REMAX 440/Central Blog

Top Kitchen Design Trends for 2012

February 24, 2012 2:08 am

A recent survey of more than 350 designer members of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) revealed their top design trends for kitchens based on the materials, product types, and styles they incorporated into their kitchen designs over the final three months of 2011.

According to the results of the 2012 NKBA Design Trends Survey, while broad trends won’t be evident in every local market, the following represent overall trends for kitchens across the United States and Canada.

Cherry Wood in Decline

Cherry wood has consistently been the first or second most popular type of wood for cabinetry, jockeying for the top spot with maple each year. However, designers are slowly shifting away from it. While 80 percent of NKBA member kitchen designers had recently specified cherry cabinetry as 2010 approached, that figure dropped to 72 percent last year and fell again to 69 percent heading into 2012.

No one other wood species is taking that market share on its own, as even maple dropped in popularity this year, falling from 77 percent last year to 70 percent now. Instead, a number of lesser-used woods are being specified more often, including oak, which is specified by twice as many designers now (22 percent) versus two years ago (11 percent); walnut, which has increased from 3 percent in 2010 to 9 percent in 2011 to 13 percent today; birch, which is now specified by three times as many kitchen designers as it was a year ago (15 percent vs. 5 percent), and bamboo, which has doubled from 5 percent last year to 10 percent now. While alder is currently specified by 27 percent of kitchen designers, that figure is down from 30 percent last year and from 40 percent two years ago.

Darker Finishes

Natural kitchen cabinetry continues a steady move toward darker finishes. While light natural finishes have been recently specified by 30 percent of kitchen designers, medium natural finishes stand at 55 percent, with dark natural finishes at 58 percent. Two years ago, dark natural finishes were specified by only 43 percent of designers. Among painted cabinetry, white continues to be the most popular option, as white cabinets have been recently specified by 59 percent of NKBA member kitchen designers. Another trend to note is that distressed finishes are making a comeback.

Glass Backsplashes

Although glass remains a niche material for kitchen countertops, it’s been used recently by more than half of kitchen designers as a backsplash material, rising from 41 percent a year ago to 52 percent now. This trails only natural stone tile at 60 percent and ceramic tile (including porcelain), which has been specified of late by some 74 percent of designers. Even at that high rate, ceramic tile backsplashes are on the decline, as they stood at 78 percent a year ago and 88 percent two years ago. Other popular backsplash materials are granite at 30 percent and quartz at 20 percent.

LED Lighting
Energy-efficiency is clearly not a fad, but a real trend that can be seen taking hold in homes across the United States and Canada. Despite the higher initial cost, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting is proof of this trend. Specified by 50 percent of NKBA member kitchen designers entering 2010, that rate increased to 54 percent the following year and has jumped over the past year to 70 percent. However, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) aren’t sharing in this trend. Although they use roughly a quarter the energy of an incandescent bulb when producing the same amount of light, measured in lumens, the poor color of the light they produce and the presence of mercury in these bulbs are keeping them out of newly remodeled kitchens, falling from 36 percent last year to 26 percent today.

Pull-Out Faucets

Pull-out kitchen faucets have become established as the dominant type of kitchen faucet. Designers are increasingly eschewing the standard faucet with a detached side spray in favor of pull-out models that integrate the two functions into a single unit. The use of pull-out faucets has increased from 88 percent to 91 percent to 93 percent. In other words, 14 of out every 15 designers who designed a kitchen over the final three months of 2011 incorporated a pull-out faucet. These versatile models might also be mitigating the need for pot-filler faucets, which have recently been specified by just 28 percent of designers, down from 41 percent two years ago.


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February Reveals a Slow, Steady Path to Recovery

February 24, 2012 2:08 am

Yesterday, Freddie Mac released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for February, showing cautious signs of the economy and housing market moving in a positive direction. The report attributes this good news to the current environment of low interest rates and more favorable job prospects.

