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Save Money, Protect Your Home This Summer

June 20, 2012 1:50 am

After an abnormally warm winter and spring, many homeowners have already begun sweating the inevitable increase in their electricity usage that arrives along with warm summer weather. In addition to the longer days and more frequent thunderstorms most regions experience every summer, the Farmer's Almanac is predicting record high temperatures across the country in 2012.

The combination of those factors can wreak havoc on a home during summer months. Power Home Remodeling Group offers the following tips for protecting your home and wallet by saving energy this summer.
  • Cut down your AC usage by turning the thermostat up during the daytime hours when no one is home, or consider installing a programmable thermostat.
  • Replace air conditioner filters every month to increase your unit's efficiency and productivity.
  • Use ceiling fans to circulate cool air but remember to turn them off when leaving the room.
  • Plant trees or shrubs to shade AC units, but make sure they don't block the airflow.
  • Run dishwashers and clothes dryers at night to reduce heat production in the home during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Install door sweeps on the bottoms of all doors leading outside so that they lightly graze the existing threshold and keep hot air outside, and cool air in.
  • Place electronic equipment like televisions and computers away from thermostats where the heat they produce could cause the AC to run overtime. Likewise, position the thermostat away from direct sunlight which can cause it to read a higher than actual temperature.
  • Keep shades and blinds closed during the day to block out the sunlight and keep the house cool.
  • Close any AC intake vents that are low to the floor and open those that are high on the wall to ensure warmer air is cycled back into the home through the AC system.
  • On the hottest days of the summer, switch the fan mode on your thermostat from "auto" to "on" to continuously cycle the air and make the temperature on all floors feel consistent.
  • Seek out drafts around kitchen and bath vents, doors, windows and outlet covers with the help of a stick of incense. Light the stick and wave it slowly in front of those areas to see where the smoke is drawn out. Repair any leaks by sealing with caulk or weather stripping and replacing trim.
  • Avoid using the oven on very hot days. Instead, cook using an outdoor grill or microwave.
  • Investing in new doors and energy efficient windows can protect window treatments, floors and furniture from fading due to sun damage.
  • Swap old lightbulbs out for energy efficient, compact fluorescent bulbs that emit a brighter light and last longer.
  • Secure loose shingles, replace damaged sections of the roof and gutters and clear gutter blockages to prevent ultimate gaps and holes that can lead to leaks and the escape of cool air.
  • If replacing a roof, consider using pale-gray shingles as they will attract less heat than darker shingles.
In addition to these tips, energy and savings-conscious homeowners can conduct a home energy assessment through a do-it-yourself energy review or by hiring a licensed company. By seeking out air leaks and inspecting insulation, lighting and heating/cooling systems, homeowners can easily target the energy-sucking culprits around their homes and determine solutions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Forecast: Modest Gain in Pace of Wage Growth

June 20, 2012 1:50 am

The pace of wage growth in the private sector is likely to continue to accelerate modestly in the coming months, according to the revised second quarter Wage Trend Indicator™ (WTI) recently released by Bloomberg BNA, a leading publisher of specialized news and information.

The index rose to 98.69 from 98.42 in the first quarter.

Over its history, the WTI has predicted a turning point in wage trends six to nine months before the trends are apparent in the Department of Labor's employment cost index (ECI). A sustained increase in the WTI forecasts greater pressure to raise private sector wages, while a sustained decline is predictive of a deceleration in the rate of wage increases.

Barring a shock to the U.S. economy, experts at Bloomberg BNA expect annual wage gains in the private sector to reach 2.0 percent or more, compared with a 1.9 percent year-over-year increase in the first quarter, as measured by the ECI. The WTI does not forecast the magnitude of wage growth, only the direction.

Reflecting recent economic conditions, five of the WTI's seven components made positive contributions to the revised second quarter reading, while two factors were negative.

Of the WTI's seven components, the five positive contributors to the revised second quarter reading were forecasters' expectations for the rate of inflation, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; job losers as a share of the labor force and average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers, both reported by DOL; and the share of employers planning to hire production and service workers in the coming months and the proportion of employers reporting difficulty in filling professional and technical jobs, both tracked by Bloomberg BNA's quarterly employment outlook survey. The negative factors were industrial production, measured by the Federal Reserve Board, and the unemployment rate, reported by DOL.

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Improving Housing Data Drives Consumer Spending

June 20, 2012 1:50 am

In May, the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) posted its first three-month increase since September 2010. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

"The Index's increase is due to an ongoing slowdown in declining new home prices, plus a small uptick in real wages as falling energy prices give consumers some relief," explains Carl Steidtmann, Deloitte's chief economist and author of the monthly Index. "If these two components continue in this direction, consumer spending and sentiment may gain ground. However, the outcome of the stalling job market and economic crises overseas will determine whether it can be sustained."

