June 27, 2011 10:25 pm
Combine the expectation of divorce for new couples hovering around 50% with a variety of studies that suggest money is the most divisive topic for couples, and you get a formula for disaster. But one expert thinks it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jane Honeck, CPA and author of The Problem With Money? It’s Not About the Money!, believes that while a SmartMoney Magazine survey revealed that 70% of all couples talk about money at least once a week, the communication isn’t very effective. Honeck has some good advice that can help couples make arguments about money a thing of the past.
“Focusing on an overall vision and money plan will keep both of you moving in the same direction,” she says. “Once you have done that, the small everyday decisions about what to spend your money on take care of themselves with little or no effort. When we have clear communication and know why we do something, the ‘what to do’ with our money is easy.”
Honeck’s tips include:
• Talk: Money is still a taboo topic and we often don’t have a clear idea about how our partner thinks or feels.
• Find Balance: Balance power around money. One person making all the decisions and having all the control is a recipe for disaster. Find ways for you both to be equally engaged in all money decisions.
• Make Decisions: Decide together what is mine, yours and ours. Most couples have their own hybrid system for what works best. Find the one that is best for both of you.
• Define Your System: Have a clearly defined money management system all the way from who handles the mail to who sends out the checks. Without a well thought-out operational plan, things fall through the cracks.
• Address Problems: When things get tough, address problems immediately (no secrets allowed). Avoiding the issue only makes it more toxic and drives a wedge in the relationship.
• Perform Checkups: Schedule an annual money checkup with each other. Things change and just like our physical health, money management needs an annual checkup to keep it healthy and relevant.
• Talk a Little More: Talk, talk and talk some more. The most important thing is to have open communication with no blame or shame. We all have hang-ups around money. Treat your partner with compassion.
“At the end of the day, couples need not argue about money,” she adds. “And it’s not just about communication. It’s about making a plan, and sticking to it together. Information gives you power over your finances. Not talking about them, not making a plan and not coordinating as a team makes you a victim of your finances. If you control your finances, they will never control you or your marriage.”
June 24, 2011 10:25 pm
Vinyl siding remains the market leader in exterior cladding on new single-family homes sold and is the only exterior cladding to gain marketshare for the second consecutive year, up two points to 36%, according to recently released 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data. In fact, vinyl siding has been the market leader for 16 consecutive years and has increased five share points in the past five years.
"Vinyl siding remains the preferred exterior cladding because it offers a mix of benefits that no other exterior cladding can offer: beauty, low maintenance, durability and sustainability," says Jery Y. Huntley, president and CEO of the Vinyl Siding Institute, Inc.
Regionally, vinyl siding's share remains unchanged except in the Northeast where it gained five points and is the market leader with 84% share. In the Midwest, it is the leader with 70% market share for the second year in a row. Vinyl siding's share remains steady at 30% in the South, second only to brick.
The data also shows that vinyl siding is the market leader for new single-family homes sold in all price points up to $499,000. It has seen strong gains in homes sold in the $250,000 to $299,000 range, with an increase of seven share points to 36%. Additional gains of five share points were made in homes sold in both the $300,000 to $399,000 and $400,000 to $499,000 price points. While stucco is used most often on homes sold between $500,000 and $749,000, vinyl siding has seen continuous growth and is only three share points behind stucco with 30% market share.
"Vinyl siding can suit any taste at any price point and can beautifully replicate the look of wood without the maintenance worries," says Huntley.
For more detailed results from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, visit http://www.vinylsiding.org/mediaroom/dataandstats/2010_Census_Data.pdf.
June 24, 2011 10:25 pm
As the summer heat beats down and energy prices are on the rise, many homeowners are seeking to trade in their old air conditioning units for more energy-efficient models in hopes of controlling costs. When shopping, however, choose wisely.
"The common perception seems to be bigger is better," says Marjorie Kass, managing director for MXenergy. "In fact, recent studies suggest that one third to one half of home central air units are actually oversized. Rather than leading to greater cooling it results in greater inefficiency and higher costs."
Customers should take three factors into account when shopping for a new cooling system.
