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June Existing-Home Sales Slip on Contract Cancellations, but Prices Stabilize

August 5, 2011 4:57 pm

Existing-home sales eased in June as contract cancellations spiked unexpectedly, although prices were up slightly, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Sales gains in the Midwest and South were offset by declines in the Northeast and West. Single-family home sales were stable while the condo sector weakened.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million in June from 4.81 million in May, and remain 8.8 percent below the 5.23 million unit level in June 2010, which was the scheduled closing deadline for the home buyer tax credit.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, calls this an uneven recovery. "Home sales had been trending up without a tax stimulus, but a variety of issues are weighing on the market including an unusual spike in contract cancellations in the past month," he says. "The underlying reason for elevated cancellations is unclear, but with problems including tight credit and low appraisals, 16 percent of NAR members report a sales contract was cancelled in June, up from 4 percent in May, which stands out in contrast with the pattern over the past year."

Yun cites other factors in the sales performance. "Pending home sales were down in April but up in May, so we may be seeing some of that mix in closed sales for June. However, economic uncertainty and the federal budget debacle may be causing hesitation among some consumers or lenders."

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $184,300 in June, up 0.8 percent from June 2010. Distressed homes—foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts—accounted for 30 percent of sales in June, compared with 31 percent in May and 32 percent in June 2010.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.51 percent in June, down from 4.64 percent in May; the rate was 4.74 percent in June 2010.

NAR President Ron Phipps says home sales should be higher. "With record high housing affordability conditions thus far in 2011, we'd normally expect to see stronger home sales," he says. "Even with job creation below expectations, excessively tight loan standards are keeping many buyers from completing deals. Although proposals being considered in Washington could effectively put more restrictions on lending, some banking executives have hinted that credit may return to more normal, safe standards in the not-too-distant future, but the tardiness of this process is holding back the recovery."

Phipps adds that lower mortgage loan limits, due to go into effect on October 1, already are having an impact. "Some lenders are placing lower loan limits on current contracts in anticipation they may not close before the end of September. As a result, some contracts may be getting cancelled because certain buyers are unwilling or unable to obtain a more costly jumbo mortgage," he says.

Total housing inventory at the end of June rose 3.3 percent to 3.77 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.5-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 9.1-month supply in May.

All-cash transactions accounted for 29 percent of sales in June; they were 30 percent in May and 24 percent in June 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.

First-time buyers purchased 31 percent of homes in June, down from 36 percent in May; they were 43 percent in June 2010 when the tax credit was in place. Investors accounted for 19 percent of purchase activity in June, unchanged from May; they were 13 percent in June 2010.

The balance of sales was to repeat buyers, which were a 50 percent marketshare in June, up from 45 percent in May, which appears to be a normal seasonal gain.

Single-family home sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.24 million in June, but are 7.4 percent below a 4.58 million pace in June 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $184,600 in June, up 0.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 7.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 530,000 in June from 570,000 in May, and are 18.0 percent below the 646,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price was $182,300 in June, up 1.8 percent from June 2010.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

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Survey Names the Best Credit Cards for World Travel

August 4, 2011 4:57 pm

In a recent survey conducted by Index Credit Cards on the Foreign Transaction Fees (FTF) for top credit card providers, Capital One Credit Cards came out on top. The results also showed that there was a wide variance in the transaction fees of these major credit card providers.

Consumers who plan to travel outside of the United States choose to take their most trusted credit cards with them since they receive a lot of benefits including travel assistance, fraud protection and security because carrying a card is a lot safer than carrying cash. The benefits that they receive come at a price though since the foreign transaction fees on most credit cards can really make a dent in their travel budget.

Most consumers who have fully read the terms and conditions of their credit card program are fully aware of what foreign transaction fees are and seek to avoid them especially if they plan to travel a lot outside of the United States. The survey reveals that most credit card providers charge this fee, all except Capital One. In the past the fee had been called a foreign currency fee because it was used to cover the cost of converting foreign currency to U.S. dollars. More recently the fee is just charged for transactions that involve a foreign bank even when U.S. dollars are involved.

One major point that consumers should take note of is that the foreign transaction fee is charged even if they never leave the country as purchases made through foreign companies will also result in a foreign transaction.

