July 21, 2011 10:57 pm
Some homeowners are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to their property tax bills. One in four homeowners say that at one time or another, they have attempted to reduce their property taxes by challenging the tax-assessed value of their homes. And the majority who did so say they were successful in lowering their tax bills, according to a new nationwide survey by FindLaw.com.
As home values have declined as a result of the housing crisis, some homeowners feel that the tax-assessed value of their homes – which is the basis for calculating their property taxes – may not accurately reflect actual market conditions. Homeowners may file an appeal or challenge with their local tax authority in hopes of reducing their assessments, and in turn, their property tax bills.
According to the FindLaw.com survey, 24 percent of homeowners say they have challenged their assessments at some point during their homeownership. When a challenge was filed, survey respondents said it was successful in lowering their property tax bills in approximately three-quarters of those instances.
Most often, the net reduction in their annual property tax bills was between 1 and 4 percent.
"It's not enough to simply march into the tax assessor's office and say, 'I think my property taxes are too high,'" says Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor with FindLaw.com. "Challenging an assessment requires research and due diligence. A challenge needs to be presented with a well-researched and well-organized set of facts. In addition, the formulas for calculating property taxes and the procedures for appeals can vary widely depending on the county and state.
"For example," Rahlfs continues, "in some jurisdictions, the assessed value is the full market value, while others use an assessment ratio that assigns a percentage of the market value. An independent appraiser or an attorney specializing in property taxes may be helpful in determining whether an appeal of your assessment makes sense. They also can help you collect and present your materials in the most effective manner possible to the taxing authority."
Free Internet resources can provide helpful information on how property taxes are determined and the impact of changing property values on property taxes, and can offer tips on how to challenge property tax valuation.
The FindLaw survey was conducted using a survey of a demographically balanced sample of 750 American adult homeowners and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.
For more information visit www.FindLaw.com.
July 21, 2011 4:57 pm
When shopping for a new car or home, it's important to know that consumers rarely ever pay what the listing price asks for. In a challenging economy, it's the best time to haggle and negotiate to try to get the best bargains possible for your large purchase. Here are a few tips and things to think about before you enter the buying process:
Don't fall in love. Be careful about what you say around salespeople. If you fail to keep a steady poker face, then your room for negotiating will surely be destroyed. Make the salesperson think that if he or she can't meet your price or expectations, then you will walk away. Nothing is more important when beginning to negotiate.
Conduct some research before entering into conversation. As a consumer, it's important for you to know what something costs, or rather, what it should cost. Do some comparative shopping and Google searching. What are other stores or dealers selling it for? By being knowledgeable and educated, you have more power in your negotiations. If price differences are significant, don't hesitate to bring physical evidence onto the table. Print-outs from the Web will definitely help sway the conversation in your direction.
If met with resistance, ask to speak with a manager. Sometimes salespeople may not be able to give you the deal you're looking for. By speaking with a manager, you could end up walking out the door a happy customer almost immediately. Either way, you'll have an answer (good or bad) almost on the spot, which could save you time or lead you in another direction.
Be prepared to make them a great offer in return. Sometimes going the extra distance can make all the difference. Go to the ATM beforehand and be prepared to pay in cash. Sometimes that alone will titillate a salesperson or manager to close a deal. Also, ask to purchase floor models or slightly flawed items at a discount. The store or dealer may just want to get those off of their hands.
If you walk away, leave your contact information behind. This works especially well at flea markets or shows that may have independent sellers. Leave the negotiation on good terms, leaving behind a business card or other information, such as an email address or phone number. If the seller changes his or her mind, they can always contact you.
Know that there is always room for negotiation--especially for large purchases. Never accept what the price tag says, but be courteous, pleasant and smart about your negotiating. You never know what deals you may end up with!
July 21, 2011 4:57 pm
As NAR’s Home Ownership Matters bus crosses Alabama, REALTORS® are providing assistance to victims of the April 27 tornadoes with funds raised from REALTOR® donations across the country.
