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Tom's Blog

Refinishing Your Deck Will Be Time Well Spent

June 6, 2011 8:27 pm

With summer well on its way, homeowners may want to start considering refinishing their decks or patios. This season's weather proves to be the perfect time to complete an outdoor painting job. Staining a deck is one inexpensive project that can be handled in one weekend and will deliver satisfying results before your next party or event. Here's how you can get started:

Decisions, decisions:
Choose a finish that you'd like to use for your deck. Solid or opaque stains will provide the longest life, lasting 5 years or more, conditions depending. If showing off wood grains is desired, clear sealers or semi-transparent stains can be used, products that may last for a shorter period but will give the desired effect.

Work in the right weather: The job will require at least two days without rain. Aim for temperatures below 85 degrees Fahrenheit to clean the area and let it properly dry before applying the stain. Avoid days with high wind or direct sunlight, as stain can dry improperly.

Before getting started: Search for loose boards and make the repairs, as needed. Use a mixture of bleach and water (one quart to three quarts) or try a deck-cleaning product. Scrub the deck with a stiff bristle brush to ensure cleanliness. Rinse with water and tackle any remaining residue with a power washer, holding the stream at least 8 inches away to avoid from ruining the wood.

It's time to apply: Once the deck is completely dry, apply the stain with a synthetic-bristle brush for latex-based stains. If you have chosen an alkyd-based stain, use a natural bristle brush. Brush about three pieces of wood at a time, always following the grain. Don't forget to work the stain into the sides and ends of the planks.

Give it time: Check the stain's label to find the recommended time for drying. Give it at least 72 hours to dry before placing furniture back on the deck.

The new stain will give the exterior of your home a fresh appeal. With your newly refinished deck ready to go, you can now start enjoying your summer and hosting guests at your leisure.

Source: Consumer Reports
Tags: News

Homeownership Still a Great Investment, Survey Says

June 6, 2011 8:27 pm

Seventy-five percent of Americans say that “owning a home is the best long-term investment they can make and is worth the risk of ups and downs in the housing market,” according to a new survey of 2,000 bipartisan voters by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Despite their situation—whether underwater on their home or even renters—the survey found Americans to be optimistic about homeownership. Eighty-one percent of those who own their homes outright, 76% with mortgages, 67% of renters, and 65% who have underwater mortgages cited homeownership as the “best long-term investment.”

When survey respondents were asked whether they’d recommend buying a home to a friend or family member just starting out, 80% of Americans said “yes.” Even homeowners currently underwater—those who owe more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth—overwhelmingly (78%) said they would recommend homeownership to family or friends starting out.

More buyers are coming up through the pipeline too. The survey found that 73% of those surveyed who do not own a home said their goal is eventually to buy one.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans oppose eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction and 63% oppose lowering it. What’s more, 57% of those surveyed say they are less likely to support a candidate for Congress who wanted to eliminate the mortgage-interest deduction.

Respondents were split on about requiring a 20% down payment to purchase a home: 49% were in favor and 49% opposed it. However, mortgage holders and renters aged 18 to 54 were more opposed to it: 58% of younger mortgage holders and 59% of younger renters opposed adding a 20% down payment requirement.

Sources:, NAHB
Tags: News

The Impact of Homebuyer Education and Counseling on Mortgage Performance Examined in New Study

June 6, 2011 8:27 pm

Potential homeowners who participate in pre-purchase education and counseling programs may be more likely to pay their mortgages on time, although the evidence on this point is not consistent and compelling, according to a study released by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The study also finds that those who participate in default counseling are more likely to have their loans modified.

The study titled, "Homeownership Education and Counseling: Do We Know What Works?", which was conducted by J. Michael Collins and Collin O'Rourke of the PolicyLab Consulting Group and sponsored by MBA's Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA), examines the effectiveness of the predominant types of pre-purchase and post-purchase counseling and education, and discusses recommendations for future studies on the effectiveness of these programs.

"Over the past decade, concerns have been raised about the extent to which Americans as a whole are sufficiently financially literate to make the complex decisions required in the ever-changing financial marketplace," says Collins. “In response to these concerns, pre-purchase homeownership education and counseling programs proliferated before the current housing downturn. To the extent education or counseling supports stable homeownership, the public has an interest in expanding these programs to prevent the negative impacts of unsuccessful homeownership."

