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Tom's Blog

Must-Have Features to Maximize a Home's Profit Potential

May 11, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 11, 2011-From crown molding to faux painting to door handles and cabinet handles/knobs with modern finishes, to more obvious upgrades such as appliances, window, counter, cabinet and floor treatments, to swimming pools and surround sound wiring...any functional or beautification enhancement to a home are considerations in establishing its true value and strategic sale price.

Consider these property value-enhancing upgrade ideas from Robert Jenson, a real estate professional from Las Vegas:

- Commercial-grade appliances in a kitchen, along with dual appliances such as ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, add greatly to resale value and are always a desirable upgrade.

- The "outdoor living room" concept is extremely popular right now. Whether a palapa, gazebo or other covered section, an outdoor furnished lounge area complete with wiring for lighting, fans, TV and surround sound, fire pit/fireplace, and built in BBQ grill will add tremendous appeal-water features will take this asset to the next level.

- Other custom upgrades and finishing such as front entry (or panty) doors with decorative glass inlays, decorative wrought iron stairway balusters, and faux painting treatments will readily set a home apart from the pack...particularly a track home in a master planned community.

- Fixtures should be considered even beyond the kitchen and bath. Door handles, for example, with modern finishes such as brushed nickel, are a great way to add custom appeal to an interior.

- Granite countertops need not be reserved for the kitchen. Master bathrooms in particular, if not all baths in the house, should utilize some kind of stone counter-marble, granite, travertine, etc.-for a particularly notable enhancement that is sure to differentiate a home from others on the market.

For homeowners considering an addition or enhancement, speak with a real estate professional to learn more on how you can enhance your property's value.

Tags: News

Study Examines the Impact of Home Buyer Education and Counseling on Mortgage Performance

May 11, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 11, 2011-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 recently 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."

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Tags: News

The Top 35 Remodeling Projects That Yield Most Return on Investment

May 10, 2011 1:29 pm

By Keith Loria

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011-Every year REALTORS pay particularly close attention to the annual "Cost vs. Value Report" that Remodeling magazine publishes, to learn the most important projects that could help their clients sell their homes faster and for more money. The 24th annual edition of the free report was recently released with input from some of the top remodeling professionals in the country as they ranked 35 remodeling projects based on how much money they recoup. The results were somewhat surprising.

According to the report, exterior upgrades recoup more money than interior renovations, a trend that has been progressing the past five years. The biggest recommendation on the list is replacing the front door with a steel entry door, which on average recoups more than 100% of the renovation costs.

Many people appreciate the steel entry door systems because of the superior protection they provide and equally as important, the beautiful styles and finishes they come in.

"A quality-built decorative steel door will increase the value of your home over a stock wood slab door, especially one that's aged," says Larry Neville, a contractor from New Hampshire. "As for efficiency, these doors are constructed with a polyurethane core for high energy-efficient ratings."

The report also lists garage doors as a wise investment, recouping from 69.8 to 83.9%. Other smart outdoor renovations include siding replacement (recouping 80%) and wood window replacement (recouping 72.4%).

When it comes to the interior of the home, the two areas that bring back the most money both take advantage of using space that is available. The projects that best retain their value for resale are attic renovations and basement remodels, recouping 72.2% and 70%, respectively.

"Just like an addition to the home, an unfinished space-such as the attic or basement-will instantly add value and livability to your home. It will increase the square footage and change the way your family lives in it," says Will Tomlinson, owner of a North Carolina-based renovation and remodeling company. "The most common unfinished spaces are a storage space, basement, and an attic. You will be transforming a space that likely gets very little use into a fully functional area for your family to enjoy."

The report also claims that non-essential features have less resale value. Sunroom additions recoup 48.6% of renovation costs; home office remodels recoup 45.8% and backup power generators recoup 48.5%. These are renovations that aren't necessary as not all buyers are looking for homes that contain these functions.

An affordable renovation usually recoups more of the initial investment than a costly one, reveals findings in the report. A minor $20,000 kitchen upgrade recoups 72.8% of renovation costs, but a more expensive $58,000 kitchen remodel only retains 68.7% of its value on resale.

