Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to cut air-conditioning costs

Flip a switch

Adjust your temperature 

Go ahead, get comfortable. Lower your air conditioner's thermostat setting to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you're at home. But let that number rise to a warmer temperature at night or when you're away from home. You can save 5 percent to 15 percent on your air-conditioning bills by raising the temperature setting on your thermostat when you're away and don't need cooling, according to the Department of Energy.

Friday, June 29, 2012

How to cut air-conditioning costs

Clothe your windows
Solar screens, or mesh-like window screens, intercept up to 70 percent of solar energy before it gets into the house, Krigger says. Window screens are particularly effective on east- and west-facing windows, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Window films are another option. They are transparent, metalized sheets that reflect heat before it can be transmitted through glass.
However, windows must be shut for window films to work, while solar screens do double-duty, keeping sun and insects out even with windows open.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to cut air-conditioning costs

Chill air-condition costsHear that? It's the sound of your air conditioner running and the sound of your bank account drying up.
Heating and air conditioning your home take a 43 percent bite from your monthly utility bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Here's how to reduce those costs in summer.

"Most heat that accumulates inside a house comes directly from the sun shining onto the roof or through windows, and heating the house directly," says John Krigger, owner of Saturn Resource Management, which offers energy conservation training in Helena, Mont.
Planting leafy trees around the building's exterior will stop the sun from reaching inside your home. "Even for the cost of going to the nursery and buying a 15- to 20-foot-tall tree, trees are still the best value," Krigger says.
If the trees or shrubs shade your air conditioner, you could boost your AC's efficiency by up to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

8 Things Your Movers Don't Want You To Know - #7 & 8

Take Pictures of All Your Property

Speaking of insurance, remember that you’ll have a lot more luck claiming damage to your property if you can actually show that it wasn’t damaged before the move took place.

Look at the condition of your stuff before you move it. If you have pictures of your stuff before and after, it’s easier to claim [damage].

A legitimate mover should inventory your property before the move to make sure nothing is lost, but taking photographs of all valuable property provides an extra layer of protection should things go south and you find yourself needing to file an insurance claim.

Protect Your Walls and Floors

Furniture isn’t the only thing that can be damaged during a move. Walls and doorways in both your old and new houses can be nicked during the moving process, and carpets can likewise be damaged by muddy boots trekking in and out.

Most moving operations will have rug runners and door pads to protect your carpets and doorframes, but whether they are included in the cost or show up as an extra charge varies from company to company. To make sure that the moving company doesn’t spring any last-minute charges on you for the use of these pads, make sure they’re included in the contract you sign with the mover, also known as the bill of lading. Indeed, charges for all services – from insurance coverage to shrink-wrapping your couch to protect it from dust damage – should be itemized in the bill of lading to prevent any unforeseen charges.

That material usage should be in the quote, not a line item you get hit with later. Get it all in writing.

8 Things Your Movers Don't Want You To Know - #5 & 6

Make That ‘Quotes’, Plural

When it comes to getting the quote, let market competition work for you. Movers would love for you take their offer without shopping around, but you could wind up paying too much or not getting the best bang for your buck.
Get at least three written estimates, but don’t just select the lowest price. As with any product or service, you want the best combination of quality and cost. Get written, itemized estimates from multiple moving companies in your area, then choose which one looks best. And if you’re having trouble deciding, don’t hesitate to ask for references.

Check Their Credentials

Avoiding scams or misconduct is often a simple matter of sticking with a licensed and reputable moving company. Fortunately, there are certain boxes that can be checked off to ensure that you’re working with a legitimate mover.

If you’re moving from one state to another, the moving company must be registered with the FMCSA, which you can confirm by looking the company up on And for the sake of your property, make sure the mover offers liability insurance as required by law.

Any legitimate moving company will be insured and bonded and be a part of a legitimate trade association. You can always find someone on Craigslist and those people are going to cost less, but there’s a reason they cost less. You won’t be able to recover any damages from them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

8 Things Your Movers Don't Want You To Know - #4

Of course, you won’t know – and the movers can’t tell you – how much time they’ll need to break down your bed until they’ve actually seen it. And that goes for every aspect of your move: Any quote you get from a mover on costs and time must be based on an on-site inspection.
It’s best to get an in-home estimate so they can make an accurate estimation of moving costs according to the Better Business Bureau. Some “rogue movers” will provide an estimate over the phone or Internet, then charge more when it comes to the day of the move by claiming that there was more inventory than they expected. Any mover who gives a price quote without seeing what needs to be moved is likely up to no good.
Every company should go and get a look at the move. With an in-home [estimate], there’s no reason a mover can’t stick to their quote.