1. High Efficiency
Customers should look for in-room units with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) greater than 10 and for a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) higher than 12 in central units.
2. Proper Sizing
Contractors should consult the manuals produced by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, which examine a home's size, insulation, direction and window placement to determine proper unit size. Oversized units turn on and off more frequently, actually creating greater inefficiency and higher costs for the homeowner.
3. Proper Installation
Homeowners need to make sure new units are installed by trained, licensed contractors to ensure proper installation and, therefore, proper efficiency.
Kass reminds customers that the quest for lower cooling bills doesn't end simply with the purchase of a new air conditioner.
"No matter how energy efficient your home air conditioner is there are still simple actions you can take that will further boost your energy savings and reduce your carbon footprint," she says. Installing a programmable thermostat, insulating the roof and attic, choosing and using quality window blinds and awnings, and providing shade for outdoor units can also significantly increase energy saving.
For more information, visit www.mxenergy.com.
June 24, 2011 10:25 pm
Despite the ups and downs of the housing market, homeowners and non-owners alike consider owning a home essential to the American Dream. That's the key finding of a recent survey of people likely to vote in 2012 that was conducted on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C.
"The survey results show that Americans see beyond the immediate housing market to the enduring value of homeownership," says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "An overwhelming 75% of the people who were polled said that owning a home is worth the risk of the fluctuations in the market, and 95% of the homeowners said they are happy with their decision to own a home," Nielsen says.
"Homeownership is worth the risk, pure and simple," says Neil Newhouse, a partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies. "Even though the market is weak, people who don't own say they want to buy a house. Almost three-quarters of those who do not currently own a home, 73%, said owning a home is one of their goals. And among younger voters who are most likely to be in the market for a home in the next few years, the percentages are even higher," Newhouse says.
One of the more striking aspects of the survey results is the intensity of sentiment among potential voters, according to Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. "People believe overwhelmingly that owning a home is an anchor to the American Dream," she says. "It's an anchor to your retirement, and it's an anchor to your personal economic well-being."
Among the other survey results:
• Homeownership and a retirement savings program are considered by voters to be their best investments.
• 80% of homeowners would advise a close friend or family member just starting out to buy a home.
• Saving for a down payment and closing costs is the biggest barrier to homeownership.
• Americans believe that owning their own home is as important as being successful at their job or being able to pay for a family member's education.
"Owning a home isn't just a policy to people," says Lake. "It isn't just a commodity to people. It is a core value."
This national survey of 2,000 likely 2012 voters was conducted May 3-9, 2011 by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.nahb.org/VoterPoll.
June 23, 2011 4:25 pm
Radon exposure is the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer and leads to an estimated 21,000 deaths each year. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration, and the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veterans Affairs have joined forces to help save lives and create healthier home and school environments for America’s families. The plan brings together commitments that help to reduce exposure to radon and protect the health of Americans through leveraging and advancing existing state, local, and national programs.
“With nearly one in 15 homes affected by elevated levels of radon and thousands dying each year from radon-induced cancer, it’s time to step up our actions in the federal government,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says. “Through the Federal Radon Action Plan, we’re working with partner agencies to raise awareness about the threat of radon in our homes and to take steps to mitigate this hazard. Together our efforts will help reduce radon exposure and make our homes, schools and communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.”
The Federal Radon Action Plan brings together government agencies to demonstrate the importance of radon risk reduction, address finance and incentive issues to drive testing and mitigation, and build demand for services from industry professionals. The plan will help spur greater action in the marketplace, create jobs in the private sector, and significantly reduce exposure to radon. The plan includes strategies to reach low-income families, many of whom do not have the resources to make the simple fixes necessary to protect their homes and loved ones. With the help of all agency networks, approximately 7.5 million buildings and homes in the United States will be able to receive information and build awareness around this serious public health risk.
The plan includes federal government actions to reduce radon risks:
- Launching a cross-government outreach initiative to educate families about the health risks associated with radon exposure and the solutions to address the risks.
- Incorporating radon testing and mitigation into federal programs.
- Investing in new standards and updating codes for measurement and mitigation in schools, daycare facilities, and multi-family housing.
