REMAX 440/Central Blog

Why Appliance Warranties are Key for New Homeowners

June 29, 2012 4:18 am

These days, making the decision to purchase a new home can be much more stressful than it once was. There are countless factors and steps that need to be taken into account before you settle in. A major factor is around finances and how you, as a new homeowner, will make sure your home's appliances are in check and that your home system components are maintained while avoiding needless spending.

That new kitchen or laundry room may seem like it will last forever; however, if six months down the line when your dishwasher breaks or your refrigerator is acting up, you may find yourself stressed—both mentally and financially. One way to relieve stress and protect against unexpected repairs is to ensure your home system components and appliances are backed by an appliance warranty. A homebuyers warranty or appliance warranty will cover replacement or repair costs and give you access to a network of service contractors.

Many homeowners do not realize that simple homeowners insurance does not cover the repair or replacement of all your major home appliances due to normal wear and tear. The manufacturer’s warranty that comes with the appliance also expires within a year or two, and if you purchase a home with aged appliances, this can be a major issue.

If you’re considering an appliance warranty, there are a few options. You can either get an extended warranty for each appliance, or choose a home warranty which covers all appliances in your house. Some home warranty companies let you choose the appliances you want to cover. This can be helpful; if you choose fewer items, you reduce your premium.

An appliance warranty can not only help save you money down the road for when repairs might be needed, but can help relieve stress and provide you with reassurance when investing in a new home. It's your home; you can make sure the appliances within it are taken care of.

Source: American Home Shield

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Workers Less Miserable, but Not Exactly Happy Either

June 29, 2012 4:18 am

Americans of all ages and income brackets have the highest job satisfaction levels since the beginning of The Great Recession. However, the majority continue to be unhappy at work, according to a recent report from The Conference Board.

The report, based on a fall 2011 survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Company, finds 47.2 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Though a slight improvement from 2010 and 2009 — when the figure stood at 42.6 and 45.3 percent, respectively — job satisfaction remains below the 48.8 percent recorded in 2008. According to the report, 2005 was the last year in which a majority of Americans was happy at work (52.1 percent), but compared to the 1980s and '90s, widespread dissatisfaction has been entrenched since the turn of the century.

Though the overall numbers remain negative, there are many key upward trends such as higher satisfaction with job security, wages, promotion policy, educational/job training, and bonus plan. Employees are reporting higher interest in their jobs, relationships with fellow employees, and the level of recognition and acknowledgment from supervisors. All these higher assessments reflect the over many job aspects that were rated more favorably in 2011 than in 2010.

Worker satisfaction rates by income levels are mixed. Year-to-year satisfaction rates dropped slightly among those earning an annual salary of $15,000 – $25,000 as well as those earning $35,000 – $50,000. However, those earning under $15,000 annually as well as those earning between $25,000 and $35,000 and over $50,000 were more satisfied in 2011 than 2010. Satisfaction among those earning more than $50,000 has risen 6 percentage points since 2009.

Additionally, workers have a mixed reaction to economic elements of their jobs. On the positive side, workers indicated their job security, wages, promotion policy, bonus plans, vacation policy, sick leave, health plans, pension/retirement, flex time, family leave, and education/job training were better in 2011 than in 2010. However, workers have become increasingly dissatisfied with their health care plans since 1987. Only 40 percent of employees are satisfied with their current health plan, down from 50 percent in 1987.

In a bright spot, 55.2 percent of employees were satisfied with their supervisor, up from 49.1 in 2010 and 58 percent of workers were satisfied with their physical environment, up from 48 percent in the previous year. Similarly, 55 percent of workers were satisfied with the quality of their equipment, up nearly 11 percent from 2010, a sign that companies may be beginning to invest infrastructure.

Source: The Conference Board

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5 Ways to Curb Overeating

June 28, 2012 4:14 am

In today’s fast-paced world, nutrition often takes a back seat to the hectic pace of our daily lives. We eat while we work. We eat while we watch TV. We eat while we drive. We eat in ways that elicit stress, frenzy, and a complete disconnect with the bodies we are unsuccessfully trying to nourish.

"When we are out of touch with our eating, and with our bodies, it is easy to overeat and for weight to creep upwards," says Jenny Conviser, Psy.D., co-owner of Insight Psychological Centers and a leading expert in the treatment of eating disorders. "Some of the strategies we use in working with patients can be useful to everyone who wants to establish mindful eating patterns."

