November 7, 2011 9:18 pm
More consumers are looking for a good value during this holiday season according to a new study from Harris Interactive and CreditDonkey.com. Price was noted as the most important factor to 63% of holiday shoppers. Over $30 billion in sales were attributed to electronic shopping and mail order according to the US Census Bureau, proving that consumers are flocking to online deals.
Online holiday shopping increased 15.2% in 2010 compared to 2009, according to a recent study by the National Retail Federation. In addition, special days such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Super Saturday attracted substantial crowds and significant discounts.
To help save money during the holidays in these tough economic times, try the following tips:
* Focus your spending on immediate family members and less on coworkers and acquaintances.
* Credit cards usually offer more security and protection than debit cards. Use a no fraud liability credit card for some extra peace of mind and protect yourself from unauthorized charges.
* Make sure gift cards are legitimate. Scammers often email faux free gift card offers during the holidays. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
* Safeguard your account information. Do not give out personal information to fraudulent sources. During the holidays, callers and emailers often pose as banks, retailers, credit card companies, and even charities to scam unsuspecting consumers.
* View your credit card statements regularly to make sure there are no fraudulent purchases.
For more study statistics and tips on how to save, visit http://www.creditdonkey.com/holiday-shopping-trends.html.
November 7, 2011 9:18 pm
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), recently announced a series of changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) in an effort to attract more eligible borrowers who can benefit from refinancing their home mortgage. The program enhancements were developed at FHFA’s direction with input from lenders, mortgage insurers and other industry participants.
“Building on the industry’s experience with HARP over the last two years, we have identified several changes that will make the program accessible to more borrowers with mortgages owned or guaranteed by the Enterprises," says FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco. "Our goal in pursuing these changes is to create refinancing opportunities for these borrowers, while reducing risk for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and bringing a measure of stability to housing markets.”
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have helped approximately 9 million families refinance into a lower cost or more sustainable mortgage product, approximately 10% of those via HARP. HARP is unique in that it is the only refinance program that enables borrowers who owe more than their home is worth to take advantage of low interest rates and other refinancing benefits. This program will continue to be available to borrowers with loans sold to the Enterprises on or before May 31, 2009 with current loan-to-value (LTV) ratios above 80%.
The new program enhancements address several other key aspects of HARP including:
* Eliminating certain risk-based fees for borrowers who refinance into shorter-term mortgages and lowering fees for other borrowers;
* Removing the current 125% LTV ceiling for fixed-rate mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
* Waiving certain representations and warranties that lenders commit to in making loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
* Eliminating the need for a new property appraisal where there is a reliable AVM (automated valuation model) estimate provided by the Enterprises; and
* Extending the end date for HARP until Dec. 31, 2013 for loans originally sold to the Enterprises on or before May 31, 2009.
An important element of these changes is the encouragement, through elimination of certain risk-based fees, for borrowers to utilize HARP to refinance into shorter-term mortgages. Borrowers who owe more on their house than the house is worth will be able to reduce the balance owed much faster if they take advantage of today’s low interest rates by shortening the term of their mortgage.
For more information, visit www.fhf.gov.
November 4, 2011 9:14 pm
By Nick Caruso
Thanksgiving is a relaxing holiday based solely around food and gratitude. A nice decorative atmosphere would enhance the dining experience as you and your guests are enjoying mouthfuls of turkey, yams and stuffing. Decorating for Thanksgiving doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. With these simple and affordable tips, you can give your home a festive, fall look that everyone will enjoy.
Bold fall colors should be used as much as possible when making any decision regarding décor. Use many of the same colors as some of the traditional food you'll be serving. Yellows, oranges, browns and reds set the perfect tone for any fall-themed meal. Try incorporating them any way you can, including placemats, serving utensils and dishes. A colorful centerpiece would also work nicely for your holiday table.
Go outside and get inspired. The autumn season is all around us, so go outside and look around. Brightly colored leaves, berries and pinecones are just a few examples of items that could be garnered for decoration. Fill a large vase with some of these natural beauties for a decorative centerpiece. Things like pumpkins and hay bales also make great indoor and outdoor decorations. Use them sporadically for that extra fall feel.
For those with eager children, a fall garland can be a fun project to get them involved. Use red and orange leaves, or even use construction paper for cut-out turkeys or pumpkins. This will not only decorate your home, but keep the children occupied while you get some cooking and cleaning accomplished.
