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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

Real Estate Valuations Addressed in New Book from Appraisal Institute

February 25, 2011 1:31 pm

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

Cut Crime and Save Money with a Home Security System

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit the Electronic Security Association at www.ESAweb.org.

Tags: News

National Survey Reveals Renter Moving Plans for 2011

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

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

Existing-Home Sales Rise Again in January

February 24, 2011 1:31 pm

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

6 Ways to Spend Less on Groceries

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

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

5 Tips Any Mover Should Know

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2011If you are considering a move in the coming months, heed these suggestions to give you the best chance of making your move a positive experience. 1.Dont contract with a moving company until youve done your homework. There are a number of reputable moving companies operating in the United States, but there also are some that are not. You can find a list of certified movers at www.promover.org or check the Better Business Bureaus website (www.bbb.org) for recent reports about any of the moving companies you have under consideration. 2. Understand the coverage options offered by your moving company. Hiring a professional moving company is an investment in conveniencebut it is not a guarantee against damaged or lost possessions. So, before moving, make certain you understand the types of protection each moving company offers. 3.Finish packing before moving day. J.D. Powers research has shown that customers who are still packing on moving day are more than 40% more likely to have items go missing than are their counterparts who finish packing before moving day. 4. Dont put off unpacking. Unpacking promptly following your move will give you sufficient time to file a claim if you need to do so. Nearly one-half (45%) of customers who discover items lost or damaged during their move do not file a claim with their moving company. Many of these customers cite timing or missed deadlines as the reason they could not or did not file a claim. 5. If at all possible, avoid moving during the summer months. Demand for moving company servicesand often, their prices as welltend to spike during the summer months. J.D. Power found that customers reported the lowest levels of satisfaction in June, August, and September. In addition, the percentage of customers indicating they had possessions damaged or lost during their move reaches the highest levels during these peak months. For more information, visit www.jdpower.com.
Tags: News

Tips for Selecting Energy and Budget Friendly Light Bulbs

February 23, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 23, 2011Its a known fact that energy-efficient lighting can save you money. The law requires light bulb manufacturers to provide information to help you choose the most energy-efficient bulb. When headed to purchase your next set of light bulbs, be sure to take the following into consideration: Regular incandescent bulbs. Everyday pear-shaped bulbs with a screw-in base, these bulbs use electricity to heat a filament until it glows white hot, producing light. About 90% of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs is lost as heat. These bulbs typically burn for 750 to 1,000 hoursor about three hours a day for a year. Compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs provide as much light as regular incandescent bulbs while using just one-fourth the energy. For example, a 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb gives out the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescent bulbs last about 10,000 hours10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Incandescent spotlights and floodlights. Known as spotlights or floodlights, these bulbs are used in recessed ceiling fixtures or outdoors. A special coating helps direct and focus the light. They burn for about 2,000 hours. Halogen bulbs. These bulbs contain a small capsule filled with halogen gas, which emits a bright white light. While standard halogen bulbs use less energy and last longer than standard incandescent bulbs, DOE cautions that halogen torchieres, frequently used in floor lamps, generate excessive heat, which can create fire hazards. Halogen torchieres also use significant amounts of energy. When possible, DOE recommends using more efficient compact fluorescent lamp bulbs instead. General service fluorescent bulbs. More energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, general service fluorescent bulbs don't produce heat. Theyre thin, long tubes often used in kitchens, offices, garages, and basements. They last from 10,000 to 20,000 hours10 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs. When choosing new bulbs or lighting, it's important to know your options. By being in the know, you can create a lighting plan for your home that will be practical for your lifestyle and budget. Source: FTC
Tags: News

New Fed Rule May Lower Costs for Borrowers

February 22, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 22, 2011--A new Federal Reserve rule is causing some concerns in the mortgage industry, even though it may lead to lower costs for borrowers. Some experts believe the upcoming changes may have the power to do more harm than good. Under the new rule that takes effect April 1, borrowers who get their mortgages through brokers will likely pay less for services, while brokers will be required to offer the lowest possible interest rate and fees that they qualify for. Most banks and other direct lenders, including some mortgage companies that operate like banks, are exempt from the rule. The new Federal Reserve rule, the Loan Originator Compensation amendment to Regulation Z, aims to help prevent borrowers from high-cost or risky loans. Mortgage brokers used to earn more money on a loan the higher the interest rate and points. But the new rule covers how a loan originator is paid, setting a fixed commission and no longer tying the amount to the loan terms. Some in the mortgage industry believe the new rule may make mortgage brokers less competitive against the big banks, as earnings will be the same for large and small jobs. Officials with the National Association of Mortgage Brokers also have expressed concerns, saying the rule may put a lot of independent brokers out of business. Source: The New York Times
Tags: News

