REMAX 440/Central Blog

USDA Kicks Off National Moving Month with Campaign to Stop the Spread of the Invasive Gypsy Moth

May 13, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 13, 2011- May is National Moving Month, and if you are one of the estimated 40 million people who move in a given year, there is one more critical thing you can do before closing the moving-van door.

Don't make a move until you check for the gypsy moth. The federal government is joining with the moving industry to urge those planning to relocate to help stop the spread of this invasive culprit that threatens our nation's landscape.

The European gypsy moth has dramatically changed the landscape in 19 states and D.C. since it was introduced in the late 1860s. Without the public's help, it threatens many more states. Since 1970, 75 million acres in the United States have been defoliated by the gypsy moth. An infestation of gypsy moth can defoliate up to 13 million acres of trees in one season if left untreated.

"To those planning a move, don't give this invasive pest a free ride to a non-infested area," says Scott Pfister, director of forest pests for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "The results could spell disaster for the trees and shrubs of your new community."

A few simple tips from the experts: Inspect outdoor household goods-lawn furniture, grills, outdoor toys, camping equipment, etc.-for gypsy moth egg masses. Female moths lay their eggs and the caterpillars spread during the spring and summer months. The removal of egg masses can be performed easily with a putty knife, stiff brush or similar hand tool. Simply dispose of the egg masses in a container of hot, soapy water, or place them in a plastic bag, seal it, and set it in the sun.

USDA requires anyone moving from an area infested with the gypsy moth to a non-infested area to provide an official certificate of inspection of all common outdoor household articles that could carry the gypsy moth. In order to meet this requirement, one can perform a self-inspection of household goods or hire a state-certified pesticide applicator. The checklist and additional information can be found at

"The driver of the moving van is required to have this certificate on hand for the entire journey," says David Hauenstein, vice president of Compliance Services and Government Affairs for the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA). "This is a small inconvenience to prevent further destruction of this country's majestic landscape."

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7 Tips for Refacing or Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

May 12, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 12, 2011--Remodeling an old kitchen is an ideal way for homeowners to get a completely new look in their home. Here are seven tips to help homeowners make this process successful and affordable:

  1. When it comes to refacing kitchen cabinets, it is usually cheaper and quicker than buying new. However, this may only be a good option when the current cabinets are of higher quality-if they are of solid frames; doors and drawers are fully self-contained with closed backs and reinforced corners. Painting the current cupboards is also an option if they are of high quality wood. Refacing usually takes one or two days.
  2. If interested in completely replacing kitchen cabinets, stock cabinets are a good choice because they are the least expensive option but they still come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials.
  3. Solid hardwood cupboards made of cherry, maple, oak and birch are usually more expensive than laminate or veneer finished options. Custom cabinets can also be bought, but at a much higher price point.
  4. Homeowners should always check to make certain the cabinets have high-end hinges and mechanical hardware. Cheap ones may not function properly or could break and need to be replaced.
  5. Before finalizing a purchase, costs should be compared with a variety of vendors before making a sale final.
  6. If interested in refacing over replacing, hardware can be tricky. If painting the surface and replacing just hardware, ensure the new hardware has the same drill centers as the previous ones. Otherwise, old drill holes will need to be patched before painting.
  7. Knobs are easier to install over handles because only one screw is needed and the spacing, therefore, does not need to be exact. Door handles or knobs should match the finish of the appliances and other kitchen features. When buying hardware, homeowners should pick up a couple of additional pieces in case any need to be replaced in the future.

If you're thinking about selling or just want a new look, a kitchen fix-up is an inexpensive and easy way to modernize your home and give it a fresh appeal.


Fannie Mae's National Housing Survey Shows Uptick in Consumer Attitudes

May 12, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 12, 2011-- Fannie Mae's latest national housing survey finds that Americans expressed more cautious optimism during the first quarter of 2011 than in the fourth quarter of 2010, but they continue to lack confidence in the overall strength of the housing market and economic recovery. The First-Quarter 2011 Fannie Mae National Housing Survey polled homeowners and renters between January 2011 and March 2011. Findings were compared to similar surveys conducted throughout 2010 and December 2003.

Survey results show that Americans' newfound optimism about home prices, the economy, and personal finances is balanced by concerns about rising household expenses, which may require Americans to remain cautions about the recovery. Despite consumer caution, 57% of Americans still believe that buying a home has a lot of potential as an investment-ranking higher than other investments, such as buying stocks and putting money into an IRA or 401(k) plan.

