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Home Prices Closed Out a Strong 2012

February 27, 2013 2:46 am

Data through December 2012, released by S&P Dow Jones Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed that all three headline composites ended the year with strong gains. The national composite posted an increase of 7.3 percent for 2012. The 10- and 20-City Composites reported annual returns of 5.9 percent and 6.8 percent in 2012. Month-over-month, both the 10- and 20-City Composites moved into positive territory with gains of 0.2 percent; more than reversing last month's losses. In addition to the three composites, nineteen of the 20 MSAs posted positive year-over-year growth – only New York fell.

"Home prices ended 2012 with solid gains," says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. "Housing and residential construction lead the economy in the 2012 fourth quarter. In December's report all three headline composites and 19 of the 20 cities gained over their levels of a year ago. Month-over-month, 9 cities and both Composites posted positive monthly gains. Seasonally adjusted, there were no monthly declines across all 20 cities.

"The National Composite increased 7.3 percent over the four quarters of 2012. From its low in the first quarter, it surged in the second and third quarter and slipped slightly in the 2012 fourth period. The 10- and 20-City Composites, which bottomed out in March 2012 continued to show both year-over-year and monthly gains in December. These movements, combined with other housing data, suggest that while housing is on the upswing some of the strongest numbers may have already been seen.

"Atlanta and Detroit posted their biggest year-over-year increases of 9.9 percent and 13.6 percent since the start of their indices in January 1991. Dallas, Denver, and Minneapolis recorded their largest annual increases since 2001. Phoenix continued its climb, posting an impressive year-over-year return of 23.0 percent; it posted eight consecutive months of double-digit annual growth."

As of the fourth quarter of 2012, average home prices across the United States are back at their autumn 2003 levels. At the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, the National Index was down 0.3 percent over the third quarter of 2012 and 7.3 percent above the fourth quarter of 2011.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Energy Efficient Homes Tax Credit Extended to December 2013

February 27, 2013 2:46 am

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and its allies scored a significant victory this January when Congress extended the Energy Efficient Homes Tax Credit to December 31, 2013. The $2,000 tax credit for builders constructing energy efficient homes was RESNET's number one legislative priority, and is seen as a clear demonstration of wide bipartisan support for high energy performance homes. The extension of the credit was included as part of the recent compromise legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.

In order to be eligible for the tax credit, builders must prove that the heating and cooling energy consumption levels of their new homes are at least 50 percent lower than those of comparable homes constructed as per the 2006 IECC.

But it's not only energy efficient builders who can benefit from this legislation. Homeowners who want to purchase qualified products to improve the energy efficiency of their existing homes can also take advantage of the tax credit. This comes as especially welcome news at a time when a slow economy is forcing homeowners to try and save money wherever they can. Energy efficient homes are not only proven money-savers, but also enjoy a greater resale value than their less efficient counterparts. As a result, increasing numbers of homeowners are opting for energy audits in order to ascertain where and how their homes are losing energy, and what cost-effective solutions are available to them to rectify those problems. The tax credit extension goes a long way in helping them do that.

Points to note regarding the Home Energy Efficiency Tax Credit include:

• The tax credit is retroactive to homes sold from January 1, 2012.
• Homebuilders selling an energy-efficient home who want to apply for the credit need to complete IRS Form 8908 (
• For Residential Requirements of the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code, go to:

The energy efficient tax credit extension forms a part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and is contained under Section 408. The extension of this credit signifies the importance of home energy efficiency in today's economic climate.

Source: RESNET

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 5 Major Problems Caused by Winter Weather

February 26, 2013 2:46 am

Although winter may not be over just yet, many are hoping that the worst of it is behind us. Once spring arrives, some homeowners may be left with homes that have taken a hit from the winter weather. Few homes are left completely unscathed, but that doesn’t mean they are beyond repair. Here are five problems generally caused by harsh winters and tips for how you can help alleviate the issues.

Leaky roofs became a huge problem for many homeowners this season. Search your home for signs of water damage or discoloration. Be sure to check all ceilings in addition to the siding under roof eaves. Inspect rafters for stains and check in the roof, around chimneys and also near skylights. Fixing leaks is a job best left for professionals. If you choose to hire a pro, have them inspect for missing shingles or other roofing issues you may be unaware of. Fixing a roof is critically important if you're planning on selling soon. If the damage is severe enough, look into your homeowners insurance policy and see if some of that damage can be covered.

Clearing out gutters is a less severe, though just as important a task. Make sure that water can properly flow through and out of your gutters. Also, check for areas of separation or corrosion. These spots will need to be fixed immediately. Gutter guards can be added for the most extreme cases.