Deloitte's analysis of factors influencing consumer spending indicate:
  • Housing prices are currently stable and in many markets are turning up. Should prices remain steady, demand may return. Pending sales of existing homes were down 5.1 percent in April from March, possibly because the unseasonably warm winter improved sales.
  • In recent weeks, oil prices fell more than $20 a barrel and gasoline prices will follow, giving consumers more purchasing power.
  • Three consecutive monthly employment reports were disappointing. Jobless claims are trending up and layoff announcements are up sharply as well. If the labor market continues to deteriorate, the recent improvement in the Index will quickly reverse.
  • After posting significant gains early in the year, auto sales have weakened — even in comparison to a period when sales depressed by lack of supply from Japan. Sales in May fell sharply from April. At 13.78 million units on an annualized basis, sales in May were well below the peak sales rate of 15 million units achieved in February, and it is likely that the May numbers — due out in mid-June — will also be weak.
The Index, which comprises four components — tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices — rose to 2.96 from an upwardly revised reading of 2.42 the previous month.
"Though confidence is still fragile, the consumer's mood may improve as they begin to see their housing concerns recede and gas prices fall," says Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and Retail & Distribution sector leader.

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Personal Financial Situation Key Factor in 2012 Presidential Vote

June 19, 2012 1:50 am

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (59 percent) report that their personal financial situation is either the single most important factor (12 percent) or one of several important factors (47 percent) in deciding which presidential candidate they will vote for in November, according to new research released today by Bankrate.com.

Americans are evenly divided with respect to which candidate they think will be best for their personal financial situation. Twenty-one percent support President Barack Obama, and an equal 21 percent support Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Fifty percent don't think it will make much difference either way, and 8 percent either don't know or refused to answer.

Franklin Roosevelt (in 1940) was the last sitting president to win re-election with unemployment above 7.2 percent. The latest figure reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (June 1, 2012) was 8.2 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009.

"How Americans feel about the U.S. economy and their own finances will be central to the election on Nov. 6," reports Claes Bell of Bankrate.com. "While unemployment will probably be above that 7.2 percent historical benchmark when the election takes place, the key question will be whether Americans are comfortable with the progress that has been made since the economy took a turn for the worse.

Close to 3 million jobs have been recovered since October 2009, and Bankrate.com's Financial Security Index hit an 18-month high last month, but some recent indicators have been less positive.”
The new survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).

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Census Bureau Estimates Changes in Household Net Worth

June 19, 2012 1:50 am

U.S. median household net worth declined 35 percent between 2005 and 2010, from $102,844 to $66,740 (in 2010 constant dollars), according to a set of detailed tables released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, excluding home equity, median household net worth increased by 8 percent between 2009 and 2010, from $13,859 to $15,000.

The Net Worth and Asset Ownership research show household net worth - the value of assets minus debts - by a variety of demographic characteristics in 2005, 2009 and 2010. The statistics come from the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

"The overall decline in net worth reflects drops in housing values and stock market indices," explains Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck.

In absolute terms, median net worth decreased for all age groups over the period, but more so for older households than for younger ones. For householders 65 and older, it decreased from $195,890 to $170,128; for those under 35, the decrease was from $8,528 to $5,402. In percentage terms, however, the story was much different: a 37 percent decline for younger householders, compared with a 13 percent decline for older ones.

All educational groups also experienced declines. For example, those with a high school diploma saw their median net worth fall 39 percent and those with a bachelor's degree experienced a 32 percent decline.

Other highlights include:
  • More education is associated with higher net worth. In 2010, those with a graduate or professional degree had a median net worth of $245,763, while the median net worth of those with a high school diploma only was $42,223. Those with a bachelor's degree had a median net worth of $142,518.
  • In 2000, those with a bachelor's degree had a median net worth value almost twice as large as those with a high school diploma only; by 2010, this number had risen to almost three and one-half times as large. The same pattern can be seen when examining the graduate or professional degree to high school diploma ratio; this ratio has increased from 3.5 to 5.8 over the same period.
  • Householders age 35 to 44 had the largest percent decline in median net worth from 2005 to 2010 of any age group: 59 percent.

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Harvard: Home Sales Finally Poised to Improve

June 19, 2012 1:50 am

Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies released its annual State of the Nation’s Housing report for 2012 and, according to NAR’s Speaking of Real Estate blog by Robert Freedman, it very closely tracks comments made by NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun earlier this week at a CRE conference on what’s holding back the housing recovery.

According to Freedman, the Harvard report points to increasingly strong market fundamentals and says home sales really could see serious improvement this year.

