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10 Ways to Save on Heating Oil This Winter

November 19, 2012 5:28 am

Experts are predicting a harsh winter this year in certain areas of the country, a stark comparison to last year—one of the warmest winters in recent history. 

However, those who experience winter’s wrath who heat with oil can save on heating costs this upcoming season by being proactive and taking a few small steps to conserve energy.

Thanks to many advances made in heating oil technology, today’s heating oil equipment is more efficient than ever. However, to get the most out of your equipment, you need to pair it with the right efficiency and conservation measures.

The heating oil industry’s Energy Communications Council ( recommends doing simple things to save energy and lower heating costs:

1. Fill in gaps around windows and doors with caulking
2. Cover older windows with weather-resistant plastic sheathing
3. Insulate your attic
4. Wrap exposed pipes with proper insulation to prevent both heat loss and freezing
5. Replace your manual thermostat with a programmable model, and lower it just a few degrees while at work or sleeping
6. Open shades and drapes when the sun is out to help warm your home. Close them when the sun goes down to reduce heat loss through drafty windows
7. Eliminate any gaps between your door and threshold by adding a seal to the bottom of the door – it should brush up against the threshold to fill any gap
8. Close your kitchen vent, fireplace damper and closet doors, and remove, cover or close air conditioning units and vents when not in use
9. Move furniture away from heating elements, as it can block heat from circulating
10. Remember that hot water uses fuel too. Take notice of how much you use while bathing and washing dishes, and make an attempt to reduce consumption

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Consumers Show a Little More Cheer this Holiday Season

November 16, 2012 5:20 am

U.S. households are expected to spend an average of $521 on gifts this holiday season, The Conference Board reports today. Nearly 10 percent of consumers said they plan to spend more on holiday gifts this year, up from 7 percent last year. Approximately 31 percent plan to spend less than last year, down from 40 percent a year ago. 

The survey of holiday gift spending intentions, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The survey was conducted for The Conference Board in October. 

"As the holiday season approaches, consumers appear to be in better spirits than last year," says Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "Our survey results show a slight boost in holiday spending intentions. Retailers are cautiously optimistic that this holiday shopping season will be better than last."

Consumers will be searching for bargains this holiday season, with more than one-third saying they expect more than half of their purchases to be on sale or discounted. Nearly 70 percent expect to purchase a portion of their holiday gifts online, with about 20 percent saying more than half of their gifts will be purchased online.

Source: The Conference Board Holiday Spending Survey, November 2012

Published with permission from RISMedia.


November 2012 U.S. Economic And Housing Market Outlook

November 16, 2012 5:20 am

Freddie Mac recently released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for November showing what a healthy national housing market should look like taking into account recent trends, key housing indicators and the shifting demographic patterns that will define a new and realistic trajectory over the next five years. A healthy housing market should have activity below the levels recorded during the peaks of the prior decade.

Outlook highlights - what a healthy housing market should look like:
  • Housing starts increasing to about 1.7 to 1.8 million dwellings per year compared with 2.1 million in 2005.
  • Home sales increasing to about 5 percent of the housing stock, or about 6.5 to 7.0 million homes per year, compared with sales of 7 percent of the stock in 2005.
  • U.S. house price appreciation rising gradually to about 3 percent per year compared to 11 percent of 2005.
  • Vacancy rates easing further to about 1.7 percent on for-sale homes and 8 percent for rental homes, down from peaks of about 3 percent in 2008 and 11 percent in 2009, respectively.
  • Serious delinquency rates nearing 2 percent, down from a peak of 9.5 percent in early 2010.
  • "What a healthy housing market should look like will dismay those who keep comparing housing to what it was during its peak years,” explains Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist, However, taking into account recent trends, key housing indicators and the shifting demographic patterns that will define a new and realistic trajectory toward a healthy housing market, the long-term prognosis is promising – just don't expect the housing market to wake up at 98.6 degrees tomorrow morning."
Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Delinquency and Foreclosure Rates Decreased During Third Quarter

November 16, 2012 5:20 am

The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 7.40 percent of all loans outstanding as of the end of the third quarter of 2012, a decrease of 18 basis points from the second quarter of 2012, and a decrease of 59 basis points from one year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) National Delinquency Survey. The non-seasonally adjusted delinquency rate increased 29 basis points to 7.64 percent this quarter from 7.35 percent last quarter. Delinquency rates typically increase between the second and third quarters of the year.

