November 8, 2011 9:20 pm
Pending home sales declined in September, although activity remains above a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 4.6 percent to 84.5 in September from 88.6 in August, but is 6.4 percent higher than September 2010 when it stood at 79.4. The data reflects contracts but not closings.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the housing market is being excessively constrained. "A combination of weak consumer confidence and continuing tight lending criteria held back home buyers, even though the private sector added nearly 2 million net new jobs in the past 12 months," he says.
The PHSI in the Northeast declined 4.7 percent to 60.6 in September but is 4.0 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index dropped 6.2 percent to 71.5 in September but remains 12.3 percent higher than September 2010. Pending home sales in the South fell 5.5 percent in September to an index of 91.6 but are 5.0 percent above a year ago. In the West, the index declined 2.1 percent to 105.8 in September but is 5.6 percent higher than September 2010.
"America's monetary policy is contradictory and confusing, where some consumers with the best financial capacity and top-notch credit scores pay higher mortgage interest rates," Yun says. "The Federal Reserve evidently has been attempting to lower mortgage rates, yet more consumers are faced with taking out jumbo loans that carry higher interest rates."
Yun emphasizes the need to reinstate higher loan limits in 42 states. "Just leaving excessive cash to sit in banks and not work into the economy is a drag on the overall recovery," he says. "We need a comprehensive approach to address housing issues—not additional impediments."
Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org.
November 8, 2011 9:20 pm
In a new survey about preparing financially for retirement, seven out of ten (71%) of over 1,000 adults aged 25 and older said they were personally in control of their finances and make financial decisions themselves. Half of those who are not yet retired (48%) believe they will not have enough money to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, and half of those already retired (53%) are concerned about their current financial situation.
When we asked respondents if they wish they had a pension, half said yes, even among those aged 25-34. This was surprising considering how far removed this younger generation is from the days of defined benefit/pension plans. Whether they hit the job market 10 years ago or two years ago, younger Americans have experienced market bubbles bursting first-hand, which has seriously eroded their confidence in the equity markets.
"It's a smart and rational response to want something safe and secure now. The ramifications of this market dynamic on the investment choices Americans will make over the next 30 to 40 years is only now coming into focus. And, make no mistake, even the younger generation is very realistic about their prospects for retirement, especially when you find that only four percent of them believe that Social Security will provide enough income to live in retirement," says Peter Saracena, senior vice president of Ipsos, a research corporation.
As part of the research, Ipsos asked about the potential for a fixed-rate annuity inside of 401(k)s that could be contributed to over time, that was portable from one plan to another if you left your job, that would provide a guaranteed lifetime income, and that would pay a lump sum to beneficiaries upon death if the account balance exceeded the amount already paid out. Overall, three-quarters (74%) said they would like having this option available, with 83% of those 25-34 feeling the same way. More than half of all respondents (55%) felt that having this 401(k) annuity option would be like contributing to a pension.
Among those that do not currently have a 401(k), four out of ten (38%) said they would be more likely to participate if this annuity option was available. Eight in ten (77%) of those likely to participate in a 401(k), if available, said that they would allocate a portion of their regular contribution to the annuity product, and 81% said they would be likely to ask their employer to allocate the match to the annuity. More than half (54%) said they would have a more favorable opinion of their employer if the company offered the option to contribute the match to the annuity.
Given that half of those with 401(k)s have balances of less than $5,000, it should come as no surprise that seven out of ten adults not yet retired (69%) say they have a lot more to do financially before they are ready to retire. Unfortunately, while there is no silver bullet to fulfill the retirement needs of Americans, and four out of ten (38%) currently believe that they will outlive their retirement savings, creating an understandable and easily navigated pathway toward a guaranteed retirement lifetime income stream seems not only appropriate, but an absolute necessity.
November 8, 2011 9:20 pm
By Zoe Eisenberg
Even though Halloween has come and gone, carving a pumpkin can still be a fun Fall activity you enjoy with your family. It also doesn’t have to be as daunting—or messy—as one may assume. After you pick your pumpkin at the local patch or store, follow these easy steps to turn your squash into a festive jack-o-lantern with minimal effort.
1. Cut a Hole in the Pumpkin
First, use a keyhole saw or sharp knife to cut a wide circle around the stem of your pumpkin. The hole should be large enough that you have ample room to clean out the inside of the pumpkin—more on that in our next step. Carefully remove the top, clean the bottom of flesh and seeds, and set aside.
2. Scoop out the Inside
Scoop out flesh, pulp and seeds of your pumpkin with a large spoon, plastic scraper or your hands. Be sure the inside is clear of all stringy sinews, as they can be flammable once dry. Set aside seeds, which are fun to bake and delicious to eat.
3. Make Your Design
Draw your design—or trace one from a template—onto the side of your pumpkin using a thick pen or marker. Make sure all lines are clear, thick and simple enough for you to carve.
4. Carve the Features
Carve along your lines with a small saw, blade or sharp knife.
