July 20, 2011 10:25 pm
Stability in the housing market will lead to a quicker and greater economic recovery, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. In a letter to Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury, and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, NAR offered its recommendations for helping stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and economy.
“As the nation’s leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR understands how integral homeownership is to the nation’s economy. A strong housing market recovery is essential to the nation’s economic strength,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “The housing market is in a fragile recovery, and our goal is to ensure that regulatory or legislative changes help lead the way out of today’s economic struggles and not jeopardize the recovery.”
In its letter, NAR cautioned that recent proposals could make a near-term housing recovery almost impossible, not to mention making it harder for millions of hard-working families to own their own homes. Phipps said more regulations and legislation that tighten access to credit and affordable safe mortgages are not the solution to righting the housing market and economy.
“We want to make sure that any legislative and regulatory changes don’t jeopardize a housing and economic recovery, so that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home has the opportunity to pursue that dream,” says Phipps.
NAR urged support for policies that ensure qualified borrowers can obtain safe and sound mortgage financing. NAR called on regulators to revise the unnecessarily high downpayment requirements of the Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) exemption from risk retention requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act. A broad QRM definition will encourage sound lending and reduce future defaults without delaying or denying homeownership to millions of creditworthy borrowers.
NAR also asked regulators to reduce the overcorrection in underwriting standards for mortgages from the Federal Housing Administration and government-sponsored enterprises because the now-too-stringent standards are preventing qualified borrowers from getting loans.
“Mortgage availability remains a concern, and borrowers continue to find it increasingly difficult to find affordable mortgage options. Requiring a higher downpayment does little to reduce default risk, and only strips home buyers of their savings and increases the number of borrowers who are unable to purchase a home,” says Phipps. “We cannot have a viable housing market and economic recovery until creditworthy borrowers are able to obtain mortgage financing.”
NAR also recommends extending the FHA and GSE mortgage loan limits, which are critical to providing liquidity in today's housing market. Reverting to the statutory limits on October 1 would reduce limits in 669 counties and 42 states and territories; the average decline in loan limits will be more than $68,000.
NAR also firmly believes that National Flood Insurance Program is essential to a properly functioning real estate market, and urges Congress to pass a long-term reauthorization of the program before it is set to expire on September 30 for the tenth time in two years. The program ensures access to affordable flood insurance for millions of homeowners.
“We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to not only preserve, but also strengthen the American Dream for future generations,” concludes Phipps.
July 20, 2011 10:25 pm
Three out of every four motorists are focusing on something other than driving while behind the wheel, according to a poll conducted by Leger Marketing. With the aim of shedding light on the fact that dangerous driving isn’t limited to the standard categories of speeding or drunk driving, InsuranceHotline.com is drawing attention to the lesser known instances of distracted driving to help inform consumers about safety and its impact on insurance. Their list of seven driving distractions is as follows:
1. Using a cell phone. Even though there are laws and legislation in many cities, people still have the tendency to use their cell phone while driving. If you are talking or texting and are involved in an auto accident, you could be charged with “careless driving with undo care and attention,” and could face a serious conviction that comes with a fine of up to $1,000. This type of conviction, coupled with all the implications that are tied to an auto accident, could impact your automobile insurance premium by thousands of dollars every year for at least six years.
2. Eating and drinking. Whether you are drinking hot coffee or eating fast food, your attention can be diverted away from the road, increasing the chance of a collision.
3. Grooming. Applying makeup and even shaving while behind the wheel means a drivers’ attention is taken away from the road and decreases their ability to apply defensive driving techniques.
4. Reading/writing. Yes that’s right, even a GPS system that’s attached to the dashboard can pose a potential danger as it can take the driver’s eyes away from the road. A split second is all it takes!
5. Outside distractions, including everything from billboards to movies in other vehicles; it’s easy to get distracted and it’s important to always maintain focus while driving.
6. Animals/pets. As much as pets can be a companion on long road trips, a barking dog or a pet blocking your view can be a distraction. If you’re traveling with animals, it’s important to have them in a proper crate to avoid any safety hazards.
7. Passenger distractions. Maintaining focus while driving with screaming children or emotional passengers can be a difficult task. Remaining calm is essential for the safety of both the driver and fellow passengers.
