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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Helpful Hints for Protecting Wood Floors

March 18, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011--Wet footprints, spills from family gatherings, and stains from excited pets can take their toll on wood floors. Daniel Praz, CEO of Mr. Sandless, a non-sanding wood refinisher, offers the following tips on how to protect wood floors:

Pets: Pet urine will eat the floor's finish, and if unattended, will continue to eat through the whole board, turning it dark.

House Guests: Heavy foot traffic, spilled drinks, and ground-in dirt left by party-goers and house guests can age wood floors. Use area mats at entryways, especially in bad weather. Clean up spills with a damp cloth or mop and never over-wet the floor. Run a dry mop over the floor in line with the boards, not against the grain. Dry mopping is the best way to prevent floor damage because it removes gritty dirt that dulls the finish.

Rock Salt: Rock salt and other snow melting products can ruin a floor's finish, leave a film, or cause spotting. Avoid placing rock salt at entryways where it can be tracked into the house or have guests remove shoes before entering.

As Praz says, "How they are cared for determines the lifetime of wood floors."

Tags: News

Easy Ways to Tackle Interior Project Planning

March 18, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011--Home remodeling and redecorating can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be an awful lot of hard work. Among the many areas of focus for project work are stages of planning, getting any required licenses or permits, interviewing subcontractors and getting proposals with bids, looking over materials and making selections and making sure the entire project is on track and remains that way through completion. And many people find enjoyment as well as fulfillment with making material selections: choosing just the right color combinations and patterns, the best products and service for the budget and top quality providers to help build your projects. Consider the following suggestions when planning your interior project plans:

1) Budgeting Basics--Start by seeing if you have to completely remodel or if perhaps your can redecorate instead, and save money and time. Because remodeling often means ripping apart old structures and then building new ones; like for extra space for a new window or set of shelves or a new room, ceiling or floor. However, with redecorating, you can frequently add simple new structures to those in your existing environment like a new bookcase, new curtains and plush carpeting, or new textured ceiling paint with all paper plus new hanging pictures and plush cushions.

2) Contractors, Invoices, Project Materials and More-Next, you will have a lot of decisions to make: which project materials to buy, which vendors to use, which subcontractors to hire, how to agree to payments, how to handle problems and other important issues and emergencies along the way, etc. So start a project notebook with an accompanying folder specifically for this project. Keep all important documents, receipts, bids, business cards, designs, paint colors, fabric swatches and other info there, to ensure that everything is in one place.

3) Project Parts - Some areas of your project may have sub-categories or basic design elements that will involve work with different areas of focus for each part. For example, you may be remodeling one floor, so you'll have several main areas of focus under this heading like: bedroom walls, hallway and bedroom floors, all window treatments, upgraded lighting and new wood furniture. Use dividers in your notebook, extra folders or extra see-through sleeved pocket folders that fit into your binder to handle these separate areas of focus, so you can concentrate on specific tasks within each area.

With the proper planning, you can choose the easiest and most affordable redecorating or remodeling options that best suit your home's needs.

Source: MyHomeImprovementTips.com

Tags: News

Optimistic Outlook for Multifamily Development, NAHB Indices Show

March 18, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011-Two quarterly indices produced by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) indicate a return to healthy market conditions for both new and existing apartment and condominium buildings.

The Multifamily Production Index (MPI), which tracks developer sentiment about new construction on a scale of 1 to 100, is at 40.8-up more than five full points since the previous quarter and the highest number since the fourth quarter of 2006.

The MPI component tracking developers' perception of market-rate rental properties is at 51.7-the first time this component of the index has been above 50 since the second quarter of 2007.

The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse.

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI) shows similar reason for optimism, declining to 33.3, which is the smallest number since the third quarter of 2006-and half of what it was a year and a half ago. Smaller numbers indicate fewer vacancies.

Historically, the MPI and MVI have performed well as leading indicators of U.S. Census figures for multifamily starts and vacancy rates, providing information on likely movement in the Census figures one to three quarters in advance.

"The renewed optimism evident in this index indicates that developers are beginning to increase production in order to meet pent-up demand," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "However, the lack of construction financing constrains their ability to do so at levels sufficient to meet that demand."

