October 25, 2011 9:06 pm
While the nation may have added 103,000 new jobs in September, the employment report showed relative weakness, particularly as it relates to the residential construction sector, which remains far below its job-creation potential in the absence of policies to restore the health of the housing marketplace, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
"We are seeing now what an economic recovery looks like without housing, and the picture is hardly encouraging," says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "We need to address anti-housing impediments to home builders creating jobs in countless communities across the land."
The inventory of new homes for sale is at a record low and there are many areas of the country that are approaching a housing shortage. Tight credit conditions are preventing builders from meeting this emerging demand, putting workers back on the job and helping the economy move forward.
Further exacerbating the situation is today's pervasive anti-housing climate in Washington, says Nielsen.
"Leaders in Washington must stop scaring consumers by talking about eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, ending a federal backstop for housing and calling for a minimum 20% down payment on home loans," says Nielsen. "This is counterproductive and harms consumer confidence, the housing market and the nation's economy."
Housing normally accounts for more than 17% of Gross Domestic Product and building 100 single-family homes creates 305 full-time jobs and $8.9 million in taxes and revenue for state, local and federal governments.
"Getting housing back on its feet would be a shot in the arm for consumer confidence, boost job growth and lead to a long-lasting economic recovery," says Nielsen.
October 24, 2011 9:06 pm
Forget imaginary tales of vampires, mummies and witches this Halloween. Brace yourself for a fight against the real monsters waiting to invade your home and protect yourself from what may hide inside your mattress, waiting to feast on your flesh and blood.
In the 2011 "Bugs Without Borders Survey" conducted by The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky, 99% of professional pest management companies based in the United States reported encountering bed bug infestation during the past year. In addition, the 2011 "Bed Bugs in America" survey by the NPMA found that one in five Americans reported these creepy blood suckers infesting his or her home or knows of someone who has encountered them at home or in a hotel. They have been found in all 50 states, from apartments, to libraries, to schools to five-star hotels. You can run, but you can't hide from these scary hitchhikers.
Bed bugs look much like an apple seed and are typically 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch in size and a rust brown color. Bed bug nymphs and eggs are clear/white, much smaller and very difficult to see. From the moment a bed bug hatches, its only goal is to find its next meal – human blood.
The best weapons to combat these nocturnal nuisances are mattress and box spring encasements. Bedding protection with a three-sided zipper system won't allow the bloodsucking monsters to take up permanent residence within a mattress, making it easier for pest control companies to identify and eliminate them.
Dust mites are other invisible creatures that feed on your discarded dead skin. It can be easy to overlook them since you can't see them with the naked eye and they don't eat the skin you're still using, but they can create chaos for those with allergies. According to The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma and about 70% of those individuals also have allergies.
The fecal matter dust mites produce is a significant cause of allergy symptoms like itchiness, sneezing, inflamed or infected eczema, watering eyes, congestion and runny nose. These symptoms are particularly problematic for those with asthma. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology also reports that in a recent survey of U.S. homes, about 1/4 had levels of dust mite allergens present in a bed at a level high enough to trigger asthma symptoms.
Just like bed bugs, dust mites are scarier in numbers. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, "Dust mite population and allergen levels decreased by 90% or more within a month of placing mattress and pillow covers and treating bedding." These products create an impenetrable barrier between dust mites and the bedding, preventing them from multiplying in your mattress and feasting off of dead skin cells.
For more information, visit www.protectabed.com.
October 24, 2011 9:06 pm
By Keith Loria
As the fall season marks its arrival with cooler temperatures and shorter days, bringing the outdoors in and taking advantage of fall décor is one way home sellers can set their house apart from the rest. While you don’t want to go overboard, you can have some fun while incorporating fall themed items into the mix.
Create a festive scene right on your dining room table with a fall-inspired floral arrangement in an eye-catching polished copper or silver container or even an apple basket. Mix in a few berries or branches to bring a bit of nature into the scene.
Decorators recommend adding plaid or a fall-colored fabric for use as runners, simple throws or pillows. If you want to kick it up a notch, replace solids by adding materials featuring a Moroccan vibe in plum, bronze or gold for a luxurious play of color.
