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
February 11, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 11, 2011Theres one undeniable truth about vacation home renters: The early bird gets the wormand shes willing to pay top dollar for it. Thats why smart vacation rental owners set out to make their properties attractive to these oh-so-lucrative early birds well ahead of time. Yes, now is the time to start getting your ocean-view condo or woodsy cabin ready to stand out in the cyber lineup. And according to vacation home expert Christine Karpinski, that means one thing: Its time to amenity up.
Once your home is passed up, most people wont go back to view it again, warns Karpinski, director of Owner Community for HomeAway.com and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment. If you want to secure that booking, you need to catch peoples attention the first timeand that means making sure their desired amenities are present and accounted for.
Karpinski outlines the following list of top amenities that renters are looking forand how you can make sure yours are coming up in their search:
1. Pool. It should come as no big surprise that vacationers enjoy taking a dip in the pool while on vacation. Pools are a form of entertainment in and of themselves, so when people go on vacation, they typically look for some body of water in close proximity. Even if you dont have a pool in your own backyard, advertise the shared pool in your complex or a nearby community pool.
2. Hot tub. Hot tubs have become a must-have amenity in many markets, especially those with cooler weather. Having a hot tub in your listing can even increase the shoulder season rentability of propertiesespecially in areas with chilly spring and fall seasons. In other words, that hot tub on the deck or screened-in porch could mean more renters all year long.
3. Jacuzzi tub. Just like Kleenex and Google, Jacuzzi is a brand name that has become the generic term for its category. While many travelers may use the word interchangeably with hot tub (meaning the outdoor variety), others search for the term Jacuzzi when seeking a whirlpool bathtub. In other words, if it has warm water, jets and bubbles, chances are people are calling it a Jacuzzi, so keep that in mind when putting your property listing together.
4. Pet friendly. According to the Travel Industry Association, 14% of all American adults have traveled with a pet at some point in the past three years. Although it may not be a traditional amenity, accepting pets at your vacation rental could significantly increase your bookings. Remember, it costs hundreds of dollars for guests to board their dogs or hire a sitter. Even if you charge a pet fee or a refundable pet deposit, it will still cost guests far less than leaving their four-legged friends at home.
5. TV. Even with the rising popularity of HDTVs, just plain TV remains a popular search term that people use in their hunt for that perfect home. In your description, include the number of TVs in your home, taking care to mention any located in bedrooms. (Many travelers look for this detail). Also, it doesnt hurt to include more details in your listing about any high-end televisions you may have. Cable and satellite TV also rank highly in traveler searches. If you have an HDTV in the home, make sure you upgrade the box and pay that extra five or so dollars for those HD channels. Your guests will enjoy having themand of course dont forget to highlight in your advertisements that you pay for HD channels.
6. Tennis. If you dont have a tennis court in your backyard, subdivision or complex, consider looking up local courts and including information about them in your listing. Many vacationers understand that tennis courts could be considered a hard-to-access amenity; if your home does have court access, shout it from the heavens. This just might be the amenity that reels them in.
7. Internet. Even on vacation, travelers still want (and need) to be connected, and wireless Internet has become the preferred method. If you dont already offer a WiFi connection, contact your local cable or phone company for more details. Its fairly inexpensive to add this amenity to your home and, in this day and age, its as much of a necessity as running water and electricity.
8. Pool table. Pool tables are especially popular in certain ski and mountain regions because they offer reliable indoor entertainment.And if youre looking to put your money on something that will make a big statement at a reasonable price, adding one to your home will do just that. Obviously, you dont have to go top of the line and shell out $25,000 for a high-end pool table. Check out your local sporting goods store and youll likely find a perfectly nice model for around $1,000. If this still seems like a lot to spend, ask around and search the classified ads for used tables. Chances are youll come across people willing to sell theirs for next to nothing.
9. Fireplace. When vacationing in a cooler climate, renters look forward to cuddling up by the fireplace after a long day outdoors. If you have one, be sure to really play it up in your listing. For slightly warmer destinations, an outdoor fireplace can be a huge draw for off-season travelers. And while adding a full-fledged fireplace, chimney and all to an existing home may prove to be prohibitively expensive, there are plenty of portable fireplaces that you can pick up at the home improvement store that dont require a contractor and construction crew to install.
