REMAX 440/Central Blog

HUD Launches New One-Stop Website for Economic and Housing Data

November 30, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 30, 2010The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development unveiled a new website (http://www.huduser.org/portal/regional.html) that consolidates a wide variety of economic and housing market data at the regional, state, metropolitan area and county levels. Using data from the Census Bureau, Labor Department, State and Local governments, housing industry sources, as well as HUDs own field economists, the new website employs interactive maps that allow visitors to access a variety of reportsfrom a region-wide look at employment and housing activity to individual county-level figures on population trends, rental activity and vacancy rates.

"This is a powerful new tool thats easy-to-use and offers the public a remarkable look at their local economic and housing markets," said Dr. Raphael Bostic, HUDs assistant secretary for policy development and research."Current and reliable data shouldnt be hard to come by. This is precisely why this site will be so helpful to state and local leaders, developers, the real estate industry, and the general public who need the latest available data on their markets."

HUDs new website displays an interactive map of the U.S. allowing visitors an intuitive way to seek data in a number of areas of geography--from an entire region down to a particular county.In particular, the portal offers the following reports:

-Market at a Glance reports contain economic and housing market data trends for every metropolitan area and county nationwide with employment data updated on a monthly basis.Employment data is provided from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and housing data is derived from the Census Bureaus American Community Survey. Some adjustments are made by HUD field economists based on regional information. The data are expected to be released on a monthly basis for most of the metropolitan areas and counties. Eventually, these reports will become "live" documents enabling field economists to include analysis as they complete more in-depth research for specific areas and monitor local conditions.

-Regional Housing Market Profiles are based on the quarterly U.S. Housing Market Conditions report and include non-farm employment, population changes, and building activity. These regional profiles also focus on the most recent housing rental and sales activity for the past two years.In addition, approximately 10-12 individual metropolitan areas are specifically profiled each quarter to provide these same data down to the metro area level.

-Regional Narratives are broad overviews of economic and housing market trends within ten regions of the U.S. These narratives are based on information obtained by HUD economists from state and local governments, from housing industry sources, and from their ongoing investigations of housing market conditions.

-Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis. Periodically, HUD field economists focus on particular metropolitan housing markets to produce counts and estimates of employment, population, households, and housing inventory. Each housing market analysis considers changes in the economic, demographic, and housing inventory characteristics during three periods: from 1990 to 2000; from 2000 to the as-of date of the analysis; and from the as-of date to up to three years in the future.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.


Easy Ways to Tackle Interior Project Planning

November 29, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 29, 2010--Home remodeling and redecorating can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be an awful lot of hard work. Among the many areas of focus for project work are stages of planning, getting any required licenses or permits, interviewing subcontractors and getting proposals with bid, looking over materials and making selections and making sure the entire project is on track and remains that way through completion. And many people find enjoyment as well as fulfillment with making material selections: choosing just the right color combinations and patterns, the best products and service for the budget and top quality providers to help build your projects. MyHomeImprovementTips.com offers the following suggestions to help with your interior project plans:

1) Budgeting Basics--Start by seeing if you have to completely remodel or if perhaps your can redecorate instead, and save money and time. Because remodeling often means ripping apart old structures and then building new ones; like for extra space for a new window or set of shelves or a new room, ceiling or floor. However, with redecorating you can frequently add simple new structures to those in your existing environment like a new bookcase, new curtains and plush carpeting, or new textured ceiling paint with all paper plus new hanging pictures and plush cushions.

2) Contractors, Invoices, Project Materials and More--Next you will have a lot of decision to make: which project materials to buy, which vendors to use, which subcontractors to hire, how to agree to payments, how to handle problems and other important issues and emergencies along the way, etc. So start a project notebook with an accompanying folder specifically for this project. Keep all important documents, receipts, bids, business cards, designs, paint colors, fabric swatches and other info there, to ensure that everything is in one place.

3) Project Parts-- Some areas of your project may have sub-categories or basic design elements that will involve work with different areas of focus for each part. For example, you may be remodeling one floor, so you'll have several main areas of focus under this heading like: bedroom walls, hallway and bedroom floors, all window treatments, upgraded lighting and new wood furniture. Use dividers in your notebook, extra folders or extra see-through sleeved pocket folders that fit into your binder to handle these separate areas of focus, so you can concentrate on specific tasks within each area.