“Bring a taste of the outdoors in with distressed wood pieces like log vases or birch-themed pedestals to display candles or flowers,” says Michael Sullivan, an interior decorator in Fairfax, Virginia. “You can incorporate twigs, branches and berry stems for an organic look.”
Corn is another great decorating item that home sellers can take advantage of this fall. It can be placed in a bowl, hung up in a design or used as the centerpiece of a display.
A wreath on the door is another decorative element that can add character to an entryway that may normally be plain or basic.
Individual silk leaves can be scattered on tables, leaf garlands can be strung across a staircase banister and a leaf wreath can serve as the focal point of a mantel when hung on a wreath stand.
“Accentuate the home with a splash of harvest colors of yellow, orange, gold, green, wheat and brown,” Sullivan says. “These hues will add a sense of warmth and comfort to your interior, which can get buyers interested.”
Outside, seasonal finds are aplenty with mums, kale, pumpkins and gourds. Creating an eye-catching fall garden in the front of the house is always a welcoming sight for prospective buyers. Just remember to rake the leaves regularly. The last thing you want a buyer to see is a lawn full of leaves, conveying the message that a lot of time is going to be spent raking during the fall.
Halloween decorations can create a festive look as long as you don’t go overboard. While a few carved jack-o-lanterns, ghost lights and witch hangings will get people in the spirit of the season, you don’t want the house overflowing with fake cobwebs or monster cutouts lurking in every room.
Leaving Halloween cookies on the counter during home showings is also a great way to get people in the right mood as they walk around the home.
October 24, 2011 9:06 pm
Is your child packing on the pounds? Becoming a couch potato? Then he or she may be at risk for getting type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes once occurred mainly in adults who are overweight and over 40, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Today, it is increasingly diagnosed in youths age 10 to 19. An estimated one in six children and teens is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Along with a family history of diabetes, being overweight and inactive are the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes, says Ilan Irony, M.D., an endocrinologist at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The two main types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2—are treatable, says Irony. “In addition to changes in diet and a healthier lifestyle, treatments can help control blood sugar and prevent or delay long-term complications of diabetes.”
FDA-approved treatments for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are all about keeping the blood sugar (glucose) levels in a normal range. But there is no one treatment that works for everybody, says Irony, and treatments may need to be changed if side effects of a particular medication are not tolerated. Also, additional medications may need to be added as diabetes gets worse over time.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in children starting at age 12 or 13, says Irony. “In children, the disease tends to get worse in puberty when the body produces hormones that make insulin less effective,” he says. Insulin is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
“The first line of treatment is a healthy diet and other lifestyle changes,” says Irony. “If a child is overweight or obese, losing weight and increasing physical activity can help lower blood sugar.”
Ask the pediatrician if your child is a healthy weight or needs to lose weight. Children and adolescents should do at least one hour of physical activity each day, according to the federal government’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Type 2 diabetes may be controlled with diet and exercise for a while—sometimes years—says Irony. “But the disease is progressive and medication will be needed later in the majority of patients.”
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes accounts for almost all diabetes in children younger than 10, and it is also on the rise in U.S. children and adolescents. Formerly called juvenile diabetes, type 1 occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. Researchers are still investigating the causes of diabetes.
For children with type 1 diabetes, multiple injections of insulin are needed every day to keep the blood sugar in check.
“Treatment is individualized to the child and the spikes of high or low blood sugar need to be minimized,” says Irony. It’s a balancing act to lower the blood sugar but not get it too low, which could make the child feel shaky or pass out, he adds.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs because of defects in the body’s ability to produce or use insulin—a hormone needed to convert food into energy. Insulin is made in the pancreas and is released into the blood to control glucose (sugar) levels and the amount of glucose transported into cells as an energy source. If the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin, or if the cells do not respond appropriately to insulin, glucose can't get into the cells and instead stays in the blood and is passed in the urine. The blood sugar level then gets too high.
High blood sugar can, over time, lead to devastating health problems, including:
• heart attack
• kidney disease
• nerve damage
• loss of toes or feet
• digestive problems
• gum problems and loss of teeth
If you suspect your child may be in danger, see your child's pediatrician today.
October 21, 2011 9:04 pm
Halloween is the beginning of an exciting time of year for children, as well as the child in all of us. This Halloween, safety and home security are crucially important to your family's enjoyment of the holiday. Here are a few tips to make sure everyone stays safe while trick-or-treating:
1. Remind kids to be cautious and to stick with a buddy at all times. Plan routes and communicate with other parents so that every child in a group can easily be accounted for.
