January 12, 2012 4:16 am
Pending home sales continued to gain in November and reached the highest level in 19 months, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 7.3 percent to 100.1 in November from an upwardly revised 93.3 in October and is 5.9 percent above November 2010 when it stood at 94.5. The October upward revision resulted in a 10.4 percent monthly gain.
The last time the index was higher was in April 2010 when it reached 111.5 as buyers rushed to beat the deadline for the homebuyer tax credit. The data reflects contracts but not closings.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the gains may result partially from delayed transactions. “Housing affordability conditions are at a record high and there is a pent-up demand from buyers who’ve been on the sidelines, but contract failures have been running unusually high,” he said. “Some of the increase in pending home sales appears to be from buyers recommitting after an initial contract ran into problems, often with the mortgage.
“November is doing reasonably well in comparison with the past year. The sustained rise in contract activity suggests that closed existing-home sales, which are the important final economic impact figures, should continue to improve in the months ahead,” Yun added.
Pending home sales are not affected by the recently published rebenchmarking of existing-home sales because the index uses a different methodology based directly on contract signings, and is adjusted for seasonality.
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 8.1 percent to 77.1 in November but is 0.3 percent below November 2010. In the Midwest, the index increased 3.3 percent to 91.6 in November and is 9.5 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 4.3 percent in November to an index of 103.8 and remain 8.7 percent above November 2010. In the West, the index surged 14.9 percent to 121.2 in November and is 2.9 percent higher than a year ago.
January 11, 2012 4:16 am
People are living longer today. The century-long expansion in the world’s population that is 65 and older is the product of dramatic advances in medical science and health lifestyles. Currently, 13 percent of the U.S. population is 65 and older, up from 4 percent in 1900. As baby boomers turn 65 in high and higher annual numbers, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be over age 65 and about 5 percent over 85. All this calls for growing care and services for the elderly population and pre-planning for lifestyles in the future.
The senior housing industry has been growing dramatically over the last 15 years as many adult children are now in the workforce and unable to provide the attention to their parents’ needs, whether physical or social. There are a number of things to be considered when choosing lifestyle alternatives.
-Location. Keeping your parents close to home should not be the number one consideration. Although it is important that the community be convenient for family and friends to visit, being close to amenities they need and trust will make their senior living experience rewarding and more fulfilling.
-Type of community. Visiting to make sure the current residents have similar interests, backgrounds and values will allow for a more enriching life in the golden years. Many communities invite prospective residents to tour their community and enjoy lunch with the community, which is a wonderful way to ascertain if the culture is a fit. Many communities offer a weekend stay to experience more fully what the community has to offer.
-Staff. Is the staff appropriately dressed, personable and outgoing? Do the staff members treat each other in a professional manner? Does the staff call residents by name and interact warmly? The answers to these questions will determine quite a bit toward whether the community is right for your loved one.
-Medical needs. Does the community have on-site medical supervision? If not, is there an agency that is associated with the community that can help when needed?
Finding and choosing a housing option for an aging loved one can be a difficult process. Be sure to keep seniors' needs as your top priority in order to find a community that properly suits them.
For more information, visit www.alternativesforseniors.com.
January 11, 2012 4:16 am
Winter is steadily upon us and the last thing you need is for something to go wrong with your heating system and not know where to go first. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, be prepared and use these tips to help find a contractor:
Study up - Find out about license and insurance requirements for contractors in your state. Before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your heating needs.
Ask for referrals - Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for contractor referrals. You can also contact local trade organizations for names of members in your area.
Call references - Ask contractors for customer references and call them. Ask about the contractor's installation or service performance, and if the job was completed on time and within budget.
Find special offers - A heating and cooling system is one of the largest purchases you'll make as a homeowner. Keep your costs down by checking around for available rebates on energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. Begin your search at www.energystar.gov.
Look for ENERGY STAR - ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offer significant long-term energy savings. Contractors should be able to show you calculations of savings for ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment.
Expect a home evaluation - The contractor should spend significant time inspecting your current system and home to assess your needs. A bigger system isn't always better; a contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows. A good contractor will inspect your duct system (if applicable) for air leaks and insulation and measure airflow to make sure it meets manufacturers’ specifications.
Get written, itemized estimates - When comparing contractors' proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. The lowest price may not be the best deal if it's not the most efficient because your energy costs will be higher.
Get it in ink - Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It'll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.