“Most people don’t consider minor distractions behind the wheel, such as children or pets as dangerous driving; however, at-fault accidents, regardless of the cause, can affect consumer’s rates in a negative manner,” explains Tammy Ezer, marketing director, InsuranceHotline.com.
It is important for consumers to stay safe and be well informed about the different options available for car insurance. Be sure to comparison shop to obtain the best auto insurance rates.
July 20, 2011 10:25 pm
New York has been named America’s most walkable city by Seattle-based Walk Score, in its list of America’s Most Walkable Cities and Neighborhoods. Miami, Minneapolis and Oakland are new additions to the top ten. Walk Score also rates the walkability of 2,500 cities and 10,000 neighborhoods.
Walk Score’s ten most walkable cities for 2011 include: 1) New York, 2) San Francisco, 3) Boston, 4) Chicago, 5) Philadelphia, 6) Seattle, 7) Washington, D.C., 8) Miami, 9) Minneapolis, and 10) Oakland. This is Walk Score’s first ranking since 2008, when San Francisco was the top-ranked city.
Walk Score’s walkability ranking is the only national, quantitative ranking of walkability in the U.S. Cities and neighborhoods are ranked on a scale of 1-100, with locations receiving a score of 90-100 deemed a “Walkers’ Paradise.”
“With rising gas prices, Americans are looking for alternatives to long commutes and driving around town to complete their errands,” says Walk Score CEO Josh Herst. “America’s most walkable cities and neighborhoods make it easy for residents to leave their cars at home more often. The latest real estate trends show that homes and apartments in walkable areas are in higher demand and are worth more than their less-walkable counterparts.”
Walkable neighborhoods offer a number of benefits:
• Homes in walkable neighborhoods, on average, are worth more than those in less walkable neighborhoods.
• Homes with easy access to public transit and nearby amenities save more energy and money than an Energy Star home in a conventional suburban development.
• The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs eight pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.
“With Millennials entering the marketplace, volatile gas prices, and fringe suburban home prices in decline, the demand for walkable neighborhoods has outstripped supply in most of the U.S.,” says Christopher B. Leinberger, Visiting Fellow at The Brookings Institution. “An American family living in a house that is accessible only by car is spending on average 25 percent of their income on cars. Households in walkable communities spend less than half that amount, putting more money in their pockets."
The complete list of 2,500 cities and their neighborhoods is available at www.walkscore.com.
July 19, 2011 4:25 pm
Sun shining, weather warming, outdoors calling: the summertime sounds like heaven for dogs and other family pets. According to Ocean State Veterinary Specialists (OSVS), however, the seasonal freedom to run free means a new world of risks. Homeowners must be careful to take care of dogs and family pets, and of course, keep them from out of harm’s way.
“While our emergency veterinarians can help your dogs if they’ve been hit by a car, accident prevention is the best option,” says Betsy Hall of OSVS.
As anyone who has owned an energetic dog knows, prevention isn’t easy. Specialists recommend the following three safety tips to keep dogs in their homes rather than the emergency room this summer:
1. Proper Fencing
Room to run, play, bark, and exert as much energy as possible is important to healthy dogs—just limit that room with a well-built fence or a wireless electric fence. If your dog loves to dig, make sure your fence extends a foot or two down into the earth, or bury chicken wire beneath the fence. You can also place partially-buried barriers like large rocks or potted plants along the foot of the fence to keep them from tunneling out an escape route, or lay down a section of mesh or chain link fencing to keep them from digging at all.
2. Loving Leashes
No matter how well-trained and obedient your dog is, it’s not a good idea to take them for walks without a leash. Dogs that normally stick by your side throughout a walk might dash out into the street after a rodent or another dog. The thrill of the chase is in their DNA.
3. Ample Attention
Part of the reason dogs do things like dig and run after cars is that they’re just plain bored. Give them ample attention and constructive ways to expend energy, and they’ll be more likely to spend afternoons lazing in the sun rather than running off in search of a more stimulating adventure. If they know you’ll be home soon and ready to play, they’re likely to wait eagerly for you.
If you’re going to be out of town for an extended period of time, consider placing them in a professional, trustworthy kennel instead of leaving them unattended in the backyard. The best kennels work in specific periods of play, so they won’t be cooped up in a cage all day.
By taking the proper steps, you can ensure a happy and healthy summer for your dog or any other family pet.
July 19, 2011 4:25 pm
Homeowners will need to act fast if they intend to submit paperwork for the Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program (EHLP). The deadline is Friday, July 22, 2011.
