REMAX 440/Central Blog

Do Judge a City by Its Sandwich

May 15, 2012 1:26 am

It probably comes as no surprise that the most expensive club sandwich in America can be had in New York City. According to the Club Sandwich Index (CSI), the price of this classic sandwich serves as a universal measure of affordability for travelers thanks to its reputation as standard lunch fare among hotel restaurants worldwide since the 1800s.

The CSI average price has been calculated by taking the real prices paid by guests for a club sandwich within 1,000 five, four and three-star hotels located in popular travel destinations across 26 countries, with 10 U.S. cities measured.

"The CSI is a quirky way for travelers to estimate the cost of living in the destinations they are visiting for their vacations," explains Taylor L. Cole, director, public relations and social media, North America at "The CSI is a fun metric which provides an average cost travelers can use to estimate lunch budgets for daily expenses away from home."

This standard lunch fare is known for its popularity among hotel restaurants worldwide where it has been a staple since the 1800s. Although the exact origin of the club sandwich has not been proven, popular myths point it to an exclusive gambling club in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where it became popular before spreading to the rest of the world.

The following top U.S. destinations are ranked here according to the average price of their club sandwich:
  • New York City $17
  • Orlando $15
  • San Francisco $14
  • Washington $14
  • Las Vegas $13
  • Chicago $12
  • Houston $12
  • New Orleans $12*
  • Los Angeles $11
  • San Diego $10
*Club sandwiches were very hard to find on New Orleans hotel restaurant menus; this price represents the average price of a Po'Boy.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Remodeling Homeowners Choosing Style Over Profit

May 15, 2012 1:26 am

Even as new and existing home sales and prices climb, homeowners are prioritizing aesthetics before profit, according to a recent Houzz & Home Survey. Houzz is a leading online platform for home design and remodeling, with more than four million unique users each month.

Among homeowners planning to build, remodel or decorate in the next two years, 86 percent cited "improving the look and feel of the space" as an important driver for remodeling projects, while only 47 percent cited "increasing home value." The gap between these priorities was consistent across all income levels and demographic groups.

Homeowners say they are more likely to cut back in other areas, such as vacations and other big-ticket purchases, than to delay or decrease the budget for their home improvement plans.

Seventy percent of respondents said they'd rather cut back elsewhere or do some of the work themselves than take out a loan to finance their home improvement. Even upscale homeowners are taking a hands-on approach to building, remodeling and decorating projects. The survey found that while 45 percent of homeowners at upper income levels ($150,000+) are choosing to hire an architect, interior designer, general contractor or another remodeling or decorating professional to complete a project in its entirety, an equal number of them are combining professional help and DIY efforts, a proportion only slightly smaller than the 49 percent taking this combination approach in lower income brackets.

Kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular remodeling projects among Houzz users, with 48 percent of respondents planning a bathroom remodel, and 45 percent redoing a kitchen in the next two years.

Other interesting findings from the survey include:
  • In the next two years, 72 percent of homeowners surveyed plan to decorate or redecorate, 40 percent plan to remodel or construct an addition, while 10 percent are planning to build a custom home.
  • 57 percent of Houzz homeowners planning to complete a project in the next two years will hire a general contractor, 35 percent a kitchen or bath professional and 32 percent will hire a carpet or flooring professional. Thirty percent are planning to hire an architect, 26 percent an interior designer and 24 percent a landscape architect or designer.
  • About half—52 percent—say they will save money by completing some projects themselves.
  • The largest projects in terms of average spend in the last five years were custom home builds ($577,000), complete home remodels ($193,000), pool additions or replacements ($34,000) and kitchen remodels ($25,000).

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Majority of Refinancing Borrowers Choose Fixed-Rate Mortgages

May 15, 2012 1:26 am

In the first quarter of 2012, fixed-rate loans accounted for more than 95 percent of refinance loans, based on the Freddie Mac Quarterly Product Transition Report released today. Refinancing borrowers clearly preferred fixed-rate loans, regardless of whether their original loan was an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) or a fixed-rate.

Of borrowers who refinanced during the first quarter of 2012, 31 percent reduced their loan term by paying off a 30-year loan and replacing it with a 20-year, 15-year, or other shorter-term loan. In addition, 66 percent of borrowers kept the same term as the loan that they had paid off.

Sixty-eight percent of borrowers who had a hybrid ARM chose a fixed-rate loan during the first quarter, the highest share since the first quarter of last year, while the remaining 32 percent chose to refinance into the same type of product.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, "Fixed mortgage rates averaged 3.92 percent for 30-year loans and 3.19 percent for 15-year product during the first quarter in Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey ®, well below long-term averages.”

“For borrowers motivated to refinance by low fixed-rates, they could obtain even lower rates by shortening their term,” adds Nothaft. “Further, under the enhanced Home Affordable Refinance Program—HARP—announced by FHFA on October 24, 2011, certain risk-based fees are waived for HARP borrowers who refinance into shorter-term loans."