Pass it on - Tell friends and family about ENERGY STAR. Almost one-quarter of households knowingly purchased at least one qualified product last year, and 71 percent of those consumers say they would recommend ENERGY STAR to a friend. Spread the word, and we can all make a big difference.
January 11, 2012 4:16 am
A new year marks a perfect time to start new routines and many of the resolutions people make involve trying to lead healthier lives. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) offers this list of five reasons consumers should make bottled water a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in 2012.
1. Choose bottled water for safety and convenience – Available in many different sizes, including 3- and 5-gallon containers used in bottled water coolers; 2.5-gallon refrigerator-size containers; and “on-the go” half-liter (16.9oz), one-liter, and 1.5 liter convenience-size packages, bottled water is always ready to quench your thirst. At home, in the office, or on the move, consumers can drink bottled water with confidence throughout the day. Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety and quality and it comes sealed in 100 percent recyclable containers.
2. Choose bottled water for its great taste – When water tastes better, it’s more likely to be consumed, and staying hydrated is important for your health, even during winter’s colder months. Many people enjoy bottled water because of its crisp, refreshing taste and with options that include spring, mineral, sparkling and purified, bottled water has a lot to offer.
3. Choose bottled water instead of sugary or caffeinated drinks – According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans get up to one-third of their daily calories from sugary beverages. Making the switch to refreshing zero-calorie bottled water could help reduce up to 700 calories/day or 255,500 calories a year! Drinking water also helps to curb your appetite; a healthy option for reducing calories and maintaining proper hydration.
4. Choose bottled water for its ability to multi-task – Need a cooler pack to bring your lunch to work? Pop a bottled water in the freezer the night before and toss it in your lunch bag as you head out to work. The frozen bottle will chill your meal and then provide a healthy, zero-calorie beverage to enjoy. A bottled water in each hand doubles as weights during a hike or run; handy fitness aids you can consume when you’ve finished your workout.
5. Choose bottled water because it’s the healthiest choice – Choosing to lead a healthy lifestyle can sometimes mean a lot of changes in your life. Opting to drink bottled water makes one of your most important decisions also one of the easiest. Fitness experts recommend staying hydrated throughout the day. What better way to do just that than to choose bottled water when it’s time for a drink?
January 10, 2012 4:14 am
According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) December online poll, consumers remain very connected to their credit cards. When asked to rank their 2012 financial resolutions, only six percent of more than 2,300 respondents indicated that decreasing dependence on credit cards was their No. 1 goal.
“At first glance, that statistic could appear to be a warning sign of future trouble. However, credit is not the problem. Instead, it is the misuse of credit that leads people into financial distress,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.
Balancing the continuing reliance upon credit, an encouraging statistic from the poll is that the overwhelming majority, 62 percent, selected decreasing debt as their focus for 2012. If consumers are able to decrease their debt load, continuing to use credit responsibly will help them meet the goal selected by 24 percent of respondents: increasing their credit score.
While decreasing debt is always a positive, consumers should not neglect savings, yet that is exactly what respondents appear to be doing. Only eight percent of those weighing in ranked saving as their most important resolution. Without the security of a well-funded emergency savings account, consumers are living without a financial safety net, as unplanned expenses will occur, usually at the worst possible time.
The poll also revealed some interesting trending from 2010 when the identical question was posed. Showing the largest percentage difference between the years, the 2010 poll noted 69 percent of respondents were most interested in decreasing debt, compared to 62 percent in 2011.
The second largest year-over-year difference involved improving the credit score, with that category posting a six percent increase. In 2010, 18 percent of consumers chose increasing their credit score as their main goal, while in 2011, 24 percent selected that category as most important in the New Year. This increase indicates that consumers understand the relationship between the credit score and obtaining credit, confirming their interest in continuing to have access to credit.
For more information or for professional credit assistance, visit www.nfcc.org or www.DebtAdvice.org.
January 10, 2012 4:14 am
With the gift-giving holidays behind us, people may now be looking for ways to save, making this the perfect time of year to learn a few tips on how you can save money on auto insurance.
The major ways to save money on car insurance include a multi-car discount and a combination discount, which would include the insured’s car(s) plus homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
Here are some other ways:
Increase your deductibles. If your deductible is low ($200-$250), ask an agent to show you the difference in price if it’s raised to $500 or $1,000.
If your car is older and the loan is paid off, consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage. The general rule of thumb is if the car is worth less than ten times the premium, consider dropping it.