Regardless if they made the list or not, it's important to do your homework before undergoing any renovation and it's always a great idea to check with your real estate agent to see if it will retain its value in your market.

Tags: News

HUD Awards $23 Million to 22 Local HIV/AIDS Housing Programs

May 10, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011-Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that more than a thousand extremely low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS will continue to receive permanent housing as a result of $23 million in grants. During each of the next three years, this HUD funding will help provide permanent supportive housing for 1,015 households, so individuals can manage their illnesses while receiving critically needed support services.

The recently announced funding is offered through HUD's Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program (HOPWA ) and will renew HUD's support of 22 local programs in 18 states.

"These grants are a vital source of support to the local programs that are on the ground working to keep families healthy," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Knowing that you have a place to call home can make all the difference to the wellbeing of families living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom have been on the brink of homelessness."

These projects have estimated that about 40% of the households to be assisted will involve persons who have been homeless. The grants also support the new strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, an unprecedented initiative announced last June at the White House. In February 2011, HUD released its plan to guide the agency's actions under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. As the nation's housing agency, HUD will contribute a variety of housing resources to promote better integration of housing interventions into comprehensive HIV care systems.

Housing assistance and related services funded by HOPWA are an essential part of the comprehensive system of care for low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS. A stable home environment is also vital for these households in allowing them to access consistent medical care and maintain their health. Furthermore, secure housing can be a platform for improved quality of life.

Ninety percent of HOPWA funds are distributed by formula to cities and states based on the number of AIDS cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HUD's formula grants are managed by 124 local and state jurisdictions, which coordinate AIDS housing efforts with other HUD and community resources. HUD is making available a record $334 million in HOPWA funds this year to help communities provide housing for this special needs population. Overall, these resources assist 60,669 households annually to promote stable housing and reduced risks of homelessness for those living with HIV and other challenges.

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Tags: News

Pending Home Sales Rise Again

May 10, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011-March saw another increase in pending home sales, with contract activity rising unevenly in six of the past nine months, according to the National Association of REALTORS .

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 5.1% to 94.1 in March from a downwardly revised 89.5 in February. The index is 11.4% below 106.2 in March 2010; however, activity was at elevated levels in March and April of 2010 to meet the contract deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

The data reflects contracts but not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home sales activity has shown an uneven but notable improvement. "Since reaching a cyclical bottom last June, pending home sales have posted an overall gain of 24% and demonstrate the market is recovering on its own," he notes. "The index means modest near-term gains in existing-home sales are likely, which would be even stronger if tight mortgage lending criteria returned to normal, safe standards."

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 3.2% to 63.4 in March and is 18.4% below March 2010. In the Midwest the index rose 3.0% in March to 83.5 but is 16.6% below where it was a year ago. Pending home sales in the South jumped 10.3% to an index of 110.2, but are 10.5% below March 2010. In the West, the index increased 3.1% to 103.7 but is 4.1% below a year ago.

"Based on the current uptrend with very favorable affordability conditions, rising apartment rents and ongoing job creation, existing-home sales should rise around 5 to 10% this year with sales growth of lower-priced homes likely to outperform high-end homes. That means the price trend will reflect more homes sold in the lower price ranges," Yun says.

"The good news is that recent home buyers are staying well within budget, leading to exceptionally low loan default rates among home buyers over the past two years," Yun adds.

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Tags: News

Copper Sprinklers Offer Families Extra Fire Protection

May 9, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 9, 2011--When Habitat for Humanity St. Louis identified vacant properties just north of downtown, the construction team wanted to build homes that were not only energy efficient, but safe for its new tenants.

With Model Building Codes now requiring new single- and two-family dwellings to be outfitted with sprinkler systems, Habitat chose to go with copper systems for all of its new homes, including the six that were completed this spring.

While state building codes across the country are becoming aware of the life-saving potential of installing fire sprinklers, copper lends itself perfectly for handling the installations.

"Copper is probably the best product to use, period - because it lasts forever," says Scott Usher, the superintendent for Fire Protection Services. "Once you put it in and it's done properly it requires almost no maintenance. Copper really is the best way to go when it comes to these types of dwellings."

