December 2, 2011 9:42 pm
According to an online house price estimator and economic model just updated by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), a third full bathroom is the one feature that can have the greatest impact on the value of a standard, new, single-family detached house in a Southern suburb, increasing the estimated price by about $43,000.
The estimator enables builders, developers, prospective homebuyers and homeowners to see the impact that various physical features might have on the price of a home.
“In an economic environment where consumers are particularly price-and value-conscious, this is an important resource for assessing key features and characteristics that help determine housing prices,” says NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.
“To get the most out of the estimator, those using it need to understand that the nation’s housing marketplace is actually comprised of thousands of local markets and submarkets, with their own dynamics,” he says.
The estimator “shows what households are looking for in their homes and zeroes in on basic factors that enable Americans to shape and improve their lives through their individual housing choices,” Nielsen says.
The standard, new, single-family detached home is defined by features based primarily on averages or medians from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction. Among those features: the home has 2,150 square feet of living space, two full bathrooms and one half bath, three bedrooms, a garage, central air conditioning, a fireplace, a separate dining room and three miscellaneous rooms. The home is also in a neighborhood where satisfactory shopping (such as grocery or drug stores) is available within 15 minutes.
In general, the estimator finds that suburbs show higher prices than their companion central cities, which include the areas inside the city limits and not just a central business district or downtown area.
“Because the model uses data from the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, which contains somewhat limited geographical detail, the results show averages across a broad region rather than estimates for a particular house in a specific location,” says Paul Emrath, NAHB’s vice president for survey and housing policy research.
“The model captures the impact of various features in considerable detail, but no model or database can capture all the features that influence house prices,” he says. “For that reason, a homeowner shouldn’t think that the addition of a certain feature will necessarily increase the cost of their home by the amount specified by the estimator.”
The price estimator, which can be accessed on computers with Microsoft Excel, can be useful in a variety of settings, he says. Possible uses include: helping builders determine if the cost of providing a particular amenity will be valued by consumers, giving prospective home buyers a rough idea of likely price differences for various home sizes and amenity packages, enabling customers of remodelers to approximate how much a job would add to the value of their home and helping developers price neighborhood characteristics to evaluate the desirability of potential building sites.
The economic model for the price estimator shows that with no modification, the estimated average price of the standard new home in a Southern suburb is $203,874. Moving that home to an otherwise similar neighborhood on the waterfront increases its estimated price by nearly $90,000. And proximity to adequate public transportation raises the estimated price by about $26,000.
Other neighborhood features, the model finds, can reduce the price of the home. The presence of an abandoned building within half a block, for instance, reduces the estimated price of the standard new home in a Southern suburb by about $28,000. Bad roads, odors, lack of adequate shopping, buildings with metal bars on their windows and litter each reduce the estimated price by more than $6,000.
Looking at the physical features of the home, adding 500 square feet of living space with no other changes increases the estimated price of that home by roughly $13,000. Adding another bedroom or miscellaneous room increases the estimated price by less than $10,000. Eliminating the fireplace reduces the estimated price by about $24,000.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
December 2, 2011 9:42 pm
Fannie Mae has announced that it will suspend evictions of foreclosed single family and 2-4 unit properties from December 19, 2011 through January 2, 2012. During this period, legal and administrative proceedings for evictions may continue, but families living in foreclosed properties will be permitted to remain in the home.
"The holidays are meant for families to spend time together, especially if they’ve gone through the stress of financial challenges and foreclosure,” says Terry Edwards, executive vice president of Credit Portfolio Management, Fannie Mae. “No family should have to give up their home during this holiday season. Fannie Mae is committed to helping borrowers avoid foreclosure whenever possible and we encourage any homeowner who is having difficulty making their payment to reach out for help.”
Homeowners with Fannie Mae-backed loans can call 1-800-7FANNIE or visit www.knowyouroptions.com for information and resources on foreclosure prevention options, including contact information for the Fannie Mae Mortgage Help Center or a HUD-approved counseling agency in their area.
For more information visit www.twitter.com/FannieMae.
December 1, 2011 9:42 pm
Winter is almost here, but there is still time to protect homes and wallets from its harsh blow. Homeowners can use the time that remains in late fall to complete a critical weatherizing project: filling gaps and cracks with silicone caulk. It's an easy, quick, and affordable DIY project that can seal in valuable energy, trim heating bills, and save money for the long term.
According to EnergyStar, properly sealing and insulating can save more than $200 a year in heating and cooling costs, or up to 10% on total energy bills – a significant annual savings that many American families can appreciate during challenging economic times. Following are a few tips on how to master the caulk gun, an often underrated ally in the yearly tug of war to keep the thermostat low and the energy and cost savings high.