Freddie Mac compiles data on major economic and housing and mortgage market indicators and offers forecasts based on those indicators. Highlights from the report include:
  • Job gains exceeded expectations for the past two months, but those leaving their jobs voluntarily were 2 million in December compared to the pre-recession average of 3 million, reflecting worker uneasiness.
  • The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent; and weekly unemployment benefits applications decreased for the third consecutive week to 348,000, the fewest since the first week in March 2008.
  • More warmth is expected in the housing market sometime in 2013 as the economy continues on its slow path to a stronger recovery in a low-interest-rate environment.
  • Low mortgage rates will continue to keep homebuyer affordability high and help drive more HARP refinances.
  • Consumer sentiment weakened in January although home builder confidence continued to show signs of growth.
According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist, "The U.S. economy continues to build on the momentum from the end of last year. Our outlook anticipates gradual but steady improvement in the economy and the housing market, supported by low interest rates and brightening job market prospects."

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How to Close the Income Inequality Gap

February 23, 2012 2:00 am

If you feel you’re one of the many being unfairly compensated while others continue to build wealth, there is something you can do about it says Trevor Bolin, author of “Take Charge and Change Your Life Today.”

“I went from the bottom 10 percent at age 17 to the top 2 percent at 28 by making some changes in my life,” says Bolin, who owns three realty companies in British Columbia.

“The system is very simple, but not all of the steps are easy. It requires self-discipline and changing bad habits, but it’s all possible if you follow the steps.”

Bolin’s strategies include:
Commit. Vow right now that you will follow through 100 percent on every step you take toward changing your life, whether it’s making more money, losing weight or becoming a better parent. Commit to succeeding, not just surviving. Know that luck has nothing to do with it – it’s hard work, attitude and giving back. Committing 100 percent means that, if you decide to read a book on investing, you won’t quit after three chapters. If your goal is to drop 20 pounds, don’t stop after 10.
Change your attitude. Just as negative thoughts have the power to negatively affect outcomes, so do positive thoughts. Start each day with positive thoughts, and change negative thoughts to positive ones throughout the day. This may be hard at first, but the more you work at it, the easier it gets. Remind yourself each morning of all the good things in your life – your health, your home, your spouse. Tell yourself that your meeting today is going to be engaging and productive, or your job interview is going to go well.
Figure out your “Y.” Your Y is your reason for everything. It’s shaped by the past, formatted for the present and goal-formatted for the future. It’s reflected in every decision you make. If you don’t know your Y, your decisions will be made on the basis of habit, what you learned growing up, and what your immediate needs are. But if you’ve decided your Y is that you want the peace and security of financial success, you’ll be guided by that every time you make a choice.
Set goals. On a piece of paper write down all of your goals, short-term and long-term. Next, number them 1, 3, 5, 10 or 20 based on how many years it should take to achieve them. Now, take your top five 1 goals and write down why you want them and how you plan to achieve them. Do the same thing for each set of goals. Having goals is vital and keeping them in front of you will help keep you on track toward achieving them. Most important – be sure to cross each one off as you achieve it. Take it from me, there’s no better feeling. 

“It’s all about having a plan,” says Bolin. “You can create success as long as you’re putting a plan into motion.”

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8 Ways to Scam-Proof Your Next Vacation Home Rental

February 23, 2012 2:00 am

While renting a home instead of booking a hotel room has become a hugely popular choice for vacationers, there is a rising occurrence of vacation home scams to watch out for says Christine Karpinski, author of “How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition.” However, taking certain precautions can greatly reduce this risk. Karpinski offers the following eight tips to help you safely book your vacation home in today’s environment: 

• Beware of super-cheap rates. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The most common way scammers work is by enticing a large number of travelers in a short period of time. They do this by low-balling the rental rates.
• Do some digging to make sure the owner really is the owner. Many states make it easy to look up property tax records. Google the property appraiser in the county where the property is located to make sure the person you are renting from actually owns the property. You might also Google the homeowner’s association and look for a phone number on the website. Call the HOA and ask if the owners really are the owners.
• Cyber-stalk the owner. Do some cross-referencing across various websites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. Make sure the place of residence (where the owner lives—not where the vacation home is located) is the same as the information the owner provided. 