Indeed, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires an interstate mover to give you an in-home estimate if your current home is 50 miles from the mover’s (or the agent’s) place of business. And you’re entitled to getting the full quote in writing, which should itemize all charges associated with the move.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to Save Money on a Move

On the list of things Americans don’t want to do moving to a new home is high up, right between having a root canal and handling David Letterman’s page. According to FAS Relocation Network, the cost of moving your valuables from Allentown, Pa., to Arlington Heights, Ill., (assuming a 3-bedroom home with 1,800 square feet) can go as high as $9,300.
You can whittle that amount down, with the right mindset and by using these tips.
Book a Moving Company Way in Advance. If you wait until the last minute to book a mover and a truck, expect to pay top dollar. Movers only have so many trucks and only so much manpower. So if you book a mover at least six weeks in advance, you’ll get the best rates, and you’ll be guaranteed the truck you want and a full crew come moving day.
Click here to find out more!
Book a Weekday. Moving companies don’t like paying overtime, so you can lower your costs by booking a mover during the week (and preferably during the summer months).
Bag It. Cut down on moving expenses by using industrial-strength bags (you can get a box of 100 for only $20 at Home Depot. Use bags for the “soft” stuff like linens, clothes, pillows, and stuffed toys. Save the boxes for the heavy-duty stuff.
Make a schedule. You don’t want the moving company stuffing your possessions into boxes, it’s a big cost upgrade. Instead, box as much as you can yourself. Commit to 30 minutes each morning before work to pack at least three boxes. Then, when moving day comes, you’ll have a huge head start and more cash in your pocket.
Pack/Drive Split. This tip is an extension of the “schedule” tip, but with even greater savings. When you really think about it, the only help you need is getting the heavy stuff on to the truck and getting the truck to your new residence. With that in mind, ask your moving company for a “pack/drive” split. That means you pack everything and have it ready to go on moving day. All the mover does is load your possessions and drive it to your new home, and unload it.
Exchange Boxes With U-Haul. Go green while saving some green with U-Haul’s “Take a Box/Leave a Box” program. Visit any U-Haul location and take all the boxes you need, just be sure to re turn the re-usable boxes when you’re done with your move. For more information, visit their site.
Moving day is rough enough without having to dig deep into your bank account to finance the move. The key to success is preparation (along with a dash of creativity).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

8 Things Your Movers Don't Want You To Know - #3

Save Money By Disassembling Furniture Yourself

Another thing to keep in mind when paying movers by the hour is that they’ll need to disassemble and reassemble anything that’s too big to get out the door. That can take a lot of time – if you have a big bunk bed, for instance, you could be looking at up to 45 minutes on each end.

The general rule is that if they take it apart they have to put it back together. Maybe you want to take it apart yourself and save money.

As with all transactions, it comes down to how much you value your time. If spending hours taking apart your bed and then putting it back together is worth the money you’ll save, by all means break out the toolbox.

Friday, June 22, 2012

8 Things Your Movers Do't Want You To Know

Service should be quick

When you’re moving locally, you may be paying a few guys in a truck by the hour as opposed to a flat fee. Allen Costa, who worked as a mover with United Van Lines, says that if you sense that your movers are lollygagging to stretch out their billable hours, you should call the company’s office right away.

Guys doing local moves are paid by the hour, so you should tell the company. If they’re slow-dogging it, then the company's paying more money for less work.

In other words, unless you’re dealing with a small “man with a van” operation, chances are the moving company has just as much incentive as you do to see the job done quickly. And even if you’re not paying by the hour, you should still make sure you have an office number you can call in case there’s a dispute with the moving team that can’t be resolved on the spot.

Even on weekends we have a cell number of someone familiar with the job. Get some assurance from the person who gives you the quote that someone outside the crew will be reachable.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

8 Things Your Movers Don't Want You To Know

Get a Move On

After you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new home, hiring a mover can almost seem like an afterthought. But if you’re not careful about which mover you choose and which questions you ask before you hire them, you can wind up paying unforeseen charges and moving in with damaged property.

