REMAX 440/Central Blog

How to Choose the Right Painter

March 20, 2012 3:32 am

While many homeowners are quite comfortable handling interior paint jobs on their own, a professional painter is usually enlisted for painting the home’s exterior.

Since painting your home is critical to your home’s appearance and value, finding the best possible painter is essential. Consumer Reports offers the following tips for making the right choice: 

Don’t agree to let the painter assess the condition of your home’s exterior without you. Note how long they take to conduct the assessment. The more time spent, the more realistic the estimate will be. Ask about the size and experience of the crew. 

Be clear about expectations. It’s not just the number of coats that are applied that determines quality and price—preparing the surface prior to painting is key. If you want a surface that’s free of unevenness from prior paint jobs, you’ll need to say so, and be prepared to pay extra. But if you can live with some imperfections showing through, point out what level of prep is acceptable and what isn’t. 

Check references and work. Call references and go see jobs that were done several years ago to see how the painter’s work is holding up. A history of positive references is a good sign. Use recent projects to check the skill of a contractor’s current crew. Ask how surprises or problems were resolved. 

Consider credentials. Membership in a trade or local business group isn’t a guarantee of quality, but it shows a level of commitment and reliability. For licensing information in your state, check Also check with the Better Business Bureau (, your state’s attorney general’s office, or a local consumer-affairs agency to learn whether the contractor has a history of unresolved complaints. 

Get estimates. Always seek three written estimates. Each should include a breakdown of labor, material costs, the number of coats of primer and paint, the brand and model of materials, and a detailed description of the amount of surface preparation that will be done. 

Check for lead. If your home was built before 1978, older coats of paint could contain lead. So extra precautions might be needed. 

Get a complete contract. It should include all the contractor’s key information: name, address, office and cellphone numbers, and license number, plus whatever details were in the estimate. Make sure it’s clear what is and is not included in the job. Avoid a large down payment and withhold the final payment, typically 10 to 15 percent, until you are satisfied with the job. Get a copy of each painter’s liability and workers compensation insurance certificates. Otherwise, if someone gets hurt while on the job, you could be on the hook. 

Ask for a guarantee. The painter should promise to correct any chipping, peeling, blistering, flaking, or excessive fading or chalking that occurs within two years after the job is done at no or little cost. If he tells you the paint itself has a warranty, remember that doesn’t include labor, which is a far more costly proposition than material.

Source: Consumer Reports

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Government Foreclosure to Rental Pilot Programs Not Needed, Say REALTORS

March 20, 2012 3:32 am

Housing markets are complex and varied, and a government pilot program to turn bank-owned properties into rentals could be disruptive and counterproductive in some markets, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). 

NAR urged the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to proceed cautiously with its Real Estate-Owned (REO) Initiative pilot program to sell homes repossessed by government agencies to private investors to convert into rental units. 

According to NAR President Moe Veissi, while REALTORS® support efforts to reduce high inventories of foreclosures, REO-to-rental programs are not necessary in certain areas and could be counterproductive to a real estate recovery. “In many communities REOs are already moving well through the normal processes, so we urge caution when proceeding with a rental program,” says Veissi. 

According to a recent NAR analysis, while the overall visible inventory of foreclosures has been trending down across the country, there is a noticeable difference in foreclosure inventories in states that require judicial proceedings to foreclose on a property versus inventories in states that do not require the court’s intervention. Foreclosure inventories in judicial states are currently 2.5 times higher than non-judicial states. In addition, the disposition of foreclosure inventories is considerably faster in non-judicial states, where foreclosure sales rates are four times higher than in judicial states. 

To prevent further increases in foreclosure inventory, NAR has repeatedly called for improved lending to creditworthy homebuyers and have urged lenders to make more loan modifications, mortgage refinancings, and short sales, which will help stabilize struggling housing markets. 

“While REO-to-rental programs could be successful in a few communities, we believe that doing more to ensure mortgage availability for qualified homebuyers and investors could be even more beneficial in helping absorb excess foreclosure inventories across the country,” Veissi explains. 

NAR urges that a national advisory board be created to ensure that current and future REO-to-rental pilot programs truly benefit the local community, minimize taxpayer losses and stabilize home values, and suggests substantial participation of local market experts, especially licensed real estate professionals, who have unparalleled knowledge of local market conditions.

