REMAX 440/Central Blog

7 Lawn Care Tips for the Summer Season

June 16, 2011 6:27 pm

The summer is less than a week away and with it comes weeds, bugs and, of course, more time needed to tend to your lawn. Here, learn how you can make the most of the season with these summer lawn care tips:

1. Proper watering and water conservation is important at any time of year, but particularly when heat and a lack of rain lead to water deficits and drought.

2. Evaluate your lawn regularly for signs of irregular color and texture. These can be signs of damage that may result from pests or disease.

3. Proper year-round lawn care keeps a lawn healthy and prevents weeds, disease and pests. But sometimes, insects you may not notice can travel from the yard to your home. To stop them, hire pest control to keep the bugs on the outside. You can also reduce their outside presence by treating the lawn for insects such as fleas and ticks, and fire ants.

4. While lawns are generally the focal point of most yards, don’t forget about trees and shrubs. Well-maintained landscaping adds dimensionality to a home and increases its value.

5. In the heat of the summer, you may be tempted to mow your lawn in shorts and flip flops, but remember, you need to stay safe: wear long pants and closed-toed shoes.

6. Also, no matter what outdoor activity you’re enjoying, be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water.

7. The essentials of good summer lawn care are watering, fertilizing and proper mowing. However, sometimes an underlying problem (such as bare spots or severely damaged turf) requires additional measures.

Follow these tips and take care of your lawn so that you can enjoy countless hours of outdoor fun and relaxation throughout the entire summer.

REALTORS® Advocate Mortgage Liquidity for Creditworthy Home Buyers

June 16, 2011 6:27 pm

The pendulum on mortgage credit has swung too far in the other direction after the recent housing downturn and is putting an unnecessary burden on creditworthy consumers, impeding the economic and housing market recoveries. That’s what a panel of industry experts told several thousand REALTORS® gathered at a special symposium, Ensuring Mortgage Availability for Creditworthy Homebuyers, during the REALTORS® 2011 Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, the National Association of REALTORS® believes that we cannot have a viable housing or economic recovery until creditworthy home buyers are able to obtain mortgage financing,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “Reforms were needed to get rid of the harmful products that led to the housing meltdown, but continuing to curtail access to affordable credit for qualified home buyers affects the entire economy.”

Panelists offered their perspectives on the current state of the industry and identified numerous challenges impacting the availability and accessibility of mortgage financing and agreed that making it harder for those who can afford a safe mortgage does not further the goals of the housing or economic recovery.

David H. Stevens, former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Federal Housing Administration commissioner, told attendees the entire financial industry made bad decisions regarding risky loan products and there is no doubt that reforms are needed to get back to a level of sustainable access where qualified consumers are able to achieve homeownership.

According to the 2011 NAR Member Profile, 34% of REALTORS® reported that the most important factor in limiting their clients’ ability to buy a home was difficulty in obtaining a mortgage.

“The industry needs to work together to collectively ensure there are accessible and affordable mortgage products available to meet current demand as well as that of the 17 million individuals who will require housing in the next decade,” says Stevens, incoming president and chief executive officer for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

When asked if there has been a shift in America’s perspective about the value of owning a home following the downturn, Stevens was optimistic, saying affordability is better today than it’s ever been and if consumers are well qualified, have a job and can afford a mortgage they’ll realize it’s a better financial option and has greater social benefits such as more stable communities, better education, and lower crime.

Other panelists agreed that owning a home continues to be a goal for many families and that many Americans still consider buying a home a good long-term financial investment.

NAR also has concerns about the proposed risk retention regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act that requires lenders that securitize mortgage loans to retain 5% of the credit risk unless the mortgage is a qualified residential mortgage (QRM). High down payment requirements are being proposed by federal regulatory agencies as part of the QRM exemption. Most Americans still consider having enough money for down payment and closing costs to be the biggest obstacles to buying a home. According to NAR estimates it could take as many as 14 years for the average family to save for their down payment.