"Apartment developers are happy to be back in the business of building new rental apartment homes. The lack of adequate new supply, however, will put inflationary pressure on apartment rents for the next few years," said Charles Brindell, Chairman of NAHB's Multifamily Leadership Board and Chairman and CEO of Mill Creek Residential Trust. "We are already seeing increasing rents in several markets across the country."

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

Tags: News

10 Foreclosure Avoidance Tips Every Homeowner Should Know

March 17, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 17, 2011-The word foreclosure is being heard in just about every area of the country. Here are 10 suggestions to help you avoid foreclosure, both now and in the future.

1. Don't ignore the problem. The further behind you become, the harder it will be to reinstate your loan and the more likely that you will lose your home. If you are behind on your mortgage payments or have received notice that you are behind in payments, you need to contact your lender quickly and ask to speak with a loss mitigator. Typically, your lender will mail you a "loan workout" package. This package contains information, forms and instructions. If you want to be considered for assistance you must complete the forms fully and truthfully and return them to your lender quickly. Your lender will review the complete package before talking about a solution with you.

2. A smart simultaneous step is to contact a HUD-approved local nonprofit counseling agency that may be aware of programs that could help you, may have personal knowledge of your lender's flexibility in terms of available options, and may know the best person to contact with your lender. To find one-click, HUD-approved housing counseling agencies or call HUD at (800) 569-4287 on weekdays. Time is of the essence, so don't let this step slow the process more than a few days.

3. At the same time, find out what your home is worth so you will know how much equity you have (or if it's worth less than the mortgage balance). There are online home valuation tools on Zillow.com, Trulia, and several other websites, but an experienced and knowledgeable local real estate agent's written market valuation is likely to be more accurate and will be helpful in discussing options with lenders. Modifications, forbearance and recasting are all possible if you have sufficient equity in your home, and if you have sufficient equity, selling the home if necessary may not be the worst idea if home values are dropping.

4. Avoid fee-based for-profit mortgage prevention companies or counseling agencies - many are rip-offs that provide few if any meaningful services for distressed homeowners, and you can get quality counseling for free. Also be wary of investors who advertise offers of immediate cash for your home. Many of them are also unethical or outright crooks, seeking to strip home equity through a variety of techniques. If any firm claims they can stop your foreclosure immediately if you sign a document appointing them to act on your behalf, you may well be signing over the title to your property. Never sign any legal document without reading and understanding all the terms and getting professional advice from an attorney or a trusted real estate professional, or a HUD-approved housing counselor.

5. Know your mortgage rights. Find your loan documents and read them so you know what your lender may do if you can't make your payments. Learn about the foreclosure laws and timeframes in your state (as every state is different) by contacting the State Government Housing Office.

6. Foreclosures are expensive for lenders, so they are usually willing to listen to reasonable ideas that can reduce their potential losses, such as restructuring the loan at lower rates or accepting a "short sale," which occurs when the lender agrees to let the owner sell the home for less than the mortgage balance, and agrees to forgive the shortfall and not downgrade the homeowner's credit. Your willingness to cooperate is a negotiating tool if your suggestions are likely to be less expensive than a foreclosure action.

7. Bankruptcy is an option, particularly if your lender is inflexible or your mortgage is on a second home or a rental property. Bankruptcy judges can reduce debts and modify interest rates on commercial loans, second home mortgages, and investment property mortgages when it is in the best interest of both parties. Unfortunately, they have no such latitude with the mortgage on your primary residence, but if your mortgage lender is inflexible, bankruptcy proceedings may be the wisest choice.

8. Even if you are current on your mortgage payments but have an adjustable loan, thoroughly review your mortgage documents, even if your reset date is many months in the future. Check the reset interest rate or formula for determining the reset rate and any future rate resets, and see if there are mortgage prepayment penalties.

9. If you think you could have trouble keeping up with the new payments on an adjustable mortgage, consider refinancing into a fixed rate mortgage if possible. Some lenders may be willing to forgive all or part of a prepayment penalty if that payment presents a problem and you qualify for their fixed rate product.