- Establishing incentives that drive testing and mitigation in the private and public sectors.
Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas. Approximately one in 15 American homes contains high levels of radon. EPA and the Surgeon General urge people to test their homes for radon at least every two years. For more information, visit www.RadonPlan.us.
June 23, 2011 4:25 pm
By Keith Loria
No one wants to buy a house with a mold problem but these sneaky little spores aren’t always easy to detect.
“Mold is a fungus and although some molds are visible and even odorous, mold can also grow between walls, under floors and ceilings, or in less accessible spots, such as basements and attics,” says Roger Harris, an inspector in Coral Gables, Fla. “Indoor mold can cause health related problems and is a costly, time-consuming problem to fix.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, including hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.
“Mold spores are very easily aerosolized,” says James Mallory, president of Washington-based Environix Air Quality. “Once they are disturbed, hundreds of thousands of spores can fill the air within a short period of time. Because of this, containment procedures are necessary to prevent contaminating the entire house or building.”
Mold grows best in water-soaked materials (paneling, wallboard, carpet, attics), but can survive in almost any damp location. Preventing water damage is one of the keys to stopping mold. Many indoor mold problems begin with an aging, weathered, leaky roof that may allow water to enter the home.
“Water can damage attics, walls and ceilings, and homeowners may not be aware of the problem until it is too late,” Harris says. “Mold thrives and spreads in water-damaged areas that are not properly dried and maintained. Prevent water damage by making sure that your home's roof is properly maintained.”
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of disputes over mold between sellers and buyers. A wise seller would put a specific mold disclaimer into the real estate sales contract and encourage in the sales contract that the buyer hire and rely upon the buyer’s own independent mold inspection and testing of the home by a certified mold inspector.
“You do need to comply in good faith with all of your state’s laws,” says mold expert Phillip Fry, who has written five books on the subject. “If you know your home or property has a water, mold, or other environmental problem, or if you have a reasonable suspicion that there may exist such a problem, you would be wise to remedy the water problem, mold infestation, or environmental threat prior to even offering the property for sale and prior to even listing the property for sale with a REALTOR®.”
In some states, real estate agents or brokers have a duty to disclose problems they know exist. Appraisers should also notify you of any obvious sign of a mold problem if the value of the property can be affected.
Most home buyers rely on a home inspector to look for mold, and while they will mention obvious signs of water damage and the possible presence of mold, it is not their job to seek out mold. You should always be sure to ask an inspector of any possible mold damage.
Remember, if you are house hunting, you should learn how to detect mold in homes, get the seller to disclose mold issues, and negotiate around any mold problems that come to light in the course of the sale.
June 23, 2011 4:25 pm
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced recently that $3.6 million in Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants will be awarded in fiscal year 2011 to assist in the transformation, rehabilitation and preservation of public housing and privately owned HUD-assisted housing.
“Our Choice Neighborhoods Initiative rewards communities that use innovative tools to tackle concentrated poverty holistically,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The initiative expands on the bipartisan success of the HOPE VI program by recognizing that we must link affordable housing with quality education, public transportation, good jobs and safe streets."
As part of HUD’s overall plan to revitalize areas of concentrated poverty, the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants are intended to help transform distressed public and assisted housing into sustainable, mixed-income housing that connects to key services, such as education and transportation, and supports positive outcomes for the neighborhood’s families. Eligible applicants are public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit developers that apply jointly with a public entity. Applicants must demonstrate their plan to revitalize the neighborhood through public-private partnerships that seek to develop high-quality public schools and early learning programs, public transportation, and improved access to jobs and well-functioning services.
These grants will enable communities to create a comprehensive “transformation plan,” or road map, to transform public and/or assisted housing within a distressed community to create a choice neighborhood. This Federal support provides a significant incentive and catalyst for the local community to take critical steps toward neighborhood transformation.
