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7 Tips for Fall Tree Maintenance

November 8, 2011 9:20 pm

Trees are often overlooked during the summer when it comes to watering. Yet, when trees go dormant for autumn and winter – meaning active root growth comes to a standstill – and deciduous trees lose their leaves, they make up for deficits and absorb as much water and nutrients as they can hold. Enter fall's first rains, windstorms and freezes, and homeowners are guaranteed a dose of trouble.

Homeowners are advised to follow seven guidelines this fall to avoid tree problems year round.

#1 Hydrate
Trees with deep root systems typically do not need extra water, while trees with shallow roots do. Your tree is thirsty if it is brown in places, or if some of its branches are dead or brittle. If needed, place mulch at the base of the tree to help the soil retain water.

#2 Plant for all seasons, and for your region
It is best to plant trees that thrive in your home city's weather. Young trees planted in locations subject to harsh weather should be staked until their root balls have grown strong enough to support them. Protect against nibbling animals by placing a small fence around the base. And be sure to check with local jurisdictions on permits needed or other restrictions.

#3 Remove troublemakers
If a tree is located next to a foundation, path or fence, or along an irrigation, sewer or utility line, fall is a good time to move it, or even remove it.

To remove a tree quickly, and effortlessly, a chainsaw can be used to cut the tree down piece by piece (consult an arborist for larger projects or when tree falling has the potential to harm property or people). For safety and efficiency, keep the chainsaw chain sharp.

#4 Prune
Fall is the time to prune most trees. With an expert's help or on your own, prune to open up the tree's crown and remove excess limbs and dead or weakened wood. Use your chainsaw to complete the job quicker.

#5 Remove fallen leaves
Remove fallen leaves to be certain that the base of your tree can "breathe," and to remove a haven for tree-damaging insects. This also assures that any plants below the tree get adequate water and light.

#6 Spray
If an insect is attacking a tree, fall is the best time to apply dormant spray on fruiting trees.

#7 Fertilize
Most trees don't require fertilizer although fruiting and flowering trees may benefit from it. Late fall is a good time to fertilize because winter rains will prevent chemical burn. Fertilize after the first frost to prevent new, tender growth from damage.

Requiring very little maintenance in the fall, trees provide strong focal points to landscapes. Deciduous trees present various colors and appearances throughout the year, and evergreens breathe life and color year-round. Take care of your trees and you will enjoy them for years to come.

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MBA Welcomes Changes to HARP

November 8, 2011 9:20 pm

David H. Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued the following statement in response to the recent announcement of changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).

"The mortgage industry welcomes these changes designed to help more underwater borrowers who are current on their mortgages refinance at today's historically low interest rates. Not only will these changes allow more borrowers to qualify, but they will streamline the process and reduce the cost to borrowers and should lessen risk for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"Lenders are particularly gratified that the refinements will provide relief from some representations and warranties that lenders face when originating new loans. These changes alone should encourage lenders to more actively participate in HARP.

"Borrowers need to be aware that these changes will not be implemented overnight. Lenders likely won't receive specific guidance and operational details from the regulators for a couple of weeks, after which it will take a bit of additional time for lenders to implement them. Therefore we ask borrowers for patience as the changes are put into practice.

"While ultimately helpful, these changes are not going to be a silver bullet to solve all the issues facing our housing market and borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. But they will offer lenders another tool to help borrowers and hopefully help bring some stability to housing markets, particularly those most impacted by home value declines."

For more information, visit www.mortgagebankers.org.

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Survey Finds That Most Renters Perceive Homeownership as a Preference

November 7, 2011 9:18 pm

A recent survey conducted by the NAHB Research Center found that individuals who are renting perceive homeownership as a preference. In fact, 68% of individuals currently paying rent for their residences said they would prefer to own their own houses. Although previous releases issued about this study have discussed the feeling among consumers about the cost of owning a home, this information demonstrates that regardless of concerns, the general perception among those surveyed is that they prefer to own a home. The complete study reported opinions from consumers and builders on various topics related to home building.

Approximately one-third of households in the United States live in rental housing. The majority of renters displayed a perception of being concerned with their costs – 60% said they were concerned about the cost to rent, while 52% said they were concerned about the cost of electric and gas bills.

According to the survey, another factor when it comes to homeownership is the perceived safety. Of all renter respondents, 44% said they had not taken any action to increase the safety of their households in the past 6-12 months. Other respondents said they undertook minor safety precaution projects such as installing a lock on a door (32%) and putting in a smoke alarm (31%).

Besides owning their own houses, other desired changes that renters indicated they would like included having a backyard (39%), the ability to decorate (38%), upgrading appliances (36%) and increasing home eco-efficiency (31%).

