REMAX 440/Central Blog

Homeownership More Affordable Than Renting in 72% of Major U.S. Cities

January 25, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 25,, a top site for homebuyers, sellers and renters, has released its latest Rent vs. Buy Index, which found that it is more affordable to buy than to rent a two-bedroom home in 72% of America's 50 largest cities. Meanwhile, a nation of renters has emerged as more Americans rent by choice or due to unforeseen financial difficulties. In contrast to this nationwide trend, renting is only less expensive than buying in four of the cities included in this study. The remaining 10 cities are locations where buying may still be a financially sound long-term decision despite the relative affordability of renting.

"Since the start of the 'Great Recession,' many former homeowners have flooded the rental market. Following the principles of supply and demand, renting has become relatively more expensive than buying in most markets," said Pete Flint, CEO and co-founder of Trulia. "Though necessary for achieving true economic recovery, stricter bank lending practices have also further aggravated the struggling housing market in the short term. Even highly-qualified homebuyers face intense scrutiny on their income, savings, existing debt and credit history before they can get a mortgage loan."

Cities overwhelmed by foreclosure filings and unemployment typically correspond to more affordable markets for prospective buyers; however, there are exceptions. Moreover, close proximity to economic centers with promising job growth projections has propped up both the demand for homes and costs ofhomeownership in these types of areas.

"Although owning a home is relatively more affordable in most cities, market conditions have caused an interesting demographic swap between traditional renters and buyers," said Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for Trulia. "For example, lifelong renters are seizing the opportunity to become homeowners while affordability is high. At the same time, a growing number of long-time homeowners are finding themselves tenants--some by choice and others by necessity."

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HUD Proposes New Rule to Ensure Equal Access to Housing Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

January 25, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 25, 2011The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed new regulations intended to ensure that its core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is a fundamental issue of fairness, said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. We have a responsibility to make certain that public programs are open to all Americans.With this proposed rule, we will make clear that a persons eligibility for federal housing programs is, and should be, based on their need and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

HUD is seeking public comment on a number of proposed areas including: -Prohibiting lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis to determine a borrowers eligibility for FHA-insured mortgage financing.FHAs current regulations provide that a mortgage lenders determination of the adequacy of a borrowers income shall be made in a uniform manner without regard to specified prohibited grounds. The proposed rule would add actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity to the prohibited grounds to ensure FHA-approved lenders do not deny or otherwise alter the terms of mortgages on the basis of irrelevant criteria.

-Clarifying that all otherwise eligible families, regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs. In the majority of HUDs rental and homeownership programs, the term family already has a broad scope, and includes a single person and families with or without children. HUDs proposed rule clarifies that families, otherwise eligible for HUD programs, may not be excluded because one or more members of the family may be an LGBT individual, have an LGBT relationship, or be perceived to be such an individual or in such relationship.

-Prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted housing, or housing whose financing is insured by HUD, from inquiring about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant for, or occupant of, the dwelling, whether renter- or owner-occupied. HUD is proposing to institute this policy in its rental assistance and homeownership programs, which include the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance programs, community development programs, and public and assisted housing programs.

Other actions: HUD is conducting one of the first-ever national studies of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the rental and sale of housing. Every ten years, HUD does a study of the impact of housing discrimination on the basis of race and color.HUD undertook this important research in 1977, 1989 and 2000 and is currently undertaking this study again. It is believed that LGBT individuals and families may remain silent because in many local jurisdictions, they may have little or no legal recourse. While there are no national assessments of LGBT housing discrimination, there are state and local studies that have shown evidence of this sort of bias. For example, a 2007 report by Michigans Fair Housing Centers found that nearly 30% of same-sex couples were treated differently when attempting to buy or rent a home.

HUD currently requires its recipients of discretionary funds to comply with local and state non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation or gender identity.In July, the Department issued new guidance that treats discrimination based on gender nonconformity or sex stereotyping as sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, and instructs HUD staff to inform individuals filing complaints about state and local agencies that have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in rental, sales and lending on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status. Approximately 20 states, and the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, towns and counties across the nation have additional protections that specifically prohibit such discrimination against LGBT individuals. Under guidance announced last year, HUD will, as appropriate, retain its jurisdiction over complaints filed by LGBT individuals or families but also jointly investigate or refer matters to those state, district and local governments with other legal protections.

