Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
March 11, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 11, 2011--Testifying before a Senate panel, National Association of REALTORS
President Ron Phipps told members of Congress that sustainable homeownership must be the goal when considering future federal housing policies.
"As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR wants to ensure public policies that promote responsible, sustainable homeownership and that any changes to current programs and incentives don't jeopardize a housing and economic recovery," Phipps told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Phipps said the housing market is starting to see signs of recovery; however, the real issue facing the nation right now is that many Americans can't find meaningful work to support their families, and housing is essential to creating jobs.
"Homeownership is a pillar of our economy; our research suggests that home sales in this country generate more than 2.5 million private-sector jobs in an average year. For every two homes sold, a job is created," Phipps said.
He added that, while housing alone may not pull America out of this stalled economy, hampering its recovery will severely and negatively impact the nation's recovery.
"Owning a home contributes to the strength of the nation's economy and is still one of the best ways for individuals to build long-term wealth; therefore, we need public policies that support home ownership. Making it harder for families to afford safe mortgages does not further the goal of a housing or economic recovery," he said.
Phipps agreed that reforms are required to prevent a recurrence of the housing market meltdown, but raising fees and increasing down payment requirements for well-qualified, creditworthy borrowers places an unnecessary burden on many families, especially those in high-cost urban markets.
"Home buyers need a wide variety of traditionally safe, well-underwritten products with flexible down payment requirements," said Phipps. "Overly stringent requirements will turn away 10 to 15% of otherwise qualified buyers who have a demonstrable ability to repay--that's approximately 500,000 home sales that won't happen, further delaying the housing and economic recovery."
"We need to keep housing first on the nation's public policy agenda to ensure that housing and national economic recoveries are sustained, and that anyone in this country who aspires to own a home and can afford to do so is not denied the opportunity to build their future through homeownership," Phipps said.
March 10, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 10, 2011--A recent study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) shows that while consumer hesitation on home buying is waning, the recent housing downturn has changed what Americans are looking for in their next home.
The survey research on consumer preferences, which is presented annually at the NAHB International Builders' Show, suggests that the severity of the recession has left an indelible mark on prospective home buyers, who have shifted their perspective on the housing they want and need.
Builders surveyed expect homes to average 2,152 square feet in 2015, 10% smaller than the average size of single-family homes started in the first three quarters of 2010.
To save on square footage, the living room is high on the endangered list
52% of builders expect it to be merged with other spaces in the home by 2015 and 30% said it will vanish entirely.
"As an overall share of total floor space, 54% of builders said the family room is likely to increase," said Rose Quint, NAHB's assistant vice president for survey research. "That makes it the only area of the home likely to get bigger."
In addition, the relative size of the entry foyer and dining room are likely to be diminished by 2015. However, opinions were fairly evenly divided on the fate of the kitchen, master bedroom and bath, and mudroom, she said.
The average new home of 2015 is likely to feature a great room comprised of the kitchen, foyer and living room; a walk-in closet in the master bedroom; a laundry room; ceiling fans; a master bedroom on the first floor in homes with two stories; and a two-car garage.
In addition to floor plan changes, 68% of builders surveyed say that homes in 2015 will also include more green features and technology, including low-E windows; engineered wood beams, joists or tresses; water-efficient features such as dual-flush toilets or low-flow faucets; and an Energy Star rating for the whole house.
For more information, visit http://www.nahb.org.
March 10, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 10, 2011--If your family is counting down the days to a much-needed spring break getaway, it's best to take a few precautions for your home. Here are a few tips for making sure your possessions are still there when you get back:
Don't publicize your vacation. Your kids are really excited, but they must resist the urge to post this on their Facebook pages. It is too easy for the information to find its way to a burglar, or someone who might take this opportunity to become one. One Minnesota family returned home to find only the hidden cash stolen, but the laptops and iPods intact. They are fairly sure this came about through some "friends" on Facebook.