A number of federal and state regulations govern how moving companies must operate when contracting a move, and interstate movers are actually required to furnish clients with a copy of Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move, a publication of the U.S. Department of Transportation. We thumbed through the guide to find out what rights consumers might not realize they have, and spoke to moving industry veterans to get some tips that movers (particularly unscrupulous ones) might prefer that consumers didn’t know.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Homebuying Tips From Dad

Do it right, or don't do it!

Want to scuttle your home equity and lower your property value simultaneously? Do it yourself, and do it poorly.
A lot of homeowners try to save money with do-it-yourself renovations, retrofits or expansions. Some owners hire a professional contractor to start the work, and then the owners complete the project. Too often, the result looks horrible, Szot says.
If they can't do it with quality, they shouldn't do it. You have to match the rest of the structure. And you have to do it legally and have all the permits and paperwork for the next buyer.
An incompetent DIY job can hurt your home value.
The buyers dictate the market, pure and simple. And if it's not done to be on par with the rest of your home, then it's taking money off your sale price instead of adding to it. Because savvy buyers are calculating what's it's going to cost to make this more feasible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

More Homebuying Tips From Dad

Shop before you take the first loan you're offered

Dad knows that when it comes to money, you never take the first offer. If nothing else, you need to know whether you can cut a better deal.
For many buyers, shopping smart for a home means haggling over the home price and seller concessions. Some buyers miss the opportunity to shop for the best terms on the loan.
Buyers definitely need to loan-shop more.

It's always a good idea to make sure that you're checking a number of sources. The mistake people make today is they are busy, and may call one or two places on a referral.
It makes sense to talk to not only several lenders, but different types of lenders -- local lenders, national lenders and mortgage brokers (who will shop the loan to a number of sources).

Don't borrow every penny you're qualified for

Dad knew that you should hold a little money in reserve.
For too many of today's homebuyers, their target price is 100 percent of whatever they can borrow, plus their down payment.
But smart money says don't take it to the max with that mortgage. Whatever the bank will loan you, take 20 percent less. It's a buffer for you. It gives you the ability to be in a home and not be pushed to the very limit of what you're capable of right now.
And besides, wouldn't it be nice to live in a home you can "comfortably afford, and build up a reserve of savings, too?
So look for a house that you love -- and meets your needs -- that you can also pay off easily, Corbett says.
Another piece of Dad wisdom: Opt for a stable, straightforward fixed-rate mortgage. You want to know what your mortgage is today, and you want to know what it is going to be 10 years from now.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Homebuying Tips From Dad

It was a different world when Dad bought his first home.
But oddly enough, a lot of his homebuying advice (unlike some of his tie collection) is back in fashion.
Putting up a sizable down payment, holding back some cash reserves in the bank, and shopping smart so you can get the best deal on a home loan? You'll make the old man proud.
Here are five homebuying tips from Dad that will serve you (and him) just as well in today's market.

Never buy the most expensive home on the block    

When Dad told you to never buy the most expensive house on the block, he was talking about appreciation.
Over time, home values in a neighborhood tend to even out. So if you have the most expensive home, its value won't increase as much as will a low- to mid-priced home in the same neighborhood.
Conversely, according to this theory, if you want to get the most bang for your housing buck, buy a less expensive model on the best block you can afford.
The principle is, if you are buying the least expensive house on the street in a good location, the value has nowhere to go but up.
The location is the one thing you can't change, so when you make improvements.
But the smallest-home scenario can be tricky. You don't want a home that is markedly smaller unless you're looking to do some serious upgrades or additions to make it equal to the neighbors.
Otherwise, the lack of comparable properties in the neighborhood could hurt you when it comes time to sell.

Don't buy more than you can afford

A few years ago, lending standards were lax. The sky was almost the limit on how much home a buyer could purchase. But, as Dad may have mentioned a time or two, that's just bad math.
Keeping the house price to two or three times your income"is still a good rule of thumb for anybody -- especially for the first-time homebuyer.

While the seesaw on the advisable price-to-salary ratio has swung widely in recent years, it can pay to set the needle where it's truly comfortable for you. And knowing you can meet the mortgage will mean a lot less anxiety and a better night's sleep. Call it a gift from Dad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

7 neighborhood threats to your home's value (cont.)