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Building Permits Rise in December 2010 as Builders Prepare for Anticipated Improvement in Buyer Demand

January 25, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 25, 2011Year-end data released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that production of new homes improved 6.1% in 2010 from the previous year. On another positive note, permit issuance for construction of new homes and apartments rose 16.7% in December to a rate of 635,000 units, the strongest pace since March of 2010.

"The latest government report indicates that builders are preparing for an anticipated improvement in buyer demand in the spring buying season by pulling more permits in hopes of soon replenishing the very tight inventory of new homes for sale," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nevada. "That said, it remains to be seen if the availability of financing for new construction and existing viable projects will improve in order to make building feasible and facilitate a housing and economic recovery."

"Today's report is consistent with what home builders have been telling us in our recent surveys," noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "While builders remain extremely cautious about new construction at this time, they are looking forward to putting their employees back to work as economic conditions improve over the New Yearassuming they can obtain the necessary financing for new-home production. Crowe also noted that December's permit numbers may have received a partial boost due to building code changes that were expected to go into effect in several states this January.

Regionally, the West was the bright spot in the housing starts report for December, posting a 45.8% rebound from an exceptionally slow period in the previous two months. In addition, multifamily housing starts, which tend to display greater volatility on a month-to-month basis, rose 17.9% to a 112,000-unit rate.

Building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose 16.7% in December on gains in both the single- and multifamily sectors. Single-family permits rose 5.5% to a 440,000-unit rate, their best pace since April of 2010, while multifamily permits rose 53.5% to 195,000 units, their best pace since January of 2009.

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Repaint Your Room in One Weekend: Tips to Save You Time and Money

January 24, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 24, 2011Remodeling is a fun and exciting way for homeowners to spice up their homes. With a slower economy, many are choosing easy, do-it-yourself projects to stretch their paychecks and meet lower budgets. One of the most common of these is interior painting.

"Nearly everyone agrees that some jobs, like reroofing or electrical work, are best left to the pros, but most people think they can do their own painting," says Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute. "And, generally speaking, they're right."

According to Zimmer, many people regard painting as a weekend project. As such, they want to see some results by Sundays end. "That's a realistic goal, but to achieve it, you have to plan out the job and be well-organized," she says.

1. Move all of the furniture out of the way. Push it to the center of the room, and use plastic sliders for heavy items to avoid heavy lifting. Cover all couches and furniture with plastic, blankets or old sheets. Drop-cloths are a great idea and will protect your floors from accidental sprays of paint.

2. Cleanse all of the surfaces you are going to paint with a sponge and household detergent solution. You definitely want a clean surface before starting the job. Give the surfaces ample time to dry before continuing.

3. No one likes multiple trips to the storemake a list and grab all the necessary paint, tools and accessories you need in one fell swoop. The Paint Quality Institute has a helpful checklist at

4. Buy 100% acrylic latex interior paint. Its technologically advanced and top quality. Some of these durable paints serve as a double agentas both a primer and paintand are better at hiding whatever color is underneath. Another plus, you may only need a single coat. Its a great way to save time, money and effort.

5. Tape the edges of surfaces that you will be painting. Doing so will help you quicken the job, saving lots of your precious time. In addition, its way neater too.

6. Working from the top down is the smartest way to tackle the project. Paint the ceiling first, then move on to the walls, the windows and trim, and lastly, paint the baseboards. Following this exact order will prevent paint spatter or drip marks and will also prevent you from needing to do much touch-up work.

7. Assuming that you use the paint suggested above, clean up will be simple. These types of paints are water-based and can quickly be cleaned off of painting tools with just soap and water.

8. Another plus to using top quality latex paint: it wont have as strong of a paint smell. You can put a freshly-painted room back into service almost immediately.