Don't leave obvious signs that the house is unoccupied. Stop the mail and paper, or have a neighbor take it in. Arrange for snow removal or lawn care as needed. And don't leave notes on the door.
Make your home look lived-in. A light on a timer is a great first step. You can buy a small device called "FakeTV" that simulates the light output of a television, making it look like you are home watching TV each evening. A loud radio on a timer, tuned to a talk station, can provide signs of life during the day.
You need good locks. Your hidden outdoor key is probably not as cleverly hidden as you think it is. Get to know your neighbors, and leave the key with them. Let them know you will be gone, and have them keep an eye out during your absence. If you have an alarm system, by all means use it. Conversely, do not think that an alarm system makes you invulnerable. Burglars can still cause you a great deal of misery in a smash-and-grab robbery, leaving before the police can respond.
Take a walk around your property and make sure you cannot see any easily pawned valuables through uncovered windows. Are there any ladders left out, or particularly easy or well-concealed access points?
Park a car in the driveway, but be sure to take out the garage door opener first.
If your computer were stolen, what might the consequences be? For most of us, this would be dire indeed. So, back up and password protect.
Only you can make the trade-off between security measures and the burdens they impose. You may wish to place irreplaceable items in a secure location, such as a fireproof safe. This can include expensive jewelry, family photos, and financial records. Make a quick run-through around the house with a video recorder, listing off the valuables. This could save a lot of hassle with the insurance company if you should need to file a claim. Check to ensure your policy is up to date. Also, label your possessions with your name. An engraver is best, but a Sharpie is a whole lot better than nothing.
The good news is that only two out of a hundred homes will be burglarized in any given year. The bad news is that for those two homes that are burglarized, the effects of the intrusion are often devastating. The average burglary costs $1,750, and a whole lot of peace of mind. Ask anyone who has had a break-in; they never look at their home quite the same again.
Security is a mind-set, and need not be a great burden. Fortunately, your security measures do not need to be perfect. Most crime is opportunistic, and if the guy down the street failed to take a few simple precautions, his house is much more likely to draw the attention of the thief than yours. And frankly, there are no measures that can stop the most determined criminals. Still, these simple steps can improve your odds and peace of mind, and make your getaway that much more relaxing.
Source: Hydreon Corporation
March 10, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 10, 2011--With snow melting all over the country, many areas are in danger of the inevitable flooding that may occur as a result. To deal with the possible aftermath, these tips could save you lots of time, money and frustration. Be sure to remember the following when trying to get your home back in order after a flood:
Clean-up. If a consumer chooses to hire a cleaning and restoration firm to assist in clean-up efforts, he or she is urged to keep the following in mind:
The restoration contract should include a description of all the work to be performed, including the quality of materials to be used.
Flood victims should not make decisions they are uncomfortable with or be pushed into making a decision.
Victims should save all receipts, including those for food and temporary lodging that are covered under their insurance policy.
Contracts should include a price break-down for both labor and materials.
Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including any warranties on materials or labor.
Review all documentation before any payments are made and before signing on the dotted line.
Home Repairs. Before homeowners make any repairs, they should determine how much aid is available. The amount of aid may determine the extent of repairs. The three basic funding sources for repairs are insurance proceeds, government assistance, and private funds. If a homeowner makes emergency repairs, they should be sure to document all expenditures, including temporary lodging and meals. Documentation may be necessary for reimbursement.
Homeowners should be suspicious of door-to-door workers who, in order to get the job, may use scare tactics such as allegedly unsafe structural conditions.
Contractors that use high-pressure sales tactics or "price is good for today only."
Companies who are vague about their location. Homeowners should check to see if the company's name is on the worker's vehicle, if the company is listed in the telephone directory, and if a street address is provided.
Although the victims may be most concerned with getting things back to normal, additional heartache and money will be saved by proceeding with caution.
Hiring a Contractor.