Take advantage of low mileage discounts. The discounted mileage varies by carrier. Some give discounts at 6,000 annual miles driven and others at 10,000 miles driven.
It is also a good idea when shopping for a new car to compare the insurance rates of the various cars being considered. You should also check rates of different models of the same car. Insurance rates can vary quite a bit depending upon the engine size and whether or not a particular vehicle is considered a sport vehicle.
Other discounts to keep an eye on include anti-theft devices, student drivers with good grades, college students who go away to school, and a good credit score. Above all else, be a good driver. The lack of tickets or accidents will save thousands of dollars.
Source: BMCC Insurance
January 10, 2012 4:14 am
According to a recent monthly index report on flexible job openings, telecommuting, part-time and other accommodations, work/life-balance employment opportunities have increased heading into the new year.
Job openings that offer some type of flexibility, such as telecommuting, freelance, part-time or flexible schedules, were highest for Business Development, Non-profit and Philanthropy, Account Management, Medical & Health, and Data-entry positions heading into January, says the report by FlexJobs. Fresh off the heals of several predictions, 2012 will be a big year, in general, for telecommuting jobs.
Medical & Health reclaimed the top position as the career field with the highest percentage of flexible job openings, a position it held for the majority of 2011 (9 of the 12 months). Following Medical & Health with the next highest number of flexible job openings were Administrative, Education & Training, Computer & IT, and Sales, respectively.
“It’s exciting to see more and more telecommuting, freelance, part-time and flexible schedule jobs being offered in wide range of careers. There are many, many studies that have been concluding the overall benefits for companies to offer jobs that provide work flexibility for their staff, such as cost savings, increased productivity, and overall happier and less stressed employees,” said Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs.
Career fields which saw the largest declines in available positions in December of 2011 were Graphic Design, Bilingual, Web & Software Development, Art & Creative, and Customer Service.
The ongoing Flexible Job Index report demonstrates the growing depth and variety in the employment market for telecommuting, part-time, and other flexible jobs, and provides reliable data on top career fields that offer work flexibility. Only professional jobs that can both be confirmed as legitimate and as having some kind of work flexibility (telecommuting, part-time or flexible schedule, or freelance contracts) are included in FlexJobs’ job database.
For more information, visit www.FlexJobs.com.
January 9, 2012 3:30 pm
One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of buying a home is preparing your first offer. While you don’t want to make an offer that is so low that it shuts down negotiations, you also don’t want it to be higher than the true value of the home. Coming up with the perfect offer isn’t just a guessing game as there are numerous factors that go into determining what a home is actually worth. One thing that can help you when preparing your offer: a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA).
Once you’ve found a home that you’re interested in and you’re ready to make an offer, the first thing you’ll want to do is obtain a CMA, which will detail the home’s essential characteristics and compare it with other homes in the area. The report will include the sales price of homes similar to the one you’re interested in, how long these homes were on the market before they sold and what the competition looks like.
Your real estate agent will conduct this analysis for you, providing a good foundation for making a proper offer. However, it’s not totally out of line to perform your own CMA to help decide if a home is within striking distance of an amount you’re willing to pay.
The outcome of a CMA should narrow the infinite world of potential prices to a fair range of prices, with clear upper and lower limits reflecting the realm of realistic prices an average buyer would pay for the home. The CMA will also include realistic appraisal values for the home.
Once you have the CMA, it might be a good idea to drive by each of the comparable properties that recently sold to get a good sense of the neighborhood and evaluate the home from the outside. A comparable property is one which lines up closely with the home you’re looking at in terms of square footage, upgrades, features, condition, school system and location. The sales price of a very similar property can be highly predictive of the market value of the home you’re interested in buying.
A good rule of thumb is to calculate a fair value range for your target home and multiply the average price-per-square-foot of the comparable homes by the square footage of your target home. This will provide a baseline for the market price.
Then, if the target home has characteristics that make it more or less desirable, adjust the value up or down to account for those.
Another thing to take into consideration is when a comparable home sold. For instance, if the comparables that sold for the highest price occurred during periods when there was little inventory, you may amend your offer considerably if the current market has a significantly higher inventory.
One strong piece of advice: Don’t always try to lowball an owner on a house you love, because you may find that it’s gone before you have a chance to negotiate.
For more information about CMAs, contact our office today.