Conviser offers the following strategies for healthful eating:
  • Carve out time for meals. Tend to work through lunch? Stop and take an actual lunch break, even if it's fifteen minutes. Research suggests that our brains don't even fully register the things we're eating outside of time we've set aside for eating (thus, we stay hungry), though our waistlines do.
  • Eat sitting down. If you're going to eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair! If you commit to eating only while sitting down, you're less likely to mindlessly munch. And eat without distractions, like the TV or computer, so you can fully experience what you are eating.
  • Learn what "hungry" feels like. Ask yourself if you really are hungry before you eat, or if you’re eating due to the time of day, habit, or to cope with stress. If you are hungry, allow yourself to eat and plan for healthy snacks during your day. Driving yourself to extreme hunger by skipping meals or not allowing yourself to snack can result in unhealthy binges.
  • Notice each sensation. Next time you sit down to eat something, take a moment to notice the shape, the color, the size. Bring the food to your nose and inhale the aroma. When you take a bite, notice how the texture feels on your tongue, and chew fully before swallowing. Take a moment before taking another bite. Sure, this takes a few extra minutes, but you get to experience food as it's meant to be – a full sensory experience.
  • Check in with yourself. Try stopping for a break midway through your meal for a few minutes. Are you still really hungry? If so, keep eating, and check in again after a few more bites. If not, maybe it's time to stop and put away the rest for later.
Mindless eating patterns can lead to digestive problems, nutrient deficiencies, and weight gain. "Eating on the fly might save us a few minutes here and there, but there is a huge cost to doing many things without thinking and eating is one of them," adds Conviser. "When you change your mind, you can change your life."

Source: Insight Psychological Centers

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Research Predicts New Construction Starts to Rise 2 Percent this Year

June 28, 2012 4:14 am

Revised research now predicts that total construction starts for the U.S. will increase 2 percent this year to $445 billion, up from the $434 billion reported for 2011. According to the 2012 Dodge Construction Outlook Midyear Update projections from McGraw-Hill Construction (part of The McGraw-Hill Companies) the revised forecast, while slightly better than the flat performance for 2012 construction starts predicted last fall, still portrays an industry struggling to gain upward momentum.

"The construction industry has yet to move from a hesitant up-and-down pattern to more sustained expansion," states Robert A. Murray, vice president of Economic Affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "After plunging 23 percent in 2009, new construction starts edged up only 1 percent in 2010 and were unchanged in 2011, so the modest 2 percent increase predicted for 2012 is really more of the same. On the plus side, energy costs are now receding, interest rates are very low, and lending standards are beginning to ease for commercial real estate development."

Given these divergent factors, the construction market this year continues to see a mix of pluses and minuses by major sector, as follows:
  • Single-family housing in 2012 will advance 21 percent in dollars, corresponding to a 19 percent increase in the number of units to 490,000 (McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge basis). While still at a very low amount, single-family housing for the past year has been able to register small yet steady gains.
  • Multifamily housing in 2012 will climb 19 percent in dollars and 18 percent in units, given rising occupancies and rents, which reflect elevated demand from potential homebuyers still reluctant or unable to move ahead with purchasing a single-family home.
  • Commercial building in 2012 will grow 10 percent, following the 12 percent gain in 2011. Warehouses and hotels will see the largest percentage increases, joined this year by a moderate gain for stores while office construction sees more privately financed projects but less government office buildings.
  • The institutional building market in 2012 will fall an additional 10 percent, after sliding 11 percent in 2011. The tough fiscal environment for states and localities continues to dampen school construction, and the uncertain economic environment is restraining health care facilities.
  • The manufacturing building category in 2012 will retreat 20 percent, following the 75 percent jump in 2011 which featured the start of several unusually large projects.
  • Public works construction in 2012 will slide a further 6 percent, after last year's 14 percent decline. This reflects government spending cuts and the absence of a multiyear federal transportation bill.
  • Electric utility construction in 2012 will essentially hold steady with its exceptionally strong 2011 amount, helped by this year's start of two large nuclear power projects.
Source: McGraw-Hill Construction

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Foreclosure Crisis Subsiding?

