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Mortgage Rates Trending Higher

February 1, 2013 2:26 am

Freddie Mac today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing mortgage rates continuing to trend higher amid a growing economy led in part by the recovering housing market. This marks the first week the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has averaged above 3.5 percent since September 13 of last year. The all-time record low for the 30-year fixed was set the week of November 21, 2012, when it averaged 3.31 percent.

News Facts
-30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.53 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending January 31, 2013, up from last week when it averaged 3.42 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.87 percent.

-15-year FRM this week averaged 2.81 percent with an average 0.7 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.71 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.14 percent.

-5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.70 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.67 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.80 percent.

-1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.59 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.57 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.76 percent.

"Mortgage rates continued to trend upwards this week amid a growing economy led in part by the recovering housing market. For instance, new home sales totaled 367,000 in 2012, the most in three years and reflected the first annual increase in seven years," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Pending home sales in 2012 averaged its highest reading since 2006. And the S&P/Case-Shiller® 20-city composite house price index rose 5.5 percent over the 12-months ending in November 2012, the largest annual growth since August 2006. All of these factors helped residential fixed investment to add nearly 0.4 percentage points to real GDP growth in the fourth quarter alone."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


More Men than Women Would Prefer to Take a Romantic Trip with a Significant Other If They Could Take One More Vacation Per Year

February 1, 2013 2:26 am, a leading discount travel site, revealed results from its second annual American Travel Behavior Survey, conducted online on its behalf by Harris Interactive in October 2012 among over 2,000 U.S. adults. According to the survey, almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans who travel believe that their relationships with their loved one(s) would be better if they went on more leisure trips together.

Furthermore, two in five (38 percent) U.S. adults indicated that if they could afford to take one more leisure trip than they may have already planned, they'd first want to take a romantic trip with a spouse/significant other instead of a family getaway (25 percent), or a solo trip (13 percent) or a vacation with friends (16 percent). And in a surprising twist, this preference was significantly higher in men (42 percent) than in women (33 percent), making a spontaneous romantic trip the perfect Valentine's gift to give a boyfriend or husband.

Fortunately, this year, Valentine's Day lands on the Thursday before President's Day, Monday, February 18. Since President's Day is a holiday for many Americans, Hotwire suggests using the three-day weekend (or stretching it out into a four- or five-day weekend) to take a loved one on a romantic escape. And to get the destination ideas flowing, Hotwire has provided a list of the five most popular destinations for the long weekend.

Number one on the list is New York, and it has so much to offer amorous visitors, it's no surprise that the city has served as a backdrop in countless romantic movies, books and televisions shows. Significant others can rent paddleboats at Central Park's Loeb Boathouse, go ice skating in Rockefeller Center or enjoy sunsets on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. For sports loving couples, be sure to catch a game at Madison Square Garden.

Up next on the list is Orlando. While this Floridian city certainly offers fun for the whole family, it also serves up plenty of romance for two. Take a gondola ride through the downtown area, visit the Kraft Azalea Gardens in Winter Park at sunset or snuggle up and enjoy a chilled drink at ICEBAR Orlando. Newlyweds visiting the theme parks should be sure to stop by the Guest Relations office for a set of buttons that read "Just Married" for special perks and extras to complete their whimsical trip.

In at number three is Las Vegas. This desert destination might be Sin City to some, but there are plenty of sweet treats for couples spending a romantic weekend away. For the ultimate date night, visit Max Brenner at the Forum Shops and dive into a pot of chocolate fondue or buy some chocolate-covered strawberries before heading over to the Eiffel Tower to catch a glimpse of the Bellagio fountains across the street. Vegas is truly The Entertainment Capital of the World, so afterward, sit back and enjoy one of the dozens of amazing shows. Wrap up the night with a late dinner at one of hundreds of world-class restaurants and a gondola ride at the Venetian.

