August 16, 2011 10:33 pm
Over one year ago, Fannie Mae launched KnowYourOptions.com, a consumer website to educate distressed homeowners about options that may be available to them, which has welcomed more than 400,000 visitors and more than 1.5 million page views.
"KnowYourOptions.com has seen almost half a million visits in the last year, with the most popular pages being our interactive Options Finder and the modification calculator," says Jeff Hayward, senior vice president of Fannie Mae's National Servicing Organization. "These tools are reliable, informative and easy to understand. In addition to our network of Mortgage Help Centers and Mortgage Help Network Partners across the country, Fannie Mae is using the Web to reach struggling homeowners. KnowYourOptions.com is an integral part of our effort to prevent foreclosures whenever possible and stabilize neighborhoods."
Key features of KnowYourOptions.com include:
• Interactive Options Finder to help homeowners identify options that might be right for their situation;
• Calculators to help borrowers understand how many of the options would apply to them, including refinance, repayment, forbearance and modification;
• Videos featuring real homeowners discussing how they received help and housing counselors providing advice;
• A virtual assistant to walk homeowners through key areas of the site; and
• Next steps and helpful forms, including a financial checklist and contact log to help borrowers be prepared when contacting their mortgage company or housing counselor.
The site features interactive tools presented to homeowners within two categories: options for those who want to stay in their home and options for those who may want to leave. A very popular feature on the site is the award-winning interactive video simulation called WaysHome™. Viewers choose from several role-playing options, and then play the part of a homeowner struggling to make mortgage payments. They make decisions for their character and experience the positive outcomes or negative consequences of those choices. Helpful tips and advice are included along the way.
KnowYourOptions.com is designed to bring the best information and guidance together in one place so that struggling borrowers can focus on finding solutions that work for their particular circumstances.
For more information, visit KnowYourOptions.com.
August 16, 2011 10:33 pm
Marketers attempting to understand consumer habits that influence mobile marketing can get a revealing glimpse into the mindset of the mobile consumer through the newly released 2011 Mobile Consumer Report from Experian Simmons.
According to exclusive research from Experian Simmons, a part of Experian Marketing Services, 29% of cell phone owners today believe their phone will be the primary device for their entertainment needs in the future. The report provides marketers with vivid insights that they need to prepare for the mobile revolution, including how consumers use their phones to manage social connections, consume media, get information, plan shopping trips, interact with mobile advertising and more.
"The explosion in usage of mobile technologies is an industry game-changer, and marketers need reliable insights to better understand this rapidly changing landscape," says Ken Wollenberg, general manager of Experian Simmons. "This report will help them devise plans that are timely, relevant and more effective in driving incremental sales and building brand awareness in the mobile space."
Other findings from the report include:
• More than nine out of 10 adults, seven out of 10 teens and one out of five kids own a mobile phone;
• Fifty-six percent of smartphone owners access the Internet from their phone; 27% watch video;
• Thirty percent of iPhone owners want to make purchases in stores using their phone;
• Twenty percent of social networkers access their account from their phone; and
• Sixteen percent of mobile owners downloaded a mobile app last month.
This report also includes an illuminating profile of five distinct mobile consumer segments developed by Experian Simmons, including a look at each segment's receptivity to traditional and mobile advertising.
To download a copy of the Experian Simmons 2011 Mobile Consumer Report, visit http://www.experian.com/simmons/mobile2011.
August 15, 2011 10:33 pm
The Back Institute cites a recent study from The Annals of Internal Medicine stating that massage therapy is actually more effective and produced better results than more advanced procedures such as the use of painkillers, muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs.
Chronic neck and back pain is among the most common reasons people seek medical care in the United States, with treatment costs approaching $100 billion annually. That amount is almost double what it was a decade ago. Technology has advanced, giving the back pain industry new tools to work with such as Vax-D and other spinal decompression methods designed to relieve the problem, but despite researchers’ best efforts, the number of back pain sufferers in the country has continued to rise.
The back is composed of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and disks, injury to any one of which can cause back pain. However, the most common causes are strained muscles and ligaments due to improper or heavy lifting, or sudden, awkward movements.
Back pain may also occur as a result of bulging or ruptured discs, arthritis, sciatica, or skeletal irregularities (such as spinal curve, Scoliosis), or osteoporosis (compression fractures of your spine’s vertebrae, the result, of bones becoming porous and brittle).
