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Multifamily Housing Production Index Shows Improvement

September 23, 2011 4:57 pm

The multifamily housing market continued to show improvement in the second quarter of 2011, as the Multifamily Production Index (MPI) compiled by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) increased for the fourth consecutive quarter.

The MPI rose from 41.7 in the first quarter of the year to 44.4 in the second quarter. It is the highest quarterly reading since 2006, and continues the trend of generally improving conditions in the market for new multifamily housing that has emerged since the MPI dropped to a record low of 16.0 in the third quarter of 2008.

The index provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, construction of market-rate-rent units, and construction of "for sale" units. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse. In the second quarter of 2011, a majority of developers saw improvements in the production of low-rent and market-rate units.

"Multifamily rental construction is trending upward, and it is definitely the brightest sector in the broader housing market," says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "However, the entire housing market continues to be very fragile and subject to many external pressures, including an ongoing shortage of financing for new projects."

Looking forward, developers' expectations about multifamily construction for the next six months improved in the second quarter in all three market components: low-rent, market-rate-rent and for-sale multifamily. However, Crowe cautions that the current climate of overall economic uncertainty is making builders and consumers cautious and having a dampening effect on expectations.

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry's perception of vacancies, increased slightly from 35.0 in the first quarter of 2011 to 36.1 in the second quarter. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies. Crowe notes that recent small increases in the MVI follow an extended period of improvement, and over the past three quarters the MVI has been lower than at any time since the second quarter of 2007. Crowe also notes that multifamily developers and property owners expect vacancy rates to decline over the next six months.

"Even though multifamily is trending upward, production is still very low in a historic context and in the context of what we project is necessary to meet long-term demand," Crowe says.

He adds that the Multifamily Production Index and the Multifamily Vacancy Index have emerged as leading indicators for the multifamily market, providing information about potential movement in Census Bureau tabulations in advance of their release.

For more information, visit www.NAHB.org/mms.

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Tips for Winterizing Summer Cottages and Vacation Homes

September 23, 2011 4:57 pm

The weather is getting cooler and the leaves are changing color, so many people will be closing their summer homes for the season within the next few weeks. It's important to make sure cottages and vacation homes are properly secured to help protect them during the winter months.

Many vacation homes and cottages are located in areas that experience freezing temperatures in the winter, notes Lisa St. Onge, an assistant vice president with a nationwide insurance company. “This causes the potential for frozen pipes and other headaches for homeowners.”

That’s why it’s important to take the time to make sure your vacation home is properly secured for winter, St. Onge notes. “Preparing your home in advance will save you time and money and make it easier for you to open your home for the summer next year.”

Here are a few tips and reminders:

• Unplug all appliances.
• Drain the water system to prevent pipes from freezing.
• Secure windows and doors, inspect for other openings and remove all food to keep rodents out.
• Adjust the thermostat. In colder climates, thermostats set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit will help to prevent pipes from freezing. In warmer climates, air conditioning should be turned on to prevent humidity damage.
• Clean gutters and downspouts.

“Checking these items off your list as you close up for the season can make a huge difference and prevent little things that may be undiscovered or unrepaired for months from becoming much more serious, very costly problems,” St. Onge says.

Many vacation homeowners don’t return until the following summer, so it’s also important to make sure your home looks lived in. Here are a few tips to make your home look occupied while you’re away for the season:

• Put interior and exterior lights on timers or motion detectors.
• Stop mail and newspaper service.
• Hire someone to clear snow from your driveway.

“Winterizing your home properly—and making sure it looks lived in while you’re away—will make coming back in the spring and summer more enjoyable,” says St. Onge.

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How to Host a Good Housewarming Party

September 23, 2011 4:57 pm

By Paige Tepping

Throwing a housewarming party is a great way to get everyone together, show off everything you’ve done with your new place and thank everyone for their help and support along the way. If you’re ready to show off your new home, the following tips will help you throw a successful housewarming party.

Mix up the guest list. Your housewarming party is a great place to bring everyone together, so be sure to invite a good mix of people. Don’t forget to include family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, your REALTOR® and anyone else who helped you throughout the process. Name tags are a great way to get everyone to mingle so that you don’t have to spend the entire party introducing everyone.

Pump up the tunes. Whether your housewarming party will take place inside or out, background music is always a good way to lighten the mood. Set your TV to a music channel, break out the stereo or set up the iPod and play something light that will appeal to everyone. Be sure to keep the volume low so that people can carry on a conversation.

