REMAX 440/Central Blog

Get Creative for National S’mores Day

August 8, 2012 1:42 am

National S'mores Day is August 10, and there is no better way to celebrate the occasion than to gather around the bonfire with friends and family to make the classic summer treat. Made from the delicious combination of milk chocolate, crisp graham crackers and toasted marshmallows, S'mores have brought families together around the fire since the recipe was first published in the Girl Scouts handbook in 1927.

Whether on vacation or closer to home, here are some great ways to celebrate this quintessential summertime snack:
  • Grilled S'mores – For a fun new way to enjoy S'mores, try making them on the grill. Simply wrap S'mores in aluminum foil and place on a medium-hot grill and cook 1 to 2 minutes on each side.
  • Vacation S'mores – S'mores aren't only for the great outdoors Many hotel chains offer fire pits or grilling areas that are perfect for making S'mores to help sweeten your trip and create a new family tradition. Staying home? You can also build S'mores at the park or playground in the designated picnic or grilling area.
  • Fire up the fire pit – Can't get out to a campground? Make an impromptu camp fire setting at home over your backyard fire pit. You can even use real sticks to roast your marshmallows to make yourself feel like you're immersed in the great outdoors.
  • Party with S'mores – Celebrate the occasion by bringing S'mores ingredients to an upcoming summer gathering. Guests will love making gooey S'mores and you'll be the hit of the party.
Source: The Hershey Company

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June Home Price Index Rises 2.5 Percent - Fourth Consecutive Year-Over-Year Increase

August 8, 2012 1:42 am

CoreLogic® (NYSE: CLGX), a leading provider of information, analytics and business services, today released its June Home Price Index (HPI®) report. Home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased on a year-over-year basis by 2.5 percent in June 2012 compared to June 2011, according to the CoreLogic June Home Price Index (HPI) report. CoreLogic is a provider of information, analytics and business services.

On a month-over-month basis, including distressed sales, home prices increased by 1.3 percent in June 2012 compared to May 2012. The June 2012 figures mark the fourth consecutive increase in home prices nationally on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis.

Excluding distressed property sales, home prices nationwide increased on a year-over-year basis by 3.2 percent in June 2012 compared to June 2011. On a month-over-month basis excluding distressed sales, home prices increased 2.0 percent in June 2012 compared to May 2012, the fifth consecutive month-over-month increase. Distressed sales include short sales and real estate owned (REO) transactions.

The CoreLogic Pending HPI indicates that July home prices, including distressed sales, will rise by at least 0.4 percent on a month-over-month basis from June 2012 and by 2.0 percent on a year-over-year basis from July 2011. Excluding distressed sales, July house prices are also poised to rise by 1.4 percent month-over-month from June 2012 and by 4.3 percent year-over-year from July 2011. The CoreLogic Pending HPI is a new and exclusive metric that provides the most current indication of trends in home prices. It is based on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data that measure price changes in the most recent month.

Including distressed sales, the five states with the highest appreciation were: Arizona (+13.8 percent), Idaho (+10.4 percent), South Dakota (+10.1 percent), Utah (+8.3 percent) and Wyoming (+7.7 percent).

Source: CoreLogic

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Consumer Expectations on Housing Remain Upbeat

August 8, 2012 1:42 am

Americans' confidence in the economy and their personal finances continues to stall but this has not interrupted their recently more positive outlook on the housing market, according to results from Fannie Mae's July 2012 National Housing Survey. While the July employment picture was encouraging, it is too soon to see it as a signal of a meaningful pickup in economic growth or in consumer outlook for the overall economy.

Consumer optimism regarding the housing market remained strong in July. Survey respondents expect home prices to increase 1.7 percent in the next 12 months, down slightly from the survey high of 2.0 percent recorded in June. Eleven percent of respondents – the lowest level recorded since the survey began in June 2010 – believe home prices will drop in the next year. Also, in the highest level seen since the survey's inception, 16 percent of consumers say it is a good time to sell.

Meanwhile, 25 percent of employed respondents are concerned about losing their job in the next 12 months, up 3 percentage points since last month. The share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track dipped again slightly – down to 35 percent in July – following the highest point recorded in May. Fifteen percent of Americans polled expect their personal financial situation to get worse, the highest level recorded since January 2012, while those who expect their personal financial situation to improve remained at 43 percent.

Other survey highlights include:
  • Average home price change expectation decreased to 1.7 percent, down 0.3 percentage points from the survey high recorded last month.
  • Eleven percent of those surveyed say home prices will go down in the next year, the lowest level since the survey's inception in June 2010.
  • At 36 percent, the percentage of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months has declined by 5 percentage points since May 2012.
  • Sixteen percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell, the highest level since the survey's inception.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to buy has remained steady at 73 percent.
  • Twenty percent of respondents say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, while those who say it is significantly lower has remained steady at 15 percent.
  • Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed say their household expenses are about the same as they were a year ago, a 4 percentage point increase over June and the highest level recorded since the survey's inception.
Source: Fannie Mae

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Creating Universal Design in the Kitchen

August 7, 2012 1:40 am

As the term implies, universal design is the creation of products and environments that are accessible to as many people as possible. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making areas widely accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Homes that feature universal design not only enhance their owners’ daily lifestyle, but add to the property’s resale value as well. As the hub of most homes, the kitchen is a critical area in which to incorporate universal design. According to Lowe’s, a few simple design changes can make the kitchen more functional today and accessible well into the future.