With the proper planning, you can choose the easiest and most affordable redecorating or remodeling options that best suit your home's needs.


How to Organize Your Mudroom

November 29, 2010 10:29 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, November 29, 2010--Your mudroom may be the most overused room in the house, so the minds at Home-Organizing-Ideas.com have observed that this multitasking area serves as a place to store outerwear, sports equipment and backpacks for children and adults; as extra storage space for large household or pantry items; a laundry center; or a place to manage pets needs--food, litter box, leash, etc.

No matter how you use your mudroom, it obviously takes some stress away from the rest of the house that would normally accommodate these tasks. And while your mudroom space doesn't have to be extremely large, it does have to be organized.

It is easy for this space to become messy because it has the highest traffic flow of any place in the house. With this traffic flow comes people and their things! If you can afford it, built-in cabinets may be the most important way to control both the people and the things in your mud room.

Built-in cabinets--in any configuration--allow you to divide each family members items and place them in a respective locker. It is also easier for children to find their stuff. This, in turn, makes it easier and faster for everyone to get out of the door on time.

If your mudroom is going to accommodate your laundry appliances, is your flooring moisture resistant? Is your lighting good enough to detect stains or distinguish between blue and black? These are important laundry / mudroom basics.

Home-Organizing-Ideas.com says maximize your space by using every available inch. That means using the space along side your appliances or in between. Also, don't forget about vertical space. It is overlooked the most. And remember, you don't need a big space. Consider space-saving appliances, fold down ironing boards, moveable clothes hampers, sorters, or hinged counters as space saving accessories.

By developing some extra space in your home into a useful mudroom, youll solve many of your storage problems and be able to keep a majority of the dirt out of the home.


November Housing Scorecard Shows Continued Signs of Stabilization in House Prices and High Home Affordability

November 29, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 29, 2010The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury released the November 2010 edition of the Obama Administrations Housing Scorecard (www.hud.gov/scorecard). The latest housing figures show continued signs of stabilization in house prices and high home affordability due in part to record low mortgage interest rates. The housing scorecard is a comprehensive report on the nations housing market.

"The Administration has made significant strides in promoting stability for the housing market and the nation's homeowners. Through a range of swift actions since we took office, we've seen millions more families able to stay in their homes and a steady rise in responsible borrowers refinancing their loans or becoming homeowners," said HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. "But, while we cannot stop every foreclosure, we know that more has to be done to reach homeowners in distress and to help unemployed borrowers. Thats why were continuing to focus on successfully implementing the programs weve put in placesuch as neighborhood stabilization funding, additional assistance on refinancing and emergency loans to help unemployed homeownersand ensuring that help is available to homeowners as early as possible."

"The recent reports of problems in the foreclosure process underscore the importance of helping responsible homeowners avoid the pain of foreclosure," said acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Timothy Massad. "As we implement additional program enhancements to reach more homeowners, we continue to stress to mortgage servicers the importance of making every effort to enroll eligible homeowners in HAMP and provide meaningful alternatives to avoidable foreclosures."

The November Housing Scorecard features key data on the health of the housing market including:

-An additional one million families refinanced their mortgages in the last quarter, taking advantage of the lowest rates in history on 30-year fixed mortgages. Since April 2009, record low interest rates have helped more than 8.3 million homeowners to refinance, resulting in more stable home prices and $15.2 billion in annual borrower savings.

-As expected with the expiration of the Home Buyer Tax Credit, new and existing home sales have remained below levels seen in the first half of 2010. At the same time, home prices remained level in the past year after 33 straight months of decline and homeowners added $95 billion in home equity in the second quarter.

-More than 3.73 million modification arrangements were started between April 2009 and the end of August 2010more than double the number of foreclosure completions during that time. These modification arrangements included nearly 1.4 million trial Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) modification starts, more than 600,000 Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions, and nearly 1.8 million proprietary modifications under HOPE Now. While some homeowners may have received help from more than one program, the number of agreements offered were more than double the number of foreclosure completions for the same period (1.6 million).

