September 20, 2011 10:57 pm
As travelers jump on early fall travel to take advantage of cooler weather and colorful scenery, these tips can help find the best bargains and save time when planning the perfect fall getaway.
Fall for Foliage
Autumn in New England is high season for leaf peepers, and big crowds typically mean higher prices. Avoid both with an escorted fall foliage tour. Someone else does the planning, organizing and driving – all travelers need to do is take in the spectacular scenery. Try an all-day tour from Boston through the New England countryside with a visit to an apple orchard or a full-day Hudson River cruise from New York City to Bear Mountain – both under $60.
Just Say No…to the Queue
Save time by booking tours that offer skip-the-line access, particularly at popular attractions where wait times can be longer than two hours. Companies such as Viator offer programs like "Skip the Line: Eiffel Tower Tickets and Small Group Tour," which includes priority access to the first and second levels of the Eiffel Tower, tickets to the third level, and a small group guided tour limited to 20 people. A little bit of pre-planning could save hours of precious touring time.
Toast Shoulder-Season Savings at Oktoberfest!
A fall getaway to Europe is traditionally affordable (being shoulder season and all), and with the Euro at its lowest level against the dollar since the beginning of the year, there is no better time to plan a trip – particularly for those with a passion for beer, music and festivity! With Oktoberfest right around the corner, you can head to Munich for a unique and unforgettable experience.
Get Back to Nature
Fall is a great time to miss the crowds that flock to America’s national parks during the summer, but still enjoy great weather. Discover two of the West Coast’s most spectacular natural wonders, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Create your own camping and hiking adventure, and save money by driving instead of flying. Picnic lunches in the parks are also a great way to save some extra cash.
September 20, 2011 10:57 pm
Nationwide housing affordability during the second quarter of 2011 hovered for the 10th consecutive quarter near its highest level in the more than 20 years it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data released recently.
The HOI indicated that 72.6% of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter of the year were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,200. The affordability measure dipped slightly from the record high of 74.6% set last quarter but remained above the 70% threshold initially achieved in the first quarter of 2009.
"At a time when homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades and interest rates are at historically low levels, the sluggish economy and the extremely tight credit conditions confronting home buyers and builders remain significant obstacles to many potential home sales," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). "That said, however, some housing markets across the country have stabilized and are beginning to show signs of a budding recovery."
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was the most affordable major housing market in the country during the second quarter of the year. In Youngstown, 93.7% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $54,900.
Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Syracuse, New York.; Indianapolis-Carmel, Indiana; Dayton, Ohio; and Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida.
Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, Indiana, where 95.8% of homes sold during the second quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning a median income of $59,100. Other smaller housing markets ranking near the top of the index included Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan; Bay City, Michigan; and Sandusky, Ohio.
For more information, please visit www.nahb.org.
September 19, 2011 4:57 pm
For homeowners ready to sell their home, staging a property professionally can make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to sell. If you're selling on a budget, you can still properly stage the home yourself in order to maximize the chances of alluring visiting buyers. Keep the following in mind before buyers come to the door:
Remember to highlight the home's strengths and take attention away from the weaknesses. Pick up and organize every room as much as possible. Organize book shelves, cabinets, closets, or any other nook and cranny a buyer might want to see. If a particular room has a fault, rearrange furniture or redesign the room as needed to draw the attention elsewhere.
Choose and place your furniture wisely. Be sure not to overcrowd a room with couches, tables and chairs. The end goal should be to make each room as spacious as possible, so cut down on the number of items, and remove any that may look old or beaten up. Try "floating" furniture away from the walls and more toward the center of the room. This will enhance the illusion of space and make the room look that much bigger.
Light it up: Proper lighting can give a home a warm, welcome feeling. Replace low-wattage bulbs with higher wattages. Be sure to have different types of lighting in each room (overhead lights, reading lights, etc). If you can, take advantage of natural light during daytime hours. Open up those drapes and let the sun shine through. The welcome feel your home gives off will be both infectious and memorable.
Repurpose storage rooms. For those miscellaneous storage rooms, be sure to repurpose them into something a buyer can picture themselves using. Create a craft room, game room or office with the extra space. You want to put ideas into the heads of your buyers, not entice them with rooms filled with junk and clutter.
Give bathrooms a spa-like feel: Buyers love the look of a nice, neat and clean bathroom. Anything you can do to create a spa-like environment, the better. Roll towels and place them on display in wire racks. Spread candles on countertops, and have a scented plug or other soothing scent permeating the room. The more calming the bathroom feels, the more appealing it will be to viewers.