Applicants have until August 8, 2011 to apply for the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants. HUD anticipates awarding approximately 12 grants with a maximum award of $300,000 each.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
June 22, 2011 4:25 pm
With summer officially here, many will plan to pack up, fill up and head out of town in pursuit of some relaxing time away from home. How are travelers vacationing this summer, and what's on their minds as they prepare for their trips? A recent survey of U.S. adults revealed the following:
Their home away from home - Among those polled who are planning a summer vacation, nearly two-thirds (63%) will be staying at a hotel or other kind of rental property, like a condo or resort. Despite tough economic times, only 33% plan to stay with friends and family.
Extras are king - Fifty-two percent of those polled note they're looking for added perks and benefits more often than they did 12 months ago. Breakfast is a favorite complimentary offering with 87% surveyed taking advantage of this added perk when they travel.
The cost of getting away - Sixty percent of those polled think it will be more expensive to travel this summer than last, while 18% feel it will be less expensive. Twenty-two percent feel costs will be about the same.
While many Americans continue to watch their spending habits more carefully in all areas, including travel, there are many options to keep a vacation budget in check. Sparks added that planning carefully and choosing the right property can play a large role in keeping a lid on expenses.
Consider the following tips when making plans for travel:
1) If you like it, book it. Waiting to book in hopes that you'll get a better rate can easily backfire - rates may rise and the property could fill up, leaving you disappointed and without a place to stay.
2) Stack up the value. Lots of incentives are available for summer travelers. Look beyond a great rate to find options like free nights on a multiple night stay, gift cards, spa credits, complimentary dining, and more. A family of four can save around $40 a day if the hotel provides free breakfast, a favorite added perk as mentioned above.
3) Take the load off family and friends. While staying with loved ones can be an economical choice, the lack of privacy and tight quarters can add unexpected stress to what should be a relaxing vacation time. Consider booking multi-room suites or vacation rentals, which are great options for family travelers. You'll have the comforts of home, more space and conveniences, and a lower cost versus booking several separate hotel rooms.
4) Plan it carefully. Read recent reviews to get other travelers' perspectives on the property you're considering. Make sure you know what's included in the stay, and what's not, to avoid any surprise fees. Also, if you don't belong to any rewards programs, now is the time to sign up so your summer getaway can begin building credits for you.
June 22, 2011 4:25 pm
Although most movers find summer the most convenient time to move, it’s often difficult to beat the heat and get everything accomplished in time. Regardless of the season, perfect packing and planning are two key factors toward a successful move. If you do decide to move in the summertime, here are a few tips to help you avoid distractions and get the job done with ease.
When packing, make sure to have hefty packing tape on hand to safely secure all boxes. Properly label each box and make a list of its contents. If a box is holding certain breakables, clearly mark it as fragile so movers or other family members are aware of its contents. As always, avoid sending valuables, plants or basic necessities with a moving company.
Electronics should always be moved in their original box. Use plenty of bubble wrap or paper towels to properly pack the item. Styrofoam or cloth towels also work great to safely transport TVs, stereos, computers and more. Wrap up all cords and tie them tightly to avoid any accidents.
Glassware should be wrapped and packed individually. Use sturdy boxes that will be able to handle all the weight of the glass. Use a soft cloth for packing silverware.
All pieces of furniture should be padded with blankets or bubble paper and secured tightly to avoid damage during the move. If any legs or pieces can be removed, do so and wrap them separately. Utilize the cushions as extra padding during the process. If moving a dresser, either take the drawers out or make sure to securely fasten them so they don't open during the move.
Don't let the heat and stress exhaust you. With a steady plan in place, you can complete your move and be back on the beach in no time!
Source: Relocation.com Blog
June 22, 2011 4:25 pm
A coalition of 44 consumer organizations, civil rights groups, lenders, real estate professionals and insurers joined with Members of Congress today urging regulators to make important changes to proposed mortgage lending regulations. The Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy released a joint white paper detailing how the proposed risk-retention regulation, and the failure to properly define exemptions for Qualified Residential Mortgages (QRM), would significantly harm creditworthy borrowers while frustrating the nation's fragile housing recovery.
The proposed QRM definition is part of the risk-retention regulations required by the Dodd-Frank Act, which Congress enacted last year. The risk-retention provisions require the issuers of mortgage-backed securities retain a portion of the risk of potential loss on those assets. Recognizing that requiring risk retention would impose increased costs even on creditworthy borrowers, Congress specified that well-underwritten mortgages with consumer-friendly features – "qualified residential mortgages" –should be exempt from the risk-retention requirement and directed regulators to promulgate regulations to establish the exemption.
