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Top New-Home Design Trends

April 9, 2012 4:54 am

If you’re in the market for a newly built home—or if you’re in the process of having a home built—you’ll want to consider the latest home-design trends on display at the recent International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), leading architects and builders are incorporating the following trends into their designs:
  • Reworked Spaces: New homes are being designed to allow plenty of space for family interaction in high-traffic areas such as the kitchen, and to eliminate rooms such as formal dens and home offices that aren’t frequently used. Small spaces devoted to home management, also known as “pocket offices,” are being included in large pantries or spaces nearby the kitchen or family great room. Window seats and alcoves are being used to provide an area for private time, without taking up a lot of space. A popular and efficient location for laundry facilities is now added onto the master bedroom’s walk-in closet.
  • Expanded Amenities: Multifamily development designs are increasing the number of resident amenities in order to compensate for smaller unit sizes. Gyms and media rooms have been common for years, but facilities such as libraries and business lounges with individual workspaces are now being offered as well.
  • Multigenerational Living: Many families are all living under one roof due to increasing cultural diversity and the state of the economy during the past few years. New single-family home designs reflect this with “shadow” units that are built alongside a home, or separate living units that access the main floorplan through a door, or homes with at least two master suites—often with one located on the ground floor to be more accessible for elderly occupants.
  • More Impact, Less Cost: Rectangular home designs are more cost effective, so new homes no longer have the formerly-popular feature of multiple roof lines or the resulting unnecessary interior volumes they created. But home designs now include innovative modifications that are still visually stimulating, such as using two windows in a corner with mitered glass to allow unobstructed views and maximum light to come in. Another example is using a mix of materials in the home’s façade such as metal, wood and stone to give the home a modern look.
The latest new home design trends that support modern lifestyles are just one of the many reasons to buy a newly-constructed home. Safety, energy efficiency and near record-low interest rates and competitive prices make today’s new home market an attractive opportunity for many families.

Homebuyers can access resources to help guide them through the home-buying process on NAHB’s website at www.nahb.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Hiring a House Cleaner

April 6, 2012 4:50 am

If the demands of your busy life are preventing you from keeping your house in tip-top shape, then you might want to consider hiring a professional house cleaner.

Measure the cost/benefit ratio when considering this step. For example, if cleaning your home is preventing you from spending quality time with your family—or simply enjoying some necessary down time for yourself—then it might be well worth investing in a house-cleaning service.

Angie’s List, the online community of consumer service reviews, offers the following tips for making the right hire:
  • Meet the house cleaner in person. Before you hire a house cleaner, make sure you feel comfortable having that person in your home. Check references on past work.
  • Ask about prices, fees, cancellations. Find out in advance how much a full service will cost, not just the hourly rate. Some companies charge per hour, others per visit or based on square footage. Find out if there is a fee should you have to cancel a cleaning appointment. Also find out if you can hire for a one-time service, or if an ongoing service contract is required.
  • Service guarantee. What if you're not happy with the service? Is there a guarantee? Find out how far in advance you should make your appointment. Some cleaning services operate anywhere from as little as a day to as long as several weeks in advance.
  • Decide how you want the service to enter your home. Establish beforehand if the service will use a key, garage code or if a family member or neighbor will let them in.
  • Ask about insurance. Does the company maintain proper liability insurance? Is it bonded? Does the company do background checks on employees?
  • Consider cleaning agents. Will the company bring its own supplies? Talk about what cleaning agents they use and eco-friendly options available.
  • What's important to you? Talk to the company about what you expect; what you like/dislike. Make any concerns or expectations you have clear upfront.
Be sure to communicate your preferences to the cleaning service—i.e., how you like your dishwasher loaded, what collectibles you’d rather dust yourself—and provide feedback on the job once it’s done. This will ensure an optimal cleaning experience and provide peace of mind that your investment is well worth it.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Can’t Pay Your Taxes? Know Your Options

April 6, 2012 4:50 am

If you’re among the many Americans who find that they are unable to pay their taxes due to a variety of financial challenges and circumstances, know that you are not alone. An inability to pay taxes owed, however, should not prevent you from filing. This will only make matters worse.

