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Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Are in the Dark on the Cost-Effectiveness of Energy Savings from Window Film

March 26, 2014 5:36 am

With climatologists predicting a hotter than normal summer, the International Window Film Association (IWFA) is filling a need in the market as both a consumer resource and a window film advocate by helping to establish National Window Film Day on April 30.

The IWFA released new data from a national survey conducted online by Harris Poll in late February 2014 among 3,034 U.S. adults ages 18+ that reveals the cooling benefits of window film are only familiar to 54 percent of Americans. Window film can make a tremendous impact by regulating interior temperatures and cutting heat transmission through windows in hot, sunny weather and may reduce cooling costs by 30 percent.

"April 30 is being designated to support awareness of window film and to shine a spotlight on the spectrum of benefits it provides consumers," said Darrell Smith, executive director of the nonprofit IWFA. Educational information on National Window Film Day can be accessed at www.iwfa.com.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), cooling and heating accounts for more than half of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most consumers. And roughly 40 percent of unwanted heat that builds up in a home comes in through windows, states the DOE.

Window Film has been proven as one of the most cost-effective means of reducing solar heat gain and it provides more natural lighting, to avoid closing shades and turning on electric lighting. However, 53 percent of Americans are unaware that window film allows natural light to enter a home's interior, while offering energy savings, interior comfort and safety. Window film has a wide spectrum of shades, from barely noticeable, to smoky greys that can enhance the aesthetic appeal of windows or increase privacy if desired.

Additionally, 54 percent of Americans are unaware that window film can reduce the sun's harsh glare throughout the home and only 43 percent know that it can reduce the penetration of UV rays through windows by 99 percent. This benefit can reduce the fading of furnishings, artwork and other precious decor due to UV exposure through windows and it may also protect skin and eyes from cancer and cataracts.

Another benefit of window film a majority of Americans are unaware of is its safety properties. Only 27 percent know window film can help hold shattered glass together to reduce the chance of injury due to sharp shards of glass.

Source: International Window Film Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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18 Trillion Gallons of Water Saved during 20 Years of Low-Flow Toilet Regulations

March 21, 2014 4:57 am

Americans have saved more than 18 trillion gallons of water — roughly the volume of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay — by embracing low-flow toilet technology over the past two decades since the U.S. enacted the 1992 Energy Policy Act (EPAct) that mandated less water per flush, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE). That's hard to imagine, but it is enough water to fill 27 million Olympic size swimming pools.

Since 1994, when the 1992 EPAct legislation took effect, innovative toilet technology has transitioned the nation from a water-guzzling 3.5 gallons per flush (gpf) to a low-flow 1.6 gpf toilet diet and, more recently, toward high efficiency 1.28 gpf models. In the process, the amount of water consumed has been reduced by more than half, with usage rates down by 54 percent and 63 percent, respectively. These savings have been impactful, as toilets represent the single largest source of water consumption in a home, accounting for nearly one-third of residential water use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The estimated 18.2 trillion gallons in cumulative water savings that has resulted from the use of low-flow toilets highlights how water conservation policies, such as the 1992 EPAct, impact and help sustain the nation's water supplies, noted Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of Chicago-based AWE, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of water.

"These toilets help save an estimated 4.6 billion gallons of water each and every day in the U.S.," said Dickinson. "When you add in the further water reductions achieved by high efficiency 1.28 gpf toilets, the savings are even more outstanding. Water is the critical resource issue of our time, and smart water conservation policies work to ensure that we have sustainable supplies for the future."

The Road to High-Performing Toilet Technology

During the early 1990s, when water use restrictions first took effect, plumbing product manufacturers struggled to produce low-flow toilets that could effectively remove all waste with only 1.6 gallons of water, prompting frustration among users who resorted to counterproductive double-flushing. However, by 1998, toilet manufacturers had successfully modified flushing systems to remove waste using less water.

As the first decade of low-flow technology drew to a close, a flushing evaluation system would be introduced that changed the industry. Maximum Performance (MaP) testing was implemented in 2003 to measure the amount of solid waste removed per flush. This independent testing program inspired toilet producers to strive for the highest rating of successfully flushing 1,000 grams (2.2 lbs.) of solid waste.