June 28, 2012 4:14 am

Severely delinquent balances among first mortgages are on the decline, according to Equifax's May National Consumer Credit Trends Report. While still elevated relative to historic levels, the May 2012 total of $450 billion in delinquent balances represents a 37 percent decline from the peak of more than $700 billion in January 2010. Of note is that 70 percent of outstanding delinquencies among first mortgages still remain tied to loans opened between 2005-2007.

The greatest level of change was seen among severely delinquent non-agency first mortgage loans (90+ days past due or in foreclosure), which fell 45 percent to $320 billion in May 2012 from its peak of $580 billion in January 2010. By comparison, agency-sourced (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA) first mortgages reported as severely delinquent declined just 9 percent to $130 billion in May 2012 after peaking at $142 billion in January 2010. Similar reductions in severely delinquent totals were seen among home equity installment loans, which declined 31 percent from their peak in February 2011 ($880 million) to May 2012 ($615 million).

"That severe mortgage delinquencies are trending downward is not surprising given generally improving economic conditions," explains Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "What is surprising is that even with the foreclosure moratoriums and the slow resolution of foreclosure backlogs, the downward trend has been a steady, consistent drumbeat of recovery. If this pace continues, we expect the volume of severely delinquent mortgage balances to return to mid-2007 levels by the end of 2014."

Other highlights from the most recent data include:
  • Home equity revolving balances fell 18 percent from their peak of $680 billion in May 2009 to $560 billion in May 2012.
  • Total credit limits among home equity revolving accounts have declined 27 percent to $1.02 trillion in May 2012 since their peak in March 2008 ($1.30 trillion).
  • Year-to-date total mortgage write-offs through May 2012 are down 28 percent from their 2010 peak. Home mortgage balances are down 12.5 percent in May 2012 from their record-high of $9.8 trillion set in Oct. 2008. Total mortgage debt outstanding now sits at $8.6 trillion.
Source: Equifax, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Avoid Fireworks Injuries

June 27, 2012 4:14 am

While we all love a brilliant fireworks display, especially on the Fourth of July, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 21,692 people were treated for injuries related to fireworks in 2011. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers fireworks safety tips to help prevent injuries during this year’s festivities.

"Many people view these mini explosives as harmless, when in fact they can be very dangerous to people of all ages," says orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson William Obremskey, MD. "Take it from one who picked up a ‘dud’ as a kid and suffered minor burns. You can also lose a finger, damage your eyes or worse. To avoid injury, people should not use fireworks at home, but instead find a park or outdoor location that showcases fireworks."

The Academy offers the following safety guidelines for adults who do choose to use fireworks. While these tips may seem a simple matter of common sense, they are consistently ignored by many each year:
  • Check with your local police department to determine if fireworks can be discharged legally in your area. If so, determine which types are legal.
  • Never buy or use illegal fireworks. Their quality cannot be assured.
  • Only adults should light fireworks.
  • Never hold lighted fireworks with your hand or place them near the body.
  • Always have water handy in case of a fire. For example, a hose hooked to a faucet or a bucket of water.
  • Read the caution label on packaging before igniting.
  • Wear safety eyewear when using fireworks.
  • Soak used fireworks in water before discarding.
  • Never try to relight a firework.
  • If you are injured using fireworks, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Never allow young children to play with or go near fireworks, including sparklers. They
  • seem harmless but sparklers can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees.
  • Never handle fireworks if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Published with permission from RISMedia.

30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage Averages 3.66 Percent

June 27, 2012 4:14 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average mortgage rates easing amid worsening economic indicators. Both the 30-year fixed and the 5-year ARM registered new average record lows.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.66 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending June 21, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.71 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.50 percent.

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.95 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.98 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.69 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.77 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.80. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.25 percent.

The1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.74 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.99 percent.
According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac, “Treasury bond yields eased somewhat this week on some worsening economic indicators bringing mortgage rates back into record low territory. Industrial production fell in two of the last three months ending in May, and below the expected market consensus forecast. In addition, consumer sentiment fell in June to its lowest level this year, according to the University of Michigan survey.

"However, there were also some positive indicators on the housing market. Construction on one-family homes rose for the third consecutive month in May to an annualized pace of 516,000. Furthermore, homebuilder confidence rose in June to its highest reading in over five years."

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Home Prices Rise in April

June 27, 2012 4:14 am

Data through April 2012, released recently by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, a leading measure of U.S. home prices, showed that on average home prices increased 1.3 percent in the month of April for both the 10- and 20-City Composites. This comes after seven consecutive months of falling home prices as measured by both indices.