January 9, 2012 3:30 pm
In today’s tough economic climate, homeowners across the board are doing everything they can to save a few dollars here and there. If you’re in the process of cutting back, one area where you may be able to save money when it comes to your home is your homeowners insurance.
Data over the last five years reveals that homeowners insurance coverage has increased significantly, but the good news is that there are things you can do to lower the cost.
The easiest solution is to bundle your insurance. Many insurance companies offer discounts if you package multiple policies such as your car, boat and home insurance, so be sure to shop around and see where you can get the best deal. On average, you can save 5 to 15 percent if you purchase two or more premiums.
While most people look for insurance policies with small deductibles, in the long run, taking on more of the financial burden if something should happen to your house is a great way to save money. By raising your deductible, your monthly costs can decrease 5 to 10 percent.
Safety also helps with savings. Something as simple as installing carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors and alarm systems can reduce your monthly bill. It’s a good idea to ask your insurance agent what steps you can take to make your home more resistant to natural disasters as well. You may be able to save money on your premiums by adding storm shutters, reinforcing your roof or even buying stronger roofing materials. Older homes can even be retrofitted to make them better able to withstand earthquakes.
Just as you would do with a car or any other big-ticket item, taking the time to shop around is always smart. Be sure to check consumer guides, companies and online insurance quote services, which will give you an idea of price ranges and tell you which companies have the lowest prices. Keep in mind that you must obtain insurance in order to close your sale, so make sure you have compared different companies and found the best deal ahead of time so that you don’t get stuck with an expensive policy.
Also, it’s not necessary to insure a house for the amount that it was purchased for. Even if your house were to completely burn down, you would still have the land, so take this into consideration when deciding the total amount you need to insure for. A good insurance agent will be able to help you calculate the proper replacement cost of the house.
In addition to these tips, it’s wise to talk with your broker and see if they have any thoughts on how to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance policy. It’s also important to review your policy each year to ensure it still accurately covers your home.
For more information about homeowners insurance, contact our office today.
January 9, 2012 3:30 pm
Whether it’s to focus on a career, education or simply themselves, people are getting married later in life these days, however, that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the prospect of owning a home.
In fact, buying a home with a friend or non-spousal family member is a trend that has been gaining popularity over the last decade. Not only does taking part in a group purchase provide individuals the opportunity to buy something bigger and better than what they would have been able to afford on their own, it also provides each person a real estate investment and takes away the prospect of renting. Additionally, it can even strengthen the friendship.
While the prospect of owning a home with a friend may seem like a great idea, it’s important that the parties involved understand that they are taking a risk when it comes to their friendship surviving the financial and emotional toll that comes with homeownership.
Before any decisions are made, it’s crucial that each party be willing to disclose their financial information, agree upon the type of home and location and make sure each is comfortable living with the other. Getting a lawyer involved isn’t a bad idea either.
In addition, a contract between both parties is vital, as is listing each person’s name on the deed and mortgage papers. The percentage of ownership must be clearly stated in the contract, including details pertaining to each person’s share of the down payment and the way in which mortgage payments will be divided. This information will help set the stage for deciding each person’s share when the house is sold at some point down the road.
Money can also be a problem when trying to purchase a home with a friend. Mortgage companies aren’t always thrilled to be lending to two unmarried or unrelated people. In most instances, you will need to jointly qualify as co-borrowers on a single mortgage in order to purchase a property held in TIC or Joint Tenancy.
Since house options, mortgage rates and contract terms are contingent on each individual’s credit history, financial health and short-term and long-term obligations, it’s a good idea to discuss these issues ahead of time so that you know your options well in advance.
It’s also important to have an exit strategy in place should one or both of you need to move elsewhere unexpectedly. Be sure to take into consideration an unexpected job change or a surprise romance that could lead to marriage and have a plan in place as to what will happen to the house should any of these situations occur.
The process doesn’t get any easier once all of the above details are agreed upon and you have a mortgage commitment in hand. Finding the perfect home is hard enough on its own, but finding the perfect home for two can be even more challenging.
Sitting down together and coming up with a list of must-have features is one way to take the stress out of the home search process as you will most likely each have different ideas when it comes to what you’re looking for.
Most friendships are strong enough to easily deal with housing issues, so don’t be scared off by the notion. Take the time to plan ahead and do your homework, and most importantly, don’t let the friendship cloud your judgment.
For more information about buying a home, contact our office today.