Higher down payments do not have a meaningful impact on default rates; NAR supports a reasonable and affordable cash investment requirement coupled with quality credit standards, strong documentation and sound underwriting.

BuildFax Remodeling Index for April 2011 Reveals 18 Months of Consecutive Growth in Home Remodeling Activity

June 16, 2011 6:27 pm

BuildFax unveiled its BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI) for April 2011 and it shows that the beginning of spring had many across the country remodeling and renovating their homes. The report reveals continued year-over-year gains, with data demonstrating that consumers are continuing to invest in remodeling, despite some economic struggles. In addition, the Index reveals that there were 10% more remodels in April 2011 compared to April 2004, the first month tracked by the Index.

The latest BFRI index indicates that residential remodeling activity registered the eighteenth-straight month of year-over-year gains, demonstrating that many Americans are continuing to remodel their current homes. This monthly report provides month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons on trends in remodeling activity for the entire United States, as well as for the four major regions of the country: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West.

“April traditionally sets a baseline for the rest of the year in residential remodeling activity, and April 2011 is the best we’ve seen since the beginning of the index in April 2004,” says Joe Emison, vice president of Research and Development at BuildFax. “The BFRI is indexed to start at 100 in April 2004 and here we are seven years later, after significant drops in housing value, and the index is almost 110. That means there were almost 10% more residential remodels in April 2011 than in April 2004. Given the relatively pessimistic economic news that we heard about April, including a slowing recovery, this is a nice surprise for the industry.”

All regions posted month-over-month gains. The West was up 16.8 points (18%) year-over-year and up 5.3 points (5%) month-over-month. The Midwest was up 10.7 points (17%) month-over-month, recovering slightly from a lower-than-average March. The Northeast was up 3.2 points (5%) year-over-year and 9.1 points (14%) month-over-month, and the South was up 9.6 points (11%) year-over-year and 10 points (12%) month-over-month.

Things to Think About Before Renting a Vacation Home

June 15, 2011 6:27 pm

Renting a private home for a family vacation is becoming an increasingly popular trend. It provides the luxury of having an extended family all stay under one roof, while allows for kitchen accommodations that can help save money on food costs. However, renters should be aware that they may not always be getting what they were promised or what they saw in the photos.

In order to prevent any mishaps, know the following before you book a private home for your vacation:

Ask specific questions about the sleeping configurations. Although a place "sleeps four" doesn't mean the accommodations are necessarily identical (bunk beds, anyone?). Know the exact layout before booking and work out the sleeping arrangements beforehand. If there is a huge difference in quarters, adjust the cost-split ratio accordingly. Doing so will get everyone on the same page so you can enjoy your vacation time immediately upon arrival.

Are you bringing your pets? Most listings will specify whether or not pets are allowed on the premises. Understand that if you choose to bring your pet anyway, you may risk the chance of losing your security or damage deposit. Some properties hire a housekeeping service, running a higher risk of getting busted for breaking the rule. If you want to bring your cat or dog, make sure you find a rental that welcomes them.

Know what's in the kitchen. Some rentals may come with kitchens, but without the necessary staples. If you want to save by eating in, make sure you ask the property owner what exactly is there or you may be stuck eating cereal and milk all week long. Again, asking in advance avoids surprises.

What kinds of transportation will you need? Figure out the transportation specifics ahead of time. If you're traveling with more families than just your own, multiple vehicles will be ideal so that some can go off on separate excursions. If you want to avoid renting a car, look for a place closer to different kinds of public transportation. Figure out how you'll get around and what your options are before booking your summer rental.

Make sure the rental meets your Internet needs. For some, a handy smartphone may serve them just fine, but others may need Wi-Fi included. Be sure to check the property's description to see if it's included in the price. Yes, it's always important to "unplug" from the office for a while, but what about restaurant reviews, directions, or entertainment purposes? If you need to have the Web, don't assume your rental will come equipped.