In relation to damaged roofs and leaky gutters, decks should also be checked for safety's sake. Look for stains or other areas where wood may be decaying. Decaying wood weakens the deck's structure. Examine the area where the deck connects to the house, and remove any moss or mold. If there is any sort of extensive wood damage, a pro should be hired to repair the issue. Depending on the age of your deck, a replacement may be warranted. Either way, confirming the structural integrity of your deck is imperative for your family's safety.

Cracked foundations can also be a result of a rough winter. Cracks should be marked and observed over time. If the area worsens, then it's time to call for help. Make sure that the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house. For minor repairs, an epoxy injection could do the trick. For holes in siding and foundation walls, expandable foam might be the better choice. A structural expert would know the best solution.

After the winter months, air conditioners often need a major tune up. Clean out any build-up of dust, leaves or other debris that may impact its performance when you need it. Disconnect the power first, then clear it out with a vent brush or with a vacuum attachment. If necessary, replace the mesh around the condenser coil. This won't take much of your time, but will definitely enhance efficiency when the weather starts to spike.

As winter gets closer to spring, re-evaluating your home and searching for needed repairs is a great way to keep your home in tip-top shape, and the safety added as a result will be invaluable.

Source: Consumer Reports Home & Garden Blog

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Freddie Mac Changes Policies So Borrowers Will Get Hurricane Sandy Insurance Proceeds Faster

February 26, 2013 2:46 am

Freddie Mac has taken steps to cut the time it's taking servicers to get insurance proceeds to borrowers to start repairs on homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy and secured by Freddie Mac-owned or -guaranteed mortgages. Freddie Mac is one of the nation's largest investors in single-family and multifamily mortgages.

"Our goal is to simplify and clarify our policies so servicers can put insurance proceeds to work helping families and repairing homes without delay," says Tracy Mooney, senior vice president of Single-Family Servicing and Real Estate Owned at Freddie Mac. "[This] Guide Bulletin re-emphasizes Freddie Mac's commitment to do everything it can to get insurance money into the hands of eligible borrowers recovering from Hurricane Sandy as quickly as possible."

News Facts:

• A February 22 Freddie Mac Guide Bulletin gives servicers discretion on the timing and amount of insurance proceeds to release to eligible borrowers whose homes experienced some, but not catastrophic, damage by Hurricane Sandy.
• This means servicers now have the authority to provide eligible borrowers with funds for repairs and restoration either as a single payment, regardless of the amount, or as a series of payments made as different stages of work are completed. However, in exercising discretion, servicers were also told to apply the same policies and processes uniformly in order to provide borrowers repairing their homes with clarity and consistency.
• Freddie Mac also reminded servicers they are already authorized to release insurance proceeds up to the greater of $40,000 or 10 percent of the unpaid principal balance if the home was totally or almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
• The February 22 Freddie Mac Guide Bulletin also emphasizes that servicers must not delay the release of insurance proceeds to eligible borrowers for loss of contents or, if they were displaced by the storm, living expenses.
• Freddie Mac's disaster relief policies apply to all Freddie Mac borrowers with primary residences, second homes or investment properties in presidentially declared Major Disaster Areas where federal Individual Assistance programs are available.

For more information on mortgage payment relief, homeowners should contact their mortgage servicer or call Freddie Mac at 800-FREDDIE. Borrowers can determine if Freddie Mac owns their mortgage by using our loan look-up tool at Freddie Mac's general disaster relief policies are posted online at

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Single Family Renters More Likely to Stay in Place

February 26, 2013 2:46 am

Single family home tenants are 18 percent more likely than apartment tenants to stay in their current homes five years or longer, suggesting that demand for single family homes, the fastest growing rental category, will be more stable than multifamily demand, according to a new national opinion survey.

One of every four (26 percent) single family tenant plans to stay in place five years or more, compared to one out of five apartment dwellers (22 percent). One factor contributing to single family stability could be high marks renters give the quality of single family property management. Some 80 percent of tenants in single family rentals said their property management was good or excellent compared to only 63 percent of apartment renters. One out of four apartment dwellers (26 percent) rated their management as only adequate.

Over half, 52 percent, of renters, including 60 percent of single family renters and 44 percent of apartment dwellers, said they anticipate becoming homeowners in the next five years. Families with three or more members (64 percent) and children under 13 (69 percent) were more likely to become homeowners than the 43 percent who don't plan to become owners.

Clothier said near-term interest in becoming homeowners among single family tenants reflects the new roles single family rentals are fulfilling as a stepping stone to homeownership for first-time buyers and as a sanctuary for large numbers of families displaced by foreclosures, but who plan to buy again when they can afford to do so.

