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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

Tips for a Successful Apartment Hunt

April 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011--For those opting to rent in the near future, an organized plan is beneficial to have before starting your hunt for the perfect apartment. Consider the following before taking the exciting step of viewing possible new homes:

Set a budget and stay in it. It's crucially important to control your finances and spend no more than 30% of your monthly pay on rent and other housing needs. Be prepared to pay a security deposit along with the first month's rent up front, and don't neglect to factor in the cost of utilities, cable, Internet and renter's insurance. Ask all landlords for an estimated cost of utilities and if there are any extra fees for pets, parking or any other additive you may require. If the cost of everything combined seems overwhelming, picking up a roommate might not be such a bad idea.

Research various areas before signing a lease. Budget alone is one great way to narrow down neighborhoods. Craigslist and Apartments.com are only a few of the various resources you can use for further information. Make sure that all wanted amenities (laundry, parking, pool, etc.) are either included or close by. If you have any doubts, talk to a few residents for an unbiased opinion. The more you know, the better educated your decision will be.

Be sure to read the fine print carefully. Read the lease carefully and make sure you understand all of its terms. The landlord may want to run a background check and may request a proof of employment from your employer. Be prepared to turn this information over in a timely fashion. It's crucially important that you understand the policies for penalties, including early termination of the lease or damages. If you read something you don't understand, always ask for clarification.

Once the lease is signed, you should take a few precautions before calling your friends to beg them for moving help. Keep the following in mind:

  • Check the apartment for smoke detectors. If any of them are missing, be sure to tell the landlord before moving all of your belongings in.

  • Ask about installing a deadbolt on any exterior doors.

  • Is the entire place clean and ready to be moved into?

  • Is there any damage to the apartment, including chipped paint or damaged walls? Be sure to take pictures before you move in and alert the landlord of anything you find.

  • Make sure the water works in all of the apartment's faucets.

  • Test the outlets. How many are there and do they all work?

Having a plan for your next move will keep you organized and help the process run more smoothly. After the job is finished, all of your preparation will certainly pay off once you are sitting comfortably in your new apartment.

Sources: beaumontenterprise.com, Relocation.com

Tags: News

REALTORS Applaud Bill to Speed Lender Response to Short Sales

April 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011-- A new bill to improve the process for approving short sales may soon bring relief to distressed homeowners who are unable to keep their homes and hope to avoid foreclosure. The bill, introduced in the U.S. House yesterday and strongly supported by the National Association of REALTORS , would impose a deadline of 45 days on lenders to respond to short sale requests.

The legislation, the "Prompt Decision for Qualification for Short Sale Act of 2011," was offered in Congress by U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and Robert Andrews (D-N.J.).

"The current short sale process can be time-consuming and inefficient, and many would-be buyers end up walking away from a sale that could have saved a homeowner from foreclosure," says NAR President Ron Phipps.

"REALTORS and consumers continue to raise issues about delays in the short sale process, because lenders are unable to decide whether to approve a short sale. After many months of delays, and with no response from lenders, potential buyers are losing patience and cancelling their contracts, often resulting in the property entering foreclosure. A short sale minimizes the negative impact on sellers and generally costs the lender less than a foreclosure," says Phipps.

NAR has been actively pushing the lending industry to improve the process for approving short sales, which represent about 13% of recent home sales according to NAR data. Phipps praised Reps. Rooney and Andrews for their efforts on the bill and urged Congress to pass the bill quickly.

"As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, REALTORS want to help more homeowners avoid foreclosure by facilitating a short sale when a family is absolutely unable to keep their home; however, that can only happen if lenders and servicers approve short sale offers in a reasonable amount of time," says Phipps. "Streamlining short sales transactions will reduce the amount of time it takes to sell the property, improve the likelihood that the transaction will close and reduce the overall number of foreclosures. This benefits sellers, lenders, buyers and the entire community."

Tags: News

NAHREP: Proposed QRM Regulation Will Impact Minority Home Buyers' Ability to Get Affordable Mortgages

April 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011-The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) has recently raised concerns about the proposed regulation by Federal financial regulators that would require a minimum 20% down payment for "qualified residential mortgages" (QRMs) that are exempt from mortgage-backed securities risk-retention rules. The 18,000-member trade association said the very narrow QRM definition would adversely impact minority and first-time home buyers' ability to get affordable mortgage financing.