Unless you know a contractor you trust, homeowners should request two or three estimates of the cost of repairs. The homeowners should also be certain that the contractors are bidding the same package including materials to be used, when work is to begin and be completed, and when payments are to be made. If financing, the contractor should include a breakdown of these costs as well.
Be sure the contractor is registered with the Attorney General's Office
Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Make sure oral promises are included in the written contracts, including warranties on materials or labor.
Make sure the written contract includes the contractor's full name, telephone number, address, and license number.
Make sure the contractor will apply for any building permits in his or her name, so you are not financially responsible.
When selecting a contractor, the homeowner should make sure the contract contains a detailed description of the necessary work.
Never pay for all repairs in advance. The time when work is to begin is particularly important as many contractors may have a backlog of work due to the flood. Homeowners should not sign a completion form until they are totally satisfied. It is wise for homeowners to ask for a lien waver to protect them in the event the contractor fails to pay their suppliers.
The Better Business Bureau offers advice and tips on many industries including home repairs, cooling and heating and flood-damaged vehicles and more. For more information, visit http://www.bbb.org/.
March 9, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011--Being prepared for an emergency is a luxury anyone can have as long as they think and prepare in advance. For those with children and families, being prepared is even more vital. Packing an emergency supply kit for your car or home in case a natural disaster or other extremity hits is an invaluable step to take to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Here are a few key items to keep in mind while packing that essential life-saving kit.
- A fully equipped first aid kit is the first staple your emergency kit should have. Be sure that it has all the items it came with. If any are missing, be sure to replace them before putting the kit in your car.
- Bottled water is essential. You can't survive long without water. Have some handy in case you don't have access to clean supplies.
- A supply of emergency food should be packed as well. Pack a few canned food items that can be heated over a fire. If there isn't a pop-top, pack a small can opener. Though a bit extreme, you never know what kind of situation you'll find yourself in.
- A blanket or sleeping bag is smart to provide you warmth should you find yourself stranded in the cold.
- Flashlights should always be in your car. Even during regular work weeks, you never know when an accident or flat tire could occur.
- Local maps or a GPS will help you if you face closed or blocked roads. Having both is a smarter idea, just in case satellite signals become weak.
- Prescriptions should be packed for any family member in need. Being in a tense situation without the proper medicine can be a life-threatening mistake. Be sure to have extras packed in your supply kit.
When disaster strikes, you don't want to scramble for important supplies last minute. Think about your family's needs in advance so that you can keep them safe in a dangerous predicament.
March 9, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011--Whether you are a first-time buyer or are re-entering the market at any stage of homeownership, knowing the ins and outs of the process is a must. Prices and interest rates remain attractive, but there are steps that must be taken before you can move into your dream home. For first-timers and those who haven't purchased in quite some time, this list serves as a checklist of some of the homework that needs to be taken on before closing that deal.
1. There's more to finances than some may think, and this includes paying off debt, getting a credit check, obtaining a pre-approval with a lender, and planning for a budget. Mortgage payment calculators can be found on the Web, and these can help with the financial planning. Buyers should never take this stage too lightly or assume their credit is high enough. Getting finances in order takes time and should be done thoroughly.
2. In relation to getting your finances in check, don't underestimate the cost of maintenance. Be sure to factor in the cost of maintenance when determining your budget. Heating costs, roof care, yard care, etc., all need to be appropriately budgeted for. There are always those unexpected costs too, like appliances that need to be replaced, furnace work, or burst pipes. Always expect the unexpected...and be sure you have the financial means to support these random occurrences.
3. Learn the process along with the terminology. The more you learn about the process and transaction ahead of you, the easier it will be. Research things like the differences between co-ops and condos, or prices per square foot. Be aware of certain costs, such as underwriting costs and closing costs--the less surprises you have in store, the better.
4. Find a team you can trust. Start with finding a reliable and trusted real estate professional who will work with your best interests in mind. From there, you may want to talk to a few real estate attorneys or mortgage brokers and establish contacts that will be able to help you throughout the process. The better your team, the easier the transaction will be.