Data in the scorecard also show that the recovery in the housing market continues to remain fragile. While the recovery will take place over time, the Administration remains committed to its efforts to prevent avoidable foreclosures and stabilize the housing market.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.


Winter Storms Require Quick Action - How to Protect Your Home

November 26, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 26, 2010--With rain, snow and freezing temperatures in the forecast across much of the country, homeowners need to act to prevent possible damage.

From 1986 through 2006, winter storms accounted for $23.1 billion in losses nationwide, with wind, hail and flood adding another $9.3 billion. To limit the possible damage from these winter risks, the Insurance Information Network of California recommends that homeowners take the following precautions:

-Disconnect all outside hoses and turn off outside faucets. If leaving the home for a long period of time, turn off the water to the house and turn on the faucets to drain the pipes.

-Know the location of the water shut-off valve. Should a pipe rupture, quick action to shut off the water supply can prevent excessive damage.

-Homeowners in recent wildfire areas should be prepared to evacuate if necessary by collecting copies of their insurance policy and other critical documents.

When the storms clear:

-Trim trees. High winds can rip branches from trees, which ultimately could damage your home.

-Maintain gutters. Keep gutters clear of debris and seal any leaks that may drip onto a walkway causing a slip hazard.

-Insulate water pipes. Freezing temperatures can cause pipes to burst. Insulate pipes which may be exposed to cold temperatures and consider using heated pipe tape in more extreme climates.

Many winter calamities are covered by a standard homeowner insurance policy, however, flood damage is not. To insure against flooding, homeowners should plan ahead and purchase flood insurance, which is available through insurance agents.


Helpful Hints for Protecting Wood Floors

November 26, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 26, 2010--When preparing one's home for the holidays, it's fun to focus on decorating the tree and whipping up festive meals. But wet footprints, spills from family gatherings, and stains from excited pets can take their toll on wood floors.

Daniel Praz, CEO of Mr. Sandless, a non-sanding wood refinisher, offers the following tips on how to protect wood floors during seasonal activities:

Real Trees: If decorating a live tree, place a sheet of plastic, followed by a mat, under a water-holding tree stand. Since keeping the tree fresh requires watering, this will protect wood floors from any water damage.

Pets: The scent of a fresh tree can increase pet activity, so watch if pets sniff around the tree and wipe up accidents as they happen. Pet urine will eat the floor's finish, and if unattended, will continue to eat through the whole board, turning it dark.

Party Goers: Heavy foot traffic, spilled drinks, and ground-in dirt left by holiday parties can age wood floors. Use area mats at entryways, especially in bad weather. Clean up spills with a damp cloth or mop and never over-wet the floor. Run a dry mop over the floor in line with the boards, not against the grain. Dry mopping is the best way to prevent floor damage because it removes gritty dirt that dulls the finish.

Rock Salt: Rock salt and other snow melting products can ruin a floor's finish, leave a film, or cause spotting. Avoid placing rock salt at entryways where it can be tracked into the house or have guests remove shoes before entering.

"How they are cared for determines the lifetime of wood floors," says Praz. "Protecting them during the holidays is key to enjoying them for years to come."


Internet Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

November 26, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 26, 2010As the holiday shopping season and Cyber Monday approach, a growing majority of Americans64%report they have not made an online purchase from a specific website because of security concerns, according to a national poll recently released by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), conducted by Zogby International.

When asked to explain why they did not make that purchase, 60% said it was because they were not sure if the site was secure, 51.4% were worried about providing information requested, and 48.4% felt a website requested more information than was necessary for the transaction. Respondents were given the option to pick more than one reason.

"The Internet is a fabulous, convenient resource for gift givers to get a jumpstart on their holiday shopping and bargain hunting, but people need to stay aware and alert about the risks," said NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser. "If there is any doubt about the security or authenticity of a website, hold off making the purchase.

Despite some security concerns, online shopping is a popular activity for Americans. The poll found that 69.3% research potential purchases over the Internet, 68% make purchases online, 62.4% make online payments, and 38% buy goods from online auction sites.

As a new area for security awareness, more Americans are shopping from their mobile phones, with those making online payments doubling to 8% from last year. Those researching potential purchases from their phones also grew to 16%, up from 9% in 2009. A recent study published by NCSA and Norton by Symantec found that 87% of Americans felt safer going online with their PCs than with their phones, spotlighting, new opportunities for consumer and industry awareness with the growth of mobile devices.

