REMAX 440/Central Blog

Why Now May be the Time to Build

August 14, 2012 1:54 am

With the housing market in recovery mode and new residential construction on the rise, a unique opportunity exists to take advantage of what are still comparatively low material and labor costs while enjoying accelerating appreciation. Whether it’s a new home, addition, vacation home, or a commercial property, analysts agree that those who build now will realize the highest return on their initial investment.

Along with this upward trend, material and labor costs are also expected to increase, making today the perfect time to take advantage of this economic opportunity. Not only will you save money short-term in construction costs, but by building now, you’ll make an investment that will yield a much higher return over time. Comparing the numbers, real estate continues to be a better choice in investing your money than the stock market, especially with recent market performance returns in mind.

There are many benefits to investing in real estate, including leveraging your mortgage to amplify your ROI, the consistency of real estate compared to the volatility of the stock market, and bigger breaks on your taxes. According to a recent article from CNN Money, “If you (or your mutual fund) hold a stock for more than a year before selling, then you owe only a capital-gains tax that tops out at just 15 percent. Second, you can offset any investment losses you realized against your gains on your income tax return.

Interest rates are lower than ever and material costs are remaining relatively steady for now. General contractors are available and hungry for any work they can get, coming off of a two year building slump. “(According to the National Association of REALTORS®) in April 2012, homes changed hands at a record pace of 7.2 million per year, at a median price of $206,000, up 15.1 percent from a year earlier. The last time home prices rose so fast in one year was in November 1980, when prices shot up 15.6 percent,” says Forbes Magazine.

Making the wise choice to invest in real estate this year remains one of the best ways to make sure you get the best possible return on your investment and building a home with a differential – something that sets it apart from other homes on the market – enhances the return. Unique homes are often sold for much more than comparable homes in the same area. Homes with one-of-a-kind features, energy efficiency, and brilliant architecture are providing the best return for home builders. Building your home with energy efficiency at the forefront is a great way to set your investment apart while keeping your heating and cooling costs low over time.

In addition to building “green,” adding an architectural novelty to your home will pack your investment with a high-quality differential, bringing your return even higher. Features such as outdoor kitchens and patios, or unique architectural styles such as post and beam, or timber framing, provide an aesthetic appeal that will lure in potential buyers while providing energy efficiency with the addition of SIPs to enclose the structure. Exposed timbers, quality materials and cathedral ceilings are features that bring your real estate investment the distinction it needs in order to thrive in a growing economy.

For those looking for a strong long-term investment, this is the time to choose new real estate. And if you’re choosing to build, there has never been a better opportunity to engage in a relationship with your architect, builder or home design/build company.

Source: Eric C Lindstrom, Woodhouse

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New Mobile App Provides Real-Time Stats on U.S. Economy

August 13, 2012 1:52 am

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its first-ever mobile application, "America's Economy," which will provide constantly updated statistics on the U.S. economy, including monthly economic indicators, trends, along with a schedule of upcoming announcements. The app, which is currently available for Android mobile device users, combines statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

America's Economy is the first mobile app from the Census Bureau that provides smartphone and tablet users with the real-time government statistics that drive business hiring, sales and production decisions and assist economists, researchers, planners and policymakers. The economic indicators track monthly and quarterly trends in industries, such as employment, housing construction, international trade, personal income, retail sales and manufacturing.

The America's Economy app has been developed as part of the Census Bureau's Web Transformation Project and fulfills a key goal of President Obama's recently announced Digital Strategy to provide federal employees and the general public with greater access to government information and services. The creation of this app is also consistent with the Census Bureau's longtime mission of providing accurate statistics about the nation's growth and changes using 21st century technology to make that information available more quickly and easily.

The following 16 key economic indicators will be available as part of the initial release of the app:
  • Advance Monthly Retail Sales
  • New Residential Construction
  • New Residential Sales
  • Construction Spending
  • International Trade
  • Advance Report Durable Goods
  • Business Inventories
  • Manufacturers' Goods
  • Monthly Wholesale
  • Homeownership Rate
  • Quarterly Services Survey
  • QFR – Retail Trade
  • QFR – Manufacturing
Bureau of Economic Analysis:
  • Gross Domestic Product
  • Personal Income and Outlays
Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Unemployment Rate
Users will be able to set alerts to receive notifications when economic indicators are updated. They can also add statistical release schedules to their personal calendars. When each indicator is released, users can also share the news on both Facebook and Twitter.