Homeownership can also improve health, physical safety and security, and can help educational and job prospects increase. Homeownership is also an important means of wealth accumulation, and it can improve and stabilize neighborhoods and communities.

For more information, visit www.whirlpoolcorp.com/responsibility/building_communities/habitat_for_humanity.aspx.

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Economy Driving More Consumers Online and to Discount Stores

November 7, 2011 9:18 pm

More consumers are looking for a good value during this holiday season according to a new study from Harris Interactive and CreditDonkey.com. Price was noted as the most important factor to 63% of holiday shoppers. Over $30 billion in sales were attributed to electronic shopping and mail order according to the US Census Bureau, proving that consumers are flocking to online deals.

Online holiday shopping increased 15.2% in 2010 compared to 2009, according to a recent study by the National Retail Federation. In addition, special days such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Super Saturday attracted substantial crowds and significant discounts.

To help save money during the holidays in these tough economic times, try the following tips:

* Focus your spending on immediate family members and less on coworkers and acquaintances.
* Credit cards usually offer more security and protection than debit cards. Use a no fraud liability credit card for some extra peace of mind and protect yourself from unauthorized charges.
* Make sure gift cards are legitimate. Scammers often email faux free gift card offers during the holidays. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
* Safeguard your account information. Do not give out personal information to fraudulent sources. During the holidays, callers and emailers often pose as banks, retailers, credit card companies, and even charities to scam unsuspecting consumers.
* View your credit card statements regularly to make sure there are no fraudulent purchases.

For more study statistics and tips on how to save, visit http://www.creditdonkey.com/holiday-shopping-trends.html.

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HARP Changes to Reach More Borrowers

November 7, 2011 9:18 pm

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), recently announced a series of changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) in an effort to attract more eligible borrowers who can benefit from refinancing their home mortgage. The program enhancements were developed at FHFA’s direction with input from lenders, mortgage insurers and other industry participants.

“Building on the industry’s experience with HARP over the last two years, we have identified several changes that will make the program accessible to more borrowers with mortgages owned or guaranteed by the Enterprises," says FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco. "Our goal in pursuing these changes is to create refinancing opportunities for these borrowers, while reducing risk for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and bringing a measure of stability to housing markets.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have helped approximately 9 million families refinance into a lower cost or more sustainable mortgage product, approximately 10% of those via HARP. HARP is unique in that it is the only refinance program that enables borrowers who owe more than their home is worth to take advantage of low interest rates and other refinancing benefits. This program will continue to be available to borrowers with loans sold to the Enterprises on or before May 31, 2009 with current loan-to-value (LTV) ratios above 80%.

The new program enhancements address several other key aspects of HARP including:

* Eliminating certain risk-based fees for borrowers who refinance into shorter-term mortgages and lowering fees for other borrowers;
* Removing the current 125% LTV ceiling for fixed-rate mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
* Waiving certain representations and warranties that lenders commit to in making loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
* Eliminating the need for a new property appraisal where there is a reliable AVM (automated valuation model) estimate provided by the Enterprises; and
* Extending the end date for HARP until Dec. 31, 2013 for loans originally sold to the Enterprises on or before May 31, 2009.

An important element of these changes is the encouragement, through elimination of certain risk-based fees, for borrowers to utilize HARP to refinance into shorter-term mortgages. Borrowers who owe more on their house than the house is worth will be able to reduce the balance owed much faster if they take advantage of today’s low interest rates by shortening the term of their mortgage.

For more information, visit www.fhf.gov.

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Thanksgiving Decorating Made Simple

November 4, 2011 9:14 pm

By Nick Caruso

Thanksgiving is a relaxing holiday based solely around food and gratitude. A nice decorative atmosphere would enhance the dining experience as you and your guests are enjoying mouthfuls of turkey, yams and stuffing. Decorating for Thanksgiving doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. With these simple and affordable tips, you can give your home a festive, fall look that everyone will enjoy.

Bold fall colors should be used as much as possible when making any decision regarding décor. Use many of the same colors as some of the traditional food you'll be serving. Yellows, oranges, browns and reds set the perfect tone for any fall-themed meal. Try incorporating them any way you can, including placemats, serving utensils and dishes. A colorful centerpiece would also work nicely for your holiday table.

Go outside and get inspired. The autumn season is all around us, so go outside and look around. Brightly colored leaves, berries and pinecones are just a few examples of items that could be garnered for decoration. Fill a large vase with some of these natural beauties for a decorative centerpiece. Things like pumpkins and hay bales also make great indoor and outdoor decorations. Use them sporadically for that extra fall feel.

For those with eager children, a fall garland can be a fun project to get them involved. Use red and orange leaves, or even use construction paper for cut-out turkeys or pumpkins. This will not only decorate your home, but keep the children occupied while you get some cooking and cleaning accomplished.

