Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
March 25, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 25, 2011--Nearly two-thirds (64%) of homeowners say they will invest in renovation projects this year. While the number of people planning to make home improvements is similar to 2010 (62%), the amount they are planning to spend is significantly less - dropping from an average of $6,200 in 2010 to $3,400 in 2011. Even though homeowners' confidence in the real estate market has increased compared to last year, less than half (43%) believe they would get the asking price for their home if it was on the market today.
Spending Green to Make Green
Nearly one-third (32%) of homeowners with home improvement plans said they'll be looking to invest in green improvements this year. Many are choosing to spend on energy saving measures because of the long-term, cost-saving benefits (31%). Energy efficient windows and doors (16%) top homeowner's lists, followed by: insulation (12%), roofing (11%) and heating/ventilation/cooling systems (10%).
"This year, consumers are spending smart and looking for ways to save when it comes to home renovation," says Pamela Codispoti, executive vice president and general manager of Consumer Card Services, American Express. "Our survey revealed that consumers are investing in green improvements to increase their savings over time and choosing to handle renovation projects on their own to save now. Many also plan to use their tax refunds to pay for improvements."
I'll Do It Myself, Thank You
More than three in five homeowners (64%) with home improvement plans say they'll take on at least some of the work themselves, 20% will hire a contractor to do all of the work, and 11% will ask a family member to do the work. Among those who plan to do some or all of the work themselves, 30% will be taking a "friends and family" approach to getting the work done. Twenty-one percent plan to split the work load by hiring a contractor for specialized projects. Thirteen percent plan to go it alone.
Bathroom Makeovers Top the List for Room Redos
Indoor renovations outrank outdoor remodeling projects 55% to 29% respectively. Cosmetic work, such as painting, and redoing rooms were the most popular indoor projects, with bathrooms holding on to the top spot again this year for the most popular room remodel. Those who set their sights on outdoor projects are most interested in refreshing their landscaping (22%), followed by building or redoing a deck or patio (9%).
Source: American Express Spending & Saving Tracker
March 25, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 25, 2011-Mortgage rates posted a sharp decline, with the benchmark conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate falling to 4.91%, according to Bankrate.com's weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.38 discount and origination points.
The average 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.12%, and the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate retreated to 5.46%. Adjustable rate mortgages were mostly lower also, with the average 5-year ARM sinking to 3.74% and the 7-year ARM pulling back to 4.10%.
Mortgage rates fell sharply, pulling back below the 5% mark for the first time in nearly two months. While mortgage rates had been lower in three of the past four weeks owing to concerns about Middle East tensions and the potentially negative economic consequences of higher oil prices, it was the unfolding tragedy in Japan that produced this week's movement. Concerns among investors about a potential nuclear meltdown and worries about slower global growth stemming from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, had investors piling into safe haven U.S. Treasuries, helping to drive mortgage rates lower. Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds.
The last time mortgage rates were above 6% was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33%, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.91%, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,062.67, a difference of $179 per month for anyone refinancing now.
30-year fixed: 4.91% - down from 5.04% last week (avg. points: 0.38)
15-year fixed: 4.12% - down from 4.32% last week (avg. points: 0.38)
5/1 ARM: 3.74% - down from 3.88% last week (avg. points: 0.39)
Bankrate's national weekly mortgage survey is conducted each Wednesday from data provided by the top 10 banks and thrifts in the top 10 markets.
To see mortgage rates in your area, go to http://www.bankrate.com/funnel/mortgages/.
March 25, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 25, 2011-U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that 17 communities will be the first recipients of Planning Grant funding through the Department's new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. These communities will share a total of $4 million in Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants while six other communities are selected as finalists to compete for approximately $61 million in Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grants.
HUD's new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CN) will promote a comprehensive approach to transforming distressed areas of concentrated poverty into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods. Building on the successes of HUD's HOPE VI Program, Choice Neighborhoods will link housing improvements with a wider variety of public services including schools, public transit and employment opportunities.
The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is a centerpiece of the Obama Administration's interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative-a collaboration between the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Justice, Treasury and Health and Human Services to support the ability of local leaders from the public and private sectors and attract the private investment needed to transform distressed neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools every family needs.
HUD received 119 submissions for CN Planning Grants and 42 submissions from communities seeking CN Implementation Grants. Successful Planning Grant applicants demonstrated their intent to transform neighborhoods by revitalizing severely distressed public and/or assisted housing while leveraging investments to create high-quality public schools, outstanding education and early learning programs, public assets, public transportation and improved access to jobs and well-functioning services. HUD focused on directing resources to address three core goals-housing, people and neighborhoods.