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Spring Forward with Home Improvement Trends

March 19, 2012 3:32 am

As the spring season comes into view, many homeowners ask if it is smarter to move or to improve? Cost is often the driving factor behind home improvement projects, so it's important to choose projects that will provide the biggest return on investment.

According to the Power Home Remodeling Group, homeowners should strive to get the biggest bang for their home-improvement buck this spring, whether updating a home to increase it's resale value or infusing the place with some personality to create your dream home. Power shares the following tips to stay on trend with home improvements this spring:
  • Energize your exterior – Exterior home improvements are king when it comes to return on investment again this year. Projects like updating siding, window replacement and refreshing entry doors can have a dramatic effect on your home's curb appeal for a relatively low cost. In fact, seven of the top 10 home improvement projects for 2012 are exterior projects garnering anywhere from 69 to 78 percent return on investment — the highest of any other projects this year.
  • Choose bold and bright finishes – Fiberglass entry and garage doors are a popular alternative to their pricey wooden counterparts in 2012. A fiberglass door is weather resistant, durable and, above all, maintenance free. This material allows you to achieve the stylish look of an elegant craftsman or rustic design with decorative glass at the fraction of the price. Bright, bold exterior colors are also popular this year. Make your curb appeal pop by choosing a shade of tangerine, yellow or deep purple for your entry door to give your home a cheery look heading into spring.
  • Energy efficiency is still supreme – The top green home trend for 2012 is renovating to reduce your home's heating and cooling costs. Making the most of an empty attic space by adding a bedroom, or at least finishing it with insulation, is a great way to keep conditioned air from escaping through the roof. Updating the attic also happens to be this year's third most cost effective home improvement, garnering a whopping 72 percent return on investment, and adding living space without increasing the home's footprint is an eco-friendly way to gain more square footage.

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Don't Let Your Spring Cleaning Create March Madness

March 19, 2012 3:32 am

Now that most of the snow is melting away, the plants are peeking out from beneath, and the clouds have parted, there's a good chance that the shining sun will shed light on a disheveled, dirty home.

The experts at The Maids, however, report that spring cleaning doesn’t have to drive you mad. They offer the following spring cleaning tips to help you enjoy a sparkling start to the new season:
  • Wash your walls. Use a spray bottle filled with water and a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid. Spray the solution on a clean cloth, and clean each wall in sections. Let the solution sit for a few minutes before wiping it down with a clean, damp sponge. Remember to regularly wring out the sponge. If your walls are painted, test the paint durability on a small area in a corner.
  • Scour your small storage spaces. Take everything out of your cupboards and drawers, dust off the items, and vacuum inside using your crevice attachment. To make them inconceivably clean, wash the bottom of each drawer with a solution of one quart of water and two tablespoons of vinegar.
  • Freshen up your fridge. Unplug it and remove everything, including the shelves and drawers, before cleaning. Wash the inside surfaces with a mixture of warm water and dish soap. Wash the shelves and drawers in the sink with the same solution. Then, wipe everything dry with a clean cloth. Make sure to throw out unused or expired food items before returning your refrigerator to its original state.
  • Brave the big one. In almost every room of your house, there's probably one big piece of furniture that you've never dared to move. Pull that couch or bed away from the wall and power vacuum behind it.
  • Tackle the toilet. Put on goggles and rubber gloves and mix two parts water to one part vinegar in a bucket. Dip a sponge into the mixture and then wipe down the rim and the seat. To prevent spreading germs, use paper towels to wipe the outside of the bowl and the base. Flush the toilet and throw away your sponge.
  • Give your shower head a shine. Boil the head for five minutes in a half-cup of vinegar and a quart of water to remove mineral deposit clogs. If your shower head is plastic, soak in a hot water and vinegar mixture.
Source: The Maids

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Survey Shows Consumer Attitudes More Positive

March 19, 2012 3:32 am

A new survey shows that Americans’ concerns about key economic and housing issues are beginning to subside.

Fannie Mae’s February 2012 National Housing Survey shows that consumer attitudes have stabilized across most indicators—including personal finances, housing, and employment—compared to late summer and fall of 2011. The survey polls 1,003 Americans via telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, mortgage rates, homeownership distress, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts.