The survey also found:

• Single family renters make more money and are nearly twice as likely to have children as apartment dwellers. Median income for a single family renter is $75-100,000 (66 percent) versus $50,000-75000 (51 percent) for a multifamily tenant. Single family households are larger; some 65 percent have three or more members compared to 32 percent of apartment households. Some 63 percent of single family households include children; only 34 percent of apartment renters have children living with them.

• Most single family tenants are older, aged 35-44 (53 percent) compared to 14-34 (46 percent) and 65+ (61 percent) for apartment dwellers.

• Compared to apartment dwellers, single family renters value neighborhood features important to children, such as parks and playgrounds (65-71 percent), good schools (72-82 percent) and safe neighborhoods (97-98 percent).

Source: Premier Property Management Group

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Winter Sports Safety for Your Head and Toes

February 25, 2013 2:46 am

A lot of attention is being given to helmet safety for winter sports, but it is also important to protect your feet and ankles during these activities as well. Left untreated, ankle sprains or fractures can lead to chronic ankle instability and repeated injury. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 9.2 million people skied and 5.1 million people snowboarded in 2011. That same year, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates these two sports resulted in 83,580 injuries.

Ankle sprains and talus fractures are the most common skiing and snowboarding foot and ankle injuries. Snowboarders even have an injury named after their sport. Snowboarders Ankle is actually a lateral talus fracture. The talus is the bone in the back of the foot between the bottom of the two leg bones, the tibia and the fibula, and the top of the foot. This fracture occurs from a combination of two motions – dorsiflexion of the foot, where the foot bends up toward the leg; and ankle inversion, or rolling the ankle under the foot. Symptoms include pain, bruising and swelling of the ankle, and difficulty walking. Treatment can include a cast or, in some cases, surgery. As snowboarding has increased in popularity, this fracture has become much more common but is often misdiagnosed as a sprain.

Jeffrey Johnson, MD, is Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO and Treasurer of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. He suggests, "If you think you have suffered an ankle sprain and you still cannot bear weight on the ankle after a day or two of rest, ice and a compressive wrap, or are not improving in therapy, you should see your doctor and have an exam and an x-ray. There are many types of injuries to the foot and ankle that happen like a sprain and an accurate diagnosis will help direct the proper treatment."

Ankle sprains and fractures often have the same symptoms.An ankle sprain also occurs on the outside of the ankle during an inversion injury. A sprain is the result of stretched or torn ligaments instead of broken bones. Sprains are rated into grades based on the degree of damage to the ligaments. Often, people are unable to bear weight on that leg and there is a lot of swelling and pain initially. Sprained ankles are treated with RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation for the first 48 to 72 hours. Severe sprains might require a walking boot.

Whether the ankle is sprained or broken, recovery will take time. Exercises to strengthen and stretch the ankle will help, along with wearing an ankle brace for support. It is important to gradually return to full activity and to rehabilitate the ankle to avoid chronic ankle instability.

What can you do to avoid these injuries?

• Wear the correct boot for the sport. Snowboarders should wear firm boots that limit ankle motion and fit snugly.
• Keep an eye on the other skiers, snowboarders and the terrain you are on.
• Obtain proper instruction and don't imitate the extreme stunts you see on television.
• Never go out alone; have a buddy with you if you get hurt.
• See an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon if you have any ankle pain that lasts for more than 72 hours or swelling that doesn't go away after 24 hours.

Source: American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips to Help You Save Big When Planning Your Move

February 25, 2013 2:46 am

Moving can be stressful when trying to complete many different tasks in a small period of time. Take some of the edge off with these moving tips to help save you money, and maybe even some of your sanity, too!

Saving on moving supplies:

- Obtain boxes in the cheapest way possible. Ask a friend or colleague who has recently moved to give or sell you their boxes. Check the classified ads; people sometimes sell all their moving boxes for a flat rate. Ask your local grocery or department store for their empty boxes.
- Borrow a tape dispenser instead of buying one.
- Instead of buying bubble wrap, crumple newspaper, plain unused newsprint, or tissue paper to pad breakables.
- Shop around for the cheapest deal on packing tape and other supplies.
- Instead of renting padding blankets from the truck rental company, use your own blankets, linens, and area rugs for padding. Bear in mind that you may have to launder them when you arrive, which is an expense itself.