1. Find the Leaks –A critical first step is to find the hidden leaks that allow cold air to sneak inside.
• Leaks usually occur around the outside of a home and in non-regulated temperature areas like attics and basements that are exposed to harsh elements throughout the year.
• Obvious areas include the frames around windows and doors. Be sure to pay close attention to where the floor frame rests on the foundation on the inside of a house and where siding meets the corner boards on the exterior.
2. Choose the Right Caulk – Go beyond the advice to simply "caulk gaps and cracks." Not all caulks are created equal, and not all caulks provide long-lasting energy savings.
• Acrylic caulk is vulnerable to the very elements it is supposed to seal against, meaning it can break down over time allowing energy to escape. A silicone caulk, on the other hand, protects for the long haul.
• Leaks frequently occur in and around homes in places prone to extreme temperature fluctuations and heavy rain, snow, ice or wind. Impervious to these damaging conditions, silicone has excellent flexibility and is 100% waterproof.
3. Get to Work – Master the caulk gun to reap measurable energy savings. Work with caulk in above freezing temperatures and clear off snow or ice.
• Remove old caulk, dirt, and loose particles with a caulk-removing tool or wire brush. Make sure the surface is dry. Apply painter's tape to either side of the joint to create a straight edge.
• Cut nozzle to desired bead size. Pierce the inner seal with a stiff wire or other similar object. Insert the cartridge into the caulking gun. Hold the caulking gun at a 45-degree angle and seal around unsightly cracks or spaces inside and outside the home. Keep a steady, constant grip and try to get as long of a bead as possible; then repeat.
• Use a finger or a wet caulk-smoothing tool within two to five minutes of application. Remove painter's tape immediately after smoothing caulk. Wipe hands with a dry cloth before washing with soap and water. Use mineral spirits to clean up.
By taking the time to properly seal and caulk any air leaks in your home, you will be able to reap the benefits on your utility bills all winter long.
December 1, 2011 9:42 pm
As December begins and the holiday season and spirit of giving move into full swing, why not make a few tax moves now that could give you added savings when you file your 2011 tax return? The year-end is an ideal time to lower your 2011 tax liability and increase the size of your refund when tax time arrives early in 2012.
There is still time for a final push to claim several tax benefits before 2011 winds to a close. Many taxpayers will be doing things like giving to charities and pre-paying January tuition, but the key is knowing how these and other common expenses may count as tax deductions if you qualify. There are five key considerations taxpayers should be thinking of before December 31 to reduce taxable income and increase deductions or credits to claim:
1. Save more for retirement – By increasing retirement plan contributions, you can reduce your income for tax purposes. Taxpayers can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k), 403(b) or Federal Government Thrift Savings Plan; those over age 50 can contribute an additional $5,500.
2. Prepay January payments in December – Taking care of your January mortgage payment, 4th quarter state tax estimate, or winter semester tuition now lets you claim these payments on your 2011 tax return.
3. Get to the doctor! – If you are holding off on a major medical procedure until after the holidays, stop procrastinating and make an appointment now to increase your 2011 medical expense deductions.
4. Give to charity – Giving cash and non-cash donations to charity can give back on your taxes. And volunteering time counts too, which means the more than 80,000 volunteers who lent a helping hand to the Joplin, Mo. tornado victims may be able to deduct their out-of-pocket expenses on a tax return.
5. Save energy, save $500 on your taxes – If you are planning to buy an energy-saving, hot water heater or install energy efficient windows or insulation to your home, do it now. Up to $500 in credit may be available for making energy-related home improvements.
December 1, 2011 9:42 pm
The International Window Film Association (IWFA) is educating the public about the harmful impact that strong winter sunlight has in the United States and it is urging consumers to consider installation of window film on their homes before the energy tax credit expires.
"People in northern states may not know that because of the low angle of the winter sun, more ultraviolet rays may come through a window into the living space than in the summer in Florida," says Darrell Smith, executive director of the nonprofit IWFA.
The IWFA is also making the public aware of the expected end of the government home improvement energy tax credit on December 31st, 2011. Consumers are eligible for up to a $500 home improvement energy tax credit for the installation of window film.
"Easily installed window film blocks up to 99% of harmful UV rays and reduces solar heat gain to save consumers on cooling costs in warmer months as well," says Smith.
"With unrestricted access to your home's interior, the winter sun's in-line position with windows can literally make a home's furniture, drapes and artwork a faded memory," adds Smith. "Now is the time to invest in window film. The purchase provides returns year-round by protecting furnishings from fading, creates a consistent home temperature and keeps you and your belongings safe from UV exposure."