The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans in the process of foreclosure. The percentage of loans on which foreclosure actions were started during the third quarter was 0.90 percent, down six basis points from last quarter and down 18 basis points from one year ago. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the third quarter was 4.07 percent, down 20 basis points from the second quarter and 36 basis points lower than one year ago. The serious delinquency rate, the percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or in the process of foreclosure, was 7.03 percent, a decrease of 28 basis points from last quarter, and a decrease of 86 basis points from the third quarter of last year.

The combined percentage of loans in foreclosure or at least one payment past due was 11.71 percent on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, a nine basis point increase from last quarter, but a 92 basis points decrease from the same quarter one year ago.

“Mortgage delinquencies decreased compared to last quarter overall, driven mainly by a decline in loans that are 90 days or more delinquent,” observes Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics. “The 90-day delinquency rate is at its lowest level since 2008, and together with the decline in the percentage of loans in foreclosure, this indicates a significant drop in the shadow inventory of distressed loans - a real positive for the housing market. The 30-day delinquency rate increased slightly, but remains close to the long-term average for this metric. Given the weak economic and job growth in third quarter, it is not surprising that this metric has not improved.”

“The improvement in total delinquency rates was accompanied by a further drop in the foreclosure starts rate, which hit its lowest level since 2007. Moreover, the foreclosure inventory rate decreased by 20 basis points over the quarter, the largest quarterly drop in the history of the survey. The level however, is still roughly four times the long-run average for this series as we continue to see back logs of loans in the foreclosure process in states with a judicial foreclosure system. The foreclosure rate for judicial states decreased slightly to 6.6 percent and the foreclosure rate for non-judicial states showed a steeper drop to 2.4 percent. The difference in the foreclosure rates of the two regimes is at its widest since we started tracking this metric in 2006.”

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keep Holiday Cooking and Decorating Safe

November 15, 2012 4:34 am

Cooking and decorating, both long standing holiday traditions, help make the season merry and bright. However, these activities can also increase the chances of home fires. In fact, cooking remains the number one cause of home fires, with incidents increasing during the festive season ahead. According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency), fires involving holiday lights and decor result in $25.5 million in property damage each year.

In an effort to help prevent home fires, UL (Underwriters Laboratories), a global science safety company, is encouraging families to follow a few important safety tips this holiday season.

"In the kitchen, even the most experienced chefs make mistakes," says UL Consumer Safety Director, John Drengenberg. "Trying to do too many things at once while cooking can potentially lead to accidental fires and related injuries. Protect your family by being a smart and safe chef."

UL offers the following safety guidelines to help prevent accidents in the kitchen.

Watch the Heat:
  • When simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check regularly
  • Never put metal in the microwave
  • Keep kids at least three feet from the stove and other areas where hot food is cooked
Clear Clutter:
  • Keep the cooking area clean and clear of anything that can catch fire, such as potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels or curtains.
  • Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking, as loose clothing can dangle onto stove burners and catch fire if it comes into contact with a gas flame or electric burner .
  • When cooking, it's also a good idea to turn the handles of pots inward, in case small kids enter the kid-free zone and reach for the handles.
Avoid Overloading Sockets & Check Cords:
  • Kitchens are particularly susceptible to overloaded outlets. Always pay attention to the recommended wattage for cords and power strips
  • Remember to remove the plug by reaching up and pulling it out of the socket rather than yanking on the cord. Cords should also not be placed underneath anything that is heavy nor should they be tacked to a wall to get them out of the way
Around the Home
According to the NFPA, holiday trees, lights and decor cause an average 390 fires resulting in 21 civilian deaths and 41 injuries per year. Fire research conducted by UL found that today's residential fires burn hotter and faster due to the combination of open floor plans and increased use of synthetic building materials, furnishings and decor.

Each year, UL engineers and scientists perform thousands of rigorous tests on products such as holiday lights and electric decorations and is offering the following safety guidelines to help families identify and prevent hazards that too often result in accidents or tragedy.