2. For those staying home, make sure that your driveways, walkways and yards are clear of debris in order to reduce the risk of falls.
3. Children and parents are advised to trick-or-treat in well-lit areas with clear walking paths or sidewalks. Use reflective stickers, flashlights and glow sticks to help ensure that children are easily seen by motorists.
4. Now is the time to equip your ghouls with a cell phone, and set a return time so you know when to expect them.
5. Halloween can be a time for vandalism as well as burglaries. It is easy to spot who is and isn’t home, and with the commotion outside, a thief can blend in quite easily. Make sure doors and windows stay locked and the home security system is set. Deter would-be criminals with well-lit, alarm-company signs.
6. When your night-walkers return, inspect all the candy and goodies before kids dig in. Survey for opened or broken wrappers, suspicious-looking items or any ingredients children may be allergic to.
Glow sticks are inexpensive and fun for parents and children. Fasten one to each of your youngsters and give them as treats to those trick-or-treaters who dare show up at your door. You can never be too safe!
October 21, 2011 9:04 pm
Golden autumn afternoons, fall foliage and cooler temperatures are a welcome change for most people after a long hot summer, but families should be watchful that the change in seasons could lead to sleep problems and other behavioral troubles for adults, teens and children.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects an estimated six percent of the population. A person with SAD can experience unexplained fatigue as daylight hours grow shorter into the fall and winter months. Other symptoms could include increased irritability, increased daytime sleepiness (as opposed to most other forms of depression, which can cause insomnia), difficulty concentrating, and craving carbohydrates and sugary foods, so-called “comfort foods.”
“For some folks, autumn clearly presents something much more than just ‘great sleeping weather,’” says Dan Schecter, creator of SleepBetter.org. “If families suspect they are affected by SAD, they should seek a proper diagnosis from a physician or mental health professional.”
Schecter said families can also take steps on their own to encourage healthy sleep patterns as the seasons change:
• Make seasonal adjustments, if necessary, but set regular sleeping and waking times and stick with the schedule, even on weekends.
• Get plenty of exercise, outdoors if at all possible, to maximize exposure to daylight.
• Ensure your home sleeping environment and bedding are clean and appropriate to the season.
• Eat a well-balanced diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals.
October 21, 2011 9:04 pm
Citing its benefits for consumers, the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers announced support for recently introduced federal legislation that would improve the mortgage underwriting process by ensuring energy costs are included.
The Appraisal Institute expressed its backing of the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act of 2011 during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol with bill sponsors Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo, and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and other organizations.
“We strongly support the SAVE Act because it will improve communication and the flow of information among appraisers, lender clients and those interacting with the mortgage lending process,” Appraisal Institute Immediate Past President Leslie Sellers, MAI, SRA, said at the event. “It would require use of qualified, competent appraisers and would help ensure that appraisers have access to data needed to analyze the effects of energy-efficient home improvements in the marketplace. Consumers would benefit from the bill’s efforts to help ensure they receive a reliable, credible opinion of value.”
The SAVE Act would instruct federal loan agencies to assess a borrower’s expected energy costs when financing a house. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would issue updated underwriting and appraisal guidelines for any loan issued, insured, purchased or securitized by the Federal Housing Administration or any other federal mortgage loan insurance agency.
The bill establishes two methods for determining expected annual energy costs: average utility costs, derived from the Department of Energy’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey database and adjusted for the square footage of the home, or if available, a qualified, independent energy report of the subject property. The measure includes two primary features: an affordability test and a loan-to-value adjustment.
Sellers said the SAVE Act would help protect taxpayers from another foreclosure crisis; would lower utility bills for U.S. households; would remove from federal mortgage policy an impediment to home energy efficiency; would drive business and job growth in the construction and manufacturing sectors; would expand the accessibility and affordability of energy efficient homes; and would reduce U.S. energy dependence.
“The SAVE Act would require that appraisers are provided with all relevant information relating to energy-efficient features of properties,” Sellers said. “And by defining these types of appraisal assignments as ‘complex,’ the SAVE Act would help ensure those properties are valued by an appraiser with enhanced competency who can more thoroughly analyze and make appropriate judgments for building energy performance and who can help lenders understand their collateral risk.”