America's Economy is available now for Android users and is expected be available for Apple smartphone and tablet users in the Apple App Store in the coming weeks. America's Economy is the first of three planned apps from the Census Bureau that will be made available over the next several months. Each app will be available for Apple and Android smartphones.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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Mortgage Monitor: HARP Refinance Activity Up, Seriously Delinquent Rate Stable

August 13, 2012 1:52 am

The June Mortgage Monitor report released by Lender Processing Services shows that while overall mortgage prepayment activity remains stable, despite historically low rates, the federal government's Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has seen considerable activity since the beginning of 2012.

The June data also shows that the rate of new problem loans entering the delinquency pipeline remained stable at multi-year lows; late-stage delinquencies have also shown improvement over the last year, dropping more than 7 percent. On a month-over-month basis, the national delinquency rate for loans 90 or more days delinquent remained stable, but after months of tracking very closely, the rate in judicial foreclosure states is now higher than in non-judicial. The share of aged inventory is higher in judicial states as well, with nearly 50 percent of borrowers with loans 90 or more days delinquent not having made a payment in more than one year, as compared to just slightly more than 40 percent in non-judicial states. Further, nearly 60 percent of borrowers with loans in foreclosure in judicial states had not made a payment in at least two years, as of June.

As reported in LPS' First Look release, other key results from LPS' latest Mortgage Monitor report include:
  • Total U.S. loan delinquency rate: 7.14 %
  • Month-over-month change in delinquency rate: 3.4 %
  • Total U.S. foreclosure pre-sale inventory rate: 4.09 %
  • Month-over-month change in foreclosure pre-sale inventory rate: -2.0 %
  • States with highest percentage of non-current* loans: FL, MS, NV, NJ, IL
  • States with the lowest percentage of non-current* loans: MT, AK, WY, SD, ND
*Non-current totals combine foreclosures and delinquencies as a percent of active loans in that state.

Note: Totals are extrapolated based on LPS Applied Analytics' loan-level database of mortgage assets.

Source: Lender Processing Services

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MBA Reacts to New Proposed Mortgage Servicing Rules

August 13, 2012 1:52 am

David H. Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), issued the following statement in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) announcement of proposed rules that would establish uniform standards for the residential mortgage servicing industry:

“MBA applauds Director Cordray and the CFPB for moving forward with proposed national mortgage servicing rules, an important step toward bringing certainty to our industry. MBA supports mortgage servicing standards that ensure appropriate and uniform protections for borrowers regardless of who their servicer is or where they live. Equally important, these servicing standards must allow lenders to operate efficiently and meet any legal or contractual obligations to their investors. A number of servicers are already in the process of implementing most of these standards.

“MBA will now begin the process of reviewing the proposed standards and will work to better understand their potential impact on servicers of all sizes and business models, as it is important that the final rules do not give preference to one business type over another. It is also essential that they do not inhibit industry innovation or discourage new market entrants.

“I am confident that final rules can be achieved which will create more confidence and certainty in the real estate industry for borrowers and servicers alike. We look forward to working with our members, other stakeholders and the CFPB to fully engage in this final rulemaking process.”

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Spotty Dishes Still a Big Kitchen Challenge

August 10, 2012 1:46 am

When it comes to achieving clean sparkling dishes, 1 in 3 people who own dishwashers claim it's their biggest kitchen challenge, according to new research from OxiClean. While this summer marks two years since dishwasher detergents were reformulated to remove phosphates – a key cleaning ingredient – 69 percent of consumers are still unaware of what phosphates are or why they were banned from dishwashing detergents.

"While many consumers may blame their dishwasher, grimy dishes are most often a result of phosphate-free detergents, which can leave behind a film from hard water salts and calcium," explains Craig Sheehan, director of the OxiClean® brand at Church & Dwight, Co., Inc.

With all the backyard parties, summer outings and entertaining that takes place during the summer, clean dishes and sparkling glasses are essential. Of consumers polled, 88 percent agreed it is embarrassing to serve dishes that have spots and streaks, however, the majority of respondents experienced a film out of the dishwasher about five times a month. But spots and streaks on dishes don't make the kind of home style statement you'd like to make this summer, and consumers are going to unnecessary lengths to avoid such entertaining faux pas.

