REMAX 440/Central Blog

HUD Awards 31 Million to Promote Jobs and Self-Sufficiency for Public Housing Residents

July 7, 2011 6:27 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded more than $31 million in grants to public housing authorities, resident associations and non-profit organizations across the U.S. to help public housing residents connect to services available in the community to find employment to increase their economic independence. The funding will also link the elderly and people with disabilities with supportive services that allow them to maintain independent living and age-in-place.

“We need to take a wider view of the needs of public housing residents beyond just housing if we’re to be true to the goal of promoting self sufficiency,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The caseworkers that housing authorities can hire or keep on staff help thousands of public housing residents connect to opportunities to obtain jobs or increase their incomes that lead to self-sufficiency and improve quality of life.”

HUD’s Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (ROSS) – Service Coordinators Program helps public housing authorities (PHAs), resident associations or non-profit organizations hire or retain service coordinators who work directly with residents to assess their needs to connect them with education, job training and placement programs and/or computer and financial literacy services available in their community to promote self-sufficiency. For an elderly or disabled resident, the service coordinator arranges supportive services that allow them to maintain their independent lifestyle.

The purpose of HUD’s ROSS - Service Coordinators Program is to encourage local, innovative strategies that link public housing assistance with public and private resources to enable participating families to increase earned income; reduce or eliminate the need for welfare assistance; and make progress toward achieving economic independence and housing self-sufficiency.

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TLC for Outdoor Furniture

July 6, 2011 2:27 pm

There's nothing more exciting than pulling out your outdoor furniture for another season on the patio. Depending on the shape of your furniture, the task can be as daunting as it is delightful. Replacing outdoor furniture can be a significant expense, and some TLC will ensure you won't need to invest in new pieces anytime soon.

A sure thing for almost every piece of furniture is a pressure washer on a low setting and some mild soap. If you're working with aluminum, wrought iron or steel, again, mild soap will do or a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. If your metal furniture is not rust-resistant or rust-free, use steel wool or light sandpaper to smooth rough spots. Finish with a non-abrasive paste wax, which will protect the parts from the elements and make next time's cleaning easier.

A light paste wax (or a wood preservative) is also great for protecting wood furniture after cleaning with a soapy sponge or scrub brush, and can also be used on the frames of wicker furniture. Wicker will last longer if kept in the shade, where it won't dry out as quickly. For a fresh look for tired looking wicker, use a couple of coats of outdoor spray paint.

The care of cushions, especially preparation to store them during winter months, is often overlooked. Lydia Graham, an expert on outdoor furniture cleaning and maintenance, recommends dousing cushions with a mixture of 3 gallons of warm water with 1 cup of powdered laundry detergent and 1 cup of liquid chlorine bleach and letting them sit for 30 minutes to eliminate any mildew inside. For stains, use a synthetic sponge for synthetic cushions and a scrub brush on coated polyester. Afterwards, rinse thoroughly with water and place them in the sun for several days to dry before storing, unwrapped, in a dry area. When working with vinyl, however, be sure to not use a hard brush or bleach, which seems counter-intuitive, but either of these will damage the material. Stick with the simple mild soap and water technique.

Lay umbrellas open and upside-down and, as with other furniture, use a pressure washer on low with mild soap, scrubbing where needed. Don't forget to check for rusty and/or loose hardware on your umbrellas (and for deteriorating or loose bolts on furniture for that matter). A spray lubricant on the joints of a wire-frame umbrella and other hardware does wonders, and a little paste wax on wooden framed umbrellas will restore and protect them for another season of sunshine.

With the proper care, you can get many years' enjoyment out of your outdoor furniture.

How to Protect Your Identity During Moving Season

July 6, 2011 2:27 pm

Each year between the months of April and August, home buying and selling activity increases, and so does the risk of identity theft as personally identifiable information (PII) is shuffled around from one home to the next. During this busy time, buyers and renters become preoccupied with financing their new homes, closing and opening new banking and utility accounts, and packing and moving—all stressful tasks that can distract them and cause them to simply overlook protecting sensitive documents and PII.

"Identity thieves are pervasive and creative in finding opportunities to steal information, and something as simple as forgetting to forward mail can put a consumer in jeopardy of identity theft," says Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of Consumer Services for Intersections, Inc. "The details of moving can be stressful enough without worrying about becoming a victim of this invasive crime."