The more information you can garner before booking your rental the better off you will be. Know exactly what you're looking for and use this to help secure the perfect rental for your family or group.

Source: AOL Real Estate

Wind, Rain, Hail, Lighting: Is Your Home Ready to Weather the Storm?

June 15, 2011 6:27 pm

As spring transitions to summer, homeowners should still be cautious about protecting their homes from a variety of inclement weather that can strike at any time.

"Much of the property damage caused by extreme weather can be easily averted," says Matt Witkowski, vice president of a Michigan-based insurance company. "Simply keeping your structures and grounds in good repair goes far. Then when severe weather threatens, a bit of picking up and latching down usually takes care of the rest."

Before the storm:

• Prepare an emergency "kit" to cover injury, power failure, heat loss, being stranded and evacuation. Consider first aid and essential medications, non-perishable foods/fresh water, flashlight/fresh batteries, fire extinguisher, and protective clothing.
• Regularly inspect your home and grounds. Keep gutters and downspouts clear of debris to avert backups.
• Check your roof for loose or damaged shingles, seal around flashings and chimney; remove dead tree branches; check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
• Make sure the fireplace and chimney are inspected and cleaned annually.
• Weather-stripping is invaluable against destructive weather.
• Where possible, move cars, boats, other vehicles, etc., into an enclosed area.
• Finally, when storms threaten, secure or anchor loose or flyaway items too large to bring in.

After the storm:

• Inspect your home for damage, and if you find damage, take preventative action to reduce risk of further loss. If your roof is damaged, cover it as soon as possible with tarps secured with ropes and nails. If your home is badly damaged, leave until it can be properly inspected.
• Report downed or sparking power lines, broken gas, or water mains. Avoid downed power lines and standing water. Don't attempt to drive across flowing water, downed power lines or enter barricaded areas.
• If you are without power, turn off all electrical equipment and avoid opening the refrigerator or freezer to keep food safe longer.
• If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system. Do not run a generator inside the home or garage.
• During clean up, don't pile debris near power lines. Always exercise care when using a chain saw or any other power tools.
• When it is safe, take photos of damaged areas and possessions. Notify your insurance agent and provide an address and phone number to reach you.
"All these safeguards are economically prudent and easy to complete," says Witkowski. "However, despite your best efforts, weather-related property damage may occur. Plan ahead for loss. Document your belongings by video or make a list for your insurance company, and consult with your independent insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage."

Housing Affordability Rises to Record Levels

June 15, 2011 6:27 pm

Nationwide housing affordability during the first quarter of 2011 rose to its highest level in the more than 20 years it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data released recently.

The HOI indicated that 74.6% of all new and existing homes sold in the first quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. This eclipsed the previous high of 73.9% set during the fourth quarter of 2010 and marked the ninth consecutive quarter that the index has been above 70%. Until 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65% and never reached 70%.

"With interest rates remaining at historically low levels, today's report indicates that homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "While this is good news for consumers, home buyers and builders continue to confront extremely tight credit conditions, and this remains a significant obstacle to many potential home sales."

Syracuse, N.Y. was the most affordable major housing market in the country during the first quarter of the year. In Syracuse, 94.5% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $64,300.

Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.; Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.; Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, Ind., where 98.6% of homes sold during the first quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning a median income of $61,400. Other smaller housing markets near the top of the index included Monroe, Mich.; Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Elkhart-Goshen, Ind.; and Springfield, Ohio.

For more information, visit

A Growing Number of Job Openings in Construction

June 14, 2011 6:27 pm

Labor market data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (JOLTS data) indicate that the number of job openings in the construction sector grew during the month of April. Using seasonally-adjusted data, open positions in April totaled 96,000, up from 68,000 in March and the highest level of openings since March 2010. The March 2010 total of 100,000 open positions was in fact a one-time spike associated with stimulus projects, and was the highest level reported for construction since late 2008.