The 17 communities awarded CN Planning Grants will use the funding to build the capacity they need to get them ready to undertake a successful neighborhood transformation to create a choice neighborhood. These grants will enable these communities to create a comprehensive "Transformation Plan," or road map, to transforming distressed public and/or assisted housing within a distressed community. This Federal support provides a significant incentive for the local community to take critical steps to create viable neighborhood transformation.
The six finalists for CN Implementation Grants have already undertaken the comprehensive local planning process and are ready to move forward with their Transformation Plan to redevelop their target neighborhoods. HUD will publish a second Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) shortly to give these finalists the opportunity to assemble and submit a more detailed application for the approximately $61 million in available funding. HUD will award these grants by the end of September.
Congress approved the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative with the passage of HUD's FY 2010 budget, allowing HUD to use $65 million in funding to provide competitive grants to assist in the transformation, rehabilitation and preservation of public housing and privately owned HUD-assisted housing. CN builds on the successes and lessons of HUD's HOPE VI program and widened the traditional pool of eligible applicants by allowing, in addition to public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofit organizations and for-profit developers (who apply jointly with a public entity) to apply.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
March 24, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 24, 2011--Although temperatures remain chilly in some parts of the country, many homeowners are ready to get a jump-start on the spring season. With a little bit of planning and rearranging, you can help bring the outdoors into any sun room, porch or patio without breaking your budget. After all, who isn't ready for warmer weather? Try the following in order to brighten up your home after a cold and dreary winter:
Washing the windows and changing the curtains can give you more of an effect than you'd think. With clearer windows, you can see more while allowing more sun shine through. Use airy, sheer curtains with natural fabric. These choices will help the curtains filter the light, providing a nice indoor/outdoor balance. If you'd like, purchase floor-to-ceiling curtains to elongate the perception of the wall and window.
Use similar styles both outdoors and in. For homeowners who have a nice view of their porch from the inside, setting up a nice outdoor area will make the home feel more open. Tables, chairs and bright potted plants will provide a casual, yet uplifting appeal both inside and out. Start doing this in all of the entryways to the home. You can also create synergy by using indoor/outdoor materials in both locations. On a nice spring day, the two spaces will feel even larger with the front door open.
Putting fresh flowers everywhere gives every room an outdoorsy feel. Flowers and potted plants inside will do the trick, but if you are prone to traveling, choose something rather low maintenance. For outside porches or decks, window boxes are a great idea. Place them eye level across from the window so they are visible from the inside. Be sure to accessorize with colors and find a color scheme that works for your home.
Outdoor lighting will extend the use of your outside living spaces. Lamps, tiki torches, or even string lights that can be wrapped around trees or draped across surfaces will all create an environment that will add comfort and pleasure to your outdoor areas.
The key to a successful blend is to treat the inside of your home like the outside and vice versa. Doing so will create an open, bright and comfortable spring and summer habitat for you and your family.
March 24, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 24, 2011--If your home was built before 1978 and you still have the original windows, it's time to seriously consider replacing them--especially if you have young children or a pregnant person living at home. During National Poison Prevention Week--March 20-26--homeowners are urged to evaluate their windows and make healthy living changes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the routine opening and closing of windows in homes built prior to 1978 can disturb lead-based paint around the windows, causing paint dust and chips to be released into the air. These lead particles are so potentially dangerous that the EPA now requires contractors to be trained and certified before they can perform any renovation, repair or painting projects that may have previously applied lead-based paint.
"Research indicates that the everyday activity of opening and closing windows creates friction that then allows invisible lead dust to enter the air," says Rick Nevin, a consultant to the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH). "Young children, who crawl on the floor where the lead dust has settled, can be especially at risk. Toddlers put their hands in their mouths and after playing on the floor near a window, they can easily transfer the lead dust into their mouths. The ingested lead travels through the bloodstream to a child's developing brain, causing many types of neurobehavioral damage."
According to Nevin, one of the most important long-term investments a homeowner can make for the overall safety of a family is to replace older windows, using the EPA-approved lead safe renovation guidelines. "Replacing older windows is one of the best ways to reduce lead risks," says Nevin. "Make sure to use only a contractor that is certified in lead-safe work practices and strongly consider the use of Energy Star
qualified windows, like vinyl replacement windows. These windows are a healthy choice for replacing older single-pane units. They're energy-efficient and a good value for the investment."
"We advocate that replacing older windows coated with lead-based paint with vinyl windows is a sensible step for homeowners who want to create a healthier home environment," says Gary Pember, representative of Simonton Windows. "We believe Rick's research substantiates the replacement of all windows coated with lead-based paint as a way to dramatically help reduce lead dust within that home."