Rounding out the top five are Chicago and San Francisco. While in Chicago, visit the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, cruise on Lake Michigan or head to Sears Tower and hold hands while stepping on the glass floor. San Francisco visitors can have a wine and cheese picnic in Golden Gate Park or ride up and down the beautiful hills of San Francisco on one of the city's famous cable cars.

Source: Hotwire

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Extended Foreclosure Relief for Hurricane Sandy Storm Victims

February 1, 2013 2:26 am

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who serves as President Obama’s Chairman of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac will extend expiring protections against foreclosure actions against homeowners whose properties were damaged or destroyed due to Hurricane Sandy.

The additional 90-day foreclosure moratorium applies to homeowners with properties in states where the President issued major disaster declarations following Hurricane Sandy. The extended moratoriums announced today apply to the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process.

“It’s all too clear that families need more time to get back on their feet without having a foreclosure or eviction hanging over their heads,” said Donovan. “As we work to rebuild after this historic storm, we’ll do everything we can to ease the crushing burden being faced by those homeowners, many of whom have been forced from their homes.”

“Given the magnitude of this disaster, extending the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions will allow homeowners in the affected areas, and their servicers, the time needed to assess individual circumstances and options,” said DeMarco.

FHA is extending moratoriums for another 90 days on the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process. FHA is also suspending evictions of persons from properties secured by FHA mortgages in these affected counties through April 30, 2013.

After consultation with FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will also extend the suspension of foreclosure sales and eviction lockouts for borrowers impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The new 90-day extension applies to homeowners with properties or employment within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared disaster area eligible for individual assistance. This follows an earlier 90-day suspension of foreclosure sales and evictions in the impacted areas. In addition to the foreclosure sale and eviction moratorium, homeowners impacted by Hurricane Sandy may be eligible for forbearance, loan modifications or waived late payment charges.

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Living Large! Bigger Breeds Shake Up Top 10 on Most Popular List

January 31, 2013 2:26 am

Proving that bigger really is better, the American Kennel Club (AKC®) announced that the Bulldog has muscled its way into the top 5, becoming the fifth most popular dog in the U.S., according to AKC Registration Statistics, bumping the tiny Yorkshire Terrier into sixth place for the first time since 2003.

The Golden Retriever also pushed its way back to the top, overtaking the Beagle for third place, and Rottweilers continued their climb up the top 10 list by taking ninth place away from the Dachshund, both adding to the bigger breed trend. Labrador Retriever lovers have again spoken – the playful, family friendly breed remains the number one most popular breed in the U.S. for the 22nd consecutive year, tying with the Poodle for the longest reign in the top spot.

"Bigger breeds are making their move," said AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson. "The popularity of the pint-sized, portable pooch just gave way to a litter of larger breeds in the Top 10. These predictable, durable, steady breeds, like Labs and Goldens, are great with kids and offer the whole family more dog to love."

2012 Most Popular Dogs in the U.S.

1. Labrador Retriever
2. 2. German Shepherd
3. Golden Retriever
4. Beagle
5. Bulldog
6. Yorkshire Terrier
7. Boxer
8. Poodle
9. Rottweiler
10. Dachshund

Most Notable Dog Trends in 2012 Include:

• Mastiff-type breeds have risen in rank, with the Mastiff going from 34 to 26 and the Bullmastiff from 47 to 39 over the past decade, and the Cane Corso (67 to 60), Neapolitan Mastiff (116 to 112), and Dogue de Bordeaux (69 to 67) all making gains since the year they became recognized.

• "Bully" breeds have pawed their way into people's hearts over the past decade with the Bull Terrier (79 to 51), Staffordshire Bull Terrier (91 to 76), and Miniature Bull Terrier (132 to 126) all making strong gains.

• Dog owners are showing their love for Sporting Breeds over this past year as the Spinone Italiano (123 to 114), Boykin Spaniel (138 to 116), and Welsh Springer Spaniel (130 to 125) have all made their way up the list.

