June 30, 2011 4:25 pm
With more than 60 million Americans living in homes governed by community associations, emergency planning has become an essential skill of Home Owners Association (HOA) managers, according to the National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM), an independent board that develops certification (known as the CMCA – Certified Manager of Community Associations®) and standards for community association managers.
"Community managers play a key role in any emergency response effort," says Dawn Bauman, executive director of NBC-CAM. "HOA managers must understand what types of disasters are likely to occur in their community, develop emergency response protocols, practice them and then communicate them."
Disasters range from summer wildfires to hurricanes, tornados to blizzards. Their impact on communities varies, depending on their size and location, the age of the housing stock and a community's degree of preparedness.
According to the American Red Cross, writing a disaster preparedness plan has six steps:
1. Committing to preparedness for the community or property. This means getting the HOA board and other top leadership committed to disaster planning.
2. Conducting a hazard vulnerability assessment. George Sullivan, an expert in disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross says, "A lot of people write an emergency response plan based on something that happened to someone else."
3. Developing an emergency response plan. "If you already have one, now is the time to revisit it and ask all the big 'what ifs,' such as 'what if we're no longer able to operate in this location?'" Sullivan says.
4. Testing your plan. An untested plan is not a real plan – so go ahead and plan those drills.
5. Communicating about preparedness. Managers must make preparedness top of mind in their communities, through newsletters and bill inserts.
6. Helping others. By definition, a commitment to disaster preparedness is a commitment to helping others – so some communities consider adopting a local school or church or hosting a blood drive.
"CMCAs learn these are things they have to be aware of," says Rosen, who teaches classes on emergency preparedness. "They know they are responsible for the people in their community, and they have to have a written plan."
When looking for a CMCA-accredited community manager, visit NBC-CAM's online directory of certified community association managers to find professionals with the latest knowledge and practical skills. For more information, visit www.nbccam.org.
June 30, 2011 4:25 pm
The National Association of REALTORS® supports comprehensive reform of America's housing finance market that protects taxpayers and ensures the availability of affordable mortgage credit today and into the future.
"As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR believes that a methodical, measured and comprehensive approach for reforming the secondary mortgage market is in the best interest of home buyers and taxpayers," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "A comprehensive and effective mortgage reform strategy is critical to help keep a level of certainty in the marketplace and not further disrupt the still fragile housing market recovery."
NAR supports the objectives of H.R. 1859, the "Housing Finance Reform Act of 2011," introduced last month by Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.). The bill takes a comprehensive approach for reforming the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"While NAR has concerns with some aspects of the legislation, we strongly support the bill's comprehensive approach to reforming the secondary mortgage market and greatly appreciate the efforts of Reps. Campbell and Peters to protect the affordable 30-year fixed rate mortgage, shield taxpayers from unnecessary additional bailouts, and ensure the availability of mortgage capital to all markets under all economic conditions," Phipps says.
NAR opposes the piecemeal approach of recent proposals that would quickly constrain or shut down existing secondary mortgage market facilities before identifying a viable replacement that would allow securitization to function under all market conditions.
"We believe that a fully private system is not a viable or sustainable alternative to the existing housing finance system and will severely restrict mortgage capital, raise costs for qualified, creditworthy home buyers, and place taxpayers at greater risk as too-big-to-fail government-backed financial institutions dominate the market," Phipps says. "NAR looks forward to working closely with Congress; the time has come to have a serious discussion about comprehensive reform of our nation's housing finance system."
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
June 29, 2011 4:25 pm
By Nick Caruso
Whether buying a toy for your new home or simply replacing an older model, buying a new TV can be an exciting purchase. With new technology rapidly outdating the old, some consumers may not be aware of what's available or know what to look for when the time has come. Here are a few tips and items to consider when scouting out a new television for your home.