According to the IRS, if you cannot afford to pay monies owed to the government, you should still file by the deadline date and pay as much as you can. This will prevent you from incurring a late filing penalty fee—5 percent per month of the balance due. Paying as much as you can when you file your return will reduce interest and penalty charges.

New York City-based tax practitioner David Selig offers this additional advice to those who cannot pay their taxes:
  1. File your tax return irrespective of your ability to pay. In 99.9 percent of all cases, failure to pay is only a civil matter, whereas failure to file is, under IRC 7203, a misdemeanor. Additionally, in some egregious cases, failure to file can actually be elevated to a felony.
  2. In most cases, the IRS will give you an installment agreement. However, be sure to go over your budget carefully before you call the IRS. Remember, the government will try to collect as much as it possibly can—theoretically, in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, the majority of installment plans fail because the taxpayer agrees to pay more than he or she can afford. Review your budget carefully so that you’re better prepared to negotiate a plan that works.
  3. Get professional help. If you owe more than $25,000, it's a good idea to be represented by a licensed professional who understands the rules of procedure and IRS guidelines. The IRS has streamlined the approval process if the amount owed is not more than $25,000 and can be paid off within a five-year period.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Boomers Lack Vital Care Resources for Aging Parents

April 6, 2012 4:50 am

A burgeoning elderly population and lack of caregiving preparedness underscore the critical need for senior care resources, according to a survey conducted by Care.com, an online resource helping families connect with local caregivers for children, adults and seniors, pets and their homes.
Key findings of the survey include:
  • 46 percent of respondents have a good understanding of their aging loved ones' preferences for care, but don't know the details surrounding how to proceed.
  • 44 percent of respondents are tapped into their aging parents' behavioral/physical changes and are deeply concerned about their health and well being.
  • 47 percent of respondents are tasked with housekeeping, transportation and financial management duties for their aging parents.
  • 32 percent of respondents carry the full load of caregiving responsibilities for their aging parents.
  • 47 percent of respondents say concerns over finances and paying for long-term care are top of mind when addressing their aging loved one’s care needs.
Care.com advises those with aging parents to make plans for care as far in advance as possible and while one’s parents can still be part of the decision-making process.

"As a social worker with expertise in eldercare, I have heard the life stories of family caregivers, the heartache, the loss, the fear of aging and debilitation, the burdens, and the rewards," explains Jody Gastfriend, vice president of Care Management for Care.com. "As these findings show, making effective decisions about the care of a loved one often takes more time than anticipated and requires an understanding of the long-term care system that many caregivers lack."

For more information, visit care.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Green Housecleaning Makes for a Healthy Home

April 5, 2012 4:48 am

Many homeowners and professional housecleaners are trading their bleach, pine-scented and other potentially toxic cleaning chemicals in for more environmentally friendly and all-natural cleaners. According to consumer service-review website, Angie's List, there is an increase in both consumers seeking out eco-friendly cleaning companies and in professional cleaning companies that offer 'green' options.

"Spraying potentially toxic chemical-based cleaners into the air, pouring them down the sink or dumping them in landfills has a negative effect on both our health and our environment," says Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "Your home no longer needs to smell like bleach or other chemicals to be considered clean. There are plenty of all-natural cleaning products that do an equally effective job, are easy on your pocketbook and are better for you and your family's health and for Mother Earth."

Many professional housecleaners are relying on biodegradable, non-toxic cleaners like baking soda, white distilled vinegar and some essential oils with disinfectant qualities (lemon, tea tree oil and eucalyptus, for example) to clean and disinfect. Distilled vinegar, for example, will kill nearly all bacteria with which it comes into contact, while baking soda is great for scrubbing out stains and even freshening up carpets and sink drains.

