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

Mortgage Rates Circle Low

August 12, 2016 1:49 am


Mortgage rates continue to circle historic lows, extending opportunity for homebuyers and refinancers, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), which found the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaging 3.45 percent.

“A surprisingly strong July jobs report showed 255,000 jobs added and 0.3 percent wage growth from last month, exceeding many experts’ expectations,” said Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, in a statement. “In response, the 10-Year Treasury yield rose to its highest level since June and the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased 2 basis points to 3.45 percent.”

According to the survey, the 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage averages 2.76 percent, and the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averages 2.74 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac
 

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5 Ways to Start Saving Without Feeling the Pinch

August 11, 2016 1:49 am


Saving money is challenging when your sole focus is on paying the bills—but financial planners concede there are at least five ways to get savings underway, no matter your circumstances:

Start a Budget Based on Fact, Not Fantasy – The first step toward a workable budget (and savings plan) is knowing where your money goes. For 30 days, track every single daily expense, from paying the gas bill to picking up the dry cleaning to the ice cream cones you bought for the kids. Once you’ve added it all up, compare the total to your income.

Find and Trim the Fat – What can you live without? Cull any services you really don’t need—the all-inclusive cable plan, a rarely-used gym membership, a morning latte every day on the way to work.

Save Your Change – Get into the habit of emptying your pocket or purse each night into a piggy bank. You’ll never miss it, and you'll be amazed at how quickly the change adds up.

Boost Your Income – There are many ways to make extra pocket money these days, from getting a part-time job, to selling items on eBay, to participating in a paid online survey. You may even be able to channel your talents—photography, ad writing, Pie-baking, Babysitting—into a lucrative sideline.

Start with an Emergency Fund – Place your initial savings into an emergency fund. Determine a safe balance to work toward—once you've met that balance, move your savings into an interest-bearing account.
 

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Going to Pot! What's in Your Kitchen?

August 11, 2016 1:49 am


I've been mulling over the idea to replace some of my kitchenware for some time. So, I checked in with Katie, the nationally-known "Wellness Mama," (WellnessMama.com), to find out how to best go about obtaining new pots and pans.

The Wellness Mama herself is a fan of X-trema Cookware, because they're the most inert cookware she's found—they don’t leach anything into food.

They are also easy to clean, Katie says, with a non-scratch cooking surface that heats evenly and holds flavor. They are dishwasher-, oven-, microwave- and stove-safe, too.

Cast iron is another of Katie's favorites, ideal for cooking meats and for deep-frying (so long as you don’t scrub it with soap and a Brillo pad!). Cast iron can be used in the oven or on the stove top, and even on a camp fire.

Some fast facts about cast iron:

It's tough. There’s a reason why there are old cast iron pans at yard sales and antique shops.

It holds heat. Once cast iron is hot, it stays hot.

It holds flavor. Every time you cook in your cast iron pan, you season it.

It imparts iron. During the cooking process, a small amount of iron is absorbed into the foods.

What's cookware's in your kitchen?
 

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Check These Late Summer Tips to Ready Your Home for Fall

August 11, 2016 1:49 am


Fall is fast approaching, and with it, the need for home maintenance. According to DIYNetwork.com, the most important tasks for late summer are:

Painting the Exterior

Lower humidity and cooler temperatures make late summer and early fall ideal times to paint the exterior of the home.

Cleaning Gutters and Downspouts

Clear all drainage areas of leaves and debris, and consider installing gutter guards.

Inspecting the Roof

Hire a licensed professional to examine the roof for wear and tear. (If the shingles are buckling, cracking or curling, it is time to replace them.) Be sure the professional assesses the flashing around chimneys, pipes and/or skylights.

Turning Off Hose Valves

Turn off the valves to exterior hose bibs to prevent water pipes from bursting when the weather dips below freezing. Wrap pipes that run along exterior walls with heating tape.

Replacing Filters

Replace the filter in the furnace or heating system. Consider consulting with a licensed heating contractor to inspect and servicethe unit before the season turns.

Checking Insulation

Check the insulation in the attic to ensure the vapor barrier is facing down toward the living space.Cut slits in the vapor barrier to allow moisture to escape.

For more seasonal maintenance tips, visit DIYNetwork.com.
 