Widescreen and HD is Where It's At: With much of today's programming being presented in widescreen format, it's best to have a TV that can properly display it. Rarely are new shows broadcasted in the old 4:3 standard aspect ratio. For the best picture display, purchase a widescreen TV and make sure it has HD capabilities. Depending on your budget, you can choose between 720p or 1080p, which refers to the number of horizontal lines of pixels displayed on the screen at any given time. For TVs 30 inches or under, you may not see a difference between the two. For larger screens, it's best to pick 1080p if your budget allows for it. Once you go HD, you'll never go back!
Decide Between a Plasma or LCD: Knowing the difference between these types of TVs is crucial before making your decision. LCD televisions (short for liquid-crystal display televisions) utilize a technology based on polarized light, where two polarized panels are located in front of and in back of a thin layer of liquid crystal gel that is divided up into individual pixels. Plasma televisions, on the other hand, use ionized gas to form plasma (a type of gas with ionized particles) which emits units of light called photons. Thousands of cells, coated with phosphors, give off colored light when struck with these photons. This, in turn, creates the picture you see on the screen.
There are pros and cons to both technologies. Plasmas tend to have darker darks and brighter whites. If you decide on plasma, conduct some further research on contrast ratios. However, if your TV room is an area that receives a lot of sunlight, you may want to choose an LCD, as those screens will not create any glare due to incoming light. Deciding which technology you want to pursue and purchase is an important decision that must be made before you can begin looking at brands, sizes, etc.
Investigate the Back Panel: Do you have lots of video sources you'll need to plug in? Make sure to check the back panel to see what kind of inputs the TV has and if you'll be able to fully utilize all of your external devices (receivers, video game systems, Bluray players, etc.). You don't want to get your new TV home and have to juggle inputs--it never hurts to have too many.
Look for an Energy Star-compliant TV: Energy Star is a guideline imposed by the EPA and the Department of Energy to regulate energy saving measures for consumer electronics. Make sure your new TV is Energy Star compliant. It's a "green" effort that is good for the planet and one that will also save you money in the long run.
These tips only scratch the surface in terms of what you should know before making such a large purchase. However, once you narrow down your wants and needs, you can dig deeper in the quest of finding the TV of your dreams.
Sources: CNET Asia, Squidoo.com
June 29, 2011 4:25 pm
As the job market recovers, a unique phenomenon is beginning to happen, and one expert warns it could cost you money.
“As people who have been looking for work a long time start to get back into the workforce, many of them are so happy just to get a job that they sometimes accept a lower salary than they have to,” says Bill Humbert, author of RecruiterGuy's Guide to Finding a Job. “Some employers feel they can probably get away with a lowball offer, and many job hunters will grab it just so they can have a job. The truth is there are ways to get the job and still get what you want.”
Humbert's advice for job hunters includes:
Don’t Offer Salary Requirements – When you are asked to include salary requirements with your resume, that is typically a company’s first screen and it can be used against you. People agonize over what to reveal because they are afraid of pricing themselves out of a good job. Simply put “Open” in that spot. If your qualifications are on target, they’ll call you. If in the interview you’re asked what you made at your last job, reply by asking about the range for the one you are applying. You’d be surprised how managers or human resource representatives will tell you.
Don’t Give Away Too Much – In many job applications, an employer will ask for your salary history. It is perfectly acceptable to write “Willing to discuss at appropriate time during interview process” and leave those numbers blank. Writing down those numbers pigeonholes you, and reduces your negotiation power.
Don’t Negotiate Salary – That’s right. Don’t negotiate salary in the interviews. Instead, negotiate when you’ll give them your salary requirements. When they ask you for that figure, tell them you don’t know what you’d require until you have a clear picture of the job requirements and potential for advancement over the next five years. After you have that information and you’re asked again for that number, respond by asking to go through what I call your “impacts” – areas of your job that directly impact the company’s bottom line. This discussion will allow you to demonstrate what you bring to the table. At the end of that discussion, simply tell them that you are very interested in the position, and that you’d seriously consider any offer they’d like to make.
Keep Networking – Once you have a job offer, it’s not a done deal until you accept it. Until that happens, keep networking and looking for jobs. It may give you valuable market-worth data about the position you’ve been offered. It may also be a safety net in case something goes awry between the time you receive an offer and the time you accept it.
