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Tom's Blog

Tips for Finding the Best Rentals

February 28, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 28, 2011--Depending on your location, finding the best rental may be a tricky task. Between amenities, prices ranges and lease terms, some renters may have a harder time than anticipated when searching for the perfect apartment. Instead of settling for anything, follow these tips to help find the best fit for you. Know what you want. Start by making a list of everything you want the apartment to have. When viewing possible options, use your list as a checklist to compare different places. What items on your list are must-haves and what can you do without? Knowing what you're looking for is half the battle. Inquire if your rent will increase. Fewer and fewer markets offer rent controlled apartments nowadays. There is nothing worse than getting completely settled in only to find out you have to move at the end of the year. Ask the landlord or other tenants in the building. If you have a maximum rental price you don't want to exceed, this question could narrow down your hunting. Take over for a friend. One of the easiest ways to snag a perfect find is by moving into a friend's apartment when he or she moves out. Word of mouth, especially from a trusted friend, is the best resource you can have in your search. You'll receive all of the information necessary and can ask any questions regarding the lease, landlord, fees, and more. Take your time. Finding a place you will be happy in doesn't happen overnight. If time isn't a serious factor, don't rush into a decision--it is one you will most likely have to live with for a full year or more. Be friendly to the neighbors. If possible, try to meet the neighbors. Like it or not, they will soon become people you will have daily dealings with. You may even be able to tap into them for information regarding the available rental. The insight they may be able to provide may turn out to be invaluable. Keeping these tips in mind can facilitate your search for a new home. If problems arise or if you'd simply like to streamline the process, speaking with a professional REALTOR in your area could also make all the difference. Source: AOL Real Estate
Tags: News

Mortgage Applications Increase

February 28, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 28, 2011--Mortgage applications increased 13.2% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Associations Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 18, 2011. The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 13.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 14.8% compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index increased 17.8% from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 5.1% from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 9.6% compared with the previous week and was 6.9% lower than the same week one year ago. Ongoing turmoil in the Middle East brought interest rates lower last week. Borrowers took advantage of these lower rates, bringing application activity back near levels from two weeks ago, following sharp declines last week, said Michael Fratantoni, MBAs Vice President of Research and Economics. The four week moving average for the seasonally adjusted Market Index is up 1.9%. The four week moving average is up 1.6% for the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index, while this average is up 1.8% for the Refinance Index. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 65.7% of total applications from 64.0% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 5.6% from 6.0% of total applications from the previous week. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 5.00% from 5.12%, with points increasing to 0.97 from 0.85 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value (LTV) ratio loans. The effective rate also decreased from last week. The average contract interest rate for 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.28% from 4.34%, with points decreasing to 0.80 from 0.85 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate also decreased from last week. For more information, visit
Tags: News

Home Sellers Fare Better in Getting Their Homes Sold Using a REALTOR, According to HomeGain Survey

February 28, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 28,, an online real estate resource that connects home buyers and sellers with real estate professionals, announced the results of its For Sale By Owner (FSBO) vs. REALTOR survey. HomeGain surveyed over 1,000 homeowners asking whether they used a REALTOR to sell their home or whether they attempted to sell it themselves. Eighty-three percent said they used a REALTOR to sell their home and 17% said they tried to sell their home on their own. Fifty-nine percent of homeowners that used a REALTOR to sell their home were successful vs. 39% of FSBOs, reflecting a 50% higher closing rate for those home sellers using a REALTOR. Eighty-one percent of homeowners that used a REALTOR to try and sell their homes said they would use a REALTOR again for their real estate needs. Eighty-eight percent of homeowners who sold their homes using a REALTOR said they would use a REALTOR again. Seventy-one percent of FSBOs who managed to sell their homes on their own said they would try and sell their home on their own again. It is especially striking that homeowners fare significantly better in selling their homes using a REALTOR than selling on their own, said Louis Cammarosano, General Manager of HomeGain. Due to that relative success, the level of satisfaction in the home selling process is also higher for home sellers utilizing the services of a REALTOR than those who try to sell their homes on their own. The survey also pointed out that 24% of FSBOs eventually enlisted the aid of a REALTOR to help sell their homes. For more information, visit
Tags: News

