%) of DIYers say they would like to undertake a major renovation or addition to their home, but they just don't have the funds.

Surprisingly, the percentage of high-income consumers who can't afford renovations is even higher. Thirty-two percent of DIYers in households making between $75-99.9K say they lack the money to undertake a major home improvement project. Meanwhile, 17% of those surveyed who have completed a DIY project in the last year say they lack the skills to tackle a major renovation and 12% say they don't have the proper tools.

"When the housing market collapsed, many consumers chose to make minor improvements to their homes instead of pursuing large, complicated renovation projects that would drain their wallets," says Bill Patterson, senior analyst at Mintel. "However, positive fourth-quarter sales suggest a thawing in consumer spending and the release of some pent-up demand."

According to Mintel research, despite their monetary shortcomings, consumers have a positive view of home improvement projects. In fact, 39% of DIYers say making a major home improvement is the best long-term investment they can make.

"We forecast growth to accelerate in 2011 and, presuming a stabilization of the housing market, to remain positive through 2015," adds Bill Patterson. "Pent-up demand, ongoing need for repair and maintenance, retro-fitting, and renovations from Boomers approaching retirement and demand from Millennials should all propel DIY spending."

Furthermore, 61% of consumers say they've completed a DIY project in the last 12 months and the average respondent has undertaken a little over four projects.

For more information visit www.mintel.com.

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Tips for Choosing the Best REALTOR for the Job

April 19, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 19, 2011--When choosing a REALTOR for your real estate needs, it's important to find one who will always have your best interests in mind. A dependable and knowledgeable agent can save you time, money and headaches. Your road to success depends on your ability to find the person for the job. Here are a few key tips to finding the right REALTOR for you:

A good rapport is key. Since your REALTOR will be helping you make one of the biggest decisions and transactions of your life, having good chemistry with them is important. You need to generally like the person you are conducting business with because there is no doubt that you'll be spending lots of time communicating with him or her. Communication should be easy and reliable, meeting the standards of both parties. If you find you are uncomfortable with an agent for any reason, it may be time to find a new one.

Keep your eye on conflicts of interest. A large red flag: an agent who only steers you to their own office's listings. Beware of dual agents as well. One who works for the buyer and the seller is legally obligated to report back to the other party. With these types, you must be careful what you say, as anything could weaken your negotiating position. Try to eliminate any trace of conflict in your transaction.

A proven track record and proper credentials are things you should look into before agreeing to go through an agent. The agent should be licensed by your state, meeting minimum levels of education, training and testing. Also, look into what extra designations the REALTOR has, such as CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) or GRI (Graduate REALTORS Institute). How many homes did the agent sell or find for buyers in the previous year? All of this information could be a make or break for your decision to use them as your real estate professional.

Don't hesitate to interview different agents. In addition to questions regarding credentials, ask questions like the following: How long have you been working in residential real estate sales? Is it your full-time job? How many days does it take you to sell the average home? How close to the initial asking prices of the homes you sold were the final sale prices? By interviewing potential agents, you can get a better feel of their work practices and successes and better judge whether or not you want to work with them.

Neglecting to carefully select your real estate professional is a rookie mistake any buyer and seller can easily avoid. With the right agent, you can set yourself up for success when buying or selling a home.

Sources: Mortgageloan.com, Reuters, National Association of REALTORS

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HUD to Address 'National Origin' Housing Discrimination during National Fair Housing Month

April 19, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 19, 2011-The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it will launch an effort to better address national origin-based housing discrimination during Fair Housing Month in April. HUD will initiate a national media campaign and a series of community discussions on topics ranging from rental practices to mortgage lending.

"The new Census data demonstrate that newcomers are settling not only in traditional gateway states. They reside in communities across the Midwest and South. Through this education campaign, HUD will work with communities to prevent housing discrimination and promote immigrant integration into the broader society," said John Trasvi a, HUD assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in rental, sales or home lending transactions based on a person's national origin. This includes discrimination based on a person's ancestry, country of birth outside the United States, and the language they speak. National origin discrimination often involves immigrants or non-English speaking individuals, but can also involve native-born U. S. citizens based on their family ancestry. This type of discrimination may also occur in conjunction with the other protections of the Fair Housing Act against race, color, religion, gender, disability, and family status discrimination.

One part of HUD's "Live Free" national media campaign is a print advertisement featuring a Latino worker looking into the horizon, with a caption in Spanish reading: "You have the right to live where you choose. Report housing discrimination."