Saving on labor:

- If you use professional movers, consider a "you pack, we drive" arrangement, in which you pack boxes, and the moving company loads, moves, and unloads your belongings.
- Call around and compare moving cost estimates.
- If you can live without all your stuff for a while at your new or old location, moving companies sometimes give significant cost reductions if they can short-term-store and consolidate your moving items with other customers' items.
- If you move yourself, round up "volunteers" to help you load and clean on moving day. It's still customary to reward them with moving-day food and beverages (and maybe a small cash gift). You may also have to "volunteer" to help them move some day. But you may still save some money compared to hiring professionals.
- Save on child and pet care. Ask family or friends to watch your young children and pets on moving day.

With enough planning and preparation, you can cut your moving stress in half while efficiently getting the job done.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Make Sure Your Storage Unit Is Properly Insured

February 25, 2013 2:46 am

Whether you are downsizing to a smaller home, safeguarding heirlooms after a death in the family or just cannot let go of those old mementos, storage units can provide a useful solution for dealing with extra belongings. While storage units may be the answer to de-cluttering your home, adequate insurance coverage is the answer to protecting your belongings, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"If an item is valuable enough that you are willing to pay for storing it, the item should be financially protected with the proper amount and type of insurance," said Loretta Worters, vice president for the I.I.I. "Even in the best managed storage facilities, theft, fire and other disasters can and do occur. That's why before signing a rental agreement, it is important to find out what types of losses will be covered by the storage facility and whether supplemental insurance may be needed."

The Self Storage Association notes that one out of every 10 households in the U.S. currently rents some kind of storage unit, including portable on demand storage (PODS).

Most storage facilities require that you maintain insurance for the full replacement cost of the contents of your storage room and ask to see a copy of your homeowners or renters policy. One way to satisfy your insurance obligation is by purchasing insurance through the storage facility. However, most storage facilities limit the value of property that can be stored in a unit, basing it on the size and the amount of your rent (usually up to about $20,000). If your property is worth more than the assigned amount, some storage facilities will allow you to increase the assigned value of the property in your unit. There are also exclusions including art, antiques, jewelry, furs, watches, money, securities and other documents of value. Be sure to check your homeowners or renters insurance policies first to determine whether your contents may already be covered.

One of the best ways to substantiate the value of your personal property is to create a detailed home inventory of all your possessions, including those in storage. If your property is stolen or damaged, an inventory can help speed the claims process and substantiate your loss. It will also help you determine how much insurance to buy to adequately protect your possessions.

The I.I.I. offers the following tips for choosing a storage company:

• Look for a secure facility. Fencing that secures the entire property and access control are the very minimum that a storage business should offer.
• Consider the safety of the immediate area surrounding the facility. Does the storage building have onsite security features such as 24-hour video surveillance cameras and coded security pads to access the building? If so, does the code work only for your floor or for the entire facility? Are there video cameras throughout the building or just at the entrance? An informed manager should have the answers you need.
• Look for a unit with climate control options. This will ensure your appliances and furniture are not in a harmful environment. Very high or low temperatures, as well as dampness can quickly cause damage. And make sure that rising ground water from snow or rain is unable to penetrate your storage unit.
• Select a company that offers insurance along with their space. If you do not already have coverage through your renters or homeowners insurance, look for a storage company that offers insurance, and make sure you fully understand how their insurance will cover any potential damage. Find out about the facility's procedures in cases such as fire, flood, etc. and keep in mind that any facility should also have their own insurance to cover damages or injuries that occur on their premises.
• Check that the storage facility is clean and well-maintained. If a storage facility is not routinely and thoroughly cleaned, there is a good possibility no one is monitoring for bugs and rodent infestations. Verify that the facility has a permanent, reliable pest extermination contract in place before you trust them with your belongings.
• Investigate the reputation of the storage company. Check with friends and neighbors who may be familiar with the facility, or ask the storage company for referrals.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Designing a Great Family Room

February 22, 2013 2:44 am

After the kitchen, the most popular room in most homes is the family room. It can function as a media room, a game room, a music room, a reading room—and often a homework area, too. Because this room is so lived in, there are lots of family rooms that could use a serious makeover. But where do you start?

Start by utilizing a design that reflects the interests of the family members. Use photos, children's artwork, mementos, maps, antiques and art collections to tell your family's story in this room. Consider having frames that can open to switch out kids' artwork or to showcase the latest photos from a family trip. Keep it personal, yet practical. Here are tips on how to create a family room that is both functional and attractive:

1. Comfortable seating is essential.
Sofas, sectionals and chairs for a family room should be chosen for reading and viewing comfort. Do you like to nap on the sofa? Be sure it's wide and deep enough. Chairs and sofas with an outside depth of 38-39 inches or more are ideal for both sitting and reclining.

2. Select furniture that's the right scale for the room.
If your room is oversized or has a cathedral ceiling, you probably need large-scale upholstered furniture that can stand up to the size of the room. Traditional sofas 72 to 78-inches wide will look diminutive in a big room. Look for large-scale sofas at least 88-92 inches wide with depth and height of about 38-39 inches for furniture with presence in a spacious room.