Collins goes on to explain that, in theory, home buyer education and counseling could help in three ways:

• Formalized education and counseling programs can lower the costs of obtaining information about how to buy a home and obtain a mortgage
• Objective, third-party counselors or educators can help clients avoid emotional judgments that may not be in the client's long-term interest
• Homeownership education and counseling programs can facilitate more efficient transactions, make more information available and reduce the level of support needed from real estate and mortgage professionals

Collins explains that, in practice, the results from education and counseling programs vary significantly. “A fundamental issue arises when researchers attempt to estimate the effects of these programs—borrowers who participate in these programs are different from those who do not—in ways that do not show up in the data, which makes it difficult to generate robust research results. In summary, do we know what works? The short answer is—no," states Collins.

"Public funding for homeownership counseling and education has increased considerably over the past few years in response to the housing crisis, though future funding levels in a time of budget austerity remain unclear,” says Michael Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of Research and Economics. Fratantoni notes that although there are several reasons to expect that education and counseling could and should be effective, the evidence showing the effectiveness of these programs is simply not there, primarily because of problems with the design of existing studies. "There is no compelling indication regarding which methods of counseling or instruction might work best,” continues Fratantoni. “Future studies should adhere to more rigorous research designs, so that the results can be confidently generalized to inform policy regarding these programs."

For more information, visit
Tags: News

Energy Efficiency Remains Important for Remodelers

June 3, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 6, 2011-- Since heating costs are typically one of the highest and most variable home expenses, homeowners are considering energy-efficient zone heating options when embarking on home renovation projects. Energy conservation home improvements are at the top of remodelers' must-do lists this spring. They are looking for green living upgrades that save money without sacrificing space or style.

Craig Shankster, president of Morso USA, has seen an increase in fireplace makeovers in the last few years. "Finding and eliminating wasteful drafts has led many homeowners to install efficient wood stoves and inserts that transform inefficient open fireplaces into high performing heating zones," he says.

Homes without chimneys or fireplaces can install a fireplace insert with an innovative zero-clearance enclosure. This is an excellent zone heating option for those in the process of a renovation or new build looking to outfit their homes with the advanced technology of a fireplace insert and class A chimney.

Since buying a wood stove is much like buying furniture, you will find a wide-choice of models that match every lifestyle and design interest, including antique, traditional, classic or modern. While evaluating the right size, heating capacity and look of your future wood stove, be sure to keep these three eco-wise tips in mind:

1. Only evaluate approved wood stoves equipped with a non-catalytic combustion system that exceeds EPA standards and are currently tax credit qualified.
2. Look for an eco-friendly seal and a recycled ingredients label that lists the many ways that a stove manufacturer has gone the extra mile to produce the highest quality and most energy efficient wood stove possible.
3. Similar to grocery shopping, seek out the equivalent of an "Organic Section" in your local fireplace hearth store to compare the quality standards, eco-wise content, and warranties.

Additionally, if living by green principles is important to you—and it should be—properly burning local wood in a high efficiency wood stove is an environmentally-sound action. Given that the use of sustainably-harvested, properly processed and seasoned wood for energy displaces the use of fossil fuels, the result is a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Today is a great time to invest in a wood stove so you can actually keep some green cash in your pocket. The Federal Bio-Mass Tax Credit extension provides a 10% tax credit up to $300 for the purchase of a new biomass heating appliance in 2011. This tax credit helps homeowners save on energy costs by utilizing renewable biomass fuels such as wood.

To find out more about wood stove options, visit
Tags: News

Live a Healthier and Happier Summer with These Tips

June 3, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 6, 2011—The summertime heat poses health risks to many people, including older individuals and all of us in areas of poor air quality and high average summer temperatures. Here are some things overheated homeowners can do to cool off, protect their health and/or save on energy costs.

1. Wear light weight, loose fitting clothing. Cotton is much cooler than most man-made materials. Wear light colored clothing and a hat if you’re going out in the sun.
2. Spend as much of your indoor time as possible on the north side and lower levels of your home. Those areas will be the coolest.
3. Do as many of your outside activities as possible in the early morning, which is usually the coolest part of the day.
4. Use blinds and drapes on the southeast, and west side of your home to cut down on energy costs.
5. Drink plenty of water and other liquids.
6. Look for non-heat intensive exercise options. Jogging or biking during the hottest part of the day is not a lot of fun, and it’s not healthy in areas with poor air quality. Swimming is great exercise and summer and/or August swimming pool or health club memberships are great alternatives.
7. Eat lighter meals. If you can avoid cooking indoors you won’t have to cool the hot air you create and will save on air conditioning costs. If you have the ability to grill outside of your home you’ll also save on cooling costs.
8. Make sure you adjust your programmable thermostat so it isn’t using the air conditioning while you’re at work or away on vacation. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, get one—it will repay the investment faster than just about any other energy efficiency investment.
9. Let someone else pay for the air conditioning. The hottest part of the day is a good time to visit air conditioned places, such as shopping malls, grocery stores, libraries or movie theatres.
Tags: News