To help further educate consumers, here is a list of simple steps a homeowner can take throughout the moving process to help protect their identity and minimize their exposure to theft.

Top Safety Steps for Homeowners on the Move

1. Submit a Change of Address Form. Submit an official Change of Address Form through your local post office, and once the request has been filed, keep an eye out for a confirmation from the Postal Service. You'll want to use this to verify that your new information has been correctly updated. You can expect your mail to arrive at your new address within 7 to 10 business days after filing.
2. Shred sensitive documents. All important documents and paperwork that will not be coming with you should be shredded to prevent thieves from finding any information in your trash. A small investment in a shredder is well worth it when you consider the headache it could be preventing.
3. Monitor financial statements. Watch over your bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity. Consider enrolling in a service that not only helps you monitor activity related to your credit, but also helps protect your computer, public records, and even mobile devices.
4. Use reputable moving companies. Many Americans use a moving service to help pack and move their boxes, but mover fraud is becoming more commonplace in the U.S. Take the time to read reviews, research the company and ask trusted friends, family or real estate agents for recommendations. Always check the mover's reputation with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the mover is registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and has a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number before signing any agreements or obtaining an estimate.
5. Keep documents with you. Transfer all important physical documents that will be making the move, such as wills, stock certificates, bonds, etc., to a safe and secure place such as a locked box or an online secure vault. Keep the physical documents with you during the move and do not leave any secure receptacles for movers or others to transport.
6. Enroll in a monitoring service. Monitoring services send subscribers alerts to any address changes, whether it is an authorized change or an unlawful redirection of the user's mail.
7. Lock down your computer. Devote time and resources before your move to make sure all computers in your home are hack-proof, packed and out of sight before movers arrive.
8. Supervise the move. Make sure you are present for the entire duration of the move. Your presence could deter potential theft from occurring and you can rest assured that your personal belongings are being taken care of properly.
9. Check your credit report. Take a look at your credit report for several months after you've moved. Any suspicious activity on the report may be a sign that your information has been compromised and local authorities and banks should be contacted.
10. Verify mail is being delivered. After the move, verify that you are receiving all mail from the list of senders you identified and contacted beforehand.

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Index Shows Continuing Improvement in Multifamily Housing Market

July 6, 2011 2:27 pm

The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) quarterly Multifamily Production Index (MPI) recorded its third consecutive quarterly increase in the first three months of 2011 indicating continuing improvement in the multifamily housing market.

The MPI, which tracks multifamily housing industry sentiment about the strength of the market on a scale of 0 to 100, increased from 40.8 in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 41.7 in the first quarter of 2011.

The index provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, construction of market-rate-rent units, and construction of “for sale” units. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse.

“Multifamily continues to be one of the brighter spots in housing,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Not only is the overall index on the rise, the market-rate rental component has improved dramatically. In the first quarter, the market-rate rental component was 60.5, the highest level in more than five years.”

Although the increase is cause for optimism, the multifamily market still faces significant challenges, Crowe says. “There is considerable pent-up demand, but the ongoing crisis in funding for new construction means that developers are limited in their ability to meet that demand.”

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry’s perception of vacancies, increased slightly from 33.3 in the fourth quarter of last year to 35.0 in the first quarter of 2011. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies.

“Both the Multifamily Production Index and the Multifamily Vacancy Index have emerged as leading indicators that provide information about the likely movement of Census Bureau statistics of multifamily starts and vacancy rates about one to three quarters in advance,” Crowe says. “Even though we saw a slight increase in the vacancy index in the first quarter, the long-term trend is downward. Given the demographics of demand, we expect that trend to continue.”

“We are seeing positive movement in the multifamily market,” says Stillman Knight, chairman of NAHB’s Multifamily Council Board of Trustees. “However, production is still low in the context of anticipated demand, and rents are increasing as a result. Rents are likely to continue to rise unless financing for new construction becomes more readily available.”

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Be Prepared: Hurricane Season Isn't Over Yet

July 5, 2011 6:27 pm

At Colorado State University, forecasters believe the number of named storms will reach 16 this hurricane season, and they predict there’s a 72% chance that the entire United States coastline will be affected by at least one major hurricane landfall in 2011. The Weather Research Center in Houston has forecast at least 10 named storms in 2011 with six of them projected to intensify into hurricanes. And, they’re predicting that coastal areas in west Florida, Louisiana and Alabama have a 90% chance that they’ll be in the line.