HUD also recently awarded nearly $41 million to 108 fair housing organizations and non-profit agencies across the country to educate the public and combat housing and lending discrimination. Many of the groups will use the grants to address discrimination against immigrants, Latinos, non-native English speakers and minority communities.

Some examples of how the grants will be used to combat national origin discrimination include:

- The Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Calif., will test for discrimination in the sale and rental of housing units in the area of national origin;

- The Equal Rights Center in Washington, DC, will investigate 240 new complaints of housing discrimination alleging violation of federal fair housing laws with an emphasis on national origin;

- The Idaho Legal Aid Services will broadcast public service announcements in Spanish about FHA lending information; and

-Prairie State Legal Services in Rockford, Ill., will focus on educational outreach to Spanish-speaking residents, a group recognized statewide as at-risk.

More information about HUD and its programs is available at www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.

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Can Following Feng Shui Help Sell A Home? Experts Offer Insights

April 18, 2011 2:57 pm

By Keith Loria

RISMEDIA, April 18, 2011--The ancient philosophy of Feng Shui, which translates as, "the wind and the water," is the Chinese art of correct placement. Those who subscribe to this philosophy in regards to home sales believe that by arranging furniture and d cor to align with nature, one can help sell their home faster.

Feng Shui is all about drawing harmony and good health into one's life, and experts feel that can be done even as simply as by rearranging your furniture.

"In Feng Shui we evaluate a house and its property for sufficient Qi (pronounced chee), the living energy of all beings, but also for the land and even a house," said Werner Brandmaier, a consultant at the Institute of Feng Shui & Geopathology in Maine. "When there's not enough Qi, it means the whole land energy is low or depressed. Just as the owner feels tired and uninspired, this energetic impression is easily influencing visitors and potential buyers."

Brandmaier recommends before placing your house on the market to find out what the amount of Qi in your home is. Questions to answer include, "Do people feel exhausted in the house? What are the sleeping patterns? Are the plants doing well?"

"We use specific house energy tools developed in Germany to shield a whole building from 'Qi drains' in general, from Geopathic stress but also to bring in additional energy in cases of low Qi levels," he said. "Instruments such as pendulums or tensors can help to identify obstacles and find the right procedure to overcome them."

When staging your home for a sale using Feng Shui, it's important that one uses lots of horizontal space, according to the experts.

"You want to draw the eye from the corner diagonal to the door to each room," said Robin Andrews, a Feng Shui expert in Los Angeles. "This makes the room feel larger and makes buyers focus on a Feng Shui 'good luck area.'"

A bedroom in a home is considered a sanctuary for privacy, peace and intimacy and Andrews says it's important to place objects in pairs throughout the room as it's thought to increase marital harmony and balance.

"You also want to place the bed in the position that has the most commanding view of the doorway, which is considered the mouth of the Qi," she said. "We are in a vulnerable state while sleeping and it is important that this area affords our being safe and supported."

When dealing with the kitchen, since the chef's energy is imparted in the food, you should never have your back to the door when cooking. If you do, Feng Shui masters say you should place a mirror behind the stove so you will have a clear view of who is entering the kitchen.

Then there's the issue of clutter.

"A cluttered house is a cluttered mind," said Andrews. "In Feng Shui, the perfect entry is one that is clear of clutter and obstruction. This includes trimming back all hedges and making sure that the path to your door is clear, open and well-defined."

Another principal of Feng Shui, the experts say, is that earthy scents are the most appealing to the widest range of people, so you should add plenty of cinnamon and pine scents to your home before potential home buyers come inside.

It's also believed that "For Sale" signs are more effective when placed on the right side of the front door, since that is considered the yang, or energetic, side of the house.

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Adapting your Home to Age in Place

April 18, 2011 2:57 pm

By Michael Walsh

RISMEDIA, April 18, 2011--Living unassisted can be challenging for you as you age. The older you get, the more time you will most likely spend at home, so it's essential that your home is adapted to ensure easy mobility, as well as to reduce the likelihood of falls or accidents.

Furniture and flooring

One of the easiest ways to customize a home to ensure that it's safe is to take stock of the arrangement of furniture; the type of flooring that is currently installed in the home should also be considered. Furniture should be arranged in such a way that it can easily be navigated by a person using supports such as a cane or a walking frame, and should be sleek and simple in order to reduce the likelihood of a resident tripping over it. For example, avoid angled or ornate table or chair legs, and avoid beds or couches with elaborate valances that may pose a hazard. In addition, consider placing chairs or benches in areas that typically require residents to stand for long periods of time, such as in the kitchen.