The IWFA shares facts on UV protection, when comparing window film to alternatives:
• Single-paned normal glass blocks only 25% of UV rays
• Double-paned normal glass windows block 40% of UV rays and low-e glass windows block up to 75% of UV rays
• All quality solar control window films for residential use block 99% of UV rays
November 30, 2011 9:40 pm
For some people, a warm glass of milk or cup of chamomile tea is a soothing bedtime ritual. But what the human body really wants to do with the onset of sleep is to cool down. That’s why cooler temperatures are just what the doctor ordered when it comes to getting the best rest.
“A cool environment in your bedroom is one of the most important factors contributing to good rest,” says Dan Schecter, creator of SleepBetter.org. “Individuals vary, of course, but the consensus is that the best sleeping environment is between 60 and 68 degrees.”
Research shows that temperatures above 75 degrees or below 54 degrees can disrupt sleep. It’s not surprising that the arrival of cooler weather causes many people to want to hunker down on chilly mornings.
The following tips can help you make the most out of your sleep:
• Make sure your bedding is appropriate to the season; think about whether your sheets, blankets and pillows give you the right support and warmth.
• You don’t have to pile on heavy blankets; modern fibers and comforters can keep you warm without a lot of weight.
• When appropriate, open the windows and turn down the thermostat (you’ll save money, too).
• If you’re waking up in the morning with aches and stiffness, maybe your mattress is not providing you with the correct lumbar support.
• If fall and winter sleeping leaves you with a sore throat and dry nose, consider whether a humidifier might help.
November 30, 2011 3:40 pm
Homeowners can help their families and guests get in the holiday spirit without going through the hassles of hanging outside lights. With easy holiday decorations for the entryway and windows, this is the ideal time of year to show off a home’s exterior.
Hanging Door Decorations:
• Design a heart-shaped wreath with miniature pine cones and dye them a brilliant shade of red.
• Mount an evergreen wreath or swag with glass ornaments or silver bells.
• Create a wreath with magnolia leaves and fresh fruit such as pears, apples and pomegranates.
• For a coastal home, consider a wreath of woven sea grass with sea shells or a brightly painted life preserver with lights and decorative glass floats.
• If your door doesn’t merit all the attention, consider wrapping it in bright paper with a large bow or framing it in lights.
• Hang a set of sleigh bells on the door knob, which will give a festive jingle every time guests pass through.
Accessorizing Your Doorway:
• Frame your entryway with a garland and lights. Add bows or pine cones for more decorative detail.
• Place pots or urns planted with seasonal greenery, poinsettias and lights on either side of the doorway.
• Put out a welcome mat designed with holiday accents.
• Hang matching wreaths in all of the windows.
• Never put nails or screws in a vinyl window frame to hold up decorative lights or holiday wreathes. Also, do not glue, staple or tape lights to a window frame.
• Do not place lit candles on a window sill, nor the edge or sash.
• Never decorate windows with anything that could impede opening your windows quickly, in case you need to use the window as an escape route during an emergency. For example, don’t wrap garland ropes or artificial pine branches around the window hardware.
• Do not place real pine branches or cones on the window frames or sill. Fresh pine sap can leave nasty stains after the holiday season is over. Realistic, artificial pine is usually available at craft stores around the holidays.
• Although tempting, do not spray “fake snow” from aerosol cans on your windows. The “snow” residue can be hard to remove after the holidays and can hamper the operation of your window if it sticks into the sash or hardware.
Santa-Approved Window Decorating Tips:
• Affix suction cups on the window glass to hang glass ornaments, plastic snowflakes or glass icicles so that light can come through the windows to enhance the decorations.
• Swags of garland or evergreen wreaths outside the home may be put up best by affixing to the siding of the house and not to windows themselves.
• Bay and bow windows are the ideal location to position a Christmas tree for maximum viewing, from both the interior and the exterior of the home.
• Make your curtain rods work during the holidays. Remove the curtains and hang ornaments from the existing rods on different lengths of fishing line or colorful curling ribbon.
• No curtain rods? Just add some inexpensive tension curtain rods to the top or middle section of your windows. Hang decorations from the rods with fishing line or garland. Decorate the rods themselves with holiday ribbon or fabric.
• Encourage children to help decorate the windows with static cling holiday window stickers. The peel-and-stick temporary decorations are ideal for putting your home in the holiday spirit.
Get into the spirit of the holidays while protecting your home at the same time. With these easy tips, you can forego the hassle of stringing a plethora of awkward, tangled lights and opt for simpler, yet dazzling alternatives.
November 30, 2011 3:40 pm
When submitting a claim to an auto insurance company, one of the most important people in the process is the insurance adjuster. This is the person who handles most of the major aspects of the claims process, from examining the damage on a vehicle to determining fault. After filing a claim with an insurance company, the claims department will assign the claim to an adjuster. Expect to hear from an adjuster shortly after filing a claim, as he or she will be the main contact at the insurance company throughout the process. Getting to know the insurance adjuster’s role and what you should expect from the adjuster helps make the claims process go smoothly.