Thanksgiving-themed towels, pot holders and candles are also great ideas. Hand towels in bathrooms can carry the theme outside of the kitchen, while sweet smelling candles can do the same for dining or living rooms. A few bottles of red wine can also add to any autumn-colored display or centerpiece.
With all of that cooking to do, you may not have time for complicated and time-consuming decorating. With a little creativity and these fun and festive tips, you can create a wonderful atmosphere for you and your family.
November 4, 2011 9:14 pm
Fannie Mae's third quarter National Housing Survey provides in-depth findings on attitudes of consumers who know of people in their area or neighborhood who have defaulted on their mortgage. This latest survey shows that those exposed to default have similar attitudes about buying a home as those who do not know people that have defaulted. However, the survey also finds greater pessimism about the economy and personal finances among consumers who know defaulters.
"Knowing someone who has defaulted on their mortgage appears to be correlated with consumers being slightly more pessimistic about the direction of the economy, their finances, and their ability to obtain a mortgage, but does not materially correlate with their desire to own a home or their view of housing as a safe investment," says Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae.
"At the macro level, we see that economic activity picked up in the third quarter, thanks to a sizable rebound in consumer spending on services. However, the hike appears to have come out of consumers' savings, as disposable income fell during the quarter," continues Duncan. "The improvement in consumer spending has not spilled over into big-ticket items such as housing, as consumers' concerns over their finances and dissatisfaction about the direction of the economy remains elevated."
Owners and renters who know defaulters are as likely to say owning makes more sense than renting, say buying a home is a safe investment and display roughly the same intention to buy a home as those who do not know a defaulter.
• Ninety-two percent of owners who know defaulters say owning makes more sense than renting, compared to 89% of owners who do not know defaulters.
• Sixty-seven percent of owners and 52% of renters who know defaulters say buying a home is a safe investment, compared to 70% of owners and 52% of renters who do not know defaulters.
• Seventy-eight percent of owners and 39% of renters who know defaulters say they are likely to buy their next home, compared to 73% of owners and 35% of renters who do not know defaulters.
The third-quarter survey also provides comprehensive data based on more than 3,000 interviews among homeowners and renters to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, confidence in homeownership as an investment, the current state of their household finances, views on the U.S. housing finance system, and overall confidence in the economy.
For full survey findings, visit www.fanniemae.com/portal/research-and-analysis/housing-quarterly.html.
November 4, 2011 9:14 pm
A recent survey conducted found that 87% of tech-savvy consumers would not buy anything through Facebook.
The panel, consisting of 50 men and 50 women, all of whom are professionals in technology oriented disciplines, was surveyed in regards to their attitudes toward Social CRM, the practice among companies of using Facebook, or other social networks, to offer customer care, provide support and sell products. The survey asked whether panelists would interact with their communications service providers through Facebook to buy something; pay a bill; resolve a problem; complain publicly; recommend their services; or none of the above. Respondents were invited to select any and all responses that applied. Only 13% of all respondents, 12% of men, and 14% of women responded that they would “buy something” through Facebook. Eighty-seven percent of all respondents did not select this option.
“This study suggests that Facebook has work to do to convince consumers that it will protect their personal financial information and transactions,” says Ed Finegold, producer and editor of BillingViews. “We set out to find attitudes on the use of Social CRM by communications providers, but were met with this consistent sentiment of distrust toward Facebook when it comes to money.”
Panelists were invited to provide additional comments on any aspect of the survey they wished. Of the 28 who commented, 13 – or 42% – stated specifically that they would not make any sort of purchases through Facebook because they do not trust it or do not believe it has sufficient security to protect transactions or personal financial information.
Additional findings from the survey include:
• 60% of those surveyed would recommend a communications provider’s services on Facebook, though women were more likely to do so than men.
• 58% of respondents, and an equal number of men and women, said they would use Facebook to complain publicly about their communications providers.
• 45% of respondents said they would use Facebook as a means to interact with their communications providers to solve a problem, though women were more likely to do so.
• 27% of respondents, a majority of which were men, said they would not use Facebook to interact with their communications providers.
The full results of the survey, part of BillingViews’ ongoing series on Social CRM in Communications, are available at www.billingviews.com.