3. Consider sectional seating for design flexibility.
Sectional sofas with a variety of components are a good way to create more spacious seating that can be tailored to the size and shape of the room. If you want to pack more people into a tight space, your best choice is a sectional sofa. The L-shape creates a very strong line and utilizes every square inch, even the corner.

4. Vary the scale and visual weight of the furniture in the room.
For example, have large chairs, medium-size chairs and smaller slipper chairs. Incorporate ottomans and benches. Have firmer chair seats and cushier chair seats. Have a great reading chair or chaise. Be able to reconfigure the furniture and pull in extra seating for big family gatherings and parties. Furniture with a little variety creates a more interesting room than a matching suite that all appears to have come from the same source.

5. Ottomans are critical to reading and viewing comfort.
Ottomans should pull up easily to chairs or sectional components to support your legs. Will they be large enough for a long-legged spouse? Or will two people want to share one ottoman? Shop accordingly. If an ottoman will serve as both footrest and coffee table, consider a large 36" to 48" rectangular or square ottoman to serve all needs.

6. Find a fabric you love to pull out colors for pillows, window treatments, skirted tables and accessories.
If you have little ones, consider a more colorful combo for a family room as brighter colors really speak to kids. Start with the fabric, because there a million shades of paint and you can always find that later.

7. Lots of pillows are great for lounging, movie watching or support while reading.
Have pillows made in a variety of sizes and shapes--lumbar pillows to cradle your back while reading, smaller pillows to tuck under an elbow, larger pillows for napping--and even floor pillows for kids who love to lounge on the carpet.

8. Use window treatments to control glare on a television screen.
Light falling from a window onto a television screen creates sun glare. Window treatments that can be drawn, or shutters or shades that can be closed, will help to control glare and add privacy.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Getting a Handle on Nonstick Cookware

February 22, 2013 2:44 am

(Family Features) In the last several years, kitchen activity has increased as families bypass the drive-through to cook at home more often. According to a recent survey from DuPont, maker of the most popular nonstick coating for cookware, more than two-thirds of home cooks choose nonstick pots and pans because they help families cook convenient and healthy meals that are easy to clean up.

As families try out new recipes and pick fresh ingredients for their home-cooked meals, it’s a good idea to understand what cookware to look for when it’s time to buy something new.

Types of Nonstick Coatings
Not all nonstick cookware coatings are equal. According to the Cookware Manufacturers Association (CMA), most quality nonstick cookware has a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) finish. PTFE, developed 70 years ago, is used as a nonstick coating that is both durable and high-temperature resistant. These nonstick coatings have been developed with a variety of coatings, which are reinforced to resist scratching and can come in up to three-coat finishes — which means greater durability and a longer life for your pan.

Consumers also may be familiar with pans that advertise ceramic finishes and claim they are natural or organic. Both ceramic and PTFE-based coatings start from minerals that are used to create a synthetic coating. PTFE coatings comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for their intended use. In lab tests, which simulated cooking in a home kitchen, traditional nonstick coatings lasted up to seven times longer than ceramic finishes.

Using Nonstick Cookware
While there are few rules to using nonstick coated pots and pans, just like anything else in your kitchen, you can achieve the best results when you use proven techniques.

When trying out new recipes, or simply revisiting an old favorite, it’s best to use medium or low heat. Then add food and lower the heat to cook at an even temperature.

Because food releases so easily when you use cookware with nonstick coatings, you don’t need to use oil or fat when you cook unless you want to. And with recent improvements you also can use metal utensils on many high-quality nonstick-coated pots and pans without worry of scratching.

With nonstick pans, cleanup is easy. Simply wash with hot, soapy water after each use; a sponge or dishcloth is usually all it takes to get the surface thoroughly clean.

Many nonstick pans also are dishwasher-safe. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines before using a dishwasher. Cookware also should be stored carefully to prevent unnecessary wear and tear.

Buying a New Pan

Use these tips when shopping for nonstick cookware:

—Think about what piece or pieces you will really use most. Start there and build. You can buy a single pot or pan or a full set, depending on your needs.
—Check out all the new types of pans available, as manufacturers are constantly innovating. For example, there are new nonstick pans for grilling, stainless steel pans with nonstick coatings, as well as new colors to add flair to your kitchen.
—Finally, if you use cookware in the oven as well as on the stove, choose a handle that can take the heat, such as metal, and check the manufacturer’s guidelines for maximum temperatures.

Source: Dupont

Published with permission from RISMedia.