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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Spring Staging Basics You Can't Afford to Overlook

April 4, 2012 3:56 pm

No matter the season, staging your home before listing it on the market is an important part of the process that shouldn’t be overlooked. While the basics of staging—keeping things clean, clutter free and colorful—typically remain the same throughout the year, with the arrival of spring, there are a number of things you can do both inside and outside the home to take advantage of the beautiful weather.

“In the spring, it’s a great idea to incorporate color around the entryway,” said Barb Schwartz, Creator of The Staged Homes Concept and Home Staging Industry. “An easy way to do this is to place a large pot on each side of the door, fill it with greenery and then add color by integrating daisies or tulips.”

Moving past the entryway, it’s crucial to bring spring colors into the home as well. This can be easily achieved with accessories like throw pillows, area rugs, artwork, towels and bedspreads.

“You can change accessories and the whole house changes. For example, changing pillow cases on decorative pillows that are on a sofa can give a whole new color look to the room,” Schwartz said. “This year, nature colors are really in; green is really big and hot orange is an accent that is strong.”

Designers also recommend bringing spring indoors by incorporating the colors of pears, eggs, sea shells and nature in general into your interior decorating scheme. In addition, fabrics with leaf patterns, wicker, real leather and rust metal as contrast can also be utilized.

Schwartz said it’s also a good idea to replace the drapery panels in a home or office to achieve a fresh look for the spring. In fact, she recently overhauled a den by swapping out a blue daisy pattern and integrating plain cream panels that went from floor to ceiling. “The whole room looked bigger and more elegant,” she said.

Of course, every room in the house is important and there are ways to liven up each one. You want the buyer to buy the whole house, not just one or two staged rooms, so it’s important to create a somewhat cohesive design.

“All homes have to be staged to sell all year long, and spring is a good time to sell because people are out looking again now that winter has passed,” Schwartz said. “It’s important to keep in mind that two things sell a house: one is price and the other is staging.”

In addition to creating a fresh look within the home, homeowners should take the time to clean up the outside of the home as well. Be sure to clean up the yard, remove all leaves and dead plants and even trim bushes and hedges. “More often than not, with the arrival of spring, our homes are still cluttered with gifts from the holidays,” Schwartz said. “I recommend that when one new thing comes in, one other thing is packed up, given away, or donated. Otherwise, the house just gets filled with more and more clutter.”

While the spring season typically brings out more prospective buyers, make sure to take advantage of all the season has to offer.

For more tips to stage your home for spring, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Restoring the American Dream: HAMP Extension Offers Homeowners Hope

April 4, 2012 3:56 pm

During President Barack Obama’s most recent State of the Union address, he spoke about the American Dream of owning a home and how that dream has been shattered for many due to the collapse of the housing and mortgage markets over the last few years. However, Obama offered hope to homeowners recently by extending the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which can help many homeowners refinance and take advantage of historically low interest rates.

HAMP also offers incentives to mortgage lenders to encourage them to refinance and modify existing mortgages by lowering interest rates and reducing mortgage balances to the current value of the property.

Launched by the federal government in 2009, HAMP was slated to expire on December 31, 2012, but was extended for one year until December 31, 2013. The extension of the program included an expansion of the eligibility rules to make it available to even more homeowners.

It is believed that millions of additional homeowners will now be eligible to take advantage of the federal program to bring down the costs of owning a home and even help many avoid foreclosure altogether.

In February, new eligibility criteria were released to mortgage lenders and servicers and homeowners may begin submitting applications under the new rules in May. Until then, homeowners can submit applications for modifications under HAMP to their lenders under the existing eligibility guidelines.

There are several changes to the HAMP guidelines that homeowners should be aware of:

-Homeowners found to be ineligible under the current debt-to-income ratio of 31 percent may now be eligible under the new criteria.

-Previously, non-owner occupied homes and owner-occupied homes with tenants were not eligible. However, the new guidelines would allow tenants in part of the home as long as the home is owner-occupied, or the owner intends to take occupancy. It is believed that approximately 700,000 landlords will be eligible under the revisions to HAMP.

-People who were approved for a HAMP trial period, but did not make the payments as scheduled, would be eligible for consideration for a modification under the new eligibility criteria.

-Homeowners who missed payments under an approved HAMP modification, as opposed to a trial period, would be eligible to reapply under the new rules.

In addition to the HAMP extension, the Obama administration announced that it would triple incentives to owners of mortgages that reduce home loan debt and expand eligibility to borrowers struggling under the weight of other liabilities such as medical bills. The extension will apply to all loans, including those held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage financiers.

For more information about the new HAMP guidelines, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: HARP 2.0, Spring Cleaning

April 4, 2012 3:56 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines how the recent extensions to the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) will help homeowners refinance and take advantage of historically low interest rates. Other topics covered this month include simple plumbing fixes that will keep your home sale from going down the drain and staging basics you can't afford to overlook this spring. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Case-Shiller House Prices: A Tale of 20 Cities

April 3, 2012 3:56 pm

Eye On Housing—The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indexes were released recently with data through January for the 10 and 20 city composites (and component cities). The national index, which is calculated quarterly, and the Charlotte, NC metropolitan area, due to delays in data reporting, were not included in the release. The composites were both down [...]


Reology Announces Results for iThrive Wellness Program

April 3, 2012 3:56 pm

Realogy Corporation, a leading provider of real estate and relocation services, has announced the annual results of its iThrive employee wellness program, which also garnered recognition by a renowned organization and its own employees. Realogy’s iThrive program focuses on promoting and sustaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and nutrition, physical activity, disease prevention, and access [...]