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Mobile Users Have Mixed Feelings About Location-Based Coupons

October 5, 2011 10:57 pm

Sharing their location with retailers in order to receive discounts may be worth the privacy risk for the majority of mobile consumers. Sixty-seven percent somewhat/strongly agree that location-based coupons are very convenient and useful according to a recent mobile survey among smartphone and tablet users conducted by Prosper Mobile Insights™. Respondents answered questions directly on their mobile devices.

Further, one in four (25.6%) mobile users say they would prefer to receive coupons on a smartphone or tablet automatically when they are near a store. However, double that number (51.1%) would prefer to receive coupons on their device via email. Manually searching for coupons, scanning QR codes and receiving promotional texts/IMs also rank higher than automatic location-based coupons. Receiving discounts on the spot, though, appears more popular than “checking in” through social media (only 10.3% would prefer this method):

Coupon Preferences on Smartphones/Tablets
Receive via email: 51.1%
Manually search for them: 32.2%
Scan a QR code when inside a store: 31.9%
Receive via text or instant message: 31.0%
Receive automatically when near a store: 25.6%
Check-in through social media: 10.3%
Don’t want to receive coupons at all on device: 18.1%

While 81.9% are open to receiving coupons on their smartphone or tablet in one form or another, location-based coupons do raise privacy concerns—44.8% are somewhat/very concerned about their location being tracked or other security issues. 29.6% are neutral while 25.6% are not concerned.

The majority of Mobile Users engage in shopping behaviors on their smartphones or tablets. Most conduct research: 76.4% browse or look for a product or service; 73.0% use their device to locate a store or store hours; 48.9% research specific products; and 45.7% read customer reviews on their smartphone or tablet. Interestingly, 42.2% have used their smartphone or tablet as a coupon (scanning a bar code, showing a text to a cashier, etc.) Nearly two in five (39.7%) have also made a purchase directly on a mobile device and 36.2% have scanned a QR code.

For more information, visit: www.prospermobile.com.

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Experts' Forecast for 2011 Prices Improves

October 5, 2011 10:57 pm

The home price picture for this year is shaping up to be a little better than it looked in June, according to the September 2011 home price expectations survey of 111 leading housing economists and experts sponsored by MacroMarkets LLC.

With just three months to go, the average prediction for the price decline this year from last year’s levels improved from a 3.52% price decline predicted by the experts in June to 2.53% in the latest survey. The survey is based upon the projected path of the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index over the coming five years.

However, longer term price prospects registered by the experts were less clear and varied widely, from a 19.2% increase by 2015 to a 5.7% decrease. The average prediction called for an average annual rate growth rate of only 1.1% through 2015.

“Relative to historical norms of average annual home price growth rates, the projected 1.1% nominal figure is dim, especially if broader inflation picks up (as many people think it will) within the coming five years,” says Terry Loebs, founder of Pulsenomics LLC, the firm that conducts the survey for MacroMarkets.

Loebs notes that the data still reveal a wide variety of individual views among panelists regarding a recovery in the U.S. housing market. Loebs says, “The erosion of price expectations in the face of record-low mortgage rates and the wide dispersion of views among many professional forecasters are symptoms of persistent dysfunction and imbalances in this country’s housing market.”

In the September survey, the panelists also offered their views of the likelihood, desirability and necessity for further government intervention in the U.S. housing and mortgage finance markets in the coming 12 months. Almost three-quarters (73%) of the respondents who shared a view think that further policy action is “highly likely” or “likely,” while more than half (57%) said such action is undesirable, and almost half (49%) said additional government action is unnecessary.

For more information, visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.

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Is it Worth the Cost?

October 5, 2011 10:57 pm

A stressful part of putting your home on the market is trying to figure out what to fix and upgrade to get the very best price. An experienced agent will recommend projects to consider and ones to avoid. After all, just because you put money into a renovation project doesn’t mean you will recoup the money in a sale.

Caprice Atwell, a REALTOR® from Florida, recommends consulting Remodeling Magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report” for a breakdown of typical returns on renovation projects large and small. The 24th annual edition, published earlier this year, contains input from some of the country’s top remodeling professionals and ranked 35 remodeling projects for highest returns. In many cases, smaller-scale renovation projects recoup more of their initial cost than larger, pricier ones, according to the report. For example, a minor $20,000 kitchen upgrade returns 72.8% of renovation costs, but a more expensive $58,000 kitchen remodel only retains 68.7% of its value on resale.

Surprisingly, the report noted that exterior upgrades recoup more of their costs than interior renovations -- a trend that’s been building for the past five years. What’s the hottest exterior upgrade according to this year’s report? Replacing the front door with a steel entry door, which typically returns more than 100% of its cost.