Homeowners need not spend hundreds of dollars on a professional stager, however, staging is essential to selling your home promptly. Staging every room in your house will be beneficial toward reaching your end goal.
September 19, 2011 4:57 pm
Kids are back in school with a busy schedule that includes extra-curricular sports, playground fun and other activities. With kids spending lots of time outdoors, participating in leagues, and toting around heavy backpacks all day, strains, sprains, muscle pulls and other mishaps are sure to follow. In fact, emergency rooms in the U.S. treat more than 9 million children each year for accidental injuries.
While injuries are a part of growing up, parents aren’t always sure which treatment options are safe and effective for their children, especially given the side effects of many oral pain relievers and the allergic reactions many kids have to smelly, greasy topical ointments.
The potential of overdosing a child using oral pain medication can cause dire consequences—including irreparable damage to the kidneys and liver. The massive number of ongoing recalls of pediatric over-the-counter (OTC) medicines this year is further cause for alarm—especially those containing the active ingredients acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Topical OTC analgesic ointments are also cause for concern, containing volatile oils such as camphor, menthol, and other irritating and potentially hazardous chemicals.
Lou Paradise, president and chief of research of Topical BioMedics, urges parents to consider the following safety tips to help protect their children from pain and injury, and keep them out of the emergency room.
--Children should have a physical exam before participating in sports and always wear the proper protective equipment. Be sure your child stretches and warms up muscles prior to activity to help prevent injuries.
--Make sure backpacks fit properly and have padded backs and straps. Children should wear BOTH straps and only carry what is necessary to avoid any excess weight. A backpack should weigh no more than 5% - 10% of the child’s body weight, and never hang more than 4” below the waistline.
--Clothing and shoes should fit properly. Loose clothes can catch in playground equipment, and properly fitted footwear minimizes the risk of falling or tripping.
--Small children should be supervised at the playground or while playing outside at home.
--Bullying is becoming epidemic. An adult should accompany younger children to the bus stop to avoid episodes of roughhousing.
Even with precautions, kids have accidents, and there are times when pain and injuries are unavoidable. For more information, visit www.topricinkids.com.
September 19, 2011 4:57 pm
Never in the history of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has there been such demand for FHA-insured financing to build, rehabilitate or refinance multifamily apartment properties. FHA recently announced that it has endorsed $10.5 billion in multifamily rental housing loans since last October, with another month-and-a-half remaining in the fiscal year.
So far this fiscal year, FHA has endorsed nearly 1,100 multifamily loans, more than seven times the number of loans the agency endorsed just three years ago. This historic loan activity also breaks the $10 billion threshold for only the second time in FHA’s history of endorsing multifamily loans. To help meet this growing demand, FHA today published updated underwriting and program guidance to help accelerate and coordinate the processing of new loan applications.
“While we’re seeing record volume, we also recognize we have to accelerate the time it takes us to process these applications so we continue to meet this demand at the very time the market needs us the most,” says Carol Galante, FHA’s acting commissioner.
Meanwhile, FHA recently published its revised Multifamily Accelerated Processing (MAP) Guide, which is intended to cut the time required to approve loan applications and to assure consistent application of program requirements and credit standards across all HUD processing offices. FHA’s new MAP Guide delegates more underwriting responsibility to approved “MAP lenders” and includes all relevant guidance published by FHA since the MAP Guide was last updated in 2002. This new guide consolidates all necessary underwriting and program requirements in one document and addresses concerns raised by those seeking updated standards.
Earlier this year, FHA issued new multifamily loan closing documents that had not been updated in 40 years. The loan documents required updating to ensure that they would be consistent with modern real estate and lending practices. The new MAP Guide is fully coordinated with the new loan closing documents.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
September 16, 2011 4:57 pm
Though cash flow may be tight for some homeowners this year, you can still rejuvenate and remodel your apartment without breaking the bank account. If your bathroom is in dire need of an update, consider doing the following to give it a fresh appeal:
Applying a fresh coat of paint is always a great place to start. If you make the decision to do so, why not consider a brand new color? Although this is a reasonably affordable update, don't skimp on quality paint to save a few bucks. With higher-grade paint, you may be able to skip a primer coat, but a cheap product will not get you far.
Replace hardware such as towel racks, drawer fixtures and vanity doors for a brand new spark. Aim for metals; they are less apt to show dirt and smudges than ceramic and acrylic materials.
Accessorize to fit your new color. Shower curtains, bath mats, towels, curtains, and more can all be changed up to give the room a new look. Add other items such as candles or scented plug-ins to really make the room unique.