Check Your Lights, Check Them Twice:
  • Inspect all of your electric lights and decorations for damage or wear
  • Cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires and loose connections may pose a fire or shock hazard
Decorate with a Safe Eye:
  • Cords should not be run under carpets or tacked up with metal nails or staples
  • Small decorations can be a choking hazard for small children or pets and should be kept out of reach
  • Keep flammable materials "three feet from the heat" of lit candles or fireplaces
Indoor or Outdoor? Look for the UL mark:
  • Indoor-use-only light strings are marked with UL's green holographic label
  • Indoor- or outdoor-use light strings are marked with UL's red holographic label
  • Only use light strings and other electrical decorations that bear the UL mark. The UL mark indicates that samples of that product have been tested to UL's safety standards
Source: UL

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Green Building Accelerates through Economic Downturn, Says Study

November 15, 2012 4:34 am

Around the world, the green building marketplace is accelerating, according to a new study recently released by McGraw-Hill Construction in partnership with United Technologies at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

The study indicates a shift in the global construction market, now viewing green as a business opportunity rather than a niche market. Overwhelmingly, firms report that their top reasons to do green work are client demand (35 percent) and market demand (33 percent) - two key business drivers of strategic planning. The next top reasons were also oriented toward the corporate bottom line - lower operating costs (30 percent) and branding advantage (30 percent). In contrast, the top reason in 2008 motivating the green building market was doing the right thing (42 percent) and market transformation (35 percent), followed by client and market demand.

In the next three years, the sectors with the largest opportunity for green building around the world include new construction and renovation projects. Sixty-three percent of firms have green work planned in new commercial projects and 45 percent in new institutional projects by 2015, and 50 percent have plans for green renovation work. In the United Kingdom and Singapore, green renovation projects were planned by the greatest number of firms at 65 and 69 percent respectively. In Brazil and UAE, new projects pose the largest opportunity. In Brazil, 83 percent of firms are planning to work on new green commercial projects over the next three years, and in the UAE, 73 percent have new green institutional projects planned.

Green buildings are also expected to garner business benefits for building owners. For new green building projects, firms report median operating cost savings of eight percent over one year and 15 percent over five years, as well as increased building values of seven percent (according to design and construction firms) and higher asset valuation of five percent (according to building owners).

Other significant findings include:
  • Human factor benefits are driving green building more today compared to three years ago - 55 percent cite greater health and well-being as the top social reason for green (tied with encouraging sustainable business practice), up from only 29 percent in 2008.
  • Energy use reduction tops the environmental reasons for green building - 72 percent say it is the important environmental reason to engage in green building.
  • Water use reduction is more important today - 25 percent of study respondents cite reduced water consumption as the top reason, up from only four percent in 2008. It is particularly important in the UAE (64 percent cite it as a top reason), Brazil (39 percent), and the U.S. (32 percent), ranking as the second most important environmental factor in these countries.
  • Improved indoor air quality is also more important today - 17 percent cite it as a top reason to engage in green building, up from only three percent in 2008.
  • For firms not currently doing any green project work, the primary driver that they think will motivate future green activity is the desire to do the right thing. This is in sharp contrast to those involved, suggesting this market is not as familiar with the business case for green building.
The study also revealed that approximately 48 percent of the work by U.S. respondents was green, with that share expected to increase to 58 percent by 2015. These results are consistent with McGraw-Hill Construction's 2013 Dodge Green Construction Outlook that sized the green building share of new construction starts in the U.S. to be 44 percent by value, and up to 55 percent by 2015.

The findings are drawn from a McGraw-Hill Construction survey of firms across 62 countries around the world. Firms include architects, engineers, contractors, consultants and building owners.

Source: McGraw-Hill Construction

Published with permission from RISMedia.


'Black Friday' a Good Time to Launch Remodeling Plans

November 15, 2012 4:34 am

With the holidays fast approaching, you probably aren’t putting much thought into home improvement—except, perhaps, to grumble about the fact that you’ll have to cook another Thanksgiving meal in your outdated kitchen, or steer guests toward your home’s only bathroom with its leaky faucet.

If those complaints sound annoyingly familiar, you may not want to put off thinking about a remodel until the spring. According to Dan Fritschen, a golden opportunity to get a head start on planning the house of your dreams is right around the corner, and it goes by the name “Black Friday.”

“When many people think about Black Friday, they have visions of sale-crazed hordes trampling each other in pursuit of merchandise, claustrophobia-causing crowds, and a shopping experience that’s so horrible it’s not worth the savings,” acknowledges Fritschen, founder of “But if you have a remodeling project in mind, you might want to conquer your fears and revise your post-Thanksgiving plans.”

Most remodeling projects aren’t cheap—even if you’re going the DIY route. And the super sales that are offered on Black Friday and Cyber Monday could realistically take your expenses from budget-busting to reasonable. If you aren’t convinced, consider the cost of a kitchen remodel in which appliances can easily account for 30 percent of the total. Saving just 10 percent on those purchases might bring down your expenditure by thousands of dollars.

“Plus, at this time of year, remodeling supplies aren’t as sought-after,” Fritschen shares. “So you’ll often find that home improvement retailers discount them that much more in order to get consumers’ attention.”