Provide food and drinks. If your party is set to take place around lunch or dinner time, be sure to provide food and drinks and plan your menu around the number of people you are expecting. Don’t go overboard with the menu. Instead, serve foods that are easy to make or that you can buy already made. You may want to think about having the party catered if you are expecting a crowd.

Don’t forget the chairs. If your housewarming party is going to take place outdoors, be sure to set up some chairs in case people don’t want to stand the entire time.

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Tips for Choosing the Best REALTOR® for the Job

September 22, 2011 10:57 pm

When choosing a REALTOR® for your real estate needs, it's important to find one who will always have your best interests in mind. A dependable and knowledgeable agent can save you time, money and headaches. Your road to success depends on your ability to find the person for the job. Here are a few key tips to finding the right REALTOR® for you:

A good rapport is key. Since your REALTOR® will be helping you make one of the biggest decisions and transactions of your life, having good chemistry with them is important. You need to generally like the person you are conducting business with because there is no doubt that you'll be spending lots of time communicating with him or her. Communication should be easy and reliable, meeting the standards of both parties. If you find you are uncomfortable with an agent for any reason, it may be time to find a new one.

Keep your eye on conflicts of interest. A large red flag: an agent who only steers you to their own office's listings. Beware of dual agents as well. One who works for the buyer and the seller is legally obligated to report back to the other party. With these types, you must be careful what you say, as anything could weaken your negotiating position. Try to eliminate any trace of conflict in your transaction.

A proven track record and proper credentials are things you should look into before agreeing to go through an agent. The agent should be licensed by your state, meeting minimum levels of education, training and testing. Also, look into what extra designations the REALTOR® has, such as CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) or GRI (Graduate REALTORS® Institute). How many homes did the agent sell or find for buyers in the previous year? All of this information could be a make or break for your decision to use them as your real estate professional.

Don't hesitate to interview different agents. In addition to questions regarding credentials, ask questions like the following: How long have you been working in residential real estate sales? Is it your full-time job? How many days does it take you to sell the average home? How close to the initial asking prices of the homes you sold were the final sale prices? By interviewing potential agents, you can get a better feel of their work practices and successes and better judge whether or not you want to work with them.

Neglecting to carefully select your real estate professional is a rookie mistake any buyer and seller can easily avoid. With the right agent, you can set yourself up for success when buying or selling a home.

Sources: Mortgageloan.com, Reuters, National Association of REALTORS®

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Help Your Home Stand Out from the Crowd

September 22, 2011 4:57 pm

How can homeowners desperate to sell their home increase their chance of a quick and profitable sale in the current real estate market?

Most importantly, the home must stand out from the crowd and be a welcoming island in the sea of homes for sale. Without a doubt, having a home professionally staged is the single best way to outshine the competition. Home staging (house staging, real estate staging) is the art of decorating a home to sell quickly and for top dollar.

According to home staging expert Debra Gould, “People shop with logic and buy on emotion. If prospective buyers don’t fall in love within minutes of walking into a house and have that same emotional connection all the way through, they’ll be off to the next appointment. This is especially true in a buyer’s market when they feel no pressure to make an immediate offer.”

“New homebuilders offer model homes for viewing, because they know how important it is to help potential buyers imagine themselves living in the house,” adds Gould. “Staging allows individual homeowners to employ that same proven concept.”

There are several points a seller should keep in mind when hiring a home stager, including the home stager’s knowledge of real estate and the local market in particular. It is always important to ask questions of anyone they are considering hiring.

Real estate agents or neighbors are excellent sources for referrals or individuals can locate a home stager in their area.

In the current real estate climate with so much inventory and competition, achieving the best possible sales result has become even more difficult, and many sellers are simply hoping that their home sells at any price or that they can avoid the significant price cuts recommended by their agents.

But in order to sell, a home must be marketed wisely. Statistics show that staging homes results in a faster sale and a higher price than homes that are put on the market “as is.”

A small investment in staging can make a significant difference in the outcome of a sale.

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Google+ Now Open to the Public

September 22, 2011 4:57 pm

Google+, Google's new social networking service and Facebook competitor, is now open to the public.

Having been on an invite-only basis since its launch in June of this year, the service had a large following with more than 25 million unique visitors per month. Although this may not compare to Facebook's 750 million active monthly users, many are speculating that over time, Google may be able to lure many of Facebook's users into their corner. With Google+ now in the public domain, the network has opened itself up to more than one billion monthly users who use Google's search engine and other services, such as Gmail.