"Businesses should take note: online customers are looking to make purchases where they see signs that a website is secure, have a clear understanding of how information collected about them is going to be used, and only information necessary to the transaction is being collected," Kaiser added. "Online shoppers are being smarter and safer online, and that's good for everyone."

Stop. Think. Connect. As we prepare for Cyber Monday and a holiday season of shopping online, NCSA advises that everyone take a moment to practice "Stop. Think. Connect." The first coordinated online safety message adopted by a large coalition of government, industry and nonprofit organizations, "Stop. Think. Connect." applies to everyone who connects to the Internet, whether from laptops, personal computers, mobile phones, or gaming consoles. Before you connect to the Internet, take a moment to evaluate that you're prepared to share information or engage in a larger community. This will bring an increased sense of personal security, confidence, and peace of mind.

"Stop. Think. Connect." is a good habit for shopping online this holiday season. To help consumers adopt this practice, NCSA offers four tips for consumers to better remain safe and secure while buying gifts online:

Keep a clean machine. Check to make sure that all software, especially security, Web browsers and operating systems are up-to-date and set to update automatically.

Protect your personal information. When opening new accounts, use long and strong passwords. Only provide the minimal amount of information needed to complete a transaction. When providing personal information for any purchase or other reason, ensure that you know who is asking for the information, and why they need it.

Connect with care. When shopping, check to be sure a website is security enabled. Look for Web addresses with "https://" or "shttp://," which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information during financial transactions. Be wary of holiday shopping efforts to lure you. Cyber crooks will adjust to the holiday season, trying to get you to click through to deals that may appear too good to be true. They may also try to trick you by sending e-mails that something has gone wrong with an online purchase.

Be Web wise. Research sellers before a first time purchase from a merchant (or auction seller) new to you. Search to see how others have rated them, and check their reviews. Do these things even if you are a return customer, as reputations can change.

For more information, visit www.stopthinkconnect.org or www.staysafeonline.org.


Brighten Up Any Room with a Fresh Paint Job

November 24, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 24, 2010--Whether preparing your home for the holidays or even preparing it for sale, chances are you have a few drab walls that could use a little spicing up. If you've been ignoring the walls for quite some time, there is a simple solution you can use to brighten up the home: a few quick coats of paint.

"Why is it that we tend to spot deficiencies in our decor just before family and friends are due to arrive?" asks Debbie Zimmer, spokeswoman for the Paint Quality Institute. "In the throes of day-to-day living, most of us become somewhat blind to the condition of our rooms, including their color. But when it really counts, we take a harder, more critical look. All too often, we don't like what we see."

If a professional isn't in your budget, painting any room in your house is definitely a DIY project you can tackle yourself. With access to the Internet and also home-improvement stores with knowledgeable salespeople, such as Lowe's, completing a paint job yourself is entirely within reach as long as you keep a few key steps in mind.

Before picking up a brush, inspect walls for any damages. Prepping the walls is an important step in order to have a smooth finish as your outcome. The Plain Dealer recommends caulk for fixing drywall cracks, a putty knife, a cloth to wipe away any excess, and primer to paint over the caulk.

The amount of paint you'll need depends on the size of the room, but the Final Touch Painting, Inc. estimates about one gallon for every 400 square feet--and that's including a second coat. Paints with higher sheen levels will be more resistant to stains and will be easier to clean. In areas such as gathering spots, like a playroom, kitchen or family room, semigloss latex paint is highly recommended--100% acrylic will clean up even easier. Look for this type of paint for most interior jobs.

With latex paint, brushers and rollers can even be washed and reused. Simply clean them thoroughly with mild soap and water and reuse your tools for your next paint outing.

Be sure to utilize all of the resources available to you. If your dreary walls are starting to get to you, repainting them doesn't have to turn into a huge project. It's easier than you think to rejuvenate your home before the holidays with a couple fresh coats of paint.


Black Friday Survival Tips: How to Save Money and Avoid Stress

November 24, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 24, 2010--With Thanksgiving week upon us, Black Friday looms ahead as well. For shoppers looking for bargains and brave enough to venture out for Black Friday, sharing buying strategies could be the difference between saving money with bargain prices and wasting a trip to the stores on one of the most frenzied shopping days of the year.