"The application process ends this Friday, July 22, and is the first step in providing $1 billion to help an estimated 30,000 homeowners in 27 states and Puerto Rico avoid foreclosure," says Setina Briggs-Kelly, housing manager for GreenPath Debt Solutions. "The program will assist homeowners who have experienced a reduction in income and who are at risk of foreclosure, due to involuntary unemployment or underemployment, economic conditions or medical condition."
Under EHLP program guidelines, eligible homeowners can qualify for an interest-free loan, which pays a portion of their monthly mortgage for up to two years, or up to $50,000, whichever comes first. The EHLP program will pay a portion of an approved applicant's monthly mortgage including missed mortgage payments or past due charges including principal, interest, taxes, insurances, and attorney fees. The loan does not have to be repaid, as long as the homeowner continues making mortgage payments on time for five years.
Homeowners have less than a week to see if they are eligible for the program, as open enrollment ends Friday, July 22. Briggs-Kelly stresses that homeowners should call as soon as possible.
For more information, visit www.greenpath.com.
July 19, 2011 4:25 pm
According to its latest national homeless assessment, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports the number of homeless persons in the U.S. held steady between 2009 and 2010, despite the economic downturn. For the first time, HUD’s annual report reveals how the Recovery Act’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) helped to mitigate homelessness in America, assisting nearly 700,000 persons in the first year of the program.
Based on data collected from thousands of local communities, HUD’s 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress finds a continued decline in the number of persons experiencing long-term homelessness due to the dramatic increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units. Those who were chronically homeless—persons with severe disabilities and long homeless histories—decreased one percent between 2009 and 2010, from 110,917 to 109,920. Since 2007, the number of people who are chronically homeless has decreased by 11 percent, partially due to the 34 percent increase in permanent supportive housing beds during that same timeframe.
Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program – Approximately 690,000 people received assistance in the first year of the HPRP, including 531,000 (77 percent) individuals who were prevented from becoming homeless in the first place. The remaining 159,000 (23 percent) persons received ‘rapid re-housing’ assistance to move from the streets or shelters into permanent housing.
Most HPRP participants (59 percent) received assistance for two months or less. Participants receiving homelessness prevention assistance had slightly longer lengths of participation than persons receiving rapid re-housing assistance because prevention assistance was more likely to be provided on a recurring basis, while rapid re-housing was more likely to be one-time assistance—such as a security deposit.
HUD’s annual assessment is based on two measures of homelessness:
• Point-In-Time ‘Snapshot’ Counts – These data account for sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night, usually at the end of January. The number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night increased by 1.1 percent over the last year: from 643,067 in January 2009 to 649,879 in January 2010. A total of 79,344 family households and 241,621 persons in families were homeless on the night of the 2010 PIT count. Since 2009, the number of homeless families increased 1.1 percent, and the number of homeless persons in families increased 1.5 percent
• 12-Month Counts – Using Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), these data provide more detailed information on persons who access a shelter over the course of a full year. In 2010, 411 communities covering over 4,700 cities and counties submitted useable HMIS data resulting in a 23 percent increase from 2009. This increase is tied to more precise results as HMIS data collection and reporting capacities continue to improve. HUD estimates that 1.6 million persons experienced homelessness and found shelter between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010, a 2.2 percent increase from 2009. The characteristics of sheltered homeless individuals are very different from the characteristics of sheltered persons in families. Individuals are more likely to be white men, over 30 years old, and have a disabling condition, while adults in families are more likely to be younger African-American women without a reported disability. Of all those who sought emergency shelter or transitional housing during 2010, the following characteristics were observed:
• 78 percent of all sheltered homeless persons are adults.
• 62 percent are male.
• 58 percent are members of a minority group.
• 37 percent are 31-to-50 years old.
• 63 percent are in one-person households.
• 37 percent have a disability.
HUD’s report also reveals the following trends:
• Since 2007, the annual number of people using homeless shelters in principal cities has decreased 17 percent (from 1.2 million to 1.0 million), and the annual number of people using homeless shelters in suburban and rural areas has increased 57 percent (from 367,000 to 576,000).
• The number of homeless persons in families has increased by 20 percent from 2007 to 2010, and families currently represent a much larger share of the total sheltered population than ever before. The proportion of homeless people who are using emergency shelter and transitional housing as part of a family has increased from 30 percent to 35 percent during this same period. The increase in sheltered family homelessness is almost certainly a consequence of the economy.