Accepting the Offer – Once an offer is given, you have the right to ask for a clarification on it. Asking “Is there any flexibility in this offer?” may help to open a discussion of increasing the offer. If it does, don’t expect a large boost in base pay, but rather, an extra week of paid vacation, a signing bonus or other such perks.
“Keep in mind that salary negotiation is more art than science, so these tips may not always apply,” Humbert adds. “Many hourly workers don’t have as much flexibility on pay, and some companies have policies that would require you to adjust the script a little to fit those situations. The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to give them a salary range that would jeopardize your earning potential, and that you don’t have to accept their first offer most of the time.
"Remember, they are interviewing you because they need to fill that position. It’s important to the company to have someone in that job, and while they are considering you, they aren’t doing you a favor. They need what you have to offer, so you should get the best offer out of them that is possible.”
For more information, visit www.recruiterguy.com.
June 29, 2011 4:25 pm
Fannie Mae recently issued new standards for mortgage servicers regarding the management of delinquent loans, default prevention and foreclosure time frames under the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Servicing Alignment Initiative. The new standards, reinforced by new incentives and compensatory fees, require servicers to take a more consistent approach for homeowner communications, loan modifications and other workouts, and, when necessary, foreclosures.
"These new standards give homeowners facing difficulty making their mortgage payments a clear, consistent process," says Jeff Hayward, senior vice president of Fannie Mae's National Servicing Organization. "We want homeowners to be able to understand their options when facing foreclosure, and we want servicers to reach homeowners early in the process, communicate frequently and clearly, and help homeowners avoid foreclosure."
These standards require servicers to implement consistent processes across a number of areas, and hold them accountable if they do not.
Borrower Contact. Under the new standards, servicers must achieve "quality right party contact" with borrowers. This includes building a strong customer-service relationship with homeowners, determining the reasons for their delinquency, assessing their ability to pay, and educating homeowners on the availability of foreclosure prevention options. Fannie Mae's borrower contact standards will increase servicer effectiveness in reaching homeowners, bring greater consistency and clarity to servicer communications with homeowners, and increase the likelihood that servicers will contact homeowners early in the default process, which is one of the most important factors in reaching a resolution that avoids a foreclosure. During the first 120 days of delinquency, homeowners will be contacted both verbally and in writing to complete a mortgage modification or other solution to remain in the home, or enter into an arrangement to exit the home without a foreclosure.
Foreclosure Timelines. Servicers must follow clear timelines for referring loans to foreclosure, setting a date of sale for foreclosed properties, and use of designated counsel, and they will face compensatory fees for timeline violations. These standards will bring greater consistency, fairness, and efficiency to a process that has too often been characterized by inconsistency, abuse, and delay—to the detriment of mortgage investors, homeowners, and communities alike. Once 120 days of delinquency have passed, the foreclosure process will begin.
"We hope this step will encourage any homeowner who has not yet acted to work with the servicer to pursue all options to avoid foreclosure," says Hayward. "But even in situations where foreclosure can't be avoided, we believe this process and this timetable will help motivate all participants toward resolutions that will ultimately stabilize neighborhoods as quickly as possible."
Incentives and Compensatory Fees. Fannie Mae will provide incentives for servicers to complete loan workouts earlier in a homeowner's delinquency, and charge compensatory fees when servicers fail to make quality right party contact. Incentives and fees will be based on clear benchmarks. These steps are intended to help improve servicer performance and hold servicers accountable for their effectiveness in assisting homeowners. Compensatory fees remain a possibility for servicers who do not process foreclosures in a timely manner.
Between January 1, 2009 and March 31, 2011, Fannie Mae helped over 500,000 struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. Implementation of the new servicing standards will speed further progress and ensure greater clarity for servicers on how to work with homeowners.
For more information, visit www.FannieMae.com.