Some cleaning companies make a concerted effort to find other ways to further reduce their environmental impact, like cleaning and reusing towels and rags instead of using and throwing away power towels or sponges.

"As awareness for eco-friendly cleaning increases, many cleaning companies are turning exclusively to non-toxic products or are willing to supply them at a customer's request," Hicks explains. "Homeowners interested in hiring an eco-friendly housecleaner should still do their research before they hire and ask what products the housecleaner plans to use. Also check that the housecleaner is licensed, insured and bonded. That protects the company and the homeowner in the event an employee is injured on the job or damages property.

Consumers interested in purchasing eco-friendly cleaning products should always read the ingredient list to determine what the product is really made from. Many over-the-counter cleaning products are touted by the manufacturer as being green but still contain chemicals.

"It's never too late to go green when you clean," Hicks adds. "Box up all those chemicals you no longer want and take them to a local hazardous waste center. Replace them with all-natural cleaning products or by using an eco-friendly cleaning service. Your home will still smell and look great."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Window Safety and Your Children

April 5, 2012 4:48 am

This week marks National Window Safety Week, presenting a good opportunity to consider safety guidelines regarding your windows…especially when it comes to children. The experts at Simonton Windows offer the following suggestions:
  • Remember the primary purpose of a window screen is to keep insects outside. Never push on screens, as they will not support the weight of a child or family pet.
  • Lock windows when not in use to protect against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to open them.
  • Do not paint or nail windows shut. Every window in the home that is designed to be opened should be operational in case of an emergency.
  • Refrain from nailing or attaching decorative lights to the interior or exterior of window frames.
  • Plant shrubs or grass, and place “soft landscaping” like bark or mulch, directly underneath windows to help lessen the impact should someone accidently fall out of a window.
  • Make sure windows in every room and on every floor have clear openings that meet egress requirements in the living spaces as required by state and local building codes. Egress windows provide emergency exits in your home during a fire.
  • Practice home emergency fire drills and make sure children know under what circumstances to use a window to exit a home. If a door is hot to the touch, then both children and adults should exit through an open window.
  • Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not to break the window glass. Doing so could cause injury. During family safety drills, show children how to operate windows and how to use chain escape ladders that should be kept in all bedrooms located above ground level.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Lenders Expect Delinquencies to Drop, Credit to Expand

April 5, 2012 4:48 am

There is growing optimism among the lending community, which bodes well for would-be borrowers. FICO’s quarterly survey of bank risk professionals revealed a gradual reversal in the sentiment of U.S. lenders, as expectations for loan repayments and credit availability were more upbeat in the first quarter of 2012 than in the previous quarter. The survey, conducted for FICO by the Professional Risk Managers' International Association (PRMIA), found fewer lenders expecting a rise in delinquencies on home loans, car loans, and small business loans than at any time since FICO launched its survey in early 2010.

In the latest survey, the number of respondents expecting mortgage delinquencies to rise during the next six months was 12 percentage points lower than last quarter – dropping from 47 to 35 percent. The survey found 28 percent of respondents expected delinquencies on small business loans to increase, which is 11 percentage points lower than last quarter. And 20 percent of respondents expected delinquencies on car loans to increase, 13 percentage points lower than last quarter.

With regard to credit cards, 32 percent of respondents expected delinquencies to increase. That is an improvement of seven percentage points over last quarter and it is the lowest figure since the second quarter of 2011.

FICO analysts attribute the increase in positive expectations to the modest improvement in unemployment rates. Barring any unforeseen bumps in the near future, loan delinquencies are expected to continue declining.

One area that remains a cause for concern, however, is student lending, with 51 percent of respondents expecting delinquencies to rise. That is 16 percentage points lower than last quarter, but it is still the second-highest level recorded since FICO initiated its survey.