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Housekeeping: 8 Time-Saving Tips

August 10, 2016 1:49 am


Nobody wants to spend more time than necessary on chores—or spend more on cleaning supplies. Good Housekeeping recently rounded up eight tips to save both:

1. Make One All-Purpose Cleaner – Combine four tablespoons of baking soda with four cups of warm water in a spray bottle. Use the spray and a rag to make any household surface shine.

2. Spruce Up Wood Furniture – Scratched wood furniture? Mask the damage by rubbing it with a walnut (shell removed).

3. Brush Away Stains – Use toothpaste to remove marker stains from wood—a handy solution when kids draw at the dining room table! (Bonus: To clean off wall doodles, sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and scrub.)

4. Unclog a Drain for Cheap – Don’t spend on costly drain cleaners. Pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by half a cup of white vinegar. Cover the drain with a wet cloth, and let the agents work for 30 minutes.

5. Sanitize the Cutting Board – Rub the cut side of a lemon over a cutting board to remove odors and stains. For extra cleaning power, sprinkle it first with salt or baking soda.

6. De-Grime Patio Furniture – Wipe down patio furniture with a squirt of dishwashing liquid in bucket of warm water. Hose it down afterwards.

7. Vinegar Those Windows – It’s cheap and effective. Add two tablespoons of vinegar to a gallon of water. Pour some in a spray bottle. Squirt and wipe it away with clean microfiber cloth.

8. Lift Shirt Stains – Never spend on spot cleaners or stain removers again. Rub dish detergent into the stain and rinse the shirt before tossing it into the washer.
 

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Do You Know the 3 Keys to Home Staging?

August 10, 2016 1:49 am


Staging your home while it’s on the market is one of the most effective ways to sell it for top dollar.

Start by addressing natural light, say the experts at Stagetecture.com. Ample natural light makes the home appear larger and inviting. Avoid minimizing natural light with heavy window treatments—instead, hang sheers, and open them during showings.

Next, look to the outside of the home. Does the property have appeal? Hang mirrors across from the windows to accentuate scene-stealing views.

Inside the home, assess the color palette. Are the walls dark and closed-in? Consider repainting them with lighter colors to brighten the interior, Stagetecture.com’s experts recommend.

Above all, remember these three key tips:

Don't leave clutter in plain sight.
Make it easy for buyers to visualize their lives in your home. Tackle the noticeable areas, like counters and tables. Are there other areas, such as an entry closet doubling as general storage, that should be tended to, too? If there is an overabundance of personal items in your home, consider paring down.

Avoid staging with items that date the home.
Stage with contemporary styling. Remove old or worn furniture, pack away collectibles from earlier eras and hide décor that convey a sense of the home's age.

Don't fill rooms with furniture.
It is tempting to fill each room with furniture when staging it, but too many pieces can make the space feel crowded. Work toward creating a sense of purpose for the room while maintaining an open-concept look.
 

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Zero-Energy Houses: Here to Stay?

August 10, 2016 1:49 am


Zero-energy houses are a new type of green home built to return zero-dollar energy bills. The houses are becoming universally viable, due to advancements in energy-efficient technology and the declining cost of construction.

Owners of zero-energy homes pay nothing for energy consumption (other than a monthly grid fee), and cut their carbon footprint to near-zero. The typical zero-energy house is made of thick exterior walls, and is outfitted with an efficient HVAC system and solar panels. The home is connected to the grid, so that excess energy generated by the home throughout the day can be distributed back into the grid and power the home at night.

According to the Net-Zero Energy Coalition (NZEC), over 6,000 houses in the U.S. and Canada are “zero-energy ready”—able to self-supply at least 90 percent of their annual energy demand. Just 9 percent of the houses in the NZEC inventory are “zero-energy,” or able to supply 100 percent of their annual energy demand. “Net producers,” which are homes that supply 110 percent or more of their annual energy demand, comprise only 4 percent of the houses in the NZEC inventory.

Ahead of the curve is California, which is on track to build zero-energy housing in just five years. Lawmakers in the Golden State have made zero-energy technology accessible and affordable to residents. Other states have expressed interest in adopting similar policies.

These developments are fueling the zero-energy movement, says Ed Gorman, founder of Modus Development, responsible for the building Arizona’s first zero-energy residential community.

“The design and green features are what draw people in, and they stay because of the energy and cost savings,” Gorman says. “We’ll see more and more builders moving into this space.”

