REMAX 440/Central Blog

Mortgage Facts Every Home Buyer Should Know

March 8, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 8, 2011--If you're on the prowl hunting for a new home, you are probably doing everything you should: saving your money, paying off debt, working on a higher FICO score, etc. For those currently shopping around, it's a great time to buy; the low prices and interest rates are still extremely attractive. However, given this dynamic industry, there are some new rules and guidelines that any buyer should know about before signing the dotted line:

1. FHA loan guidelines are getting less strict. Today, almost 30% of new mortgages are FHA loans, most of which are first-time home buyers looking to take advantage of the low down payment requirements and minimal 3.5% down. With some lenders agreeing to look at applications that have lower FICO scores, these looser guidelines are making it possible for many different types of borrowers to become qualified. Though it is recommended that the lower the credit score, the higher down payment you should put on the table. Either way, options are abound!

2. Some FHA costs are increasing. As of April 18, the Mortgage Insurance Premium on FHA loans will be increasing for those with a down payment below 10%. If your down payment falls short, you will be hit with an added $250 per $100,000 borrowed. This could cause a monthly payment to be increased $50-60 per month and may even mean you have to downsize your ideal home to make room for this added cost. This rule stresses the importance of a sizable down payment.

3. However, origination fees might decrease. In other news, origination fees may decrease come April 1 due to a revision to the Truth in Lending Act. Mortgage brokers will now only be able to accept payments from either borrowers or lenders, but not both. If working with a mortgage broker, inquire how this revision affects you and your buying transaction.

4. Lending guidelines may get tighter in the future. With the possible fading of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in as little as five to 10 years, guidelines to get into the housing market may be even tighter. A 10% down payment won't be suggested, it'll be flat out required, with some advocating an even higher standard. With prices nice and low, home values and prices are bound to rise as well, meaning more money will be required down than if you purchased today.

If you're ready to buy, now is a great time to search for a house and complete the transaction. For many of the reasons above, now is a unique time to invest in your future and we'll never know just when guidelines may tighten.

Source: WalletPop


Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid: Don't Risk Being Underinsured

March 8, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 8, 2011--Too many Americans believe that the coverage limits of their homeowners insurance policy are linked to the market value of their home, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). In the I.I.I.'s 2011 Insurance Pulse Survey, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, nearly half (48%) of survey respondents came to that mistaken conclusion.

"The real estate value of a home, that is the price you can buy or sell it for, has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of insurance needed to financially protect the homeowner in the event of a fire or other disaster," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I. "Reducing insurance coverage because the market value of a home has decreased can result in being dangerously underinsured."

One out of three respondents to the Pulse Survey reported that they purchased less homeowners or auto insurance as a way to save money. A better strategy would be to take a higher deductible, which can substantially reduce insurance costs. Home and car owners can then put the savings into purchasing the right amount and type of insurance for their specific needs, pointed out Salvatore. Another way to save money is to comparison shop, something that seven out of 10 Pulse Survey respondents said they utilized as a strategy to save on both their home and auto insurance needs.

Following are the five biggest auto, home, flood and renters insurance mistakes consumers can make, with suggestions to avert those pitfalls while still saving money:

1. Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25% on your premium payments.

2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

3. Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25% of all flood losses occur in low risk areas. Furthermore, with the significant snow fall this winter, spring-related flooding may be particularly severe, thus increasing the importance of purchasing flood insurance.

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to determine whether the property is situated in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a designated flood zone, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance. Additional information on flood insurance can be found at www.FloodSmart.gov.

4. Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today's litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket if you are sued-and those costs may be steep.

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters insurance policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to an insured disaster, such as a fire or hurricane. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto and life will generally provide savings.

For more information, visit http://www.iii.org/.