Consistent with last month’s JOLTS reporting, the U.S. labor market continues to show limited signs of improvement, with hiring and job opening rates proceeding along an upward trend line after the dramatic declines in 2008. A stimulus-fueled uptick (along with hiring for the 2010 decennial census) can be seen in the data in early 2010, followed by an increase in the layoffs rate.

For the construction market, an increase in the rate of job openings has continued in 2011. For April, the number of job openings in the construction sector reached 1.7% of total positions, the highest rate since 2008, albeit equaling certain months associated with the end of phases of the home buyer tax credit program.

The 2011 year is still looking to be the first year since the onset of the Great Recession when total construction sector hires will exceed sector separations (quits, layoffs and other departures). However, as of April, the JOLTS 2011 year-to-date totals indicate total hires just barely exceed total separations.
Nonetheless, total employment in the residential construction sector (builders and trades contractors for single-family, multifamily, land development and remodeling) is still off more than 1.4 million from the peak employment level of 3.45 million for April of 2006.

For more information, visit NAHB's Eye on Housing blog at

Top Five Tips for Summer Entertaining

June 14, 2011 2:27 pm

With summer right around the corner, so is the season for entertaining. This summer, try trading in your burgers and hot dogs for a little more glam, while remaining under budget. Check out these tips from celebrity style and entertaining expert Robert Verdi for throwing the perfect fashionable fete.

1. Bottle Up the Excitement: Grab guests' attention, and evoke beach-time nostalgia with a unique message in a bottle invitation. Use a clear glass bottle and fill it with a little bit of sand. Then roll up your invite and insert it with a string attached for easy access. For a truly personal touch, hand-deliver it to each guest!

2. Go Tribal: Tribal inspirations are making a mark on this season's attire. It's easy to bring this trend to life at home by introducing native elements into your décor such as hand-carved wooden candlesticks or animal print rugs. Make the most of your budget by picking up some tribal printed material at your local fabric store and draping it over your table. This versatile piece not only adds instant summer style to your room but can later serve as a stylish sarong making you a fashion hit at the beach.

3. Stay Cool: Creating your own style statement often means putting a new twist on traditional wardrobe items. You can apply the same concept to entertaining by using your favorite vase or pitcher (glass or ceramic are perfect) as a non-traditional wine cooler. Simply fill the container of your choice with ice and place the wine bottle inside.

4. Dine under the Stars: Make the most of your outdoor space this season by transforming your rooftop or backyard into an outdoor cafe. A mix of citronella candles and colorful tea lights will keep the pests away and help set the mood for an intimate evening affair. For an added fashionable touch, try draping a vibrant pashmina over each chair. This adds a burst of color to your space and gives guests a way to keep warm if the night gets chilly. Finally, set all of your foods on large trays ahead of time for an easy and quick way to serve guests without making multiple trips to the kitchen.

5. International Tastes: True fashionistas take their style cues from the fashion capitals of the world. Why not do the same when it comes to your party menu? Trade in the typical barbecue burgers and hot dogs for gourmet treats with international flair. For example, create a buffet of easy-to-eat Italian treats such as caprese salad skewers with mozzarella and summer ripe tomatoes, prosciutto-wrapped melon balls or olive tapenade crostinis.

Savvy Home-Office Design Tips

June 14, 2011 2:27 pm

Forget the home office. Create a home haven to run your home-based business.

"Today's new breed of virtual professional doesn't just want a home office. They need a dynamic, high-function, home-office haven," according to Philadelphia interior designer Donna Hoffman. "High performance clients need to develop home work environments that provide enhanced focus, enhanced creativity and enhanced pleasure."

Today's urban developers have recognized this virtual professional niche and, in response, they are advertising what would have been a second small bedroom or even alcove as the home office. However, Hoffman says they are missing the mark entirely by casting them as lifeless, "work-less" utilitarian spaces that are cold and uninviting.

"It's barely a step up from the office cubicle. Today's high performance virtual executive craves better life balance, which now includes home work environments that are not only high function, but also high octane for enhanced productivity, and high pleasure for enhanced focus, creativity and satisfaction. In other words, a computer, a swivel chair and writing desk just don't cut it," she says.