• Small dogs that are on the rise this year are the Havanese (31 to 28) and Affenpinscher (139 to 138), while the Chihuahua (14 to 18), Pomeranian (17 to 19), and Pug (26 to 30) seem to have fallen out of favor.

In addition, the AKC expanded its litter of recognized breeds on January 1 to include the Chinook and Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, growing AKC's family to 177 breeds.

Source: AKC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Squeaky Clean Tips to Simplify Your Laundry Routine

January 31, 2013 2:26 am

(Family Features) If it seems that you can never quite diminish the size of your laundry pile, you’re not alone. Laundry is a part of everyday life and the more people in your household, the bigger the pile and the more often you need to wash. Designate one place in your home to be the laundry zone and sort through these time-saving tips to make your laundry routine faster and easier, leaving you with more time to do the things you love.

De-clutter and reorganize. Clear some space from your shelves to give yourself more room to work in the laundry room. Get rid of old containers, trash and even those stray socks missing their pair. Place a small basket or tray near the washer for collecting small items and loose change found in pockets. This prevents clutter as well as accidents in the wash. Larger baskets labeled delicates, lights and darks help to keep clothes easily sorted and off of the floor.

Essentials at-the-ready. Keep frequently used items easily accessible by placing them on a shelf designed to fit on top of your washing machine. Store smaller items in stackable baskets or bins so they aren’t in the way. Make sure your detergent is placed high enough so that little hands can’t grab it, but within reach for older kids to take over their own laundry chores.

Get rid of hassle and bulk. Save yourself from the trouble of heavy bottles and messy spills. Choose a multi-purpose detergent that comes pre-measured. These single-use, pre-measured packs can remove stains and eliminate tough odors. Just toss one in the washer with your laundry and go.

Sort and go. Give everyone in the family their own small mesh laundry bag for items that tend to get lost and mixed-up such as socks and underwear. Collect the bags and throw them in the washer and dryer together so that everything stays sorted.

Prep for final steps. Save time from ironing by pulling clothes directly from the dryer after the cycle is complete. Keep a stack of hangers nearby to hang clothes immediately for a wrinkle-free wardrobe. Designate an area of nearby countertop or a table to make folding and organizing clothes out of the dryer quicker.

Source: Arm & Hammer

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Bad Neighbors Can Reduce Property Values

January 31, 2013 2:26 am

The Appraisal Institute, the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers, cautioned homeowners and potential homebuyers that bad neighbors can significantly reduce nearby property values.

Bad neighbors can include homeowners with annoying pets, unkempt yards, unpleasant odors, loud music, dangerous trees and limbs, or poorly maintained exteriors. A homeowner or prospective homebuyer should visit a street on several days at various times to learn more about what is happening in the neighborhood. A home’s proximity to a bad neighbor also can impact the rate of potential decline in value.

“I’ve seen many situations where external factors, such as living near a bad neighbor, can lower home values by more than 5 to 10 percent,” says Appraisal Institute resident Richard L. Borges II, MAI, SRA. “Homeowners should be aware of what is going on in their neighborhood and how others’ bad behaviors could affect their home’s value.”

Appraisers refer to this as external obsolescence, which is depreciation caused by external factors not on the property. According to The Appraisal of Real Estate,13th Edition (Appraisal Institute, 2008), external obsolescence may be caused by economic or locational factors, and may be temporary or permanent, but it is not curable by the owner, landlord or tenant.

The Appraisal Institute urges homeowners to take the following steps when dealing with troublesome neighbors:

1. Speak with other neighbors. Get consensus when identifying issues, and approach the bad neighbor together.

2. Look up original and updated subdivision restrictions. If talking to the neighbor doesn’t work, see if they’re violating any restrictions. If so, writing to the code office of the municipality and reporting the bad neighbor could spur an investigation into the nuisance. Depending on the offense, a call to the local health department also may be warranted.

3. Hire an attorney. If all else fails, the cost of an attorney likely will be less than the home’s potential loss in value.