“Homeowners all along the East Coast and throughout the Gulf of Mexico should prepare for potentially severe weather this year,” says Jill F. Hasling, president of the Weather Research Center. “Now is the time to evaluate your home’s exterior and determine how well it is prepared to withstand hurricane-force winds, torrential rain and flying debris.”

Hasling speaks from experience. In 2008, Hurricane Ike reached into the Houston area doing significant damage to structures near the Weather Research Center. “We strongly advise people to make it a priority to completely evaluate the four most vulnerable areas of the home—windows, entry doors, the roof and the garage door. If any of these are compromised, the wind and rain that enters the home can cause extensive damage.”

According to home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler, selecting the right door for a home is also a critical decision. “Hurricane-force weather conditions can be extreme for hundreds of miles inland, so it’s important that homeowners seriously consider upgrading with impact-resistant building products,” says Kraeutler, host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Money Pit.

A home’s roof is another vulnerable area during high winds and driving rain. Roofs should be examined yearly to determine if there are missing shingles, curling or splitting shingles, lifting shingles or loss of granules. Both straight line winds and pressurized winds can cause different damage—from uplifting the shingles off the roof to pushing intense wind-driven rain and flying debris onto the roof.

“Once air pressure moves through a hole in a roof and into the home during a hurricane, it can literally blow out the walls and windows of the house,” says Kraeutler. “It’s vital for homeowners in potential hurricane areas to have well-installed, solid roofs overhead to protect their homes and prized possessions.”

“Homeowners should also make sure they have proper bracing, such as galvanized metal hurricane straps, to connect the roof to the walls of the home,” says Kraeutler. “This can help prevent uplift during hurricane-force winds. For a second step, consider impact-resistant polymer roofing tiles that have been formulated and tested to withstand hurricane strength winds and severe impact. That’s a winning combination for a roof.”

Kraeutler stresses that homeowners should always follow direction of local authorities regarding evacuations and emergency procedures during severe weather. “More than likely in extreme weather situations, you’ll have to evacuate,” says Kraeutler. “But when you invest in impact-resistant building products that are always ‘on guard,’ you can leave knowing that your family’s home and cherished possessions are secure. That can bring incredible peace-of-mind during a highly stressful time.”

Addressing Drought Impact on Health of Lawns, Trees and Shrubs

July 5, 2011 6:27 pm

Although drought can be brutal on lawns, trees and shrubs, John Crossmock, director of technical training and support for TruGreen, encourages homeowners not to give up on their outdoor living rooms.
"We're encouraging homeowners to be aware of local water restrictions, focus on effective irrigation, and pay close attention to the changing health of their lawns and landscapes," says Crossmock.

Signs of typical wear and tear on yards this time of year are amplified when lawns are stressed. Brown spots on lawns may not always be from lack of water or nutrients, but instead from insects that can mimic drought damage on select grass types. Homeowners need to have a clear understanding of the source of the yard problem to effectively resolve.

To help homeowners address drought impact on their lawns, here are several simple tips to help maintain the health of lawns and landscapes during the hot summer months.

Irrigation Efficiency: Ensure sprinkler heads and related water lines are working properly and that the irrigation system provides sufficient coverage. Low water pressure will affect coverage.

Water Restrictions Awareness: Become familiar with any local watering restrictions related to yards. Light watering too often is not as effective as a slow, thorough watering (about one inch) once or twice a week, optimally in the early morning. To ensure uniform coverage, consider placing a few empty one-inch deep food cans in the sprinkler pattern to measure the amount of water collected after each watering cycle. Adjust watering times and cycles if needed to provide for one inch of water.

Pest Problems: Inspect drought-sensitive plants and grasses. Although mature trees and many southern grasses will tolerate drought, others may not. Undiagnosed infestation of lawn insects and build-up of mites and insects on shrubs can also enhance the risk of plants' susceptibility to further decline from drought conditions. Ask a lawn care professional to assist in diagnosing plants for drought versus insect damage.

Feed: Lawns, trees and shrubs require proper nutrition to encourage healthy growth and the ability to recover from drought damage. If necessary, use a trained professional company that offers customized solutions to lawn and landscape problems based on the specific needs of the homeowner's region.

Mowing Schedule: Mow grass as needed and not as a scheduled weekly chore. Avoid mowing in the heat of day or if the lawn is extremely dry to allow the lawn to bounce back during the cooler temperatures of night. To help promote moisture retention and to prevent shock, disease and insects, do not cut more than one-third of the grass leaf blade and mow at the highest recommended height for your grass type.