Thanksgiving-themed towels, pot holders and candles are also great ideas. Hand towels in bathrooms can carry the theme outside of the kitchen, while sweet smelling candles can do the same for dining or living rooms. A few bottles of red wine can also add to any autumn-colored display or centerpiece.

With all of that cooking to do, you may not have time for complicated and time-consuming decorating. With a little creativity and these fun and festive tips, you can create a wonderful atmosphere for you and your family.

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National Housing Survey Shows Correlation between Consumer Attitudes and Personal Experience

November 4, 2011 9:14 pm

Fannie Mae's third quarter National Housing Survey provides in-depth findings on attitudes of consumers who know of people in their area or neighborhood who have defaulted on their mortgage. This latest survey shows that those exposed to default have similar attitudes about buying a home as those who do not know people that have defaulted. However, the survey also finds greater pessimism about the economy and personal finances among consumers who know defaulters.

"Knowing someone who has defaulted on their mortgage appears to be correlated with consumers being slightly more pessimistic about the direction of the economy, their finances, and their ability to obtain a mortgage, but does not materially correlate with their desire to own a home or their view of housing as a safe investment," says Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae.

"At the macro level, we see that economic activity picked up in the third quarter, thanks to a sizable rebound in consumer spending on services. However, the hike appears to have come out of consumers' savings, as disposable income fell during the quarter," continues Duncan. "The improvement in consumer spending has not spilled over into big-ticket items such as housing, as consumers' concerns over their finances and dissatisfaction about the direction of the economy remains elevated."

Owners and renters who know defaulters are as likely to say owning makes more sense than renting, say buying a home is a safe investment and display roughly the same intention to buy a home as those who do not know a defaulter.

• Ninety-two percent of owners who know defaulters say owning makes more sense than renting, compared to 89% of owners who do not know defaulters.
• Sixty-seven percent of owners and 52% of renters who know defaulters say buying a home is a safe investment, compared to 70% of owners and 52% of renters who do not know defaulters.
• Seventy-eight percent of owners and 39% of renters who know defaulters say they are likely to buy their next home, compared to 73% of owners and 35% of renters who do not know defaulters.

The third-quarter survey also provides comprehensive data based on more than 3,000 interviews among homeowners and renters to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, confidence in homeownership as an investment, the current state of their household finances, views on the U.S. housing finance system, and overall confidence in the economy.

For full survey findings, visit www.fanniemae.com/portal/research-and-analysis/housing-quarterly.html.

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Survey Finds 87 Percent of Consumers Won't Buy on Facebook

November 4, 2011 9:14 pm

A recent survey conducted found that 87% of tech-savvy consumers would not buy anything through Facebook.

The panel, consisting of 50 men and 50 women, all of whom are professionals in technology oriented disciplines, was surveyed in regards to their attitudes toward Social CRM, the practice among companies of using Facebook, or other social networks, to offer customer care, provide support and sell products. The survey asked whether panelists would interact with their communications service providers through Facebook to buy something; pay a bill; resolve a problem; complain publicly; recommend their services; or none of the above. Respondents were invited to select any and all responses that applied. Only 13% of all respondents, 12% of men, and 14% of women responded that they would “buy something” through Facebook. Eighty-seven percent of all respondents did not select this option.

“This study suggests that Facebook has work to do to convince consumers that it will protect their personal financial information and transactions,” says Ed Finegold, producer and editor of BillingViews. “We set out to find attitudes on the use of Social CRM by communications providers, but were met with this consistent sentiment of distrust toward Facebook when it comes to money.”

Panelists were invited to provide additional comments on any aspect of the survey they wished. Of the 28 who commented, 13 – or 42% – stated specifically that they would not make any sort of purchases through Facebook because they do not trust it or do not believe it has sufficient security to protect transactions or personal financial information.

Additional findings from the survey include:

• 60% of those surveyed would recommend a communications provider’s services on Facebook, though women were more likely to do so than men.
• 58% of respondents, and an equal number of men and women, said they would use Facebook to complain publicly about their communications providers.
• 45% of respondents said they would use Facebook as a means to interact with their communications providers to solve a problem, though women were more likely to do so.
• 27% of respondents, a majority of which were men, said they would not use Facebook to interact with their communications providers.

The full results of the survey, part of BillingViews’ ongoing series on Social CRM in Communications, are available at www.billingviews.com.

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Area Rugs Provide a Quick and Inexpensive Way to Spruce Up Your Home

November 4, 2011 3:02 pm

Selling your home in today’s market can be a challenge, but sprucing up your home is one quick and relatively inexpensive way to gain an edge in today’s competitive market. If you’re looking to set your home apart and not break the bank in the process, area rugs are a great option.