Home Safety Tips to Help Minimize the Threat of Winter Fires

March 7, 2011 10:31 am

RISMedia, March 7, 2010--With winter's chill still in the air, everyone's trying to find new ways to stay warm. Keep in mind, however, that nearly two-thirds of all residential fires occur during the winter months, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This results in billions of dollars in property damage as well as thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

Fires can originate from many sources: too many electrical devices plugged into an outlet, portable heating devices, or roaring fireplaces. The use of alternative heating devices is a significant source of many winter fires. However, there are many precautions homeowners can take to keep the home fires burning safely. "Fire departments and organizations such as the American Red Cross are at their busiest during the winter," says Mike Convery, vice president and chief claim officer for MetLife Auto & Home. "Alternative heating devices, such as a space heater or wood stove, can be attractive cost-saving alternatives, but they increase the likelihood of a home fire occurring, if used improperly."

The good news is, many fires are preventable, if the proper precautions are taken. To help minimize the likelihood of a fire occurring in your home, consider the following:

Keep a tight-fitting screen on your fireplace and obtain a professional inspection annually before use. You should also have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis to remove any debris.

If you have a wood-burning stove, make sure there is ample clearance between the stove and any combustible materials. Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood, and dispose of the ashes in a closed metal container outside the house. Do not burn trash in the stove - this can start a chimney fire. Never let a wood fire burn unattended or overnight.

With any type of heater, such as an electric space heater or portable kerosene heater, use common sense. Always keep the heater away from flammables and - although it may be tempting, especially in snow-prone areas - never accelerate the drying of clothes by placing them on top of the heater. Think twice and use a drying rack instead. Have your heater serviced per the manufacturer's instructions.

"The best defense is preparation," says Convery. "We see many winter-related claims that could have been avoided. To help avoid a tragedy, it's important to review the basics of fire safety. It only takes a few minutes and it could save a life."

For more information, visit www.metlife.com.


HUD Awards Nearly $8 Million for Asthma Intervention and to Protect Children from Health Hazards

March 7, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 7, 2011-The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is awarding $7.8 million in grants to 14 local projects in nine states to conduct a wide range of activities such as research on the cost effectiveness of home-based interventions for children with asthma and novel strategies for reducing risks from lead-contaminated soil and house dust. For the first time, HUD is awarding $2 million of those grants to improve indoor environmental conditions and links to education and medical services for asthmatic children and other residents living in public and assisted multifamily housing.

Lead is a known toxin that can impair children's development and have effects lasting into adulthood. It's estimated that asthma alone costs the U.S. economy approximately $3.5 billion each year. Approximately 16.4 million Americans currently have asthma, including nearly seven million children 18 years of age and younger.

"Homes with lead or other health hazards can injure children and worsen conditions such as asthma, and HUD wants to ensure that children have a healthy place to call home," said Jon Gant, Director of HUD's Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. "These grants will not only help to clean up lead and other home health hazards but will support the development of innovative new approaches to improve and control asthma in children."

The following is a breakdown of the funding:

Grant program and funding amount

-Healthy Homes Technical Studies Grants - $4,000,000

-Lead Technical Studies Grants - $1,795,831

-Asthma Interventions in Public and Assisted Multifamily Housing Grants - $ 2,060,986

Through these three programs, HUD's Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control supports research to eliminate dangerous lead and other key housing-related hazards from lower income homes, improves our knowledge of the benefits of green construction and maintenance practices for low income housing, and stimulates the implementation and evaluation of housing management practices to improve the health of asthmatic children and the quality of life of their caregivers.

The funds are provided through HUD's, Healthy Homes Technical Studies, Lead Technical Studies and Asthma Interventions in Public and Assisted Multifamily Housing grant programs.

Even though lead-based paint was banned for use in the home in 1978, HUD estimates that approximately 24 million homes still have significant lead-based paint hazards today. Lead-contaminated dust is the primary cause of lead exposure and can lead to a variety of health problems in young children, including reduced IQ, learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced height and impaired hearing. At higher levels, lead can damage a child's kidneys and central nervous system and cause anemia, coma, convulsions and even death. However, lead is not the only danger threatening families and children in the home. Asthma is now recognized as a leading cause of school and work absences, emergency room visits and hospitalizations that disproportionately impacts low income, minority populations.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.