“Even though homeowners do have some recourse, it’s important for prospective homebuyers to carefully examine the neighborhood where they’re considering living,” Borges says. “That way they can hopefully prevent any problems in the first place.”

Potential homebuyers also should be aware of a property’s proximity to commercial facilities, such as power plants and funeral homes, as these also can negatively affect a home’s value.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Move to Improve Arthritis

January 30, 2013 2:24 am

More Americans are walking, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the news is a step in the right direction, the report also highlights a need for many more Americans to join the movement.

Importance of Movement
According to the CDC report, the number of Americans who walk at least 10 minutes at a time one or more days a week increased from 55.7 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2010 – a jump of about 6 percent. Among people with arthritis, the increase was about 4 percent.

While Americans are moving more than in years past, the CDC report also revealed fewer than half of all Americans are getting the government-recommended 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity like brisk walking to improve their health. Movement is especially important for people with arthritis and is one of the many ways to fight off arthritis. Walking, biking, swimming or even tennis can help reduce risk and improve pain.

Move to Improve
The Arthritis Foundation is taking steps to increase walking and physical activity to limit the effects of arthritis. As the nation’s leading cause of disability, arthritis affects one in five adults in the United States – more than 20 percent of the adult population. High rates of arthritis among people with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, make physical activity an even more important way to manage disease.

The Arthritis Foundation is calling on the nation to:

Get Moving —The Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease exercise program is a great resource to start moving. It’s safe, easy and motivating. And researchers have found that Walk With Ease can reduce pain, increase balance and strength, and improve overall health.

Wave With the World — If you’ve been touched by arthritis, join 50,000 people from 70 countries around the world waving in support of people with arthritis. Upload a photo at and post the photo on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using #WorldArthritisDay. Be sure to include a personal message about how arthritis affects you or someone important to you.

Source: Arthritis Foundation

Published with permission from RISMedia.


More than 25 Percent of Renters Have Lost Their Security Deposit

January 30, 2013 2:24 am

Everything from pet damage to moving out before the end of a lease could get your security deposit withheld by your landlord, but just how often does this happen? What are the most common causes of tenants getting the cold shoulder when it comes to getting their deposit back? surveyed 1,000 U.S. renters, and the results were startling:

· More than a quarter (26 percent) of all renters have lost their security deposit at some point.
· Thirty-seven percent of men and 44 percent of 18-24 year olds said they did not get their deposits back because they moved out early.
· More women (9 percent) than men (3 percent) lost a deposit due to pet damage.
· Thirty-six percent of renters who did not get their deposits back said the landlord gave no explanation.

In addition, to help make sure you get your deposit back at the end of your lease, here are several tips for maintaining your apartment and your relationship with your landlord:

-When renting, it is always best to get written permission from your landlord before doing any renovations, changing paint color, etc.

-Read your lease. Many renters miss the specific guidelines laid out by their landlord regarding the return of their deposit. A list should be made and agreed upon regarding the conditions of the apartment at the end of the lease BEFORE you sign it.

-Snap a photo. It’s always a good idea to take some photos of the apartment when you first move in. Make sure they are time- and date-stamped! Then, repeat the process on move out day. This way pre-existing damage is documented and the blame cannot fall on you.

-Be reasonable and your landlord might be too. There is no guarantee that a landlord will negotiate you breaking your lease, but maybe there is a compromise that can be met. For instance, you could help find a replacement tenant, agree to pay rent for an additional number of months or until a new tenant is found, etc.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Exterior Replacement Projects Provide Biggest Return on Investment for Homeowners, Say REALTORS

January 30, 2013 2:24 am

Homeowners looking for the most return on their investment when it comes to remodeling should consider exterior replacement projects. According to the 2013 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, REALTORS® rated exterior projects among the most valuable home improvement projects.

“REALTORS® know that curb appeal projects offer great bang for your buck because a home’s exterior is the first thing potential buyers see,” said National Association of REALTORS® President Gary Thomas.
“Projects such as siding, window and door replacements can recoup more than 70 percent of their cost at resale. REALTORS® know what home features are important to buyers in your area and can provide helpful insights when considering remodeling projects.”

