REMAX 440/Central Blog

Where the Gardeners Are...and What They’re up To

May 8, 2012 1:22 am

According to market research firm Scarborough, nearly 164 million homeowners in the United States, nearly half (49 percent) gardened in the past 12 months.

Gardening homeowners are 10 percent more likely than all homeowners to be baby boomers and 33 percent have at least a college degree. Forty-seven percent of gardening homeowners hold full-time employment and 26 percent have an annual household income of $100K or more. Twenty-two percent of gardening homeowners are retired.

Where do these gardening homeowners live? The top local markets for adult homeowners who have gardened in the past 12 months are Seattle, Wash. (63 percent are homeowners who have gardened); Portland, Ore. (63 percent); Salt Lake City, Utah (62 percent); Milwaukee, Minn. (58 percent) and Columbus, Ohio (58 percent). The local markets with the lowest penetration of gardeners among homeowners are St. Louis, Mo. (43 percent); Mobile, Ala. (40 percent); West Palm Beach, Fla. (40 percent); Miami, Fla. (38 percent) and Las Vegas, Nev. (37 percent).

Gardening isn't the only home improvement these adults made in the past 12 months. Thirty-one percent of gardening homeowners made interior paint or wallpaper improvements and 15 percent made carpeting or floor covering improvements in the past 12 months. Gardening homeowners also showed their preferences for other green activities as they are 25 percent more likely than all homeowners to pay more for eco-friendly products and 25 percent more likely than all homeowners to donate money to environmental causes. Gardening homeowners are 26 percent more likely to buy locally grown food.

Thirty-seven percent of gardening homeowners who access the Internet spend 10 or more hours per week online and those who have made an online purchase in the past year spent, on average, $910. Gardening homeowners are 23 percent more likely than all Internet-enabled homeowners to shop for pet supplies on the Internet in the past 12 months, 19 percent more likely to shop for furniture online and 16 percent more likely to shop for health and beauty items online in the past 12 months. Fifty-seven percent of online gardening homeowners have engaged in social networking online in the past 12 months.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Summer Travel on the Upswing

May 8, 2012 1:22 am

Nearly one-in-five (18 percent) Americans plan to take more vacation trips this summer than last summer but are keeping value for their travel dollars top of mind, according to a national survey conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Choice Hotels International among 2,199 U.S. adults in April.

According to the survey, a vast majority (87 percent) of Americans indicate that they plan to take more or about the same number of trips this summer compared to what they did last year. Further, over two-in-five (42 percent) Americans report that they plan to take two or more trips this summer.

Results also indicate that a vast majority (84 percent) of Americans who will take vacations plan to travel primarily by car for at least one of their trips and plan on racking up an average of 1,172 miles on their leisure travel this summer. Americans report that they plan to take an average of two trips away from home during the summer months.

And these aren't just day trips that summer travelers are looking to take this year. Almost all (94 percent) of Americans traveling this summer plan to spend at least one night away from home and a majority (72 percent) expect to spend at least one night in a hotel. In fact, over one-third of American travelers plan to spend five nights or more in hotels during their summer vacations.

So what are travelers looking for in making their summer travel plans this year? One word: value. Nine in ten Americans that plan to travel this summer and stay in a hotel indicate that getting a good value for their money is extremely important, very important or important in their hotel selection.

Americans who will vacation this summer rank free breakfast the highest among areas where hotels can demonstrate that they provide good value for the money (75 percent). Among other areas of opportunity for hotels to provide value for the majority of summer travelers are best rate guarantees (62 percent), free parking (60 percent), and free high-speed Internet access (58 percent). Americans that plan to travel this summer feel that hotels (27 percent) deliver the greatest value for the money when compared to cruise lines (17 percent), rental cars (10 percent), airlines (9 percent), and gas stations (7 percent).