The report also lists garage doors as a wise investment, returning up to 83% of their original cost when the home sells. Other prudent outdoor renovations include siding and window replacement, returning 80% and 72.4 %, respectively.

Interior improvements retaining the most value include attic renovations and basement remodels, recouping 72.2% and 70%.

“Just like an addition to the home, an unfinished space—such as the attic or basement—will instantly add value and livability to your home, as it increases the square footage and changes the way your family lives in it,” says Will Tomlinson, owner of a North Carolina-based renovation and remodeling company. “You will be transforming a space that likely gets very little use into a fully functional area for your family to enjoy.”

The report also notes that non-essential features have less resale value. Sunroom additions recoup only 48.6% of renovation costs; home office remodels, 45.8%; and backup power generators, 48.5%.

Of course, homeowners’ needs and budgets dictate their choice of home improvement projects. Still, it helps to know projects’ cost vs. return ratio when making the final decisions.

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Setting the Stage for a Home Sale

October 4, 2011 4:59 pm

“You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

This saying strikes a chord in the real estate industry, where many buyers are quick to jump to a conclusion about a potential home after just one glance. That’s why an increasing number of homeowners are employing professional home stagers to prepare their homes for sale.

“Much of what staging accomplishes happens on a subconscious level,” says Carla Grammatica, a consultant with a New York-based staging company. “You are trying to create a positive association between your house and the prospective buyer. Anyone can change a paint color after they move in, but first impressions are difficult to undo.”

"With 91% of buyers searching first on the Internet for homes, MLS photos and virtual tours are extremely important in the selection process," says Melanie Tisdale, a media coordinator for a brokerage in Florida. "Staging, as a priority instead of as a last resort, will give sellers key advantages."

Stagers help eliminate clutter, give advice on adding colors, help in rearranging furniture and bring in various items to help spruce up a home.

“One of the most important things is getting rid of things that look messy,” Grammatica says. “Life can get messy, especially with kids and storage issues, but you have to pretend that’s not how you live. You have to pretend your house is [always] neat and well-maintained.”

That means picking up shoes from the hallway, removing papers from tables and furniture and even taking down personal items—such as diplomas, pictures and trophies.
—that clutter the walls.

Professional stagers take into account buyer demographics and buying psychology, and they use design elements in planning out the rooms, space and lighting.

“Some people think that staging is simply cleaning and packing up some of your things, but it is so much more than that,” says Linda Barnett, an Indianapolis–based certified staging professional. “Understanding traffic patterns and highlighting the positive attributes of a home while downplaying its negative features, all go into play.”

One tip Tisdale recommends is packing away unneeded items—such as seasonal clothes and old books—and put them in storage. It’s also important not to overwhelm potential buyers with wild colors and furniture, she says, even if you think it makes your home “special.”

Remember, making your home look like a model rather than lived-in can make all the difference in selling a home.

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Soggy Spring and Scorching Summer Add to Fall Home Maintenance Needs

October 4, 2011 4:59 pm

Thirty-three of the forty-eight continental states experienced above-average rainfall last spring (not to mention more rainfall in the past few weeks for much of the South and North). An extremely warm summer followed "hot on the heels" of all that rain. The result? Many outdoor spring cleaning projects did not get marked off the homeowner's to-do list. Fall offers one more chance to get outdoor spaces and gear clean and protected before winter's arrival puts the deep freeze on outdoor projects.

Start at the top. For a small space, clogged gutters can cause big damage, because water doesn't drain properly. Instead, it can damage everything from the foundation, wood and landscaping to the roof – and it can even find its way indoors to cause damage there. Check out tools that allow you to bypass the ladder and clean the gutters from the ground.

Wet paint. Jeff Wilson, host of multiple programs on the DIY network and HGTV, says, "I worked for a painter who said a paint job would last twice as long if you cleaned the siding every two years. Removing dirt and killing the mold, mildew and algae on a surface helps to eliminate some of the paint's enemies."

Take the opportunity to check for bare patches of wood where the paint has blistered and peeled. Since exterior coatings like paint and stains shouldn't be applied when temperatures are over 90 degrees, fall is a good time for touch-ups.

Don't pay the price for snow and ice. Wood decks and fences, as well as concrete walkways and patios, can all be damaged over the winter by water absorption and repeated freeze/thaw cycles (or wet/dry cycles), which cause cracking. Clean them, then apply a waterproofing coating to stop water absorption over the winter. These types of products do recommend minimum temperature guidelines for application, so check the label on the product you are using.

Bring it on inside. It's also a good idea to clean any outdoor furniture, cushions or hammocks that you're going to store and bring in fragile garden decor or pots. Put your lawnmower to sleep for the winter by sharpening the blade, changing the oil, and adding a bit of fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. Do the same for trimmers, tillers, etc. All other gardening tools should be cleaned, sharpened if necessary, and lightly oiled before putting them away, too.