Source: The Paint Quality Institute

Renters Insurance a Must in High Fire Hazard Winter Months

January 24, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 24, 2011--Renters insurance is an inexpensive necessity for many home renters. This is especially true during colder winter months when the chances of residential fires increase. For just a few pennies a day, a complete policy can be bought to protect valuables, such as laptops, electronics and clothing. Fires and the resulting water damage can completely destroy homes and their contents, which should be covered by a comprehensive home rental insurance policy.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, residential fires are more common during the winter than other times of the year. When colder months roll around, a renter or homeowner may try to reduce expensive heating bills by utilizing other heat sources. These can include wood stoves, fireplaces, space heaters and other alternatives to regular utilities. Though these options may decrease utility expenses, they pose great risks and precautions to avoid fires must be taken.

Regardless of how safe people are, devastating accidents do happen. Some people that rent their home may think that their landlord's policy will cover their belongings, but this is generally not true. The landlord would have to purchase a separate policy that specifically covers their renters' valuables. The owner of the building will have coverage that protects the structure; however, the contents inside the home that belong to the renter must be covered by a separate renters insurance policy. Usually, the property owner will require their renter to buy their own coverage.

Though home renters may think their belongings are minimal, they should consider how much it would cost to replace all the items in their home should they be destroyed by a fire. The best way to do this is to take a home inventory to assess the value of their items and to make the claims process smoother if an incident occurs. A renter should consider the replacement cost of their computers, laptops, electronics, video game consoles and games, furniture, clothing, jewelry, kitchen items, bedroom sets and more. They should also consider that coverage varies from company to company, so renters should be aware of exactly what is covered in their plan. Regardless of whether the dwelling is an apartment, house, duplex, condo, quad or townhouse, a renter will want to have their valuables insured by a complete plan.


HUD Awards $1.4 Billon to Nearly 7,000 Homeless Programs as Part of Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness

January 24, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 24, 2011U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan awarded $1.41 billion in funding to keep nearly 7,000 local homeless assistance programs operating in the coming year. The grants form a critical foundation for the Obama Administrations Opening Doors strategy, one of the nations first comprehensive plans to prevent and end homelessness.

According to HUD, the announcement also comes just a week before thousands of volunteers in nearly every city and county conduct a national one-night count of homeless persons and families. HUDs Lets Make Everybody Count! campaign is intended to document trends in homelessness that are crucial to local planners efforts to prevent and end homelessness in their areas.

There is a tremendous need on our streets and in our shelters among those experiencing both long-term homelessness as well as families confronting a sudden economic crisis, said Donovan. These grants are the life blood for thousands of local housing and service programs that are doing the heavy lifting to meet President Obamas goal of ending homelessness.

Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director, added, Across federal agencies, we are aligning mainstream programs toward a goal to prevent and end homelessness. While we continue to strengthen public-private partnerships in Washington and across the country to meet this goal, today's grants provide essential support to continue the progress and meet critical needs of those who experience the crisis of homelessness.

In June, 19 federal agencies and offices that form the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) submitted to the President and Congress one of the nations first comprehensive strategies to prevent and end homelessness. The full report is titled Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.The plan puts the country on a path to end veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015; and to ending homelessness among children, family, and youth by 2020.

Last September, HUD announced that it would renew funding through HUDs Continuum of Care programs to existing local programs as quickly as possible to prevent any interruption in federal assistance.HUD will award funds to new projects later in the year.

HUDs Continuum of Care grants provide permanent and transitional housing to homeless persons as well as services including job training, health care, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and child care. Continuum of Care grants are awarded competitively to local programs to meet the needs of their homeless clients. These grants fund a wide variety of programs from street outreach and assessment programs to transitional and permanent housing for homeless persons and families.