If you’re planning on remodeling your home in the foreseeable future, here’s what Fritschen says you should do now to get the most for your money:

Make a list and check it twice. According to Fritschen, most homeowners are shocked by how complicated remodeling actually is. For instance, if you’re redoing your kitchen, you might naively focus the majority of your planning on picking out appliances, cabinets, and countertops…and once work commences, be blindsided by the amount of details you’ve overlooked (think drawer knobs, paint colors, lighting, cabinet hinges, faucet types, disposals, etc.).

“Now’s the time to educate yourself on everything you’ll need for your remodel,” Fritschen says. “Try to formulate as complete a list as possible, including photos so that you won’t accidentally miss any discounts or sales. Years of experience have taught me that autumn and winter are some of the best times to buy, since remodeling ‘season’ usually takes place in the spring and summer.”

Go shopping with a strategy.
Most retailers publish the details of their post-Thanksgiving sales well in advance, so take a little time to map out where and when to get the best deals. Keep in mind that, thanks to modern technology, you might save the most money if you do your shopping from your trusty laptop.
Read up on return policies. If you aren’t planning on starting your remodel immediately, check and double-check return policies before buying materials. Especially on big-ticket items, you’ll want to make sure you’re not making an irreversible commitment.

“A thousand little things could change between now and next summer, for example,” Fritschen says. “You might need to change your plans because of budget issues. The product you bought might turn out to be defective. You might simply change your mind and decide that you’d like to go with a different style of light fixture. Make sure you don’t accidentally lock yourself into something you’ll later regret buying.”

Surf the ’Net—but be smart about it. As Fritschen has mentioned before, you may be able to find some of your remodeling supplies online—it’s called Cyber Monday for a reason! But before you whip out the credit card and click away, do a little preparation. If possible, Fritschen suggests scoping out big-ticket items in person. For instance, it’s well worth your time to measure the refrigerator you’ve been eyeing and look at it next to the paint and countertop samples you’re considering.

“Pay special attention to shipping fees and, again, return policies,” he adds. “If you have to send something large or heavy back and pay return shipping, it could eat up your savings and more.”
Remember that there’s an app for that! According to an holiday spending survey, 33 percent of consumers will use their smartphones to research products and compare prices in the coming month. And if you’re remodeling, you have a great incentive to join them.

“So, even if you usually stay home, watch football, and graze on leftover turkey on Black Friday, consider changing those plans if you have a remodel coming up,” concludes Fritschen. “Braving the crowds can save you a surprising amount of time, money and stress when it’s time to start tearing down walls and installing new appliances next year.”


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Earnest Money Deposits Can Play Pivotal Role in Real Estate Negotiation Strategy

November 14, 2012 4:56 pm

When getting ready to purchase a home, it’s crucial that homebuyers understand the amount of money involved in the process. While there are numerous financial obligations that need to be taken into account, prospective buyers must also ensure that they have liquid funds available for an earnest money deposit—money that gets deposited into an escrow account if your real estate offer is accepted, or gets ratified by both parties—when they make an offer on a home.

In its simplest terms, an earnest money deposit is a deposit that is handed over to the sellers (or their real estate agent) when a contract is signed and offered to purchase a home. This shows that the buyer is serious about the deal and is willing to “show you the money.”

While there’s no set amount that needs to be offered in an earnest money deposit, it’s important to talk to your agent before making a decision. Eventually, the money will get credited toward your down payment, so choosing an amount that will impress the seller should be taken into consideration.

When preparing an earnest money deposit, be mindful that a low amount may work against you by weakening your negotiating power. On the other hand, a higher earnest money deposit will show that you are ready to make the deal happen.

If you’re making an offer on a home that has multiple offers on the table, the amount you offer in an earnest money deposit becomes extremely important. While there are many factors that come into play in a real estate negotiation strategy, the size of the earnest money deposit can help demonstrate your sincerity and even influence the seller’s decision in choosing your offer over another.

If something goes awry early in the deal, the deposit is usually returned to the buyer without a fuss. Both parties are usually willing to negotiate a fair solution even when things go wrong later in the transaction. However, certain situations may arise when the buyer and seller find it difficult to agree.

To keep problems at bay throughout the transaction, make sure there’s something written about the earnest money deposit in case something huge comes up during the home inspection that would make you want to pull out of the deal. The last thing you want is to lose all the money because the house isn’t what you thought it was.

While there are consumer protection clauses in contracts, you can also lose the money through default. Default can happen when you have deliberately done something that prevents you from completing the transaction. One way to avoid this is to not buy anything too expensive when under contract to buy a home.