On the higher cost end of the spectrum, you may want to change your entire vanity. A new vanity/countertop combination will definitely turn the room around, however, be careful to not exceed your budget when choosing which to use. Decide what renovations you want to make beforehand so that you can allot the proper funding to each change.
By designing and planning ahead, you can ensure that you stretch your money as far as it needs to go, leaving you with a modest and affordably "new" room.
September 16, 2011 4:57 pm
A report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that the agency is resolving individual housing discrimination complaints faster, increasing its focus on complaints that affect multiple people, and launching more investigations using its authority to initiate cases on behalf of discrimination victims where no one has filed a complaint.
HUD’s Annual State of Fair Housing Report also illustrates how the agency is helping municipalities and state and local agencies receiving HUD funding to comply with civil rights requirements and holding non-compliant recipients accountable.
“Our goal is to put an end to unlawful housing discrimination,” says John Trasviña, HUD assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “We have made progress in reducing housing discrimination, but more work needs to be done."
More than 10,000 fair housing discrimination complaints were filed in fiscal year 2010, according to the report. Discrimination based on a person’s disability continued to be the largest single category of complaints. Of the 10,155 complaints filed with HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies, 48% alleged disability discrimination, 34% alleged discrimination based on race, and 15% alleged discrimination based on family status—consistent with the number and type of complaints received during the previous three years.
The report shows that in fiscal year 2010, HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies processed 4,494 new complaints within 100 days, 328 more than in 2009 and 583 more than in 2008. The report also shows that HUD proactively pursued its own Secretary-initiated investigations, charging four and conciliating eight cases that developed from such investigations, and launching another 10 such investigations.
This year’s report shows that HUD has placed greater emphasis on ensuring that recipients of HUD funding create greater housing opportunities for minorities, families with children, and people with disabilities. HUD’s activities in fiscal year 2010 have led to significant relief for victims of housing discrimination, including:
• African Americans in whose neighborhoods a bank did not locate branches or provide banking services.
• Women on maternity leave who were denied mortgage loans and insurance.
• African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and families with children who were tenants or prospective tenants of an apartment complex that engaged in widespread discriminatory rental practices.
• Six families with children who were charged fees for using the common recreational areas of a condominium.
In addition, the report highlights how HUD, through its Section 3 program, is creating jobs for low-income residents of areas where HUD-funded construction is taking place, and contracting opportunities for the businesses that hire them. Between 2009 and 2010, the program provided jobs to more than 16,000 residents and contracts to 2,900 Section 3 businesses. HUD also announced, in June, that it was providing $600,000 in competitive grants to enable public housing authorities and state and local agencies that receive Section 3 funding to hire a program coordinator to help report on the success of their job creation and training efforts.
Furthermore, the Department is expanding its education and outreach to immigrants. HUD is conducting fair housing conferences throughout the nation to raise awareness of fair housing rights among advocacy and social service organizations working with immigrant communities. Also, as part of HUD’s efforts to make its programs accessible to all, the agency has translated more than 100 vital documents into 17 different languages.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
September 16, 2011 4:57 pm
Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing fixed-rate mortgages remaining near their 60-year lows as ongoing investor concerns over the European debt market kept Treasury bond yields low. The 30-year fixed averaged 4.09%, a new all-time low. The 15-year fixed, a popular refinancing option, also reached a new record low for the week averaging 3.30%.
• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.09% with an average 0.7 point for the week ending September 15, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.12%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.37%.
• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.30% with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.33%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.82%.
• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.99% this week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.96%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.55%.
• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.81% this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.84%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.40%.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total cost of obtaining the mortgage.
"Continued investor concerns over the state of the European debt markets kept U.S. Treasury bond yields low and allowed mortgage rates to ease once more this week. In comparison, the average interest rate of mortgages outstanding in the second quarter was 5.28%," says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist of Freddie Mac. "By refinancing into today's 30-year fixed mortgage, homeowners could shave almost $1,715 a year in interest payments on a $200,000 loan."
For more information from Freddie Mac's Office of the Chief Economist, visit www.twitter.com/FreddieMac.
September 15, 2011 10:57 pm
Now that the summer fun is over, it’s back to reality. With the kids back in school, this can be a great time to do an assessment of one’s personal finances and make a plan for future spending. Consumers are urged to evaluate their expenses to make sure their personal finances are in order for the rest of the year.
In the first half of 2011, the average national mortgage debt per borrower increased to $190,115, according to TransUnion. The average credit card debt per borrower was $4,679.
“With debt in the United States continuously growing, it is extremely vital to seize control of your current finances,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and founder of Consolidated Credit. “The best way to end the year is to achieve financial prosperity through knowledge of your assets, money management and proper savings.”