"Despite moderate signs of improvement in the housing market and the overall economy, consumer attitudes continue to be shaped by ongoing concerns about the recovery and their own financial situations," said Doug Duncan, Vice President and Chief Economist of Fannie Mae. "Uncertainty regarding the improving labor market, expectations of little home price and interest rate movement, and rising household expenses has left consumers feeling less financially secure and translates into weak mortgage demand. While we have seen indications of improving economic activity in recent months, especially the strengthening of private sector employment, consumers' attitudes improved only marginally, and in some areas not at all, from a year ago, reflecting the continued unevenness and uncertainty of this recovery."

  • Only 33% of Americans said they believe the economy is on the right track, up four percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2010, but virtually unchanged from January 2010 (31%).
  • Forty-two percent of respondents said they expect their personal finances to improve over the next year (up 2 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2010), compared with 44% in January 2010.
  • Forty percent say that their current monthly household expenses are significantly higher than twelve months ago, up from 34% in the previous quarter and 31% in January 2010.
  • While the number of Americans who perceive homeownership as a safe investment has been declining (from 83% in 2003 to 66% in the first quarter of 2011), 57% still believe that buying a home has a lot of potential as an investment, more than any other investment tested.

The Fannie Mae First-Quarter 2011 National Housing Survey polled homeowners and renters to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, confidence in homeownership as an investment, the current state of their household finances, views on the U.S. housing finance system, and overall confidence in the economy.

Other Survey Highlights

Forty-four percent of homeowners believe that the value of their home today is worth 20% or more than what they originally paid for it, declining from 46% in June 2010 and 51% in January 2010.

One in three Americans (30%) expect home prices to strengthen over the next year, up four percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2010, but virtually unchanged from a year ago.

Fifty-nine percent of Generation Y Americans (ages 18-34) expect their personal financial situation to improve over the next year, compared to 49% among Generation X (ages 35-44) and 37% among Baby Boomers (ages 45-64).

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Security Experts Offer Tips for National Moving Month

May 12, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 12, 2011-Summer is the busiest season for movers, with an estimated 37 million Americans making a move. With a growing number of alarm systems protecting homes, it's important to follow these steps to ensure a smooth and safe transition to your new home.

"Have a security professional check the alarm system in your new home to make sure that it is functioning properly," suggests Merlin Guilbeau, executive director of the Electronic Security Association (ESA). "Change the password and codes which may have been shared with workers, movers and real estate agents while the home was for sale. Be sure to replace any batteries in the system, including the backup battery.

Guilbeau recommends knowing the type of protection your new home's system provides. "Are smoke detectors wired to notify a central monitoring station in case of a fire?" he asks. "Are motion detectors correctly positioned to take pets into account? Is there a carbon monoxide detector?"

Does your new community require you to register your alarm system? Some police departments will not respond without a registration number. You can find information about alarm system permits on most police department websites.

Know who is monitoring your alarm. If you decide to use the company currently monitoring the alarm, you will need to contact that company to set up your account and provide passwords and other information so that they can continue the service. You can also check to see if the company offers discounts or special offers for your new home.

Many alarm companies will provide a free security review that will evaluate security issues in your home. ESA offers a list of members who agree to abide by the ESA Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct. ESA members have access to training, certification and information that sets them apart from other security companies.

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Timely Tips for Home Buying

May 11, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 11, 2011-Regardless of market conditions, a home is not only a place to live, but also a financial asset and a plan for the future. But is it the right time for you to buy? Here are a few general rules to consider:

- Steady employment. It's essential to have a reliable source of income.

- A solid credit score. A bad credit score will increase mortgage interest rates. Potential homeowners should clean up their credit report and ensure that long-term debts are paid before considering homeownership. And when selecting a house, a potential buyer should determine the qualities that best suit his or her situation.

- An affordable price. The total cost of a home should generally be less than 2.5 years' pay. Ensure that the down payment and monthly mortgage payments are manageable.

- Location, location, location. Where a home is located can change its value dramatically. Being in a district with good schools, for example, is important-both for raising the family and for resale value. Also consider what's going on in the community. Are peace and quiet high priorities, for example? Then perhaps a rural or suburban environment would work best. By contrast, if a desire for high culture and a fast lifestyle is a factor, then an urban setting might be preferred.

- Size matters. Is the home big enough, and will it allow for future growth?

Finally, when buying the house ...

- Get some help from the pros. Using a real estate agent and a home inspector is important in selecting a good home and making an appropriate bid.

- Make the right mortgage move. When selecting a mortgage, determine whether it's better to pay additional points: One portion of the interest paid at closing may lead to greater savings down the road. If the plan is to stay around for a while (i.e., more than five years), experts say it's usually better to take the points.

Follow these tips and make your home-owning dream a reality. Buying a home is truly a life milestone, and it can be a big step towards financial security. Finding a good house in a nice neighborhood could be the key to making a home investment pay off.