5. Keep resale value on your mind. As you're shopping around, keep resale value in mind. What neighborhood amenities are there? How good is the school district? Will future buyers find the neighborhood attractive? All of these questions will be relevant when it is your turn to take the role as seller. Don't neglect them.
These real estate tips may be basic for some, but knowing the market and understanding the process has never been more important. By smoothing out as many speed bumps as possible, you can help facilitate the transaction and quicken the necessary steps toward getting you into your new home.
Source: AOL Real Estate
March 9, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011--Although winter may not be over just yet, many are hoping that the worst of it is behind us. With a majority of the snow having melted, we are now left with homes that may have taken a hit from the winter weather. Few homes are left completely unscathed, but that doesn't mean they are beyond repair. Here are five problems generally caused by harsh winters and tips for how you can help alleviate the issues.
Leaky roofs became a huge problem for many homeowners this season. Search your home for signs of water damage or discoloration. Be sure to check all ceilings in addition to the siding under roof eaves. Inspect rafters for stains and check in the roof, around chimneys and also near skylights. Fixing leaks is a job best left for professionals. If you choose to hire a pro, have them inspect for missing shingles or other roofing issues you may be unaware of. Fixing a roof is critically important if you're planning on selling soon. If the damage is severe enough, look into your homeowners insurance policy and see if some of that damage can be covered.
Clearing out gutters is a less severe, though just as important, task. Make sure that water can properly flow through and out of your gutters. Also, check for areas of separation or corrosion. These spots will need to be fixed immediately. Gutter guards can be added for the most extreme cases.
In relation to damaged roofs and leaky gutters, decks should also be checked for safety's sake. Look for stains or other areas where wood may be decaying. Decaying wood weakens the deck's structure. Examine the area where the deck connects to the house, and remove any moss or mold. If there is any sort of extensive wood damage, a pro should be hired to repair the issue. Depending on the age of your deck, a replacement may be warranted. Either way, confirming the structural integrity of your deck is imperative for your family's safety.
Cracked foundations can also be a result of a rough winter. Cracks should be marked and observed over time. If the area worsens, then it's time to call for help. Make sure that the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house. For minor repairs, an epoxy injection could do the trick. For holes in siding and foundation walls, expandable foam might be the better choice. A structural expert would know the best solution.
After the winter months, air conditioners often need a major tune up. Clean out any build-up of dust, leaves or other debris that may impact its performance when you need it. Disconnect the power first, then clear it out with a vent brush or with a vacuum attachment. If necessary, replace the mesh around the condenser coil.
This won't take much of your time, but will definitely enhance efficiency when the weather starts to spike.
As winter gets closer to spring, re-evaluating your home and searching for needed repairs is a great way to keep your home in tip-top shape, and the safety added as a result will be invaluable.
Source: Consumer Reports Home & Garden Blog
March 8, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 8, 2011--When it's time to move to a new home, you first have to deal with years' and years' worth of clutter in your old one. In order to efficiently move in and get settled, it's important to get organized while packing. What you decide to bring and what you decide to chuck could save you plenty of time and effort in the long run.
The more you can reduce your clutter, the better. Plan out what you definitely want to bring and where you'll place these items in the new home. For items you can't designate a spot for, consider getting rid of them. Garage sales are great ideas pre-move for any items you want to leave behind. A good rule of thumb is that if items are cluttering up your old home, they're only going to do the same once you start anew. If you don't have enough to run a successful garage sale, consider donating items to charity. Clothes, furniture, kitchenware and more can all be donated to great organizations that help benefit the less fortunate. It will be good for others, and also, good for you.
Don't let yourself get overwhelmed once you arrive to your new place. Unpack the essentials first and then give yourself time to breathe. If you want to give the home a thorough cleaning, now is your chance. You'll be able to hit all of the spots you won't be able to in the future.