Results of the report are summarized on NAR’s consumer website, which provides information on dozens of remodeling projects, from kitchens and baths to siding replacements, including the recouped value of the project based on a national average. According to the Cost vs. Value Report, REALTORS® judged a steel entry door replacement as the project expected to return the most money, with an estimated 85.6 percent of costs recouped upon resale. The steel entry door replacement is the least expensive project in the report, costing little more than $1,100 on average. A majority of the top 10 most cost-effective projects nationally in terms of value recouped are exterior replacement projects; all of these are estimated to recoup more than 71 percent of costs.

Three different siding replacement projects landed in the top 10, including fiber cement siding, expected to return 79.3 percent of costs, vinyl siding, expected to return 72.9 percent of costs, and foam backed vinyl, expected to return 71.8 percent of costs. Two additional door replacements were also among the top exterior replacement projects. The midrange and upscale garage door replacement were both expected to return more than 75 percent of costs.

According to the report, two interior remodeling projects in particular can recoup substantial value at resale. A minor kitchen remodel is ranked fifth and is expected to return 75.4 percent of costs. Nationally, the average cost for the project is just under $19,000.

The second interior remodeling project in the top 10 is the attic bedroom, which landed at number eight and tied with the vinyl siding replacement with 72.9 percent of costs recouped. With an average national cost of just under $48,000, the attic project adds a bedroom and bathroom within a home’s existing footprint. The improvement project projected to return the least is the home office remodel, estimated to recoup less than 44 percent.

“A REALTOR® is the best resource for helping homeowners decide what improvement projects will provide the most upon resale in their market,” said Thomas. “Each neighborhood is different, and the desirability and resale value of a particular remodeling project varies depending on where you live. When making a home remodeling decision, resale value is just one factor that homeowners should take into consideration. Consult a Realtor® to make sure you are making the best decision.”

Source: The National Association of REALTORS®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Family Physicians Say It's Not Too Late for the Flu Vaccine

January 29, 2013 8:22 am

With one of the worst flu seasons upon us – and the peak of the season yet to come – the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) is urging those who have not yet received the flu vaccine to do so soon.

"It's absolutely not too late to get vaccinated against the flu virus this year," said Dr. Karen Mitchell, a family physician and MAFP Board member. "As long as the flu virus is circulating, it's never too late."

Influenza seasons can be unpredictable, and in some years peak activity can last well into the spring. According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu season can begin as early as October and last until late May. Michigan has already reported a high level of Influenza-like illnesses throughout the state.

"There's a good match between the flu and the flu vaccine this year, which means if you get vaccinated, you are very likely to be protected against the flu," said Mitchell. "And, there's still plenty of vaccine available, so check with your primary care physician and make it a priority to get vaccinated."

Anyone over the age of six months should be vaccinated annually. It's also especially important for those at high risk, such as individuals who are over age 50, have a suppressed immune system or chronic illness, are pregnant, or are caretakers for anyone in a high-risk group.

"It's far safer to get the flu vaccine than to take a chance on getting the flu," said Mitchell.

If you do experience flu-like symptoms, there are anti-viral prescription drugs that can lessen your symptoms and shorten your illness. These treatments can mean the difference between a milder illness and a hospital stay for those at high-risk.

Stop the Spread

The easiest way to stop the spread of the virus is to get vaccinated: if you don't have the flu, you can't spread it. In addition, MAFP recommends the following steps for prevention:

-If you get sick with flu-like illness, stay home – except to get medical care or other necessities – until your fever subsides for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medicines).
-Practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to prevent the spread of germs, meaning coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow—never into your bare hands.
-Wash your hands regularly.
-Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
-Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.

"These actions aren't a substitute for vaccination," said Mitchell, "but they will help prevent the spread of the flu virus and other illnesses."

Source: Michigan Academy of Family Physicians

Published with permission from RISMedia.