The survey found over half of consumers polled have switched detergents 2-5 times, rewashed their dishes by hand (47 percent) – resulting in excess costs in a tight economy and taking time out from already busy schedules. Sheehan recommends looking into cleaning products to add to your dishwasher cycle to help prevent spots and film.

Source: Church & Dwight Co., Inc.

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Painting Your Child’s Room? Here's How

August 10, 2012 1:46 am

Looking to set up a nursery or revamp the color of your tween’s bedroom? Painting is an easy and cost-effective way to create just the right atmosphere. But knowing how to get started can feel overwhelming. These tips will help you choose the best type and color of paint, while keeping the process quick and stress-free.

First of all, determine what type of sheen you want the room to have. Sheen determines how shiny your paint looks when it's dry. Choosing the right sheen adds the perfect finishing touch on a room, and it can make a big difference when it comes to cleaning up:
  • Semi-Gloss - Brings a soft shine to the room without being overpowering. It's good for kids' rooms because it's durable and easy to clean. You can wipe off crayon and pencil marks with common non-abrasive cleaners.
  • Eggshell/Satin - Has a smooth finish with a subtle sheen, and is washable and scrubbable.
  • Flat - A beautiful matte coating with no shine. It is ideal for low-traffic areas and hides minor dents or nicks best.
Next, comes the all-important step of choosing the right color. Choosing paint colors can be a tricky and time-intensive process. There are so many options and many people worry about making a big color mistake.
  • Get inspired - Look through magazines, websites such as Pinterest®, an online pinboard, and even at friends' homes to get some ideas.
  • Try them out - Once you've narrowed down your color choices, try out your top picks to see how they will look in the room with your specific lighting conditions.
Finally, use the following painting tips when it comes time to get started:
  • Consider using a combination paint and primer - it can save you time and money by eliminating the need to use two painting products.
  • Work from the ceiling down to the baseboards. Do one entire wall or area at a time.
  • Use wide masking tape to mask off areas you don't want to paint, such as window panes or trim.
  • Use a roller to paint in blocks of roughly 4 x 4 feet. Paint adjacent blocks before each previous block dries to help blend the edges.
  • Paint molding and woodwork with a brush, in the direction of the wood grain. Use short strokes to coat the surface, then use longer, smoother strokes for an even and finished surface.
  • Make sure the room is well ventilated as you paint.
  • Pick a paint that dries quickly and has low odor, so your child can move into the newly painted space sooner.

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August 2012 Economic and Housing Market Outlook

August 10, 2012 1:46 am

According to the U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for August released recently from Freddie Mac, the so-called shadow inventory might not be as foreboding as many thought. This is largely attributed to the rate at which excess housing is being absorbed.

Other highlights from the Outlook include:
  • The Freddie Mac House Price Index for the U.S. showed a 4.8 percent gain from March to June 2012, the largest quarterly pickup in eight years; the national index posted a June-to-June rise of 1 percent, the largest annual appreciation since November 2006.
  • Rental vacancy rates have fallen to 8.6 percent, the lowest since the second quarter of 2002. The for-sale vacancy rate has dipped to 2.1 percent, the least since the second quarter of 2006.
  • Nationally, the for-rent market now appears to be in relatively good balance, with the rental stock close to overall rental demand, resulting in "normal" vacancy levels.
  • This continuing shrinkage in excess vacant stock is important because it means that in most markets, the REO homes on the for-sale market are not competing with an oversized vacant housing inventory.
  • Even if national indexes dip in the seasonally weak autumn and winter months, the declines probably won't be big enough to erase the good second-quarter news on home values.
  • According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist, "While the shadow inventory persists, there is an important difference in today's market compared with those of recent years and that's the substantially reduced amount of excess vacant housing. The housing recovery may finally be coming out from the shadows."
Source: Freddie Mac

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Use of Incentives Grows as Employers Look to Improve Productivity

August 9, 2012 1:42 am

U.S. employers are increasingly relying on incentives to drive participation in health programs and encouraging employees and their families to take better care of themselves, according to new survey findings from Aon Hewitt, the global human resource solutions business of Aon plc.