Also, Karpinski suggests Googling the phone number listed on the advertisement. Many property owners and managers list their homes on many different websites. If you Google the phone number listed on the ad in this format XXX XXX-XXX (area code, space, first three digits, dash, last four digits) many other websites that the property is listed on should show up in search results.
• Look for clues in the reviews. When you are reading the reviews of the property (either on the vacation rental website or on other sites such as, there are sometimes references to the owners’ names. A review might say something like: “Thanks, Tom and Christine, for allowing us to rent your lovely home…” If the names in the reviews do NOT match the name of the person renting the home to you, it could be a sign that something is not right.
• Speak with the owner via phone. Sure, it’s possible to be scammed over the phone. However, it’s usually easier to fool someone when you’re communicating via type. If the owner sounds warm and engaging and seems to know her stuff, you’re probably okay. If she sounds guarded or uncertain, you might have reason to worry. Also, says Karpinski, when you get someone on the phone, you can ask specific questions—and listen carefully to the answers.
• Pay only by credit card. Don’t use PayPal, don’t send a personal check, and NEVER, EVER pay by wire transfer, advises Karpinski.
• Go with one of the major vacation rental websites. You’re probably safest choosing a site like HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, or Airbnb. Of course, a respected name doesn’t guarantee a 100 percent safe transaction—there have been instances of owners having their email accounts hijacked by scammers—but the major websites tend to have better safeguards in place.
• Listen to your gut…it’s often right. Do your research. Call the property owner. Listen carefully to everything he or she has to say. If something just feels “off,” move on to another property, advises Karpinski.

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Unfairly Foreclosed Upon? Deadline to Request Review Now Extended

February 23, 2012 2:00 am

For those who believe they might have suffered financial injury as a result of errors in foreclosure actions on their homes in 2009 or 2010, the deadline for submitting requests for review under the Independent Foreclosure Review has been extended to July 31, 2012. The announcement of the extension was made yesterday by The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve). The deadline extension provides more time to increase awareness of how eligible people may request a review through the Independent Foreclosure Review process and to encourage the broadest participation possible. 

As part of enforcement actions issued in April 2011, the OCC, Federal Reserve, and the Office of Thrift Supervision required 14 large mortgage servicers to retain independent consultants to conduct a comprehensive review of foreclosure activity in 2009 and 2010 to identify borrowers who may have been financially injured due to errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in the foreclosure process. If the review finds that financial injury occurred, the borrower may receive compensation or other remedy.
Borrowers are eligible for an Independent Foreclosure Review if they meet the following basic criteria:
• The mortgage loan was serviced by one of the participating mortgage servicers.
• The mortgage loan was active in the foreclosure process between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010.
• The property securing the mortgage loan was the borrower's primary residence.
Participating mortgage servicers include: America's Servicing Company, Aurora Loan Services, BAC Home Loans Servicing, Bank of America, Beneficial, Chase, Citibank, CitiFinancial, CitiMortgage, Countrywide, EMC, Everbank/Everhome Mortgage Company, Financial Freedom, GMAC Mortgage, HFC, HSBC, IndyMac Mortgage Services, MetLife Bank, National City Mortgage, PNC Mortgage, Sovereign Bank, U.S. Bank, Wachovia Mortgage; Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo; and Wilshire Credit Corporation.

For more information, visit

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Survey Reveals Rental Market Outlook

February 22, 2012 1:58 am

According to a new survey from, an increasing number of consumers continue to look toward renting as a viable option in today’s market, considering it to be an affordable, flexible lifestyle choice. This higher demand for apartment housing means increased renting costs across the nation. In response to this news, conducted a national survey to more than 3,000 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2012 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, why they are opting to rent versus own property, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search. 

Supporting a growing trend, 33.6 percent of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are previous homeowners (up from 20.5 percent in 2011). From the survey respondents who said they are homeowners looking to rent in 2012, 26.3 percent are doing so because they believe renting is a more affordable option and 21.2 percent prefer the flexibility renting offers in choosing where to live. provides the five most popular responses why their website visitors are choosing to rent versus own in 2012: 

- Renting is a more affordable option: (26.3 percent)
- Flexibility to live where I choose: (21.2 percent)
- To relocate for employment: (20.5 percent)
- Cannot afford to keep up with homeownership expenses: (10.5 percent)
- Lost home due to foreclosure and change in marital status: (less than 4 percent each) 