Next, drain hoses. Any water left in them may freeze, expand, and burst the hose, so this is a critical step. While many newer homes will have frost-free spigots outside, older homes won't. Shut them off from the inside if possible or cover them with an insulated cover if it regularly falls below freezing.

Clean-up on good deals: Reward yourself and get ready to greet spring 2012 in style. Fall is the time retailers offer great clearance discounts on all types of outdoor furniture, cushions and accessories. Check online as well as at traditional "brick and mortar" stores.

Source: www.thompsonswaterseal.com

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Tips to Prevent Ice Dams This Winter

October 4, 2011 4:59 pm

With winter fast approaching, now is the time to take action to prevent the type of ice dams that caused tremendous damage – and resulted in expensive repairs – for many homeowners last year.

“Ice dams that form along your roof can cause major damage,” says Sean Welch, a senior assistant vice president for an insurance company. “As ice builds up, it prevents water from melted snow and ice from draining off the roof, so the water leaks into your house and goes under your roof and inside your home, causing costly damage to walls, ceilings and insulation.”

Homeowners can take the following steps to help prevent ice dams from affecting their homes:

-Make sure the ceiling is airtight, so warm, moist air doesn’t flow into the attic space.
-Increase ceiling and roof insulation to minimize the amount of heat that rises into the attic.
-Use weather-stripping around entryways to the attic.
-Seal around attic ducts, light fixtures, chimneys and fans to prevent heat from melting snow.
-Make sure the attic is well ventilated so that any warm air is replaced with cold outside air.
-Clean debris from gutters and drains to allow for proper drainage.

“Proper insulation and roof ventilation can help prevent ice dams from forming, helping protect homes from damage – while also helping to reduce energy bills,” Welch says.

Anyone building a new home or re-roofing an existing one also should install protective membranes under the roof covering, to help prevent water from leaking through. These are watertight barriers that extend from the lower edge of the roof up the slope at least 24 inches past the exterior wall line. This protective layer is often required by building code for new homes and re-roofing in areas where ice dams are known to occur.

With early preparation, homeowners can prevent ice dams from happening even before winter arrives.

Source: Amica Insurance

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Remodeling Activity Reaches Record Levels

October 3, 2011 4:57 pm

With millions of Americans either unable to secure a mortgage or having to remain in their current home because they cannot sell the property, remodeling activity continues to soar. BuildFax has unveiled its BuildFax Remodeling Index (BFRI) for July 2011 and it shows that remodeling activity reached a record high during the month. The data also indicates that as consumers are putting more discretionary income into their homes, there are now a record number of under-insured properties from coast to coast. 

The latest BFRI shows that July 2011 became the month with the highest level of remodeling activity since the Index was introduced in 2004. During these historically difficult economic times there has been an upswing in the sales of building materials and the number of renovations greater than $10,000. These factors, and the fact that many consumers have not increased the insurance on their homes to account for the remodeling, puts many homes at risk as owners are not carrying the proper level of insurance for the new, true value of their homes. 

"As millions of Americans believe that they will not be able to secure a new home due to a variety of factors, including tight credit, limited buyers and challenging job prospects, they are more and more turning to renovating and remodeling their current properties, sending remodeling activity to record levels," says Joe Emison, vice president of Research and Development at BuildFax. "However, this remodeling boom is leaving many of these properties under-insured, as the value of these renovations are often not being captured by the homeowners’ insurance companies." 

July Signifies 21 Consecutive Months of Industry Growth
The latest BFRI, detailing remodeling activity from July 2011, indicates that residential remodeling activity registered the 21st-straight month of year-over-year gains, demonstrating that many Americans are continuing to remodel their current homes, rather than purchasing new homes. 

The July 2011 index rose 24% percent year-over-year—and for the 21st straight month—in July to 130.4, the highest number ever in the index to date. 

For more information, visit www.buildfax.com.

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Things to Consider When Choosing a New School for Your Kids

October 3, 2011 4:57 pm

For families with children moving to a new location, choosing a new school that is right for your kids should be at the top of your to-do list. There are plenty of items to consider, especially if moving out of state, which could have a great impact on your children's educational future. 

Quality of education: Schools always have a different level of education even if it doesn't seem so. Do some research about their alumni or meet some of the teachers at the school. Ask them their opinions of not only that school, but the school system in general. You'd be surprised how much you can find out by simply asking. 

Transportation and distance from home: Try to find a school that is in close proximity to your new home. The younger your children, the more important this becomes. Longer rides can lead to more stress and clearly, this is something you should avoid when making your decision. 