10. Don't assume that you are immune to a foreclosure in the future. Don't assume that a mortgage lender's underwriting process will assure that you'll not be approved for an unaffordable mortgage in the future. When lenders discovered that they could package and very profitably sell risky loans to investors, they became way less focused on responsible underwriting because they weren't at risk if they sold the loans. Sound underwriting practices began to deteriorate, eventually causing the current mortgage meltdown. This could happen again. In the future, you need to consider the total amount of likely monthly payments, including taxes and insurance, and be comfortable in your own mind that you can handle those payments. Adjustable rate loans are risky because you can't control the future interest rate at the time they will be adjusted, so you need to assume the worst (in other words, a substantially higher index interest rate when they adjust) in deciding whether they will still be affordable.

For more information, visit www.AmericanHomeowners.org.

Tags: News

7 Strategies to Help Homeowners Maximize Real Estate Value and Sales Price

March 17, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 17, 2011--For homeowners contemplating selling their homes in the current market, preparation is key. The following tips provide suggestions for how sellers can maximize the final sale price, get the home sold quickly and move on to their new home. While many factors come into play with finding the right buyer at the right time, there are many things sellers can do to help put the odds in their favor.

  1. Do not overprice the home. Buyers today are looking for a bargain, and the seller in the end will likely have to bring the price down to meet market demands. The longer the home sits on the market, the stronger the negotiating position of the buyer.
  2. Select Internet-friendly pricing. More than 80% of home buyers begin their real estate searches online. Most real estate sites filter the prices in $25,000 to $50,000 increments. So while a creative price of $555,777 may grab attention, buyers who set their search maximum filter at $550,000 will exclude it. Additionally, prices ending in 000 (such as $500,000) tend to sell at a larger discount than homes ending in 500 (such as $524,500).
  3. List the home on a Friday. Most buyers are checking out new listings on Fridays so they can see what is new for the weekend.
  4. Occupy or stage the home. Buyers appreciate a home that is well attended. A vacant home typically feels cold and empty, while one that is still occupied has a warm, cozy feel, attracting more buyers. However, keep the personalization minimal; having neutral decor and paint colors will make it easier for a buyer to visualize their own style in the home. If a seller moves to a new residence before selling the old residence, it is a good idea to have the home professionally staged as if someone still lives in it.
  5. Monitor local foreclosures. Foreclosures are costing sellers money and have become very aggressive opponents in today's market. If the seller's neighborhood has a lot of foreclosures, wait until they are sold before listing the home, if at all possible. Most banks are extremely eager to sell, thus creating an underpriced competitor. If the seller cannot wait to list the home, it will need to be priced competitively with the foreclosures, which can dig significantly into the home's equity.
  6. Keep the home neat and clean. With so many foreclosures on the market today, buyers are seeing homes at their worst. If the home is presented in the best possible way, it will attract more positive attention.
  7. Keep records. Foreclosures do not come with any disclosures. Sellers who keep updated records, photos and permits handy for the buyer to review will make them feel much more confident about buying the home, giving the seller a competitive advantage over foreclosed properties in the neighborhood.

It's important to understand the type of market you are trying to sell in and adjust your strategy accordingly. These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg on your journey towards a successful sale.

Source: Relocation.com

Tags: News

Recovery Act Changed Approach to Business, Laid Foundation for American Cities to Win the Future

March 17, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 17, 2011-America's cities are better prepared to be sustainable economic engines according to a new report just released by the Department of Housing & Urban Development. The report, titled The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Working for America's Cities found that the Recovery Act has helped position American cities to out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build our competitors. The collaborative and innovative approaches initiated during the implementation of the Recovery Act have laid the foundation for American cities to win the future.

Deputy Secretary Ron Sims released the report with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-MO, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Nydia M. Vel zquez, D-NY, of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

"As this data shows, the Recovery Act is rebuilding our communities by putting people back to work today, laying the foundation for long-term economic growth," said Deputy Secretary Sims. "But it's also helping us win the future by changing the way government does business."

The report found that the Recovery Act ushered in a new era in the way government approaches challenges, through partnerships between private enterprise and government agencies as well as more significant interagency collaboration. Initiatives made possible because of the historic investments of the Recovery Act have yielded lessons that will have long-term implications.

Key findings of the report include:

Sustainable Communities - Collaboration between the Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) initiated new ways to give our cities a competitive advantage and solve multiple problems with a single investment. That led to the creation of a Sustainable Communities Initiative that encourages links between residential centers to commercial, educational and corporate hubs through well-designed transit. Regions that embrace similar planning and approaches will be better prepared to attract jobs and private investment.

