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Tom's Blog

Proactive Packing Tips

March 21, 2011 1:31 pm

By Joe Cooke, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 21, 2011-"The biggest mistake people make in moving? They pack boxes too heavy," says Kay Lynn Clay, Business Development Manager for nation-wide moving company U-Pack. "Don't load more than 50 pounds into any one box, and make sure that the weight is evenly distributed."

Clay recommends using strong containers that are in good condition and can be secured tightly with twine or strapping tape. A good tape dispenser is a worthy investment, and if you can, buy special moving boxes. If you can't afford to buy boxes, your real estate agent may know of someone who just moved into a new home and who can give you boxes. Even so, you may want to purchase special boxes for dishes, wardrobe, and other unique or valuable items.

Also, it's easy to get in a hurry and ignore or forget to label some boxes. Keep a felt-tipped pen in your pocket at all times, and have a couple of extras around just in case you lose one. Label each box with its contents, which room it should go in, whether it is fragile, and whether it should be loaded last so as to be unloaded first.

Cushion contents with newspaper or other packing material to prevent breakage. Use newsprint paper or tissue paper for items that might be soiled by newspaper. Towels and cloth napkins are great for wrapping fragile items. Items like dishes should be packed on edge, rather than stacked one on top of each other.

Books and magazines can be a problem because of their small size. Don't pack too many books in one box they can be extremely heavy. Pack books tightly in small boxes. Alternate bindings and wrap valuable books separately.

Also, think ahead when you make a major electronics purchase. "Make sure you save the boxes for your high-end electronics, like your flat screen TV, computers and home theater system," says Clay. Knock the boxes down if you have to and store them somewhere, but keep the packing materials as well. The best way to move your valuable electronic items is in the original boxes.

Tags: News

A New Buying Landscape for First-Time Buyers

March 21, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 21, 2011--New buyers accumulate approximately 29% of home sales in today's market, down from 40% of sales in past years. Although many first-timers have taken advantage of this unique market, some buyers are now finding that the rules have changed, altering buying habits and attitudes toward the home buying experience. Now is still a great time to buy, however, buyers should keep the following in mind when entering the house-hunting process.

Putting more money down is more important than ever. It's still possible to make a down payment of less than 5%, but it's smarter not to if you have the financial means. Insurance fees on government-insured mortgages are continually rising, having doubled in the last seven months. The difference in cash for a $300,000 mortgage could be as high as $30,000 without a healthy down payment.

Saving a substantial down payment may be challenging for first-time buyers, especially in larger city markets. If you're having trouble coming up with a feasible amount, look into various state offerings and other options (gifts from family or a co-owning agreement) that may be able to help you along the way.

Commit to staying for 10 years or more. The days of flipping homes are long behind us. Buying a house is now a long-term investment and living in your home for a decade or longer is definitely the way to go. In today's market, it may take buyers longer to recoup costs. By staying for a longer period of time, you're also allowing the market some time to further recover, while waiting for house values to increase as well. Serious buyers should be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

Be prepared to act fast and have plenty of competition. According to the National Association of REALTORS , about 32% of purchases were made in cash in the month of January. Competition from international buyers, investors and more, may give first-time buyers a run for their money...literally. What first-timer buyers can do: demand less. Though it is never recommended that you give up your right for a home inspection or appraisal, the less you demand (repairs, closing cost coverage, etc), the more enticing your offer will be to sellers, compared to offers that come with a large to-do list.

Buyers can still benefit from great interest rates and low prices, but it's important to be aware of what is happening in the market and adjust your buying strategies accordingly.

Sources: NAR, SmartMoney

Tags: News

Builder Confidence Edges Up in March 2011

March 21, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, March 21, 2011-After four consecutive months hovering at the same low level, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes improved by a single point in March 2011, rising to 17 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This is the highest level the HMI has reached since May 2010, when the survey period corresponded with the final days of the federal home buyer tax credit program.

"Builders are cautiously looking forward to the spring home-buying season in hopes that improving economic conditions will help bring more buyers to the table," said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.

"While many home buyers are still holding off on making a purchase, builders did indicate slightly increased optimism about the future with a two-point gain in the HMI component gauging sales expectations for the next six months," added NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "In fact, prevailing indicators portend some improvement in the overall economy, which should generate modest housing market gains later this year."

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor." The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores from each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

Two out of three of the HMI's component indexes held unchanged in March, including the component gauging current sales conditions (holding at 17) and the component gauging traffic of prospective buyers (holding at 12). Meanwhile, the component gauging sales expectations in the next six months rose two points in March to 27, its highest level since May 2010.

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Tags: News

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.


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

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, 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

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.


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.

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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."

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