3 Little-Known Moving Scams Revealed

February 25, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 25, 2011--With millions of Americans moving every year, it bears repeating: beware of dishonest moving companies. The standard warnings apply: don't accept a "low-ball" estimate, make sure the moving company is licensed, check Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports and reviews, and insist on an in-home moving estimate. Be sure that you can identify some of the less familiar tricks and know how to prevent becoming a victim. The "Guaranteed" Moving Quote Most people rightly insist on getting a "binding estimate," which is often referred to as a "guaranteed moving quote." This estimate ensures that the customer pays no more than the quoted amount, and can actually pay less if the estimate was too high. That "guaranteed" quote is only good for the inventory that the moving company uses to come up with the estimate. If that inventory is wrong - whether on purpose or not - the "guaranteed moving quote" becomes void, and a new rate will need to be negotiated with the moving company (on moving day, no less). After the moving estimator compiles the inventory during the in-home visual estimate, double check the inventory to ensure that it includes everything you need to have moved. Many movers overlook this. Additionally, don't try to add extra items to the move after receiving an estimate; this will void the estimate and incur additional fees. Packing Pratfalls Many people choose to pack their belongings themselves to save money. However, crafty moving companies may see this as an opportunity to add unnecessary charges on moving day. There might be a few extra items that the moving company wants to go into boxes, or they insist that some of the boxes need extra tape that they charge much more for than the actual cost. Another scam is the half-filled box - the mover takes a box, puts just a few items in the bottom and fills the rest of the box with packing paper. All of a sudden, an extra $100 in packing costs is tacked onto the final moving bill. Make sure the estimate details all the charges for extra packing material from the moving company. Knowing the prices in advance may be extra motivation to make sure that every item that should be packed before moving day is indeed securely taped and packed. Also, consumers should be sure to closely monitor the movers during the process, and make sure the manager is aware. The Move Size: Cubic Feet or Weight? When estimating the size of the move, some moving companies use cubic feet instead of weight. For many consumers, trying to envision all their belongings in terms of cubic feet is often downright confusing. Why do they use cubic feet instead of weight? For an estimate based on weight, the moving company must go to a certified weighing station to see how much the inventory weighs - and that scale doesn't lie. With cubic feet, the moving company measures the final move by the amount of space everything takes up in the truck. This gives the moving company sizeable "wiggle room" to load up the truck improperly, with lots of empty spaces. The moving estimate becomes much higher because the estimated cubic foot load is much lower than the final load in the poorly packed truck. Insist on a moving quote based on weight. If you have concerns that there might be issues when the moving company weighs the load, follow the movers to the scales. Consumers have the right to do this and should feel comfortable doing so. For more information, visit
Tags: News

Fannie Mae Launches Servicer Accountability Program

February 25, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 25, 2011--Fannie Mae has announced the Servicer Total Achievement and Rewards (STAR) Program, a new effort designed to measure and evaluate mortgage servicers' performance in supporting the housing recovery by helping homeowners avoid foreclosure. The STAR Program provides clear expectations and specific, consistent measurements to help Fannie Mae servicers increase focus on areas of critical importance to Fannie Mae. The program directly links servicer performance to homeowners the servicer has helped, and the customer's experience with their servicer. "We created the STAR Program to promote transparency, accountability and excellence in mortgage servicing and to recognize those which consistently deliver strong, customer-driven results," said Leslie Peeler, vice president of servicing portfolio management. "The efforts of servicers are critical to preventing foreclosures and providing homeowners assistance. By creating measurable expectations for our servicers aligned with Fannie Mae's business objectives, we hope to sharpen servicers' focus and encourage them to continue to work with us toward our shared priority: keeping people in their homes." A key component of the STAR Program is the Servicer Performance Scorecard, which provides monthly performance snapshots and trends for key performance indicators to help servicers effectively assess their progress. Top-ranked servicers will be eligible to receive incentive awards and recognition. Rankings of top performers will be made available to the public in an annual scorecard. The STAR Program is part of Fannie Mae's ongoing efforts to hold servicers accountable, help homeowners and stabilize communities. Fannie Mae continues to conduct homeowner outreach across the country, which includes the opening of Mortgage Help Centers in Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth. The company also launched and WaysHome, a free, interactive multimedia tool designed to educate homeowners about their options to avoid foreclosure, empower them to make informed decisions and motivate them to take action and seek help in 2011.
Tags: News