In 2006, to drive even greater water savings, the EPA created WaterSense, a partnership program modeled after the EnergySTAR labeling program to help assure consumers that products will conserve and perform as promised. WaterSense-certified toilets use 20 percent less water than low-flow models, while providing strong flushing power. Commode makers were motivated to create high efficiency toilets (HETs) that used only 1.28 gpf while delivering strong flushing performance.

For homeowners looking to save further on their water bill, make sure all your home’s toilets are low-flow models.

Source: American Standard Brands

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Valuable Fraud Prevention Tips for Homebuyers and Homeowners

March 21, 2014 4:57 am

March is Fraud Prevention Month. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers the following tips to protect yourself against becoming a victim of mortgage fraud.

Be an informed consumer! Be wary of anyone who approaches you with an offer to make "easy money" in real estate. Remember: if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Protect yourself and your family from becoming victims of or accomplices to mortgage fraud. This means:

• Never deliberately misrepresent information when applying for a mortgage.

• Never accept money, guarantee a loan or add your name to a mortgage unless you fully intend to purchase the property. If you allow your personal information to be used for a mortgage you could be held responsible for the entire debt if the mortgage defaults.

• Always know who you are doing business with and never sign anything without understanding exactly what you are signing.

• Use licensed or accredited mortgage and real estate professionals.

• Get independent legal advice from your own lawyer/notary and talk to them about title insurance and other methods of protection.

•Contact the local provincial land titles office to obtain the sales history of any property you are thinking about buying and consider having it inspected and appraised. An accredited appraiser will provide the property sales and MLS history.

• Find out from your lawyer if anyone other than the seller has a financial interest in the home or if there are any outstanding liens or tax arrears.

• If a deposit is required, make sure the funds are payable to and held "in trust" by the vendor's realty company or by a lawyer/notary.

You can also help to protect yourself by inspecting your credit report at least annually.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Energize Connecticut Advises Homeowners to Assess and Properly Insulate Their Homes

March 19, 2014 4:48 am

As the winter weather begins to fade and the spring weather moves in, it is the perfect time for homeowners to assess any damage caused by ice dams and properly insulate their homes. Assessing the damage and correcting the insulation will prepare home owners for the cooling season as well as next winter.

One of the biggest obstacles facing many homeowners is improving the energy efficiency of their homes, and improving the insulation is a great way to begin. Sealing and insulating is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient. And with spring's not too hot, not too cold temperatures, this is the best time to get up into the attic to begin.

Don’t procrastinate…insulate! Did you know that nearly half of a home's heat loss is due to poorly insulated attics, ceilings and walls? With proper sealing and insulation, customers can reduce their heating and cooling costs by 20 percent annually.

Many people may not realize that even though they may have insulation in their attics, sealing attic air leaks will enhance the performance of the insulation and make for a much more comfortable home. Most homes in the United States do not have enough insulation and have significant air leaks. In fact, if you add up all the leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home's envelope, it would be the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year.

Common household leaks can include: behind knee walls, attic hatch, wiring holes, plumbing vents, open soffit (the box that hides recessed lights), recessed lights, furnace flue or duct chaseways, basement rim joists, windows and doors.
Sealing leaks and adding insulation will not only help homeowners save money and improve the overall comfort of your home, it will also help to fix many common problems, such as:

• Reduced noise from outside
• Less pollen, dust and insects (or pests) entering your home
• Better humidity control
• Lower chance for ice dams on the roof/eves in snowy climates

For homeowners who are looking for additional savings, homeowners should check with their state and utility companies to find programs that offer complete home energy assessments and insight to those areas of your home that could be driving up your energy bills. A home energy assessment is a major step in determining how much energy a home uses and what improvements can be made to save money and energy.

Source: Energize Connecticut

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Change Up Your Routine

March 19, 2014 4:48 am

(Family Features) Aging gracefully is as much about feeling good on the inside as feeling good on the outside. It's never too late to make changes to reinvent yourself and maximize your mental and physical wellbeing.

Self-improvement is at the top of many women's to-do lists, and doing so can take many forms. According to a recent survey by Post Great Grains Cereal, 73 percent of women said they'd reinvented themselves since they turned 40 by improving their health, finding a new passion or changing their career.