“When we see the devastation of families losing their homes in natural disasters, we’re reminded of just how much homeownership matters,” said National Association of REALTORS® 2012 First Vice President Steve Brown, who met with REALTORS® and families affected by the tornadoes.
“REALTORS® not only build communities, but also help rebuild homes and neighborhoods devastated by natural disasters as we have seen here in Alabama.”
As part of the Home Ownership Matters bus tour, Brown joined Alabama Association of REALTORS® Secretary Pam Segars Morris and Pleasant Grove Mayor Jerry Brasseale at an event today in Pleasant Grove, Ala., to present several families with checks to help them rebuild.
“Homes provide shelter and comfort, and they form a foundation on which many people build their lives and families,” said Brown. “That is why on the national level, NAR strongly supports developing a federal natural disaster policy to ensure that families can obtain affordable property insurance. Closer to home, I’m proud to say that REALTORS® are helping families right here in Alabama rebuild and once again have a place to call home.”
NAR’s Home Ownership Matters Bus Tour is currently crossing the country, giving people the opportunity and resources to make their voices heard about the housing issues that matter most to them. Ongoing news and information for the tour is posted at www.houselogic.com/bus.
July 21, 2011 4:57 pm
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced nearly $210 million in Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) allocations to 146 tribes in 25 states. These funds are distributed each year based on a formula to eligible Indian tribes or their tribally designated housing entities for a range of affordable housing activities.
IHBG funds are intended to primarily benefit low-income families living on Indian reservations or in other American Indian communities. The amount of each grant is based on a formula that considers local needs and housing units under management by the tribe or designated entity.
“HUD recognizes the right of Indian self-determination and tribal self-governance by allowing the recipients the flexibility to design and implement appropriate, place-based housing programs, according to local needs and customs,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “In addition, these grants will help support jobs in areas where they are needed the most.”
Eligible activities for the funds include housing development, assistance to housing developed under the Indian Housing Program, housing services to eligible families and individuals, crime prevention and safety, and model activities that provide creative approaches to solving affordable housing problems. The block grant approach to housing was enabled by the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA).
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
July 20, 2011 10:57 pm
Stability in the housing market will lead to a quicker and greater economic recovery, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. In a letter to Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury, and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, NAR offered its recommendations for helping stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and economy.
“As the nation’s leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR understands how integral homeownership is to the nation’s economy. A strong housing market recovery is essential to the nation’s economic strength,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “The housing market is in a fragile recovery, and our goal is to ensure that regulatory or legislative changes help lead the way out of today’s economic struggles and not jeopardize the recovery.”
In its letter, NAR cautioned that recent proposals could make a near-term housing recovery almost impossible, not to mention making it harder for millions of hard-working families to own their own homes. Phipps said more regulations and legislation that tighten access to credit and affordable safe mortgages are not the solution to righting the housing market and economy.
“We want to make sure that any legislative and regulatory changes don’t jeopardize a housing and economic recovery, so that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home has the opportunity to pursue that dream,” says Phipps.
NAR urged support for policies that ensure qualified borrowers can obtain safe and sound mortgage financing. NAR called on regulators to revise the unnecessarily high downpayment requirements of the Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) exemption from risk retention requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act. A broad QRM definition will encourage sound lending and reduce future defaults without delaying or denying homeownership to millions of creditworthy borrowers.
NAR also asked regulators to reduce the overcorrection in underwriting standards for mortgages from the Federal Housing Administration and government-sponsored enterprises because the now-too-stringent standards are preventing qualified borrowers from getting loans.
“Mortgage availability remains a concern, and borrowers continue to find it increasingly difficult to find affordable mortgage options. Requiring a higher downpayment does little to reduce default risk, and only strips home buyers of their savings and increases the number of borrowers who are unable to purchase a home,” says Phipps. “We cannot have a viable housing market and economic recovery until creditworthy borrowers are able to obtain mortgage financing.”