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Crazy Reasons to Quit

May 14, 2012 1:26 am

A stronger economy often gives workers greater courage to change jobs, but the excuses offered for jumping ship can leave many employers perplexed. A new OfficeTeam survey reveals the wackiest reasons job seekers have given for handing in their notice. Here are some examples:
  • "Someone left because her boss lost the dog she had given him."
  • "Our employee said he was joining the circus."
  • "One person left because she lost her cellphone too many times at work."
  • "We had someone quit to participate in a reality show."
  • "An employee said it was his routine to change jobs every six months."
The survey was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm; it is based on telephone interviews with more than 1,300 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the United States and Canada.

Some individuals simply had to follow their true calling:
  • "One worker left to become an apple farmer."
  • "A staff member quit to climb Mount Everest."
  • "There was an individual who left to play the trombone."
  • "An employee wanted to enter a beauty contest."
  • "One worker quit to join a rock band."
It may be hard to fault these professionals for their honesty:
  • "A guy said he was making too much money and didn't feel he was worth it."
  • "One person left because she didn't want to work so hard."
  • "An individual said he was bored."
  • "Someone quit because she was going to live off her trust fund."
  • "An employee said work was getting in the way of having fun."
  • "A person quit because informal dress was not allowed."
  • "The worker told us he just couldn't get up in the morning."
OfficeTeam offers five tips for leaving a job on good terms:
  1. Give proper notice. Tell your boss about your departure first so he or she doesn't hear it through the grapevine. Providing two weeks notice is standard, but if your schedule is flexible, offer to stay longer to train a replacement.
  2. Get things in order. Supply written instructions to team members on projects and make sure they have access to the tools and information needed to complete assignments.
  3. Stay positive. Take the time to say goodbye and thank you to colleagues. Provide your contact information and reach out to those with whom you'd like to keep in touch.
  4. Don't slack off. Use your last weeks on the job to complete as much work as possible on outstanding projects. You want to be remembered as a strong contributor to the end.
  5. Talk before you walk. Participate in an exit interview if it's offered. Be honest with your feedback, but keep it constructive and professional. Your comments and suggestions could potentially help to improve the workplace.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Most Consumers Expect More from Technology

May 14, 2012 1:26 am

What people want most from their smartphones, tablets, home theater and home appliances is simplicity, according to the new Ketchum Digital Living Index, conducted by global communications firm Ketchum. The study showed that 76 percent of consumers said they are not very satisfied with technology's ability to make their life simpler. Responses from 6,000 consumers in six countries revealed more prefer technology to be easy to use (54 percent) and simplify their life (46 percent) than entertain them (35 percent) or signal who they are to the world (11 percent).

"The most surprising finding in the study is the overwhelming desire for simplification. It seems counter-intuitive when technology is always about being bigger or better or faster, but the data show that what people really want is to understand how all of these devices can get them to their desired experience easily," said Esty Pujadas, partner and director of Ketchum's Global Technology Practice. "Manufacturers need to use less so-called jargon monoxide and communicate more about the human experience, not just about the object."

This is particularly true considering that the sheer volume and pace at which new technologies are brought to market can make it hard for people to keep up.

The Index reveals that there are four kinds of Digital Living natives:
  • The largest group are the Enthusiasts (37 percent of the study's global population), who are passionate about technology and willing to sacrifice simplification for empowerment.
  • The next largest are Infomaniacs (25 percent), who value getting information and discovering new experiences even more than relating better to other people.
  • Pragmatists (22 percent) are less likely to love technology, but value it as very helpful in relating better to others, getting things done, and managing health and wellness.
  • Disconnects (16 percent) are noticeably unemotional about technology; they place a high value on simplification instead of empowerment or enrichment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Consumer Sentiment Reaches a Post-Recession High

May 14, 2012 1:26 am

According to a recent Marketwatch report, the preliminary reading of the University of Michigan-Thomson Reuters index rose to 77.8 from 76.4 in April. This figure represents the highest reading since January 2008, one month after the recession began. Additionally, the current economic conditions index jumped to 87.3, the best reading since January 2008, from 82.9 in April. That said, consumer expectations also fell.

According to the Marketwatch report, this picture could be explained by the combination of falling gasoline prices along with April’s report of slowing jobs growth, which could be weighing on expectations.

“That is good news, and is thematically consistent with the view that the softening in recent labor data has more to do with seasonal pay back than a shift lower in underlying job demand,” said Eric Green of TD Securities.

Source: Marketwatch

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Your Lawn May Look Good, but How’s Your 'Hardscaping?'

May 11, 2012 1:26 am

Spring sets all homeowners in motion to make sure their landscaping is up to par and ready for warm-weather entertaining. But while landscapes and lawns require ongoing maintenance, your home’s “hardscape” usually represents a one-time investment.

According to, more and more homeowners are investing bigger dollars in their outdoor area’s hardscape by adding outdoor kitchens, fire pits and seating areas. Creating a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space enhances both your quality of living and your home’s resale value. According to a Clemson University study, homes with an excellent outdoor environment can anticipate a sale price that is about 6 - 7 percent higher than expected.