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Existing-Home Sales Decline in March but Inventory Down, Prices Stabilizing

May 7, 2012 1:18 am

Existing-home sales were down in March but continue to outpace year-ago levels, while inventory tightened and home prices are showing further signs of stabilizing, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 2.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.48 million in March from an upwardly revised 4.60 million in February, but are 5.2 percent above the 4.26 million-unit pace in March 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the recovery is in the process of settling into a higher level of home sales. "The recovery is happening though not at a breakout pace, but we have seen nine consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases," he said. "Existing-home sales are moving up and down in a fairly narrow range that is well above the level of activity during the first half of last year.  With job growth, low interest rates, bargain home prices and an improving economy, the pent-up demand is coming to market and we expect housing to be notably better this year."

Total housing inventory at the end of March declined 1.3 percent to 2.37 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.3-month supply at the current sales pace, the same as in February.  Listed inventory is 21.8 percent below a year ago and well below the record of 4.04 million in July 2007.

Investors purchased 21 percent of homes in March, down from 23 percent in February and 22 percent in March 2011.  First-time buyers accounted for 33 percent of transactions in March; they were 32 percent in February and 33 percent in March 2011.

Single-family home sales declined 2.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.97 million in March from 4.07 million in February, but are 5.9 percent above the 3.75 million-unit pace a year ago.  The median existing single-family home price was $163,600 in March, up 1.9 percent from March 2011.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Is Consumer Backlash Inevitable?

May 7, 2012 1:18 am

Customers have always been fickle, but never before has it been so easy for them to channel discontent into social-media campaigns with potentially disastrous consequences for companies. In The Conference Board Review cover story, "Anger Management," writer John Buchanan explores how technology has helped spur "a massive power shift," emboldening consumers to express their outrage. Still, counsels Buchanan, there's plenty that organizations can do to keep their customers from turning on them.
"The kind of business move that used to generate mild grumbling and then grudging acceptance," writes Buchanan, "now brings immediate denunciations, viral social-media protests, front-page headlines, and the worst fate of all: being made an example of." Buchanan highlights companies like Netflix and Verizon, which recently suffered the wrath of unhappy customers. He illustrates how and why changes in policy quickly snowballed into major PR debacles for these organizations.

It's not just bad management decisions that can spark massive consumer revolts. It's often a lack of empathy, explains Buchanan. While this is hardly a novel complaint, what's different now is the ability of consumers to connect through social media, create a firestorm, and force companies to take notice and, many times, alter policy. What might begin with one dissatisfied tweet can quickly turn into an avalanche of negative publicity for an organization.

"Companies have to realize that the business environment has changed," Buchanan writes. "But they haven't yet. And they haven't realized how intense the consumer anger is." By doing a better job of listening to their consumers, businesses might be able to avoid backlashes. For example, executives should interact more with customers, online and in the field. And companies should engage their PR departments more when making decisions that will impact consumers. Unfortunately, Buchanan points out that market research is "a discipline that has been devalued at a time when managers wrongly believe that they can grasp customer sentiments by having a summer intern monitor tweets and Facebook posts about the company's brands."

At the same time, it's not only consumers that are scrutinizing and reacting to marketing decisions. Increasingly, boards are second-guessing management and judging leaders by how well they cater to and respond to customer demands. Ultimately, the message is clear: Pay attention to your customers.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

What Mom Wants Most: QT

May 7, 2012 1:18 am

According to a Wakefield Research study conducted for Godiva Coffee, 87 percent of Americans (moms included) believe it's the quality of time spent with Mom, not the quantity of time, that's most important. Godiva offers a few inexpensive ways of spending QT with Mom that are bound to make her happy this Mother's Day:

Surprise her with breakfast in bed: Nothing shows your love for Mom like waking up before she does to prepare her a delicious breakfast. Just remember to clean up the kitchen afterwards.
Work yourself into her schedule for a day: Help Mom run her errands and be her chauffeur to enjoy the great conversation that comes while driving around together doing everyday things. Come with her favorite coffee ready in a to-go cup.
Stroll down memory lane: Sit down for tea and stroll down memory lane with old photo albums and/or videos. For bonus points, help Mom scan them onto a computer to share on Facebook.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Gen Y Disconnected from Docs

May 4, 2012 1:16 am

The generation gap between today’s young adults and the health care industry is widening, unfortunately. A new study reveals that there is a distinct disconnect between the expectations of the digitally connected Generation Y and the realities of health care's current infrastructure.