The adjuster’s job is to determine whether the person making a claim is owed payment under the insurance policy. The adjuster will:
• Take a statement from the claimant and any witnesses regarding the accident.
• Examine the damage to the car.
• Determine the current value of the car.
• Review all statements and police reports regarding the accident.
• Determine fault.
• Review injury claims.
• Determine what benefits apply, if any.
• Deal with the other party’s insurance company, if applicable.
These are just a few of the tasks the insurance adjuster must handle in order to ensure a properly and fairly processed claim. When a claim is being processed, expect to hear from the adjuster regularly. The adjuster’s contact phone number will be provided, should any questions or concerns arise or if you simply want to find out the status of a claim.
Your insurance adjuster should:
• Provide update on the claim status.
• Address concerns regarding the claim.
• Represent the driver’s interests to the other insurance company if not at fault.
• Assist with all needs as covered in the policy, such as a rental car.
• Work towards a fair settlement and listen if any disagreement comes up with determinations, including fault and value of the car.
A good claims department should be one of the major factors in choosing an insurance company. When shopping around to compare car insurance rates, take a look at each company’s customer satisfaction ratings for claims processing. Good insurance adjusters are fair, work quickly and ensure everyone is satisfied. Don’t hesitate to question or voice concerns about a claim and if the adjuster is being unfair, ask to speak to someone in a senior position to address any concerns.
November 29, 2011 9:40 pm
The Food and Drug Administration has created a new Internet resource to help consumers recognize and protect themselves from bogus health products and scams. Their Health Fraud Scams website, located at www.fda.gov/healthfraud, pulls together videos and articles on how to avoid fraudulent schemes, and offers information about products that have been seized, recalled or are the subject of warnings from the agency.
The site also provides links to government resources on health fraud involving FDA-regulated products, such as drugs, dietary supplements, tobacco products, alternative medicines, medical devices and cosmetics.
Gary Coody, R.Ph., national health fraud coordinator at FDA, calls the site “one-stop shopping” for people who want to learn how to recognize and avoid health fraud scams. Anyone can search the site to see if FDA has taken an action against a product or company. However, just because a product is not listed does not mean that it is legally marketed or safe to use.
Consumers spend a fortune on products that “are either worthless or may cause harm,” says Coody. “Consumers can buy very dangerous products on the Internet and in stores that can cause serious injury or death.”
The waste of money is bad enough but using one of these unproven treatments can delay getting a potentially life-saving diagnosis and medication that works, he says.
The schemes can take many forms. “Some products billed as 'all natural' in fact have prescription drugs and other chemicals not listed on the label that could be dangerous,” Coody says. The most common categories of these tainted products include weight loss, sexual performance and bodybuilding.
Other products claim to be a cure-all for such serious chronic diseases as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to this kind of deception but consumers of all ages are taken in by fraudulent products, says Coody, adding, “Everyone is vulnerable.”
Health fraud is more pervasive today, says Coody, because “the Internet has opened up the world market to people from their personal computers.” If you're tempted to purchase any unproven or little known treatment, especially if it’s sold on the Internet, check with your doctor or health care professional first, he advises.
But shady products are also peddled by TV infomercials, radio, direct mail, word-of-mouth marketing and ads in newspapers and magazines.
“There are many ways that consumers are getting these messages,” says Coody. "They should view these ads with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
For more information, visit www.fda.gov.
November 29, 2011 9:40 pm
For kids, imagination is a skill that needs practice every day. Creative play is essential to children’s social and cognitive development, and toys can offer great opportunities to encourage it. But when it comes to encouraging imaginative play, not all toys are created equal. As the holidays approach, consider these tips for those looking for gifts that will encourage creative play.
1. Look for toys that can be used in a number of ways. There’s a reason the stick has made it into the Toy Hall of Fame. It can be a wand, a pencil, a dividing line, or a baseball bat. The best gifts for creativity are ones where you wouldn’t say: “You’re doing it wrong!” Building toys (not kits) are great. A set of magnets in various colors can be arranged to make thousands of shapes. A color-by-number set has one “correct” way to complete its task.
2. Look for toys that match your child’s developmental stage and skill level. It is wonderful to be challenged and to learn new skills, but if a toy has a standard for success that is very far out of reach for a child, it can be very frustrating. A cross-stitching kit can be a lot of fun for a child new to textile arts, but giving the materials and not a prescribed pattern offers a child without developed skills the chance to build their confidence.
3. Listen to what your child takes interest in and select gifts that follow those interests. Ask your child what he or she finds interesting. If your daughter likes a sculpture in the park, ask why. If it’s because of the pigeons on it, she may have more compelling creative interests elsewhere. If it’s because of the way the artist created folds in the fabric out of stone, she may find 3-dimensional art fun to try.
For more information, visit www.highlights.com.