How to Facilitate a Positive Landlord/Tenant Relationship

March 7, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 7, 2011--For new or seasoned renters, it's always hard to determine just how the landlord/tenant relationship will fare. Granted, while some landlords may be better than others, there are still things you can do to foster a positive relationship with your landlord, while making sure that he or she completes the job as promised in the lease. With a little bit of light treading and finesse, you can do your best to maintain a healthy relationship with your landlord.

Avoid demanding voicemails. When calling a landlord about a possible issue that may need attention, try not to sound like a returned phone call is going to mean work. Avoid heavy wording and use lighter language. Say you want to get an opinion on something. Keep it casual and space out your phone calls so you don't seem abrasive. When signing the lease or during a future conversation, inquire as to the best way and time of day to reach them. They just may appreciate the consideration.

Handle late payments with respect. If you fear you may be late on the rent payment, let the landlord know as soon as possible. Landlords have bills to pay, too, and will appreciate the heads up. Never withhold your check or postdate a check without giving notice. You might stay in their good light if you provide a reasonable date of payment and actually follow up on your word.

Be realistic about your repair needs. By being levelheaded about the urgency of your repairs, you'll be showing respect to the landlord's time and schedule. Although waiting multiple months is pretty unreasonable, you can surely allot a few weeks for simple things like light fixture changes or a torn screen. Badgering the landlord won't keep him or her on your side. However, if the problem is serious, offer to help the cause. Tell the landlord that you will call the person of his or her choosing to scope out price and repair availability. If the fix is something you can do yourself, offer to do so and bill him later. This will relieve some of the pressure on the landlord and show that you do have consideration for his or her time.

All landlords may not be as responsive and respectful as you'd like, just as all tenants may not be the most desirable residents. However, by keeping some of these tips in mind, the next time you need to contact your landlord, the better off your relationship will be as a result.

Source: AOL Real Estate


Tips to Help You Save Big When Planning Your Move

March 4, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 4, 2011-Moving can be stressful when trying to complete many different tasks in a small period of time. Take the edge off with these moving tips to help save you money, and maybe even your sanity, too!

Saving on moving supplies:

- Obtain boxes in the cheapest way possible. Ask a friend or colleague who has recently moved to give or sell you their boxes. Check the classified ads; people sometimes sell all their moving boxes for a flat rate. Ask your local grocery or department store for their empty boxes.

- Borrow a tape dispenser instead of buying one.

- Instead of buying bubble wrap, crumple newspaper, plain unused newsprint, or tissue paper to pad breakables.

- Shop around for the cheapest deal on packing tape and other supplies.

- Instead of renting padding blankets from the truck rental company, use your own blankets, linens, and area rugs for padding. Bear in mind that you may have to launder them when you arrive, which is an expense itself.

Saving on labor:

- If you use professional movers, consider a "you pack, we drive" arrangement, in which you pack boxes, and the moving company loads, moves, and unloads your belongings.

- Call around and compare moving cost estimates.

- If you can live without all your stuff for a while at your new or old location, moving companies sometimes give significant cost reductions if they can short-term store and consolidate your moving items with other customers' items.

- If you move yourself, round up "volunteers" to help you load and clean on moving day. It's still customary to reward them with moving-day food and beverages (and maybe a small cash gift). You may also have to "volunteer" to help them move some day. But you may still save some money compared to hiring professionals.

- Save on child and pet care. Ask family or friends to watch your young children and pets on moving day.

With enough planning and preparation, you can cut your moving stress in half while efficiently getting the job done.

Source: MoversDirectory.com


Home Upgrades for the Elderly

March 4, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 4, 2011--For those with elderly parents still living at home or for those planning on living their retirement years in their current house, planning ahead could add much comfort and safety to your life. There are many home upgrades you can add to your own or your parents' home that will ensure plenty of years of safe living. Consider the following when updating a home for the elderly:

Make getting around easier. Consider adding ramps to important entrances of the home. Even if wheelchairs aren't currently used at the place of residence, ramps still facilitate getting around for older homeowners. Even smaller aspects like door knobs can make all the difference. Swapping out knobs for levers can make life a lot easier for some. Speaking of doors, creating larger passageways is also a smart idea. With three-foot or wider walkways, anyone can be sure to fit a wheelchair, walker or any other help-aiding accessory through from room-to-room. You never know what you may need in the future.