NAR also recommends extending the FHA and GSE mortgage loan limits, which are critical to providing liquidity in today's housing market. Reverting to the statutory limits on October 1 would reduce limits in 669 counties and 42 states and territories; the average decline in loan limits will be more than $68,000.
NAR also firmly believes that National Flood Insurance Program is essential to a properly functioning real estate market, and urges Congress to pass a long-term reauthorization of the program before it is set to expire on September 30 for the tenth time in two years. The program ensures access to affordable flood insurance for millions of homeowners.
“We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to not only preserve, but also strengthen the American Dream for future generations,” concludes Phipps.
July 20, 2011 10:57 pm
Three out of every four motorists are focusing on something other than driving while behind the wheel, according to a poll conducted by Leger Marketing. With the aim of shedding light on the fact that dangerous driving isn’t limited to the standard categories of speeding or drunk driving, InsuranceHotline.com is drawing attention to the lesser known instances of distracted driving to help inform consumers about safety and its impact on insurance. Their list of seven driving distractions is as follows:
1. Using a cell phone. Even though there are laws and legislation in many cities, people still have the tendency to use their cell phone while driving. If you are talking or texting and are involved in an auto accident, you could be charged with “careless driving with undo care and attention,” and could face a serious conviction that comes with a fine of up to $1,000. This type of conviction, coupled with all the implications that are tied to an auto accident, could impact your automobile insurance premium by thousands of dollars every year for at least six years.
2. Eating and drinking. Whether you are drinking hot coffee or eating fast food, your attention can be diverted away from the road, increasing the chance of a collision.
3. Grooming. Applying makeup and even shaving while behind the wheel means a drivers’ attention is taken away from the road and decreases their ability to apply defensive driving techniques.
4. Reading/writing. Yes that’s right, even a GPS system that’s attached to the dashboard can pose a potential danger as it can take the driver’s eyes away from the road. A split second is all it takes!
5. Outside distractions, including everything from billboards to movies in other vehicles; it’s easy to get distracted and it’s important to always maintain focus while driving.
6. Animals/pets. As much as pets can be a companion on long road trips, a barking dog or a pet blocking your view can be a distraction. If you’re traveling with animals, it’s important to have them in a proper crate to avoid any safety hazards.
7. Passenger distractions. Maintaining focus while driving with screaming children or emotional passengers can be a difficult task. Remaining calm is essential for the safety of both the driver and fellow passengers.
“Most people don’t consider minor distractions behind the wheel, such as children or pets as dangerous driving; however, at-fault accidents, regardless of the cause, can affect consumer’s rates in a negative manner,” explains Tammy Ezer, marketing director, InsuranceHotline.com.
It is important for consumers to stay safe and be well informed about the different options available for car insurance. Be sure to comparison shop to obtain the best auto insurance rates.
July 20, 2011 10:57 pm
New York has been named America’s most walkable city by Seattle-based Walk Score, in its list of America’s Most Walkable Cities and Neighborhoods. Miami, Minneapolis and Oakland are new additions to the top ten. Walk Score also rates the walkability of 2,500 cities and 10,000 neighborhoods.
Walk Score’s ten most walkable cities for 2011 include: 1) New York, 2) San Francisco, 3) Boston, 4) Chicago, 5) Philadelphia, 6) Seattle, 7) Washington, D.C., 8) Miami, 9) Minneapolis, and 10) Oakland. This is Walk Score’s first ranking since 2008, when San Francisco was the top-ranked city.
Walk Score’s walkability ranking is the only national, quantitative ranking of walkability in the U.S. Cities and neighborhoods are ranked on a scale of 1-100, with locations receiving a score of 90-100 deemed a “Walkers’ Paradise.”
“With rising gas prices, Americans are looking for alternatives to long commutes and driving around town to complete their errands,” says Walk Score CEO Josh Herst. “America’s most walkable cities and neighborhoods make it easy for residents to leave their cars at home more often. The latest real estate trends show that homes and apartments in walkable areas are in higher demand and are worth more than their less-walkable counterparts.”