Must-Have Features to Maximize a Home's Profit Potential

May 11, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 11, 2011-From crown molding to faux painting to door handles and cabinet handles/knobs with modern finishes, to more obvious upgrades such as appliances, window, counter, cabinet and floor treatments, to swimming pools and surround sound wiring...any functional or beautification enhancement to a home are considerations in establishing its true value and strategic sale price.

Consider these property value-enhancing upgrade ideas from Robert Jenson, a real estate professional from Las Vegas:

- Commercial-grade appliances in a kitchen, along with dual appliances such as ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, add greatly to resale value and are always a desirable upgrade.

- The "outdoor living room" concept is extremely popular right now. Whether a palapa, gazebo or other covered section, an outdoor furnished lounge area complete with wiring for lighting, fans, TV and surround sound, fire pit/fireplace, and built in BBQ grill will add tremendous appeal-water features will take this asset to the next level.

- Other custom upgrades and finishing such as front entry (or panty) doors with decorative glass inlays, decorative wrought iron stairway balusters, and faux painting treatments will readily set a home apart from the pack...particularly a track home in a master planned community.

- Fixtures should be considered even beyond the kitchen and bath. Door handles, for example, with modern finishes such as brushed nickel, are a great way to add custom appeal to an interior.

- Granite countertops need not be reserved for the kitchen. Master bathrooms in particular, if not all baths in the house, should utilize some kind of stone counter-marble, granite, travertine, etc.-for a particularly notable enhancement that is sure to differentiate a home from others on the market.

For homeowners considering an addition or enhancement, speak with a real estate professional to learn more on how you can enhance your property's value.

Study Examines the Impact of Home Buyer Education and Counseling on Mortgage Performance

May 11, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 11, 2011-Potential homeowners who participate in pre-purchase education and counseling programs may be more likely to pay their mortgages on time, although the evidence on this point is not consistent and compelling, according to a study recently released by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The study also finds that those who participate in default counseling are more likely to have their loans modified.

The study titled, "Homeownership Education and Counseling: Do We Know What Works?", which was conducted by J. Michael Collins and Collin O'Rourke of the PolicyLab Consulting Group and sponsored by MBA's Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA), examines the effectiveness of the predominant types of pre-purchase and post-purchase counseling and education, and discusses recommendations for future studies on the effectiveness of these programs.

"Over the past decade, concerns have been raised about the extent to which Americans as a whole are sufficiently financially literate to make the complex decisions required in the ever-changing financial marketplace," says Collins. "In response to these concerns, pre-purchase homeownership education and counseling programs proliferated before the current housing downturn. To the extent education or counseling supports stable homeownership, the public has an interest in expanding these programs to prevent the negative impacts of unsuccessful homeownership."

Collins goes on to explain that, in theory, home buyer education and counseling could help in three ways:

  • Formalized education and counseling programs can lower the costs of obtaining information about how to buy a home and obtain a mortgage
  • Objective, third-party counselors or educators can help clients avoid emotional judgments that may not be in the client's long-term interest
  • Homeownership education and counseling programs can facilitate more efficient transactions, make more information available and reduce the level of support needed from real estate and mortgage professionals

Collins explains that, in practice, the results from education and counseling programs vary significantly. "A fundamental issue arises when researchers attempt to estimate the effects of these programs-borrowers who participate in these programs are different from those who do not-in ways that do not show up in the data, which makes it difficult to generate robust research results. In summary, do we know what works? The short answer is no," states Collins.

"Public funding for homeownership counseling and education has increased considerably over the past few years in response to the housing crisis, though future funding levels in a time of budget austerity remain unclear," says Michael Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of Research and Economics. Fratantoni notes that although there are several reasons to expect that education and counseling could and should be effective, the evidence showing the effectiveness of these programs is simply not there, primarily because of problems with the design of existing studies. "There is no compelling indication regarding which methods of counseling or instruction might work best," continues Fratantoni. "Future studies should adhere to more rigorous research designs, so that the results can be confidently generalized to inform policy regarding these programs."

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The Top 35 Remodeling Projects That Yield Most Return on Investment

May 10, 2011 11:29 am

By Keith Loria

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011-Every year REALTORS pay particularly close attention to the annual "Cost vs. Value Report" that Remodeling magazine publishes, to learn the most important projects that could help their clients sell their homes faster and for more money. The 24th annual edition of the free report was recently released with input from some of the top remodeling professionals in the country as they ranked 35 remodeling projects based on how much money they recoup. The results were somewhat surprising.

According to the report, exterior upgrades recoup more money than interior renovations, a trend that has been progressing the past five years. The biggest recommendation on the list is replacing the front door with a steel entry door, which on average recoups more than 100% of the renovation costs.

Many people appreciate the steel entry door systems because of the superior protection they provide and equally as important, the beautiful styles and finishes they come in.