Pay special attention to safety issues. Swapping out older appliances for safety ones is a great place to start. Sinks with a single lever run less risk of burnings than ones that have separate hot and cold handles. Additionally, stoves with controls in the front are safer than ones that require reaching over hot burners. Furthermore, any feature that can be added to lessen the need for reaching up or bending over is a definite plus, such as: cabinets with pull-down shelves, elevated washers and dryers, and refrigerators with higher drawers.

Bathroom Upgrades. Grab bars are very important for older homeowners and should be installed when needed. In fact, an overall easy-to-use shower is irreplaceable, adding a folding seat and handheld shower nozzle to the list. You can also look into purchasing a higher raised toilet that can rise up 17 or more extra inches off the ground. All of these bathroom additives will ensure a safer experience and hopefully prevent accidents from happening.

Even if the house ends up on the market later down the road, these features are still positive selling points to many buyers. The best time to think about these upgrades is before you or someone else needs them.

Source: Bankrate


HUD Awards over $40 Million in Grants to Fight Housing and Lending Discrimination

March 4, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 4, 2011-The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $40.8 million to 108 fair housing organizations and non-profit agencies in 36 states and the District of Columbia to educate the public and combat housing and lending discrimination. This year's award represents a $13.2 million increase over last year's award and includes $10 million to fund activities that address lending discrimination, including mortgage rescue scams.

"The record increase in support to local fair housing and community organizations demonstrates the Obama Administration's firm commitment to ending housing discrimination and providing help to families victimized by mortgage scams," stated HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

"Ending housing discrimination takes more than the efforts of Washington," said John Travsin, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity. "These grants enable community groups all over the nation to help HUD enforce the Fair Housing Act, make the public more aware of their fair housing rights and ensure that housing providers understand their responsibilities under the law."

The grants are funded through HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) and will be used to investigate allegations of housing discrimination, educate the public and the housing industry about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act and work to promote equal housing opportunities.

The categories grants were awarded in include:

-Private Enforcement Initiative grants (PEI) HUD awarded $28 million to support organizations that investigate alleged housing discrimination and enforce the Fair Housing Act and state and local laws that are substantially equivalent to the Act. Groups will also use the funding to conduct testing to protect individuals living in minority neighborhoods from mortgage rescue scams.

-Education and Outreach Initiative grants (EOI) HUD awarded $6.8 million to organizations that educate the public and housing providers about their rights and obligations under federal, state and local fair housing laws. Groups will also conduct fair lending workshops, community meetings and individual counseling activities focused on homeowners at risk for discrimination.

-Fair Housing Organizations Initiative grants (FHOI) HUD awarded $6 million to organizations serving rural and immigrant populations in areas lacking existing fair housing organizations, or otherwise underserved. Included will be activities that provide direct assistance to victims of fraudulent or predatory mortgage rescue schemes.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.


Home Buying Experts Recommend Talking to At Least Three Agents

March 3, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 3, 2011In this market, using the first real estate agent you speak to can be a recipe for disaster for home buyers according to the home buying specialists at the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA). For years, real estate sellers have been told to interview a number of agents before they pick one to list their home because of the difference in the service and skill levels provided. However, most home buyers end up using the first real estate person they meet. "In an appreciating market, buyers may not need a skilled negotiator and property evaluator. But today's real estate environment is different. Home buyers need to work with the most skilled agent they can find to provide market insights and to advocate on their behalf," says Barry Nystedt, Region 8 Director of NAEBA. "Home buyers need to compare the qualifications, loyalty, experience and negotiation effectiveness of real estate agents to find the best one to work with. Top buyer's agents will be very happy to discuss their capabilities and the types of savings they have been able to achieve for buyers." If home buyers are not careful in choosing an agent they are often caught in a difficult situation if they see homes with an agent from the listing office and later decide they want to use their own agent to represent them, because the listing office may make a claim for the buyer agent fee built into the transaction. With home values still falling in many areas, home buyers need their own loyal advocate. "Ask the real estate people you are considering working with some serious questions," recommends Nystedt. "Choose one who has a proven track record of helping homebuyers save money and who will be loyal to you no matter what home you are interested in. Don't just settle for the first real estate agent you talk to." For more information, visit http://www.naeba.org.