For more information, visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.
October 20, 2011 9:04 pm
Family meals lead to healthier, more successful children, but finding time to eat together can be a balancing act for many families. Registered dietitians and parenting bloggers from the United States, Canada and New Zealand have shared their tips, tricks and motivations for making time to have balanced meals with their families during the Balancing Act Blog Carnival, part of the Eat Better, Eat Together family meal campaign and blog series from Dairy Council of California. Here are the top 10 big ideas they shared, from their families to yours.
1. Planning family meals ahead of time is essential; develop systems that make the purchasing, preparing and partaking easier.
2. Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate to be healthy and effective. Come up with easy ways to balance your meals with simple vegetable side dishes or fruit and yogurt desserts.
3. Have healthy food on hand and eat from your freezer or pantry on busy weeknights. Prepare double batches of food when you’re less rushed so you can cook once, eat twice.
4. The family meal does not have to be dinner; breakfast or lunch may work better in some households.
5. Toughen up. Prepare one meal for the whole family to enjoy. Include all five food groups and everyone should be able to find something they’ll want to eat.
6. Turn off technology and tune into each other. Make conversation the focus of family meals, but keep it light. The dinner table is not the place for discipline.
7. Share the work. Enlist help from the family to plan shopping lists, make lunches, set the table, pour the milk and clean up.
8. Eating as a family is truly comforting for toddlers, teens and adults. Family meals can become a cherished tradition for the whole family.
9. Dump the guilt. Family meals may not happen every day, and that’s OK. Make the most of your family meals when they occur.
10. Family meals aren’t always easy, but they’re always worth the effort. Start or strengthen your family’s commitment to each other today.
October 20, 2011 9:04 pm
Home sellers spend so much time preparing their interior for the sale that they can easily overlook what’s going on outside of the home. Yet, great curb appeal can increase the value of a property by as much as 15-20%, according to Melanie Tisdale of a Florida-based real estate company.
Mario Garcia, a landscaper in Bethesda, Maryland who helps prepare homes for market, says a well-manicured lawn is a magnet for buyers. On the other hand, overgrown trees or large bushes hiding the house are a no-no.
"Buyers associate the condition of the exterior and landscape with the condition of the interior,” Garcia explains. “Curb appeal must invite buyers to view the rest of the property.”
Landscaping fixes include adding flowers or sprucing up the property with decorative grasses or Japanese maples. Accent the trees with rocks or boulders for a bold statement. Consider adding a modest fountain to the yard or garden.
In addition, rake leaves, wash windows and skylights, clean gutters and trim shrubs. Add low voltage lighting to highlight the yard, trees and the home’s exterior.
And you needn’t spend a ton of money to make a difference. “Do something as simple as putting up a new mailbox and address decals on your home,” says Anne West, owner of a Wilmette, Illinois-based design company. “Also, adding a new welcome mat with a grouping of potted plants by the front door makes things more inviting.”
October 20, 2011 9:04 pm
Driven by a wave of FHA loans, applications for mortgages to purchase a home reached their highest level since May recently—but they still trail the 2010 application rate by more than 34%.
Purchase application rates are good indicators of future sales, and the weekly uptick could indicate an improvement in demand that is still far below 2010 levels. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s unadjusted purchase mortgage index is now 34.7% below the year before.
“The increase in purchase activity was led by a 17.2% increase in FHA applications, while conventional purchase applications also increased by 3.6%,” says Jay Brinkmann, MBA’s chief economist. “This is the second straight weekly increase in purchase applications and the highest purchase index level since the expiration of the home buyer tax credit program. One possible driver of last week’s big increase in FHA applications was a desire by borrowers to get applications in before new FHA requirements took effect October 4, which included somewhat higher credit score and down payment requirements.”
In four-week moving averages, the seasonally adjusted market index is down 3%, the purchase index is up 2% and the refinance index is down 4.2%. Refinancings accounted for 78.9% of all mortgage applications last week, down from 80.7% the week earlier.
The MBA said interest rates for 30-year fixed and 15-year fixed mortgages fell once again last week to new record lows. The average rate for the 30-year fell to 4.25% from 4.38% and the 15-year decreased to 3.73% from 3.77%.
For more information, visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.