Flooring is another area that can be easily modified in order to improve mobility as you age. Some surfaces such as floorboards, linoleum, or tiles can be extremely slippery, and can increase the likelihood of falls. While handrails can help to a degree, a good option is to put down soft, non-slippery flooring options. Carpet is a good option in most areas, while rubber matting can be effective in slippery bathroom areas. If purchasing rugs for around the home ensure that they have a non-slip backing.

Handrails and supports

Handrails and other mobility supports can be extremely helpful when it comes to navigating a home. Handrails should be thoughtfully positioned in areas that may be difficult to get to, requiring "resting" time; near any areas that may be slippery; near areas where the resident has to move into a standing position from a sitting one; or in areas with stairs, steps, or ramps. Good positions for handrails include in bathrooms and lavatories, near the property or garden entrance, near the front door or entrance of the home, outdoor areas such as balconies or patios, and in the kitchen.

Communication and security devices

Intercom devices for around the home can be effective when you need to ask for assistance; these devices can also be linked to external providers who can provide assistance when necessary. In addition, alarm monitoring services, such as smoke detector monitoring, can ensure that any potential emergencies are responded to promptly by the emergency services even if the resident is unable to reach a telephone in order to call in an emergency report. These services also extend to break-in and security services, and can offer valuable peace of mind when you are living at home.

Ramps

Ramps are another essential component in a home where residents struggle with physical mobility. Even one or two steps, such as those commonly found in entryways or between different areas of the home, can be extremely difficult to navigate for the mobility impaired. Ramps offer a solution to help overcome this challenge and, depending on the gradient of the installation, can be used by the wheelchair-bound and by those who are still mobile but who struggle with climbing stairs and steps in order to get around the home.

Residential elevators

Residential elevators are relatively new products that offer significant benefits, as they will help you retain your independence for as long as possible. Residential elevators can be installed within the home and can help residents move from one floor of the home to another without the need to struggle with stairs or ramps. Residential elevators are an excellent choice for multiple-story homes or townhouses, and offer significant space savings on solutions such as ramps. Residential elevators can also assist with helping you move from underground car spaces into your home with ease. You'll be able to do things such as carry groceries indoors with relative ease. Residential elevators are highly customizable and are available in a range of different specifications, meaning that they can be designed to suit all manners of needs, including those of the wheel-chair bound.

Stair lifts and chairlifts

Stair lifts are extremely useful devices for assisting the wheelchair bound to easily maneuver up and down straight or curved flights of stairs. They are a good option for those living in homes that already have existing flights of stairs, as they don't require substantial renovations in order to be installed. Stair lifts come in a range of different types in order to meet the various needs of wheelchair-bound individuals.

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New Homes Strengthen Economy Year-Round

April 18, 2011 2:57 pm

RISMEDIA, April 18, 2011-While the housing industry celebrates "New Homes Month" in April, home builders want Americans to know just how much of a positive, direct impact residential construction has on the U.S. economy throughout the entire year.

"Home building is a key driver of the American economy," says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "By generating economic activity, including new income and jobs, purchases of goods and services, and revenue for local governments, housing-which has historically accounted for around 17% of the GDP-can put America back to work."

Economists at the National Association of Home Builders estimate that the one-year local impacts of building 100 single-family homes in a typical metro area include $21.1 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and other local government revenue, and 324 local jobs.

The employment effects extend beyond the home building industry. About half of the jobs are in construction, with the other 50% creating employment opportunities in industries ranging from production and sales of home furnishings to service providers such as real estate attorneys and landscapers.

Those 100 new homes also provide the community with additional, annually-recurring impacts of $3.1 million in local income, $743,000 in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 53 local jobs.

The income earned from construction activity is spent and recycled in the local economy, and the new homes that are built become occupied by residents who pay taxes and buy locally produced goods and services. Those tax revenues help pay for a wide range of government services, including local school teachers, police departments and road repairs.

In order to accommodate population growth and necessary replacement of older homes, however, a long-run trend of approximately 1.7 million new homes a year is needed. Yet as of February 2011, the annual projection for housing starts stood at less than 500,000.

"The gap between actual home starts and what is required to fulfill America's future housing needs represents more than 3 million jobs," says Nielsen. "Restoring the health of the housing industry is a crucial first step in stabilizing our country's path to economic recovery.

During New Homes Month, home builders also bring attention to the advantages of newly built homes, including safety, amenities, energy efficiency and floor plans to fit a wide variety of modern lifestyles. Combined with today's near record-low interest rates and competitive prices, the current market offers new home buyers unprecedented opportunities.

For more information, visit: www.nahb.org/forconsumers.

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