Check the school's activities: Sometimes a robust schedule of activities is just as important as the classes themselves. Participating in an extra-curricular activity can help boost confidence and help in your child's social development. Check to see if the school in question has a good mix of activities - sports, arts and crafts, after school groups, etc - so that your child can continue their learning after the school bell rings. 

Resources: Most parents want to make sure their child has all he or she will need to advance their learning. Investigate the school's library and classrooms and see if they fit your standards. Talk to a librarian and find out how often the school gets new materials, such as books, computers and other school supplies. 

Cost: As always, cost is a factor as well. There are plenty of options to consider between both public and private schools. If you are pursuing private schools, set a yearly budget for what your family can afford. Although it may be a challenge, make sure your family can afford the tuition without compromising standards or level of education. 

It's important to place your children in school as soon as possible after a move. With the appropriate research and considerations, you can pick out a school that everyone in your family will be happy with. 

Source: Relocation.com Blog

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Indoor Air Quality and Health – How One Impacts the Other

October 3, 2011 4:57 pm

Maintaining a healthy home means promoting a healthy lifestyle, but some Americans aren't aware of the important role indoor air plays in creating a healthy home. In fact, nearly half of Americans (49%) believe indoor air quality has little to no impact on overall health, according to an online indoor air quality consumer survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

The truth is that improved indoor air quality can lead to a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home and your overall quality of life. If you are remodeling or building your home, there are several changes that can minimize contaminants and improve the air you breathe inside your home.

According to the study, Americans are more likely to improve air quality by making temporary changes—cleaning carpets, using cleaning products that promise to reduce pollutants and cleaning and/or disinfecting ducts. However, there are things that can have a longer lasting affect such as:

-Keeping your house mold-free. Mold spores produce allergens that can trigger asthma attacks and cause sneezing, runny nose and red eyes.
-Using safer building materials such as stainless steel, tile, adobe and insulation without added formaldehydes.
-Keeping your home free of radon. The colorless, odorless gas can cause lung cancer.
-Ensure your home is properly insulated to prevent leaks.

For more information, visit www.imaginehomehealth.com.

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New Online Guides Teach Consumers How Building Codes Make Homes More Energy Efficient

September 30, 2011 4:57 pm

Thanks to the new partnership between the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and Consumers Union, user-friendly, interactive online guides and downloadable publications are helping homeowners and buyers save energy and money by teaching them the potential of building energy codes to address and improve home energy performance.

“Everyone should have the right to an energy-efficient home that meets national standards,” says Cosimina Panetti, advocacy director of BCAP. “Energy codes—minimum requirements for efficient design and construction—offer a cost-effective way to reduce energy use and monthly bills, while also lowering carbon emissions. It’s a win-win-win.”

A 2011 Consumers Union survey found that 86% of homeowners want to know a home’s energy operating costs before they buy or rent; 82% of homeowners believe they have a right to homes that meet national standards; and 77% of homeowners think that home builders should not construct less efficient homes at the consumer’s expense.

“Energy codes affect the majority of the population, but are often overlooked as a consumer issue,” says Stacy Weisfeld, energy campaign organizer for Consumers Union. “Strong energy codes help not only people moving into new homes, but also future buyers and the community as a whole.”

The average U.S. homeowner will spend about $2,175 on home energy costs this year, or about $180 a month. An energy-efficient home that complies with the 2009 national energy code can save homeowners $235 or more each year compared to an average new home that does not meet the 2009 code.

Energy Code Resources
The new tools provide information about energy codes and checklists homeowners and buyers can use to identify whether construction meets building energy-code requirements. The interactive tools and downloadable publications are hosted on both the BCAP website and the Consumer Reports Greener Choices site.

The resources include:

• Energy Code Guides

Learn how to increase home-energy performance through in-depth guides.

• Energy Code Printable Checklists


The checklists help determine if a new home meets national energy code standards, and teach consumers how to read the Energy Code Certificate that builders post in new or substantially renovated homes.

• Energy Codes Location Guide


This step-by-step guide provides building energy codes based on location and information on whether or not the code is being effectively enforced.

Documents That Explain What Energy Codes Are

Fact sheets and a PowerPoint presentation provide basic information about building energy codes and explain why they are important.

Select State Guides and Checklists


BCAP has partnered with state energy offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska to create customized energy code resources for consumers in each state.

“We want to empower consumers to shop assertively for energy efficiency when they buy or renovate a home, just as they have learned to do when they shop for refrigerators and air conditioners,” Weisfeld says. “Consumers who use these new energy codes toolkits will know exactly what to look for, and which questions to ask builders, sellers and home inspectors when shopping for a home.”

For more information, visit http://www.ase.org/.

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