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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

Zillow Launches the Zillow BlackBerry App

April 1, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011--Zillow has announced the launch of the Zillow BlackBerry App for Research in Motion 's BlackBerry smartphones. The addition of a BlackBerry app--along with Zillow's lineup of leading real estate apps on iPhone , iPad , and Android --means more than 90% of smartphone users can now access Zillow's real estate information on more than 100 million properties.

Zillow is used on a mobile device more than 6.5 million times each month, with 23 million visits to home detail pages.

"We're excited to expand the Zillow mobile experience to the millions of Americans who are passionate BlackBerry users," said Spencer Rascoff, chief executive officer of Zillow. "Many of our fans including significant numbers of real estate professionals have asked us to bring our transformative mobile experience to the BlackBerry platform, and we're thrilled to give them this option today."

The location-based Zillow BlackBerry App uses GPS technology to find and follow users on an aerial map, and displays Zestimate home valuations, homes for sale, homes for rent, Rent Zestimates, Make Me Move listings and recently sold data on the homes around them. Additional features on the Zillow BlackBerry App include:

  • Multiple search filters that include price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and other valuable home-related information.
  • Homes viewable on a map with high-resolution satellite and street view.
  • Home search by location or by typing in a city, ZIP code or address.
  • Full-screen color photos of homes.

The Zillow BlackBerry App is available today and is free to download. The Zillow BlackBerry app can be found online at BlackBerry App World in the "shopping" category, or by searching for "Zillow."

For more information about the Zillow BlackBerry App, visit www.zillow.com/mobile/.

Tags: News

Checking Your Sump Pump This Spring Can Help Avoid Costly Basement Flooding

April 1, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011-As winter gives way to spring, the threat of water flooding your basement substantially increases.

"Most people believe that after the snow melts that the threat of basement flooding goes away," explains Chris O'Donohue, water damage specialist and owner of Advantage Restoration and Cleaning Services, located in Pinckney, Michigan. "But snow usually isn't the issue; it's the combination of the frozen ground thawing around the foundation of the home and the arrival of heavy spring rains that cause problems."

As soil thaws it is overly saturated with water, and when a spring rain adds few fresh inches, the water finds the easiest path to flow-usually along your home's foundation, down to the basement and into your sump pump basin. "If your sump pump fails, you'll have a major water damage problem on your hands," comments O'Donohue.

"Sump pump failure is one of the most common causes for basement water damage we see," says O'Donohue. "The number of calls we receive for basement water damage clean up explodes when spring arrives. And a majority of the time the cause is a sump pump problem. We've been called to homes with beautiful finished basements that have been filled with four inches of water-it's a heartbreaking site that is very expensive to fix."

A sump pump is a last defense against flooding, pumping out water from the lowest section of the basement before the water level reaches the basement floor level. As groundwater levels rise, it is diverted into the sump hole. When the water reaches what is called "the critical level," the sump pump begins to pump the excess out through a pipe that leads outside and away from your foundation.

Just a few inches of water in a basement can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. According to the Insurance Information Institute, water damage- including sump pump overflow, frozen and burst pipes-has accounted for about 22% of all residential insurance claims. The average claim was $5,531. Unfortunately, many homeowners often overlook this on their policy and don't have adequate protection against such damage.

"The inability of a sump pump to handle runoff water from major downpours is not covered under a typical homeowner's insurance policy, nor are they covered by flood insurance," said David Walker with Hartland Insurance Agency. "This type of coverage must be purchased either as a separate product or as an endorsement to a homeowner's policy."

A standard homeowner's policy will not have coverage for a sump pump, or any existing drainage system. This includes a back-up through any drain, sink discharge, toilet, or sump pump failure. According to the Chubb Insurance Group, 37% of homeowners have experienced some type of home water damage and 51% say their losses were not covered by their insurance policy.

The average lifespan of a sump pump is about 10 years, and they do eventually wear out. Fortunately, most sump pump problems can be avoided by a few regular maintenance checks and can easily be fixed by the homeowner.

Here's a list of common sump pump problems and solutions for each. Before performing any sump pump maintenance, be sure to unplug any electrical power leading to the unit.