The survey shows that the most dramatic change revolves around the economy—35 percent of Americans now feel that the economy is on the right track, up 19 percentage points since November, and 57 percent think the economy is on the wrong track, down 18 percentage points since November.

Americans’ confidence about personal financial situations, household income, and household expenses, as well as attitudes about homeownership and renting is holding at steady levels. Also important to note, Americans’ concerns about losing their job in the next 12 months has stabilized since the late fall, with 76 percent of Americans saying they are not concerned in February 2012, compared to 70 percent in November 2011. Fannie Mae believes that the recent pick-up in the pace of hiring over the past few months is directly responsible for alleviating consumer concerns about unemployment.

Here are some additional highlights from this important survey:
  • Only 12 percent of respondents believe that their personal financial situation will worsen in the next 12 months, a 3 percentage point drop from January and the lowest value in over a year.
  • 33 percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months, a 3 percentage point decrease from last month and the lowest level in the past 12 months.
  • 28 percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months (consistent with last month), while 15 percent say they expect home prices to decline (down 1 percentage point since last month).
  • 10 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go down in the next 12 months, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose by 3 percentage points to 13 percent, the highest level in over a year.
  • 45 percent of respondents think that home rental prices will go up, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.

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Moviegoing Goes Viral with New App

March 16, 2012 3:28 am

Popular online movie site Fandango announced that it has launched a new Facebook timeline app that makes movie-going more social than ever. The new app, called "Movies with Friends," allows fans to share their movie-based activities and recommendations on their Facebook timeline and News Feed, while seeing their Facebook friends' movie picks via an activity bar on Fandango's website. The feature will also provide fans the choice to actively share information about their movie-going plans and invite others to join them, facilitating movie-going with friends in real time.

"Movies with Friends" is an opt-in app that allows users to share up-to-the minute film information, including:
  • Movies they've rated and reviewed on Fandango, from "Must Go" to "Oh No!"
  • Movies they want to see, indicated by the "I'm In!" button
  • Movie trailers, clips and celebrity interviews they have just watched
  • Articles they've read on Fandango's "Freshly Popped" blog
The launch of the Movies with Friends app follows on the heels of Fandango's best-selling January and February in the company's nearly-12-year history. Fandango recently announced new ticketing agreements with Regency Theatres, and with AMC Theatres, adding 3,000 new AMC screens to its extensive network of movie theaters across the country, now numbering a total of nearly 20,000 screens. Fandango's 30 million unique visitors regularly account for a significant percentage of opening weekend tickets sold nationwide, and the company is already reporting hundreds of sold-out showtimes for the March 23rd release of "The Hunger Games."

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New Index Shows Rental Markets Heating Up

March 16, 2012 3:28 am

Median rents rose 3 percent from January 2011 to January 2012 while home values declined 4.6 percent during that period, according to the January Zillow® Real Estate Market Reports.

The newly released Zillow Rent Index (ZRI) showed year-over-year gains for 69.2 percent of metropolitan areas covered by the ZRI. By contrast, only 7.3 percent of metro areas covered by the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) saw home values rise. All in all, 70 percent of markets saw an increase in rents, while 7 percent logged home value increases.

"While it seems that rents are rising at the expense of home values, the opposite is true,” explains Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “A thriving rental market will stimulate home sales as investors snap up low-priced inventory to convert to rentals. That, in turn, will lower the number of homes on the market, which will eventually help put a floor under the value of all homes. Moreover, rising rents increase demand as buying becomes more attractive than renting because of low purchase prices and higher rents."

In the short term, national monthly rents declined slightly from December 2011 to January 2012, falling 0.3 percent to $1,218. Home values fell 0.5 percent during the same period to $146,200.

Additionally, foreclosures ticked up slightly in January. Foreclosure re-sales also rose on both a month-over-month and year-over-year basis. Nearly one-in-five (19.5 percent) of homes sold in January were foreclosure re-sales.

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Seniors and Young Adults to Play Big Role in Housing

March 16, 2012 3:28 am

Aging baby boomers and their echo boomer children will significantly impact trends in the nation’s housing market over the next 20 years. In a new report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center, “Demographic Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Housing Markets,” researchers at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), The Urban Institute, and the University of Southern California analyze key demographic trends and their likely influence on housing and homeownership in the U.S.