"By mandating a 20% down payment on qualified residential mortgages, we are concerned that this regulation as proposed will have a negative impact on the ability of minority and first-time home buyers to obtain an affordable mortgage to buy a home. Government policy should not put minority and first-time home buyers in a position where they are once again vulnerable to predatory lending practices and forced into high cost mortgages," said NAHREP Chairman Carmen Mercado.

The definition of QRM is important because it will determine the types of mortgages that will be offered at a lower cost to a consumer. NAHREP supports the overall goal of the QRM and the regulatory agency's effort to create a strong underwriting framework that promotes responsible lending and borrowing. Narrow underwriting guidelines for "prime" loans created the opportunity for the proliferation of "subprime" lending. If the right balance around QRM definition isn't reached, regulations will create a similar scenario for non-QRM lending, the group maintains. Data released this week by the Federal Housing Finance Agency estimated that only 30% of the mortgages originated in 2009 and purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have qualified for QRM treatment.

"A government regulation that categorizes 70% of borrowers as subprime is just wrong and bad policy," Mercado added.

For more information, visit: http://www.nahrep.org/.

Tags: News

Spring in the Market

April 14, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-- Freddie Mac has released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for April showing signs of a pick up in home sales beginning this spring driven by the recent encouraging employment reports, low mortgage rates and continued high home-buyer affordability.

Outlook Highlights

  • Unemployment declined for the fourth straight month to 8.8%, and net employment increased by 216,000 jobs.
  • A projected 5% increase in 2011 home sales over 2010, on a calendar year basis.
  • Despite weak and inconsistent monthly job gains for the real estate sector, real estate employment was up by 10,000 jobs since last November.
  • Refinancing is likely to account for a much smaller share of loan applications later this year as borrowers who are "in-the-money" decrease and mortgage rates begin inching up.
  • The share of adjustable-rate mortgage loans is projected to be 7% in 2011, compared to the 5% 2010 average, in part because the level of fixed-rate mortgages rates are expected to rise relative to short-term interest rates.

"Expect to see a bit of spring in home sales activity during the second quarter," says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist. "Sales contract signings for existing homes were up in February, positioning the market for a bounce up going into the traditional home-buying season."

Freddie Mac compiles data on major economic and housing and mortgage market indicators and offers forecasts based on those indicators. To view the complete April 2011 U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook, visit: http://www.freddiemac.com/news/finance/docs/Apr_2011_public_outlook.pdf.

Tags: News

How to Slash Homeowners Insurance Costs

April 14, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011--According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the average annual U.S. premium for homeowners insurance was $822 in 2007. This number tends to vary across the country, with some states even paying as much as $1,000 more than others. Regardless, for homeowners who feel they are shelling out too much hard-earned cash for their insurance premiums, there are a few steps that can be taken to alleviate some of the cost.

Raising your deductible might be the easiest bet. Homeowners can shave off as much as 25% of the premium by raising deductibles from $500 to $1,000. For those who only file claims in the case of a large emergency, a higher deductible may be worth the savings. Owners of older homes might want to avoid this option. Examine your situation to determine if this is a smart choice for you.

Making home improvements is also a great way to lower costs. Do you need a new roof? Would your home benefit from an updated heating or plumbing system? Even safety features like alarm systems can help you save in the long run. Fencing pools and trampolines (or even getting rid of them all together) lowers your claims risks in the eyes of your insurance company and these efforts will be rewarded in savings. Once your home improvements are completed, be sure to let your insurance company know immediately. You may be able to save up to 15%.

As with most financial endeavors, keeping your credit score high will help your case. Many companies use these scores to determine rates based on consumers' credit history. Granted, this isn't the only factor in determining your insurance premium, but good credit still goes a long way toward keeping insurance costs down.

Multipolicy deals should never be overlooked. By combining your homeowners insurance with your auto or life insurance, you may be eligible for another 5-15% of savings, which really adds up compared to buying insurance from all separate companies. Look into combining your policies and do some comparison shopping. You may be surprised at the numbers.

There are many ways homeowners can save money on their homeowners insurance. Be sure to review your policy regularly to ensure that it is up to date and accurate, and crunch those numbers wherever you can. By combining many of the suggestions above, you can save quite a bit of money while still protecting your home.

Sources: Bankrate, National Association of Insurance Commissioners

Tags: News

March Housing Scorecard Shows Continued Need to Advance Market Stabilization

April 14, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury have released the March edition of the Obama Administration's Housing Scorecard. Officials caution that the latest housing figures underscore fragility in the housing market and the need to continue efforts to help American families stay in their homes. The housing scorecard is a comprehensive report on the nation's housing market.