  • Debris in The Sump Basin. Always check to make sure that the sump pit is free from debris. Children's small toys and debris from items stored around the basin can get into the unit and hinder the float mechanism, causing it to fail. Test the float itself, since they can burn out over time. Fill the pit up with water, making sure it both starts and stops the sump pump as designed.
  • Inspect The "Check" Valve. Sometimes, the check valve can be improperly installed. The check valves are set up so that when the sump pump shuts off, no water will go back into the sump pump. The check valve's arrow should not be pointing toward the sump pump.
  • Clean The Weep Hole. Some pumps will have a weep hole, usually between the sump pump and the check valve. You can clean this weep hole out with a toothpick or other tiny object. Be careful not to break anything into the weep hole.
  • Clean the Impeller. This is a small filter that can easily become clogged. If your sump pump has stopped running suddenly, or has been making a whining noise, this could be the problem. The impeller should be connected to the sump pump with bolts and may need a good cleaning to work properly.
  • Sump Pump Odor. Typical odors are caused from the sump pump trap. The trap always retains some water, but when water doesn't flow into the basin during the dry seasons of the year, an odor starts to form. You can eliminate the odor by using a bleach-water mixture to cleanse the basin. One part bleach to five parts water will work. You can also fill the basin with water until the sump pump engages, cycling the water and helping to eliminate the odor.
  • Install a Back-up Power Source. Purchasing a sump pump back-up power supply or a generator is a great idea to avoid overflow when you have a power outage. Most power outages are caused by heavy thunderstorms that bring huge amounts of rain very quickly. This is when you need your sump pump most. If you lose power, the back-up system will take over to get rid of the water as the basin fills up. There are also water powered back-up systems that tap into your home's water supply to provide the energy needed to run the pump. It is good to invest in the purchase of a back-up system now, rather than face the costs of a flooded basement.

If more people would maintain their sump pumps like they do their automobile, they could save a lot of money and stress," claims O'Donohue. "A water damage restoration situation can really turn the lives of a family upside-down for a few weeks. Preventing the problem by checking the condition of their sump pump should be on their spring to-do list every year."

For more information visit www.advantagerestorationandcleaning.com.

Tags: News

NAR to Congress: Handle GSE Reform with Care

April 1, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011--The National Association of REALTORS urged Congress to move cautiously when reforming government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Reforming America's housing finance market can only be achieved through a forward-looking, comprehensive approach that supports the housing and economic recoveries, 2011 NAR President Ron Phipps said in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets.

"As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR strongly agrees that the existing system failed and that reforms are needed; however, redesigning a viable secondary mortgage model that will protect taxpayer dollars and serve the country's homeowners today, and in the future, can only be achieved through a methodical, measured effort," Phipps said.

NAR is concerned that without a comprehensive plan for reforming the secondary mortgage market, proposed legislation to quickly constrain Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before an adequate replacement secondary mortgage market mechanism is established will further disrupt the still fragile housing market recovery.

"REALTORS agree that increasing private capital in the mortgage finance market is necessary for a healthy market and for reducing the government's involvement; however, proposed legislation that relies only on private capital to operate the secondary mortgage market will slow, if not stop, the housing and economic recovery," he said.

Phipps testified that the pendulum on mortgage credit has already swung too far in the wrong direction and is hurting consumers and the economy. He added that quick decisions aimed at punishing certain market players will only punish the taxpayers by constraining their ability to access affordable mortgage financing, and that making it harder for those who can afford a safe mortgage does not further the goals of the recovery.

"Homeownership is a pillar of our economy. NAR research shows for every two homes sold, a job is created, providing needed revenue to both our state and local economies. This must be considered when debating the future of federal housing policies," said Phipps.

He added that overreaching rules, like the qualified residential mortgage (QRM) exemption, could further curtail access to affordable credit and will only slow economic growth and hamper job creation.

"The QRM is likely to shape housing finance for the foreseeable future, and we believe that Congress intended to create a broad QRM exemption from the five percent risk retention requirement to include a wide variety of traditionally safe, well-underwritten products," Phipps said. "Congress chose not to include a high down payment among the criteria it specified in the Dodd-Frank Act. A poor QRM policy that does not heed their intentions will only increase the cost and reduce the availability of mortgage credit."