Real Estate Valuations Addressed in New Book from Appraisal Institute

February 25, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 25, 2011A new book published this week by the Appraisal Institute demonstrates valuation methodologies for controversial easement-related appraisal assignments. The Appraisal Institute is one of the nations largest professional associations of real estate appraisers. Appraising Conservation and Historic Preservation Easements addresses an area of valuation that has become contentious in recent years due to increased Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of valuations of conservation and historic preservation easements that are donated to charity. The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002 and The Washington Post in 2004 ran series on the topic, leading to IRS and Congressional investigations. Written by Richard J. Roddewig, MAI, CRE, FRICS, the book was published in response to a recommendation from a joint task force on conservation and preservation easement appraisal issues appointed by the Land Trust Alliance (an umbrella organization for hundreds of conservation easement-holding organizations across the country), the Appraisal Institute, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Society of Appraisers and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. The culmination of years of research and development in a specialized area of valuation practice, Appraising Conservation and Historic Preservation Easements draws on legal, regulatory and professional appraisal literature to examine the valuation of conservation and historic preservation easements from the contradictory perspectives of the IRS, the courts, easement-holding organizations and appraisers. The book explores and documents the history of easements, corresponding appraisal practices and general land-use considerations. In addition to a comprehensive analysis of this specialized area of appraisal, the book includes a series of detailed examples and sample sections of appraisal reports relating to various conservation and preservation easement properties and appraisal situations. The book is aimed at everyone involved in the valuation of conservation and historic preservation easements: appraisers, agencies acquiring easements, non-profit organizations accepting easement donations, IRS staff reviewers, attorneys, judges and hearing officers involved in conservation and preservation easement valuation cases. Roddewig is a real estate appraiser and land use and zoning attorney with more than 30 years of valuation experience. He has been involved in more than 200 assignments involving conservation and historic preservation easements, and his clients have included taxpayers donating easements, the federal Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Justice. For more information, visit
Tags: News

Cut Crime and Save Money with a Home Security System

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 24, 2011--Some of the nation's insurance companies are encouraging homeowners to install monitored security systems by offering them substantial discounts on homeowner's insurance.

"A survey of the 10 largest insurance companies offering homeowners coverage found premium discounts up to 20% if a home is equipped with a monitored alarm system," said Dom D'Ascoli, president of the Electronic Security Association. "The discounts can be substantial enough to pay a portion of the monitoring costs or installation of the system," said D'Ascoli.

"The majority of insurance companies offer discounts for alarm systems," said Michael Barry, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. "Homeowners should check with their individual carrier to determine the amount and availability of the discounts."

According to a study by Dr. Simon Hakim of Temple University, "An alarmed single family home is more than 60% less likely to be burgled than a similar home without an alarm."

A comprehensive two-year study in Newark, New Jersey, by Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, demonstrates why insurance companies are offering the discounts. The team of Rutgers researchers used sophisticated in-depth research techniques to eliminate the variables that impact crime rates and to focus solely on the impact alarm systems have on residential burglaries.

"Thanks to modern technology alarm systems are more affordable, versatile and dependable than ever before," said D'Ascoli. "The Rutgers study showed that these technical innovations have increased the availability of home security systems to middle class homeowners and helped reduce crime."

In addition to discouraging burglars, modern alarm systems also reduce the damage caused by fires. Fire and lightning claims are almost 10 times higher than claims for burglaries and thefts according to statistics from the Insurance Information Institute. "The alarm's ability to notify the fire department whether or not anyone is at home or able to call for help is vital in reducing the cost of these claims and protecting building occupants," said D'Ascoli.

