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Tom's Blog

REALTORS Urge Regulators to Rethink Mortgage Requirements

May 17, 2011 2:27 pm

RISMEDIA, May 17, 2011-- A proposed rule to define qualified residential mortgages (QRM) under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act) would unnecessarily restrict access to homeownership. REALTORS at the Real Estate Services Forum The Impact of Dodd-Frank on Real Estate session at the REALTORS Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo gained insights into the implications of a narrowly defined QRM.

"As the leading advocate for housing and homeownership, NAR firmly believes Congress intended to create a broad QRM exemption strong evidence shows that responsible lending standards and ensuring a borrower's ability to repay have the greatest impact on reducing lender risk, and not high down payments," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "Saving the necessary down payment has always been the principal obstacle to buyers seeking to purchase their first home. Proposals that require high down payments will only drive more borrowers to FHA, increase costs for borrowers by raising interest rates and fees, and effectively price many eligible borrowers out of the housing market."

The Dodd-Frank Act was enacted on July 21, 2010. A provision in the Act requires that financial institutions retain 5% of the risk on loans they securitize. The purpose is to discourage excessive risk taking and create strong incentives for responsible lending and borrowing. Exempt from the requirement are certain QRMs; FHA and VA mortgages are also exempted.

Six agencies are developing the risk retention regulation the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The proposed rule narrowly defines QRMs, requiring an 80% loan-to-value, which necessitates a 20% down payment. The rule would also limit mortgage payments to 28% of gross income, a very tight standard.

According to NAR Research, 60% of recent home buyers made less than a 20% down payment, and it would take 14 years for a typical person to save up a 20% down payment to buy a median-priced home.

NAR wants federal regulators to honor Congressional intent by crafting a QRM exemption that includes a wide variety of traditionally safe, well-underwritten products such as 30-, 15-, and 10-year fixed-rate loans; 7-1 and 5-1 ARMs; and loans with down payments in the 5- to 20-percent range with mortgage insurance, where required, and with other features found in low-risk loans such as no prepayment penalties or balloon payments.

"The definition of QRM is important because it will determine the types of mortgages that will generally be available to borrowers in the future," says Phipps. "Borrowers with less than 20% down will have to choose between higher fees and rates today, up to 3 percentage points more, or a 9-14 year delay while they save up the necessary down payment. REALTORS are working hard to make sure that this doesn't happen, and that those creditworthy buyers who are able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home can continue to achieve their homeownership dreams."

Tags: News

Remodeling Market Index Reaches Highest Level in Four Years

May 17, 2011 2:27 pm

RISMEDIA, May 17, 2011-According to the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) Remodeling Market Index (RMI), the remodeling market is heading into recovery with an increase to 46.5 in the first quarter of 2011 from 41.5 in the fourth quarter of 2010. This marks the highest level for the RMI since the fourth quarter of 2006. An RMI below 50, however, indicates that still more remodelers report market activity is lower (compared to the prior quarter) than report it is higher.

The overall RMI combines ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future activity like calls for bids. Current market conditions for the first quarter of 2011 rose to 46.1 from 43.3 in the previous quarter. Future market indicators climbed to 46.8 from 39.7 in the previous quarter.

"Remodelers report a jump in activity so far this year and have been receiving more calls for work and appointments," says NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP, a remodeler from Ft. Collins, Colo. "However, many homeowners are still slow to commit to remodeling due to feeling uncertain about the economic recovery and difficulty obtaining loans."

Regional break downs for current remodeling market conditions showed growth in all but one area: Northeast 46.1 (from 38.8 in the fourth quarter), South 46.1 (from 45.8), and West 46.1 (from 39.7). Only the Midwest experienced a decline to 47.1 (from 54.3).

All current remodeling market indicators increased: major additions to 50.3 (from 48.6 in the fourth quarter), minor additions to 48.0 (from 43.9), and maintenance and repair to 39.5 (from 37.0). Future market indicators also improved across the board: calls for bids rose to 53.1 (from 47.2), appointments for proposals to 52.4 (from 43.1), backlog of remodeling jobs to 49.7 (from 42.6), and amount of work committed for the next three months to 32.1 (from 25.9).