Nevin explains that, according to his research funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), homeowners need to understand there are four key steps to completing a "lead-safe window replacement strategy" for the home. "First, they advise replacing all single-pane windows with Energy Star qualified windows," says Nevin. "Second, stabilize any significantly deteriorated paint. Third, perform specialized cleaning to remove any lead-contaminated dust. And finally, perform dust wipe tests to confirm the absence of lead dust hazards after the clean up."
Research results can be obtained at www.ricknevin.com/windows. For further information, visit www.simonton.com.
March 24, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 24, 2011-Generation X-young families and adults ages 31 to 45-are likely to lead the home-buying recovery as it gets underway, according to real estate experts who spoke at an educational webinar produced by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in partnership with Builder magazine.
These potential home buyers are most likely to think it's a good time to get off the fence-and have strong opinions about the design features their new homes will include.
At 32% of the population of home-buying age-generally defined as those who are at least 30 years old, the Gen X population cohort isn't the largest, but it's the most mobile, said presenter Mollie Carmichael, principal of John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif. "They are in full force with their careers and they need to accommodate growing families," she said.
In sharp contrast, even though they constitute 41% of prospective home buyers, Baby Boomers continue to wait for the market to improve, and their decisions to delay retirement also delay their decisions to downsize into a smaller home, Carmichael said.
Most of the 10,000 buyers and potential buyers in 27 metro areas that the consulting company surveyed were optimistic about a new home purchase, with between 85% and 89% saying that it was a good time to buy a home. Only 13% said they thought home prices would continue to fall, further evidence that it's "not all about price," she said. "They want something compelling, from a design or personalization standpoint," said Carmichael.
In addition, though the average home size is shrinking, a majority of prospective buyers said they would like a bigger home than the one they have. "These are first-time buyers or younger families looking for more room to grow," she said.
Seventy percent said that they were willing to pay $5,000 more for a green home, but those responding to the survey said that they expected new homes to already have many green technology features. They also said they would pay a premium for dark wood cabinets, a separate tub and shower and a fireplace in the living room, and more preferred a great room over formal spaces.
And while community amenities are important to Gen X buyers, 46% said they prefer a home in a large-lot, suburban development, versus the 21% looking for a traditional or "walkable" neighborhood.
Webinar panelist Heather McCune, director of marketing at Bassenian/Lagoni Architects in Newport Beach, Calif., also emphasized that design will be important in generating sales in the emerging marketplace. "The notion of 'build it and they will come' no longer works. Design matters," she said.
McCune said buyers are looking for homes with a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, even in colder climates, to create the perception of greater home size, even if the space is only usable for part of the year. They also want more storage, an open floor plan and flexibility in the garage.
"While Gen X numbers are smaller than the birth cohorts before and after them, their numbers have been enlarged by steady immigration," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Gen X may wait longer than their predecessors to establish their own household or buy a home because of the recent recession impacts, but the trends are still likely to occur as they have for past generations."
For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
March 23, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-Passively waiting for the right time to buy can cost you thousands of dollars and the home of your dreams. Attempting to time the market is one sure-fire way to miss the boat on your perfect house and/or the right investment opportunity that comes along the way.
What are savvy real estate buyers doing now to uncover real estate opportunities?
Simply put, they are active. While they may not necessarily be buying, they are actively researching listings, viewing homes, staying up-to-date on market indicators and undertaking other proactive efforts to increase their chances of making the best purchase decision-whether that be today, tomorrow or later this year.
Robert Jensen, a real estate professional from Las Vegas, NV, suggests the following steps to ensure a successful real estate transaction in any sort of market:
1. Ensure Your Goals Are Realistic. Be sure you are clear on what you want to buy, and why.
Is it an investment property, a dream home or somewhere in between?
As your criteria for that perfect home increases, you may have to pay a little more to have your standards met.
Be prepared to weigh possible cost savings versus quality of life benefits.
If an investment property, ensure you have cash flow in mind with an acceptable return on investment planned before you buy.
Know the Properties. No matter the market conditions, continue to search for the right property and view listings in person.
Even if you are not ready to buy today, this will help you learn the market and the property available in your price range. When the right opportunity comes along and the timing works, you'll be best prepared to make an educated rather than emotional decision.
Know Your Financing Options. Many buyers want to find the "perfect" home before having their credit pulled, which can backfire when an offer is on the table and time is of the essence.
It's wise to get pre-approved for a loan even before you view your first home, and to get a pre-approval letter in hand. Once approved, check in with your lender every few weeks to see how your rate and program are doing.