Aon Hewitt's survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. employers representing over 20 million U.S. employees and their dependents found that 84 percent now offer employees incentives for participating in a health risk questionnaire (HRQ) and almost two-thirds (64 percent) offer an incentive for participation in biometric screenings. Just over half (51 percent) provide incentives to employees who participate in health improvement and wellness programs. The use of monetary incentives, in particular, has increased dramatically over the past year. In 2012, 59 percent of employers used monetary incentives to promote participation in wellness and health improvement programs, up from 37 percent in 2011. The use of monetary incentives for participating in disease/condition management programs almost tripled in 2012, from 17 percent in 2011 to 54 percent.

Aon Hewitt's survey shows a growing number of employers are beginning to link incentives to a result, as opposed to simply participating in a program. Of companies that offer incentives, 58 percent offer some form of incentive for completing lifestyle modification programs, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. About one-quarter offer incentives for progress or attainment made towards meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

Employers also are requiring more of participants in order for them to be eligible for enhanced benefits, such as value-based insurance designs (VBID). Of the 46 percent of organizations that incorporate some type of VBID approach in their health plans, almost one in three require completion of a HRQ or require participation in a program such as disease management or smoking cessation programs to receive the enhanced benefits. This is a 33 percentage point increase from 2011, where nine out of 10 employers did not impose any requirements.

Source: Aon plc

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Top Family-Friendly Metropolitan Areas

August 9, 2012 1:42 am

Before the start of a new school year, many families across the country spend the summer moving and settling into a new home., a national Internet listing site in the rental housing industry, surveyed parents about their attitudes on raising kids in the city. Taking these parental concerns into consideration, has chosen ten cities that stand out as great places to raise kids.

Of 1,000 parents surveyed nationwide, found that 34 percent of parents are raising their kids in the city and would do it again. When asked about the advantages of raising children in a city as compared to the suburbs, 37 percent responded that easy access to different cultures, including people, food, and art is the biggest advantage. Alternatively, 16 percent of parents chose educational opportunities as the biggest advantage, while 12 percent answered that the diversity of the population allows kids to fit in and find like-minded friends.

In the same survey, 56 percent of parents identified safety as their biggest concern about living in the city. With money on the mind, 23 percent of parents cited cost of living as their biggest concern. took these criteria to heart when identifying the best cities for family-friendly renting.

In addition to surveying parents, evaluated the top 50 markets by rental inventory based on the cost of living, violent crime rate, and graduation rate, in order to identify ten cities where parents can raise a child with peace of mind. Cost of living, crime rate, and graduation rate were ranked against the national average, and crime rate was weighted double relative to other statistics, based on the overwhelming response from parents that safety is a top priority. The following places are optimal choices for parents looking to raise their kids in the city (not ranked in order):
  • Austin, Tex.
  • Columbus, Oh.
  • Dallas, Tex.
  • Denver, Colo.
  • Omaha, Neb.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Portland, Ore.
  • San Diego, Calif.
  • San Jose, Calif.
  • Seattle, Wash.
When moving to a new city, it’s important to take your child’s opinion into consideration, and 91 percent of parents surveyed agreed that their child’s opinion is very or somewhat important. Parents in the city take this especially to heart, as 40 percent of city dwellers feel that their child’s opinion is very important, compared to 27 percent of suburban parents.

When asked about moving with kids, 51 percent of parents feel that the most stressful part is coping with children’s’ feelings about the move. But, 29 percent of parents feel that moving with kids isn’t any more stressful than moving without kids.


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Donny Osmond Coming to Your Home

August 9, 2012 1:42 am

Entertainer Donny Osmond and his wife, Debbie, are preparing to introduce their branded line of home furnishings with Clique Here, a brand-management and merchandising company, as the brand’s exclusive rights holder.

According to a statement from Clique Here, the brand, which will be called “Haven,” will encompass bedding, bath products, home decor items, flooring and rugs, textiles, lighting, outdoor living, kitchenware, tableware and various categories in home improvement. The products are expected to reach retail in the fourth quarter of 2013.

The Haven products will be marketed under the design statement, “Making the home a haven,” with designs combining modern looks with textured neutrals and color accents. The Clique Here statement said Osmond’s “intimacy with the consumer, combined with product personality, provides the distinction between Haven and competing brands.”

Source: HFN magazine

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