For more information, visit the Electronic Security Association at

Tags: News

National Survey Reveals Renter Moving Plans for 2011

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 24, 2011For the first time in years, the apartment rental market is beginning to experience signs of recovery as the U.S. economy slowly begins to strengthen. Reuters reported the rental vacancy rate fell to 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2010 from 10.3% in the July-September periodthe lowest since the second quarter of 2007. Witten Advisors predicts rents will increase 4.5% in 2011 as operators become aggressive in raising rents with little fear of losing customers to other housing options. In response to this news, conducted a national survey of more than 1,800 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2011 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search. Socioeconomic factors are often the leading indicator of growth in the housing industry. survey results revealed nearly three times the number of respondentsor 28.8%are looking to move to relocate for employment opportunities in January 2011 compared to 10.4% from the previous year, further corroborating news of an improving rental market in 2011. Other key findings from the survey demonstrated many renters are starting their apartment search earlier in the year, a large volume of current homeowners and first-time renters are entering the market and having access to accurate apartment information is paramount when looking for a new place to live. The primary factor fueling moves for survey respondents are new job opportunities. However, the desire to have more space, affordability and living in a safe neighborhood also topped the list. The five most popular reasons survey respondents are moving in 2011 include:
  • Relocating for employment opportunities: 28.8%
  • Looking for a bigger apartment: 13.3%
  • Shopping for a less expensive apartment: 9.7%
  • Rent increase: 6.7%
  • Wanting to live in a safer neighborhood: 5.7%
A significant number of respondents indicated they are apartment shopping now for a move that will not take place until much later in the year. According to the survey, nearly 20% of respondents are starting their apartment search three to four months in advance and nearly a quarter are looking as early as five months to more than a year out. "It's a good idea to lock into a lease right now," states Chris Brown, vice president of product management, "Many management companies have announced rent increases and we're starting to see this reflected in the rents advertised on our site. As vacancy rates continue to drop and the rental market improves, we expect to see the upward trend grow. Deals can still be had, but they're getting harder to find. Use the tools available online to search for apartments by rent ranges that work with your budget." Supporting a growing trend in the industry, more than 20% of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are current homeowners. From these survey respondents who said they are current homeowners, 32% are also first-time renters, indicating a significant number of current homeowners and new renters are turning toward the rental market in 2011. Survey respondents who are former homeowners also said they are renting this year because it affords them a lifestyle they prefer, including flexibility to relocate for employment opportunities and to live where they choose. visitors want access to accurate apartment information and the option to tailor their searches by price and location when looking for a new place. According to the survey, 64% of respondents said being able to check real time availability of a specific apartment matters most and 72.2% said the two most popular ways they prefer to search for an apartment is by the "cost of rent" or "location." It is also clear that renters are tapping multiple resources to find their next apartment. While 81% of visitors surveyed said they are using an Internet Listing Service (ILS) during their apartment search, they are also utilizing popular search engines, listening to recommendations from others and reading their local newspapers. Only 5% said they are using social media websites during their search. Renters ranked their top apartment shopping tools as follows:
  • Internet Listing Service (e.g., and 80.9%
  • Online apartment classified listing websites (e.g. Craigslist and Oodle): 46.2%
  • Search engines: 38.4%
  • Word of mouth: 31.1%
  • Local newspaper: 27.1
Renters also want instant access to information on-the-go. According to the survey, 80% of respondents indicated they use a mobile device during their apartment search. Nearly half of these respondents said they use a smartphone or device including iPhone, iPad, Android or BlackBerry during their apartment hunt. answers the needs of on-the-go renters by offering a mobile version of the website and an app for iPhone and iTouch users. For more information, visit
Tags: News