According to the survey, consumers can completely avoid any foreign transaction fees, even the 1% charged by Visa and MasterCard, because Capital One absorbs this 1% for its cardholders. An added benefit of Capital One credit cards is that they charge little to no annual fees and the interest rates are industry standard rates.

“Capitol One's cards provide value and are the most effective cards for consumers all around. There are no annual fees and the no interest promotions make them an ideal choice for consumers who are not thrilled about all the credit card fees of other programs," says Sherry Garcia, a representative from Airline Miles Credit Cards. "Aside from that, Capital One is the only major credit card provider who has waived foreign transaction fees on all their cards. Now that’s value.”

For more information, visit http://www.indexcreditcards.com/.

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More Educated, Diverse Generation to Drive Real Estate Recovery

August 4, 2011 4:57 pm

Economists with the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate say population growth and demographic shifts—particularly the ongoing maturation of a diverse, well-educated Gen Y—will drive improvements in the real estate market over the next 10 years.

“Give me people and we will have growth,” says Stan Ross, Lusk Center chairman of the board. “The U.S. creates the best innovators, creators and entrepreneurs in the world. Furthermore, immigrants were responsible for 25 percent of America’s high-tech startup companies between 1995 and 2005 and 25 percent of American’s international patents.”

Despite a slight dip in immigration during the recession of 2007-09, the 2010 Census showed the U.S. population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 with another 3.4 percent growth predicted for 2011. Ross points out that with its 77.4 million members, Gen Y (current 15-32 year olds) is roughly equal in size to the Baby Boomers (current 46-64 year olds), but more educated and diverse.

Ross told a recent gathering of real estate leaders in Orange County, Calif., that related demographic shifts will support economic growth and market improvements in the region and nationally:

• Together, Baby Boomers and Gen Y comprise 50 percent of the population and will soon be part of the largest U.S. wealth transfer ever
• 60 percent of Gen Y goes to college
• More than 38 million U.S. residents (12 percent of the population) are foreign born
• 33 percent of all PhDs and 57 percent of all post-doctorates in science and engineering were awarded by U.S. universities to foreign students

About 4.3 million Gen Y residents reached age 22 in 2010. As more of this group enters the workforce over the next 10 years, they will produce a massive increase in housing demand. However, Ross points out that Gen Y will be relatively prudent when it comes to real estate investment.

“These kids are concerned,” Ross says. “They have watched the stock market, financial markets and economy wipe out their parents’ retirement plans. As a result, they will choose lower-risk investment strategies.”

For more information, please visit www.usc.edu/lusk.

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Sun Safety Tips for Upcoming School Days and Sun Rays

August 4, 2011 4:57 pm

Sun protection doesn’t stop with the end of summer. It's important for parents to remember that it is crucial to give children a lesson in year-round sun protection. As children head back to school, they need to be protected against exposure to dangerous UV rays. Sun exposure can occur during recess, physical education classes, field trips and fall sport activities. And, it is important to remember that children are also exposed to UV rays as they walk to and from school.

Sun protection has no season and while skin cancer in children is rare, many skin cancers take years to develop. UVB rays will lessen during the winter months but harmful UVA rays will be in full force all year long. Sun protection products should be on the back-to-school supply list because one severe childhood sunburn doubles the chance of developing melanoma later in life.

Try out these sun safety tips:

• Teach children to search out shaded areas for playtime activities. The sun’s rays are especially intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
• In the morning, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays to exposed skin. If the school permits, teach your children to reapply the sunscreen at school before they head outside for recess.
• Don’t rely only on sunscreen. Sun protective clothing and sun hats with broad brims offer much more protection.
• Have your children wear sunglasses when outside. Make sure they block 99 percent or more of UV radiation.
• Lead by example. Parents should be good role models and practice sun safety themselves.

It is important for children to be educated about the dangers of excessive sun exposure. Sunburn can be prevented and sun safety measures should become part of a daily regime.

For more information, visit SunGrubbies.com.

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What You Don't Know about Calcium Supplements May Shock You

August 3, 2011 4:57 pm

As children, we’re taught that our bodies need calcium to grow tall and healthy. As adults, we learn that calcium helps keep our bones strong and our minds sharp. By the time we reach our golden years, most of us will be taking dietary calcium supplements and consuming plenty of calcium foods under doctor’s recommendation. The problem is some popular forms of calcium may actually cause the body more harm than good.