April's data indicate that on an annual basis home prices fell by 2.2 percent for the 10-City Composite and by 1.9 percent for the 20-City Composites, versus April 2011. While still negative, this is an improvement over the annual rates of -2.9 percent and -2.6 percent recorded for the month of March 2012. Both Composites and 18 of the 20 MSAs saw increases in annual returns in April compared to those published for March; only Detroit and New York fared worse in April, posting annual returns of +1.2 percent and -3.8 percent respectively, falling below their March returns of +3.9 percent and -3.0 percent. For the seventh consecutive month, Atlanta posted the only double-digit negative annual return at -17.0 percent, its 22nd consecutive month of negative annual returns. Ten of the 20 MSAs saw positive annual returns – Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington D.C. No cities posted new lows in April 2012.

In April 2012, both Composites were up by 1.3 percent in the month, resulting in annual returns of -2.2 percent and -1.9 percent, respectively.

"With April 2012 data, we finally saw some rising home prices," says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. "On a monthly basis, 19 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites rose in April over March. Detroit was the only city that saw prices fall, down 3.6 percent. In addition, 18 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites saw better annual rates of return. It has been a long time since we enjoyed such broad- based gains. While one month does not make a trend, particularly during seasonally strong buying months, the combination of rising positive monthly index levels and improving annual returns is a good sign.”

As of April 2012, average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in early 2003 for the 20-City Composite and to mid-2003 levels for the 10-City Composite. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks through April 2012, the decline for both Composites is approximately 34 percent. Both Composites recently reached their index level lows in the current housing cycle in March 2012, down approximately 35 percent from their peaks.

Source: Case Shiller

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Americans Want to Know: What’s in My Hot Dog?

June 26, 2012 4:12 am

As National Hot Dog Month approaches in July and Americans prepare to chow down on an estimated 150 million wieners on Independence Day alone, a new survey finds that while many Americans differ in preferences for what's on their hot dogs, 77 percent of Americans are concerned about what's in their hot dogs.

Despite consumers' hunger for hot dogs, the survey, sponsored by organic and natural meat firm Applegate, also found that 74 percent agree that most are of "low quality."

The survey found that 81 percent of people who consume hot dogs would rather purchase franks with a short ingredient statement that listed beef, water, sea salt and spices versus one with items like sodium phosphate and sodium nitrite. Additionally, 73 percent of respondents thought it was important for hot dogs to be made from animals that were not administered antibiotics or hormones, underscoring just how important this issue has become for shoppers.

In an effort to help Americans better understand what's really in their hot dogs, Applegate launched earlier this month. On the website, visitors can interact with videos and graphics rife with wiener puns and fun frank facts.

The "What's In Your Hot Dog Survey" showed that when it comes to condiments, the yellow stuff cuts the mustard. Mustard was the top topping, followed by ketchup, onions and relish. The topping used least often is tomatoes.

The survey revealed some regional favorites for dressing a dog.
  • For Southerners, chili edges out relish and onions and comes in just behind mustard and ketchup.
  • Midwesterners enjoy pickles on their franks more than any other region of the country.
  • It's cheese please for hot dog eaters in the Western United States.
  • Northeasterners like to top their franks with sauerkraut.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Nearly Half of Americans Have Insufficient Emergency Savings

June 26, 2012 4:12 am

Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) do not have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses, up from 46 percent last year at this time, according to recently released research from Twenty-eight percent have no emergency savings (up from 24 percent last year). The generally recommended cushion is six months' expenses, and only 25 percent of Americans have saved that much (compared with 24 percent last year).

A similar poll that was taken in 2006 found that, at the time, a whopping 61 percent of Americans failed to have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses. "While we've seen some improvement since then, the bottom line is that much more progress is needed," explains Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for "Having sufficient emergency savings is critical to avoiding high-cost credit card debt when unexpected expenses arise."

There are two noteworthy improvements, however:
  • Thirty-two percent of Americans are currently reporting that they are less comfortable with their savings versus one year ago, a new low and down from the peak of 47 percent that were less comfortable in August 2011
  • Eighteen percent are less comfortable with their debt than 12 months ago, a new low and down from the peak of 27 percent in October 2011 and November 2011
The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).


Published with permission from RISMedia.

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