More than 35 percent of respondents indicated they are moving out on their own – whether for the first time or back into their own place – which may be a sign of an improving economy and job market, especially in the rental demographic. Reinforcing that idea is the fact that 23 percent of renters surveyed reported they are relocating for employment opportunities – making that the number one reason for moving in 2012, as it was in 2011. However, the desire to have more space, to save money and to live in a more desirable neighborhood also topped the list. provides the five most popular responses why their website visitors are moving in 2012: 

- Relocating for employment opportunities: (23 percent)
- Looking for a bigger apartment: (11.9 percent)
- Shopping for a less expensive apartment: (11.3 percent)
- Wanting to live in a more desirable neighborhood: (10.6 percent)
- Change in marital status: (8.8 percent)

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Credit Card Debt Rivals Emergency Savings

February 22, 2012 1:58 am

Only 54 percent of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt, according to a recent poll from One in four Americans (25 percent) has more credit card debt than emergency savings and 16 percent have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings. 

Bankrate's monthly Financial Security Index held at 97.3, unchanged from January and tied for the highest level since June 2011. Any reading below 100 indicates a lower level of financial security compared with 12 months earlier. 

Despite four straight months of improving sentiment, consumers' overall financial situation is still seen as negative. Twenty-seven percent of Americans report a lower level of financial security now versus one year ago and 24 percent report a higher level. Thirty-eight percent of Americans are less comfortable with their savings now compared with one year ago; only 14 percent are more comfortable. 

Additional survey findings included:
Job Security: Consumers are slightly positive, with 20 percent feeling more secure than one year ago and 19 percent feeling less secure (up from 17 percent in January). 

Savings: Consumers have reported less negativity about their savings in each of the past three months, with fewer feeling less comfortable and more feeling about the same as 12 months ago. 

Debt and Net Worth: Both were little changed from January and maintain essentially neutral readings. 

Credit Card Debt vs. Emergency Savings
- Households with income of $75,000 or more per year, college graduates and retirees are the most likely to have more in emergency savings than credit card debt.
- Parents are the most likely to have more credit card debt than emergency savings.
- Those most likely to have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings are households with income of less than $30,000 per year, those with a high school education or less and the unemployed.
- In a similar Bankrate poll conducted in February 2011, 52 percent of Americans had more emergency savings than credit card debt. Twenty-three percent had more credit card debt than emergency savings and 19 percent had neither credit card debt nor emergency savings. 

The new study was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).

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Attitudes Toward Economy Improving, Says Survey

February 22, 2012 1:58 am

According to the latest Harris Poll online survey of 2,056 adults, the general feeling toward the economy and employment is gradually improving. 

Over one-third of Americans (36 percent) say they expect the economy to improve in the coming year while two in five (40 percent) say it will remain the same and one-quarter (24 percent) believe it will get worse. These statistics are based on December survey results when one-quarter of U.S. adults (23 percent) believed the economy would improve, almost half (47 percent) felt it would stay the same and three in ten (29 percent) thought it would get worse. 

Perceptions of the job market are also improving, albeit a little more slowly. Three in five Americans (59 percent) rate the current job market of their region of the country as bad, 16percent say it is good and one-quarter (25 percent) say it is neither good nor bad. In January, almost two-thirds of U.S. adults (65 percent) felt the job market in their region was bad and 14percent felt it was good. This is the first time since July of 2008 that the percentage of those who think the job market in their region is bad is below 60 percent. 

Looking ahead, there is also a sense of optimism on where the job market is heading. One-third of Americans (32 percent) believe the job market in their region of the nation will get better in the next six months, half (51 percent) say it will stay the same and 17 percent believe it will get worse. Last month, just one-quarter (27 percent) felt the job market would get better, over half (53 percent) felt it would remain the same and one in five (21 percent) felt it would get worse. 

Finally, feelings about whether the country is still in a recession or not are also improving. In September, seven in ten Americans (69 percent) felt the country was still in a recession, while one in ten each felt that the U.S. came out of a recession but will now enter a new recession (11 percent) and the country has come out of the recession and the economy is growing (10 percent). A few months later and, while over half of Americans (56percent) still think the country is in a recession, one-quarter (24 percent) believe the country has come out of the recession and the economy is growing and just 8 percent believe the U.S. has come out of a recession but will enter a new one.