In an additional special question remodelers reported the top reasons prospective customers are holding back from remodeling their homes:

Customers think it is hard to get financing (90% of remodeler respondents);

Customers have lost equity in their homes (81%);

Customers are uncertain about their future economic situation (74%);

Reluctance to invest in home when not sure home will hold its value (67%);

Negative media stories making customers more cautious (62%); and

Inaccurate appraisals are making financing more difficult (54%).

"Home remodeling continues to slowly increase and continued growth through the year is expected," says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The fact that some indicators are breaking 50 means remodelers are seeing improving activity in their markets. While credit scarcity and economic uncertainty continue to weigh down remodeling, signs of increasing consumer interest are promising."

For more information about remodeling, visit www.nahb.org/remodel.

Tags: News

Important Tips for Seeking Senior Housing

May 16, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 16, 2011-People are living longer today. The century-long expansion in the world's population that is 65 and older is the product of dramatic advances in medical science and health lifestyles. Currently, 13% of the U.S. population is 65 and older, up from 4% in 1900. As Baby Boomers turn 65 in high and higher annual numbers, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be over age 65 and about 5% over 85. All this calls for growing care and services for the elderly population and pre-planning for lifestyles in the future.

The senior housing industry has been growing dramatically over the last 15 years as many adult children are now in the workforce and unable to provide the attention to their parents' needs, whether physical or social. There are a number of things to be considered when choosing lifestyle alternatives.

-Location. Keeping your parents close to home should not be the number one consideration. Although it is important that the community be convenient for family and friends to visit, being close to amenities they need and trust will make their senior living experience rewarding and more fulfilling.

-Type of community. Visiting to make sure the current residents have similar interests, backgrounds and values will allow for a more enriching life in the golden years. Many communities invite prospective residents to tour their community and enjoy lunch with the community which is a wonderful way to ascertain if the culture is a fit. Many communities offer a weekend stay to experience more fully what the community has to offer.

-Staff. Is the staff appropriately dressed, personable and outgoing? Do the staff members treat each other in a professional manner? Does the staff call residents by name and interact warmly? The answers to these questions will determine quite a bit toward whether the community is right for your loved one.

-Medical needs. Does the community have on site medical supervision? If not, is there an agency that is associated with the community that can help when needed?

Finding and choosing a housing option for an aging loved one can be a difficult process. Be sure to keep seniors' needs as your top priority in order to find a community that properly suits them.

For more information, visit www.alternativeforseniors.com.

Tags: News

Homeowners Ignore Advice to Use a Good Faith Estimate as Mortgage Shopping Tool

May 16, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 16, 2011-Men and women may not share in the joys of shopping, but when it comes to financing the biggest purchase of their lives, neither is a shop-a-holic. That's because, according to a new survey from ING DIRECT USA, 56% of people buying a home do not use the Good Faith Estimate (GFE) for its original purpose to shop around and compare mortgage offers.

Despite the federal government's multiple revisions to the GFE to make it easier to understand and comparison shop for mortgage estimates, 70% of homeowners chose a mortgage provider without doing any personal research beforehand, the survey said. The GFE clearly states that consumers should "compare this GFE with other loan offers, so you can find the best loan."

"The Good Faith Estimate is one of the most crucial documents a homebuyer will receive before making the biggest purchase of their life," says Arkadi Kuhlmann, president and CEO of ING DIRECT USA. "If it is too complicated and not being used to help homeowners find the right mortgage for them, then the GFE is just a waste of three pieces of paper."

New Look GFE Still Complicated

The Good Faith Estimate itself could be partly to blame for homeowners' lack of enthusiasm to comparison shop for a mortgage. Even after the federal government's attempt to streamline the GFE, more than one in three (36%) homeowners described the GFE as being "complicated" or a "waste of time." Although some homeowners described the GFE as being "simple" or "easy to understand," 68% of homeowners surveyed were unable to correctly identify, for example, the purpose of the Title Services charge on the GFE. Additionally, 53% of homeowners spent 30 minutes or less reading and reviewing the GFE. One in ten homeowners never reviewed the document.