FHA Plays a Critical Role in Home Financing

June 3, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 6, 2011-- The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) plays a critical role in the nation’s housing financing system, providing safe, affordable mortgage financing to consumers in all markets during all economic conditions, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

NAR President Ron Phipps spoke before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity regarding a discussion draft of legislation to reform FHA.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR strongly supports FHA’s single- and multifamily mortgage insurance programs. Since 1934 millions of qualified home buyers have relied on FHA-insured loans to purchase a home, and particularly in recent years when private financing dried up,” says Phipps. “NAR supports efforts to strengthen FHA and reduce its current marketshare; however, changes should not be made at consumers’ expense by drastically impacting the availability and cost of mortgage capital for millions of Americans, especially while the housing market recovery remains fragile.”

NAR supports sections of the discussion draft that would help FHA remain fiscally strong and better monitor risk, increase enforcement tools and protect taxpayers but opposes any increases to the downpayment requirements.

Phipps testified that FHA remains a leader in insuring safe, low-downpayment mortgages to responsible, qualified borrowers, with as little as 3.5% down for borrowers with good credit.

“Proposals to further increase FHA downpayment requirements are unwarranted,” Phipps says. “The current 3.5% downpayment and closing costs represent a significant financial commitment. Requiring a larger downpayment does little to reduce risk of default compared to strong underwriting requirements, and only puts homeownership out of reach for many families who have the income necessary to carry the cost of the home purchase.”

NAR has long maintained that the principal barrier to homeownership is accumulating the money needed for downpayment and closing costs, and estimates that it would take the average American family, living frugally and saving at the current national rate, nearly seven years to save for a 5% downpayment on a $200,000 home and more than 10 years to save for 10% down.

Phipps also testified about the importance of making permanent the FHA mortgage loan limits currently in effect. He stated that decreasing the current loan limits would reduce the availability of mortgage loans across the country, not just in higher cost areas, and increase the cost of capital to consumers. NAR estimates that reverting to the lower statutory limits on October 1 will impact 612 counties in 40 states and the District of Columbia, with an average loan limit reduction of more than $50,000. Further reductions to the loan limits could have an even greater dramatic impact on liquidity and halt the housing market recovery.

“Allowing the current loan limits to decrease will have an immediate negative impact on mortgage availability. FHA has played a critical role in holding down mortgage rates. Without FHA, the higher mortgage rates paid by consumers would flow into noncompetitive banks that are too big to fail,” Phipps says.

Phipps praised FHA for continuing to serve the needs of millions of hardworking American families and for the steps the agency has taken to ensure its long-term financial soundness. “FHA is the only government agency that operates entirely from self-generated income, costing taxpayers nothing. In fact, FHA programs have helped bring net revenue to the U.S. Treasury, helping reduce the budget deficit,” he says.
Tags: News

4 Home-Staging Trends to Help You Compete

June 2, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 3, 2011—Staging a home before listing it on the market is a crucial step that many homeowners often overlook. In order to properly prepare for success, check out these five home-staging tips that will help you compete in today’s market:

1. Home staging is not just for houses for sale. Traditional home staging involves working with sellers to prepare houses for sale; but today’s successful Accredited Staging Professionals have a multi-faceted business that allows them to serve clients with staging to live, staging to work and for a myriad of events—from small parties to large, corporate parties.

2. Home staging helps foreclosure, REO and short sale properties sell. With the increase of foreclosure, REO and short sale properties in many markets throughout the U.S., the need for presentation of these properties as a product that can sell is imperative.

3. Home staging becomes greener. As of late, there has been a trend toward eco-friendly home staging. Home stagers have specific inventory they can provide that is “green” to help a seller, builder or investor that wants to put their “green” foot forward and achieve their goal of marketing a product that truly has the environment at heart.

4. Home staging captivates mainstream media. There are currently no less than eight shows on HGTV devoted to the process of preparing a house for sale, and this trend will continue as long as the public finds value in learning what to do both inside and outside their home when getting ready to put it on the market.