Know the Market at All Times. Have a detailed talk with your agent about the current state of the market at the onset of the relationship, and at regular intervals thereafter. Also discuss what can be foreseen up ahead. Your REALTOR
will have his or her finger on the pulse of the changing landscape and, thus, is an invaluable resource. On your own, locate information sources outside of mass media.
Real estate markets follow basic fundamentals in the same way stocks do, offering infinite analysis possibilities.
Have a Purchase Game Plan. While it's certainly prudent to wait until you're comfortable executing a property purchase, it's imperative to know, in specific terms, exactly what economic indicators are impacting your decision and why. This will help it become crystal clear when it's time to make your move, and you can then do so with confidence.
Understand the Timeline. While great deals are certainly abundant in today's market, nobody said it would be easy to land one for yourself. Particularly on short sales and foreclosures, be prepared for bidding wars, bank delays and other challenges. Learn in advance the average timeline involved with each type of transaction based on prior 30 to 60-day statistics, so that you may strategically plan your efforts.
March 23, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-- Rising mortgage costs and declining foreclosures in many areas signals that now could be the best chance home buyers have to save money on discount foreclosure homes.
New statistics released on foreclosures in the first months of 2011 have revealed that foreclosures are on the decline in many major markets. Nationwide, foreclosure home volumes were down 17% from the previous year, indicating that the days of a flooded market and record low prices at foreclosure auctions could be coming to a close. Many foreclosure leaders have seen their foreclosure rates slow, and in some areas, major decreases have been noted.
"We're seeing a general decline in foreclosures from last year, and coupled with some of the other trends we're seeing, it could mean that the time to get the best possible prices is now," says James Foxx, a business analyst with ForeclosureDeals.com.
One of the trends that Foxx points to is the possible liquidation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government sponsored agencies that account for a huge portion of the national mortgage market. Government officials have expressed skepticism about continuing to fund the organizations, and experts believe this could have serious consequences for homebuyers.
If the two mortgage agencies are shut down, many homebuyers won't have access to the low cost loans that have increased home ownership in America over the past 50 years. Instead, if these low-cost, government sponsored home loans become a thing of the past, homebuyers will be looking at higher interest rates, more associated fees, and ultimately, less of a chance of being approved for a home loan.
Foxx points out that foreclosure homes still offer great value. With discounts of up to 50% off market value available on hundreds of thousands of foreclosed properties across the country, there's still time to take advantage of foreclosure sales while interest rates are low. Foxx points to the growing debate over whether foreclosure prevention measures have worked as proof that deals on foreclosures are still out there.
"We're seeing that the foreclosure prevention programs have really only been partially effective. In many cases, they're delaying foreclosure for long periods of time, but they're not really stopping foreclosures from happening."
Congress is currently debating the effectiveness of foreclosure prevention and mortgage adjustment programs designed to keep homeowners in their homes, with some representatives claiming the programs should be ended. However, whether these kinds of government foreclosure services continue or not, the potential for more foreclosures still exists, even if they seem to be tapering off in many areas.
"The key is to get out there and see what's available now," says Foxx. "If mortgages become more expensive, we believe even more people will turn to the discounts available on foreclosures to help offset those higher costs. While we're glad to see interest in foreclosure investment on the rise, in terms of getting the best deal, more competition for foreclosure properties isn't really the best thing for foreclosure investors looking for the lowest price."
With increased attendance at foreclosure sales and more buyers inquiring about REO and bank-owned properties reported nationwide, the increased interest in foreclosures is apparent in many areas. But with an uncertain future for both mortgage prices and the health of the foreclosed property market, now could be the best time to buy.
"Anything could happen, but with the future uncertain, anyone looking at buying a foreclosure should act now to ensure they get a truly great low price," Foxx advised.
For more information, visit ForeclosureDeals.com.
March 23, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011--A perfect lawn starts with a simple soil test, according to Tammy Lawrence, founder and president of organic fertilizer producer Turf Revolution.
"Homeowners and gardeners spend small fortunes for a perfect lawn every year. Many people end up disappointed, simply because they don't start with a soil test. It's the first step toward a great lawn and it's the one that most people either don't know or forget about," Lawrence said.
In an effort to convince homeowners and gardeners to test their soil, Lawrence has released a top 10 list of reasons to get your soil tested:
1. Soil testing saves you time and money. Guesswork can be costly and time consuming. The lab tells you what your lawn needs. Instead of overspending on fertilizers or trying something new every season, you will now know exactly what products to use and how much of them to use.
2. Soil testing is an effective way to control weeds, insects and disease without pesticides. Many of these pests are the result of nutrient imbalances or other problems in the soil. Soil testing is the only way to identify and correct these problems. You can prevent the pests before they get started.