In an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of ZocDoc, polling more than 2,000 adults nationwide regarding their sentiments on health care access, 18 – 34 year olds reported the following results:
  • 54 percent say the process of dealing with their health is frustrating.
  • 63 percent feel that they are at the mercy of their doctor's or dentist's front desk staff when making an appointment.
  • More than half admit to delaying seeking medical care because the process is a “pain.”
Generation Y is accustomed to having information available at their fingertips, as this age group makes up only 23 percent of the population but represents the largest group of smartphone and tablet owners. With much of the health care industry plagued with antiquated processes and a lack of transparency or real-time information, this survey illustrates that this generation is feeling a divide between the immediacy and access they have come to expect in all aspects of their lives as compared to what today's health care system offers them. Among applicable 18 – 34 year olds:
  • 79 percent said that they can evaluate a new gadget easier than they can a new doctor or dentist.
  • 76 percent said it is easier to find information on a hotel that fits their needs than to find information on a doctor or dentist that fits their needs.
  • 64 percent feel that when choosing a new doctor or dentist, they do not know how to adequately evaluate whether or not they fit their specific needs.
  • 79 percent admitted to picking a doctor or dentist primarily based on whether or not they accept their insurance.
"This study highlights the need for the health care space to play technological catch up to other industries," says Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, assistant professor of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "If we are not technologically savvy enough to make health care user friendly for our young population, then this generation will be less likely to regularly seek out the preventive care they need and deserve. As a physician, that's incredibly concerning."

Eighty-two percent of applicable 18-34 year old adults also said that having to wait weeks to get in to see a doctor or dentist is “unacceptable,” yet this long wait time is unfortunately becoming the norm throughout the country. The average wait time to see a doctor in most cities is approximately three weeks with some cities' wait times averaging up to 70 days.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Home Finance Delinquencies at Three-Year Low

May 4, 2012 1:16 am

Total delinquent first mortgage balances were under $500 billion as of this past March, the lowest since January 2009. Also, as of March 2012 there were a total of 49.5 million outstanding first mortgages, nearly an 11 percent decrease from the peak of more than 55 million in March 2008.

This is the latest data from Equifax's March National Consumer Credit Trends Report and, a joint product of Equifax and Moody's Analytics. According to the report, the decline can be attributed to high foreclosures and loan payoffs and low homebuyer demand.

Of delinquencies within existing home equity credit lines, an overwhelming 79 percent come from loans originated from 2005 to 2007. The number of revolving home equity loans is at a five-year low, with 11.6 million outstanding as of March 2012. Credit levels are also continuing to drop, falling 25 percent from the peak of $1.3 trillion in 2008.

Other highlights of the data include:
  • First mortgage balances were 3.5 percent below their year-ago level in March, having now posted year-over-year declines in the previous 36 consecutive months.
  • Seventy-one percent of all first mortgage delinquencies are from loans taken out in 2005-2007.
  • The share of first mortgage loans transitioning from current status to 30-days past due is at its lowest level since June 2007.
  • The share of first mortgages transitioning from 60-days past due to 90-days past due is at its lowest level in 59 months.
  • Loans in severe delinquency status, defined as those 90 or more days past due or that have started the foreclosure process, has fallen steadily over the 24 months ended March 2012 and now stands at $477 billion.
According to Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts, "We're seeing effects of the economic recovery within existing accounts in the form of fewer delinquencies and foreclosures, but not a substantial amount of new activity as home sales and resulting new home financing fail to keep pace with payoffs and foreclosures.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Mortgage Rates Reach Another Record Low

May 4, 2012 1:16 am

Mortgage rates fell for a fourth consecutive week and the fifth time in the past six weeks, with the average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropping to 4.05 percent, according to's weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.45 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage rate retreated to 3.25 percent – also a record low – while the jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage nosed higher to 4.62 percent. Adjustable mortgage rates were mixed, with the average 3-year adjustable inching higher to 3.07 percent, while the 5-year ARM tied a record low of 3.02 percent initially set in February.