"Black Friday is traditionally one of the most hectic shopping days of the year," says Tod Marks, Consumer Reports' senior editor. "Shoppers who brave the stores will likely encounter crowds and long check-out lines. A little research can help them navigate the rush or possibly save them a trip to the store altogether."

For in-store and online shoppers, here are five tips to help you through this year's Black Friday extravaganza:

  1. Simply put: it's not always worth it. Big box retailers have been leaking promotions since early in the season, however, some of those deals are high-profile items called "loss leaders." Sometimes, these items are offered at below cost, though in limited quantities, to entice buyers to come into the store. Rain checks are out of the question and shoppers shouldn't bother showing up unless they're willing to wait hours in line before the store opens. Be prepared for disappointment, as there are no guarantees. Are the savings you'll receive really worth it? If so, show up as early as possible.
  2. Do some advance research. What store is offering the best deal? Many websites will scope out some of the best Black Friday offerings and post them days or weeks in advance. Many specials are already on sites such as Walletpop and TheBlackFriday. Find and download the various circulars and coupons that are available and use them to base your decisions.
  3. Always compare prices on the Web. Price comparison websites are great for comparing prices for Black Friday deals. Is another reliable seller selling it for cheaper? How much will you save if you score a Black Friday deal? Does the amount you will save make it worth it? Try checking sites like Bizrate or Pricegrabber before Friday, and check larger online retailers like Amazon or Overstock before deciding to venture out after Thanksgiving.
  4. Inquire about price guarantees. Some retailers may have price guarantees available. This would entitle the shopper to a refund of the difference between the new price and the original price paid, should the item go on sale later. Some price matching policies may even include local competitors. Ask retailers for the details ahead of time so you can be aware of the different opportunities and choose the best ones for your shopping list.
  5. Fully understand return policies. General policies indicate a 90-day return policy, but the terms for electronics may differ. Holiday policies may be extended for some stores, but having the original receipt or gift receipt is always the best plan of action for trying to return. Without it, you may only be given store credit.

For more information on how you can make the best purchasing choices this holiday season, visit www.consumerreports.org/holiday. By doing some minor research and comparing pricing, you can make the best shopping decisions to suit your needs.


FHA Insurance Fund Shows Signs of Increased Stability

November 24, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 24, 2010--The latest independent audit of the Federal Housing Administration shows the agencys financial condition has improved from last year, when it announced its capital reserve fund had fallen below the 2 percent level mandated by Congress. The annual audit shows that the capital ratio for the single-family portfolio rose from 0.42% to 0.79% over the past year.

The audit, which calculates the financial condition of the agencys insurance fund, also showed the mortgage insurance fund grew more than $1 billion in 2010 and reserves are expected to remain above $9.9 billion even if home prices were to fall further. The audit indicates that FHA will most likely not require a bailout now or in the future.

"As the leading advocate for homeownership, the National Association of REALTORS strongly supports FHAs mortgage insurance programs," NAR President Ron Phipps said. "FHA announced major changes earlier this year and took critical steps to strengthen and ensure its long-term financial soundness, and those efforts have paid off."

FHAs audit reflected a change in home values, and was not tied to excessive increases in defaults or unsound underwriting practices. In fact, the credit quality of FHA borrowers has increased significantly in the last several years; the average credit score for FHA customers has grown to 693, and less than 8% of the agencys purchase borrowers this year had FICO scores below 620. The capital reserves are not FHAs only reserve fund; FHA also has a cash reserve account separate from the capital reserve--and actual total reserves have grown to $33 billion.

"The future health of FHAs reserve funds depends heavily on the direction of home values in the coming years. Home values have shown patterns of stabilization over the past 18 months, and in a recent independent survey, most economists expect modest home price gains over the next 3 years, so FHAs reserves should steadily improve," Phipps said.

FHA has played a key role in providing mortgage liquidity to qualified home buyers in recent years and has greatly increased its market share; according to the agency, FHA guaranteed nearly 40% of home purchases in the past year.

NAR is working closely with FHA to reassess and amend their lending policies so even more qualified home buyers can become home owners.


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