According to the survey, while the credit gap appears to be closing in most areas, there is still concern regarding housing—56 percent of respondents believed credit supply would not meet demand for residential mortgages.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Spring Cleaning 101 - Get Your Home Ready for Spring Buying Season

April 4, 2012 3:56 pm

Now that spring has sprung, homeowners across the country are getting serious about preparing their homes for sale. If putting your home on the market is at the top of your to-do list this season, be sure to carve out some time to do some serious spring cleaning. Not only will a thorough cleaning make your home stand out from the crowd, it will also force you to get rid of the clutter that has accumulated during the winter months so that prospective buyers can see everything your home has to offer.

If you’re preparing to sell your home this spring, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll get from your real estate agent is to reduce the amount of clutter in your home. By cleaning out your home and getting rid of the clutter, you’ll set the stage to attract prospective buyers. Take the time to go through all your closets and bag up all the clothes that don’t fit, are out of style, or that you simply don’t wear anymore and donate them to Goodwill. You can even put together a garage sale with any old books, toys your kids no longer play with and anything else that you don’t need.

When it comes to spring cleaning, be sure to take care of the outside of the home as well so that your home offers a good first impression to prospective buyers. Now that the warm weather has arrived, curb appeal is as important as ever since house hunters are more likely to spend more time outside looking at the exterior of the house and the property itself. Make sure the lawn is well-maintained and free of leaves, the grass is mowed and the hedges are trimmed. You can even buy some colorful flowers and put fresh mulch in the flowerbeds to spruce up the landscaping. If there are any bare spots in the grass, buy some seed and water it to get the green back in. Make sure to also clean your gutters, wash your welcome mat and put away any rakes or winter shovels so that your yard is clear of debris.

While you’re outside, take advantage of the nice weather and power wash your driveway, walkway, siding and deck. Not only does power washing remove layers and years of dirt and grime from stone and cement, it also gets rid of mildew stains that may have accumulated during the winter. Power washing the porch, a fence or even the deck will clear away all the dirt and debris and make the home instantly seem cleaner. The last thing you want prospective buyers to see is a dingy looking house, as this will give the impression that you haven’t been properly maintaining the home.

Don’t forget to make sure all the windows are clean as well. While a REALTOR® may tell you that homes show better with the blinds or curtains up, this will not be true if the windows are dirty. A clean window not only brings more light into a room, it also allows buyers the chance to get a clear picture of the view from their potential new home. It’s important to clean both the inside and outside of all windows until they are streak free and spotless. This includes all sliding glass doors, garage windows and outside doors.

While you’re going through your spring cleaning routine, pay close attention to the “little” things that might draw the eye of a prospective homebuyer. Go around your home with a pad and pencil and dissect each room for things such as small holes in the wall where a painting used to hang, outlets that are missing a casing or doorknobs that are loose and squeaky. Also, be sure to check all of the caulking around sinks, faucets and tubs. This is one of the areas that is most often overlooked and can make the biggest impact on someone looking at the house. The same thing goes for any grout in tile counters or bathtubs.

Take the time and invest the small amount of money it will cost to fix these items to remove any hesitation a prospective buyer may have about moving forward with purchasing your home.

For more spring cleaning tips, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Plumbing Fixes Can Keep Your Home Sale from Going Down the Drain

April 4, 2012 3:56 pm

While prospective buyers don’t often check the plumbing when out looking at homes, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore your home’s plumbing system when getting your home ready to be listed on the market.

In fact, during an open house, you may get a prospective buyer who flushes all the toilets, turns on all the faucets and checks out the showerhead, or you might get a more seasoned “expert” who looks under the cabinets for leaks or checks for water spots in key areas. However, the last thing you want is for a sale to be ruined because you didn’t take the time to fix a simple plumbing issue.

Major plumbing renovations may be huge selling points, but sellers can get just as much credit by simply fixing leaks and changing out a few faucets.

Before allowing prospective buyers into your home, make sure you have strong water pressure and that there are no stains on any of the porcelain. If you have a difficult stain to remove, you may want to hire a local housecleaning company on a one-time basis, as they often have the materials to get rid of tough stains.