Don't be afraid to delegate unpacking responsibilities to children, too. For example, let them do most of the work for their bedrooms and maybe even in the bathroom closest to their rooms. Although it's safest to complete any task that requires tools yourself, older children can be a vital asset for lifting, organizing and small task completion.
The way you pack will eventually determine how quickly and efficiently you can unpack. With the proper planning and delegation, you'll be moved into your new home in no time.
March 8, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 8, 2011--If you're on the prowl hunting for a new home, you are probably doing everything you should: saving your money, paying off debt, working on a higher FICO score, etc. For those currently shopping around, it's a great time to buy; the low prices and interest rates are still extremely attractive. However, given this dynamic industry, there are some new rules and guidelines that any buyer should know about before signing the dotted line:
1. FHA loan guidelines are getting less strict. Today, almost 30% of new mortgages are FHA loans, most of which are first-time home buyers looking to take advantage of the low down payment requirements and minimal 3.5% down. With some lenders agreeing to look at applications that have lower FICO scores, these looser guidelines are making it possible for many different types of borrowers to become qualified. Though it is recommended that the lower the credit score, the higher down payment you should put on the table. Either way, options are abound!
2. Some FHA costs are increasing. As of April 18, the Mortgage Insurance Premium on FHA loans will be increasing for those with a down payment below 10%. If your down payment falls short, you will be hit with an added $250 per $100,000 borrowed. This could cause a monthly payment to be increased $50-60 per month and may even mean you have to downsize your ideal home to make room for this added cost. This rule stresses the importance of a sizable down payment.
3. However, origination fees might decrease. In other news, origination fees may decrease come April 1 due to a revision to the Truth in Lending Act. Mortgage brokers will now only be able to accept payments from either borrowers or lenders, but not both. If working with a mortgage broker, inquire how this revision affects you and your buying transaction.
4. Lending guidelines may get tighter in the future. With the possible fading of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in as little as five to 10 years, guidelines to get into the housing market may be even tighter. A 10% down payment won't be suggested, it'll be flat out required, with some advocating an even higher standard. With prices nice and low, home values and prices are bound to rise as well, meaning more money will be required down than if you purchased today.
If you're ready to buy, now is a great time to search for a house and complete the transaction. For many of the reasons above, now is a unique time to invest in your future and we'll never know just when guidelines may tighten.
March 8, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, March 8, 2011--Too many Americans believe that the coverage limits of their homeowners insurance policy are linked to the market value of their home, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). In the I.I.I.'s 2011 Insurance Pulse Survey, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, nearly half (48%) of survey respondents came to that mistaken conclusion.
"The real estate value of a home, that is the price you can buy or sell it for, has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of insurance needed to financially protect the homeowner in the event of a fire or other disaster," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I. "Reducing insurance coverage because the market value of a home has decreased can result in being dangerously underinsured."
One out of three respondents to the Pulse Survey reported that they purchased less homeowners or auto insurance as a way to save money. A better strategy would be to take a higher deductible, which can substantially reduce insurance costs. Home and car owners can then put the savings into purchasing the right amount and type of insurance for their specific needs, pointed out Salvatore. Another way to save money is to comparison shop, something that seven out of 10 Pulse Survey respondents said they utilized as a strategy to save on both their home and auto insurance needs.
Following are the five biggest auto, home, flood and renters insurance mistakes consumers can make, with suggestions to avert those pitfalls while still saving money:
1. Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.
A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25% on your premium payments.
2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.
A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.
3. Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25% of all flood losses occur in low risk areas. Furthermore, with the significant snow fall this winter, spring-related flooding may be particularly severe, thus increasing the importance of purchasing flood insurance.
A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to determine whether the property is situated in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a designated flood zone, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance. Additional information on flood insurance can be found at www.FloodSmart.gov.
4. Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today's litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket if you are sued-and those costs may be steep.
A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.
5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters insurance policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to an insured disaster, such as a fire or hurricane. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.
A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto and life will generally provide savings.
For more information, visit http://www.iii.org/.