5. Light Your Pumpkin
Now it’s time to put the lantern in your jack-o-lantern. Place a candle with high glass walls in your pumpkin, or—for a safer solution—wrap a string of lights around a jar and place inside.
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, experiment with different November-themed designs. When paired with the naturally fallen leaves and a bale of hay, a carved pumpkin can add plenty of flair to your next holiday.
November 8, 2011 9:20 pm
Trees are often overlooked during the summer when it comes to watering. Yet, when trees go dormant for autumn and winter – meaning active root growth comes to a standstill – and deciduous trees lose their leaves, they make up for deficits and absorb as much water and nutrients as they can hold. Enter fall's first rains, windstorms and freezes, and homeowners are guaranteed a dose of trouble.
Homeowners are advised to follow seven guidelines this fall to avoid tree problems year round.
Trees with deep root systems typically do not need extra water, while trees with shallow roots do. Your tree is thirsty if it is brown in places, or if some of its branches are dead or brittle. If needed, place mulch at the base of the tree to help the soil retain water.
#2 Plant for all seasons, and for your region
It is best to plant trees that thrive in your home city's weather. Young trees planted in locations subject to harsh weather should be staked until their root balls have grown strong enough to support them. Protect against nibbling animals by placing a small fence around the base. And be sure to check with local jurisdictions on permits needed or other restrictions.
#3 Remove troublemakers
If a tree is located next to a foundation, path or fence, or along an irrigation, sewer or utility line, fall is a good time to move it, or even remove it.
To remove a tree quickly, and effortlessly, a chainsaw can be used to cut the tree down piece by piece (consult an arborist for larger projects or when tree falling has the potential to harm property or people). For safety and efficiency, keep the chainsaw chain sharp.
Fall is the time to prune most trees. With an expert's help or on your own, prune to open up the tree's crown and remove excess limbs and dead or weakened wood. Use your chainsaw to complete the job quicker.
#5 Remove fallen leaves
Remove fallen leaves to be certain that the base of your tree can "breathe," and to remove a haven for tree-damaging insects. This also assures that any plants below the tree get adequate water and light.
If an insect is attacking a tree, fall is the best time to apply dormant spray on fruiting trees.
Most trees don't require fertilizer although fruiting and flowering trees may benefit from it. Late fall is a good time to fertilize because winter rains will prevent chemical burn. Fertilize after the first frost to prevent new, tender growth from damage.
Requiring very little maintenance in the fall, trees provide strong focal points to landscapes. Deciduous trees present various colors and appearances throughout the year, and evergreens breathe life and color year-round. Take care of your trees and you will enjoy them for years to come.
November 8, 2011 9:20 pm
David H. Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued the following statement in response to the recent announcement of changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).
"The mortgage industry welcomes these changes designed to help more underwater borrowers who are current on their mortgages refinance at today's historically low interest rates. Not only will these changes allow more borrowers to qualify, but they will streamline the process and reduce the cost to borrowers and should lessen risk for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"Lenders are particularly gratified that the refinements will provide relief from some representations and warranties that lenders face when originating new loans. These changes alone should encourage lenders to more actively participate in HARP.
"Borrowers need to be aware that these changes will not be implemented overnight. Lenders likely won't receive specific guidance and operational details from the regulators for a couple of weeks, after which it will take a bit of additional time for lenders to implement them. Therefore we ask borrowers for patience as the changes are put into practice.
"While ultimately helpful, these changes are not going to be a silver bullet to solve all the issues facing our housing market and borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. But they will offer lenders another tool to help borrowers and hopefully help bring some stability to housing markets, particularly those most impacted by home value declines."
For more information, visit www.mortgagebankers.org.
November 7, 2011 9:18 pm
A recent survey conducted by the NAHB Research Center found that individuals who are renting perceive homeownership as a preference. In fact, 68% of individuals currently paying rent for their residences said they would prefer to own their own houses. Although previous releases issued about this study have discussed the feeling among consumers about the cost of owning a home, this information demonstrates that regardless of concerns, the general perception among those surveyed is that they prefer to own a home. The complete study reported opinions from consumers and builders on various topics related to home building.
Approximately one-third of households in the United States live in rental housing. The majority of renters displayed a perception of being concerned with their costs – 60% said they were concerned about the cost to rent, while 52% said they were concerned about the cost of electric and gas bills.
According to the survey, another factor when it comes to homeownership is the perceived safety. Of all renter respondents, 44% said they had not taken any action to increase the safety of their households in the past 6-12 months. Other respondents said they undertook minor safety precaution projects such as installing a lock on a door (32%) and putting in a smoke alarm (31%).
Besides owning their own houses, other desired changes that renters indicated they would like included having a backyard (39%), the ability to decorate (38%), upgrading appliances (36%) and increasing home eco-efficiency (31%).
Homeownership can also improve health, physical safety and security, and can help educational and job prospects increase. Homeownership is also an important means of wealth accumulation, and it can improve and stabilize neighborhoods and communities.
For more information, visit www.whirlpoolcorp.com/responsibility/building_communities/habitat_for_humanity.aspx.
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.