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A Fresh Assessment

February 21, 2012 1:56 am

By Keith Loria

Let’s say you just purchased a new home that has a large property tax commitment. You may be able to do something about it. In today’s housing market, having the property reassessed is very in vogue.

“A tax assessment is an estimate on the value of your property solely for the purpose of determining how much you owe in property taxes,” says Peter Hoegen, an attorney with Hoegen & Associates, PC in Pennsylvania who specializes in tax assessments.

It’s a good bet that you may have bought the house for a price lower than the property value, so sometimes taxes can be lowered if the value has changed.

Not that it’s only about the taxes. Another reason for a reassessment is for insurance purposes, to make sure the home has an appropriate level of coverage. A third reason might be due to the changes in value that the downturn in the economy has caused.

For those who may be thinking of selling, an assessment is a good way to learn if the house is worth more than one even owes, and can provide valuable data for one looking to get a lower mortgage rate.
“If you are thinking of having your home assessed for possible readjusting of the value, it’s important to understand the protocols and timelines that your city or state has, because all are different,” Hoegen says.

The first step is to begin with the county assessor’s office. In 2012, the process has become much simpler for some, as more places are allowing you to appeal online. If that’s not an option, plan a visit to your local assessor’s office to register for an appeal.

The most common way this is done is by someone coming out and inspecting the property and comparing it to neighboring houses. Some will rely on computer models, but that could be problematic because you’re not seeing everything that can be viewed with the naked eye.

Although the appeal process itself can be relatively quick if it’s clear that a change needs to be made, actually having someone come out to your property to perform the assessment can take anywhere from a month to a year, depending on the amount of people following suit. In today’s housing market, with property values decreasing in many areas, more people are turning to reassessments to get their taxes down.

When making your case for a lower value, have at the ready documents that show what homes in the neighborhood have sold for. Prices of comparable homes that have sold in the past six months up to a year will be most helpful to build your case. Much of this data can be found on the Internet, but your real estate agent who helped you buy the home can help as well.

Remember, assessed value is often not equal to market value. Many times, an assessment is only a percentage of what the home could actually be sold for, so appealing might not be as financially advantageous as you think it will be. The last thing you want is for your taxes to rise because the house is worth more.

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Gen Y to Spur Real Estate Growth

February 21, 2012 1:56 am

According to experts with the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate, population growth and demographic shifts, particularly the ongoing maturation of a diverse, well-educated Gen Y, will drive improvements in the real estate market over the next 10 years.

Additionally, Lusk Center Chairman of the Board Stan Ross points out that immigrants were responsible for 25 percent of America's high-tech startup companies between 1995 and 2005 and 25 percent of American's international patents.

Despite a slight dip in immigration during the recession of 2007-09, the 2010 Census showed the U.S. population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 with another 3.4 percent growth predicted for 2011. Ross points out that with its 77.4 million members, Gen Y (current 15-32 year olds) is roughly equal in size to the baby boomers (current 46-64 year olds), but more educated and diverse.

Ross believes that related demographic shifts will support economic growth and market improvements in the region and nationally:
  • Together, baby boomers and Gen Y comprise 50 percent of the population and will soon be part of the largest U.S. wealth transfer ever
  • 60 percent of Gen Y goes to college
  • More than 38 million U.S. residents (12 percent of the population) are foreign born
  • 33 percent of all PhDs and 57 percent of all post-doctorates in science and engineering were awarded by U.S. universities to foreign students
  • About 4.3 million Gen Y residents reached age 22 in 2010
As more of this group enters the workforce over the next 10 years, they will produce a massive increase in housing demand. However, Ross points out that Gen Y will be relatively prudent when it comes to real estate investment.

Gen Y will produce market potential for every residential product except senior housing, an assertion made by the Summer 2010 ULI/Lachman Associates Survey, which found 37 percent are renters; 35 percent are homeowners; 26 percent live with parents/siblings or student housing; and 2 percent live in mobile homes.

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