Mulch: Return grass clippings back to the soil for added lawn nutrients. Apply three inches of organic mulch to base of shrubs and trees to help conserve soil moisture and to reduce weed pressure, but be mindful not to cover the trunk flare of the tree base.

With the proper care, your lawn and shrubbery can avoid becoming casualties of drought-like conditions and instead healthily flourish for years to come.

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Celebrating America's History of Homeownership

July 5, 2011 6:27 pm

The ability to buy, sell and own property has defined our nation throughout its history, and as the U.S. just celebrated its 235 birthday, Americans continue to reaffirm their support of and aspirations toward homeownership.

“For over 100 years, REALTORS® have helped bring families home,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “There’s a reason why homeownership is called the American Dream – it’s part of our collective history and an essential part of building our nation’s future, as well.”

Numerous studies have shown the value Americans place in homeownership. According to the 2010 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, first-time buyers most often cite the desire to own a home as the primary reason for their recent home purchase. Eighty-five percent of all recent home buyers consider a home purchase a solid investment, and 76% of them believe owning a home is as good as or better than an investment in stocks.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll reported that nearly nine in 10 Americans say homeownership is an important part of the American Dream. In a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, 73% of respondents said they believe the federal government should provide tax incentives to promote homeownership.

“Owning a home has long-standing government support in this country,” says Phipps. “Historically, lawmakers have understood the value of homeownership in fostering communities, creating social stability, and building wealth over the long term. In fact, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘A nation of homeowners is unconquerable.’

“The mortgage interest deduction was introduced as part of the federal tax code nearly a century ago, and the Federal Housing Administration, Federal Home Loan Banks, and Fannie Mae were all created during the worst economic crisis our country ever faced in the Great Depression.”

Studies also demonstrate tangible social benefits to homeownership. The NAR report, Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing, showed that homeowners are more active in their communities, benefit from improved education opportunities, and report higher levels of self-esteem and happiness when compared to renters. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that owners do not move as frequently as renters, providing more neighborhood stability. In turn, involvement in community quality-of-life issues helps prevent crime, improve childhood education and support neighborhood upkeep.

“REALTORS® will continue to work to ensure that this and future generations have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of owning a home,” says Phipps.

Maintaining a Healthy Kitchen

July 1, 2011 2:27 pm

Exactly how clean is your kitchen? Not as immaculate as you might imagine says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC, while surfaces may look clean, many infectious germs may be lurking around. A regular cleaning schedule helps protect your kitchen from lurking grunge that can cause odors and harbor disease, says "Healthy Housekeeper" Laura Dellutri. She also recommends paying special attention to both the obvious and not-so-obvious spots in the room- like your garbage disposer, a big contributor to your sink's secret grime.

Dellutri offers these tips for helping maintain a healthy kitchen:

Suspect Kitchen Sinks: Disinfecting the sink after washing meats, fruits and vegetables will help prevent germs and bacteria from multiplying on sink surfaces and help avoid cross contamination in the room. All you need is chlorine bleach, water and a soft cloth. Dilute the bleach with water and wipe the sink with cloth dipped in the solution. Rinse immediately and wipe dry with a soft cloth. If the sink looks dull or cloudy, wipe it with a soft cloth moistened with undiluted white vinegar.

Disease-Ridden Disposers: Garbage disposers typically serve as an exit for fresh and left-over foods, but without proper cleansing they can create odors and house organisms that may cause illness and disease such as pneumonia, bronchitis and intestinal flu.

Grimy Dishwashers: Despite the myth that dishwashers are self-sufficient and clean themselves, hard water deposits, rust and food may be left inside the dishwasher, disrupting its performance and causing odors.

Reeking Refrigerators: To effectively clean your fridge and free it from odor-causing culprits, a complete refrigerator overhaul is the best solution. Empty the refrigerator completely and remove any expired foods. Use hot soapy water with a germicidal cleaner to remove all food particles and spills. Before restocking the fridge, place washable refrigerator liners over shelves to help prevent the need to scrub when a spill occurs. Storage is also critical - it prevents odors and spills with well-sealed plastic containers. And of course, an open box of baking soda inside the refrigerator will absorb new odors.

