September 15, 2011 10:57 pm
If you’re on the verge of losing your home, or you know someone who is, then you also know about the long, bureaucratic process involved in applying for a loan modification from a lender. The most common approach is to apply under the new Home Affordability Mortgage Program (HAMP), but lenders also accept modifications from mortgage holders because lenders really don’t want to take the house—they just want their money. In many cases, however, the approval process takes longer than many homeowners can afford. But one expert believes it doesn’t have to be that way, and that there are solutions for homeowners whose applications seem stuck in the mud.
“Applying for a loan modification can be an extremely stressful process,” says Stephfan Nurse, CEO of Consumer Education—the makers of software designed to educate people about the modification process.
“Even if you send in your documents and your lender tells you everything is okay, you may still have a great amount of anxiety because you have no idea what the lender is doing with your file. You may not know what the next step is and how long it takes to move through each step in the process. There are reasons, however, why the process can get stuck, and there are ways to move that process along, if you understand what goes on behind the scenes.”
Nurse’s tips for making the process smoother include:
• Account Numbers – It often happens that when you fax your paperwork to your lender, the lender either says they lost your paperwork or they just didn’t receive it all. This isn’t because they are incompetent. It’s because they receive thousands of faxes each day, and they use an image scanning technology to capture them all and place them in the appropriate file. In that system, a cover sheet that has your account number on it will get placed correctly, but the following sheets that lack your account number can be easily misplaced. The solution is to put your account number on every page of your paperwork, so they have a better chance of placing all your paperwork in your file.
• Complete the Paperwork – When your file gets assigned to a document manager, typically about 30 days after you first applied for the modification, the document manager’s job is to check to make sure all your required documents are ready to be submitted to the negotiator/specialist for review. If you have an incomplete file, even if you’re missing just one single required document, the document manager will note your account as having an incomplete file and move on to the next file to review. At this point, a generic letter is automatically mailed to your home requesting the additional information your file lacks. This letter can take up to two weeks to get to you, and then another two to four weeks before they look at your updated information. The key is to never send an incomplete package to your lender. It can lead to a delay or even a flat-out denial.
• Follow Up – Finally, follow up every week with your lender to make sure all the documents they have are up to date. Don’t worry about being a pest. After all, it’s your house on the line if things get stuck in neutral. If you do this consistently, you will avoid getting caught in the delay cycle.
“The process is like any other, and it can be rife with mistakes and bureaucratic snafus,” Nurse adds. “But if you take the steps to reduce the opportunities for error, your application can move through the process much faster and you’ll have a much better chance at being approved.”
For more information, visit www.consumereducationonline.com.
September 14, 2011 10:57 pm
A “File of Life” is a portable medical history and vitally important for seniors to have readily available in case of an emergency. This document, usually affixed to the refrigerator, enables emergency personnel to obtain a quick medical history when a patient is unable to give one.
“When a senior citizen is rushed to the emergency room, the emergency physician on duty needs to know about any medications and dosages, allergies or chronic conditions. That’s one of the reasons why seniors should have a File of Life containing their complete medical history,” according to Janice Williams, CLTC, vice president, Matrix Home Care, a statewide service provider.
“An elderly person who has been dazed by a fall, suffered a stroke or is unconscious won’t be able to communicate with the ER physician,” says Williams. “Without a File of Life, valuable time can be lost, and mistakes can occur.”
In fact, Williams believes that any aging senior who is living alone should have a File of Life and share that information and copies with other family members. “If you change physicians, medications or have had a recent surgery, for instance, the most important medical information is easily accessible,” she says.
Available free of charge from many local fire-rescue, police and senior service agencies (or at a modest cost from retail and online pharmacies), a file of life is a magnetized pouch designed to be posted on a refrigerator. Documents inside the pouch include the person’s name and insurance policy numbers, emergency medical contact, and a list of health problems, medications, allergies and other relevant medical information. Documents that could also be included are a person's health care surrogate and a DNR (do not resuscitate) form. These forms can be prepared by your family attorney.
“When paramedics arrive in an emergency, they can quickly see the pouch on the refrigerator and bring it with them to the hospital,” Williams said. “It’s also important to be sure that other family members have a copy of that information as an added safety measure.”