November 3, 2011 9:14 pm
In the unfortunate event of a fire in your home, every second counts when trying to get your family to safety. In mere minutes, a house can be filled with thick, suffocating smoke and engulfed in flames. Having a fire escape plan for your family is crucial to your survival should tragedy strike. Follow these tips in case a fire should occur in your home.
Start exiting immediately as soon as there's evidence of a fire. Do not waste time trying to save property. Depending on the circumstance, you may need to crawl low under the smoke. Remember to keep your mouth covered as smoke inhalation can disorient or even cause you to faint. The quicker you start exiting, the better.
Never open doors with hot door knobs. Using the back of your hand, test each knob before opening doors. You can also check for heat through the cracks of the doors. If you don't feel any warmth, open the entry carefully, but if there is evidence of a fire on the other side, use another alternative.
Once your family reaches safety, stay out. Escaping is your first priority. Choose a spot outside away from the home where your entire family can meet. Designate one family member to find a phone and call 911. Never go back into your home for any reason. Teach children not to hide from firefighters. If firemen need to do an emergency rescue, children need to know to trust them.
By practicing your escape plan with your family, you can ensure that every member knows multiple routes out of the home in case a fire wreaks havoc. Secondary routes can be created using collapsible ladders to escape from upper stories. Keep spare ladders on each floor of the home, and make sure the ladders fit your windows before purchasing them. Periodically check your windows to make sure none are jammed and that they open easily.
You can never be over-prepared for an emergency like a house fire. By mapping out your exit strategy, educating family members and purchasing escape ladders for worst-case-scenarios, you can keep your entire family safe in the wake of an unpredictable fire in your home.
November 3, 2011 9:14 pm
Fewer Americans are heading south to warmer temperatures than they did prior to the recession, according to a new study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Researchers evaluated three years' worth of data to reveal this new trend in U.S. migration patterns.
Due to factors like the slowly-recovering housing market and a weakened employment picture, Americans are fonder of staying put rather than moving south. Although states such as Nevada, Arizona and Florida have had fewer residents enter their state since the beginning of the recession, experts say this decline will soon start to level off. State such as Massachusetts, California and New York, states whose residents had been packing up and moving, are now seeing far fewer declines in population throughout colder months.
For example, Florida had a net migration gain of 209,000 in 2005, but a loss of 30,000 in 2009, according to the study. On the other hand, New York had a net loss of 71,000 migrants in 2009, a drastic shift from the 170,000 migrants it lost in 2005. Likewise, California saw its loss of migrants shrink to 71,000 in 2009 from 201,000 in 2005.
November 3, 2011 9:14 pm
Homeowners tend to have conflicting emotions regarding their homes during economically challenging times. Wanting to embrace their need for change and feel positive about their living space, homeowners frequently want to purchase new products, while remaining financially and environmentally responsible. The marketplace is now seeing a shift to homeowners looking for items that have high value and a long lifespan.
“People are educating themselves more these days on the impact a single purchase will have on thems and on the environment,” says Kate Smith, president of Sensational Color. “For example, a homeowner may desire real wood shake shingles on a roof, but they understand the lifespan of those roofing shingles is extremely limited. They’re thinking twice about how many trees would need to be harvested to make those wood shingles.
Smith has identified several key trends related to exterior home products and colors, including:
Trend #1 – Living Simply in a Complex World –The desire for a more streamlined life motivates people to select modern technology, products and materials that make our complex lives easier.
Trend #2 – Give Me More “Me Time” – Younger buyers are now changing their home buying strategies. These individuals are embracing older homes that they can personalize by adding newer products that require minimal maintenance. They’re looking for products that help blend the older bones of a home with their modern sensibilities in order to provide a sense of connection to history and their community.
Trend #3 – Rules are Made to be Broken – Today’s homeowners are making their own rules. In the coming years, look for unusual mixing of materials and colors in ways communities haven’t previously seen. Homeowners want their homes to reflect their personalities, but they also want to express themselves on the exterior of the home.
Trend #4 – Naturally Inspired and Improved – Colors and materials that harmonize with the natural surroundings of a home are increasingly important to homeowners. Homeowners are basing their purchasing decisions on their increased understanding that the manufactured products they select will have a longer life span, thus reducing the need for replacement. And, in many situations, these man-made products that look, feel and have natural colors incorporated, require less maintenance and reduce the negative impact on the environment.