Apartments.com National Survey Reveals Renter Moving Plans for 2011

March 3, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, March 3, 2011For the first time in years, the apartment rental market is beginning to experience signs of recovery as the U.S. economy slowly begins to strengthen. Reuters reported the rental vacancy rate fell to 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2010 from 10.3% in the July-September periodthe lowest since the second quarter of 2007. Witten Advisors predicts rents will increase 4.5% in 2011 as operators become aggressive in raising rents with little fear of losing customers to other housing options. In response to this news, Apartments.com conducted a national survey of more than 1,800 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2011 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search. Socioeconomic factors are often the leading indicator of growth in the housing industry. Apartments.com survey results revealed that as of January 2011, nearly three times the number of respondentsor 28.8%are looking to move in order to relocate for employment opportunities, compared to 10.4% from the previous year, further corroborating news of an improving rental market in 2011. Other key findings from the survey demonstrated many renters are starting their apartment search earlier in the year, a large volume of current homeowners and first-time renters are entering the market and having access to accurate apartment information is paramount when looking for a new place to live. The primary factor fueling moves for survey respondents are new job opportunities. However, the desire to have more space, affordability and living in a safe neighborhood also topped the list. The five most popular reasons survey respondents are moving in 2011 include: - Relocating for employment opportunities: 28.8% - Looking for a bigger apartment: 13.3% - Shopping for a less expensive apartment: 9.7% - Rent increase: 6.7% - Wanting to live in a safer neighborhood: 5.7% A significant number of respondents indicated they are apartment shopping now for a move that will not take place until much later in the year. According to the survey, nearly 20% of respondents are starting their apartment search three to four months in advance and nearly a quarter are looking as early as five months to more than a year out. Its a good idea to lock into a lease right now, states Chris Brown, vice president of product management, Apartments.com. Many management companies have announced rent increases and were starting to see this reflected in the rents advertised on our site. As vacancy rates continue to drop and the rental market improves, we expect to see the upward trend grow. Deals can still be had, but theyre getting harder to find. Use the tools available online to search for apartments by rent ranges that work with your budget. Supporting a growing trend in the industry, more than 20% of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are current homeowners. From these survey respondents who said they are current homeowners, 32% are also first-time renters, indicating a significant number of current homeowners and new renters are turning toward the rental market in 2011. Survey respondents who are former homeowners also said they are renting this year because it affords them a lifestyle they prefer, including flexibility to relocate for employment opportunities and to live where they choose. Apartments.com visitors want access to accurate apartment information and the option to tailor their searches by price and location when looking for a new place. According to the survey, 64% of respondents said being able to check real time availability of a specific apartment matters most and 72.2% said the two most popular ways they prefer to search for an apartment is by the cost of rent or location. It is also clear that renters are tapping multiple resources to find their next apartment. While 81% of Apartments.com visitors surveyed said they are using an Internet Listing Service (ILS) during their apartment search, they are also utilizing popular search engines, listening to recommendations from others and reading their local newspapers. Only 5% said they are using social media websites during their search. Renters ranked their top apartment shopping tools as follows: - Internet Listing Service (e.g. Apartments.com, Rent.com and MyNewPlace.com): 80.9% - Online apartment classified listing websites (e.g. Craigslist and Oodle): 46.2% - Search engines: 38.4% - Word of mouth: 31.1% - Local newspaper: 27.1% Renters also want instant access to information on-the-go. According to the survey, 80% of respondents indicated they use a mobile device during their apartment search. Nearly half of these respondents said they use a smartphone or device, such as an iPhone, iPad, Android or BlackBerry during their apartment hunt. Apartments.com offers a mobile version of its website and an app for iPhone and iTouch users. For more information, visit www.apartments.com.

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