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Tom's Blog

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

One in Two 'Do-It-Yourselfers' Will Put Their Community's Safety at Risk This Year, According to Recent Survey

April 12, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 12, 2011--The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the organization dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and the safety of people who dig near them, announced results from a recent survey that found 49% of Americans who plan to dig this year will put their community's safety at risk by not calling 811 to learn the approximate location of underground utilities.

There are more than 100 billion feet of underground utilities in the United States, according to data compiled by CGA from various industry groups. Digging without knowing the approximate location of underground utilities increases the likelihood of an incident, which can cause serious injuries, service disruptions and repair costs. An underground utility line is damaged by digging once every three minutes nationwide, and one-third of these incidents are caused because the digger did not call 811, according to CGA data.

Everyone who calls 811 a few days before digging is connected to a local one-call notification center that will take the caller's information and communicate it to local utility companies. A professional locator will then visit the dig site to mark the approximate location of underground utility lines with spray paint or flags. Once a site has been accurately marked, it is safe to begin digging around the marked areas.

The national public opinion survey of 689 homeowners, conducted March 17-21, also found that 69% of Americans believe they would be unlikely to damage or disturb an underground utility if they were to dig without calling 811 to determine the approximate location of the lines.

"The results of this survey are concerning because the math just doesn't add up in safety's favor," says CGA President Bob Kipp. "With millions of shovels entering the ground near billions of feet of unmarked underground utilities this year, we will continue to see damages occurring every few minutes, leading to inconvenient outages, and in worst-case scenarios bodily harm--not just for the do-it-yourselfers, but for entire communities."

CGA's 1,400 members and most governors have proclaimed April as National Safe Digging Month as a way to bring extra attention to the issue and reduce the risk of unnecessary infrastructure damage.

As part of National Safe Digging Month, CGA encourages homeowners to take the following steps when planning a digging project this spring:

  • Always call 811 a few days before digging, regardless of the depth or familiarity with the property.
  • Plan ahead. Call on Monday or Tuesday for work planned for an upcoming weekend, providing ample time for the approximate location of lines to be marked.
  • Confirm with your local one-call center that all lines have been marked.
  • Learn what the various colors of paint and flags represent at http://www.call811.com/faqs.
  • Consider moving the location of your project if it is near utility line markings.
  • If a contractor has been hired, confirm that a call to 811 has been made. Don't allow work to begin if the lines aren't marked.

For more information, visit: http://www.commongroundalliance.com/.

Tags: News

Buyer's Market Spurs Confidence in Young Professionals and Affluent Homeowners

April 12, 2011 1:31 pm

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, April 12, 2011--As the cold temperatures become a distant memory, and the spring selling season gains momentum, consumers have come to agree on one thing-now's a good time to get off the fence and into the real estate market. This is the overall theme in the latest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker survey, a monthly survey that tracks the spending and saving habits of consumers in order to get an indication of what's happening in the market. "This month's Spending and Saving Tracker provided an up-to-date look at various consumer trends and gave us the opportunity to assess how consumers are feeling about the current market in addition to gauging homeowner confidence," says Leah Gerstner, vice president of public affairs at American Express.

"This month's survey points to the fact that consumers overwhelmingly feel that we are in the midst of a buyer's market," she adds. The data also points to the fact that a seller's market is at least a year away, which is certainly positive news. While homeowners aren't necessarily willing to settle for less than the asking price when selling their home, two of the biggest areas of interest in the latest survey deal with homeowners including home improvement projects on their to-do list, as well as the willingness to include concessions to get their home sold.

Home Improvements

"In looking at the results of our latest Spending and Saving Tracker survey, our thinking was that if consumers overwhelmingly view today's market as a buyer's market-which they do-they are likely to have plans to put more money into their home," adds Gerstner. In fact, the survey found that about 64% of homeowners currently have home improvement projects on their to-do list for 2011.

While the plans are in place, however, the amount that homeowners are budgeting to spend has gone down quite a bit from last year. "Homeowners are looking for better ways to stretch their dollars, and many are looking toward energy-efficient home improvements that will pay off in the long run." The survey shows that among homeowners who are looking to go green, the most common items homeowners would spend their money on include energy-efficient windows and doors, insulation, roofing, heating and cooling systems as well as alternative energy systems.