• Despite increases over the past year, there has been a 3.3 percent decline in the number of homeless persons from 2007 to 2010: a 3.6 percent decline for individuals and a 2.8 percent decline for persons in families. The overall decline in homelessness during this period can be attributed to a steep drop in homelessness in Los Angeles between 2007 and 2009.
• There were almost 94,000 more sheltered homeless persons in families in 2010 as there were in 2007, and almost 72,000 fewer sheltered homeless individuals. The number of sheltered homeless individuals has declined six percent since 2007, from 1.15 million to 1.04 million.
July 18, 2011 10:25 pm
Health officials all over the country warn about the West Nile Virus throughout the hot summer months. Rain and summer heat waves are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can spread the West Nile Virus, dengue fever, encephalitis, canine heartworm and other diseases.
Because mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, Health Department officials are asking everyone to take steps to reduce standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying. To reduce mosquito populations:
• Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
• Remove and discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items left outdoors that can collect water.
• Empty and clean birdbaths and pet water bowls at least once or twice a week.
• Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
• Maintain swimming pools in good condition with appropriate chlorination. Empty kids’ swimming pools when not in use.
Where standing water collects, use a product with all-natural Bti to disrupt mosquitoes’ breeding cycle. The Bti in a Mosquito Dunk will kill mosquito larvae in birdbaths, ponds, animal watering troughs and other standing water before they become biting, disease-carrying adults. Mosquito Dunks are safe for pets, wildlife and fish, and they are approved for organic use.
July 18, 2011 10:25 pm
Would it surprise you to know that one in five adults leaves the washroom without washing their hands? The busiest room in the house may also be the least efficient, according to a recent study conducted by Delta Faucet.
According to the results, nearly 75 percent of households have at most two bathrooms, which each person uses more than 5-10 times each day. Recent U.S. Census data shows the average American household has 2.6 residents, meaning those rooms are visited 13-26 times daily. Suffice it to say, the bathroom is one of the most frequented places in the whole house.
"People forget that the bathroom is an integral part of their at-home experience," says family lifestyle expert Savvy Mommy® Victoria Pericon. "Whether it serves as a private sanctuary for mom, a place to showcase your design style to guests, or a room where kids learn everyday habits, the bathroom is one space in the home that gets used consistently, every day."
Pericon suggests putting out inviting hand towels and fragrant or colorful soaps to help encourage hand washing and make the experience more special. She also notes that new technologies for the bathroom, such as touch-activated faucets, can cut down on the transfer of dirt and mess from the hands to the faucet, helping to make the bathroom and home a cleaner place.
"By integrating some special touches and making a couple of simple updates, the bathroom can become a welcoming place that enhances the design and feeling of the entire home. It can also help promote good hygiene," adds Pericon.
While many Americans heed expert advice to wash hands frequently to cut down on the spread of germs, these consumer study results showed that nearly one in five Americans neglect to wash their hands after using the bathroom, with women only slightly more likely to wash than men. The study also found that:
• Respondents who were married wash their hands less compared to those who were single.
• Other groups who wash their hands less frequently include those among the highest income bracket ($75K+) and parents with young children.
• Despite all the education available today, Millennials wash their hands the least, lathering up 10 percent less than Baby Boomers.
In addition, the study revealed that, despite increasing emphasis on water conservation, behind closed bathroom doors the majority of people (57 percent) consistently neglect to turn off the water while brushing their teeth or shaving. And in spite of movements, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) WaterSense® program, designed to help consumers identify high quality water-efficient fixtures, most consumers responded that they have not installed a water-saving faucet or aerator in their home. In fact, most Americans have not even replaced their bathroom faucet in more than 10 years.
For more information visit www.deltafaucet.com.
July 18, 2011 10:25 pm
Most Americans still believe that owning a home is a solid financial decision, and a majority of renters aspire to homeownership as a long-term goal. According to the 2011 National Housing Pulse Survey released recently by the National Association of REALTORS®, 72 percent of renters surveyed said owning a home is a top priority for their future, up from 63 percent in 2010.