The main weakness is tepid job growth, which Yun also mentioned. The overhang of distressed properties is also a continuing problem.

Other issues include the unusually slow pace at which young people–the Echo Boomers—are leaving their parents’ homes and forming their own households. That’s a big missing link in home sales growth, and it’s certainly related to the weak job picture. Unless young people feel confident about getting a good job, they’re going to remain hesitant to start a new household.

The big beneficiary of the last several years has been the multifamily housing sector, which Freedman describes as “booming.” As the report puts it, “the number of renters surged by 5.1 million in the 2000s, the largest decade-long increase in the postwar era.” More rental growth is expected.

It’s in part because of this rental growth that homeownership is poised to improve. The Harvard report underscores how much more affordable mortgage payments have become relative to rental rates. At some point, renters are going to realize they’re losing money each month they continue to rent.

Another interesting point made by the report is the critical role older homeowners have played in preventing the U.S. homeownership rate from falling more than it has over these last few years. The rate today stands at about 66 percent, which is about 2 percent lower than it was a few years ago. Households 65 and older are the only age cohort that has continued to increase its share of ownership; all of the others, including the important middle-aged move-up cohort, have declined.

Source: Robert Freedman, Speaking of Real Estate Blog, the National Association of REALTORS®

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Nearly 60 Percent of Americans Plan to Vacation this Summer

June 18, 2012 1:50 am

Whether the economy is improving on a large scale or not, a majority of Americans are planning to take a summer vacation by September 2012, according to the Morpace Omnibus research firm.

An online survey of 1,000 consumers nationwide from May 15 to May 22 revealed that 58 percent of Americans will be taking a summer vacation this year, with 26 percent not planning to take one and 16 percent undecided.

Among those who are planning a summer vacation, 61 percent plan to travel within the U.S. and more than 100 miles from their home. Some vacationers will take multiple vacations (such as long weekends) but closer to home stating that they will travel within a 100 mile radius of their home. Surprisingly, 17 percent plan to travel internationally.

The Morpace Omnibus also found that:

  • About 42 percent will be vacationing for "more than a week" (which could include multiple trips) and 35 percent plan to vacation for "about a week."
  • 51 percent of vacationers plan to stay in hotels, motels and inns. The next highest response was that 28 percent would stay with family or friends.
  • July is the most popular month for vacations, with 44 percent of Americans taking at least one summer vacation saying they would vacation that month.
  • Americans are still watching their budgets - 34 percent will spend $2,000 or more and the study had an average summer vacation spend of nearly $1,850 per respondent.
  • The majority of vacationers will use funds from savings accounts (72 percent) and/or credit cards (43 percent) to pay for their vacations.
  • Published with permission from RISMedia.


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    April Shadow Inventory Back to October 2008 Levels

    June 18, 2012 1:50 am

    A recent report reveals that the current residential shadow inventory as of April 2012 fell to 1.5 million units, representing a supply of four months. According to the report from analytics provider CoreLogic, this was a 14.8 percent drop from April 2011, when shadow inventory stood at 1.8 million units, or a six-months' supply, which is approximately the same level as the country was experiencing in October 2008. Currently, the flow of new seriously delinquent (90 days or more) loans into the shadow inventory has been approximately offset by the equal volume of distressed (short and real estate owned) sales.

    CoreLogic estimates the current stock of properties in the shadow inventory, also known as pending supply, by calculating the number of distressed properties that are seriously delinquent, in foreclosure and held as real estate owned (REO) by mortgage servicers but not currently listed on multiple listing services (MLSs). Transition rates of "delinquency to foreclosure" and "foreclosure to REO" are used to identify the currently distressed non-listed properties most likely to become REO properties. Properties that are not yet delinquent but may become delinquent in the future are not included in the estimate of the current shadow inventory. Shadow inventory is typically not included in the official metrics of unsold inventory. 

    Data highlights include:

  • As of April 2012, shadow inventory fell to 1.5 million units, or four-months' supply and represented just over half of the 2.8 million properties currently seriously delinquent, in foreclosure or REO.
  • The four-months' supply of shadow inventory is at its lowest level in nearly three years. It parallels the unsold months' supply of non-distressed active listings that hit a more than five-year low in April, falling to a 6.5 months' from 9.1-months' supply just a year ago.
  • Of the 1.5 million properties currently in the shadow inventory, 720,000 units are seriously delinquent (two-months' supply), 410,000 are in some stage of foreclosure and 390,000 are already in REO (1.1-months' supply).
  • The dollar volume of shadow inventory was $246 billion as of April 2012, down from $270 billion a year ago and a 3-year low.
  • Serious delinquencies, which are the main driver of the shadow inventory, declined the most in Arizona (-37.0 percent), California (-28.0 percent), Nevada (-27.4 percent), Michigan (-23.7 percent), and Minnesota (-18.1 percent).          
  • Published with permission from RISMedia.