Google+ plans to expand the social networking frontier by adding many unique features to its service. Google is putting a heavy emphasis on video with its "hangout" feature, allowing up to 10 people to simulatanosly video chat with each other. Users are also allowed to group friends by "Circles." Circles add a layer of privacy, allowing users to pick and choose exactly what to share and with whom. In addition, Google+ users can search for information and topics throughout the service, and then locate other users' posts about those topics.

For more information, visit https://plus.google.com/.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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6 Ways to Help Kids Adjust to Moving Day

September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

Moving to a new home can be stressful for everyone, but it can be especially unnerving for children. Younger kids often become confused when their daily routine is disrupted, while adolescents fear the loss of old friends and dread the prospect of having to make new ones in a strange school or neighborhood. But there are steps you can take to help alleviate their fears and get them involved in the move.

Communication is Key
First, it's important for parents to explain the moving process by providing children with as much information as possible and allowing them to participate in decision-making discussions. This will give children a sense of control and help relieve anxiety. Talk about the positive aspects of their new home, school and neighborhood. Try to communicate the idea that the new home, if given a fair chance, can be even better than the old one. Encourage questions and invite children to talk about their worries.

Manage Your Stress
Children pick up on our own stress-levels so it's a good idea for the whole family if you try to manage your stress as much as possible. Having a plan, staying organized, packing wisely and clearly communicating with your moving company are all ways to minimize your stress on moving day.

Rehearse Ahead of Time
For younger children, the move should be made into an exciting adventure. Encourage your child to pack his or her own things, but be sure to leave favorite toys out until the very end. Act out moving day well ahead of time. A conversation could go something like this: "On Friday when you wake up, there will be a big truck in the driveway. We will have breakfast, then go into your room, and show the movers which things to put on the truck. Then, after the truck is filled we will get in our car and go to our new home. Then we will tell the movers exactly where to put your things in your new room."

Because we all fear the unknown, if possible, take children with you to look at potential neighborhoods, homes/apartments and schools. It may be more expensive and require extra effort, but it will ease the transition and help children begin to make the adjustment.

If your children are really young, consider hiring a babysitter while you pack and on moving day. Otherwise, resist the temptation to send children away during the move. Participating will help them understand what's happening and can help them adjust more easily to their new surroundings. Even so, don't be dismayed if your child exhibits regressive behavior such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking. It's quite normal.

Make It Fun
For older children, a move that involves leaving friends, sports teams, and favorite hangouts behind can be extremely difficult. Help them say good-bye to friends by hosting a good-bye party. Emphasize how easy it is to keep in touch through email and by phone; you could even give each of your children his or her own address book and make the party an opportunity for friends to write in their personal contact information.

If at all possible, time the move to coincide with the start of a new school year or term. Contact coaches and club advisors at the new school and ask them to assist your child with the transition.

Get Back to the Status Quo
Once you are settled in your new home, resume familiar routines as soon as possible. If it's a tradition in your family to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, for example, you should continue the practice as soon as possible in your new home.

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Life-Saving Apps for Natural Disasters

September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

In cases of tragic and unforeseeable natural disasters, mobile technology has been increasingly helpful with communication. With cell phones and mobile applications abound, this technology has aided in activating relief efforts and saving lives in situations where lack of Internet or power outages have affected a majority. Here are a few examples of mobile applications you can use to continue communicating in times of need.

Signal
With the Signal application, users can combine mobile, social and email right into a single platform. During Hurricane Irene, some utility companies used Signal to further communications about power outages, going so far as even allowing its customers to opt-in for SMS updates regarding the current situation. Receiving up-to-date information during a hurricane became crucial for those without power who were cut off from the world temporarily. With text, emails and social media combined, the possibilities for advanced communication are endless.

Life360
Life360 allows users to set up private networks that allow each other to announce their location with the click of a button. Ideal for families, Life360 quickly and efficiently delivers messages throughout each private network so members can alert others that they are safe in an urgent situation.

After setting up, users simply launch the application and “Check In”—notifying your contacts of your location and safety status. For extended use, background tacking allows members to continuously share their locations with one another. In addition, a panic alert feature lets others know where a user is located and that they need immediate help. With features like these installed into a mobile device, no one is ever beyond help during a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Plerts
Plerts (short for “personal alerts) is a free app that captures image and audio from your mobile every 8-10 seconds, transmitting the data and GPS coordinates to Plerts servers. In the case of a natural disaster, users can hit an SOS button and all of the data gathered is then immediately sent to an emergency contact list, providing them with all the information necessary to help you.