Installing decks and pavers are popular hardscaping projects that pay immediate dividends, says Vila. But before you dive into your hardscaping project, make sure you have a long-term plan that realistically fits your budget. Outdoor kitchens are difficult to move once installed. When choosing a location for your fire pit, take gas and water line locations into consideration.

If you aren’t ready to commit to a hardscape plan, says Vila, then start slowly and get that grill you’ve been wanting and that portable fire pit that you can try out in different spots around your yard.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How Moms Add Up

May 11, 2012 1:26 am

While Mother’s Day presents a special opportunity to show appreciation and devotion to our respective moms, it’s also the perfect time to see how the “mom demographic” is evolving.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau included in a Washington Post article, mothers are—not unexpectedly—a diverse lot.

Here are some interesting stats on American moms:
  • Mothers total about 85.4 million, with about four million giving birth in the past year.
  • In 2008, the last year recorded, the average age for giving birth was 25.1 years old. That 0.1 is important because it represents a slight age increase from the previous two years. Analysts say that increase is due mostly to fewer births among the younger set of mothers.
  • The number of stay-at-home mothers has remained relatively stable despite the challenging economy. In 2011, 23 percent of married mothers with children under 15 were classified as stay-at-home. In 2007, before the recession, it was 24 percent.
  • The number of single moms, however, has spiked. In 2011, 10 million mothers of children 18 or younger were single. In 1970, that number was just 3.4 million.
  • In 2010, about 39 percent of women who gave birth were not married, or were separated, or “married but with an absent spouse,” according to the census.
  • The most popular names bestowed upon babies in 2010 were Jacob and Isabella.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Top U.S. Cities for New Home Construction

May 11, 2012 1:26 am

While construction activity came to a near-halt after the housing bubble burst, things are finally looking up, according to a recent report in Atlantic Cities.

As with all real estate, construction is also local, however. While construction is gearing up in some markets, it remains dormant in others. According to Atlantic Cities, understanding construction patterns is critical for understanding the future of cities, for two reasons.

First, construction activity is a bet on future growth, as developers will only build in areas where they believe future demand for housing is strong. Construction is a clear signal of builder confidence in an area. Second, construction has a long-term impact on urban patterns, affecting a city’s density and sprawl.

What do construction patterns say about the future of cities in America? Atlantic Cities cites recent Census Bureau data on construction permits issued by localities in 2011, including whether those permits were for single-family homes or units in multi-family buildings.

The metro areas with the most construction permits were:
  • Houston, Texas - 31,271
  • Dallas, Texas – 18,686
  • Washington, DC – 18,686
  • New York, N.Y. – 13,973
  • Austin, Texas – 10,239
  • Los Angeles, Calif. - 9,895
  • Phoenix, Ariz. – 9,081
  • Seattle, Wash. – 8,664
  • Atlanta, Ga. - 8,634
  • San Antonio, Texas – 7,127
More permits were issued in the Houston metro area than in any other metro, by far. Four of the top ten metros were in Texas. But this list is dominated by large metro areas, and bigger areas are expected to have more construction activity. Among the cities with the most amount of construction permits per 1,000 homes are: El Paso, Texas; Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Houston, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Dallas, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; and Baton Rouge, La.

The rate of construction is highest in metros within Texas and the Carolinas and lowest in the Northeast and Midwest. The rate of construction is higher across Texas, the mid-South and Mountain states, but lower in New England, the Great Lakes, South Florida and most of coastal California.

Source: The Atlantic Cities – the

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Record Summer Forecasted for International Air Travel

May 10, 2012 1:24 am

Airline passengers can expect full flights this summer thanks to an improving economy and a record number of people traveling internationally.

In its annual summer forecast, Airlines for America (A4A), the trade association for leading U.S. airlines, predicted that from June through August, U.S. airlines will carry an average of 2.24 million travelers globally every day. Total passenger volumes remain 5 percent below the summer 2007 all-time high of 217.6 million.

A4A also expects a record number of people to travel internationally. Of the 206.2 million total passengers expected to travel on U.S. airlines this summer, 26.8 million will be traveling on international flights. This estimate surpasses last summer's record of 26.3 million passengers flown on international flights. Domestically, 179.4 million passengers are expected to fly this summer, comparable to summer 2011.

The good news for travelers, says A4A, is that airfares have not kept pace with the inflation rate, which rose 31 percent since 2000. Over the same period, average domestic airfares, per the Department of Transportation, rose just 9 percent, or 15 percent including optional ancillary services – less than half the rate of U.S. inflation.

A4A encourages passengers to consult its resource page for recommended travel tips. In particular, travelers are advised to keep in mind the following:
  • Review the website of the airline on which you are flying for respective policies, amenities, customer-service plans and flight-operation alert notifications.
  • Before departing to the airport, be sure to check the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airport delay map.
  • Remember that TSA requires that air travelers follow its 3-1-1 Rule for liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags when passing through security checkpoints.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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