Tags: News

Appraisal Institute Contributes to Tsunami Relief in Support of its Japanese Members

March 31, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011-- Responding to the recent loss of life and property destruction in Japan, the Appraisal Institute, a professional association of real estate appraisers, recently announced it has made a charitable contribution to the American Red Cross' relief efforts.

The Appraisal Institute has 53 members in Japan, while the organization includes more than 24,000 members in nearly 60 countries around the world.

"As the Japanese people continue to display uncommon strength and courage in recovering from this tragedy, the Appraisal Institute wanted in some small way to assist its members and others in Japan," states Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with those who are enduring the aftermath of this calamity."

Japan was hit by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake on March 11 that caused a tsunami, resulting in more than 10,000 confirmed deaths so far with nearly 18,000 more still missing and nearly half a million left homeless. With an expected $309 billion in property damage, the disaster is the costliest in Japan's history.

The American Red Cross, founded in 1881, is the United States' premier emergency response organization. Each year victims of some 70,000 disasters turn to the more than half a million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs.

For more information visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.

Tags: News

Financial Literacy: The No.1 Tool for Consumer Financing

March 31, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011-After a couple years of tight credit and rising identity-theft rates, financial literacy may be the greatest tool for consumers struggling with their personal finances.

Some federal agencies are taking action to help Americans understand their rights, and the director of student retention at one Minnesota university launched a financial literacy program to educate young people about money management.

The rules are changing

Last year, Congress signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009. This established new protections for consumers against unfair credit card practices, like sudden interest-rate or penalty hikes. A tracking study conducted by FreeScore.com showed that over 50% of American consumers are unaware of the effect that the new law will have on them.

The Federal Reserve Board launched a website to help consumers better understand what this law meant for their credit. PDFs and interactive pop-ups walk consumers through some of the Credit CARD Act's protections.

"These online tools and resources will help consumers make well-informed decisions about their use of credit," said Federal governor Elizabeth A. Duke. "We will update the site regularly to provide the most useful and current information."

Parts of the website, including the "5 Tips" guide on responsibly maintaining credit, are available in Spanish and a glossary of credit-related terms and laws on the website may further clear up credit questions. The site also provides links and information about contacting the Fed.

After noticing that debt derailed many a student's education, St. Catherine University's Ellen Richter-Norgel launched a financial literacy program. According to a report in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, the school hosted a series of speakers and sparked dialogue about debt and budgeting.

"Sometimes, I think you have to be in a crisis to get the help you need," Richter-Norgel told the newspaper. "Once you go, you're empowered by the information you get."

Trade commission takes action

Starting April 1, the websites advertising "free credit reports" will be required to include a disclosure from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This disclosure will direct visitors to the government-endorsed annualcreditreport.com and away from websites that often charge monthly fees for monitoring.

The FTC also launched a new animated video to educate consumers about filing a complaint. The video, which is available in Spanish, identifies various types of scams and directs consumers to ftc.gov/complaint to file a report.

Identity theft-and credit card fraud in particular-topped the list of consumer complaints last year, according to the FTC. This crime accounted for 21% of total complaints, with the highest incidence reported in metropolitan areas.

According to a recent report by Javelin Strategy & Research, more than 11 million Americans-one in every 20 adults-were victims of identity fraud last year. The report also showed that consumers reported such crimes more quickly than in previous years.

The FTC suggests that those suspecting they are compromised place a fraud alert on their credit reports as soon as possible. The next steps include closing any concerned accounts, filing a police report and reporting the fraud to the FTC.

For more information visit www.creditfyi.com.

Tags: News

Vacation- and Investment-Home Shares Hold Even in 2010

March 31, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011--The market share of vacation- and investment-home sales held steady in 2010, although the sales volume declined with the overall market, according to the National Association of REALTORS .

NAR's 2011 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, covering existing- and new-home transactions in 2010, shows vacation-home sales accounted for 10% of transactions last year while the portion of investment sales was 17%, both unchanged from 2009.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said, "Despite extraordinarily tight credit conditions for purchasing a second home, the market share for vacation and investment homes held steady," he said. "A sizeable number of buyers made deals with all-cash offerings."

All-cash purchases have become prevalent in the second-home market in recent years: 59% of investment buyers paid cash in 2010, as did 36% of vacation-home buyers.