Housing Affordability Rises to Highest Level in Two Decades

February 22, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 22, 2011Nationwide housing affordability during the fourth quarter of 2010 rose to its highest level in the 20 years since it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data. The HOI indicated that 73.9% of all new and existing homes sold in the fourth quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. The record-setting index for the fourth quarter surpassed the previous high of 72.5% set during the first quarter of 2009 and marked the eighth consecutive quarter that the index has been above 70%. Until 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65% and never reached 70%. "Today's report shows that housing affordability at the end of 2010 was at its highest level since we started computing the HOI," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind., was the most affordable major housing market in the country for the second consecutive quarter, after relinquishing for a quarter the top spot it has held for five years. In Indianapolis, 93.5% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $68,700. Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y; Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich.; and Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich. Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Elkhart-Goshen, Ind., where 97.0% of homes sold during the fourth quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning a median income of $58,600. Other smaller housing markets near the top of the index included Lansing-East Lansing, Mich.; Kokomo, Ind.; Mansfield, Ohio; and Bay City, Mich. New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J., again led the nation as the least affordable major housing market during the fourth quarter of 2010. In New York, more than a fourth25.5%of all homes sold during the quarter were affordable to those earning the area's median income of $65,600. This was the 11th consecutive quarter that the New York metropolitan division has held this position. The other major metro areas near the bottom of the affordability index included San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.; Honolulu; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif.; and Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif., respectively. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif. was the least affordable of the smaller metro housing markets in the country during the fourth quarter. In Santa Cruz, 45.0% of the homes were affordable to families earning the median income of $84,200. Other small metro areas ranking near the bottom included Ocean City, N.J; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.; Laredo, Texas; and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, Calif. For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
Tags: News

Residential Remodeling Activity Rose 18 % Year-Over-Year in December 2010, According to BuildFax Remodeling Index

February 22, 2011 1:31 pm

RISMEDIA, February 22, 2011With the economy continuing to exhibit a slow recovery and mortgage rates inching up from historical lows, many Americans have chosen to remodel their current homes rather than purchase a new house or apartment. BuildFax, a leading provider of building permit data recently released the latest findings of its monthly BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI), in addition to a comprehensive review of remodeling activity throughout last year. The findings indicate that in December 2010, residential remodeling activity rose 18% year-over-year and for the fourteenth straight month. The BFRI is one of the only sources directly reporting residential remodeling activity across the nation. The monthly information, derived through related building permit activity filed with local building departments across the country, reports trends in remodeling activity for the entire United States, as well as for the four major regions of the country: Northeast, South, Midwest and West. The latest report details remodeling activity through December 2010 and provides month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons for the entire nation and the four regions included in the index. In addition, with the inclusion of the December data, BuildFax has released its 2010 remodeling Year in Review. According to the BFRI 2010 Year in Review, in most of the country, remodeling in 2010 resembled what 2008 might have looked like had the housing market not collapsed. In the Northeast, however, 2010 was the worst year in the history of the BuildFax Remodeling Index. Throughout the countryeven in the lagging Northeastthe last quarter of 2010 shows promise for increased remodeling activity in 2011, said Joe Emison, vice president of research and development at BuildFax. The winter is always the trough of the seasonal remodeling cycle, and December 2010 was better than or equal to December 2009 in every region of the country. On a regional basis, the West and South both saw better-than-average remodeling activity in December, with the South posting a four-year high, and the West posting an index high. The Midwest suffered its usual significant November-to-December decline, and the Northeast continues to lag all other regions while still showing signs of recovery. The BuildFax Remodeling Index for the Northeast was down 4.1 points (5%) month-over-month but up 1.3 points (2%) year-over-year; the South was down 0.6 points (less than 1%) month-over-month but up 9.1 points (12%) year-over-year; the Midwest was down 11.8 points (11%) month-over-month and down 0.1 points (less than 1%) year-over-year; and the West was up 2.9 points (3%) month-over-month and up 11.3 points (12%) year-over-year. For more information, visit www.buildfax.com.
Tags: News




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