While some plastic materials are approved for use in residential fire sprinkler systems, they can't be used in exposed locations such as basements, crawlspaces, attics and garages without being protected behind a fire-rated barrier, an additional construction cost. Since copper doesn't burn, doesn't support combustion, and doesn't emit potentially toxic fumes when subjected to fire, it is the safe, smart choice.

"Copper is the ideal choice for sprinkler systems because it's not only lightweight, durable and able to withstand extreme temperatures, it's also easier to work with and install because of its slimmer profile," says Andy Kireta Jr., vice president of Building & Construction for the Copper Development Association. "You can't put a price on fire safety, and with new homes requiring sprinkler systems, this adds another level of protection for the homeowner and their loved ones."

Copper systems also offer economic advantages, including lower maintenance costs and long-term performance. Copper's high recycled content and limitless recyclability support green construction practices as well.

For more information about copper sprinkler systems, please visit

Tags: News

75 Percent of Refinancing Homeowners Maintain or Reduce Debt in First Quarter

May 9, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 9, 2011--Freddie Mac released the results of its first quarter refinance analysis showing homeowners who refinance continue to strengthen their fiscal house. The findings were as follows:

  • In the first quarter of 2011, 3-out-of-4 homeowners who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage either maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying-in additional money at the closing table. Fifty-four percent maintained about the same loan amount, the highest share since 1985, when Freddie Mac began keeping records on refinancing patterns. In addition, 21% of refinancing homeowners reduced their principal balance.
  • "Cash-out" borrowers, those that increased their loan balance by at least five percent, represented 25% of all refinance loans; the average cash-out share over the past 25 years was 62%.
  • The net dollars of home equity converted to cash as part of a refinance, adjusted for inflation, was at the lowest level in 15 years. In the first quarter, an estimated $6.0 billion in net home equity was cashed out during the refinance of conventional prime-credit home mortgages, down from $9.1 billion in the fourth quarter and substantially less than during the peak cash-out refinance volume of $83.7 billion during the second quarter of 2006.
  • Among the refinanced loans in Freddie Mac's analysis, the median appreciation of the collateral property was a negative six percent over the median prior loan life of five years. In comparison, the Freddie Mac House Price Index shows a 21% decline in its U.S. series between the end of 2005 and end of 2010. Thus, borrowers who refinanced in the first quarter owned homes that had held their value better than the average home, or may reflect value-enhancing improvements that owners had made to their homes during the intervening years.
  • The median interest rate reduction for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was about 1.2 percentage points, or a savings of about 20% in interest costs. Over the first year of the refinance loan life, these borrowers will save over $1,800 in interest payments on a $200,000 loan.

"The average interest rate on single-family mortgages outstanding at the end of 2010 was about six percent, so there are still plenty of homeowners that can benefit from refinancing," says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist. "We found the typical borrower reduced their interest rate about 1.2 percentage points by refinancing during the first quarter. For a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a $200,000 loan balance, that's a monthly payment savings of about $150.

"Consumers continue to reduce their debt, either by paying down or paying off their mortgage loan, or reducing the interest cost," he continues. "Homeowners' aggregate financial-obligation ratio, which peaked during the third quarter of 2007, had dropped by the end of 2010 to a level last seen more than a decade ago."

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Tags: News

Federal Housing Finance Agency Reports Mortgage Interest Rates

May 9, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 9, 2011-The Federal Housing Finance Agency recently reported that the National Average Contract Mortgage Rate for the Purchase of Previously Occupied Homes by Combined Lenders, used as an index in some ARM contracts, was 4.84% based on loans closed in March. This is an increase of 0.05% from the previous month.

The average interest rate on conventional, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage loans of $417,000 or less increased nine basis points to 5.06 percent in March. These rates are calculated from the FHFA's Monthly Interest Rate Survey of purchase-money mortgages. These results reflect loans closed during the March 25-31 period. Typically, the interest rate is determined 30-45 days before the loan is closed. Thus, the reported rates depict market conditions prevailing in mid- to late-February.

The contract rate on the composite of all mortgage loans (fixed- and adjustable-rate) was 4.84 percent in March, up four basis points from 4.80 percent in February. The effective interest rate, which reflects the amortization of initial fees and charges, was 4.98 percent in March, up six basis points from 4.92 percent in February.