Delinquent bill payers. One surprising way neighbors can bring down the value of surrounding homes, especially in town home or condo communities, is by not paying their maintenance fees or mortgages. Bad neighbors bring values down by not paying their maintenance fees, in some cases their mortgage payments, and not maintaining the home's appearance. These homeowners usually do not care about real-estate values.

Foreclosed homes. Perhaps the biggest single factor that drives nearby home values down is a foreclosure. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concludes that the value of homes within 250 feet of a foreclosed property will decrease by 1% per foreclosure, on average. Federal Reserve Governor Joseph Tracy said recently in his economic outlook for 2011: The growing inventory of defaulted mortgages continues to weigh down any recovery in the housing market … Problems in housing markets can impact economic growth.

Lackluster landscaping. Studies show that lawn care has a big impact on surrounding home values. Virginia Tech University released a report stating that pristine landscaping can jack up the value of a home by 5% to 11%.

Closed schools. Sometimes, neighborhood problems can stem from local government action. For example, if a cash-strapped city or town closes a neighborhood school, that can easily steer home values south. The National Association of Realtors says 75% of home shoppers say the quality and availability of schools in the neighborhood is either “somewhat important” or “very important.”
So can you fight back against problem neighbors? In the case of a landfill, power plant or sex offender, your options are severely limited. As long as your neighbors are following the letter of the law, you’ll just have to grin and bear it — or move. If not, you have every right to petition your local government authorities for a grievance and at least get the matter reviewed.
If it’s a residential property causing the problem, however, you might have better options.
For starters, you can leave a polite letter in the offending homeowner’s mailbox to get his attention. In addition, Pordes says that if the home is within a homeowners association or condo association, the association can send letters to the homeowner and deny him community privileges to encourage him to comply with the community rules and maintain home values.
Most cities and towns have ordinances against messy yards and junk-laden driveways, so check your community’s rules and regulations to see what applies.

Unfortunately, many cities and towns also have landfills, power plants and other less-than-desirable commercial-sized neighbors. Most likely, you’re just going to have to live with them.

Friday, June 15, 2012

7 neighborhood threats to your home's value (cont.)

Power plants. The data are fairly clear on the impact of a power plant on nearby home values — it usually hurts them. A study (PDF) from the University of California at Berkeley shows that home values within two miles of a power plant can be decreased between 4% and 7%.

Landfills. A study (PDF) from the Pima County, Ariz., assessor’s office shows that a subdivision near a landfill loses 6% to 10% in value compared with a subdivision that isn’t near a landfill — all other residential factors being equal, including house size, school quality and residential incomes.
Robert A. Simons, an urban planning professor at Cleveland State University, says that if you live within two miles of a Superfund site — a landfill that the government designates as a hazardous-waste site — your home’s value could decline by up to 15%.

Sex offenders. Living near a registered sex offender is one of the biggest downward drivers of home values. Researchers at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., concluded that the closer you live to a sex offender, the more your home will depreciate. In the paper, "Estimating the Effect of Crime Risk on Property Values and Time on Market: Evidence from Megan's Law in Virginia," Longwood researchers say, “The presence of a registered sex offender living within one-tenth of a mile reduces home values by about 9%, and these same homes take as much as 10% longer to sell than homes not located near registered sex offenders.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

7 neighborhood threats to your home's value

7 neighbors that hurt home values (© Gail Mooney/Masterfile)

Who — or what — is next door can affect how much people will pay for your home.

Bad neighbors can be a serious problem, according to the Appraisal Institute. An unkempt yard, proximity to a sex offender or having certain commercial facilities nearby, such as a power plant or funeral home, can reduce the value of surrounding homes by as much as 15%.
The impact can vary tremendously, depending on a few factors: how ‘bad’ the bad neighbor is, the kind of neighborhood you’re located in and the type of market that exists.
But what exactly is a “bad” neighbor? Definitions vary, but real-estate professionals say it boils down to any home or business that turns people off.
A bad neighbor is one that has no consideration for the rest of the community. For example, someone who doesn't take care of the outside appearance of the home, such as the gardening, painting of the outside of the home, roof, garbage and general upkeep. In addition, a bad neighbor may have constant visitors taking up parking spaces, perhaps on the street, loud house parties, dogs that bark all night or stray cats lingering around.
A “bad” neighbor can also be a business or government enterprise whose very existence drives down the value of your property. Here are seven surprising neighbors that can reduce your home’s value:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How you can gain from a mortgage refinance

There are lots of reasons to refinance a mortgage, and not all of them are solely about reducing your monthly payment. Here are five ways to benefit from the lowest mortgage rates in decades.