10. Porch. No matter what type of outdoor living area you havea porch, deck, terrace or patiobe sure to provide a detailed description and photo(s) in your listing. Another popular search term is balcony, so dont forget that keyword when posting a photo of your view. Add the appropriate outdoor furniture and you have an inviting bonus living space that renters will love. And dont forget to include pictures of that stunning view.
Sometimes it really is a good idea to invest a few thousand dollars to make your home more desirable to vacationers, concludes Karpinski. Many upgrades will pay for themselves after just a couple of extra bookings. Besides, your expenditure may be a tax write-off. If youre considering adding amenities to your vacation home, let these top requests from actual travelers guide you. When peak season gets here, youll be glad you listened to them.
February 10, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 10, 2011--As of yesterday, mortgage rates have increased slightly. Recent employment data revealed a decrease in the national unemployment rate. Despite positive economic news, however, investors fear that the economic recovery will induce inflation nationwide. This, hence, puts added pressure on the mortgage-backed securities market and causes an increase in mortgages rates.
Current 30-year conforming fixed mortgage rates are at 4.875%, 15-year conforming fixed mortgage rates are at 4.250%, and conforming 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are at 3.250%. Well-qualified borrowers are able to take advantage of these low conforming mortgage rates with only 0.7 to 1.0% origination fees.
Current 30-year fixed FHA mortgage rates are 4.625%, 15-year fixed FHA mortgage rates are 4.000%, and FHA 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rates are 3.500%. FHA mortgages have more favorable loan terms than conforming mortgage rates. The tradeoff, however, is the higher closing costs associated with an FHA loan. Additional fees that the Federal Housing Administration charges to borrowers include upfront mortgage insurance premiums, annual mortgage insurance premiums, additional residential appraisals, etc.
Jumbo mortgage rates are likewise currently stable. Current 30-year fixed jumbo mortgage rates are 5.500%, 15-year fixed jumbo mortgage rates are 5.000%, and jumbo 5/1 adjustable mortgage rates are 4.125%. Borrowers interested in obtaining a jumbo mortgage loan are able to do so in excess of the conforming loan limit for their designated area.
Mortgage back securities (MBS) prices are currently higher than before. MBS prices have increased by -19/32 (FNMA 30-year 4.5 at 100.12). Mortgage rates and MBS prices have an inverse relationship, which means they move in opposite directions. Therefore, as MBS prices increase, mortgage rates are expected to decrease.
For more information, visit: www.FreeRateUpdate.com.
February 10, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 10, 2011--With the great recession driving unemployment, foreclosures and vacancy rates to historic highs, the housing market has certainly been on one wild ride the last few years.
Today, we see the confluence of a deep recession driving behavioral change and shifts in the demographic distribution of the population poised to impact the real estate market in unexpected ways. Americans who have experienced or witnessed the loss of jobs, homes and home values have grown skeptical about the benefits of homeownership. Not only will the financial impacts of the housing meltdown burden the real estate market for years to come, but so too will the emotional impact. More than ever, Americans of all ages are considering their options.
At a time when aging baby boomers might be retiring, they continue working in order to build back up the retirement savings they lost in the economic chaos. This has a trickle-down effect, preventing younger generations from moving up in the workplace or from moving into the workplace to acquire the wealth they would need to drive new demand for homes.
The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University reports that real median household incomes across all age groups under 55 have not increased since 2000. Its been posited that this will be the first decade in 40 years where real median household incomes will end lower than where they started. This has the biggest implications for the baby bust generation (born 1966-1985) as they approach what should be their prime earning years and for younger baby boomers that will be facing a vacuum of demand from younger generations when they want to retire, sell the family home and downsize. Over-building and spiking foreclosures have already produced an over-supply of large suburban homes for which there is little demand or ability to purchase. Gen X and Y will not do much to help solve this problem.
The Gen Y population, or echo boomers (born 1986-2005), the largest pool of renters, is now in their prime rental years, but many have found themselves jobless with no way to pay the rent. Forced to move in with mom, dad or friends, this twenty-something crowd has been hard hit by the recession. Nonetheless, they are poised to redefine the American dream for generations to come. When employment growth returns, they will be a key driver of rental demand.
Also at play is the fact that aging boomers will be reluctant to sell their homes for two reasons. One, they may be underwater on their mortgages and waiting for the market to rebound and two, they are healthier than their parents generation and will likely delay the move to retirement community living. Only time will tell if a market will exist for their homes when they are ready to sell, however, the income constraints and lifestyle demands of a shifting population may dictate a very different future.
