REMAX 440/Central Blog

Use Faux Wood, Brick and Stone to Increase Your Home's Resale Value

November 5, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 5, 2010--It's always a great time to add value to your home with a little sweat equity. With easy-to-install faux stone panels, you can boost your home's resale value quickly and affordably. The high-quality beams, panels and siding are made from high-tech, durable, synthetic materials in strikingly lifelike detail; they look like the actual wood, brick and stone from which they're molded.

Installation and handling are both quite simple. One person can lift a 20-foot faux wood beam, and two can attach it to the ceiling. Anyone can cut fake wood, brick or stone panels to size with a wood saw and cover a wall with them. Following step-by-step instructions, the average remodeling hobbyist can build a brick fireplace in the family room or construct a pair of stone columns in the yard for a fraction of the cost and time.

Here are a few starter ideas for building the resale value of a home using faux products:

Surround a Tub or Spa with Stone Panels

Bring the comfort and elegance of a spa to your home. Impress future home buyers with a fun, atmospheric room. Fake stone panels make it easy to accomplish, and they're available in a wide variety of designs and shades to create a custom look. Add Instant Class with Corbels

Corbels can turn an ordinary flat soffit into a classy feature that upgrades the entire look of a home's exterior. They also add a signature interior design touch inside, as part of a fireplace mantel, shelving, cabinetry and more. Wood corbels come in lots of different shapes and sizes to fit the necessary style and scale, ranging from subtle 4-inch chunks to prominent features two or three feet long. Corbels are available pre-finished in a variety of wood tones, or you can finish them to match your decor. Compared with real wood, these corbels are lighter, less expensive and easier to install--and they don't rot or attract insects.

Wood Beams Make the Bedroom Ceiling Worth Looking At

Homeowners often add faux ceiling beams to give a rustic barnlike feel to a room, but beams can just as easily change the mood in other ways. For example, smooth painted beams can give the room a light, restful, storybook cottage atmosphere. Of course, you can do any of these projects even if you're not planning to sell your home anytime soon, and get all the advantages of enjoying them yourself. Nothing's more valuable than that.

For more project ideas and complete information about faux beams and panels, please visit the FauxWoodBeams.com and FauxPanels.com.


New Apartment Search Engine Celebrates Official Launch

November 5, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 5, 2010--A new apartment search engine launched this week with the aim of helping apartment hunters find available housing. MyApartmentMap integrates interactive maps, virtual neighborhood tours, detailed rental data and much more to help renters make educated decisions about where they choose to rent.

Originally created in 2006, the former MyApartmentMap served as a simple mashup to help its creator find an apartment in Boston, Massachusetts. From that experience, the site has morphed into what it is today: a comprehensive and feature rich apartment search engine.

Some of the current features MyApartmentMap has to offer include:

  • Interactive maps help users see exactly where each apartment is located. Other points of interest are highlighted as well including restaurants, grocery stores, schools and more, all of which can be seen with just one click.
  • Virtual neighborhood tours with interactive street images allow renters to look around and get the feel of the neighborhood before even going to view an apartment.
  • Rental deals are found using the site's advanced algorithms, automatically detecting listings with deals or incentives such as cash back rewards, free rent or unit upgrades.
  • Vertical searches allow any type of renter to list additional requirements when starting their search. Tell the system your specific criteria and only look at options that fit your needs.

So far, the site provides rental data for over 70,000 locations including states, cities, colleges, neighborhoods, military bases and zip codes. With this data, users can accurately predict how much they should be paying for rent for the area and if that region fits within their budget.

By being educated and knowledgeable, renters can find apartments that will fit their needs with ease. By unifying many different features, MyApartmentMap can be a one-stop shop for all your renting needs.

To take a 60-second walkthrough of the website's features, please visit: http://www.myapartmentmap.com/videos/walkthrough.


October Housing Scorecard Confirms Signs of Stability

November 5, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 5, 2010--The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury have released the October edition of the Obama Administrations Housing Scorecard. The latest housing figures show continued signs of stabilization in house prices and high home affordability due in part to record low interest rates, reports makinghomeaffordable.gov. The housing scorecard is a comprehensive report on the nations housing market.

"Over the last 21 months...swift action in the housing market has kept millions of families in their homes and provided responsible borrowers with incentives to refinance or to become a homeowner," says HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. "But, with many unavoidable foreclosures still in the pipeline, its clear that we have a hard road ahead. Thats why were focused on successfully implementing the programs weve put in place--such as additional assistance on refinancing and helping unemployed homeowners stay in their homes-- and ensuring that help is available to homeowners as soon as possible."