Eighty-three percent of survey participants (women, ages 40-plus) think the greatest obstacle to reaching their full potential is what they think of themselves, rather than what others think of them. Follow these tips to become your own best friend and take steps toward creating a happier, healthier you.

Give proper attention to your diet. A common form of reinvention is improving your eating habits. A balanced diet that promotes a healthy digestive system is an important step in creating a healthier you. Starting each day with a nutritious breakfast is one easy change. Fill your menu with nutrition you can see and wholesome ingredients, such as natural grain cereals, which can have active cultures in addition to whole grains and natural fiber.

Take time to understand yourself. Digging deep to understand your true passions may help reveal a new, more fulfilling path in life, whether it be in the form of new hobbies or even a new career. If you're not sure where to start, begin by making a running list of situations, which capture your attention, such as news articles or engaging conversations. Over time, look for patterns to emerge. Topics or themes rising to the top could signal a special interest you may have overlooked in the past.

Nurture valuable relationships. Knowing (and loving) yourself comes first, but having a strong support system is also important for overall wellbeing. While it's important for women to surround themselves with people who will boost them up, that boost doesn't always have to come from another woman. When they need a good laugh, 59 percent of women in the Great Grains survey said they turn to their significant other. Investing time to strengthen your personal connections improves not only the health of those relationships, but the effects of those relationships on your physical health, as well.

While charting a new path may seem daunting, focusing on your physical and mental health as you work to introduce change into your life can smooth the way to reinventing a better and brighter you.

Source: Post Great Grains

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Better Days Ahead? Millennials Think So

March 18, 2014 4:39 am

Americans today have an increasingly positive view of the current U.S. economy, despite years of economic uncertainty. According to a recent survey of 1,004 U.S. adults, 74 percent feel the economy is better (41 percent) or the same (33 percent) as a year ago. But it is the country's millennial generation that has the best outlook.

According to the latest PulteGroup Home Index Survey (PGHI) by PulteGroup, Inc., one of the nation's largest homebuilders, 54 percent of millennials indicate the economy is better than a year ago. This optimism remains in line with recent Pew Research indicating 49 percent of millennials say the country's best days are ahead. With this increased confidence, nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of millennials view now as an excellent or good time to buy the things they want or need.

"No other cohort of adults is nearly as confident about their economic future as the millennials are right now," said Jim Zeumer, vice president of corporate communications. "This is definitely a change, as millennials have regularly been viewed as the disenfranchised generation vastly affected by the fallout of the recession. But now, with an increased sense of optimism, this generation is starting to feel as though they have the resources available to lead the lives they want or expect to in the future."

Specific to purchasing decisions, the vast majority (85 percent) of millennials plan to purchase a home in the future, with 65 percent preferring to spend more money on a home that is move-in ready compared to doing renovations. Additionally, 49 percent of millennials plan to purchase a home in the next two years. Of those planning to purchase in the near-term, 56 percent are current homeowners and 41 percent are renters. According to the Company's internal data, 41 percent of its homebuyers were millennials.

The survey also indicated that 58 percent of millennials increased their interest in purchasing a home in the past year as the positive attributes of homeownership resonate with this generation. They associate owning a home with happiness (62 percent), independence (61 percent) and achievement (59 percent). Further, millennials view a home as a financial investment (33 percent) and like the thought of calling themselves a homeowner (35 percent).

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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RREIN RC - More Than 4 Million First-Time Buyers Want to Enter the Housing Market in 2014, Buoyed by Strong U.S. Housing Confidence

March 14, 2014 4:18 am

Millions of current renters nationwide aspire to buy a home in the next year, according to the inaugural edition of the Zillow Housing Confidence Index (ZHCI), suggesting strong demand among potential first-time homebuyers if market conditions are favorable. But existing headwinds, including tight inventory, rising mortgage interest rates and growing affordability problems in a handful of areas, may make it difficult for potential buyers to follow through on those aspirations as the market enters the busy spring home shopping season.