“People have a false sense of security when it comes to vitamins and minerals, especially calcium supplements,” says Dr. Edward Group III, DC, ND a leading authority on alternative and complementary medicine at Global Healing Center. “They assume that simply because calcium supplements have made it onto store shelves, that they’re effective and safe.”

The bulk of calcium supplements found in stores are made from either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, both of which are difficult for the body to utilize, and carry side effects with excessive use.

Besides dietary supplements, calcium carbonate is commonly found in chalk, antacids, masonry and commercially manufactured paper. It has also been associated with increased risk of heart attack, especially in older women. Calcium citrate, also common in over-the-counter supplements, carries similar risks and is known to be toxic in larger doses.

“Calcium orotate is by far the most bio-available and safest form of the mineral,” says Dr. Group. “Unlike other forms, calcium orotate is completely non-toxic and able to penetrate deep into the cells, bones, cartilage and other tissues.” He also points out that quality calcium supplements also usually contain other minerals that help the body absorb and make use of calcium.

“We’re not just talking about vitamin D here either,” explains Dr. Group, “Magnesium, specifically the orotate form, is a good one to keep an eye out for. It’s usually the sign of a top-shelf calcium supplement and the only one I would recommend for healthy living. ”

When it comes to taking a calcium supplement, you should always take a close look at what kind of calcium is listed on the label. There are many differences in the various types of calcium. What you may be taking, may not be giving you the benefits you desire.

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Consumers Should Recycle and Sell used Cell Phones

August 3, 2011 4:57 pm

As electronic devices such as computers, laptops and cell phones have become indispensable to everyday life, it has alerted many to question where these items are ending up after use. Sadly, most of these electronic materials end up in landfills according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The issue of proper e-waste management has finally piqued government attention and created cause for long overdue action.

There’s valid reason for government intervention. The EPA estimates that the country generated close to 2.5 million tons of used electronics in 2010. Improper e-waste management is a serious issue that has serious public health implications not to mention environmental hazards. Something clearly needs to be done.

To combat this, the government created the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship in July 2011 to promote responsible electronic design, e-waste management, recycling, and create green jobs. As outlined it will:

• promote the development of more efficient and sustainable electronic products
• direct federal agencies to buy, use, reuse and recycle their electronics responsibly
• support recycling options and systems for American consumers
• strengthen America's role in the international electronics stewardship arena

With the shift in the government’s preservation actions, consumers must follow. Despite EPA reports that consumers still struggle to understand and achieve sustainable consumption, there are numerous simple solutions that consumers can adopt. To begin with, recycling one of the most widely used electronic devices, the cell phone, is a good start. According to the USEPA, approximately 14 million Americans recycled their used cell phones in 2007. Recycling and reusing consumer electronic devices such as cell phones, PDAs, chargers, and batteries facilitates energy conservation and keeps reusable materials out of landfills.

Here’s how it works. Cell phone and PDA devices are built from precious metals, coppers, and plastics, which all take energy to mine and manufacture, not to mention gas emission. As reported by the USEPA, recycling 100 million cell phones could save approximately 7,500 pounds of gold and return these valuable resources to the supply chain, thus minimizing waste. This would prevent 12 billion pounds of loose soil, sand, and rock from having to be moved, mined, and processed. These benefits are considerable.

Now, there is an additional incentive for those savvy consumers who want to trade in an old cell phone without losing all investment. The benefits are twofold, consumers can sell used cell phones to gain extra cash and reduce waste by increasing product lifespan. An organization that buys and recycles used cell phones for cash, like an old iPhone, is SellandRecycle.com. SellandRecycle.com, an up-and-coming green company, provides consumers with easy to use recycling and reselling services while offering some of the highest product payout.

It’s clear that the environmental benefits of recycling are worthwhile. Recycling consumer electronics amounts to energy savings, waste and emission reduction, and re-utilizing valuable metal materials.