Oddly enough, in spite of all the advances in technology and procedure, one of the most effective cures for back pain is quite simple, the age old technique known as massage therapy.
The Annals of Internal Medicine group study involved 400 adults in their mid-40s who experienced chronic and moderately severe low back pain. The subjects were randomly chosen to receive either their usual care or a one-hour massage once a week for ten weeks. Massages were either the more traditional type, or specialized procedures targeting specific regions and releasing tension in specific tissues and joints. At the end of the study, the ones who received the massage therapy showed marked improvement over those who had received more traditional care.
Massage recipients reported a decrease in their level of back pain, with a greater ability to go about their normal routines, spending less time in bed and missing fewer work days. The balance to the argument was that after a year, there was virtually no difference between the massage groups and the usual care groups, indicating that traditional methods of back pain treatment still had their place.
The benefits of back pain treatment include:
Improved movement in the neck, shoulders, back and torso;
Improvement in posture;
Provide relief from headaches, neck and back pain;
Prevention of work-related muscle and joint injuries
Enhanced athletic performance;
Improvement of flexibility and range of motion;
Relief of pregnancy-related back ache; and
Correction of gait and foot problems.
For more information, visit www.backinstitute.com.
August 15, 2011 10:33 pm
Elevated levels of indoor household mold growth are very unhealthy for both homeowners and renters. Here are 12 steps for safe and effective, do-it-yourself household mold removal in houses, condominiums and apartments.
1. Locate, fix and prevent all sources of mold growing water problems, such as severe winter-caused roof ice dams and broken, frozen water pipes, plus leaky roofs or siding, recurring flooding, plumbing leaks, air conditioning condensation, and high humidity (e.g., above 70%), especially for homes in communities near the ocean, a lake, or a large river.
2. Find all visible mold growth by thorough, visual mold inspection. Use a strong flashlight and your sense of smell to help locate mold growth.
3. Inspect for hidden mold growth inside, above, below, and next to water-damaged ceilings, walls, and floors, as well as inside heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and air ducts. Cut one inch by one inch or bigger core dry wall samples. Remove and look in the middle and back of each core for visible mold growth. Then, use a flashlight to look inside each hole for mold growth.
4. Use do-it-yourself mold test kits to test room air and the outward air flow from each HVAC air duct register and all window air conditioners for the possible presence of elevated levels of airborne mold spores. If there are serious mold problems anywhere in a home, airborne mold spores from those mold infestations will enter into the HVAC to cross contaminate both the HVAC and the entire house through the air duct registers.
5. When doing mold inspection, testing and removal, wear proper personal protection including at least: (a) N-95 breathing mask; (b) disposable vinyl gloves; (c) eye goggles with no air holes; (d) head covering; and (e) washable or paper disposable coveralls. These items are readily available at large paint, hardware, and home improvement stores.
6. Contain the mold work area to keep airborne mold spores from cross-contaminating the rest of the house. Tape or staple wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, clear plastic sheeting as mold containment walls, with a lift-up plastic sheeting flap door for easy entry and exit.
7. Dry the work area (especially if still wet from flooding or a now-fixed plumbing or roof leak) with one or more dehumidifiers and/or large fans located right in front of open windows to dry the area and to exhaust dangerous airborne mold spores to the outdoors.
8. Remove visible mold growth by scrubbing it off with a hard bristle brush or wire brush dripping with boric acid powder (mix two cups per gallon of warm water). You can also use a wire brush attachment for an electric drill, hand sander, electric sander, hand-held planer and power planer to remove mold growth from building materials.
9. If you cannot remove all of the mold growth to a visibly mold-free condition, then remove, discard and replace the moldy building materials.
10. Don’t use chlorine bleach because it is not an effective or long-lasting killer of toxic mold growth and mold spores on and inside porous, cellulose building materials such as wood timbers, drywall, plasterboard, particleboard, plywood, plywood substitutes, ceiling tiles, and carpeting/padding. In addition, bleach treatment does not prevent future mold growth.
11. If you have mold growth inside your HVAC system, first have your equipment and air ducts professionally cleaned, and then use a fogging machine to fog boric acid powder (two cups per gallon of warm water) for one hour into the fresh air entry duct of your HVAC to kill any remaining mold and to coat the insides of your equipment and ducts with mold-preventative boric acid crystals (left inside after natural drying). Do this procedure while the system is running on fan ventilation (no heating or cooling) to deliver substantial amounts of boric acid powder throughout the HVAC.