Here are interior design tips for creating high-output, high-satisfaction home offices that will make work a pleasure.

1) Beauty Counts. "Aesthetic pleasure" is a key driving force that compels our desire to spend time in any environment. Ignore this truism and you will have a nails-on-the-chalkboard-bad experience every time you go to work. To ensure optimal focus and pleasure beyond the functional needs, take care to load the office design with the precise colors, textures and ambiance the owner craves. "Enhance the aesthetic, and watch productivity and focus rise as well," Hoffman explains.

2) Function comes first. In today's savvy home-office design, the aesthetic needs count big, but as with all design, function must come first. Critical questions must be addressed to cover all functional needs. Determine exactly the tasks that need to be supported and by way of which furnishings. Note precise activity zones and storage access for both long- and short-term storage. Identify clear organizational needs right down to whether you’re a righty or lefty. Remember to add pleasurable function, too. Need a mini-coffee station in the office or a second workstation for the kids to sit at when they bounce in after school and want to do some homework nearby? Carefully think out what you'll need and want before getting started to ensure maximum functionality.

3) If possible, have a door to close. Boundaries in a home office are important, as is the ability to walk away from the job. Otherwise, the temptation is to sneak in to check one more thing, and before you know it, you're really working 12-hour days. In darker spaces, Hoffman suggests adding French doors with ruched fabric to create the sense of boundary and window at the same time. For apartment dwellers who are working with alcoves, consider a beautiful screen placed at the threshold when it's quitting time.

For more information, visit

Home Improvement Season Officially Begins as To-Do Lists Grow

June 13, 2011 6:27 pm

The spring and summer seasons launch a busy time for home remodeling and improvement projects as homeowners spruce up for entertaining, listing their home for sale, or increasing the property's value. A slowly warming housing market has made staying a popular trend among homeowners who choose to remodel versus losing money on a sale. For those who must move, cost-effective projects that make a home more visually appealing or structurally sound is a great way to entice potential buyers.

"Prepping your home for remodeling or improvements of any type is important whether you're working with professional installers or readying your space for a 'do it yourself' project," says Ann Sawyer, Power Home Remodeling Group's vice president of operations & installations. "Preparation is key to a smooth installation and avoidance of time-consuming project pitfalls."

Keep the following tips in mind before home improvement projects begin:

• Have a plan: Communicate with your contractor well before the scheduled installation date about project requirements. Open communication about expectations and a timeline will limit the chance of unexpected surprises after the project is underway. Also be sure to have a source of electricity readily available, especially when working outdoors.

• Start with a clean slate: Store knick-knacks, art work and family photos to ensure they don't become damaged during renovation. Dismantle window treatments and move furniture into a different room of the house. Store fixture plates, screws and hardware in individually labeled plastic bags for reinstallation when the project is finished. Also be sure to cover carpet and flooring in high traffic areas with a drop cloth to protect it from paint, dust and debris.

• Mesh new with old: When installing new flooring, counter tops or appliances, pay close attention to measurements. Baseboards that were installed with carpeting may need to be adjusted to accommodate wood flooring. Similarly, a dingy door and trim could be an eyesore in a freshly painted room. Be sure to match finishes when replacing hardware like drawer pulls, doorknobs and towel bars. An old brass doorknob is certain to clash with a sleek new pewter faucet. Keep these details in mind throughout the renovation to ensure a satisfying end result.

• Consider project requirements: Some of the most difficult remodeling projects involve electricity and plumbing. It's important to consider the voltage of the electrical current and outlets in your home before plugging in a new appliance. Wire and hose length are also vital considerations before remodeling. For example, it is important to remember that an appliance must be pulled away from the wall for maintenance when planning the layout of a room. Homeowners looking to complete a project themselves must also remember to obtain the appropriate licensure from their local municipality for major renovations.

For more information, please visit

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