Concessions

Another finding that stood out in the latest survey had to do with whether or not sellers were willing to make concessions to get their homes sold, especially in today's market. While 44% of sellers were willing to give away appliances during a sale-the biggest concession among young professionals and affluent homeowners-another 28% said they would take care of requested repairs in order to get their home sold. "While a large majority of sellers are willing to make concessions to get their home off the market, the willingness to make concessions is down among young professionals when compared with the 2010 survey," says Gerstner. "This is an important finding as it shows that young professionals are more confident in their ability to sell their homes today."

"Homeowner confidence in today's market has increased compared to last year," says Gerstner. "In fact, the survey shows that the confidence level is pretty evenly split-42% of homeowners are confident they will get their asking price in today's market, while 47% of homeowners aren't that confident." Even though home values continue to be on the low side, young professionals and affluent homeowners are seemingly more confident in today's market.

Tags: News

Multi-Generational Home Buying on the Rise

April 11, 2011 1:31 pm

By Keith Loria

RISMEDIA, April 11, 2011--With the economic realities that people are facing in today's environment, there has been an increase in the number of homebuyers who are looking to purchase homes that accommodate multiple generations. More parents and grandparents are finding a need to move in with family, as many can no longer afford the increasing rates of the adult communities where they once lived.

Plus, with life expectancies reaching nearly 79 years of age, the older generation may require some extra looking out for, and family members are searching for homes that will allow them to do that.

Homes that have separate living areas or renovated basements with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, are becoming increasingly popular, studies show. In fact, a recent AARP survey showed that the number of multi-generational households has grown from 5 million in 2000 to almost 7 million in 2009, and the figure is expected to continue to grow.

"Nearly a quarter of baby boomers expect that their parents or in-laws will move in with them-and half of those who anticipate that living arrangement are excited about it," said Elinor Ginzler, AARP's senior vice president for livable communities. "Older family members could be providing financial assistance, but a lot of times, this is just something people want to do."

According to Cam Marston, author and founder of the research firm Generational Insight, there are a number of benefits for different generations of a family living together.

"It's less expensive, obviously, but more importantly, they can learn from one another," Marston said. "Separating generations keeps them aloof from the trends and important things impacting each generation. When they are all under one roof, they can grow up sooner and stay young longer. It works on both ends of the generations."

Buyers who are shopping for a home that they will share with an older relative will be interested in design features that promote safe, comfortable living for all. That's why sellers who have spaces that could accommodate a family interested in a multi-generational living arrangement should highlight this when listing the property.

For those interested in buying a multi-generational home, experts warn that you need to have realistic expectations. Most homes won't have separate living areas where there's very limited interaction or disturbance, and it's more likely that your family will be sleeping in a guest room, refurbished basement or garage apartment.

Wherever they are in the home, Ginzler said an important thing to look out for is to not let the parents or grandparents feel like a burden. They need to know they have their own space, too.

Tags: News

Mortgage Rates Change Little Amid Positive Employment Report

April 11, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 11, 2011-- Freddie Mac has released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey , which shows the 30-year fixed-rate inching upward for the third consecutive week to 4.87% but well below its average of 5.21% a year ago, the highest it had been since August 13, 2009.

News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.87% with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 7, 2011, up from last week when it averaged 4.86%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 5.21%.

  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 4.10% with an average 0.7 point, up from last week when it averaged 4.09%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 4.52%.

  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.72% this week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.70%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 4.25%.

  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 3.22% this week with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.26%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 4.14%.

"Mortgage rates were little changed after an encouraging employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist of Freddie Mac. "The economy added 216,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate fell for the fifth consecutive month to 8.8% marking the lowest rate in two years. Additionally, the private sector has gained 560,000 workers in the first quarter of this year, which represents the largest quarterly increase since the first quarter of 2006."

For more information, visit http://www.freddiemac.com/pmms/data.html and http://www.freddiemac.com/pmms/weightings/weightings_series_010.html.

Tags: News




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