Cut rate and term, but not payment

If you can handle the same monthly payment (or even a little more), consider reducing the term of the mortgage when you refinance. With rates so low, you might be able to get the same payment for a 20-year loan as your current 30-year mortgage. Shorter terms mean lower rates.
A client traded in his 30-year fixed mortgage of $315,000 at 5.75 percent for a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.625 percent. His payment went from $1,838.25 to $1,847.17 (almost the same), but he eliminated eight years of interest.

Had he refinanced into a 30-year loan, his interest rate would have been 4 percent, and his payment would have shrunk to $1,503. He would have saved $300 per month, but his total interest payments over the life of the loan would have been higher.

Extract equity

If you have big expenses in your future -- tuition, medical treatment, or a family event (not a boat or a beach house) -- you can borrow while rates are low. While refinancing your current loan, see what borrowing a few extra bucks would do to the payment.
One home owner refinanced his 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, halved the number of years, took out an extra $30,000 to cover his son's future tuition and increased his mortgage payment by $211 a month.

Get rid of an ARM

Change from an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM, to a fixed-rate loan while the rates are low, even if it means sacrificing a lower payment.
Another has a condo in Manhattan with a 5/1 ARM at an awesome 2.875 percent. Her original mortgage amount is for $350,000, but she has paid it down to $280,000. Her monthly payment is $1,500, but the party is set to end in December 2013. Now, 20 months before the rate adjusts, she is applying for a $280,000 fixed-rate loan at 4 percent with the same monthly payment. By refinancing at the reduced loan amount, her monthly payment stays the same for the balance of the loan term.

Merge first and second mortgages

If you have two mortgages that, combined, are less than 80 percent of the value of your home, try a cash-out refinance to pay off the second loan. Your monthly payment will increase because you are paying more than just interest on the second mortgage, but if the prime rate goes up in a few years, you will benefit.

If the value of the home decreased and you have less than 20 percent equity, a cash-out refinance can be difficult to do. But you can refinance the first mortgage for 80 percent of the appraised value, and if you have cash left after paying off the first mortgage, you can repay part of the outstanding balance of the home equity line of credit. Then you can ask the HELOC lender to reduce your credit limit. A good loan officer can walk you through this tricky process.

Splitting a jumbo loan

Jumbo mortgages -- in most places, home loans for more than $417,000 -- tend to have higher interest rates. To save money on a refinance of a jumbo mortgage, consider splitting the loan into two.
In this scenario, the first mortgage is no higher than $417,000, and the second mortgage is a home equity line of credit. This loan structure especially benefits borrowers who can pay down the HELOC in fewer than 10 years. By paying down the HELOC within a decade, they are left with a low-rate first mortgage.
One caution: If you want to refinance a jumbo loan into a $417,000 first mortgage and a line of credit, you'll find that most lenders will require you to have 20 percent equity or, in some cases, 15 percent equity.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Traditional 'rules' of homebuying return

Buyers can balance the bargain hunt with realistic expectations.

Depending on the location, house hunters may find themselves in a strange, transitional real-estate market that's emerging from historic lows.
Does the buyer have an advantage? Yes, in many areas, that's still the case.
But buyers have guidelines for success in this type of market, too. They need to show that they're serious if they hope to secure their dream house amid stiff deal-sniffing buyer competition or sellers so frustrated they may be willing to hold out for a stronger market turnaround. Professionalism and realistic expectations can go a long way toward ensuring a smooth and timely closing transaction, which is important to buyers and sellers alike.
Deals can be found, but playing hardball with lowball offers that are out of sync with comparable local sales can be time-consuming. Time can mean money.

There may be wiggle room with seller concessions — covering closing costs, tossing in repair credits — so entering into a prospective deal armed with local-market knowledge and respectful consideration of the seller's position can go a long way toward getting a great deal on a great property.