Weatherization - HUD collaborated with DOE to coordinate the distribution of $5 billion in funds directed to weatherize homes and help American families reduce their energy costs. In the long-run through such investments, America will be less dependent on foreign oil and homeowners will have lower utility bills and more money to spend or save for retirement.

Partnerships - Nationally, the Recovery Act directly stimulated $153 billion in private co-investment through matching grants, tax credits, loan guarantees and direct loans. By the end of the Act's implementation, it is further projected that about $100 billion in Recovery Act funding will be matched by $280 billion in additional funds outside the federal government. This leverage in turn spurs production in various sectors of our economy, from the contractor who installed the technology to the manufacturer who built it to the truck driver who delivered it, having a tremendous short-term impact beyond federal funds alone.

Homelessness Prevention - Innovative programs such as the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) are helping to change the way cities allocate resources and address problems. The impact of the Recovery Act in our cities will mean more efficient institutions that are making needed improvements to spur innovation and build foundations for winning the future. HPRP created a system that allowed individuals and families, facing life on the streets, to make specific payments that enabled them to cover their rent or move back into their homes. The report reveals that, to date, over 875,000 people-including 21,000 military veterans-were kept off the streets and in their homes because of this innovative program.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

Tags: News

Energy Savings from the Ground Up

March 16, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011-- Money-conscious homeowners are constantly seeking out ways to reduce their energy bills. Those people fortunate enough to be considering building a new home have a way to potentially save up to 50% of total heat loss in a home simply by constructing with the right foundation system.

"Homeowners should be actively involved in the product decisions that go into the construction of a new home," says Jim Costello, president of Superior Walls . "Consumers can build value from the bottom up in their new homes by using energy-efficient foundation systems.

According to the "Residential Foundation Insulation" report issued by Kansas State University with support of the U.S. Department of Energy, the benefits of foundation insulation are often overlooked. The study says: "heat loss from an uninsulated, conditioned basement may represent up to 50% of a home's total heat loss in a tightly sealed, well-insulated home."

Pre-cast insulated foundation systems can help homeowners save on energy bills and allow them to fully utilize their basement space as functioning and comfortable living areas in the home. Steel reinforced concrete walls create a permanent barrier against sidewall water penetration, making the home damp proof.

"These foundation systems are very popular with homeowners because you can create door and window openings in them to access natural light," says Costello. "By making the right decisions at the time of construction to use pre-cast insulated foundation systems, homeowners are making a long-term investment in their family's happiness and in the resale value of their house."

For more information visit www.superiorwalls.com.

Tags: News

Join the EPA for National Fix-a-Leak Week

March 16, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011--For homeowners looking for small DIY projects, now is the perfect time. This week marks National Fix-a-Leak Week, sponsored by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). According to the EPA, the average home wastes 10,000 gallons of water each year--enough to fill a backyard swimming pool. In fact, the amount of water leaked from U.S. homes could exceed more than 1 trillion gallons per year, says EPA experts. That's equivalent to the annual water usage of Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami combined!

Fixing household water leaks can save homeowners more than 10% on their water bills and most leaks are easily correctable. Check the following when on the hunt for leaks:

Water meters are a great indication of whether or not a leak exists in the home. Check your meter and then refrain from using water for a couple of hours. If the meter advances afterwards, you know you have a leak somewhere and can begin searching accordingly.

Toilets are common water wasters. A running toilet may waste up to 200 gallons a day. To easily test out your toilet, add a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If after 15 minutes the color shows up, you have a leak. Change the flapper inside the toilet to quickly fix the problem.

Faucets may also be subject to dripping. Tighten loose fittings and replace old washers to take care of those pesky leaks. Faucet leaks are easily discernable and even easier to nip in the bud.

Be sure to check bathroom showerheads as well. If suspect of leaking, be sure that the showerhead is securely tightened to the pipe stem. If need be, use pipe tape to further secure it. If the job seems more complicated than an easy connection fix, it's best to contact a professional plumber.

Don't forget about the outdoors. Check garden hose spigots for any possible water flow problem. Replacing the nylon or rubber hose washer is a great place to start. For in-ground irrigation systems, contact a professional. If issues are detected and go unfixed, it could lead to messy freezing and frost issues.