In 19 of the 20 large metro areas surveyed, more than 5 percent of all residents indicated they wanted to buy a home in the next year. Among current renters, homeownership aspirations were particularly strong, with about 10 percent of all renters nationwide saying they would like to buy within the next 12 months. The vast majority of these respondents also said they were confident or somewhat confident they could afford homeownership now. If all renters that indicated they wanted to buy actually did purchase a home in the next year, it would represent more than 4.2 million first-time home sales, more than double the roughly 2.1 million first-time homebuyers in 2013.

Homeownership aspirations among current renters were the highest in Miami, Atlanta and Las Vegas, three metro areas that were among the hardest-hit by the housing recession, according to the Zillow Homeownership Aspirations Index (ZHAI), a component of the broader ZHCI.

Mortgage interest rates are also on the rise, currently standing at about 4.2 percent nationally, according to the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace, well above 2013 lows of roughly 3.3 percent.

"For the housing market to continue its recovery, it is critical that homes are both available and remain affordable to meet the strong demand these survey results are predicting, particularly from first-time homebuyers," said Zillow® Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. "This data shows that the dream of homeownership remains very much alive and well, even in those areas that were hardest hit. But these aspirations must also contend with the current reality, and in many areas, conditions remain difficult for buyers. The market is moving toward more balance between buyers and sellers, but it is a slow and uneven process."

The Zillow Housing Confidence Index, sponsored by Zillow, Inc. and developed by Pulsenomics LLC, is measured on a 0 to 100 scale, with readings above 50 indicating positive sentiment. The overall ZHCI for the U.S. stood at 63.7 at the start of the year. Of the 20 metro areas surveyed, 11 had individual confidence levels higher than the U.S. as a whole. The overall U.S. ZHAI among all households, which measures consumers' plans to buy and their attitudes toward the social value of homeownership, stood at 62.4.

Source: Zillow

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Best Used Cars and Ones to Avoid

March 14, 2014 4:18 am

With prices at historic highs – even for models with high mileage and seemingly excessive wear – and with so many vehicles from which to choose, shopping for a used car can be a challenge. To help Americans choose the best used car for their money, Consumer Reports compiled a “Best & Worst Used Cars” list for model years 2004 through 2013.

The full report is available in Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Issue, which is on newsstands now, and at the 2014 Autos Spotlight page on ConsumerReports.org. Highlighted are the best small cars, sedans, and SUVs available in four price ranges: from $10,000 or less up to $25,000. Each performed well in CR's testing when new and had above-average reliability for the model years shown, based on CR's Annual Auto Survey. And all models came standard with electronic stability control (ESC).

"When shopping for a used car, it's really important to find a car that drives well and will hold up down the road. Our guide makes it easy for shoppers to choose a great used car by highlighting the best small cars, sedans, and SUVs in four different price ranges," said Rik Paul, auto editor, Consumer Reports.

In the $15,000-$20,000 price range the following cars made Consumer Reports' list of best used cars:

Small cars: 2012-13 Hyundai Elantra and 2011-13 Subaru Impreza
These are as roomy and as comfortable as larger, more expensive cars. The Elantra combines nimble and secure handling with a fairly comfortable ride. The Impreza sedan and hatchback both offer standard all-wheel drive along with sporty handling and a great ride.

Sedans: 2011-12 Toyota Camry, 2010-11 Toyota Camry Hybrid, and 2008 Acura TL
Both the four- and six-cylinder Camry deliver impressive fuel economy along with a comfortable ride, a roomy cabin, and superb reliability. For even better gas mileage, the Camry Hybrid gets 34 mpg overall and 41 on the highway. A sportier alternative is the Acura TL, which has long been one of our favorite sedans to drive.

SUVs: 2006-07 Lexus RX and 2009-10 Subaru Forester (nonturbo)
The Lexus RX is comfortable, nicely finished, and extremely reliable. The hybrid version gets good fuel economy. The Forester is more utilitarian but handles well and has an excellent ride. Access is easy, and the view out is the best among SUVs.