This report contains no data on adjustable-rate mortgages due to insufficient sample size.

Initial fees and charges were 0.95 percent of the loan balance in March, up 0.15 percent from 0.80 in February. Twenty-five percent of the purchase-money mortgage loans originated in March were "no-point" mortgages, down from 30 percent in February. The average term was 27.6 years in March, up 0.4 years from 27.2 years in February. The average loan-to-price ratio in March was 75.5 percent, up 0.8 percent from 74.7 percent in February. The average loan amount was $208,600 in March, down $8,300 from $216,900 in February.

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Tags: News

Mortgage Bankers' Commercial/Multifamily Originations up 44 Percent

May 6, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 6, 2011-Commercial and multifamily mortgage origination volumes increased 44% in 2010 over the previous year, with mortgage bankers reporting $118.8 billion of closed commercial and multifamily loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's 2010 Commercial Real Estate/Multifamily Finance: Annual Origination Volume Summation.

"Coming off of the 2009 lows, commercial and multifamily originations increased by a strong 44% in 2010," says Jamie Woodwell, MBA's vice president of Commercial Real Estate Research. "Low interest rates coupled with improving economic fundamentals have the potential to draw out even more borrowers in 2011."

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA, collectively, were the largest investor group in 2010, responsible for $42.8 billion of the total and followed closely by life insurance companies and pension funds at $30.6 billion. In terms of property types, multifamily properties saw the highest volume, $48.9 billion, followed by office properties with $22.6 billion of originations. First liens accounted for 92% of the total dollar volume closed.

Year-over-year changes are based on the changes in volume among "repeat reporters" that participated in both the 2009 and 2010 surveys.

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Tags: News

Smart Remodeling Adds Value to Your Home

May 6, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 6, 2011--Spring is in the air, and homeowners are starting to plan their dream home remodeling projects. More Americans are staying in their homes rather than moving. According to Fannie Mae's National Housing Survey released in November 2010, 85% of the general population believed it was a bad time to sell their home. There's a lot more to be gained through remodeling besides increased functionality, new appliances, efficient systems, updated d cor, additional space or the pure enjoyment of making your home your own. There's also the increased value your home receives when you make improvements.

To commemorate May as National Home Improvement Month, here are a few words of advice for getting the most value out of your remodeling investment.

  • Curb appeal goes a long way. Exterior home improvements such as roofing, siding, windows and doors are subject to the elements and usually need to be replaced after a number of years. In terms of re-sale value, updated exteriors give sellers an edge over buyers who are attracted to your home before entering.
  • According to Energy Star, half of a home's energy use is dedicated to heating and cooling. If a system is more than 10 years old, it may be time to replace it. New, energy-efficient systems are not only more cost-effective but are also better quality.
  • All homes benefit from increased insulation and sealing, regardless of climate. Older homes are traditionally under-insulated compared to new homes. And recent insulation innovations like spray foam or cellulose increase the ability to trap air inside. Proper insulation evens temperature flows, reduces energy use and has long-term benefits.
  • Kitchen and bath renovations are still popular-and for good reason. Homeowners continue to see the value in updating areas of the home that are used frequently and are high functioning. Universal design concepts are commonly incorporated into kitchen and bath areas to accommodate people of all sizes and abilities and conveniences for long-term residents.

Most homeowners can handle routine maintenance projects and cosmetic touch-ups, but it's recommended they consult with qualified professionals for larger remodeling jobs and major changes to the home's structure.

Homeowners that need to make several updates to their homes but cannot afford a complete overhaul may be interested in phased remodeling. In this instance, remodeling projects are broken into phases over time, for a long-term project plan. This also lessens the burden of remodeling to the homeowner as they remain in the home as work is being done.

As of April 22, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed new regulations for contractors working in homes built before 1978. The Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule mandates that remodelers who intend to work in pre-1978 homes to register their company and complete an 8-hour training and certification course with an accredited trainer. The course teaches remodelers how to safely contain lead in a home as it is being disturbed and reduce exposure to residents and workers. Homeowners should be aware that this new rule is enforced and should be skeptical of any contractors who choose not to follow the law.

For more information, visit or For the latest information on green remodeling, visit

Tags: News

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