All in all, there are some big changes afoot in the housing market that shifting demographics will continue to amplify. The changing needs of an aging baby boomer population as well as the demands of the burgeoning echo boomer generation will require that the real estate market respond in new and different ways.
The next quarter century is likely to bring a new look and feel to housing, much different than the post-war suburban sprawl that America experienced in the 1950s and 1960s. According to a 2009 study by RCLCO, both retiring baby boomers and maturing echo boomers are looking to move away from the suburbs theyve spent their lives in. Both groups reported wanting to live in more urban, mixed-use, mixed-age areas that offer services, community and walk-ability.
Given the lack of wealth that younger generations are anticipated to experience, achieving the dream of urban living may be out of reach for them. While echo boomers also told RCLCO they are willing to give up size to live where they want, its possible that living in urban centers may come at too expensive a price tag.
The over-built suburbs and areas hardest hit by home devaluation may be the only places that Gen Y will be able to afford, but its unclear how they may deal with this lifestyle dilemma. What is clear is that the growth of an economically challenged echo boomer generation will make affordable housing even more important.
For more information, visit Rent.com.
February 10, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 10, 2011--With winter in full swing, heating bills are on the rise. For people looking to lower their costs, the best place to look is, of course, the furnace.
When I talk to people that are experiencing higher-than-expected heating bills, they are always surprised when they think back to how old their furnace actually is, said David Coulson of Napoleon Fireplaces. For furnaces 10 to 15 years old, you are looking at older, inefficient technology that is sucking the money right from your wallet. If you are looking to replace an older one, its really important to educate yourself before buying, as choosing the right furnace will save you money in the long run and keep the house at the perfect temperature.
For people looking into a new furnace for their home, Coulson suggests the following tips:
1)Size matters One of the most important factors when buying a furnace is to have a professional installer examine the size of the house and then determine the size of the furnace necessary for the space. A furnace that is too large leaves gaps in temperature as it turns on until it overwhelms the thermostat. The house ends up cooling down until the next cycle and creates an inconsistent temperature. A furnace that is the right size for the space, however, will be able to better regulate a constant temp.
2)Dont buy on price alone Always be sure to ask a professional installer, contractor or reputable salesperson about annual operating costs for whatever furnaces you may be looking at. While there are a variety of factors to consider, price should not necessarily be number one. Efficiencies, however, can vary drastically depending on price, which means that if you pay more up front now, youll still enjoy lower heating bills 10 or 15 years later.
3)Get the right documentation Any reputable installer or manufacturer will be sure to not only include the purchase agreement and warranty information but also explain exactly what you are getting. If you feel confused or unsure about anything dont be afraid to ask.
4) Correct installation and maintenance Furnace installation should be done by a trained professional as not only can it be a safety hazard but if anything is off it can severely impact your efficiency and, therefore, your heating bill. Regular maintenance, generally in the fall, will keep the furnace performing like it should, keeping your family warm and your wallet a little fuller.
Above all, Coulson recommends that anyone looking to replace an old, inefficient furnace first explore all of their options and consult with a professional manufacturer or installer to find the right fit for their home.
February 9, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 9, 2011--According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 3,000 Americans die each year in home fires. These deaths tend to increase in the winter months when everyone is lighting fires and cranking the heat in an attempt to stay warm and cozy indoors. Use this five-step checklist so that you can prevent a fire from happening in your home.
Check the alarms. Two-thirds of home fires occur in buildings with no working smoke alarms. Carbon monoxide poisoning also claims several hundred lives every year. Make sure to change the batteries in your smoke alarms often. If your smoke detectors start beeping due to a low battery, change them immediately. Don't put your family's safety at risk.
Have fire extinguishers nearby. Cooking is one of the leading causes of home fires and injuries. It is recommended that you have a full-floor extinguisher on each level of your home, as well as a smaller backup model for the kitchen. With these extinguishers handy, you can be prepared for any problem and might even be able to prevent a full structure fire.
Periodically clean your dryer vents. Lint filled dryer ducts are responsible for 4,500 home fires per year. Using a flexible or solid metal duct will lessen your chances of fires. Seal all joints and seams and remove and clean the duct regularly. As always, clean the lint filter after each load.
Make the appropriate room for space heaters. Space heaters are the cause of nearly 22,000 home fires. Some of these are caused by faulty space heaters, while others are simply the result of a poorly placed heater. Heaters should normally be placed three feet away from anything flammable. Always check for severed power cords and turn them off when leaving a room or going to sleep. Some models even have tip-over switches that turn the machine off if it happens to be knocked over. These models are highly recommended for this safety feature alone.