Spotty Microwaves: Splatters of food in a microwave not only look and smell bad, but they may also decrease efficiency. To clean the appliance, fill a microwave-safe bowl halfway with water, add a tablespoon of vinegar, and place it inside the microwave. Let the microwave run for five minutes, then wipe down the inside with a clean towel or paper towel. The heated water and vinegar will steam up the microwave walls and make wiping away dried-on food a cinch.

By examining these unsuspecting problem areas, you can increase the cleanliness of your kitchen all year long.

5 Reasons Why It Makes Sense to Buy a Home Now

July 1, 2011 2:27 pm

As the market heads toward stabilization, some home buyers may still be uneasy about deciding to purchase a new home. However, there are plenty of reasons why buying a home now is more beneficial than waiting until later. Buying a home remains a wise long term economic decision for most of us because:

1. Homes can provide an excellent return on investment (ROI). Although historic annual home appreciation rates are modest, the purchase is usually highly leveraged. If you put 10% down, a modest 3% annual increase in your home’s value represents a 30% ROI.

2. There are many opportunities to gain sweat equity. For example, a well landscaped home can be worth thousands more than a home with a barren landscape. You don’t have to spend that much to get such a return. Buy a shovel and a bunch of small $5-$20 shrubs and trees, and wait a few years. Do your own remodeling (or some of the finish work, such as painting and trim) and those projects can add more to your home’s value than they cost.

3. A landlord can (and will) raise your rent, but a lender can’t raise your mortgage interest rate (assuming that it is a fixed rate mortgage).

4. Many people pay off their mortgage by the time they retire. With no more mortgage payments, they are able to live comfortably on modest retirement income sources. The equity is also transferrable—many homeowners who move to different locales after retirement simply roll the equity from their old home into a paid-off retirement home. A lifelong renter may well have paid more in aggregate for housing over their career, but they will still have to pay rent and many find that this additional expense severely cramps their retirement lifestyle.

5. Most owner-occupied neighborhoods have a sense of community that results from a relatively stable set of residents. That rarely happens in rental environments, where the residents of the neighboring apartments may come and go before you even meet them.

Key to a smart decision on whether or not to buy a home now is research into your current market outlook. There is plenty of research data on the Internet regarding the likely market direction of your area. Experienced real estate agents can also provide very useful local market insight.

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Congress Urged to Focus on Energy Efficiency Incentives for Existing Housing Stock

July 1, 2011 2:27 pm

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently urged lawmakers to take into account the differences in energy savings between the newest, highest-performing homes and older, less-efficient homes that comprise the vast majority of the nation's housing stock.

"With substantial amounts of energy lost in the nearly 130 million existing homes in the current stock, it is extremely important to develop an effective national energy policy that is not punitive to consumers who benefit from the most efficient new homes," Tony Crasi, a custom home builder from Akron, Ohio, told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Rather, the policy must promote an effective retrofit plan for older, less-efficient housing that allows builders and remodelers to create the benefits of energy efficiency for all housing."

Testifying on behalf of NAHB on The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011, legislation designed to increase the use of energy efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors of the economy, Crasi said that over the past two decades NAHB has played a leading role in developing, promoting and encouraging the growth of residential green and energy-efficient construction.

"The introduction of modern energy codes in the early 1990s has significantly improved the efficiency of new construction," he says. "In fact, the Energy Information Administration reports that homes built between 1991 and 2001 consumed 2.5 percent of total energy output in the U.S. By contrast, the 94.5 million older, existing homes consumed 18.4 percent of U.S. energy consumption, meaning the most inefficient housing is the most plentiful."

NAHB fully supports efforts to incentivize retrofitting the oldest, least-efficient housing and believes a national energy policy priority must include provisions that seek to save the energy lost in older homes and buildings.

"NAHB has consistently championed incentives for consumers to upgrade older housing, including ongoing support for incentives under Sections 25C and 25D of the Internal Revenue Code that provide federal tax credits for energy efficiency home improvement efforts and renewable energy products," said Crasi.

With access to credit a major concern, coupled with foreclosure, appraisal and inventory issues, Crasi said that builders face stiff challenges trying to construct new homes in today's market, leaving fewer, more-efficient homes available for consumers.

"NAHB is concerned with the changing dynamics of energy requirements for new housing because it has the potential to make the newest, highest-performing loans unaffordable for the average family," said Crasi. "Rather, NAHB encourages a national policy that directs limited federal resources to the biggest source of energy loss in the real estate sector: older homes and buildings."

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