HUDs homeless assistance grants are reducing long-term or chronic homelessness in America. Based on the Departments latest homeless assessment, chronic homelessness has declined since 2005 due to significant investments to produce thousands of units of permanent supportive housing for those who had been living on the streets. While the total number of homeless persons in America dropped slightly between 2008 and 2009, the number of homeless families increased for the second consecutive year, almost certainly due to the ongoing effects of the recession. In the last 10 days of January, volunteers from across the country will attempt to count the number of homeless persons living in shelters and on the streets as part of a national point-in-time count.For more information about HUDs Lets Make Everybody Count! campaign, visit

Based on HUDs 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), volunteers throughout the nation counted 643,000 homeless people during a given night in January 2009.In addition, HUD found that during 2009, 1.54 million people used emergency or transitional housing programs in 2009. A typical sheltered homeless person is a single, middle-aged man and a member of a minority group. Of all those who sought emergency shelter or transitional housing during 2009, the following characteristics were observed:

  • 78% of all sheltered homeless persons are adults;
  • 61% are male;
  • 62% are members of a minority group;
  • 38% are 31-to-50 years old;
  • 64% are in one-person households, and
  • 38% have a disability.

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December Existing-Home Sales Jump

January 21, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 21, 2011--Existing-home sales rose sharply in December, when sales increased for the fifth time in the past six months, according to the National Association of REALTORS.

Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 12.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.28 million in December from an upwardly revised 4.70 million in November, but remain 2.9% below the 5.44 million pace in December 2009.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said sales are on an uptrend. "December was a good finish to 2010, when sales fluctuate more than normal. The pattern over the past six months is clearly showing a recovery," he said. "The December pace is near the volume we're expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable level. The recovery will likely continue as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters into ownership while exceptional affordability conditions remain."

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $168,800 in December, which is 1.0% below December 2009. Distressed homes rose to a 36% market share in December from 33% in November, and 32% in December 2009.

"The modest rise in distressed sales, which typically are discounted 10 to

15% relative to traditional homes, dampened the median price in December, but the flat price trend continues," Yun explained.

Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 4.2% to 3.56 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 9.5-month supply in November.

NAR President Ron Phipps said buyers are responding to very good affordability conditions despite tight mortgage credit. "Historically low mortgage interest rates, stable home prices, and pent-up demand are drawing home buyers into the market," Phipps said. "Recent home buyers have been successful with very low default rates, given the outstanding performance for loans originated in 2009 and 2010."

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.71% in December from 4.30% in November; the rate was 4.93% in December 2009.

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 33% of homes in December, up from 32% in November, but are below a 43% share in December 2009.

Investors accounted for 20% of transactions in December, up from 19% in November and 15% in December 2009; the balance of sales was to repeat buyers. All-cash sales were at 29% in December, compared with 31% in November, but up from 22% a year ago.

"All-cash sales have been consistently high at about 30% of the market over the past six months," Yun said.

Single-family home sales jumped 11.8 % to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.64 million in December from 4.15 million in November, but are 2.5% below the 4.76 million level in December 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $169,300 in December, down 0.2% from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales surged 16.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 640,000 in December from 550,000 in November, but remain 5.2% below the 675,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price was $165,000 in December, which is 7.4% below December 2009.

Top 5 Home Improvement Projects Based on Average Cost and Return on Investment

January 21, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 21,, a website offering Web-based home values announced that it has released the results of its nationwide home improvement and home staging Home Sale Maximizer survey.

HomeGain surveyed nearly 600 real estate professionals nationwide and configured a list of the top 10 do-it-yourself home improvements that cost under $5,000 and benefit sellers most when they sell their homes.

According to the survey, the top five home improvements that real estate professionals recommend to home sellers based on average cost and return on investment (from highest to lowest ROI) are:

1. Cleaning and de-cluttering - ($290 cost / $1,990 price increase / 586% ROI) 2. Lightening and brightening - ($375 cost / $1,550 price increase / 313% ROI) 3. Home staging - ($550 cost / $2,194 price increase / 299% ROI) 4. Landscaping - ($540 cost / $1,932 price increase / 258% ROI) 5. Repairing electrical or plumbing - ($535 cost / $1,505 price increase / 181% ROI)

Cleaning and de-cluttering continues to rank as the top suggested home improvement (since the survey was originally conducted in 2000), recommended by 99% of real estate professionals, costing less than $300 and returning a value of nearly $2,000 to the home's sale price, or a 586% return on investment.

"Sellers need to prepare their homes for sale before putting them on the market," said Louis Cammarosano, General Manager at HomeGain. Homes that have initial appeal have a better shot at selling faster and closer to the asking price than homes rushed to the market with no improvements.