HAMP is not only an important part of the Administrations efforts to stabilize the housing market, it has also redefined the loan modification standard for the mortgage industry overall. That has led to more than 3.5 million modification arrangements directly benefitting families in communities across the country still healing from the crisis," says acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. "Early data shows that well beyond the trial phase, the majority of homeowners are maintaining their HAMP modifications, reflecting the rigorous standards the program uses to provide assistance to responsible homeowners.

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

  • Families continued to benefit from the lowest rates in history on 30-year fixed mortgages. Since April of 2009, record low interest rates have helped more than 7.1 million homeowners to refinance, resulting in more stable home prices and $12.7 billion in total borrower savings.
  • As expected with the expiration of the Homebuyer Tax Credit, new and existing home sales 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 3.52 million modification arrangements were started between April 2009 and the end of August 2010 nearly triple the number of foreclosure completions during that time. These included more than 1.3 million trial Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) modification starts, more than 510,000 Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions, and more than 1.6 million proprietary modifications under HOPE Now. While some homeowners may have received help from more than one program, the number of agreements offered nearly tripled foreclosure completions for the same period (1.3 million).
  • At nine months, 89% of homeowners remain in their permanent HAMP modification, while 11% defaulted. Early data indicate that HAMP permanent modifications are performing well over time, with lower delinquency rates than those reported by the industry at large. At nine months, less than 16% of permanent modifications are 60+ days delinquent.

Data in the scorecard also show that the recovery in the housing market continues to remain fragile. For example, foreclosure completions continue to move upward and a large supply of homes are being held off the market. While the recovery will take place over time, the Administration remains committed to its efforts to prevent avoidable foreclosures and stabilize the housing market.

Each month, the Housing Scorecard incorporates key housing market indicators and highlights the impact of the Administration's unprecedented housing recovery efforts, including assistance to homeowners through the FHA and HAMP. The Obama Administrations complete Housing Scorecard is available at: www.hud.gov/scorecard.


Tips to Maximize Your Rental Agreement

November 4, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 4, 2010--With foreclosures continuing to rise and financing becoming increasingly harder to achieve, many consumers are deciding to put their hard-earned money down to pay rent in lieu of a mortgage. With this influx market of new-found renters, some are concerned about the almost-inevitable rising of rent prices.

In order to remain content with your living situation, it is important that rental agreements are fair to both renter and landlord. WilliamPaid, an online resource for renters, suggests the following tips for maximizing rental agreements in the current leasing market:

Don't blame your landlord. When your rent costs rise, the landlord is an easy person to stick the blame with. Your landlord, in most cases, is not your enemy. He or she wants to make you happy because they want you to stay. A dependable renter is a landlord's dream--one that pays on time, takes care of the place and keeps renewing the lease. Developing a solid relationship with your landlord is the best way to manage the situation. Talk to him or her about potential price increases and see if there is a way to compromise so that renting is still an affordable option for you. With good, open communication you can hopefully work something out that will make everyone happy...and pay everyone's bills too!

Figure out your rental budget before signing the lease. Budgeting for your rent payment before getting legally attached is crucially important. According to WilliamPaid, you should spend no more than 30-35% of your gross income on rent no matter which area you are deciding to move to. Find a place below your maximum price point so that you can be sure you can afford utilities, groceries and other spending money. In addition, if your rent increases slightly, you will still be able to pull it off and continue staying in your residence.

Be sure your roommates hold their own. If there is one thing that can soil the relationship between landlord and renter, it's the continuously late payment. If you are living with a roommate, make sure he or she agrees to pay the rent on time each month. If you don't know your roommate well enough yet, make a roommate agreement or loose outline of the expectations of the living arrangement. Getting everything out in the open at the beginning is a great way to avoid arguments later and ensure that you are paying all of your bills on time.

For more information about renting, budgeting and more, please visit: www.williampaid.com.


Fannie Mae to Retire Payment Reduction Plan by Year's End

November 4, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 4, 2010--Fannie Mae will end its Payment Reduction Plan (PRP) by the end of the year, according to a recent statement from the government-sponsored enterprise. The plan was originally designed to give borrowers ineligible for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) temporary payment relief, while the borrower and servicer works toward a different foreclosure alternative.

Not only will PRP end December 31, but any relief given before then must conclude before July 1, 2011. Servicers must continue to report data to Fannie Mae, who will still pay out its promised incentives to said servicers on eligible PRPs that prevent foreclosures, says HousingWire.

The GSE's PRP program was originally introduced in 2009 to provide borrowers with relief while working with the servicer to find a permanent foreclosure prevention solution. Replacing Fannie Mae's HomeSaver Forbearance program, a homeowner's mortgage payments could be reduced up to 30% of the contractual payments of principal and interest, covering occupied residencies, investment properties and second homes, reports dsnews.com.