12. During the mold removal process, the residents should move temporarily to a mold-safe place until the successful completion of the mold remediation project and until clearance mold testing documents that it is safe to return.
Sources: www.moldinspector.com, www.workplacemold.com, www.envirodetectives.com
August 15, 2011 10:33 pm
By Ronnie Kweller
The Alliance to Save Energy recently hailed a newly released model building energy code upgrade that will improve energy use in commercial and residential buildings in the United States by as much as 30%.
The landmark 30% improvement for new and renovated residential buildings is included in the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which also would increase the energy efficiency of commercial buildings by about 25% when compared to the 2006 version of the code.
Significance in Energy Codes
The historic increase in the code was advocated by the Energy Efficiency Codes Coalition (EECC), a group led by the Alliance and comprised of a diverse group of policy makers, businesses and public interest groups. The improvements in the model code will have far-reaching impact as nearly all states operate under a version of the IECC, which is the only model residential energy code referenced in federal statutes.
“The significant advances in energy codes for new U.S. construction have multiple benefits even beyond the noteworthy savings of energy, money and pollutant emissions that they will achieve,” says Alliance President Kateri Callahan.
“The 2012 code will reduce peak energy demand, thereby reducing strain on the electric grid and increasing its reliability; reduce the size and cost of heating and cooling equipment in residential and commercial buildings; improve indoor comfort; help stabilize local energy prices; and increase national energy security,” she adds.
“We commend the International Code Council for its historic accomplishment and the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition for its persistence in advocating for a substantial code improvement,” Callahan continues. “We urge each of the 50 states to fulfill the promise of the 2012 code by adopting it promptly and enforcing it strictly in the months and years ahead.”
Savings Brought By Adoption of Code
The Alliance has estimated that if all states were to adopt the strengthened code next year and achieved full compliance by 2013—an admittedly ambitious scenario—the annual savings by 2030 would come to:
• At least $40 billion in energy costs to consumers and businesses;
• More than 3.5 quadrillion Btu of energy annually—about 9% of current building energy use; and
• About 200 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
• The EECC says all states have committed to 90% compliance with the 2012 IECC by 2017.
Results of Improvements
For homes, improvements will:
• Ensure that new homes are better sealed to reduce heating and cooling losses;
• Improve the efficiency of windows and skylights;
• Increase insulation in ceilings, walls and foundations;
• Reduce wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts;
• Improve hot-water distribution systems to reduce wasted energy and water in piping; and
• Boost indoor and outdoor lighting efficiency.
August 12, 2011 4:33 pm
With a large majority of real estate buyers starting their home search online, it is more important than ever for sellers and the agents representing them to be sure the photos they post online make a good first impression. The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) warns that real estate images can be misleading, especially as home staging—the practice in which experts make the property attractive to the highest number of potential home buyers by enhancing its visual appeal—is becoming increasingly common. Taking the staging element to the dramatic editing of online photos is a relatively new tactic and can be misleading.
Today’s home buyer spends more time online when shopping for a home. The practice is growing and more popular than ever with the rise of smartphone apps that allow buyers to search property listings, calculate mortgages and more. Virtual showings are integral to the total home buying process and a large part of that is the ability to view the exterior and interior of a home before deciding to view it in person.
The following four tips will help buyers assess online photos in the proper context.
1. Pictures can look better than the actual home. Buyers should view pictures with that understanding and not make a sole judgment based on the photos.
2. Pictures may look worse than the actual home. Buyers may be discouraged by a poorly taken photo, yet the property may actually represent a good bargain.
3. Order and flow make a difference. It can be difficult to get a sense of the flow of the home from photographs. If the photos are not listed in order, try to do it yourself so that you can follow the path of the home from the front door through the rooms of the house.
4. Photos distort scale. It is difficult to get a good view of a whole room from a small picture. Rely on floor plans and room dimensions rather than photos to judge the scale of rooms.
Photos can provide additional information, but home buyers that rely solely on an image can miss out on a great home or be disappointed by an in-person visit. Buyers should assess all available information about a home. Use Google Street View to see the surrounding neighborhood, and Yelp to read reviews about local businesses and stores. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but when added to detailed research, it can be very valuable.