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How to Sweeten the Deal on Your Next Transaction

August 3, 2011 4:57 pm

In today's modern real estate transaction, negotiating is a big part of the process. For buyers wanting to sweeten their deal or save some money, knowing how to approach the negotiation table is key to their success. Consider the following before locking in your deal:

Nothing is worse than moving before you have to, so having a flexible closing date is beneficial for both the buyer and seller. Whether kids are finishing up the school year or you're expected to finish out a work project, negotiating for a flexible closing date will save you the cost of renting in between and moving twice. Sellers may even be able to convince a buyer to rent the home back to them for a few months while wrapping up loose odds and ends. Having a loose date gives leeway for both parties.

Another way sellers can entice buyers is by offering bonuses or gifts as part of the closing agreement. Some sellers have even been known to offer trips to New York or Hawaii as part of the close. On the buyer end, you have a legitimate right to ask for items that are either built-in or customized to the home. Almost all questions are fair game and your requests just may be thrown into the deal for an added bonus.

Lastly, think about furnishings. For sellers, is there anything else you'd like to get rid of along with the home? Though it's never recommended to include furnishings along with the price (it hikes up the overall cost), asking buyers if they need any of your belongings is a great idea. Items sold outside of escrow can simply be left where they stand. Buyers may want to negotiate to buy washers, dryers or other large-scale appliances. After all, who wants to move those items? It would make the moving process easier on both parties.

These are just a few of the ways that both buyers and sellers can sweeten the deal in order to keep each other happy. Don't feel bad about asking for such concessions. A great rule to follow: You'll never know until you ask.

Source: AOL Real Estate

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Your Home - Save the Planet, Save Your Health

August 2, 2011 10:57 pm

Would you prefer to use less-toxic cleaners around your home? Both homemade and natural-based commercial products can be used as alternatives to their sometimes more toxic, often petroleum-based commercial counterparts. While homemade cleaners can be made with familiar, less-toxic ingredients and may be cheaper, they do require some planning and perhaps a bit more elbow grease. Natural-based commercial products, on the other hand, may be more convenient, but keep in mind that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean nontoxic. Here are some tips for getting the most value, while helping to save your home and your planet:

How to Get the Most Value

Homemade cleaners often cost less. Mixing your own cleaners at home will almost always save you money, since you won’t be paying for the advertising, marketing, and other costs that go into a commercial cleaning product’s price.

Using fewer cleaners can save money. Whether you buy or make them yourself, try to find one or two cleaners that can effectively clean a variety of surfaces. You’ll not only be able to save money and space, you’ll also cut down on packaging waste.

Buying larger sizes tends to be cheaper in the long run. Larger sizes are usually, but not always, less expensive, ounce for ounce. Choosing large sizes can also mean buying less often, helping to reduce packaging waste.

An Ounce of Prevention

If you can prevent stains from setting in by taking care of them right away, you’ll reduce the need for tough specialty cleaners, which are often relatively expensive, more toxic, and harmful to surfaces. Or better yet, try to prevent stains from happening in the first place. For example:

- To avoid using oven cleaners, put a layer of aluminum foil in the bottom of the oven and replace it periodically.
- To avoid drain cleaners, put fitted screens over drains and pour kitchen grease into empty containers that can be disposed of in the trash.
- To avoid air fresheners, open windows to air out the house occasionally.
- To avoid bathroom mildew removers, wipe down the shower curtain and walls after showering.
- To avoid carpet cleaners, take off shoes at the door.

For more information, visit GreenerChoices.org.

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Study Answers the Question: What Makes People 'APPy?'

August 2, 2011 10:57 pm

A new study “Roadmap to Video Apps (What Makes Viewers APPy?)” shows that sometimes the best things in life are still free. When rating the attributes of video applications, like YouTube, Hulu or iTunes for smartphones and tablets, 63 percent of respondents said that “free or low subscription rates” is the most important attribute for a video application. In addition, 65 percent of video app users say that word-of-mouth plays an important role in deciding which video apps to use.

“This new research uncovers valuable insights into how people are using video apps, how they complement their TV viewing behavior and what’s most important to them. The results are encouraging, including the finding that consumers are open to advertisements on apps in exchange for a free or a lower cost service and generally even more receptive to ads on tablet apps,” says Indira Venkat, senior vice president, strategic research and consumer insights, The Weather Channel Companies, and member of the CTAM Research Committee overseeing this study.