"On average, homeowners ranked buying a home as being more stressful than changing jobs, getting married or having kids," says Kuhlmann. "Buying a home should be exciting, not stressful. We hope to clear up some of the confusion about buying a home."

For more information, visit http://www.ingdirect.com/clearorange/index.html.

Tags: News

NAR Study Finds Americans Prefer Smart Growth Communities

May 16, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 16, 2011-Americans favor walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, with 56% of respondents preferring smart growth neighborhoods over neighborhoods that require more driving between home, work and recreation. That's according to a recent study, the Community Preference Survey, by the National Association of REALTORS .

"REALTORS care about improving communities through smart growth initiatives," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "Our members don't just sell homes, they sell neighborhoods. REALTORS understand that different home buyers are looking for all kinds of neighborhood settings and that many home buyers want walkable, transit-accessible communities."

Walkable communities are defined as those where shops, restaurants and local businesses are within walking distance from homes.

According to the survey, when considering a home purchase, 77% of respondents said they would look for neighborhoods with abundant sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly features, and 50% would like to see improvements to existing public transportation rather than initiatives to build new roads and developments.

The survey also revealed that while space is important to home buyers, many are willing to sacrifice square footage for less driving. Eighty percent of those surveyed would prefer to live in a single-family, detached home as long as it didn't require a longer commute, but nearly three out of five of those surveyed-59%-would choose a smaller home if it meant a commute time of 20 minutes or less.

The survey also found that community characteristics are very important to most people. When considering a home purchase, 88% of respondents placed more value on the quality of the neighborhood than the size of the home, and 77% of those surveyed want communities with high-quality schools.

The survey of 2,071 adult Americans was conducted by Belden, Russonello and Stewart from February 15-24, 2011.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

Tags: News

Tips for Preparing Your Home for a Virtual Tour

May 13, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 13, 2011--As most buyers now turn to the Web to begin their home search, sellers in today's market are relying on virtual tours for that crucial first impression. If you are selling your home, take some time to get it virtual-tour and open-house ready to interest more buyers and entice a faster sale.

Virtual tours show buyers a 360-degree view of the interior of a home and allow them to narrow their home search conveniently from their personal computer. Since potential buyers will be sorting through hundreds of photos and virtual tours throughout this process, it is important to understand that your home looks different through the lens of a camera than in person.

Just as you would prepare for an open house, prepare for your virtual tour shoot by removing clutter. Move personal belongings out of sight or use this as an opportunity to donate or throw away items that you no longer use. The goal is to maximize the space of your home and depersonalize it enough to allow potential buyers to imagine themselves living there.

Here are some tips to help cut down the clutter:

-Remove excess furniture to make rooms look larger.

-Clear off the kitchen counter and hide everyday items, such as kitchen utensils, toasters, hand soap and magnets on the fridge.

-Store children's toys, bicycles, gardening tools and other clutter out of sight.

-Place toiletries and cleaning products in cabinets or closets. Most virtual tours will only photograph the major rooms in your home.

-Take family photos off of walls and shelves while the home is being shown.

-Recycle old magazines and newspapers that take up extra space throughout the home.

The next step is to give your home a good, thorough cleaning. Since cameras often capture more than the eye can see, it is important to spend some time cleaning your home from top to bottom. Areas that are often overlooked during the cleaning process include windows and stainless steel appliances. Be sure to keep them streak free and clean to ensure the best photo.

Another cheap way to prepare your home for buyers is to brighten it up by replacing old or dim light bulbs. Consider using a higher wattage light bulb in rooms or areas that don't get direct sunlight. You can also add a brightly-colored throw or vase to lighten up a space that has dark flooring or furniture.

Some other tips to consider for the virtual tour include:

- Take your own digital photographs to see how each room looks on camera.

- Get layout and style ideas from home and design magazines.

- Don't forget about ceilings and floors. Most virtual tours today show all angles.

- Limit seasonal decorations.

- If exterior photos are included, park vehicles elsewhere and make sure your lawn is freshly mowed and garbage cans are out of sight.