As an example, Williams cites the case of an 83-year-old woman who fell and broke her hip in her home. She had not prepared a File of Life or chosen and completed a healthcare surrogate form. As she sat in her hospital room, her six children could not agree on which skilled rehabilitation facility she should be sent to for her rehabilitation and if she should receive private duty care. This situation is at times the norm with many families, Williams says. “That’s why making your wishes known and having the correct documentation completed in advance is important.”
Pernille Ostberg, MBA, RPh, Matrix president and CEO, has seen greater awareness of the need for a File of Life in recent years. “People need to realize that the Emergency Room won’t be able to reach the family doctor at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night,” she says. "And, your loved-one’s medical file will be in the physician’s office not the ER. Having the necessary medical documentation available in an emergency can literally be a matter of life or death."
For more information, visit matrixhomecare.com.
September 14, 2011 10:57 pm
Window bird feeders are a wonderful way to see the true beauty of birds up close this fall. Feather colors, eating habits and the interaction of birds creates a dynamic viewing experience of blue jays, northern cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, nut hatches, tufted titmice, woodpeckers, pine siskins, redpolls, and other finches. Even seasonal birds such as hummingbirds and grosbeaks will come to window bird feeders.
Window bird feeders are convenient to fill and clean, great for kids and seniors who sometimes have a hard time walking to replenish traditional feeders. They offer hours of entertainment for pets (pet TV) and offer an alternative for areas that do not allow traditional feeders.
Window bird feeders come in a variety of styles. Those with suction cups adhere to almost any window and can be located anywhere in your home or office. Others are designed for single or double hung windows, casement windows, bay windows and sliding glass doors/decks. After a while, birds get familiar with activity inside the house and eat more naturally. Some window feeders also have mirrors that allow viewing birds without them viewing you.
Dining areas are a great location for window bird feeders. Birds’ feeding habits are similar to humans and they eat most frequently in early morning, lunch time and early evening. Window strikes are often a problem with east/west feeder placement due to reflections that cause the bird to fly into the window, or they may think it is another bird and attempt to attack. Using window alerts, which have a see-through pattern that adheres to the window, will help avoid window strikes as well as curtains or alternative placement.
Attract specific types of birds to window bird feeders with different types of food. Suet window feeders will attract woodpeckers while sunflower will attract most birds and thistle will attract finches, siskins and red polls. To avoid house sparrows, starlings and cowbirds avoid grains used in mixes—corn, milo, red millet, oats, wheat and canary seed. Jays prefer peanuts (but then, so do squirrels).
For more information, visit USABirdSupply.com.
September 14, 2011 10:57 pm
To help develop policies that will stabilize the nation's housing market and support an economic recovery, the National Association of REALTORS® recently urged the White House to host a summit of policy makers, industry leaders and government stake holders focused on revitalizing the nation's housing.
"As the leading advocate for housing issues, REALTORS® know that homeownership supports our nation's economy," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "Housing and homeownership issues affect all Americans, which is why we need strong policies that will help stabilize the housing market and lead the way out of today's economic struggles."
A housing recovery is key to America's economic strength, and NAR wants to make sure that proposed legislation and regulatory rules or changes to current programs and incentives don't further exacerbate problems within fragile real estate markets across the country.
A broad discussion among all stakeholders about what needs to be done to put the housing market and economy on a path to recovery could provide valuable recommendations and solutions to promote responsible, sustainable homeownership and stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and economy.
"REALTORS® look forward to coming together and working with President Obama and his administration as well as our industry partners to design a housing recovery plan that will serve our nation, its 75 million homeowners and indeed all Americans today and into the future," says Phipps.
Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org.
September 13, 2011 4:57 pm
A new mobile application has been released that will aid shoppers this year on Black Friday. Created by FatWallet, the Black Friday iPhone App allows iPhone and iPod touch users to review and sort 2011 Black Friday ads as individual deals. The app is the mobile version of FatWallet.com’s Black Friday Deal Finder, which aggregates all major retailers’ Black Friday ad rumors and organizes them by store and category. Users can sort by store or by category and have options to filter results for a more refined search. These options include; sub-categories, brand and price range. Capabilities also let users search by phrase and sort deals for free shipping, rebates, online availability and/or doorbusters.
Push Notifications are sent each time a store’s 2011 Black Friday ad is published. FatWallet members can flag deals as favorites for quick in-store reference and comparison. They can also create customized shopping lists online for easy access on the app and share any deal or view via text or email, with possibilities of more social sharing options in future updates.