This research, conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) is the first to feature both qualitative and quantitative consumer reactions to video applications on both mobile and in-home internet-connected devices.

According to the research, roughly 85 percent of video app users say they are watching the same amount or more regularly scheduled TV since using video apps. In fact, for many, it enhances viewership of regularly scheduled TV. Nearly half, 46 percent of video app users report being more engaged with the programs or networks associated with the video apps after accessing them. And 35 percent report that video app usage causes them to visit the network or program website associated with the video app more than they had before they started using the app.

In another first, the CTAM study found that “Sync-to-TV” apps actually increase consumers’ engagement with television programming rather than distracting from it. Sync-to-TV refers to a second screen app (in this case an iPad or iPad 2) that recognizes a program broadcast through a TV set that launches interactive “modules” on the second screen corresponding with the programming or show playing on the primary screen.

Consumers reported that the sync-to-TV experience makes them more likely to pay heightened attention to the program thus increasing their engagement with the program and the advertising and keeping them tuned in longer. One sync-to-TV respondent commented, “It made a difference because it was right there [on my lap]. I don’t have to go to the website and type out the URL or go searching for the same thing on my browser.”

Of the online survey respondents, roughly 95 percent of video app users have used a downloaded, or pre-installed, video app (paid or free) via a mobile device (smartphone, iPod touch or tablet) and roughly 80 percent via in-home device in the last 30 days. Roughly three-quarters of all video app users most often access video apps at home. Approximately 50 percent of those who use video apps on their smartphones and iPod touches report they most often access video apps on these devices when they are in a car.

These, and other CTAM findings, follow Nielsen’s Q1 2011 Mobile Connected Device Report illustrating explosive growth in video app usage by a combined 15 million smartphone and tablet users.

For more information, visit www.ctam.com.

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77 Percent of Refinancing Homeowners Maintain or Reduce Mortgage Debt in Second Quarter

August 2, 2011 10:57 pm

Freddie Mac released the results of its second quarter refinance analysis showing homeowners who refinance continue to strengthen their fiscal house.

Freddie Mac discovered the following:

• In the second quarter of 2011, 77 percent of homeowners who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage either maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying-in additional money at the closing table. Of these borrowers, 51 percent maintained about the same loan amount, and 26 percent of refinancing homeowners reduced their principal balance.
• "Cash-out" borrowers, those that increased their loan balance by at least five percent, represented 23 percent of all refinance loans; the average cash-out share during the 1985 to 2010 period was 46 percent.
• The median interest rate reduction for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was about 1 percentage point, or a savings of about 18 percent in interest rate. Over the first year of the refinance loan life, these borrowers will save over $1,550 in interest payments on a $200,000 loan.
• The net dollars of home equity converted to cash as part of a refinance of a conventional, prime-credit home mortgage was an estimated $7.5 billion in the U.S. during the second quarter, similar to the first quarter level but substantially less than during the peak cash-out refinance volume of $83.7 billion during the second quarter of 2006. Taken together over the first two quarters of 2011 and adjusting for inflation, the amount of equity cashed-out was at the lowest level in 15 years, since the second half of 1996.
• Among the refinanced loans in Freddie Mac's analysis, the median value change of the collateral property was a negative 7 percent over the median prior loan life of five years. In comparison, the Freddie Mac House Price Index shows about a 25 percent decline in its U.S. series between March 2006 and March 2011. Thus, borrowers who refinanced in the second quarter owned homes that had held their value better than the average home, or may reflect value-enhancing improvements that owners had made to their homes during the intervening years.

"This is primarily a 'rate-and-term' market, meaning that the typical homeowner is looking to cut their interest rate or shorten their loan term. More than three-in-four borrowers are keeping their loan balance about the same or reducing their loan balance when they refinance," says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist.

"Savvy homeowners are taking advantage of some of the lowest fixed-rates in more than 50 years to lock in interest savings. Over the first half of 2011, fixed-rate mortgage rates hit a low during June, with 30-year product averaging 4.50 percent and 15-year averaging 3.68 percent over the last four weeks of June, according to our Primary Mortgage Market Survey."

For the latest information from Freddie Mac's Office of the Chief Economist, visit http://twitter.com/FreddieMac.

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