Plerts can also record an automated message and deliver it immediately. If your battery dies on your cell phone, you can still get through to your contacts. Or if a cell network crashes, your location and recordings will be sent out the second the network comes back up.

In some cases, using one of these apps could be the difference between life and death. If a hurricane or other disaster is heading your way, or just to enforce a level of preparedness, have your family download one of the above applications. You may be glad you did.

Source: Mashable

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Flu Season Returns Stressing the Importance of Getting Flu Shots

September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

In the past, flu season was typically expected to begin in October or November, yet each year it seems to be arriving earlier and earlier. This year is no different.

The flu, more scientifically known as influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes an airborne contagion—waiting to be inhaled by anyone nearby. The risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, subways and crowded urban settings. You can also get the flu by touching a contaminated surface like a telephone or a door knob, and then touching your nose or mouth. The influenza virus usually enters the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes.

Sudden onset and severity of symptoms are hallmarks of the flu and help to distinguish it from other illnesses, like the common cold. Other indications include chills and fever, headaches, muscular aches and pain, cough and runny nose. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea.

On average annually in the U.S., 5-20% of the population gets the flu; over 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; and about 23,600 people die from flu-related causes. Older adults, young children and people with specific health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
“In the past, little could be done in the way of treatment for the flu other than to manage its symptoms incidentally. Modern antibiotics were and are still useless against the disease because of its viral, not bacterial, nature,” says Peter Lamelas, MD.

“Nowadays, influenza can now be diagnosed quickly and inexpensively through a simple in-office procedure where the patient submits to a nasal swab test, known as a Rapid Flu Test,” he adds.

“Thankfully, several prescription antivirals are now available which have been proven to shorten the duration of the flu—but there’s a catch. Antiviral medications are most effective when taken within 12-48 hours of your first symptoms,” says Lamelas. “So act fast.”

Who should get the Seasonal Flu Shot?

According to the CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable, although epidemics happen every year. They believe everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people.

Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, people 65 years and older, and caretakers of these populations.

Here are three steps you can take to reduce or prevent you and your loved ones from the adverse effects of the flu this season:

Step # 1 – Take the time to get vaccinated. The single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination each year.

Step #2 – Take everyday preventative precautions. Wash your hands regularly and frequently with soap and water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective in reducing the spread of germs. Use disinfectants to routinely clean frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, keyboards and telephones. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth—places where the flu virus enters the body.

Step #3 – Take anti-viral drugs if recommended. Anti-viral drugs are not sold over-the-counter and are different from antibiotics. If you get the flu, anti-viral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. Anti-viral drugs work best if started within the first two days of symptoms. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

For more information, visit www.MyMDNow.com.

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How to Appropriately Declutter Your Home

September 20, 2011 10:57 pm

After a long work week, sometimes our homes tend to get a little unorganized. If you feel consumed by the clutter that abounds in your home, picking up a little bit each day can be just enough to prevent a large-scale disaster from ever happening. During the week, keep the following in mind:

Avoid the "drop zone": Most homes have that one designated space where family members tend to drop miscellaneous items. From mail and car keys to cell phones, iPods, or books, once this area is full, the mess eventually spills elsewhere--to kitchen tables, living room floors, and beyond! Choose one spot for the entire family's car keys and phones. Next, designate another area (a drawer, perhaps) for any other miscellaneous items, such as paper clips, tape, rubber bands, or any small item you want to avoid losing. Stow away these small items to avoid a kitchen table takeover.

Enforce a "Clean Floor Policy": Convince your family members to help you keep a "clean floor policy." Shoes, backpacks, jackets or sporting equipment should always be put away immediately upon entering the home. Although these items may not seem like a big deal, they will add up and quickly diminish your space.

Store that media: Other items that tend to suffocate space are CDs, DVDs, books and computer software. A large bookcase or DVD/CD case can be the answer to your prayers. After using these items, return them to their proper places. This will clear up room on top of your CD or DVD players and on your coffee tables. The organization possible with just one case will make a remarkable difference.

Closet coordination: Buying a few closet organizers can also make a world of difference. Cleaning supplies, Tupperware, pet food and more can all be stored in closets with multi-tiered organizers or shelving. Consider putting one in a bathroom closet or behind a bathroom door as well; you'll save a significant amount of space by storing shampoos, soaps, towels and more, where most eyes won't be able to see them.

With a little bit of organizing skills and diligence, you can prevent your home from being conquered by clutter.

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