The app also comes pre-loaded with 2010 Black Friday content allowing users to compare all 13,676 deals from 90 stores. Users can expect many of these deals to be available online (2010 saw over 800 deals online with more than 500 of those deals offering free shipping). The content will be replaced with 2011 data as soon as the first Black Friday ad is made public in FatWallet’s Black Friday 2011 forum and Black Friday Deal Finder.
For more information, visit www.fatwallet.com.
September 13, 2011 4:57 pm
When it comes to hiring a contractor, finding one you can trust in your home for an extended period of time is crucial to the project's success. A fair and hardworking contractor may take some time to find. These tips will help facilitate your search:
Get as many estimates as you can: By pricing out many different contractors, you will be able to determine the going rate for your area. Beware of any prices that are either too low or too high, and always make sure to ask if the price is a hard quote (the price you will actually be charged) or simply an estimate.
Make sure the contractor is insured and licensed: In addition, ensure that all of the company's employees are insured as well. In the case of an accident, you want to be sure that any worker working in your home is covered by workman's comp and liability insurance.
Call references: Never neglect to ask for references and always call to check up on the contractor. Was work completed on time? Were there any issues on the job? How close was the estimate to the final cost? You may be able to learn from someone else's hiring mistakes.
Research the company: Find out how long the contractor has been in business and see if you can find out information about any past jobs. If any red flags have been raised, you'll likely find them on the Internet.
Make sure it feels right: Are you comfortable communicating with the contractor? Do they understand exactly what you want? Are they able to clearly explain what exactly will be done and how long it will take? If any problems or delays happen on the job, you want to make sure you have a solid working relationship with your hired help so you can properly discuss how to move forward. This can make all the difference as you head toward a happy end result.
Source: Relocation.com Blog
September 13, 2011 4:57 pm
Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC) recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing mortgage rates, fixed and adjustable, reaching all-time record lows providing further incentive for those homeowners looking to refinance. The 30-year fixed averaged 4.15%, breaking the previous record low of 4.17% set November 11, 2010.
According to the survey, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.15% with an average 0.7 point for the week ending August 18, 2011, down from the last week when it averaged 4.32%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.42%.
Additionally, 15-year FRM averaged 3.36% with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.50%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.90%.
Results also showed that the five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.08, with an average 0.5 point, down from the previous week when it averaged 3.13%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.56%.
The one-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.86% with an average 0.6 point, down from the last week when it averaged 2.89%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.53%.
Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac, says, "The Federal Reserve's policy statement and ongoing market concerns over the European debt market carried momentum into this week allowing all mortgage products in our survey to reach all-time record lows. For instance, 30-year fixed mortgage rates are now the lowest in over 50 years. In comparison, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated the average effective mortgage rate was about 5.3 percent on single-family loans outstanding during the second quarter of 2011.
"Not surprising, many homeowners took advantage of this low mortgage rate environment and have already refinanced their loans. The refinance share of applications averaged nearly 70% of all mortgage activity in the first half of this year, according to our survey. In addition, an increasing share of refinancing borrowers chose to shorten their loan terms during the second quarter, according to Freddie Mac's Quarterly Product Transition Report."
For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com or www.twitter.com/FreddieMac.
September 12, 2011 4:57 pm
With home prices at bargain levels, it may be the perfect time to consider purchasing a property to rent. Investing in a rental property can be profitable for those with time on their hands and who are knowledgeable enough to work the market appropriately. Although no purchase is ever a sure-shot, you can avoid losing money by keeping the following in mind:
Don’t assume a cheap deal is a win-win: Although low prices are always attractive to you, the buyer, don’t forget to keep other factors in mind such as location and building type. If the property is in a less-than-desirable location, you may have trouble finding the right renters or any renters at all. Look for properties in busy areas or cities where demand will never waver.
Don’t forget the extra costs: Always factor in a 3-6% closing-cost fee and keep in mind that you’ll also need funds to maintain the building. Try to plan ahead and figure out what your profit margin will likely be and determine whether buying the property in question is worth your time and investment. Too many times do first-time landlords purchase properties without thinking on a long-term scale. Cover all of your bases by taking all costs into consideration.