Rounding out the top 10 low cost, do-it-yourself home improvements include: updating electrical systems and/or plumbing, updating the kitchen and bathrooms, replacing or shampooing carpets, painting interior walls, repairing damaged floors, and painting the outside of the home.

The home improvement projects with the highest price increases to a home's resale value are updating the kitchen ($1,265 cost / $3,435 price increase), followed by painting the outside of the home ($1,467 cost / $2,222 price increase) and home staging ($550 cost / $2,194 price increase).

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FHFA Announces Joint Initiative to Consider Alternatives for a New Mortgage Servicing Compensation Structure

January 21, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 21, 2011The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to work on a joint initiative, in coordination with FHFA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to consider alternatives for future mortgage servicing structures and servicing compensation for their single-family mortgage loans.

Currently, a servicers compensation is generally based on a minimum servicing fee that is part of the mortgage rate, which decreases the flexibility necessary for optimal servicing of non-performing loans from both the borrowers and guarantors perspectives. The current servicing compensation structure also results in the creation of a mortgage servicing right asset, which is difficult to manage and separate from a servicers core competency of servicing mortgage loans.

The joint initiative will consider alternatives to the traditional servicing compensation structure. The goals are to improve service for borrowers, reduce financial risk to servicers, and provide flexibility for guarantors to better manage non-performing loans, while promoting continued liquidity in the To Be Announced mortgage securities market. Alternatives for consideration may include a fee for service compensation structure for non-performing loans, as well as the possibility of reducing or eliminating the minimum mortgage servicing fee for performing loans, or other structures. Many of these issues have been the subject of discussion within the mortgage industry for years.

As the recent problems in managing mortgage delinquencies suggest, the current servicing compensation model was not designed for current market conditions, said FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco. The goal of this joint initiative is to explore alternative models for single-family mortgage servicing compensation that better address the needs of borrowers, servicers, originators, investors and guarantors.

FHFA will coordinate efforts of the initiative over the next several months to gather feedback from the industry, consumer groups and investors, and from other regulators and government agencies. FHFA expects that this effort will lead to a proposal for a new single-family mortgage servicing compensation model that will benefit from broad public input. Any implementation of a new servicing compensation structure would require a significant lead time to ensure that all participants in the mortgage finance process have sufficient time to adjust to any changes. Any such implementation would be prospective in nature and would not be expected to occur before Summer 2012.

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NCOA Teams with HUD and NRMLA to Assist Reverse Mortgage Borrowers Who Have Difficulty Paying Property Taxes and Insurance

January 20, 2011 10:31 am

RISMEDIA, January 20, 2011-- The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is conducting a pilot project in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) to help reverse mortgage borrowers who are struggling to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.

While reverse mortgages can help seniors to stay at home, these funds may be depleted over time, said Barbara Stucki, vice president for home equity initiatives at NCOA. With economic conditions putting pressure on many of these borrowers, we want to assess the services and support to help them remedy their delinquencies and stay at home.

By partnering with senior service agencies in Miami, Houston, Detroit and Los Angeles, NCOA, HUD and NRMLA will identify ways to assist seniors with reverse mortgages who are most at-risk for foreclosure by not keeping up with their borrower obligations.

Case managers from the community partner agencies will work with reverse mortgage borrowers to pursue local tax relief options and identify other financial, legal, and housing solutions to resolve delinquencies. If appropriate, case managers will also help borrowers who need to move to other housing options, such as affordable housing or supportive-housing developments.

All loans and solutions will be reviewed by NCOA and NRMLA experts to develop a set of recommendations on how best to assist reverse mortgage borrowers who are not meeting their borrower obligations.

Borrowers who receive a letter informing them about their delinquency should contact their loan servicer immediately and are eligible to receive free counseling from NCOA and other select HUD approved counseling agencies.

This problem is primarily a result of a faltering economylowering home values and losses in retirement savingsand our members feel a strong responsibility to help guide those in need through this rough time, says NRMLA president Peter Bell. With the issuance of HUDs new guidelines this week, we have a level-headed, clear roadmap to launch this process.

This pilot program will run through at least mid-2011.

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