June 28, 2011 4:25 pm
By Paige Tepping
Increasing your home's appeal can make all of the difference when trying to sell. By preparing your home now, you can control exactly how your property appears to potential buyers and hopefully stage it in a way that plays to its strengths. Here are even more recommendations for what to do when preparing and staging your home for showings.
Make minor repairs
The small stuff does count, especially with first-time home buyers. Focus on the minor repairs that will make your home visually appealing. The best ways to improve your home include:
-Repairing ceilings and wall cracks
-Repairing faucets, banisters, handrails, cabinets, drawers, doors, floors and tile
-Caulking and grouting tubs, showers, sinks and tile
-Adding fresh paint to ceilings, walls, trim, doors and cabinets
-Tightening door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and electrical plates
-Lubricating door hinges and locks
Showcase the kitchen
The heart of any home is the kitchen. If you are going to spend any money on renovations, this is the one area where you will see the greatest return. Even with a modest budget, focusing on a few key areas can make a great difference in getting the asking price for your property. The best ways to showcase the kitchen include:
-Replacing cabinet doors and hardware
-Installing under-cabinet lighting
-Replacing light fixtures
-Replacing outdated shelving with pantry and cabinet organizers to maximize space
-Baking cookies or cupcakes to create a homey smell during a showing
Furniture placement can enhance the space of your home while giving buyers an idea of how to best utilize the space with their own belongings. Take some time to rethink how different areas in your house could be used. Some ideas to think about include:
-Moving couches and chairs away from walls in your sitting and family rooms to create cozy, conversational groups.
-Creating a reading corner in the master bedroom
-Clearing an empty room to set up a reading space
-Turning an awkward space into a home office
-Setting the dining room table with your best china
-Set wine glasses in front of the fireplace or next to a Jacuzzi tub
Light up the house
Create a sense of openness and cheerfulness in your home through its lighting. To improve the lighting try:
-Opening shades and drapes to let the sunshine warm and brighten rooms
-Installing brighter light bulbs in rooms that tend to be dark
-Adding additional lamps for ambient lighting
-Turning on all the lights for a showing
Add fresh touches
You can easily add color and style to your home by adding fresh touches throughout. Some ideas to consider include:
-Placing fresh floral arrangements in the entry and master bedroom
-Placing bowls of bright-colored fruit in the family room and the kitchen.
-Filling an empty corner with a potted leafy plant
-Setting new hand soap in the bathrooms
-Displaying fresh towels near sinks
June 28, 2011 4:25 pm
When buying your very first home, it's important to have a list of necessities you want and need in a home. It's also important to know what to look for, including red flags and possible issues that may become problematic later. Although the seller has undoubtedly staged the home to perfection, make sure you look for the following when touring a home:
Kitchen appliances are some of the most important items that come with the house. They're costly and crucial to your overall lifestyle. Be sure to ask many questions about the age of all appliances and open them up to get a good idea of their condition.
Check ceilings for water damage, cracks or leaks--they may be indicators of possible structural damage that you may not want to deal with.
Outside, look at the gutters, patio and examine the overall exterior conditions. Ask questions about what types of materials have been used. This may help you decide if the asking price is really worth the type of investment you'd be getting into.
Inquire about the plumbing in all bathrooms. Make sure no work is needed, as plumbing repairs can get very expensive. Also ask about any other type of important system, such as the heating or cooling systems. You don't want to be stuck with a pricey repair right from the start. Asking now prevents surprises later.
Buying your first home is a very exciting time. By being prepared and knowing what to look for, you can ensure a smooth and swift transaction from beginning to close.
June 28, 2011 4:25 pm
Many families across the country will spend the Fourth of July holiday away from home, basking on beautiful beaches, traveling to see relatives or maybe just visiting friends for a backyard barbecue. To fully enjoy those activities and other summertime pursuits spent away from home, homeowners should take precautions to safeguard their residences when they're not around. Crime rates across the country often start to peak as temperatures rise during warm weather months – the same time that many families leave their homes unoccupied and unprotected.