Here are some tips from Lowe’s for making universal design part of your game plan for cabinets and counters:
  • Build countertops at varying heights for different tasks. Lower levels allow the ability to sit while preparing and cooking meals. The best height is 28" - 32". The usable counter space for a seated person is about 16".
  • Create pullout work surfaces such as counters, breadboards and cutting boards for access from a chair. Drawers with fully extendable glides are easier to get into.
  • Build or install wall cabinets closer to the countertop.
  • Make bigger, deeper toe kicks and knee spaces under counters.
  • Install lazy Susan's and pullout shelves.
  • Install D-shaped loop handles on cabinet doors and drawers.
  • Reduce glare by using low-gloss finishes.
  • Use contrasting colors to enhance visibility for those with reduced vision.
Source: Lowe’s Home Improvement

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Paint Primers Solve Problems, Save Money

August 7, 2012 1:40 am

Many people think that primers are useful only when doing exterior painting, but that's a mistaken notion. Like exterior primers, interior primers make surfaces more uniform and help paint adhere better, but they can do a lot more, according to Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.

"Interior primers can actually help prevent a host of problems and enhance the appearance of a finished paint job," Zimmer explains. "By choosing the right type of primer for a particular project, it's even possible to pinpoint the performance benefits you'll get."

Zimmer offers the following guide to some of the more common types of interior primers and how they can help improve your next paint job:
  • Stain-blocking primers. Walls and other interior surfaces often have water stains, smoke residue, grease, or other contaminants that can "bleed" right through a new coat of paint to ruin its appearance. To prevent that from happening, Zimmer advises applying a stain-blocking primer before painting to seal off the stain-producing agents. "These primers come in both latex and oil-based formulations, but latex stain blockers have much less odor, which is always a plus when working indoors," she says.
  • Vapor barrier primers. These interior primers are typically used in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms to help prevent moisture from passing through the walls. By doing so, they help keep the wall insulation dry and reduce the chance of an exterior paint failure due to moisture exiting the interior. Vapor barrier primers also help maintain a comfortable level of humidity inside the home during the heating season.
  • Kitchen and bath primers. These coatings are often used in the same areas as vapor barrier primers, but they serve a different purpose. Specially formulated with biocides and stain blockers, they help control the growth of mildew and mold in rooms that tend to be damp or humid.
  • Drywall primers. While these coatings are called primers, they really function as sealers, which are close cousins of the primer family. As the name indicates, they are applied over drywall and joint compound to help conceal the differences in their appearance and impart a more uniform look to the completed paint job.
  • Latex enamel under-coaters. These primers are excellent for use under semi-gloss or gloss paint to ensure that the paint will develop its maximum gloss. After applying a latex enamel under-coater and letting it dry, Zimmer says it's important to lightly sand off any visible brush marks before applying the glossy paint.
  • Bonding primers. When painting a slick material like glass, tile, Formica, or vinyl-coated paneling, it is always wise to use a bonding primer. These primers are specially formulated to adhere to slippery surfaces and help create a more secure bond between the primer and paint.
According to Zimmer, even if you're on a very tight budget, you shouldn't fail to apply a primer when the circumstances call for one; the primer may actually save you money because you may need fewer coats of paint, especially on a previously unpainted surface. Likewise, if you are applying a dark-colored paint, you can often get away with fewer coats by applying a tinted primer beforehand.

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Mortgage Closing Costs Dropped 7 Percent over Past Year

August 7, 2012 1:40 am

The average cost to close on a mortgage in the United States dropped 7 percent over the past year to $3,754, according to's recently released, eighth annual closing-costs survey. Title insurance and other third-party fees fell 12 percent from 2011, while origination fees edged down 1 percent.

"This is the second year in which lenders are required to estimate third-party fees within 10 percent of the final cost. It seems like they're getting more accurate, which helps explain the sharp decrease in these fees over the past year," says Greg McBride, CFA,'s senior financial analyst.

For the third straight year, New York State has the nation's most expensive closing costs at an average of $5,435. The next most expensive states are Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma. The least expensive state is Missouri ($3,006 on average), which is joined by Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Arkansas among the five cheapest states.

Bankrate surveyed up to 10 lenders in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia in June 2012. Researchers obtained online good faith estimates for a $200,000 mortgage to buy a single-family home with a 20 percent down payment. Costs include fees charged by lenders, as well as third-party fees for services such as appraisals and title insurance. The survey excludes taxes, property insurance, association fees, interest and other prepaid items.

Source: Bankrate, Inc.