Not all lawns are created equal. The soil beneath your lawn may be substantially different from the soil beneath your neighbor's. It has affected the type of trees in your yard as well as the geological properties of the area. Many retailers carry products manufactured in other parts of the country for other types of soil. The only way you be sure they're right for your lawn is by conducting a soil test.
4. You want to get rid of spots in your lawn. We've all had those spots in our lawns that just don't want to grow. A soil test will identify the problem and better yet, provide you with the solution.
5. You can track your progress. Performing a soil test every two years will allow you to see how you're improving the soil beneath your lawn. Watch as pH levels and nutrients are slowly optimized for your lawn's growth.
6. Soil tests are good for the environment. With a soil test, you'll know exactly how much fertilizer to use, reducing or eliminating run off that finds its way into our waterways.
7. Soil tests are easy. Soil tests are available from a number of independent labs. Turf Revolution , for example, offers Soil Test Kits that are easy to use and even easier to understand. It's like having your own personal laboratory helping you take care of your lawn.
8. Soil tests are inexpensive. Postage-paid soil test kits are less expensive than getting a soil test done in a lab.
9. The results from soil tests are often from an independent, accredited laboratory. To maintain their accreditation, their recommendations are based only on science.
10. You'll have the best lawn on the street this year. By focusing on what your lawn really needs, it will be thicker, darker and more beautiful than ever before.
"I urge everyone to do it. It's the simplest and least expensive investment you can make in your lawn and you'll love the results," Lawrence said.
March 22, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011--Many homeowners are planning spring improvement projects and often at the top of the list is exterior painting. Debbie Zimmer with the Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute offers these four simple and economical steps:
1. Prepare the Surface. Before you begin painting, make sure the surface is clean and sound. Even the best quality paints will fail if they are applied to a poorly prepared surface. First, remove any mildew with a solution of one part bleach to three parts water then rinse with clean water. Wear eye and skin protection, and protect nearby plantings.
Next, make sure the surface is free of any loose, flaking or peeling paint. This may require scraping and sanding. Also, sand any glossy areas to dull them. Power wash the entire surface to remove dirt and chalk, rinse with clean water. Finally, prime any bare areas with a top quality exterior primer.
2. Use the Right Tools and Brushes. Good quality rollers and brushes last longer and help a job move along more quickly. They also apply the paint more heavily and smoothly, which helps with long-term durability. Choose brushes that are well balanced, and have tightly packed bristles that are tapered up to the center of the brush
3. Paint in the Right Weather Conditions. Ideally, you should paint when the temperature is between 60-85 degrees F, and when there is little or no wind. Avoid painting in direct sunshine, as this can cause the paint to dry too quickly and even to blister. In addition, if the temperature is predicted to drop below the paint manufacturer's recommendation for minimum application temperature in the next day or two, you might want to consider postponing your project.
4. Use the Right Paint for the Job. Choose a paint that is designed for the job you're doing. In most cases, a 100% acrylic latex paint will be the best choice. These paints adhere better, are more flexible, and last longer than ordinary paints. Using a lower quality paint just to save a few dollars will end up costing you more in the long run, as you will have to repaint much sooner than if you used a top quality product.
One very important thing to remember is never to use an interior paint for an exterior job. Manufacturers formulate paints for use either inside or out. Paints contain specific ingredients that all play a role in the durability and final appearance. These ingredients include pigments, binders, additives and the carrier or liquid portion.
The pigments provide the whiteness, darkness and color to the paint or other coating. In addition, they impart the opacity and hiding power required. Pigments are dry powders (not dyes); liquid colorants used in the stores contain pigment powders dispersed in a liquid.
The binder is the component that "binds," or ties together the particles of pigment, hopefully in a tough, durable film. The binder also provides the adhesion of the film, and influences almost all paint properties. Generally, the binder alone dries to a clear, glossy usually colorless film.
Additives are low-level ingredients included in the paint formulation, and put in the product in the factory, not point of sale additives that are purchased in the paint store, home center or other outlets. These affect certain properties such as thickness of the paint, mildew resistance and bubble breaking.
The liquid proportion is water and affects how heavily the paint will tend to apply, and how thick the paint film will be when it dries. This is an important aspect of the overall quality of the product.
How thick the dry film is will affect many of the paints durability and appearance properties including:
ease of touch-up
Finally, it is important to apply the paint at its recommended spread rate; and not to thin the paint with additional liquid because this reduces the solids content and can compromise quality and performance.
When tackling your next exterior paint project, follow these steps to achieve that long-lasting and attractive paint job you have always wanted.