"A quality-built decorative steel door will increase the value of your home over a stock wood slab door, especially one that's aged," says Larry Neville, a contractor from New Hampshire. "As for efficiency, these doors are constructed with a polyurethane core for high energy-efficient ratings."

The report also lists garage doors as a wise investment, recouping from 69.8 to 83.9%. Other smart outdoor renovations include siding replacement (recouping 80%) and wood window replacement (recouping 72.4%).

When it comes to the interior of the home, the two areas that bring back the most money both take advantage of using space that is available. The projects that best retain their value for resale are attic renovations and basement remodels, recouping 72.2% and 70%, respectively.

"Just like an addition to the home, an unfinished space-such as the attic or basement-will instantly add value and livability to your home. It will increase the square footage and change the way your family lives in it," says Will Tomlinson, owner of a North Carolina-based renovation and remodeling company. "The most common unfinished spaces are a storage space, basement, and an attic. You will be transforming a space that likely gets very little use into a fully functional area for your family to enjoy."

The report also claims that non-essential features have less resale value. Sunroom additions recoup 48.6% of renovation costs; home office remodels recoup 45.8% and backup power generators recoup 48.5%. These are renovations that aren't necessary as not all buyers are looking for homes that contain these functions.

An affordable renovation usually recoups more of the initial investment than a costly one, reveals findings in the report. A minor $20,000 kitchen upgrade recoups 72.8% of renovation costs, but a more expensive $58,000 kitchen remodel only retains 68.7% of its value on resale.

Regardless if they made the list or not, it's important to do your homework before undergoing any renovation and it's always a great idea to check with your real estate agent to see if it will retain its value in your market.

HUD Awards $23 Million to 22 Local HIV/AIDS Housing Programs

May 10, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011-Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that more than a thousand extremely low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS will continue to receive permanent housing as a result of $23 million in grants. During each of the next three years, this HUD funding will help provide permanent supportive housing for 1,015 households, so individuals can manage their illnesses while receiving critically needed support services.

The recently announced funding is offered through HUD's Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program (HOPWA ) and will renew HUD's support of 22 local programs in 18 states.

"These grants are a vital source of support to the local programs that are on the ground working to keep families healthy," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Knowing that you have a place to call home can make all the difference to the wellbeing of families living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom have been on the brink of homelessness."

These projects have estimated that about 40% of the households to be assisted will involve persons who have been homeless. The grants also support the new strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, an unprecedented initiative announced last June at the White House. In February 2011, HUD released its plan to guide the agency's actions under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. As the nation's housing agency, HUD will contribute a variety of housing resources to promote better integration of housing interventions into comprehensive HIV care systems.

Housing assistance and related services funded by HOPWA are an essential part of the comprehensive system of care for low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS. A stable home environment is also vital for these households in allowing them to access consistent medical care and maintain their health. Furthermore, secure housing can be a platform for improved quality of life.

Ninety percent of HOPWA funds are distributed by formula to cities and states based on the number of AIDS cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HUD's formula grants are managed by 124 local and state jurisdictions, which coordinate AIDS housing efforts with other HUD and community resources. HUD is making available a record $334 million in HOPWA funds this year to help communities provide housing for this special needs population. Overall, these resources assist 60,669 households annually to promote stable housing and reduced risks of homelessness for those living with HIV and other challenges.

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Pending Home Sales Rise Again

May 10, 2011 11:29 am

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011-March saw another increase in pending home sales, with contract activity rising unevenly in six of the past nine months, according to the National Association of REALTORS .

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 5.1% to 94.1 in March from a downwardly revised 89.5 in February. The index is 11.4% below 106.2 in March 2010; however, activity was at elevated levels in March and April of 2010 to meet the contract deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

The data reflects contracts but not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home sales activity has shown an uneven but notable improvement. "Since reaching a cyclical bottom last June, pending home sales have posted an overall gain of 24% and demonstrate the market is recovering on its own," he notes. "The index means modest near-term gains in existing-home sales are likely, which would be even stronger if tight mortgage lending criteria returned to normal, safe standards."

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 3.2% to 63.4 in March and is 18.4% below March 2010. In the Midwest the index rose 3.0% in March to 83.5 but is 16.6% below where it was a year ago. Pending home sales in the South jumped 10.3% to an index of 110.2, but are 10.5% below March 2010. In the West, the index increased 3.1% to 103.7 but is 4.1% below a year ago.

"Based on the current uptrend with very favorable affordability conditions, rising apartment rents and ongoing job creation, existing-home sales should rise around 5 to 10% this year with sales growth of lower-priced homes likely to outperform high-end homes. That means the price trend will reflect more homes sold in the lower price ranges," Yun says.

"The good news is that recent home buyers are staying well within budget, leading to exceptionally low loan default rates among home buyers over the past two years," Yun adds.

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