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Travelers Willing to Pay More for Space, Peace and Quiet

August 6, 2012 1:36 am

With airlines continually seeking non-fare revenue sources, GO Airport Express asked its customers exactly what services or amenities they would be willing to pay for. At the top of the list was more leg room, at 48 percent, with WiFi coming in second, at 33 percent. Thirty percent said they would pay more to sit in a designated child-free area.

Some respondents noted they would be willing to pay for amenities that used to be free, such as in-flight meals (21 percent); movies (nine percent) and pillows and blankets (five percent). However, 17 percent of respondents said all the choices listed on the survey should be included in the air fare, with many expressing unhappiness over airlines charging for services that were once complimentary.

At 13 percent, aisle seats beat out window seats, which were selected by just under 6 percent of respondents.

Eleven percent said they'd like the option to submit seatmate preferences when traveling alone and 9 percent would pay for larger overhead bins. At the bottom of the list? Just 4 percent said they would pay extra to sit in a designated child-friendly area.

Source: GO Airport Express

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Americans' Focus on Saving Could Impact National Growth

August 6, 2012 1:36 am

While incomes in the U.S. rose slightly in June 2012, a new report shows that consumer spending stagnated, suggesting Americans are using their earnings to increase their savings and pay down household debt. This trend toward saving more and spending less could have a negative impact on the growth of the economy.

The report from BMO Financial and Harris Bank suggests that the trend toward saving and debt reduction will continue. This could put downward pressure on domestic growth for the remainder of 2012.

The report also reveals that:
  • Americans are now taking on less debt than they did a decade ago.
  • Consumption, which accounts for more than two-thirds of domestic economic activity, was unchanged in June, falling short of economists' predicted 0.1 percent increase.
  • Income rose 0.5 percent for the month, pushing the nation's savings rate to 4.4 percent - its highest level in a year.
  • The number of jobs created from April to June this year was about one-third of those created between January and March 2012.
Source: BMO Financial Group

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Housing Demand Spreads Cross Country for Boomers

August 6, 2012 1:36 am

Despite popular belief, a recent analysis of government data by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reveals that the geographic distribution of households headed by someone age 55 or older is fairly even across most of the country, with more than 30 percent of all households in every state meeting this description. The study sheds valuable light on a key statistic for housing demand among active adults, as NAHB's long-term forecast indicates that the share of 55+ households will grow every year through 2019, when the 55+ category will account for nearly 45 percent of all U.S. households.

“As more baby boomers approach retirement and the average age of the U.S. population increases, many businesses—including home builders—are showing increased interest in designing products that appeal to customers 55 and older,” explains Paul Emrath, NAHB’s vice president of survey and housing policy research. “This research shows that 55+ developments should be possible in every state where population density is sufficient to support new communities of a size that can provide a variety of attractive amenities.”

The data show 43.9 million households are headed by someone 55 years old or higher, accounting for nearly 38 percent of all U.S. households. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the share of households ranges from 31 to 45 percent. West Virginia tops all states, with 45 percent of its households headed by someone 55 or older, followed by Florida at 44 percent, Hawaii and Maine (each at 43 percent) and Pennsylvania and Montana (at 42 percent). At the other end of the scale, Utah and Alaska are the only states where less than one-third of the households are 55+.

For 97 percent of all 3,143 counties, the share of households age 55 or older is more than 30 percent. At the high end, 44 counties have a 55+ household share of over 60 percent. Mineral County, Colo., and Sumter County, Fla., are the highest ranked counties in the U.S. with 77 percent of their households headed by someone 55 or older. Sierra County, N.M., follows closely behind at 74 percent, while both Esmeralda County, Nev., and Wheeler County, Ore., come in at 71 percent each.

“The demographic that 55+ builders and developers are focused on is the largest growing group of buyers that we have ever seen in this age group, and it continues to grow,” says NAHB 50+ Housing Council Chairman W. Don Whyte. “It is also a group that is radically different from what it was only a few years ago. The customers are fitter, more computer savvy and plan to live an entirely different lifestyle from what they might have thought previously, or what we would have aimed at providing for them.”

Source: NAHB

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Improving the Mental Health of City Dwellers

August 3, 2012 1:30 am

With more than half of the world's population living in cities, researchers are paying more attention to how social conditions, such as poverty, violence and isolation, in many urban areas can harm the mental health and well-being of underserved individuals and communities — and are working to identify what can be done about it.

This September, leading global experts on the social determinants of mental health will join the Adler School of Professional Psychology to discuss the many ways in which city living can affect the well-being of urban residents, particularly the most vulnerable. The conference is hosted by the Adler School of Professional Psychology's Institute on Social Exclusion (ISE), led by Lynn Todman, Ph.D., ISE executive director and a prominent U.S. expert on the link between public policies and the mental health of urban communities.

"The Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health: Paving the Way Forward" conference takes place Sept. 19 and 20 at the Chicago Marriott Downtown.

Leading speakers will share recent and emerging research on the social determinants of mental health, and how the findings inform and shape government agencies' and philanthropic organizations' programming and funding priorities.

This conference is jointly sponsored by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine, the UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work, and the Adler School of Professional Psychology.

Source: The Adler School of Professional Psychology

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