Source: The International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSPR)
Tags: News

Tidy Up Your Finances

June 2, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 3, 2001—As we continue to head toward the official change of seasons, now is a great time to check your finances and see what areas could use a little sprucing up. Informa Research Services suggests some resources and tactics for tackling your financial clutter.

Slim down that bulky mortgage
Is your mortgage carrying a hefty interest rate that was considered competitive ten years ago? Like shoulder pads in the eighties, what may have been the trend back then may not be quite so stylish today. Check online rate tables to see if you can find a low rate to update your mortgage and consequently, adopt new smaller monthly mortgage payments.

Dust off those savings accounts
If saving money and earning interest have fallen to the wayside, there's no better time than now to get them started again! Savings rates are at some of their lowest levels, but financial institutions are still offering promotional rates that are significantly higher than their regular earning rates. Furthermore, remind yourself that earning even a small amount of interest is better than earning no interest at all.

Just like tidying up a room, take on your finances one step at a time. Each change you make may seem small at first, but in the long run, these changes can make big difference.

For more information, visit
Tags: News

Prevent House Fires and Boost Home Safety with a Few Key Tips

June 2, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 3, 2011—Every year home electrical problems cause more than 28,000 house fires and massive property damage. Electrical wiring is the root cause of many of these fires, of which countless could have been prevented. To ensure electrical safety in your home, MXenergy, an independent energy provider, is encouraging homeowners to review key electrical safety tips.

"Quite frankly, electrical safety is a key home safety component that is often overlooked," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy managing director. "Yet the truth is, it is an essential element of any home safety plan. Proper education, awareness and action can go a long way in preventing tragedy."

Faulty or fixed wiring or improper use of electrical cords and other electrical items cause most home fires. Heed the following tips to maximize your home's safety:

• Pay Attention: Flickering lights, buzzing noises, and faceplates that are warm to the touch are all signs that a circuit may be overloaded or wiring may be wearing thin. Each one of these signs is cause for immediate attention from a licensed professional electrician.
• Listen to Your Breaker: If you are continually tripping a switch and having to reset your breaker box, your house is trying to tell you something. There may be a fixture with faulty wiring or too high an electrical load on the breaker. Again, seek professional help.
• Review and Replace: Frayed electrical cords, wobbly ceiling fans, and loose faceplates are more than mere annoyances. You should routinely inspect your home and replace or repair items in need of attention.
• Safety First: Even the best preparation and newest equipment is not a guaranteed protection against fire. Working smoke detectors on all levels of your home are an absolute must. Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher and you know the proper way to use it.

"The good news is many of these fires are avoidable," continues Kass. "In the case of electrical safety, just a little awareness and preparation can make an enormous difference."

For more information and safety tips, visit and
Tags: News

Homeowners, Renters and Businesses - Prepare for Disaster Before It Strikes

June 1, 2011 8:27 pm

RISMEDIA, June 2, 2011—As those living near the Gulf of Mexico and along the Eastern Seaboard prepare for another Atlantic Hurricane season, which began June 1 and runs through November 30, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is reminding small businesses, homeowners and renters nationwide to write down their emergency preparedness plan before disaster hits. Regardless of where you live, it's a good idea to be ready for any kind of crisis.

“Every threat, from wind storms, floods and wildfires, to power outages and computer system failures, reminds us to be proactive when it comes to building strategies to survive a disaster and recover quickly,” says SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills. “The catastrophic events of the last few years demonstrate the need for preparedness at the individual level, to diminish the risk to life and property.”

Disaster preparedness for homes and businesses should include:

- A solid emergency response plan. Find evacuation routes from your home or business and establish meeting places. Make sure everyone understands the plan beforehand. Keep emergency phone numbers handy. Business owners should designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, customers and vendors. Ask an out-of-state friend or family member to be your “post-disaster” point of contact—a person to call to provide information on your safety and whereabouts.
- Adequate insurance. Disaster preparedness begins with having adequate insurance coverage—at least enough to rebuild your home or business. Homeowners and business owners should review their policies to see what is not covered. Businesses should consider “business interruption insurance,” which helps cover operating costs during the post-disaster shutdown period. Flood insurance is essential. To find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit
- Making copies of important records. It's a good idea to back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store those items at a distant offsite location. Computer data should be backed up routinely. Copies of important documents and CDs should be kept in fire-proof safe deposit boxes.
- A “Disaster Survival Kit.” The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, non-perishable packaged and canned food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic bags, cash, and a disposable camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm.

For more preparedness tips for businesses, homeowners and renters, visit
Tags: News

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