Policymakers are concerned that aspects of the proposed rule requiring borrowers to have at least a 20% down payment or equity to qualify for the exemption go beyond Congressional intent and could hurt, rather than help, the housing recovery. Congress considered and rejected a down payment requirement in the Dodd-Frank legislation because it determined that the cost of excluding responsible middle-class families would exceed the modest improvement in default rates.
More than 320 current members of Congress agree. The Senate co-signers called the proposed QRM regulation "unduly narrow" and reiterated that "well-underwritten loans, regardless of down payment, were not the cause of the mortgage crisis. House members argued that the proposed QRM "would particularly harm first-time and minority home buyers" and urged regulators "to consider lower-down payment loans that have mortgage insurance (MI) as constituting a QRM."
The Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy submitted the white paper, "Proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage Definition Harms Creditworthy Borrowers While Frustrating Housing Recovery" to regulators as a joint comment letter. The 44 organizations that signed on to the white paper call on regulators to "redesign a QRM that comports with Congressional intent: encourage sound lending behaviors that support a housing recovery, attract private capital and reduce future defaults without punishing responsible borrowers and lenders."
The white paper identified a number of significant problems in the proposed QRM framework:
• High Down Payment Requirements Not Necessary for Creditworthy Borrowers. An increase in the down payment requirement from 5% to 20% lowers default rates by about three-quarters of one percentage point on average based upon recent historical loan performance data.
• Down Payment Requirements Put Homeownership Out of Reach for Creditworthy Borrowers. It would take a family with the national median income of $54,474 approximately 16 years to save a 20% down payment (plus closing costs) to purchase the median price home of $172,900 (2010 data). A 10% down payment requirement is little better; it would take a median income family almost 10 years to save for a 10% down payment. These are conservative estimates that assume all savings go toward the down payment and that the family is not also saving for retirement, education or other purposes.
• Existing Homeowners Are Also Harmed by This Proposal. Sharp declines in home prices in recent years mean that more than half (52%) of current American homeowners have less than 25% equity in their homes, the standard that will be required to get a QRM-eligible refinance mortgage. The impact is even worse in the nation's hardest hit housing markets.
• Congress Rejected Down Payment Requirements, Focused on Quality Underwriting. Congress required regulators to take into consideration "underwriting product features that historical loan performance data indicate result in a lower risk of default." With respect to low down payment loans, the statute specifically recommends eligibility for the QRM standard loans that are covered at the time of origination by mortgage insurance or other credit enhancements to the extent these protections reduce the risk of default.
• Creditworthy Minority Households Will Be Particularly Hard Hit by the Narrow QRM Standard. These families already have significantly lower before-tax family incomes and net worth than white households, which translate into sharply lower homeownership rates. Current underwriting standards are already very restrictive, and the unduly narrow QRM proposal will further tighten standards for creditworthy lower income and minority families.
• Regulators Have Offered No Formal Estimate of the Cost Impact of Risk Retention and the Narrow QRM Exemption. The regulators acknowledge that, by design, as many as 80% of today's borrowers would not be eligible for QRMs, but they made no formal attempt to estimate the cost of imposing risk retention on the vast majority of the market. Most private estimates of the cost of risk retention indicate that loans that do not qualify for the QRM (e.g., those without 20% or more in down payment or equity) will cost almost a full percentage point more than exempt QRMs.
Some fear that the narrow QRM will delay the return of fully private capital back into the mortgage market. This is contrary to the purpose of the QRM, which was intended to define well-underwritten, safe, and stable mortgages that would attract responsible liquidity back to the private market and be accessible to a broad range of borrowers. Says mortgage securitization pioneer Lew Ranieri: "The proposed very narrow QRM definition will allow very few potential homeowners to qualify. As a result, it will complicate the withdrawal of the Government's guarantee of the mortgage market and delay the establishment of broad investor confidence necessary for the re-establishment of the [residential mortgage backed securities] market."