Here are a few tips for buyers to consider, culled from National Association of Realtors data and independent brokerage sites:
  • Save yourself and all involved the delay and headache of financial surprises by researching your own credit report. You should also consider securing a preapproved loan or at least let a bank determine the range for which you'll likely qualify. This will help set realistic expectations for your search.
  • Short sales, foreclosed properties or rent-to-own dwellings shouldn't be ruled out as part of a wide and comprehensive home search. But these types of sales may take more time and involve more financial hoops, so be prepared.
  • With your agent or on your own, thoroughly study the comparable nearby sales. Limit the search to recent transactions — no older than six months if such data are available. Extend the time frame if you need to. Price isn't all that matters; find out how long properties are staying on the market, on average. This statistic can also help inform how far below the asking price you might consider for an opening bid.
  • Speaking of negotiations, they're back and have been for a few years. Gone — in most markets — are the bidding wars where would-be buyers didn't stand a chance unless they came in above the asking price from the start. Ironically, tough competition has cropped up in some instances, thanks to the weak housing market. If buyers are going for a foreclosure, for instance, all-cash offers from property developers and other buyers are edging out bank-financed offers. Again, be prepared and know your own financial situation in advance.
  • Keep in mind that real-estate health is not only a local market story (you can essentially ignore national sales statistics), but it can change street by street. Maybe the property you desire is near a prestigious hospital, university, large government employer or vibrant restaurant and shopping district. That's good for your long-term investment, but it also means the seller has a pricing advantage at the outset and couldn't care less about macro-pricing trends. Competition may be tight; if the economy remains spotty, other buyers will look for this kind of neighborhood stability. 
  • It's perfectly acceptable to ask how firm the seller is on the price. You or your agent can pose this question to the seller's agent. Semantics are important: Ask, "How flexible are they on the price?" Avoid: "How much less will they take?" Consult with your agent for his opinion on the likelihood of the success of a lowball offer. You have the right to go in at whatever level you want, but keep in mind that a lowball number may turn off the seller and close down any chance at negotiation. You may have to bid on several properties before you get a seller to jump. Of course, this tactic might work on your first try. Try to check your emotions at the door.
  • Incentives are great, but buyers may still be responsible for closing costs and should plan on this expense well ahead of house-hunting. The average amount of closing costs and prepaid items needed to cover your closing are approximately 4% of your loan amount. Buyers may also have to put up "earnest" or "good faith" money, which is essentially a deposit before moving into the offer/contract phase.
  • Regardless of market conditions, there are a few basics to add to the checklist. These can be a jumping-off point for negotiations. Buyers should hire a title company to check the house for liens and tax arrearages and hire their own inspector, not the seller's. Buyers should have their inspector also check for any potentially unpermitted work, such as an addition. Keep in mind that some states have specific rules about disclosures. Verify the accuracy of the property lines by requesting a seller-secured survey, or buyers may have to buy their own survey. Be respectful as you talk with sellers and their agents about these needs. Sellers should be accommodating, as these steps show that a buyer is serious about the property.
Bottom line: Savvy buyers should know what they're up against and what opportunities abound, as another traditional springtime homebuying season ramps up — this one as market traffic and pricing are on the rise.

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    3 new programs aimed at improving the housing market

    A mass-refinancing plan would allow borrowers who owe more than their house is worth but who are current on their loan payments to refinance at today's low interest rates. The plan would save such borrowers an average of $3,000 annually. The catch: Congressional approval of a fee paid by the largest lenders to fund the program is unlikely.

    3 new programs aimed at improving the housing market (© Stephen Webster/Getty Images)A pilot buy-to-rent program launching this year in hard-hit markets will let investors buy foreclosures from Fannie Mae, then rent them out. Look for the program in Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and parts of Florida. Investors must qualify to participate (for information, go to The aim is to make a quick dent in the supply of foreclosures for sale. Success depends on whether bargain-hungry investors pay the prices Fannie expects for its properties.

    None of the programs is a quick fix. In fact, the pace of foreclosures will continue to pick up in the wake of a $25 billion settlement reached in February among the federal government, attorneys general in 49 states and the nation’s largest mortgage servicers. Although much of that money is slated for principal reductions, refinancing and other consumer assistance, banks are now free to step up foreclosures that were delayed pending the settlement.
    Foreclosure fixes will become moot as the economy gains traction and housing demand picks up. By 2013, the number of distressed sales will still be high, but their share of total home sales will decline, allowing home prices to rise. The speed of recovery depends on how big a market share distressed properties represent.

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    3 new programs aimed at improving the housing market- #1

    Can a trio of new policies ease foreclosures and get the market back on track?