With an overall decline in home sales during 2010, the volume of 543,000 vacation-home sales was down 1.8% from 553,000 in 2009. Investment purchases fell 7.8% to 867,000 in 2010 from 940,000 the previous year. Primary residence sales declined 5.6% to 3.81 million from 4.04 million in 2009.

Foreclosure or trustee sales accounted for 17% of investment purchases and 11% of vacation-home sales in 2010, compared with 5% of primary purchases. "Second home buyers purchased more distressed homes at discount than did buyers of primary residences," Yun said.

The median vacation-home price was $150,000 in 2010, down 11.2% from $169,000 in 2009, while the median investment-home price was $94,000, which is 10.5% below the $105,000 median in 2009. By contrast, the median primary residence price declined a relatively modest 4.5% to $176,700 last year from $185,000 in 2009.

The typical vacation-home buyer in 2010 was 49 years old, had a median household income of $99,500 and purchased a property that was a median distance of 375 miles from his or her primary residence; 31% of vacation homes were within 100 miles and 41% were more than 500 miles.

Investment-home buyers had a median age of 45, earned $87,600 and bought a home that was fairly close to their primary residence - a median distance of 19 miles.

"The fall in home prices has opened opportunities for more families to enter the second-home market - the median income of investment buyers today is lower than it's been in recent years," Yun said. While the median income of vacation-home buyers in 2010 is slightly above 2007 when it was $99,100, the median income of an investment-home buyer is 5.7% below $92,900 in 2007.

"Even if purchases are delayed due to economic circumstances, the underlying long-term demand - the desire for purchasing second homes - remains because people in their 30s and 40s will reach the prime age for buying and will drive the second-home market in coming decades as conditions permit," Yun added.

Currently, 40.7 million people in the U.S. are ages 50-59 - a group that dominated sales in the first part of the past decade and established records for second-home sales. An additional 43.8 million people are now in the primary buying demographic of 40-49 years old, while another 40.4 million are 30-39.

Lifestyle factors continue to be the primary motivation for vacation-home buyers, with the desire for rental income driving investment purchases. Vacation homes were more likely to be located in a rural area, while investment homes were more likely to be in a suburban location.

"Vacation-home buyers want the property for their own personal use, with 84% saying the primary reason for buying was to use for vacations or as a family retreat," Yun said. "Rental income generation was the primary motive for investment buyers. At the same time, nearly half indicated they sought to diversify their investments or saw a good investment opportunity."

Thirty-four percent of vacation-home buyers said they plan to use the property as a primary residence in the future, as did 10% of investment buyers.

Twenty-one percent of investment buyers and 14% of vacation buyers purchased the property for a family member, friend or relative to use. "Some of these buyers purchase a home for their son or daughter to use while attending school," Yun explained.

Vacation-home buyers plan to keep their property for a median of 13 years while investment buyers plan to hold their property for a median of 10 years.

Thirty-six percent of vacation homes purchased in 2010 were in the South, 27% in the West, 19% in the Northeast and 15% in the Midwest; 3% were located outside of the U.S.

The distribution of investment properties differed from vacation homes: 32% were in the South, 24% in the West, 21% in the Northeast and 20% in the Midwest; 3% were purchased outside the U.S.

NAR's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows there are 7.9 million vacation homes and 41.6 million investment units in the U.S., compared with 74.8 million owner-occupied homes.

NAR's 2011 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, conducted in March 2011, includes answers from 1,895 usable responses about home purchases during 2010. The survey controlled for age and income, based on information from the larger 2010 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, to limit any biases in the characteristics of respondents.

The 2011 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey can be ordered by calling 800-874-6500, or online at www.realtor.org/prodser.nsf/Research.

Tags: News

NCOA Offers Free Reverse Mortgage Counseling for Older Adults Seeking to Use Their Home Equity Wisely

March 30, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011--As older adults continue to face financial challenges in the sluggish economy, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) will offer free counseling for seniors through its Reverse Mortgage Counseling Services (RMCS) Network.

RMCS counselors are waiving the usual $125 counseling fee in order to help more homeowners understand how reverse mortgage loans, along with community programs and other options, could help them remain in their homes. Consumers age 62+ can schedule a free reverse mortgage counseling session by calling 1-800-510-0301.