Steps consumers should follow to do a financial check-up are:
1. Get a free credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide a free credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. Visit annualcreditreport.com to request it immediately. Knowing one's credit score is a valuable asset for any future large purchases or employment opportunities.
2. Pay off debts. Don’t put off debt any longer. If debt is becoming a burden, enroll in a debt counseling agency to get help. Certified financial counselors can offer advice that can lower payments by consolidating debt, enabling a person to become debt-free faster and easier.
3. Manage finances. Create a budget to know how much you’re able to spend each month. Do not use credit cards; it’s much better to pay for items in cash to avoid credit card troubles. Also, start a savings account in case any emergency expenses turn up.
4. Do taxes early. Gather documents and receipts now. It’s better to start on taxes early to allow time for changes. Do research on allowable deductions. For example, medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of income can be deducted.
5. Identify goals. People are more encouraged to save money if they have a goal in mind. A trip to Hawaii or a cruise in the Bahamas can serve as an incentive to putting away savings. Buying a newer car in full can also be a great aspiration as there is no need for financing or any associated interest.
6. Protect assets. Look over insurance plans and see if any policies have changed. Review homeowner's or renter's insurance to make sure the home is well-protected. Don’t forget about auto insurance and health insurance. Also, do a quick check-up on the warranties associated with expensive electronics to determine whether purchasing a newer model is better than extending the warranty.
7. Review retirement plans. One of the best tax-reducing strategies is to contribute the maximum to a 401(k) plan. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that the 2011 maximum pre-tax contribution to the 401(k) is $16,500. If one's employer doesn't have a 401(k), they may want to set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) on their own to ensure funds for retirement.
For more information about money management visit www.ConsolidatedCredit.org.
September 15, 2011 10:57 pm
Good skin care is not just about looking good. It is about establishing the basics for feeling great from head to toe.
“For starters, work on eliminating blackheads and whiteheads by using the right skin care products," says Barnett Dermatology co-founder and board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Channing Barnett. Look for non-comedogenic acne products, which are less likely to cause blackheads (open comedones) and whiteheads (closed comedones).
According to Barnett, it is always a good idea for a parent to test any new product on their own skin before using it regularly on their child. Handheld cleansing devices such as Clarisonic Sonic Skin Cleansing System are great for deep cleansing and exfoliation. Two of Dr. Barnett’s favorite over-the-counter products include Clean & Clear Advantage 3 in 1 Foaming Acne Wash and Elta MD’s Deep Pore Facial Cleanser.
New shoes can take a toll on a child’s feet. Calluses are hardened areas of skin that have become relatively thick and tough in response to repeated pressure, friction, or other irritation. More frequent or forceful rubbing will cause blisters rather than calluses to form. Barnett encourages kids to use properly fitting shoes and protective pads to minimize rubbing and pressure. Calluses may also be dissolved with keratolytic agents (dissolves or breaks down the outer layer of the skin) containing salicylic acid, filed with a callus shaver, sanded down with a pumice stone, or pared down by a professional, such as a dermatologist or podiatrist.
“Lice go back-to-school with students,” reports Barnett. Head lice are transmitted mainly through close head-to-head contact, but can also be transmitted by sharing personal items such as combs, brushes, towels and hats. Barnett recommends treating lice as soon as possible so that other members of the family or close friends may avoid infestation. Remember, head lice are not related in any way to cleanliness and anyone can become infested by them. Lotions and shampoos containing 1% permethrin (Nix) often work well. They can be bought at the store without a prescription. If these do not work, a doctor can prescribe stronger medicine. Such medicine should be used exactly as directed.
Already feeling dry and itchy as the weather changes? “A few simple things make a big difference in hydrating the skin,” says Barnett. Bathe or shower in lukewarm water, because hot water dries out the skin. Avoid using harsh soaps and stick to fragrance-free products. Dove Sensitive Skin or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser are both recommended. Avoid vigorous use of a washcloth, and when toweling dry, do not rub the skin. Pat dry or blot to leave some moisture on the skin. Apply a moisturizer (emollient) to the skin immediately after bathing so that it holds in the moisture from the shower. Personal favorites of Barnett’s include Cetaphil, Eucerin Calming Creme and CeraVe Moisturing Cream. For laundry, try All Free Clear, Tide Free & Gentle or Cheer Free & Gentle detergents. Avoid using fabric softeners, especially in the dryer. And remember to hydrate by drinking plenty of water.
For more information, visit www.barnettdermatology.com.