Seven in 10 Americans also agreed that buying a home is a good financial decision while almost two-thirds said now is a good time to purchase a home. The annual survey, which measures how affordable housing issues affect consumers, also found that more than three quarters of renters (77 percent) said they would be less likely to buy a home if they were required to put down a 20 percent down payment on the home, and a strong majority (71 percent) believe a 20 percent down payment requirement could have a negative impact on the housing market.
"Despite the economic setbacks Americans have experienced in today's current climate, it is clear that a strong majority still believe in homeownership and aspire to own a home," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "However, achieving the dream of homeownership will become increasingly difficult for buyers if they are required to make a 20 percent down payment, which may be a reality for many of tomorrow's buyers if a proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage rule is adopted. That is why REALTORS® are strongly urging regulators to go back to the drawing board on the proposed rule."
Defining the QRM rule is important because it will determine the types of mortgages that will generally be available to borrowers in the future. As currently proposed, borrowers with less than 20 percent down will have to choose between higher fees and rates today—up to 3 percentage points more—or a 9-14 year delay while they save up the necessary down payment.
Over half—51 percent—of self-described "working class" homeowners as well as younger non-college graduates (51 percent), African Americans (57 percent) and Hispanics (50 percent) who currently own their homes reported that a 20 percent down payment would have prevented them from becoming homeowners.
Pulse surveys for the past eight years have consistently reported that having enough money for a down payment and closing costs are top obstacles that make housing unaffordable for Americans. Eighty-two percent of respondents cited these as the top obstacle, followed by having confidence in one's job security.
The survey also found respondents were adamantly against eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. Two-thirds of Americans oppose eliminating the tax benefit, while 73 percent believe eliminating the MID will have a negative impact on the housing market as well as the overall economy.
"The MID facilitates homeownership by reducing the carrying costs of owning a home, and it makes a real difference to hard-working American families," says Phipps. "Homeownership offers not only social benefits, but also long-term value for families, communities and the nation's economy. We need to make sure that any changes to current programs or incentives don't jeopardize our collective futures."
When asked why homeownership matters to them, respondents cited stability and safety as the top reason. Long-term economic reasons such as building equity followed closely behind. On a local level, respondents said neighbors falling behind on their mortgages and the drop in home values were top concerns. Foreclosures also continue to remain a large concern, with almost half of those surveyed citing the issue as a problem in their area.
The 2011 National Housing Pulse Survey is conducted by American Strategies and Myers Research & Strategic Services for NAR's Housing Opportunity Program. The telephone survey polled 1,250 adults nationwide, with an oversample of interviews of those living in the 25 most populous metropolitan statistical areas. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
For more information visit www.realtor.org.
July 15, 2011 4:25 pm
For renters or homeowners with limited space, packing all of your belongings to fit can be a daunting task. When space is limited, creativity is necessary to make sure you can comfortably and properly store your things in your house or apartment. If you think you're running out of room, try these smart storage tips:
The first step toward being creative is to think vertically. Ceiling-tall book cases are great ideas to store all sorts of knick-knacks, books, CDs and DVDs. Photo albums or framed photos can also be placed on it. There really is no limitation as to what can be stored. If space allows for it, get two or three bookcases, one for each room. By doing so you'll eliminate any sort of clutter and be well on your way toward organization.
Use underneath storage space. Always use the space below coffee tables, end tables or even your bed as possible locations for some of your things. Large plastic containers can be used to protect from dirt or dust. These are stackable and will help you keep your belongings organized and clean.
Always utilize the insides of doors. Cabinet or closet doors can be a great place to hang items. Shoe-holders can be placed on every door in the residence and you don't have to store only shoes in them. Utensils, toiletries and more can be stuffed into these door-hanging pockets, clearing up your drawers, floors and counter-spaces. (Another similar idea for bathrooms: store towels and linens in a small wine rack).
Never underestimate the value of a few good old-fashioned hooks. Place them on the walls to hang pots and pans, utensils, or any other hanging artifact in your home. Not only will you save some space, but these hanging items will also double as decoration in your dining or kitchen area.
Most importantly, items that double as storage should always be incorporated. The best items: ottomans, stools or chests that can store items inside while also being used as seating or a footrest. Keys, umbrellas, footwear, magazines and more can be stored in these types of spaces, further de-cluttering your home or apartment.
For those with cramped quarters, deciding where to put things makes all the difference. With a little planning and clever placement, you can store all of your belongings and make the most of the space you have.
Source: Relocation.com Blog