Source: The Chicago Association of REALTORS

Tags: News

How to Design for Less

May 13, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 13, 2011--Thinking about the environment is important when designing or redesigning your home. However, "going green" doesn't necessarily have to break the bank. Here are a few tips to help your designing process, while keeping Mother Earth in mind at the same time.

Start with the basics--recycle! Don't simply throw items away. Try to think of creative ways to reuse things you no longer need. Look around the house and see if you can repurpose. For example, if you need new pillows, try sewing new pillow covers with some fabric you already have. Take advantage of any way in which you can avoid using your wallet. If you must seek other options, try thrift stores, tag sales or asking around for items you may need. You never know what you may find!

Create your own. Why pay for decorative materials when you can make your own? If you or anyone in your family is artsy, create your own artwork to display on the walls and shelves. Centerpieces are also fairly simple to create using old vases or jars. Fill either with sand, pretty stones or seeds to give your room a unique look.

Repainting goes a long way. One of the cheapest ways to give a room a new appeal is with a fresh coat of paint. Make sure to purchase eco-friendly paint that is non-toxic with low- or no- VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Eco-friendly paint may cost a little more, but by doing the painting yourself, you'll save heaps while reducing your family's carbon footprint.

Be realistic. There's no need to completely redesign your home and spend a lot of money in order to be eco-friendly. Even doing things like replacing your light bulbs with energy-efficient ones can help the environment over the course of the year. By making environmentally-friendly decisions in all of your purchases, you can still be "green," while improving your home.

Start by thinking small. With just a little bit of time and creativity, you can be well on your way to living a greener lifestyle, all while redesigning and brightening your home.

Source: Relocation.com Blog

Tags: News

USDA Kicks Off National Moving Month with Campaign to Stop the Spread of the Invasive Gypsy Moth

May 13, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 13, 2011- May is National Moving Month, and if you are one of the estimated 40 million people who move in a given year, there is one more critical thing you can do before closing the moving-van door.

Don't make a move until you check for the gypsy moth. The federal government is joining with the moving industry to urge those planning to relocate to help stop the spread of this invasive culprit that threatens our nation's landscape.

The European gypsy moth has dramatically changed the landscape in 19 states and D.C. since it was introduced in the late 1860s. Without the public's help, it threatens many more states. Since 1970, 75 million acres in the United States have been defoliated by the gypsy moth. An infestation of gypsy moth can defoliate up to 13 million acres of trees in one season if left untreated.

"To those planning a move, don't give this invasive pest a free ride to a non-infested area," says Scott Pfister, director of forest pests for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "The results could spell disaster for the trees and shrubs of your new community."

A few simple tips from the experts: Inspect outdoor household goods-lawn furniture, grills, outdoor toys, camping equipment, etc.-for gypsy moth egg masses. Female moths lay their eggs and the caterpillars spread during the spring and summer months. The removal of egg masses can be performed easily with a putty knife, stiff brush or similar hand tool. Simply dispose of the egg masses in a container of hot, soapy water, or place them in a plastic bag, seal it, and set it in the sun.

USDA requires anyone moving from an area infested with the gypsy moth to a non-infested area to provide an official certificate of inspection of all common outdoor household articles that could carry the gypsy moth. In order to meet this requirement, one can perform a self-inspection of household goods or hire a state-certified pesticide applicator. The checklist and additional information can be found at YourMoveGypsyMothFree.com.

"The driver of the moving van is required to have this certificate on hand for the entire journey," says David Hauenstein, vice president of Compliance Services and Government Affairs for the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA). "This is a small inconvenience to prevent further destruction of this country's majestic landscape."

For more information, visit www.moving.org.

Tags: News

7 Tips for Refacing or Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

May 12, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 12, 2011--Remodeling an old kitchen is an ideal way for homeowners to get a completely new look in their home. Here are seven tips to help homeowners make this process successful and affordable:

  1. When it comes to refacing kitchen cabinets, it is usually cheaper and quicker than buying new. However, this may only be a good option when the current cabinets are of higher quality-if they are of solid frames; doors and drawers are fully self-contained with closed backs and reinforced corners. Painting the current cupboards is also an option if they are of high quality wood. Refacing usually takes one or two days.
  2. If interested in completely replacing kitchen cabinets, stock cabinets are a good choice because they are the least expensive option but they still come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials.
  3. Solid hardwood cupboards made of cherry, maple, oak and birch are usually more expensive than laminate or veneer finished options. Custom cabinets can also be bought, but at a much higher price point.
  4. Homeowners should always check to make certain the cabinets have high-end hinges and mechanical hardware. Cheap ones may not function properly or could break and need to be replaced.
  5. Before finalizing a purchase, costs should be compared with a variety of vendors before making a sale final.
  6. If interested in refacing over replacing, hardware can be tricky. If painting the surface and replacing just hardware, ensure the new hardware has the same drill centers as the previous ones. Otherwise, old drill holes will need to be patched before painting.
  7. Knobs are easier to install over handles because only one screw is needed and the spacing, therefore, does not need to be exact. Door handles or knobs should match the finish of the appliances and other kitchen features. When buying hardware, homeowners should pick up a couple of additional pieces in case any need to be replaced in the future.

If you're thinking about selling or just want a new look, a kitchen fix-up is an inexpensive and easy way to modernize your home and give it a fresh appeal.

Source: KitchenCabinets.net

Tags: News

Fannie Mae's National Housing Survey Shows Uptick in Consumer Attitudes

May 12, 2011 1:29 pm

RISMEDIA, May 12, 2011-- Fannie Mae's latest national housing survey finds that Americans expressed more cautious optimism during the first quarter of 2011 than in the fourth quarter of 2010, but they continue to lack confidence in the overall strength of the housing market and economic recovery. The First-Quarter 2011 Fannie Mae National Housing Survey polled homeowners and renters between January 2011 and March 2011. Findings were compared to similar surveys conducted throughout 2010 and December 2003.

Survey results show that Americans' newfound optimism about home prices, the economy, and personal finances is balanced by concerns about rising household expenses, which may require Americans to remain cautions about the recovery. Despite consumer caution, 57% of Americans still believe that buying a home has a lot of potential as an investment-ranking higher than other investments, such as buying stocks and putting money into an IRA or 401(k) plan.

"Despite moderate signs of improvement in the housing market and the overall economy, consumer attitudes continue to be shaped by ongoing concerns about the recovery and their own financial situations," said Doug Duncan, Vice President and Chief Economist of Fannie Mae. "Uncertainty regarding the improving labor market, expectations of little home price and interest rate movement, and rising household expenses has left consumers feeling less financially secure and translates into weak mortgage demand. While we have seen indications of improving economic activity in recent months, especially the strengthening of private sector employment, consumers' attitudes improved only marginally, and in some areas not at all, from a year ago, reflecting the continued unevenness and uncertainty of this recovery."

  • Only 33% of Americans said they believe the economy is on the right track, up four percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2010, but virtually unchanged from January 2010 (31%).
  • Forty-two percent of respondents said they expect their personal finances to improve over the next year (up 2 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2010), compared with 44% in January 2010.
  • Forty percent say that their current monthly household expenses are significantly higher than twelve months ago, up from 34% in the previous quarter and 31% in January 2010.
  • While the number of Americans who perceive homeownership as a safe investment has been declining (from 83% in 2003 to 66% in the first quarter of 2011), 57% still believe that buying a home has a lot of potential as an investment, more than any other investment tested.

The Fannie Mae First-Quarter 2011 National Housing Survey polled homeowners and renters to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, confidence in homeownership as an investment, the current state of their household finances, views on the U.S. housing finance system, and overall confidence in the economy.

Other Survey Highlights

Forty-four percent of homeowners believe that the value of their home today is worth 20% or more than what they originally paid for it, declining from 46% in June 2010 and 51% in January 2010.

One in three Americans (30%) expect home prices to strengthen over the next year, up four percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2010, but virtually unchanged from a year ago.

Fifty-nine percent of Generation Y Americans (ages 18-34) expect their personal financial situation to improve over the next year, compared to 49% among Generation X (ages 35-44) and 37% among Baby Boomers (ages 45-64).

For more information, visit http://www.fanniemae.com/media/survey/index.jhtml;jsessionid=BJRIA2BO4PB5ZJ2FECISFGA.

Tags: News




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