The Consumer Reports used “Cars to Avoid” list includes 2004 to 2013 models that have had multiple years of much-worse-than-average overall reliability, according to CR's Annual Auto Survey. Among the more than 20 models that made the list are the BMW X5 (6-cyl.), Chrysler Town & Country, Ford Fiesta, and Volkswagen Beetle.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Let Last-minute Showings Catch You Off Guard - Keep Your Home in Tip-Top Shape

March 13, 2014 1:51 pm

Keeping your home in tip-top shape can feel like a full-time job, especially when it comes to last-minute showings. However, being prepared is crucial if you want to put your home’s best foot forward.

If your home is currently on the market, be prepared for weekend showings, as this is when most people have time to dedicate to house hunting. Therefore, it’s important to have a plan in place by the end of the week to get everything in order before Saturday rolls around. Even if nothing is scheduled, make sure your house is in showing condition because more often than not, a real estate agent making the rounds may try to persuade house hunters into stopping by.

If you have kids, invest in some storage boxes so toys and books can be quickly disposed of and easily hidden away. Also, try to get into a routine where your children make their beds and put their dishes in the dishwasher so that everyone is involved in keeping the space looking neat and tidy.

For those with pets, have a plan in place so that you know what you’re going to do with them when a call comes in. Most real estate professionals suggest that pets be kept from roaming freely around the house when prospective buyers are touring the space, so either get them in a cage or take them with you while you leave the house. Now that the warm weather has arrived, take your dog to the park or book an appointment at the vet or even a grooming place.

Of course, the most important aspect of a home showing is to be out of the house before the potential buyers even get there. Make a list of errands you’ve been putting off and use the time wisely to cross some of those things off your list.

Before leaving the house, be sure to turn on all the lights and open any curtains that let in natural light. A nicely lit room will paint a great impression when people first walk in the door.

Remember to take out the garbage and put away any items hanging around the kitchen. You want everything to look as neat as possible so when people come in they don’t feel as if someone has just left.

Convenience is the one thing you’ll have to give up when selling a home as you can’t always control when people will want to see your house. While you can limit the hours and days your home is available for a showing by telling your real estate agent your wishes, the last thing you want to do is lose out on a potential sale because you didn’t want to leave your house for 30 minutes on a Tuesday evening.

By having a plan in place and working together to keep things neat throughout the week, getting your home ready for a showing won’t seem like another chore.

To learn more about preparing your home for a showing, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Understanding APR and What It Means When Shopping for a Mortgage

March 13, 2014 1:51 pm

If you’re in the process of shopping for a mortgage or considering refinancing, you’ve probably run across the term annual percentage rate (APR) more times than you can count. But what exactly is an annual percentage rate, and how can it help you when you’re looking to buy a home?

In its simplest terms, the APR represents the “true cost of the loan” by factoring in the cost of loan fees amortized over the life of the loan. The APR was created to let mortgage shoppers compare different loans with the same interest rates in order to establish which mortgage is best for their particular needs.

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender will send you a Good Faith Estimate and a Truth in Lending statement within three business days, which will include the note and the APR. The APR is calculated based on a formula determined by the government. The Truth in Lending Act requires lenders to disclose the APR of a loan at closing.

Calculating the APR on a fixed-rate loan is a simple formula to figure out, as long as you know the interest rate, loan term and loan-related fees (points, pre-paid interest, loan-processing, underwriting, loan document preparation and PMI). First, add up the loan amount plus all loan-related fees to determine the adjusted balance, then calculate the monthly payment on the adjusted balance with the interest rate.

For example, one lender might offer a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for $150,000 at 4.5 percent interest and $5,000 in fees, while a second lender offers the same mortgage for 4.25 percent interest and $7,000 in fees. While the up-front costs of the first loan are lower, the second lender’s loan will actually cost less in the long run.

Finding the APR on adjustable-rate mortgages is a little more complicated because the rate on these mortgages can change after the fixed-rate period expires. To get the closest estimation, lenders use the fully indexed rate (to calculate APR for the adjustable period instead of the stated rate).

Remember, the APR is an artificial measurement of the relative cost of the loan transaction. It doesn’t have a bearing on the actual rate of interest on a particular loan, but it does take the rate of interest into account. The APR will always be higher than the note rate you were originally quoted, so don’t be surprised if the numbers aren’t exactly what you expected.

To learn more about shopping for a mortgage, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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