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall
 

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Dollar Store Buys to Help You Get Organized

August 9, 2016 1:49 am


Clutter in the bathroom, or anywhere in the house, can drive you nuts—whether it’s a counter spilling over with cosmetics or a junk drawer where even scissors get lost.

Getting organized may be easier—and less expensive—than you realize. According to House Beautiful magazine, one trip to the dollar store can cut household clutter. Their crafty ideas:

Hang a Shower Caddy in the Entry – Hang a shower caddy in the entryway to corral the mail—and perhaps the keys—where everyone in the family can find them. Turn the caddy into a chic accent piece with a coat of spray paint, or by adding potted plants.

Dispense Ribbon from a Paper Towel Holder – Stand a paper towel holder on end and pile on rolls of ribbon—and when you’re done, pop it into the nearest cabinet until you need it again!

Hang a Shoe Bag on the Back of the Bathroom Door – Not for shoes! The compartments in a shoe bag are spacious enough for lipsticks, nail polishes, hair ornaments and more—and each family member can have a designated space.

Store Crayons in a Travel Soap Container – Keep crayons handy in a travel soap container in the car—perfect for keeping little ones occupied!

Add Silverware Trays to More Kitchen Drawers – The compartments in a silverware tray will make it so much easier to find the zester, the corer, the measuring spoons, or whatever other kitchen gadget you need.
 

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Are You Making Clear Decisions About Replacement Windows?

August 9, 2016 1:49 am


When is the right time to replace windows?

That's a question I recently had to weigh, and, lucikly, my decision turned out to be a good one.

For those weighing that decision themselves, Window World of Altoona, Pa., offers a list of questions to help make a clear decision about whether to replace a window.

Should you DIY or hire a pro? The window fit, installation and type can make or break a replacement project. If you’re hiring a company to replace wood or metal windows, research the reputation of the firm. Look for a professional that backs their installation with a warranty on labor and parts, in addition to a product warranty.

How long do you plan to be living with your new windows? While aesthetic, energy savings and maintenance are common considerations, keep in mind that vinyl windows recoup an average of 78 percent at resale, and can be a selling point to prospective homebuyers—especially if providing a transferable warranty to the new homeowner.

Have you done your homework? Look for credible, independent, third-party endorsements on the windows you're considering, such as those from Good Housekeeping, AAMA (American Architectural Manufacturers Association), NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) and the ENERGY STAR® label.

Have you considered your energy efficiency options? If your home is located in a warmer, sunny area, a product's Solar Heat Gain Coefficient measurement is important. Consider a window with heat-reflective, low-emissive glass to not only block the sun’s rays in summer, but to also prevent heat loss in winter.

To learn more about window replacement—and check out a handy window design tool—visit www.windowworldaltoona.com.
 

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What to Do If Your Home Has Radon

August 9, 2016 1:49 am


Do you know radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most homes with high levels of radon gas can be remedied. If you have tested your home for radon and have confirmed elevated radon levels (4 picocuries per liter in air [pCi/L] or higher), consult your local health agency or radon authority for help to:

Select a qualified radon mitigation contractor. The EPA recommends working with a state-certified and/or qualified radon mitigation contractor trained to remedy radon issues.

Determine an appropriate radon reduction method.

Maintain your radon reduction system. Some radon reduction systems mitigate radon levels by up to 99 percent.

The cost to reduce radon generally ranges from $800 to $2,500, according to the EPA. Most types of radon reduction systems cause some loss of heated or air conditioned air, which could also increase utility bills. How much of an increase will depend on the climate you live in, what kind of reduction system you select, and how your house is built.

For most cases, the EPA recommends methods that prevent the entry of radon. Soil suction, for example, prevents radon from entering your home by drawing radon from below the house and venting it through a pipe above the house, where it is diluted. In houses that have a basement or a slab-on-grade foundation, radon can be reduced by one of four types of soil suction: subslab suction, drain tile suction, sump hole suction, or block wall suction. In houses that have a crawlspace, radon can be redocued through sub-membrane suction, a process in which radon is drawn from underneath a high-density plastic sheet covering the ground below the house.

Other radon reduction techniques, according to the EPA, include sealing, pressurization, heat recovery ventilation, and natural ventilation.

For assistance with radon reduction, call 1-800-SOS-RADON, or visit EPA.gov/radon/.
 

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