Not only can area rugs add color to a dreary room, they can also tone down a room that already has strong and bright colored furniture, define an area in a large room or add texture to a neutral colored space.

In addition to the design elements that area rugs add to a space, they also provide physical warmth, comfort and can help absorb sound.

The area rug should take up 2/3 to 3/4 of the floor space of an area with no furniture on the rug, or else you risk having the rug look lost.

“When you are dealing with a very large room, you can even use multiple area rugs, but make sure they complement and coordinate with each other,” said Deborah Hall of Pittsburgh Home Staging Experts. “They should never be identical.”

In addition, the shape of the rug should mirror the furniture or the room size. For example, a rectangular dining table should have a rectangular rug underneath. But a round dining table should have a round rug under it.

Most designers agree that you should never cover the entire floor with an area rug; it’s important to leave 9-12 inches of the floor around the edges of the rug exposed. However, a small rug right in front of the entry door is acceptable.

One thing that can be problematic is that in rooms with direct sunlight and hardwood floors, the area rug will create an outline on the floor when the color of the wood changes as a result of the sunlight. Also, keep in mind that sunlight can fade a rug, particularly oriental rugs.

It’s also important to make sure that the rug isn’t covering a floor vent and be sure it isn’t too thick that it prevents a door from opening and closing properly.

“You should avoid placing the rug so that the traffic pattern would have people walking with one foot on the rug and the other foot on the bare floor and keep from placing the corner of a rug in front of a door as people may trip,” Hall said. “If the rug is in a dining room, you need to be sure that it’s large enough so that when a person is backing out of their chair, the back legs of the chair will remain on the rug. You can use 24 inches from the edge of the table to the edge of the rug as a guide.”

Some people like the look of area rugs on a carpet while others think it should never be done. There’s also a debate among designers on whether or not furniture should be resting both on and off the rug.

If you anticipate lots of traffic and wear and tear, a patterned rug is your best bet since it will hide stains better than a solid rug. Also, wool rugs are easier to clean than non-wool rugs.

For more tips on incorporating area rugs into your home design scheme, contact our office today.

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Mortgage Shopping 101: Compare Rates and Companies before Choosing the Mortgage That's Right for You

November 4, 2011 3:02 pm

While buying a home is an exciting adventure, shopping for a mortgage to help pay for that home shouldn’t be taken lightly. Before choosing a mortgage, it’s crucial that you take the time to shop around and compare rates and companies before making a final decision.

Obtaining a mortgage shouldn’t just be done by walking into your bank and accepting the first mortgage that’s offered to you. Nor should you settle for the first mortgage that you’re offered over the phone. In order to get a mortgage that works best for you, and gives you the best value, you need to shop around and do your homework.

Before applying for a mortgage, take the time to inspect your credit report to make sure it is correct and doesn’t send up any red flags. While mistakes and outstanding debt can be fixed, it will require time and effort to be sure you have the necessary proof of any fixes to your report.

Once your credit report is accurate and it’s time to look for a mortgage, prospective buyers should compare mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders, banks and credit unions.

Remember, there are special mortgages for veterans, those in the military, first-time buyers and even doctors, so be sure to check for any local and state mortgage programs as well as examine all community service and housing agency mortgages and mortgage assistance programs.

When you have narrowed down your options to the mortgages that you feel are best, it’s time to look at the numbers more closely. Not only should the monthly mortgage payment and annual percentage rate be taken into consideration, you also need to pay attention to any and all the information associated with the cost of the loan. Be sure to check the cost of points in dollar amounts, broker fees, origination fees, underwriting fees, administrative costs, mortgage insurance, yield spread premiums, commissions, escrow and closing costs. Without these numbers, you won’t be able to make a fair comparison.

After you have gathered all the necessary information and compared the available options, decide on the best loan for you. There are pros and cons to 15- vs. 30-year and fixed vs. adjustable rate mortgages. If you’re thinking about an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), it’s important to understand not just the beginning rate of the ARM, but the rules regarding when and how often adjustments can occur, limits on what they could cost, as well as its ceiling rate.

If you find a better price somewhere but prefer a certain lender or company, don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms, especially if you have a solid credit history. You may be able to lower the points, reduce some fees, eliminate some broker fees or even bring the rate down a small percentage.

Once you find the terms you are comfortable with, lock it in, in writing, so that nothing changes. The lock-in should include the rate that you have agreed upon, the period the lock-in lasts, the number of points to be paid and a lock on as many other costs and terms as possible.

Most importantly, obtain a loan commitment letter that your agent can show sellers to prove that you can buy the home. If there are several bids on a property, having this piece of paper can be the thing that wins it for you.

Mortgage rates are changing all the time and there are a myriad of options for you to choose from. By being smart and savvy, you may save yourself money in the long run.

For more information about finding the best mortgage for you, contact our office today.

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