News of disappointing economic growth in the first quarter and continuing elevated unemployment claim filings propelled mortgage rates lower. The looming jobs report is likely to be the catalyst for further rate movement but the tepid theme of recent economic data is sure to keep a lid on bond yields and mortgage rates in the coming weeks. Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government debt.

The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was November 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.05 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $960.60, a difference of $281 per month for anyone refinancing now.

Bankrate's national weekly mortgage survey is conducted each Wednesday from data provided by the top 10 banks and thrifts in the top 10 markets.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Got Allergies? Know Your Antihistamines

May 3, 2012 1:14 am

The sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes of spring send millions of people to the pharmacy for relief. If your allergies aren’t severe enough to warrant a prescription medication, there are countless over-the-counter options available. But which will work best for you? National drug-store chain Rite Aid offers the following guidelines to understanding antihistamines.

First of all, antihistamines fall into two groups: first generation, which has a sedation effect; and second generation, which is likely to cause less drowsiness. Both types are considered as effective as prescription medications. In fact, many of them were formerly only available with a prescription.

First-generation antihistamines, including nonprescription diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), doxylamine, and brompheniramine, may cause substantial drowsiness—enough to make it difficult to think clearly or control your movements—as well as the typical dry mouth and eyes of an antihistamine. Only take this type of medication if you’re spending the day at home.

Second-generation antihistamines include the nonprescription loratadine (Claritin®), cetirizine (Zyrtec®), fexofenadine (Allegra®), and generic versions. Compared with first-generation medicines, many of these are less sedating and some may be more convenient since they continue working for up to 24 hours. According to Rite Aid, however, even newer generation antihistamines cause drowsiness in some people, so proceed with caution.

For multi-symptom allergy sufferers, many antihistamines are available in combination with other medications, such as a decongestant. A decongestant may lessen a first-generation antihistamine’s sedating effect, as well.

Pay close attention to drug interaction warnings. Antihistamines can interact with medications for other conditions—especially sedatives, sleeping pills, and muscle relaxants. Alcohol can also intensify the sedating effect of any antihistamine. In addition, make sure you are not using two products with the same ingredients. For example, a decongestant/antihistamine combination product along with a single ingredient antihistamine product.

If you’re not responding well to an antihistamine, try another one; however, read the label carefully to ensure it offers a different active ingredient.

Lastly, says Rite Aid, if you’d like to avoid medication all together, consider a saline rinse. Known as nasal irrigation, this method flushes out the sinuses and may ease your symptoms.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Foreclosure Sales Low, But Inventory Remains High

May 3, 2012 1:14 am

While March foreclosure starts increased a modest 8.1 percent since last month, overall, they were still down more than 31 percent year-over-year. Also in March, first-time foreclosure starts hit a five-month high. However, despite the increase, the number of first-time foreclosure starts in March was still far below those seen throughout much of 2011 and all of the previous three years.

This information was recently reported via The March Mortgage Monitor report from Lender Processing Services, Inc. (LPS). According to the report, the national foreclosure inventory stayed relatively stable in March, remaining at the historically high levels maintained since the end of 2010. This national performance masks underlying differences between judicial states, where foreclosure inventory levels stand at 6.5 percent, and non-judicial states, where foreclosure inventory levels are more than 2.5 times lower at 2.45 percent.

The March data also showed that mortgage delinquencies have continued to decline, reaching their lowest level since August 2008, with seriously delinquent inventory (loans more than 90 days delinquent) declining in both judicial and non-judicial foreclosure states. Likewise, the rate of new problem loans (seriously delinquent loans that were current six months ago) continues to improve nationally, in both judicial and non-judicial states.

On the origination front, the data showed that February mortgage originations rebounded somewhat from their January lows, and that, despite slightly higher interest rates, prepayments increased in March. Mortgage prepayment activity – a key indicator of mortgage refinances – increased broadly, across all investor categories.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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