Frequently inspect your heating equipment. Have your furnace inspected at least once a year by a licensed heating contractor. This will not only ensure that there is nothing faulty with your equipment, but will also make sure that your furnace is running at maximum efficiency as well.
With these preventative methods, you can cut down the chances of a fire destroying your home or apartment.
February 9, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 9, 2011-- Each year consumers pay more for their auto and homeowners insurance policies as a direct result of fraud. We've all heard the storiesunnecessary auto glass repairs, aggressive and exorbitant towing charges, needless home repairs, total roof replacements, sinkhole damage, solicitation of accident victims. These and other kinds of insurance scams contribute to an annual loss amount estimated to be $30 billion just within the property and casualty industry.
Repair scams have one common elementa solicitation from an individual offering repair services. If a homeowner has requested an inspection or if an insurance company has authorized a vendor to conduct an inspection, that's one thing. But an unsolicited, unexpected and random "inspection" visit from a service provider, whether it's a glass repair technician, a roofer or a structural engineer looking for sinkhole damage to your home, could be the first step in a fraud scam. That is why NICB advises consumers to always consult their insurance company first before allowing anyone to perform any inspection or repair work that will be covered by their insurance.
Essentially, any unsolicited contact with you is a key indicator of possible fraud. When someone knocks on your door for a roof inspection and you did not request it; when you are approached at a service station by a glass repair technician offering "free" repair work; when a contractor appears at your door to provide an estimate for replacing your storm-damaged sidingall of these are potentially fraud precursors. If you didn't request itreject it.
Not everyone who makes unsolicited contacts with homeowners or people involved in an auto accident is looking to rip you off. But it is an unfortunate sign of the times that when we find examples of repair or auto accident solicitation scams, they began with an unsolicited visit or contact.
The best time to ask questions about your coverage is before you buy it. Make sure you understand how your policies will perform in the event you need to submit a claim.
When considering home repairs, NICB recommends that consumers consider these tips before hiring a contractor:
- Contact your insurance company first
- Get more than one estimate
- Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations should be detailed
- Demand references and check them out
- Ask to see the salesperson's driver's license and write down the license number and their vehicle's license plate number
- Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later
- Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code
- Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
- Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them
- Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language
- Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company
To report any type of insurance fraud, call toll-free 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422), text keyword "fraud" to TIP411 (847411), or visit www.nicb.org.
February 9, 2011 1:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 9, 2011--As snow begins to melt across the country, it presents us with a new problem: the potential for flood or water damage to our homes. Melting snow creates a plethora of water that may seep into basements causing excessive damage. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a flood of just one inch in a 1,000-square-foot home can cause over $10,000 in damage.
Most insurance policies do not cover flood damage. A second policy is necessary to be protected from this type of home hazard. The federal government's National Flood Insurance Program offers flood insurance policies for new customers, however, there is generally a 30-day waiting period before policies go into effect. Acting fast to set up a policy may just save you thousands of dollars down the road. If you are without the protection of flood insurance, there are things you can do to minimize damage and prevent water from ever entering your home:
- Remove any large piles of snow that may be near or around basement windows or wells. Moving snow just a few feet can make a world's difference in damage prevention.
- Make sure your gutters are ice-free so that water can be carried away from the house.
- Clean and test your sump pump by pouring water into the pit. The drainage hose should carry water far enough away from your house.
- If you don't have a sump pump, consider installing one.
- Elevate your water heater and washer and dryer on pieces of wood.
- Label your circuitry so that in the case of an emergency, you can shut off the power to flooded areas immediately.
- If you find any cracks in your foundation, repair them immediately.
- If you are storing anything of sentimental value in your basement, you might want to consider moving it elsewhere.
With the impending thaw ahead of us, protecting your home against water damage is crucially important. Look into starting a flooding insurance policy today.
Source: Consumer Reports
February 8, 2011 7:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 8, 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
February 8, 2011 7:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 8, 2011Closing costs on mortgages have increased, with bank fees increasing nearly 23% and third-party fees, 4%. Although new regulations have made it easier for consumers to shop around and harder for banks to surprise them with random fees at the time of closing, closing fees are still on the rise. Anyone shopping for mortgages should ask for a detailed list of closing fees in their good faith estimate and question anything they dont understand. A financial advisor is highly recommended.