"A home is the biggest financial investment that most people will make in their lifetimes, but it is also the place where they raise their families, build memories and share their dreams for the future," says Florida REALTORS® 2011 President Patricia Fitzgerald. "It just makes sense to take steps to protect something so priceless."
Homeowners can take these simple precautions to make their homes less of a target for criminals:
No "Home Alone:" Before leaving your home during the day, make it look as if someone is still at home by using timers on lights in various rooms. Even though daylight hours are longer during the summer, it may still get dark faster than you expect or you may return home later than anticipated, and taking this step ensures that your home appears occupied at all times.
No Open Door Policy: Ensure that all doors leading to the home and garage are locked, even when leaving for short periods of time. The typical burglary takes less than five minutes, and unlocked doors, combined with an empty home, put out the "welcome mat" for crime.
Someone to Watch Over Me: Be landscape smart. Shrubbery and other plants can grow very rapidly during the warm, wet summer months, so keep them trimmed to allow your neighbors to keep an eye on your home. Also, an unkempt yard could be viewed as a sign of an empty home to a burglar.
A Key Reminder: When leaving home, take your house keys along or leave a spare set with a trusted neighbor. Never leave a key under a welcome mat, in a mailbox or other hiding spots – most burglars know where to look.
Crime Doesn't Take a Vacation: If you're planning to be away from home on vacation for more than a day or two, ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway and pick up your mail and newspapers – or be sure to make arrangements to cancel the paper and hold the mail. Disable your garage door opener and manually lock it from the inside, and don't forget to check that the door leading from the garage to the home is locked, too.
For more information, visit http://media.floridarealtors.org.
June 27, 2011 10:25 pm
By Paige Tepping
When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home's appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. Take the following recommendations when preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.
Tip #1: Refresh the exterior
First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers won’t even leave their car if they don’t find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your home’s exterior include:
-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.
-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.
-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.
Tip #2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape
Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your home’s interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers’ impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:
-Mowing and edging the lawn.
-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.
-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.
-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.
-Weeding and mulching plant beds.
-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.
-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.
-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.
Tip #3: Create an inviting entrance
The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:
-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.
-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.
-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.
-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.
Tip #4: Reduce clutter and furniture
A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:
-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.
-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.
-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.
-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.
-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.
-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.
-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.
Tip #5: Clean, clean, clean
The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer's perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer's decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:
-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.
-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.
-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.
-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.
-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.
-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.
June 27, 2011 10:25 pm
In 2009, an estimated 423,773 children lived in foster care in the U.S., as case workers helped to reunite them with their families or primary caregivers. Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced nearly $15 million to help public housing authorities reunite foster children with their parents or prevent them from ever entering the foster care system.
HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP) will make 1,931 Housing Choice Vouchers available for families whose inadequate housing is the primary factor in the separation or near separation from their children. In addition, FUP vouchers will provide stable housing for young adults (ages 18-21) who left or are aging out of the foster care system, preventing them from becoming homeless.
“It’s heartbreaking to realize that thousands of children live in foster care or are forced to live with other families simply because their parents can’t afford a home,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The funding provided today will keep thousands of families together under one roof.”
This funding allows local public housing authorities to work closely with local child welfare agencies to identify families with children in foster care or who are at risk of being placed in foster care and youth at risk of homelessness. These vouchers, like HUD’s Housing Choice Vouchers, allow families and youths to rent housing from private landlords and generally pay 30 percent of their monthly income towards rent and utilities.
According to the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, it costs the federal government approximately $56,892 annually per family to place children into foster care. Yet the cost to provide housing and supportive services to one family averages less than $14,000 annually. Through this investment in FUP to reunify families who are separated due to housing problems, HUD will reunite nearly 3,500 children with their parents, thus saving $74 million in annual foster care expenditures. Cost savings are also considerable for young people aging out of foster care. The average annual cost of a FUP voucher for young adults is $5,600—a tenth of the estimated costs associated with undesirable outcomes such as homelessness, incarceration, and residential treatment.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.