Work carefully with a real estate agent to make sure you understand all of the terms of the deal so that you can meet your end of the bargain.

For more information about earnest money deposits, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Final Walkthrough: Don't Mind the Little Things

November 14, 2012 4:56 pm

After you’ve found the perfect home, made an offer, negotiated the price, had an inspection and ensured your mortgage, it’s time to think about the final walkthrough. Normally done on the day of, or the day before the settlement, the final walkthrough is the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be completed before you sign the final contract.

When doing a final walkthrough inspection, you’re not so much looking for little things that are wrong, but instead making sure the house is in the same condition as when you agreed to buy it. It’s important that you don’t spend time nitpicking if you see nail holes in the wall or a slight de-colorization on the floor where a carpet was. These are small issues that you will deal with eventually and shouldn’t affect signing your name on the contract.

What could affect the contract being signed is if things that were agreed to stay are gone, such as a washing machine or curtains, or things that were supposed to be removed are still there, such as old paint cans in the basement or a heavy, broken fridge in the garage.

It’s also important to make sure that everything contracted to be done after the home inspection was actually done. For instance, if the sellers agreed to replace the old water heater, but didn’t, that’s grounds for some financial changes come settlement time. In many instances, the seller may have simply run out of time and thought taking the money off the price was worth the hassle putting a new one in would cost.

While you may be eager to complete the final walkthrough and get the contract signed, don’t rush the inspection. Take your time and make sure everything is how it should be. You may want to run the appliances through a full cycle to ensure that they work properly. Be sure to turn on all faucets and showers as well.

In certain cases, some contracts specify that the buyer do a walkthrough inspection a week or two prior to settlement, and then schedule a quick meeting prior to settlement to check off any items previously noted. If these items aren’t taken care of, things can still be changed in the final settlement regarding money.

As anyone purchasing a home knows, things can happen at the drop of a hat, however, the final walkthrough typically goes off without a hitch in the majority of real estate transactions. In the end, both parties are eager to get the deal done and you’ll find negotiating over any issues to be a much smother process than agreeing on a price.

To learn more about final walkthroughs, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Closer Look at Seniors and the Housing Market

November 14, 2012 4:56 pm

According to “Housing in America: The Baby Boomers Turn 65,” a new report released in October by The Urban Land Institute, the combination of aging baby boomers and those older has created a variety of new opportunities and challenges for the housing industry. The report highlights the Leading-Edge Boomers (born between 1943-1954), the Silent Generation (aged 67 to 85) and the Greatest Generation (aged 85 and older).

“The 65-plus age group is the fastest growing age group in the United States and will be for the rest of this decade as the rate of growth for that group is accelerating,” says John McIlwain, ULI’s senior resident fellow for housing and author of the report. “Over the last two decades, unprecedented change has occurred, and today three separate generations are over 65, each with its own outlook on life and distinct housing needs that are unlike those of past markets for people in their age group.”

The report shows that Leading-Edge Boomers are really the future of the 65-plus population and a majority of them want to age in their current homes, even when they need assistance.

More than half of Americans over 65 live in the suburbs, fueled by the fact that seniors often have trouble selling their homes in this market. The problem with this, McIlwain says, is that it’s creating NORC (naturally occurring retirement communities) that will need increasing levels of government-funded services in the years ahead.

Because many people prefer to remain in their own homes as long as possible, or may not be able to sell even if they wish to move, suburbs are expected to continue to see substantial growth in their over-65 populations.

For those that do decide to move, many are choosing urban locations—both cities and suburban town centers—where they can be close to their children, friends, work, public transportation and health care.

The 2010 census numbers reveal that during the last decade, those over 65 were moving from the cold northeast and older industrial metropolitan areas to warmer climates in the south, west and southwest. In addition, many are choosing to live alone.

“To be attractive to a wider age group, opportunities are there to make homes stylish and green and create them in walkable urban neighborhoods, not just the suburbs and to make them multigenerational,” McIlwain says. “They also need to be designed for people who are likely to remain actively engaged in the world, with state-of-the-art technology.”

Today, the Silent Generation and the Leading-Edge Boomers are already exploring a variety of differing living situations, such as cohousing, college towns and multigenerational living.

“Some of these formats will survive, whereas others may be shorter lived,” McIlwain says. “Given the large number of people in these two generations, however, each new way of living can present a real and viable market for a developer close enough to consumers to really understand their desires.”

For more information about seniors and the housing market, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.