Walkable neighborhoods offer a number of benefits:
• Homes in walkable neighborhoods, on average, are worth more than those in less walkable neighborhoods.
• Homes with easy access to public transit and nearby amenities save more energy and money than an Energy Star home in a conventional suburban development.
• The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs eight pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.
“With Millennials entering the marketplace, volatile gas prices, and fringe suburban home prices in decline, the demand for walkable neighborhoods has outstripped supply in most of the U.S.,” says Christopher B. Leinberger, Visiting Fellow at The Brookings Institution. “An American family living in a house that is accessible only by car is spending on average 25 percent of their income on cars. Households in walkable communities spend less than half that amount, putting more money in their pockets."
The complete list of 2,500 cities and their neighborhoods is available at www.walkscore.com.
July 19, 2011 4:57 pm
Sun shining, weather warming, outdoors calling: the summertime sounds like heaven for dogs and other family pets. According to Ocean State Veterinary Specialists (OSVS), however, the seasonal freedom to run free means a new world of risks. Homeowners must be careful to take care of dogs and family pets, and of course, keep them from out of harm’s way.
“While our emergency veterinarians can help your dogs if they’ve been hit by a car, accident prevention is the best option,” says Betsy Hall of OSVS.
As anyone who has owned an energetic dog knows, prevention isn’t easy. Specialists recommend the following three safety tips to keep dogs in their homes rather than the emergency room this summer:
1. Proper Fencing
Room to run, play, bark, and exert as much energy as possible is important to healthy dogs—just limit that room with a well-built fence or a wireless electric fence. If your dog loves to dig, make sure your fence extends a foot or two down into the earth, or bury chicken wire beneath the fence. You can also place partially-buried barriers like large rocks or potted plants along the foot of the fence to keep them from tunneling out an escape route, or lay down a section of mesh or chain link fencing to keep them from digging at all.
2. Loving Leashes
No matter how well-trained and obedient your dog is, it’s not a good idea to take them for walks without a leash. Dogs that normally stick by your side throughout a walk might dash out into the street after a rodent or another dog. The thrill of the chase is in their DNA.
3. Ample Attention
Part of the reason dogs do things like dig and run after cars is that they’re just plain bored. Give them ample attention and constructive ways to expend energy, and they’ll be more likely to spend afternoons lazing in the sun rather than running off in search of a more stimulating adventure. If they know you’ll be home soon and ready to play, they’re likely to wait eagerly for you.
If you’re going to be out of town for an extended period of time, consider placing them in a professional, trustworthy kennel instead of leaving them unattended in the backyard. The best kennels work in specific periods of play, so they won’t be cooped up in a cage all day.
By taking the proper steps, you can ensure a happy and healthy summer for your dog or any other family pet.
July 19, 2011 4:57 pm
Homeowners will need to act fast if they intend to submit paperwork for the Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program (EHLP). The deadline is Friday, July 22, 2011.
"The application process ends this Friday, July 22, and is the first step in providing $1 billion to help an estimated 30,000 homeowners in 27 states and Puerto Rico avoid foreclosure," says Setina Briggs-Kelly, housing manager for GreenPath Debt Solutions. "The program will assist homeowners who have experienced a reduction in income and who are at risk of foreclosure, due to involuntary unemployment or underemployment, economic conditions or medical condition."
Under EHLP program guidelines, eligible homeowners can qualify for an interest-free loan, which pays a portion of their monthly mortgage for up to two years, or up to $50,000, whichever comes first. The EHLP program will pay a portion of an approved applicant's monthly mortgage including missed mortgage payments or past due charges including principal, interest, taxes, insurances, and attorney fees. The loan does not have to be repaid, as long as the homeowner continues making mortgage payments on time for five years.
Homeowners have less than a week to see if they are eligible for the program, as open enrollment ends Friday, July 22. Briggs-Kelly stresses that homeowners should call as soon as possible.
For more information, visit www.greenpath.com.