    Foreclosed homes continue to plague communities, the housing market and the economy. Banks completed 3.2 million foreclosures between 2008 and 2011, and half again as many lurk in a "shadow inventory" that includes homes with seriously delinquent mortgages, those that are in the foreclosure process and those that have been taken over by banks but not yet listed for sale, according to CoreLogic, a mortgage data firm. Many of those homes are vacant, and they sell for about one-third less than other properties, on average.
    Foreclosures have been a drag on the market for years, and relief can't come soon enough. But the latest proposed fixes won't get rolling before year-end.
    The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) helps troubled borrowers by reducing their monthly mortgage payment to 31% of their gross monthly income, usually by reducing their interest rate, extending the loan term, deferring repayment of principal or forgiving some of it. The Treasury has extended the program through the end of 2013, tripling the incentives for lenders that choose to reduce loan principal. Borrowers will begin qualifying under the expanded criteria by this summer. Bank analysts estimate that the beefed-up program will help an additional half-million homeowners. For more, visit

    Friday, June 8, 2012

    First-time homebuyers shut out in some cities

    Couple talking to a Realtor about a condo. (© Eye Candy Images/ prices had made homeownership more affordable, but only in some areas. In some major  cities, working couples still can't afford to buy.

    One of the silver linings to the sharp decline in home prices in the past five years is that first-time homebuyers who had been shut out of the market were able to afford homes again. Unless they lived in expensive areas such as New York, Boston, Hawaii, San Francisco and other places where median home prices still are far above the ability of working couples to afford.
    Unless you are a lawyer, owning a home is out of the question. A couple would have to save a full year's salary to come up with a 20% down payment.

    Citing statistics from Fiserv Case-Shiller, The Times notes that prices nationwide have fallen 32% from their peak. The national median home price is $166,000, a level not seen since the mid-1990s and down substantially since the peak, when the median price was $226,000.
    But if you look at a number of larger cities, the median home price far exceeds the ability of a couple with the median household income to buy. The Times writes: In fact, prices in several metropolitan areas — including New York, Los Angeles and Boston — will end up being higher than their pre-bubble levels, at least relative to local income. There are a few reasons, but one of the main drivers is the work force: these areas develop pools of specialized, highly compensated employees.
    In Washington, D.C., homes are relatively affordable in the outer suburbs in Maryland, but would-be homebuyers are having a hard time finding homes they can afford closer to central D.C.

    It’s very difficult to get a house in a desirable neighborhood for less than $400,000. If they’re out there, they probably haven’t been cared for and need several thousand to bring them up to conditions.

    Thursday, June 7, 2012

    10 ways to turn off a homebuyer (conclusion)

    9. Poor curb appeal

    Much is made of curb appeal, and for good reason: It's your home's handshake, the critical first impression that lasts with most buyers.You have to totally trim and edge your yard to get it into the most immaculate condition you can. It's a big mistake to not freshly mulch the beds and trim the trees. Every little detail counts.
    To not power-wash the exterior or leave mud dauber and wasp and bird's nests in your eaves and above your doors? You've got to be a fool to do that.
    Whether inside or out, less is more when it comes to clutter.

    10. Clutter

    Whether inside or out, less is more when it comes to clutter.Sellers should start in the closets."Your closets should be half-full with nothing on the floor. Why? Because most people looking for a house have outgrown their previous house. Showing them that you've still got room to grow gives them a reason to buy.
    Kitchens and built-in bookshelves should showcase spaciousness by following the rule of three. For kitchens, there should be no more than three countertop appliances. Meanwhile, bookshelves should be divided into thirds: one-third books, one-third vases and pictures, and one-third empty.
    The home office should be very generic so any type of professional can imagine living there.
    Otherwise, it can be a distraction: 'What does he do for a living? How much money does he make?'
    A tip for toddler parents is to pack away extraneous "kiddie litter" and keep a laundry basket handy.
    When you get that phone call one hour before a showing, toss everything in that basket and take it to the car with you and your kids, and you're all set.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    10 ways to turn off a homebuyer (cont.)

    6. Too many personal items

    Psychologically, when buyers tour a home, they're trying it on to see how it fits, just as they would a  skirt or a pair of pants. If your house is cluttered with too many personal items, it's like the buyer is trying on those clothes with you still in them. A fit is unlikely.Anything that makes your house scream 'you' is what you don't want. Sellers should know that how to decorate to live and how to decorate to sell are different, and right now, they're decorating to sell.
    They should try to eliminate personal items, including family photos, personal effects and even unique colors.
    As soon as you have family photos, buyers get very distracted. 'Oh, did I go to school with him? What do their children look like?' they may say. Suddenly, you're selling your family, and you're not selling the home.
    If you really want to hook a buyer, try to place a mirror strategically so that people can actually see themselves in the home, so they can actually picture themselves living there.