For more information, visit www.naeba.org.
August 12, 2011 4:33 pm
Now that you’ve found your dream home, be sure the actual moving process goes just as smoothly. Avoid these five mistakes when moving to your new home:
Getting a quote over the phone or Internet
A big mistake that consumers make when planning their move is obtaining a quote over the phone or the Internet. Any quote obtained in this manner is a non-binding quote. The only way to obtain a guaranteed or binding quote is to have a visual survey of your household goods by a reputable mover. If you choose to accept a quote over the phone or Internet you are setting yourself up for a nasty scenario when the mover shows up at your new home and demands more money.
Waiting too long to line up a mover
Allowing time for a visual survey, receiving a written and binding quote, and reserving a truck for your move takes a lead time of four to six weeks. Although moves can be arranged in a shorter period of time, many consumers find that their choices are limited by availability, especially in the busy summer months. In our current real estate market, many homes are taking longer to sell, but once sold are closing very quickly. The time to obtain estimates for your move is before your home sells so that you are prepared when it does.
Misrepresenting what you are moving
It is very important to show the surveyor or estimator everything you are planning to move. If you forget to show items in a basement, garage, attic, or off-site storage unit and then add those items at time of pick-up, your estimate will no longer be binding. In the same vein, if you commit to packing your own items but don’t have time to finish, the van line will pack your items and charge you for the service. If you are uncertain of whether you will be taking something, or are not sure if you will have time to pack everything, ask the surveyor to put the items or service in the estimate. If you decide not to take something, or do not require the packing, the cost will be adjusted downward.
Paying a deposit upfront
Reputable movers do not ask for payment upfront to reserve trucks or dates. This is a classic red flag in moving. A reputable mover will expect payment upon delivery.
Finding a mover based upon price rather than reputation and service
If a mover gives you a price that is significantly lower than other movers it is likely that you are being low-balled. If a surveyor has underestimated your weight in order to give you a lower price, you may find that the moving truck does not have enough room for your shipment. This is called an overflow. An overflow means that your items will not all travel together, will not all arrive at the same time, and will generally cause you a big hassle. Another way to lower costs is to compromise service. Look for a competitive bid from a professional mover who is certified and reputable. Although price is an important factor, don't base your decision on price alone.
If you are planning a move in the near future, be sure to avoid these five mistakes. By planning ahead and being honest with the movers about your plans and expectations, you can be well on your way to a smoother move to your new home.
Source: The Move Advocate
August 12, 2011 4:33 pm
By Ronnie Kweller
Don’t let today’s high gas prices keep you at home this summer or prevent you from driving to the beach. Nationwide, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gas is currently more than $3.80—that’s about a dollar more than last year at this time.
Those gas expenditures can add up.
“The average U.S. household will spend about $3,500 to power its vehicles this year – $800 more than last year," says Alliance to Save Energy’s President Kateri Callahan. "This means almost 7% of an average household's income is used paying for gasoline."
Paying thousands of dollars per year in gas can put a burden on many Americans. But simple fuel efficiency measures can keep more dollars in your pocket and even extend the life of your vehicle.
Smart Vehicle Maintenance
• Tune up. Fixing a car that’s out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4%, which adds up to savings of about $75 per year. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40%!
• Keep tires properly inflated to improve mileage by up to 3%, which means you can save $55 per year. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3% for every 1 psi drop in pressure in all four tires. In addition, proper inflation improves tire longevity – and your safety while driving. DOE cautions not to go by the maximum pressure printed on the tire’s sidewall, but to find the proper tire pressure for your own vehicle on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb or in the glove box, as well as in your owner’s manual.
• Use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil or risk lowering your gas mileage by 1-2%, which could cost up to $35 per year. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can depress mileage by 1-2%; and using 5W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-20 can lower mileage by 1-1.5%. Look for the phrase “Energy Conserving” on the American Petroleum Institute performance symbol to ensure that the oil contains friction-reducing additives.
• Get the junk out of the trunk. Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle’s trunk could reduce your mileage by up to 2% and cost around $35 per year. Enjoy golfing outside this summer or bringing chairs to the beach, but remember to take out the excess before driving around.
• Avoid a loaded roof rack. It can decrease your fuel economy by 5%, which adds up to about $90 per year.