Fixing leaks around the home is a win-win; it's good for the environment and saves you money on your water bill. Fix-a-Leak Week marks the perfect time to examine your home for water problems.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Reports

Tags: News

Tax Time Less Taxing for Homeowners

March 16, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011--With a little more than one month before income taxes are due, many of the nation's 75 million homeowners may be appreciating the value of homeownership just a bit more as they take advantage of the tax benefits of homeownership.

"Owning a home offers myriad benefits throughout the year, but some of the financial advantages of homeownership are most apparent at tax time," said NAR President Ron Phipps. "As many of today's hard-working American families are feeling a financial squeeze, the tax benefits that can come from owning a home can be a welcome relief."

A number of tax deductions and credits are still available for homeowners; these include deductions--with specific limits--for mortgage interest and capital gains on home sales, and credits for certain energy-efficient home improvements. Even with these benefits, homeowners pay 80-90% of all U.S. federal income taxes.

"It's been suggested that many of today's tax incentives for homeownership primarily benefit wealthy individuals, but that's simply not true," said Phipps. "As today's public debate continues about what homeownership means for families, communities, and the nation's economy, there's no question that for many, owning a home is still the best way to begin building wealth."

Ninety-one percent of homeowners who claim the mortgage interest deduction earn less than $200,000 a year, and the ability to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage can mean significant savings at tax time. For example, a family who bought a home in 2010 with a $200,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, assuming an interest rate of 4.5%, could save nearly $3,500 in federal taxes when they file this year.

"REALTORS see the very real positive impact of homeownership every day with our clients," said Phipps. "Recent proposals to reduce or eliminate the mortgage interest deduction and remove government support of the housing finance market could have disastrous consequences for the economy, not to mention making it harder or nearly impossible for millions of families to own their own homes. We believe America must continue to invest in homeownership, for the future of our families and our nation."

For homeowner tax season tips, visit www.HouseLogic.com. HouseLogic is a free source of information from NAR that helps homeowners maintain and enhance the value of their homes and engage in issues that affect their local communities. For other information about NAR, visit www.realtor.org.

Tags: News

REALTORS Advocate Reform, Long-term Extension of National Flood Insurance Program

March 15, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 15, 2011--Congress needs to strengthen and reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program for the long term to prevent undermining the fragile real estate market recovery, the National Association of REALTORS said in testimony today before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.

The NFIP authority is set to expire on September 30 for the 10th time in two years. The program ensures access to affordable flood insurance for more than 5.6 million home and business owners in 21,000 communities nationwide.

"As the leading advocate for housing issues, NAR strongly supports reauthorizing the NFIP for a minimum of five years, and before the program is set to expire later this year, ending the current stopgap approach that has already led to nine extensions and five lapses of program authority since 2008," said REALTOR Terry Sullivan, who testified on NAR's behalf regarding draft legislative proposals to reform the NFIP.

The month-to-month approach has exacerbated uncertainty in many recovering real estate markets that depend on the NFIP to protect them against flood losses. The lapse in June 2010 alone resulted in the delay or cancellation of 47,000 home sales, according to NAR survey data.

In written testimony, Sullivan also tackled a common misconception that the NFIP's current structure benefits coastal states at the expense of noncoastal states. In fact, five of the 12 states with the fewest high flood-loss years actually have coastlines, and analysis shows that overall coastal states are paying in more than they are taking out. Those states perceived to have the highest risks are actually paying their fair share and contributing more than other states, he said.

In addition to a longer term reauthorization, NAR also supports strengthening the long-term viability of the NFIP by expanding coverage to include business interruption and loss of residential use, which could help encourage additional participation; indexing coverage limits, which have not been updated for inflation since 1994; and ensuring that the owners of repetitive loss properties pay insurance rates that reflect the full risk to the property. These reforms will help increase funds for the NFIP, help property owners recover from flood losses, and decrease future federal assistance when underinsured properties suffer flood losses, said Sullivan.

He added that while NAR supports reforms to the NFIP, any efforts to move the NFIP toward privatization will be strongly opposed.

"The NFIP was created and continues to address the private market's inability to guarantee access to affordable flood insurance in many real estate markets, and without this program the only way for owners to rebuild after a devastating flood is for the federal government to provide post-disaster rebuilding assistance using taxpayer dollars. Federal support was and continues to be justified today by saving taxpayers property and money," Sullivan said.

Tags: News




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