Over the next two decades, the aging baby boomer generation will swell the nation’s senior population by 30 million. That demographic shift will likely help increase the supply of housing, since people over age 65 typically release much more housing than they absorb.

“The Northeast and Midwest are most likely to see a large number of older homeowners selling their homes to younger homeowners as the baby boomers age,” explains NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “This increased supply could mean additional buying opportunities for echo boomers. That generation will absorb 75-80 percent of the available inventory of owner-occupied housing by 2020.”

The echo boom generation includes nearly 65 million people born between 1981 and 1995. NAR’s analysis illustrates the potential impact of economic and housing policy on this generation’s demand for housing as they come of age.

“Housing, jobs and the economy are inextricably connected,” says Yun. “A strong recovery with favorable housing market conditions would encourage substantial growth in echo boomer households, which would help absorb the current vacant inventory and stabilize conditions for residential construction. Under a reasonable ‘middle’ recovery scenario, approximately 12 million new households will be formed over the next decade, requiring construction of up to 15 million new housing units.”

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Saturday St. Patrick's Day Poses Increased Risk

March 15, 2012 3:26 am

Newly released data on offenders monitored 24/7 for alcohol consumption shows that when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday, drinking violations increase 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year—and that's for offenders who know they're being monitored and whose consequences are often time in jail.

According to Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which monitors 14,000 DUI and other alcohol-involved offenders each day, the newly released data shows that when the St. Patrick's Day Holiday falls on a Friday or Saturday, violation rates skyrocket 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year. The study looked at holiday drinking for the last seven years.

The data underscores the challenges of the holiday for law enforcement as well as the risks posed by problem drinkers. The additional risks that go with a weekend St. Patrick's Day are no surprise to law enforcement, who are already warning celebrants of the additional measures they can expect to see over the holiday weekend this year. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving (ITFDD), regardless of the day of the week, St. Patrick's Day sees the second-highest rate of DUI arrests in the state, right after Halloween.

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Appraisal Institute Advises US Sentencing Commission to Require Appraisals

March 15, 2012 3:26 am

Speaking at a hearing in Washington, D.C., the Appraisal Institute recently urged a federal judicial agency to require the use of real estate appraisals when calculating loss in mortgage fraud cases. The Appraisal Institute is one of the nation's largest professional associations of real estate appraisers.

In prepared written testimony, Appraisal Institute President Sara W. Stephens, MAI, told the U.S. Sentencing Commission, "We believe the Commission should adopt a special rule for determining the fair market value of real property if the mortgaged property has not been disposed of by the time of the sentencing. However, this rule should require use of real estate appraisals prepared by qualified appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, as opposed to tax assessments, to ensure fairness and consistency."

Stephens explained that the Appraisal Institute and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers oppose the proposed amendments to the federal Mortgage Fraud Sentencing Guidelines because the amendments propose using tax assessments, and not real estate appraisals, to determine fair market value when the property in question has not been sold.

"Real estate appraisals prepared by qualified real estate appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice are clearly preferable to tax assessments for the circumstances described in the amendments," Stephens said in her written testimony.

She said that condition and quality inspections are necessary as part of a credible and thorough valuation of a property, noting that tax assessments do not include such inspections. She also said tax assessments rely on public records data, which can be inaccurate and therefore reduce the reliability of the valuation.

Stephens also noted that reassessment periods vary widely by jurisdiction, and that some jurisdictions have not reassessed property in several decades. "In these cases, if a tax assessment is used in the calculation of a mortgage fraud sentence, it is likely to overstate the loss to the bank, and potentially inflate the sentence of someone convicted of mortgage fraud," she noted, adding that fairness requires use of a real estate appraisal.

Stephens also said that assessed value may not conform to market value. And she said the two appraisal organizations recommend that the Commission establish a special rule relating to the qualifications of real estate appraisers. "We suggest those performing these appraisals have earned a designation from a nationally recognized professional appraisal association who awards the designation based on demonstrated competency that requires approved classroom training in appraisal practice, experience requirements, and preparation of a demonstration appraisal report or appraisal review report or a comprehensive qualifying examination," she said in her written testimony.

Section 1079A of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if appropriate, to amend the federal sentencing guidelines applicable to mortgage fraud and financial institution fraud offenses and to consider whether the guidelines appropriately account for the potential and actual harm to the public and the financial markets from those offenses.

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