When it comes to making sure your home’s plumbing is up to par, if you do nothing else, be sure to take care of any leaks in your plumbing system, as these can be an instant deterrent for buyers. You should also check as much of your plumbing as possible for corrosion or rust. Take the time to thoroughly check any plumbing that’s easily accessible, since potential buyers will likely be checking for signs of any problems here too.

If your house is more than one story, prospective buyers will more than likely look at the ceiling to check for water stains from leaking pipes. Even if there was a problem that was fixed long ago, take the time to paint over the area on the ceiling where the leak was visible so no alarm bells go off.

You should also make sure that sinks and tubs are draining easily, and if not, there are plenty of un-clog solutions you can buy at your local supermarket. You can also clean the drain yourself of any hair and debris.

When prospective buyers come into your home for a tour, they tend to focus on things where they can use their hands, so make sure all the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers.

Not only is it important to make sure everything is up to par and working before prospective buyers come into your home, it’s also crucial to make sure everything looks nice and neat. For instance, having nice shiny fixtures makes a good first impression and it doesn’t cost much to replace old, outdated ones. Taking the time to match the faucets with the decorating scheme in the bathroom will also give the house a polished, finished appearance.

No prospective buyer wants to run into problems when they are consider purchasing a home, so taking care of these simple plumbing issues can keep a sale from going down the drain.

To learn more about getting your home ready to sell, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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HARP 2.0 to Provide Underwater Homeowners a Lifeline

April 4, 2012 3:56 pm

While underwater homeowners may still be a common theme today, the government recently enacted a new Home Affordable Refinance Program to help eligible participants pay down the principal on their home mortgage loan without having to pay mortgage insurance.

The new HARP 2.0 Refinance Program was made available to U.S. homeowners as of March 17, 2012 and those eligible have until Dec. 31, 2013 to refinance.

“You can use HARP even if you’re really far underwater on your mortgage. There is no loan-to-value restriction under the HARP mortgage program so long as your new mortgage is a fixed-rate loan with a term of 30 years or fewer,” said Dan Green, a loan officer with Waterstone Mortgage in Columbia, Md. “If you use HARP to refinance into an adjustable-rate mortgage, your loan-to-value is capped at 105 percent.”

The original HARP program (also known as the Making Home Affordable program) was started in April 2009 and changes were rolled out by the Federal Home Finance Agency on October 24, 2011, and confirmed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on November 15, 2011.

The original version of HARP had several roadblocks that made it difficult for homeowners to refinance. Originally, the program only assisted those with mortgages with a loan-to-value ratio between 80-125 percent, but in many hard-hit housing markets across the country, homes have lost more than 50 percent in value, making those homeowners ineligible for the program.

To be eligible today, a loan must be backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and the mortgage must have a securitization date prior to June 1, 2009. If you have an FHA, USDA or jumbo mortgage, you are not HARP-eligible.

One of the changes within the new HARP 2.0 program is that borrowers will now be able to refinance regardless of how far their homes have fallen in value. Previous loan-to-value limits were set at 125 percent.

Appraisals and underwriting have also been eliminated, as most homeowners will no longer be required to get an appraisal or have their loan underwritten, making the refinance process smoother and faster.

In addition, certain risk-based fees for borrowers who refinance into shorter-term loans will either be eliminated or modified.

It’s also important to note that the program will only work on a first mortgage.

“HARP 2.0 is meant for first liens only,” Green said. “Second liens are meant to subordinate. You’ll get to replace your first mortgage and your second mortgage will remain as-is. Just be sure to mention your second mortgage at the time of application so your lender knows to order the subordination for you.”

Remember, the Home Affordable Refinance Program is not meant to save a home from foreclosure. It’s meant to give underwater homeowners a chance to refinance without paying PMI.

For more information about HARP 2.0, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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