• Avoid aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration and rapid braking can lower gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds, which could cost about $900 per year. Even aggressive driving around town could lower gas mileage by 5% and costs around $90 per year.
• Avoid speeding. Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly above 60 miles per hour. Each 5 mph over 60 is like paying an additional 24 cents per gallon for gas.
• Avoid idling. Idling gets 0 miles per gallon. Cars with larger engines typically waste more gas at idle than cars with smaller engines.
• Use cruise control on the highway to maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, save gas and money.
• Engage the overdrive gear. With overdrive gearing, your car’s engine speed goes down, saving gas and reducing engine wear.
• Plan your trips. Combining errands into one trip saves you time and money. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
• Beat the traffic. When possible, drive during off-peak hours to avoid stop-and-go or bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions, thereby reducing both gas costs and stress.
• Consider alternatives to driving. Sharing driving duties with fellow commuters through carpools and ride-share programs can cut your weekly fuel costs in half and save wear on your car. Many urban areas allow vehicles with multiple passengers to use High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which are typically less congested, further improving your fuel economy.
• Consider using public transit if it is available and convenient for you. The American Public Transportation Association has links to information about public transportation in your state.
For more information, visit http://ase.org/.
August 11, 2011 10:33 pm
Unfortunately, with the economy’s slow recovery and still-high unemployment rates, many homeowners continue to confront difficulties in making their mortgage payments. If you’re one of these homeowners, know that you’re not alone and know that there are several options to explore prior to foreclosure, such as a short sale. A short sale occurs when the outstanding loan(s) against a property are greater than what the property can be sold for.
As you’ve probably heard, however, short sales can be a drawn out and complicated process. Here are five tips to help you successfully navigate a short sale:
1. Get comparable sale prices and an estimate of expected closing costs to help verify the current market value of your home.
2. Determine the amount of all loans against the property. Subtract the total amount you owe on the property from the estimated proceeds of the sale.
3. Contact your lender or lenders. Insist on speaking with someone in authority about a short sale. Remember that you are asking the lender to accept less than the total amount you owe, so be firm but cooperative.
4. Be prepared to submit the necessary documentation, including a letter of authorization giving the lender permission to talk with specific interested parties about your loan. Include your name, address, the loan number, and your agent’s contact information.
5. Include a hardship letter describing how you got into a financial bind, and provide proof of your assets and income. You also may wish to include recent bank statements, with an explanation of any unusual deposits or withdrawals, and your broker’s competitive market analysis.
Be sure to work with a real estate agent who has experience in short sales. Many agents have been through comprehensive short sale training and received special distressed property designations. Above all, the short sale process requires patience—even after you find a buyer. But for many homeowners, it was well worth it.
August 11, 2011 10:33 pm
If you’re looking for a home in an urban area, condos are often a great choice. Keep the following in mind before buying your urban home:
In areas like New York City, cooperatives (co-ops) are often the easiest way to break into homeownership. If you don't have the cash to make a 20 to 25 percent downpayment, some co-ops will allow you to use gift money from your parents, while others will not.
Also, some co-ops require that you have a certain amount of cash reserves after the purchase—sometimes equal to the purchase price. Putting all your financial information on the table can help your broker find a co-op that's perfect for you.
Explore emerging neighborhoods.
You might be able to get a deal on an urban property in an up-and-coming area, but make sure the area is well on the upswing before you buy. An emerging neighborhood can take several years to redevelop. To make sure it's a good time to buy, investigate the area.
Investigate a potential building's financial condition.
When you buy a condo, loft or co-op, you're not just buying a property—you're also buying into the building or community. Homeowners associations (HOAs) govern condo communities, collecting dues and maintaining the common areas. A board of directors takes care of these tasks in a cooperative.
Hire an attorney to research the association's financial stability and its rules before you sign on the dotted line. Your attorney should look at the corporation's yearly financial statements to see how much money it has on hand.
You can also do some of your own investigating. Don't forget to find out about the surrounding buildings and their construction plans as well. You don't want to buy a home overlooking the water, then find out the week you move in that someone is building something taller that blocks your view.
Don't plan to buy a co-op as an investment property.
Multi-family homes can be great investment properties, but co-ops have very restrictive rules about renting.
While condos are typically much more lenient about rentals, be sure to check the property's covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) to make sure you're allowed to lease it to a tenant.