Be reasonable about your profit expectations: When you become a landlord, you become a collector. If tenants lose their jobs or stop paying for any other reason, it may take several weeks to evict them. Don’t simply assume that money will keep coming in. It may take time to find the right tenants and even then, there could always be a disruption in payment. Be prepared for this, just in case.
Owning a rental is different than owning a home: Some tenants may be more demanding as to what’s acceptable in terms of maintenance and repairs. State laws (which vary by state) may also impose strict rules and regulations, dishing out even more work for your plate. Although property managers can help out with a lot of this, hiring one will cost you. Be mentally and financially prepared for the task of becoming a landlord so that there are no surprises later down the road.
September 12, 2011 4:57 pm
Approximately 98% of all basements will become flooded basements, suffering from some form of water damage at some point. Homeowners up and down the East Coast and across the Southeast joined the 98% club in the last few weeks, as hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee soaked homes and businesses with torrential rainfall and caused record flooding in many areas.
Basements are natural targets for excess water, due to their position as the lowest point in any home and the fact that water loves to run downhill. It is always advisable to make sure the landscaping surrounding a home slopes away from the structure for a distance of no less than 10 feet. In extreme cases, once the ground has been saturated, any additional water that is added will have to go somewhere, and it is going to seek the path of least resistance.
As with any sort of water damage in the home, it is always advisable to begin the water removal process as soon as possible. Water will continue to cause damage for as long as it is allowed to remain untreated, rotting wood, rusting metal, and destroying personal items and valuables, not to mention setting the stage for mold to grow.
All utilities should be shut off at the source. Water and electricity do not mix, and if gas is leaking as a result of the flood, then it only takes a spark to trigger some undesirable circumstances.
Wet/dry vacuum units or gas-powered submersible pumps should be used to extract the water from the basement. Which type of unit used depends on the depth and severity of the spill. When pumping, it is vitally important not to pump the water out too fast. Doing so may cause a sudden change in pressure that could weaken the structural integrity of the walls, making them prone to collapse. The water should be pumped out slowly but steadily, at the rate of about a third a day.
Once the water is out, the job is not finished. Carpeting, flooring and drywall will still have retained a significant amount of water. Fans, blowers, and dehumidifiers will be required to remove all residual moisture from surfaces and the surrounding air, as well as reduce humidity levels in the area to ward off mold.
Electrical appliances and outlets should not be used until the system has been checked out by a qualified electrician. The same principal should be applied to the heating and air system.
Carpets should be salvageable if they have been submerged for less than 48 hours. They will need to be taken up, dried, cleaned, disinfected and sanitized, possibly more than once. All damaged carpet padding will need to be thrown out and replaced. Floors should be checked for warping or cracking, and drywall inspected for the telltale swelling and discoloration that accompanies water damage.
If the right steps are taken, you can minimize water damage to your home and hopefully clean up before any mold has the chance to grow.
September 12, 2011 4:57 pm
Anemic demand from owner-occupant home buyers has forced investors to rent out about half of the homes they purchase—as opposed to renovating and flipping the properties, according to the latest Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey.
The latest HousingPulse Survey results showed the proportion of first-time home buyers in the housing market rose to 36.9% in July, from 35.4% in June. Meanwhile, the HousingPulse Distressed Property Index (DPI) climbed to 46.2% in July from 44.7% in June, indicating a high percentage of foreclosed property sales and short-sale transactions in the housing market.
The gap between first-time home buyers and distressed property supply was 9.3 percentage points in July, unchanged from June. Given that home purchases by current homeowners do little to absorb the supply of distressed properties, the housing market is increasingly dependent on investors to pick up any slack in purchases by first-time home buyers.
Because the current housing environment makes it difficult for investors to sell properties, many are choosing to rent instead. Campbell Surveys estimates that investors will ultimately rent out 48% of the properties acquired in the month of July 2011. A comparable figure for the month of July 2010 would have been investors renting out 28% of acquired properties.
Significantly, real estate agents responding to the July HousingPulse survey indicated that the debate in Congress over the U.S. debt ceiling negatively affected home buyer activity last month.
“I spoke with several would-be buyers who, because of the ridiculous behavior of our government, felt uneasy about purchasing at this time. This may be contributing to the hot rental market,” reported an agent in Washington State.
The Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey involves approximately 2,500 real estate agents nationwide each month and provides up-to-date intelligence on home sales and mortgage usage patterns.
For more information, visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.