Existing-Home Sales Rise Again in January

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 24, 2011--The uptrend in existing-home sales continues, with January sales rising for the third consecutive month with a pace that is now above year-ago levels, according to the National Association of REALTORS. Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January from a downwardly revised 5.22 million in December, and are 5.3% above the 5.09 million level in January 2010. This is the first time in seven months that sales activity was higher than a year earlier. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the improvement is good but could be better. "The uptrend in home sales is consistent with improvements in the economy and jobs, which are helping boost consumer confidence," Yun said. "The extremely favorable housing affordability conditions are a big factor, but buyers have been constrained by unnecessarily tight credit. As a result, there are abnormally high levels of all-cash purchases, along with rising investor activity." A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 29% of homes in January, down from 33% in December and 40% in January 2010 when an extended tax credit was in place. Investors accounted for 23% of purchases in January, up from 20% in December and 17% in January 2010; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales rose to 32% in January from 29% in December and 26% in January 2010. "Increases in all-cash transactions, the investor market share and distressed home sales all go hand-in-hand. With tight credit standards, it's not surprising to see so much activity where cash is king and investors are taking advantage of conditions to purchase undervalued homes," Yun said. All-cash purchases are at the highest level since NAR started measuring these purchases monthly in October 2008, when they accounted for 15% of the market. The average of all-cash deals was 20% in 2009, rising to 28% last year. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $158,800 in January, down 3.7% from January 2010. Distressed homes edged up to a 37% market share in January from 36% in December; it was 38% in January 2010. NAR President Ron Phipps said the median price is being dampened by unusual market factors. "Unprecedented levels of all-cash purchases, primarily of distressed homes sold at deep discounts, undoubtedly pulls the median price downward," Phipps said. "Given the levels of inventory we see today, we believe that traditional homes in good condition have held their value." Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 5.1% to 3.38 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 8.2-month supply in December. The inventory supply is at the lowest level since December 2009 when there was a 7.3-month supply. According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.76% in January from 4.71% in December; the rate was 5.03% in January 2010. Single-family home sales rose 2.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.69 million in January from 4.58 million in December, and are 4.9% higher than the 4.47 million level in January 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $159,400 in January, down 2.7% from a year ago. Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 4.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 in January from 640,000 in December, and are 7.9% above the 621,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price was $154,900 in January, which is 10.2% below January 2010.
Tags: News

6 Ways to Spend Less on Groceries

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2011Household bills can get expensive. Between mortgage payments, insurance, home repairs and utilities, many homeowners might need to stretch those paychecks when times get tough. One easy area to save is at the grocery store. Grocery shopping is a large part of the family budget. The average family of four spends nearly $6,000 a year at the supermarket. Does your family need to scale back a bit on grocery spending? Here are six easy tips to help you save money as youre aisle hopping. Make a list before you go using your weekly flyer. If the store has a website, check to see what is on sale and what you think youll need for the week. By having a plan, youll do less perusing and more calculated shopping. Having a list will even save you time, too. Always sign up for the club card. No matter what, always get the stores savings card to guarantee that youll get all of the advertised sale prices. Youll receive extra members-only specials as well. Stores that sell gasoline also award you with points towards gas purchases. These cards are free to get and will save you loads. Know how to pace your purchases. If you time your purchases right, you rarely have to pay full price for things you buy every week. Youll begin to notice how often certain products go on sale, and you can catch your favorite items on sale weeks. By grabbing what you need on Buy-1-Get-1 weeks, youll save immensely over time. Buying store brands can also save. Most supermarkets offer their own brand labels, which cost around 25% less. Almost every product has its own store brand, even frozen veggies, baked goods and cold cutsits not just limited to canned fruit and paper towels anymore. Look for these inexpensive products and be sure to compare prices to the name brands. Always remember your coupons. Whether you clip them from the newspaper, or click and print from the Web, this one is a no-brainer. Be a smart shopper. Stores use all sorts of tactics to get you to spend more. If something is three-for-a-dollar, it usually doesnt mean you have to buy three. Only buy what you need and usually the discount is applied regardless. Also, dont just buy things at eye levelstores often place the more expensive items there. Search high and low to find the good deals. With some smart shopping, you can save your family a great deal of money just by changing your shopping habits. Plenty of bills come in each month. This saved money will be far more useful elsewhere. Source: Consumer Reports
Tags: News

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