In total, services have modified 171,176 modifications on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans in the second quarter, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency--a 24% increase from the previous quarter. Unfortunately, these modifications do not outnumber the 275,000 foreclosures that also occurred.

According to Fannie Mae, volumes in the program were small, and borrowers who are experiencing hardships may still enter into regular forbearance and extension plans.


Two Months Remain on Energy Tax Credits, Reminds NAHB

November 4, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 4, 2010--Homeowners have only two more months to take advantage of tax credits that could help them reduce their utility bills. With energy-efficient windows and doors, insulation, and heating and cooling equipment, homeowners will be conserving energy in addition to saving cash.

"Our members are ready to help consumers make the best choices for their homes, but home owners should act soon if they want to qualify for up to $1,500 in tax credits when they complete their 2010 income tax returns," says NAHB Remodelers Chair Donna Shirey, a remodeler and builder in Issaquah, Washington.

The tax credit for efficiency upgrades in existing homes is available for 30% of the cost, up to a $1,500 limit for 2009 and 2010. This credit is good for the installation of certain types of insulation, windows, roofs, water heaters, heat pumps, air conditioners and furnaces. Details on the products that qualify and instructions for obtaining the credit can be found at www.nahb.org/efficiencytaxcredit.com.

"We think it would be a great benefit to both the environment and to our economy to extend these tax benefits, but they are scheduled to expire at the end of the year," Shirey notes. "For that reason, NAHB suggests that home owners get the work done before December 31, while the tax credits are still available."

On top of these credits, NAHB continues to push for extension and expansion of a variety of energy-efficiency incentives in both new and existing homes, though advocacy efforts have recently been challenging. Past NAHB efforts, such as the national "Cash for Caulkers" and Home Star program, which sought to create a $5 billion national energy efficiency rebate system, did not get approved by Congress this year.

"We understand that there are trade-offs and budgetary considerations for all these programs," Shirey says. "Tax credits can take advantage of the existing administrative infrastructure, the Internal Revenue Service, to immediately get off the ground."


Retro Carpet Tiles Attempting a Comeback

November 3, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 3, 2010--If you're looking for a simple, yet affordable do-it-yourself project and have the need to refloor a part of your home, you may want to take the old-school route. Modular carpet tiles are making a comeback giving living areas and work spaces a uniquely designed flair.

"Carpet tiles easily improve the look of any space and are the perfect solution when you need a durable, versatile DIY flooring option," says Eric Johnson, president of iCarpetiles.com, an Internet carpet tile company in business since 2000.

Originally a fad of the '60s, modular carpet tiles used to be flat and flimsy, with a felt-like feel. They wore out easily, faded and were extremely limited in color and style. Today, iCarpetiles.com has evolved them into more sophisticated and functional products that conceal seams and dirt alike. They are also easy to clean and replace, perfect for families with kids or pets that may track dirt in from the outdoors.

With a variety of colors and styles now available, you can install them in basements, playrooms, home offices, laundry rooms or even garages. They can be installed over most smooth surfaces such as hardwood, particleboard, concrete, ceramic tile, laminate or vinyl flooring. No padding is required since the tiles have a skid-resistant vinyl backing. According to Handy Magazine, you can purchase tiles in either 18 x 18-in. or 2 x 2-foot squares, with each tile weighing about five pounds. All you need for the installation is a chalk line, straight edge, sharp utility knife and double-sided tape.

Carpet tiles are available in more than 1,500 colors and patterns, including grassy, natural and bamboo shades to fit any sort of home dcor or style. If you're looking for something different to spruce up any room, these might be the answer for your DIY design needs.

For more information, please visit iCarpetiles.com.


Home Safety - Tips to Help Minimize the Threat of Winter Fires

November 3, 2010 10:29 am

RISMedia, November 3, 2010--With winter right around the corner, everyones trying to find new ways to stay warm. However, with home heating costs burning a hole in consumers wallets, this can present a challenge, which is a big reason 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. However, there are many precautions homeowners can take to keep the home fires burning safely. The use of alternative heating devices is a significant source of many winter fires.

"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 manufacturers instructions.

"The best defense is preparation," says Convery. "Within our Claim Department, we see many winter-related claims that could have been avoided. To help avoid a tragedy, its 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.


Do We Need a New Housing Plan?

November 3, 2010 10:29 am

RISMedia, November 3, 2010--With the underwhelming success of the government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), some say a new replacement housing plan is long overdue.

HAMP doesn't exactly have a great track record. According to Reuters, of the 1.4 million borrowers who entered the loan modification program, half were rejected and did not receive a reduction in their mortgage. As HAMP critics await further response from the government, three options are quickly garnering plenty of interest.