"There's no question that this month's figures show a troubling dip in home sales and housing prices," said HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. "While we should not ignore the real impact that the Administration's programs are having for millions of homeowners and borrowers, these statistics clearly show that housing markets across the country continue to struggle to regain stable footing. We must remain steadfast in our efforts to support homeowners and communities in ways to help advance market stabilization and a transition towards health."

"The latest data underscore the importance of continuing our efforts to help families stay in their homes," said acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. "Each month, the Administration's Home Affordable Modification Program helps over 25,000 additional families avoid foreclosure, and it has set important standards that have led to more than 2 million mortgage modifications outside of the program. We are also working hard to implement additional programs to assist families in the hardest-hit states. We will continue these efforts so that we help more Americans remain in their homes and help our nation recover from this crisis."

Available online at www.hud.gov/scorecard, the March Housing Scorecard features key data on the health of the housing market including:

Housing market remains fragile as data through February paint a mixed picture of recovery. Home prices remain weak under continued strain from foreclosures and distressed home sales, according to CoreLogic data now available in the Housing Scorecard. Mortgage delinquencies continued a downward trend compared to early 2010 and foreclosure starts and completions remain below peak. However, as lenders review internal procedures related to foreclosure processing, many foreclosure actions have been delayed. The decline is likely to be temporary as lenders eventually revise and resubmit foreclosure paperwork in the coming months.

Administration efforts have helped millions of families deal with the effects of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Since April of 2009, record low mortgage rates have helped nearly 10 million homeowners to refinance, resulting in $18.1 billion in total borrower savings. More than 4.4 million modification arrangements were started between April 2009 and the end of February 2011 - including more than 1.5 million HAMP trial modification starts, more than 776,000 FHA loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions, and nearly 2.2 million proprietary modifications under HOPE Now. While some homeowners may have received help from more than one program, the number of agreements offered was more than double the number of foreclosure completions for the same period (1.9 million). View the February HAMP Servicer Performance Report here: http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/financial-stability/results/MHA-Reports/Pages/default.aspx.

Given the current fragility and recognizing that recovery will take place over time, the Administration remains committed to its efforts to prevent avoidable foreclosures and stabilize the housing market.

Each month, the Housing Scorecard incorporates key housing market indicators and highlights the impact of the Administration's unprecedented housing recovery efforts, including assistance to homeowners through the FHA and HAMP. The complete Housing Scorecard is available at: www.hud.gov/scorecard.

Tags: News

Spring is Here and So Are Termites

April 13, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011--March 20 marked the first day of spring, bringing warmer temperatures and sporadic rain showers throughout the nation. Whether gardening, spring cleaning or playing outdoors, people are livelier with the change in weather, and they aren't the only ones. Termites are becoming increasingly active as well.

"Moisture from the rain coupled with increasing temperatures make springtime conditions ideal for termite activity," says Jim Warneke, Orkin southeast division technical services manager. "Subterranean termites, which live underground in the soil, thrive in humid climates with temperatures above 60 degrees."

Termite activity isn't anything new to the U.S. According to the National Pest Management Association, termites cause about $5 billion in property damage per year in the U.S. While termites can be most visible in the spring, these pests damage property year round.

"While subterranean are the most widespread and common group of termites in the Southeast, drywood termites also can be found in areas with warmer climates that do not reach freezing temperatures in the winter," said Warneke. "Subterranean termites are the most destructive of this 250-million-year-old pest, but drywood termites also can cause serious damage to a home's structure and amenities, like hardwood flooring and furniture."

Warneke suggests homeowners contact a pest management professional if they suspect any termite activity, as the warning signs can be subtle and often go unnoticed until it's too late. Signs of an infestation include termite swarms, mud tubes and piles of discarded wings. Termite swarms are typically found around lighting fixtures and windowsills, as they are attracted to light. Once termites begin to fly, they shed their wings, leaving piles of wings around the home. Subterranean termites also build mud tubes as a protective tunnel between the wood they feed on and their colony, often taking refuge inside of the home when temperatures increase.

For more information, visit http://orkin.com.

Tags: News

Home Staging Benefits Home Selling

April 13, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011--Now that you've taken the leap and listed your home, how are you going to compete with the other properties on the market and make your home stand out? One way to make your property exceptional is to stage your home; in other words, spruce it up in small ways to attract buyers. Although you might be reluctant to spend money on hiring a professional home stager, you will most likely discover the money you spent was well worth it.