July 19, 2011 4:57 pm
According to its latest national homeless assessment, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports the number of homeless persons in the U.S. held steady between 2009 and 2010, despite the economic downturn. For the first time, HUD’s annual report reveals how the Recovery Act’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) helped to mitigate homelessness in America, assisting nearly 700,000 persons in the first year of the program.
Based on data collected from thousands of local communities, HUD’s 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress finds a continued decline in the number of persons experiencing long-term homelessness due to the dramatic increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units. Those who were chronically homeless—persons with severe disabilities and long homeless histories—decreased one percent between 2009 and 2010, from 110,917 to 109,920. Since 2007, the number of people who are chronically homeless has decreased by 11 percent, partially due to the 34 percent increase in permanent supportive housing beds during that same timeframe.
Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program – Approximately 690,000 people received assistance in the first year of the HPRP, including 531,000 (77 percent) individuals who were prevented from becoming homeless in the first place. The remaining 159,000 (23 percent) persons received ‘rapid re-housing’ assistance to move from the streets or shelters into permanent housing.
Most HPRP participants (59 percent) received assistance for two months or less. Participants receiving homelessness prevention assistance had slightly longer lengths of participation than persons receiving rapid re-housing assistance because prevention assistance was more likely to be provided on a recurring basis, while rapid re-housing was more likely to be one-time assistance—such as a security deposit.
HUD’s annual assessment is based on two measures of homelessness:
• Point-In-Time ‘Snapshot’ Counts – These data account for sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night, usually at the end of January. The number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night increased by 1.1 percent over the last year: from 643,067 in January 2009 to 649,879 in January 2010. A total of 79,344 family households and 241,621 persons in families were homeless on the night of the 2010 PIT count. Since 2009, the number of homeless families increased 1.1 percent, and the number of homeless persons in families increased 1.5 percent
• 12-Month Counts – Using Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), these data provide more detailed information on persons who access a shelter over the course of a full year. In 2010, 411 communities covering over 4,700 cities and counties submitted useable HMIS data resulting in a 23 percent increase from 2009. This increase is tied to more precise results as HMIS data collection and reporting capacities continue to improve. HUD estimates that 1.6 million persons experienced homelessness and found shelter between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010, a 2.2 percent increase from 2009. The characteristics of sheltered homeless individuals are very different from the characteristics of sheltered persons in families. Individuals are more likely to be white men, over 30 years old, and have a disabling condition, while adults in families are more likely to be younger African-American women without a reported disability. Of all those who sought emergency shelter or transitional housing during 2010, the following characteristics were observed:
• 78 percent of all sheltered homeless persons are adults.
• 62 percent are male.
• 58 percent are members of a minority group.
• 37 percent are 31-to-50 years old.
• 63 percent are in one-person households.
• 37 percent have a disability.
HUD’s report also reveals the following trends:
• Since 2007, the annual number of people using homeless shelters in principal cities has decreased 17 percent (from 1.2 million to 1.0 million), and the annual number of people using homeless shelters in suburban and rural areas has increased 57 percent (from 367,000 to 576,000).
• The number of homeless persons in families has increased by 20 percent from 2007 to 2010, and families currently represent a much larger share of the total sheltered population than ever before. The proportion of homeless people who are using emergency shelter and transitional housing as part of a family has increased from 30 percent to 35 percent during this same period. The increase in sheltered family homelessness is almost certainly a consequence of the economy.
• Despite increases over the past year, there has been a 3.3 percent decline in the number of homeless persons from 2007 to 2010: a 3.6 percent decline for individuals and a 2.8 percent decline for persons in families. The overall decline in homelessness during this period can be attributed to a steep drop in homelessness in Los Angeles between 2007 and 2009.
• There were almost 94,000 more sheltered homeless persons in families in 2010 as there were in 2007, and almost 72,000 fewer sheltered homeless individuals. The number of sheltered homeless individuals has declined six percent since 2007, from 1.15 million to 1.04 million.