1) Government-backed Mortgage Refinancing

Since 2008, Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and current professor at Columbia Business School, has been pitching a plan for a government backed refinancing.

In an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times, Hubbard and his colleague Chris Mayer proposed a way for mortgage servicing firms to refinance loans for approximately 30 million borrowers backed by the government. They write: "This program would be simple: the agencies would direct loan servicers--the middlemen who monitor and report loan payments--to send a short application to all eligible borrowers promising to allow them to refinance with minimal paperwork. Servicers would receive a fixed fee for each mortgage they refinanced, which would be rolled into the mortgage to eliminate costs to taxpayers."

The program, as proposed by Hubbard and Mayer, would target borrowers who are current on their payments, but face adversities such as decreasing income or home value. It is uncertain if a plan such as this would fly--some critics say it feels too much like another housing bailout, and to date, it has received little attention from lawmakers.

2) Right-to-Rent

Various versions of this plan have existed since 2008. One version, proposed by Dan Alpert, Westwood Capital managing partner, would offer delinquent borrowers an option of renting their foreclosed home at a market rate for five years. Later, the new-renters would then have a chance to buy the house back at market value.

As Dean Baker wrote in The Huffington Post, this is a simple way to help homeowners out without throwing money at banks. By starting on this principle, the right-to-rent plan could even morph into something similar, but different, giving troubled homeowners more time to get their finances in order, and ideally, preventing a magnitude of foreclosures from ever happening.

3) "Cramdown"

Lastly, the "cramdown" proposal takes the mortgage dispute to court. Under this scenario, the struggling homeowners are able to plead to a federal judge for lengthened loan terms, interest rate cuts or reductions in mortgage balances by filing for bankrupty, according to Reuters.

Cramdown supporters cite that the idea deals with one of HAMP's major flaws: its failure to address second liens and home equity loans tied to a property. However, many banks do not agree with the idea of giving bankruptcy judges additional power.

There will be no single easy answer that will make all parties completely happy, nor will a potential replacement plan completely heal the entire foreclosure issue. However, looking forward for possible solutions to our current situation is something that might be able to prevent a similar scenario in the future. According to Mayer: "What we need are permanent solutions."


Cleaning and Preparing Your Grill for Storage

November 2, 2010 10:29 am

RISMEDIA, November 2, 2010--The prime time for burgers and dogs has long passed us. If you are a summertime griller only, it's probably about time to get that grill cleaned up and prepared for storage if you haven't done so already. Without proper maintenance, it's very possible that when the cover comes off in the spring, you'll need to spend hard earned money on spare parts instead of delicious food.

To avoid any harm, here is a combined maintenance checklist from Consumer Reports, and grill makers Weber and CharBroil.

Open the valve on your propane tank and brush soapy water on the hose leading to the burners. If any bubbles appear, replace the hose right away. On the tank itself, if there is any heavy rust, dents or corrosion, get a new tank come spring or summer. Starting with a brand new tank is a safe way to start the warm weather seasons.

Heating up the grill one last time is a great idea to burn off any extra dried grease that may have accumulated. Do this before trying any other sort of cleaning. Check to make sure the flame burns blue and not yellow--the latter is a sign that the burners need adjusting.

Go easy on the exteriors. Once the grill cools, use a soft cloth or sponge only with mild dishwashing detergent on stainless steel exteriors. Apply stainless polish afterwards, if you desire. If your grill has painted or enameled exteriors, use a nylon brush instead, with a mixture of water and white vinegar to remove stains and corrosion. Be sure to know what type of material your grill is made out of and follow the appropriate directions accordingly.

To clean the grates, use a nylon bristle brush for porcelain-coated iron grates. For uncoated cast-iron grates, use a steel brush. Soaking in the same water/vinegar mixture can also help remove any hard-to-reach problem areas. Do not wash these grates in a dishwasher! The resulting debris could end up clogging your filter.

Don't forget to check the burners and drip pan. Make sure to look at the burners for problem cracks and holes. Gently clean with a nylon brush. Remove stubborn messes with a garden hose, if need be. If the burners appear damaged, these may be replaced. You might as well replace them during the off-season. The drip pan will definitely need attention. Clean it with a scraper and/or a non-scouring pad.

Finish with vacuuming the inside of the grill with a hand vacuum, then hosing and drying it the best you can. When you are finished cleaning the grill, store it in a garage or shed. If inside storage isn't possible at your home, be sure to bring the grates and any other metallic, removable parts indoors for the winter.

By doing this, you will not only be saving yourself work in the future, you'll also be assuring that maintenance won't be required later down the line. If any spare parts are needed, be sure to pick them up during the cold season. You don't want to be stuck without a grill when temperatures finally begin their much anticipated climb.


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