According to Ellen Florian of Fortune magazine, "staged homes sell faster" than those that are un-staged. During Florian's research, she also discovered that staged homes receive higher offers than un-staged ones. Wanda Hickman, an accredited staging professional, president of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals Atlanta Regional chapter (AIRC), and owner of Customized Home Staging LLC, says in an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle that "the intent behind home staging is for potential buyers to be able to see the home as theirs."

Unlike interior decorating, home staging depersonalizes the home by removing individual tastes and allowing potential buyers to visualize themselves in the home. For example, young couples seeking their first home may find it difficult to see beyond flowered wallpapers, crocheted afghans, and numerous pictures of grandchildren. Staging a home is about removing the idea that your house is your home and instead thinking of it as a marketable commodity.

Karen Westgate, a member of a Collegeville, PA brokerage, and a Certified Home Stager, says that there are many benefits to home staging, but one of the best benefits is that it can be done virtually with little or no money. "Staging is about simplifying--simplifying your home can be as easy as just boxing up items you do not use on a daily basis to taking down family pictures on the walls, moving pieces of furniture around to different areas of the home, or changing paint colors."

So how do you go about staging your home? Westgate suggests that first, clean it thoroughly, and don't forget to include cleaning up outside the house. Many buyers form an opinion of the home before they even walk through the door. Then, start boxing and bagging up unnecessary items that have accumulated in closets, on top of counters, and in the garage. Rent a storage locker if necessary, but remove the clutter!

Tags: News

REALTORS Committed to Fair Housing throughout the Year

April 13, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011-The National Association of REALTORS will join Americans across the country as they honor Fair Housing Month this April. As one of the leading advocates for homeownership, NAR strongly supports the Fair Housing Act and believes that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream.

This April marks the 43rd anniversary of the 1968 landmark Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. NAR also supports equal opportunity on the basis of sexual orientation, incorporating that support into the REALTOR Code of Ethics.

"REALTORS work tirelessly to build communities and believe people have a right to live wherever they can afford to live," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "In this vein, REALTORS believe it's imperative to recognize Fair Housing Month and reconfirm our commitment to upholding fair housing laws and our commitment to offer equal professional service to everyone."

NAR's Equal Opportunity and Cultural Diversity program offers REALTORS education, grants, programs and events related to fair housing and diversity. Through the At Home with Diversity course, REALTORS learn how to best work with and serve diverse consumers. Since its inception in 1998, At Home with Diversity has addressed the topics of diversity, fair housing and business planning development in a full-day certification course. NAR's Employer-Assisted Housing Class gives REALTORS tools to work with local employers, helping them implement employer-assisted housing benefits to help employees become homeowners.

NAR has successfully built partnerships with housing groups and professional real estate organizations representing the multicultural community. In May, NAR will join five real estate diversity partners in sponsoring the HOPE (Home Ownership Participation for Everyone) Awards. The awards recognize outstanding individuals and programs that are increasing minority homeownership, revitalizing communities and expanding affordable housing opportunities.

"NAR is committed to increasing awareness about fair housing laws and promoting inclusion and diversity in our nation's communities," says Phipps. "For REALTORS , every month is fair housing month. With every transaction REALTORS strive to promote inclusion, diversity and fairness in the housing industry."

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

Tags: News

Fannie Mae Announces 3.5% Buyer Assistance on HomePath Properties

April 12, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 12, 2011--Fannie Mae has announced that people purchasing a Fannie Mae-owned HomePath property will receive up to 3.5% in closing-cost assistance. The initial offer must be submitted on or after April 11, 2011 and the sale must close on or before June 30, 2011 to be eligible for the incentive. Additionally, buyers must reside in the home as their primary residence (sales to investors are excluded).

"Attracting qualified buyers to the market and reducing the inventory of vacant homes remains essential to stabilizing neighborhoods and helping the market recover," says Terry Edwards, executive vice president of Credit Portfolio Management. "Since interest rates remain low, the incentive will go a long way toward helping even more families buy a new home so this is a great time for Fannie Mae to offer some assistance."

All Fannie Mae-owned HomePath properties are listed on HomePath.com and most listings include detailed property descriptions, photographs, community and school information, and more. In addition, many Fannie Mae-owned properties are eligible for special HomePath Mortgage and HomePath Renovation Mortgage financing, which offers homebuyers an opportunity to purchase with as little as 3% down.

For more information, visit: www.fanniemae.com.

Tags: News




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