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    Why Summer is a Great Time to Remodel

    June 18, 2012 1:50 am

    Between spring cleaning and summer inspiration, it’s not uncommon to be bitten by the remodeling bug this time of year. From home improvement expert and author Dan Fritschen, here are great reasons why you should consider a home-improvement project this summer:

    It can happen while you’re gone. If you’re one of the many families who go to the beach, mountains, or Grandma’s house for a week or so during the summer, Fritschen suggests scheduling your remodel to coincide so that you’ll be out of the house while the job is done. The workers will have more space, you won’t have to worry about safety hazards and staying out of their way, and you’ll be able to come home to a new and improved house.

    Long days equals faster completion. Everybody loves long, warm summer evenings. And remodelers have another reason to be thankful for more daylight hours and warm weather: longer working days.

    You can eat al fresco. Summer is a wonderful time to remodel kitchens in particular because you don’t have to use them in order to eat well. While your kitchen is transformed, fire up the outdoor grill and eat on your patio furniture. “You could even spread a quilt in the yard andhave a good old-fashioned picnic!” Fritschen suggests.

    If exposure is necessary, it’ll be friendly. The fact is, you can expose your house to the elements more safely in summer. Whether you have an open wall because you’re adding on to your house, are replacing windows, or just want to open the windows and doors so the new-paint smell isn’t overwhelming, summer is the ideal time.

    You’re more likely to be inspired. For a variety of reasons, your creative inspiration mightpeak in summer. It’s a happy, colorful season that leaves many people feeling extra-energized and motivated.

    It’s easier to maintain neighborly relations. Even if you and your neighbors are the best of friends, loud, noisy construction in the neighborhood can be frustrating—not to mention having to deal with extra vehicles and (depending on the nature of the project) blocked-off sections of road. According to Fritschen, these annoyances are most likely to have minimal effect during the summer when people are less likely to be homebound.

    You can go underground to beat the heat. If you’ve been wanting to work on your basement, do it now…especially if heat is an issue for you. Your basement will be cool but not freezing, which will definitely be the case if you wait till later in the year.

    Published with permission from RISMedia.


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    Two-in-Five New Dads Didn't Take Paternity Leave

    June 15, 2012 1:50 am

    Is work keeping new dads from maximizing their paternity leave? Two-in-five working dads (43 percent) who had a child in the last three years reported they didn't take any paternity leave.

    For those working dads who took some, but not the full allotted time off, 47 percent said they felt pressured by work to come back early. Of those who took some paternity leave, 59 percent took one week or less. This is according to CareerBuilder's annual Father's Day survey, conducted February 9 to March 2, 2012, among 729 full-time, working fathers with children 18 and under who are living with them.

    Across various categories, the stress of prolonged economic uncertainty post-recession appears to have affected more working fathers' balance between professional and family life.

    Bringing work home – More than one-third of working dads (36 percent) reported they bring home work from the office, up from 27 percent in 2008.  
    Likelihood of being a stay-at-home dad – Thirty-five percent of working dads said, if their spouse or partner made enough money to support the family, they would consider trading their careers for a role of staying home with the kids – down from 37 percent in 2008.  
    Willingness to take pay cut – While working dads want to spend more time with their families, the number of dads willing to take a pay cut to do so dropped since the recession. Thirty-three percent of working dads reported they would take a pay cut if it meant they have more quality time at home, down from 37 percent in 2008. 

    The survey found that 22 percent of fathers say their work has negatively affected relationships with their children and 26 percent said work negatively affected relationships with significant others. To help achieve a better work-life balance, Alex Green, general counsel for CareerBuilder and father of three, recommends the following:

    Talk about it. Remember that communication is a two-way street. Besides just listening to what is going on in your family's lives, talk about what is going on in your office, so everyone understands why you are away or have to do some work when you are home. 
    Scheduling is key to success. Add every family member's schedule to one master calendar so there are no surprises. Also, save vacation days for important events and talk to your supervisor about flexible work arrangements. 
    Establish a "no work" zone. Put down your BlackBerry and avoid checking emails from the time you arrive home until after your children have gone to sleep. 
    Consider flexible work arrangements. More companies are offering telecommuting options, flexible hours, condensed work weeks and other arrangements. Approach your boss with a game plan of how the new arrangement would work and how it can ultimately benefit the organization. 
    It’s ok to say no! In addition to actual work, sometimes activities associated with your job can take a toll on your free time. Determine what additional activities you can turn down and which are necessary so that you can free up more of your time outside of the office.

    Published with permission from RISMedia.


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