Trend #5 – Inside Out Harmony –Regional colors and materials on a home exterior help anchor people to their community, providing a unity within a neighborhood or subdivision. In many cases, homeowners are also bringing the outside indoors by adding plant walls, gardens and water features into the home. On the exterior, they’re adding fire pit areas, and outdoor living and dining room spaces that blur the boundaries of the living both inside and outside the home.
Smith predicts that many of these trends will take off between 2012-2015. For more on color selection for the home, visit www.sensationalcolor.com.
November 2, 2011 9:14 pm
By Nick Caruso
Whether you're moving in state or across the country, there are many different options for those seeking professional moving help. For those on a budget, full-service moves may be too pricey, while doing everything yourself is back-breaking and tiresome without an army of friends bribed by beer and pizza. Fortunately, there is a middle ground—moving labor services.
Halfway between full service and DIY, moving labor services allow you to hire and pay only for the services you need and want. Relocation breaks down these services into the following three options: rental trucks, portable storage containers and space rental in commercial trailers.
For in-state moves, a rental truck might be all you need. For a couple hundred dollars (depending on the company), you might be able to complete your move with a single truck and a couple of hours. After renting the vehicle, you can hire moving labor to load and unload it for you. You can even hire them for additional services, such as driving the rental truck for you for an additional fee. For short moves, hired help and a rental truck may be all you need to get the job done.
For temporary storage, you may want to consider renting a portable service container. The container company delivers a container for you to fill up however you'd like. They then pick it up and store it for however long you need and then deliver it back to you at your new address. With this option, you can either load it yourself or hire help to do it for you. You can even split the labor between hired help and your own hard work. These containers are a great option—the company takes care of the entire method of transportation and you only worry about loading and unloading.
What many movers fail to utilize is rented space in commercial trailers. For long-distance moves, you can rent part of a trailer to move your belongings. Trailers are split up and shared amongst many customers so that the cost is shared and cheaper for all involved. Moving labor can be hired to help you unload your share, providing you with a cost effective way to transport your things and preventing you from having to drive cross-country yourself.
There are many different options available to you when planning for your next big move. With hired moving labor and a variety of transportation options, any mover can find a method that suits his or her specific needs and budget.
November 2, 2011 9:14 pm
Home defects come in all shapes and sizes. From structural problems to air flow and ventilation issues, a lot of things can go wrong with your home. Whether you're buying or selling your home, or simply staying put, you should be aware of some of the common home defects that abound so you can fix them quickly and easily before they become catastrophes.
Poor drainage is the most common problem found by home inspectors. To improve your drainage, you may have to install a new system of eaves, troughs and downspouts to better aim water away from the house. Inadequate drainage can be a devastating defect. Water can damage basements, garages and crawl spaces, compromising the foundation of the home and creating mold. Taking care of this issue is of dire importance, and buyers should avoid purchasing homes that may have drainage problems.
Another important defect to watch out for is rotted wood, both inside and outside the home. Wood exposed to excess moisture is bound to rot. This can happen in bathrooms, on flooring or even in the kitchen. Find these problem areas in your home and protect them with a special paint or finish. Don't forget to check your deck and outside trim as well.
Always be attentive of a structure's roof. Damaged shingles or improperly installed flashing are severe warning signs that trouble lurks ahead. Check for leaky ceilings as a sign of a damaged roof. Repairing the roof is crucial in order to prevent further damage later. Although it may be an expensive repair, it's always best to take care of it before it affects other parts of the home.
Without proper ventilation, a build-up of moisture can attack a home's interior walls and structural components. Ventilation fans are a good idea for bathrooms without windows, and opening all of the home's windows during bouts of good weather also helps keep the air moving. Doing so can help prevent drywall replacements or other more expensive structural replacements. Find out the best way to keep your house ventilated and keep that air flowing.
Poor Overall Maintenance
Has the house been properly maintained over the years? How confident are you in the previous owner's repair skills? Sometimes improper maintenance can affect many parts of the home, such as the plumbing and electrical systems. Scope out any makeshift repairs and have a professional take a look, if necessary. Faulty wiring jobs and plumbing situations are not cases to be taken lightly. If a house doesn't look well-kept, this may be reason enough to send buyers running.
With the proper maintenance, any home defect can be righted to ensure a safe living environment for any family.
For more information, visit http://www.elsahomeinspections.com and http://www.hometeaminspection.com/.