Actual fees can range from $3,000 to $5,600, depending on the market. However, you dont have to pay whatever the bank puts in front of you. Heed this advice when trying to keep your closing costs low:
Be on the lookout for superfluous fees. Any fee marked as processing or administrative should be red flagged. Ask for them to be waived or decreased if found. Read the good-faith estimate carefully so you can catch these extraneous fees and stop them in their tracks.
Look for redundant services. Some banks charge for both borrower and lender title insurance, which may be unnecessary depending on the case. Title insurance is a way to protect the bank if the title search you pay for misses a lien or ownership dispute on the property that could undermine your claim on the property after the sale closes. However, only one title policy is necessary.
Minimize, or even avoid, mortgage insurance. If you cant offer the bank a sizeable 20% down payment, the bank might try to bundle mortgage insurance into your monthly loan payment, in addition to an upfront fee. These fees might be small, but will definitely add up over the course of the year and life of the loan. The higher your down payment is, the lower these bundled fees will be. Its worth taking the time to save up before purchasingit will save you lots of money in the long run.
Consider a no-fee mortgage, but beware of the price youll pay. Some banks simply dont want to waste time debating fees and may often be willing to waive them all in exchange for a higher interest rate. These deals can either be good or terribly expensive, depending on how long you are going to live at that property. If youre thinking of settling in for 10-15 years, having a no-fee mortgage doesnt make sense financially. However, if it is likely that youll pick up and move in three to five years, youll pay less in added interest than the closing fees would have amounted to. Even though this option may not work for you, it is still entirely worth asking about.
Closing on a property can be an exciting time, but dont neglect to inspect your closing fees and ask for reductions. The money you can save by doing so can be substantial.
Sources: Bankrate, AOL Real Estate/HousingWatch
February 8, 2011 7:31 pm
RISMEDIA, February 8, 2011--Fannie Mae, a leading source of multifamily mortgage financing for workforce rental housing, announced that in 2010 the company, in conjunction with its lender and housing partners, provided $16.9 billion in debt financing for the rental housing market, through approximately 2,300 multifamily mortgage loans for 306,000 rental units across the country.
Fannie Mae's Delegated Underwriting and Servicing (DUS) lenders and affiliates delivered 97% or $16.4 billion of the company's 2010 financing in multifamily housing by utilizing the DUS platform - the cornerstone of Fannie Mae's Multifamily business. The DUS platform relies on a concept of shared risk or "skin in the game" and provides competitive advantages to lenders including certainty and speed of execution, delegated underwriting and servicing, competitive pricing, and strong credit risk management.
The company's MBS execution, which offers investors Fannie Mae's guaranty of timely payment of principal and interest, accounted for 97% of total production compared to 81% in 2009. Fannie Mae's DUS MBS is an efficient execution for mortgage loans of all sizes with multiple dealer/investor bids that promote liquidity in the market. Fannie Mae also issued $4.8 billion of DUS structured securities backed by MBS. These securities are part of the Fannie Mae Guaranteed Multifamily Structures, or Fannie Mae GeMS, an expanded suite of Fannie Mae multifamily mortgage-backed securities. Fannie Mae's GeMS helps to provide a continuous source of stable funding to support the nation's rental housing market.
"We congratulate the DUS lenders for delivering solid results during this period of dynamic market and economic change," said Ken Bacon, executive vice president of Fannie Mae's Multifamily Mortgage Business. "For 25 years, Fannie Mae has played a significant role in the multifamily rental housing market, providing effective, reliable financing solutions that help lenders and borrowers succeed. We continue to demonstrate our commitment to multifamily financing and providing housing to America's working families."
As more Americans view rental housing as an attractive and sustainable housing option, the need for workforce rental housing grows. To help meet this demand, approximately 91% of the multifamily units financed by Fannie Mae in 2010 were affordable to families at or below the median income of their communities.
Additional highlights of 2010 production include the following specialty production, which is part of the overall total multifamily investment number:
- Large Loans and Structured (loans $25 million or higher and credit facilities): $5.5 billion
- Small Loans (loans of up to $3 million, or $5 million in high cost areas): $2.4 billion
- Multifamily Affordable Housing (MAH), which provides financing for rent-restricted properties for people earning 60 percent or less of median income: $830 million
- Manufactured Housing Communities: $540 million
- Seniors Housing: $640 million
"Fannie Mae is committed to financing quality, affordable, multifamily rental housing in every market, every day, and delivering financing solutions that are relevant today and sustainable for the future," adds Bacon.