"Many homeowners are struggling in this economy, and with the looming budget cuts in senior services on Capitol Hill, its may make things more difficult for those in need," says Barbara R. Stucki, Ph.D., vice president of Home Equity Initiatives for NCOA. "With this in mind, we are happy to offer free counseling so that older adults can learn how to make smart decisions about using their home equity at a time when other resources may be decreasing."

Generally, NCOA RMCS counselors do not charge a fee for counseling upfront, only at the time of closing, if the client decides to take out a reverse mortgage. RMCS counseling is always free for clients with annual incomes of less than $20,000 for individuals or $30,000 for couples.

NCOA also offers a consumer booklet on reverse mortgages, entitled Use Your Home to Stay at Home. The booklet, and additional information on Reverse Mortgages, can be downloaded for free at www.ncoa.org/reversemortgage.

Tags: News

February Pending Home Sales Rise

March 30, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011-Pending home sales increased in February, but with notable regional variations, according to the National Association of REALTORS .

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator, rose 2.1% to 90.8, based on contracts signed in February, from 88.9 in January. The index is 8.2% below 98.9 recorded in February 2010. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says it's important to look at the broader trend. "Month-to-month movements can be instructive, but in this uneven recovery it's important to look at the longer term performance," he said. "Pending home sales have trended up very nicely since bottoming out last June, even with periodic monthly declines. Contract activity is now 20% above the low point immediately following expiration of the home buyer tax credit."

Yun notes there could have been some weather impact in the February data. "All of the regions saw gains except for the Northeast, where unusually bad winter weather may have curtailed some shopping and contract activity."

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 10.9% to 65.5 in February and is 18.4% below a year ago. In the Midwest the index rose 4.0% in February to 81.1 but is 15.9% below February 2010. Pending home sales in the South increased 2.7% to an index of 100.3 but are 5.3% below a year ago. In the West the index rose 7.0% to 105.6 and is 0.6% higher than February 2010.

"We may not see notable gains in existing-home sales in the near term, but they're expected to rise 5 to 10% this year with the economic recovery, job creation and excellent affordability conditions providing confidence to buyers who've been on the sidelines," Yun said.

For more information visit www.realtor.org.

Tags: News

Distressed Homeowners' Top Priorities: Food Assistance and Help with Heating Costs

March 30, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011-As the economic downturn continues, more homeowners lagging on their mortgage payments are looking for help with basic needs.

These are the findings of MortgageKeeper Referral Services, Inc., the developer of a unique database that connects users with more than 6,000 qualified nonprofit and government agencies. More than 1,500 homeowners connect with the database every day to find local assistance in 20 different service categories-from child care to prescription assistance, from employment services to income tax help.

Recent data shows that 20% of homeowners who access the database are searching for heating/utility assistance and 18% need food assistance.

"Once basic needs like food and heating are satisfied, homeowners can focus their energies on job searches and housing," says Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey, president of MortgageKeeper. "Our database gets answers to homeowners fast, getting to the root cause of their loan delinquency. Hopefully, the end result is a homeowner that has both their financial and personal needs met so that they can stay in their home."

Counselors and servicers who subscribe to MortgageKeeper's database provide homeowners with a list of nonprofit and government agencies, often located just a few miles from the homeowner.

For more information visit www.mortgagekeeperdirect.com.

Tags: News

Consumers Agree - It's A Good Time to Buy Real Estate

March 29, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011-According to the latest Spending and Saving Tracker from American Express, more than two in five (41%) of Americans said that it's a buyer's market for real estate. However, over 61% agree that a seller's market is at least a year away.

Other findings:

Homeowner confidence on whether they would receive the asking price for their home is nearly evenly split-43% said they are confident they would; 47% are not very or not at all confident.

However, many homeowners-39%-are not willing to settle for less than the asking price, even considering the tough real estate market, in contrast to 23% who are willing and 38% who are not sure.

To sell their home in the current market, 44% of homeowners note that they would be interested in including appliances, while 28% would consider offering to make requested repairs or allowing an allotment for repairs.

For more information, visit www.psbpr.com.

Tags: News




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