    7. Snoopy sellers

    Realtors and buyers alike generally bristle when the seller greets them at the door for a showing.It's so annoying. They will want to walk around with the potential buyer and put in their two cents' worth. It's not good. Normally, there are one out of 10 sellers where it's OK to have them there, and that's because they know what is up with the property and how everything works.
    Goldwasser makes a point to shoo his sellers away from showings when he's the listing agent.
    They like to think they know what they're doing, and that's fine. But when you've sold thousands of homes and you have a system, you know how to get people the maximum value for their home. That's why they hire you, right?

    8. Misrepresenting your home

    Misrepresenting your house online in the multiple listing service is a sure way to really upset buyers and their Realtors.One of Cannon's buyers loved a home she saw online. When he drove by to take a look, he was surprised to find acres of ramshackle mobile homes across the street.
    Sellers are going to paint the best picture they can. Some listings I've looked at and wondered how in the world they got that gorgeous photo without showing all the junk that's around it. When you get there, you wonder why didn't they just be upfront?

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012

    10 ways to turn off a homebuyer (cont.)

    3. Old fixtures

    Want buyers to roll their eyes? Leave old fixtures on your doors and cabinets.
    You need to change out old fixtures in your house. New cabinet hardware and doorknobs will probably cost all of $400 or $500, but it makes a huge difference.
    The same holds true for dated ceiling fans, light fixtures and kitchen appliances.
    Homes that have old fans, lights, ovens, microwaves, ranges and dishwashers can really turn a buyer off. Sellers will say, 'Oh, the buyers can take care of that.' Well, yes they can, but it's going to impede you from getting the highest price possible for your home.

    4. Wallpaper

    Your grandmother may have had it in every bedroom. Your mom may have loved it as a room accent. But today's buyer wants no part of wallpaper. Wallpaper is a definite no-no.Wallpaper is a pain to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer's to-do list. It is extremely personalized. You've spent hours looking over books to pick out the wallpaper you want. What are the odds that the person walking in the door will also like that wallpaper that you picked out?

    5. Popcorn acoustic ceilings

    Times change, and with them home decor styles. Acoustic popcorn ceilings, once the must-have for fashionable homes in the '60s and '70s, now badly date your space.If you can't stomach the cost or the mess to remove the overhead popcorn, be prepared to credit a buyer in certain markets in order to close a sale. The popcorn acoustic ceiling is a major, major turnoff to buyers these days.

    Monday, June 4, 2012

    10 ways to turn off a homebuyer

    What's a smart seller to do in this environment?
    What a difference a couple of years makes.
    Back in 2007, homebuyers would beg to purchase your house. They would even bid more than the asking price for the privilege to do so.
    Today ... well, not so much. Once the real estate bubble burst and foreclosures poisoned the housing pool, buyers suddenly regained the upper hand. But instead of buying, they're waiting, convinced that housing prices will continue to drop.

    10 home sales killers:
    1. Dirt
    2. Odors
    3. Old fixtures
    4. Wallpaper
    5. Popcorn acoustic ceilings
    6. Too many personal items
    7. Snoopy sellers
    8. Misrepresenting your home
    9. Poor curb appeal
    10. Clutter
    What's a smart seller to do in this environment?
    There are 10 buyer turnoffs that sellers should avoid at all costs. If you do all the staging correctly and have a good agent, the house will hopefully only be on the market a few weeks. Then you can go back to living your life.

    1. Dirt

    Hands down, our panel agrees: Nothing turns off a buyer quicker than a dirty house.The No. 1 biggest mistake is not getting the home in the best possible condition. That's huge. Sellers at this point need to be aware of how important it is to get their home in the absolute best condition that they've ever had it in.
    Sellers should go the extra mile, from steam-cleaning tile and grout to replacing carpets.
    If the carpets are old and smelly, you should put in new. If they're relatively new, you should at least have them shampooed.
    Grime can derail any showing. The home should be neat and clean and free of all debris. If it reeks of cats or the kitchen sinks and counters are so filthy that it almost looks like the food is moving, some buy won't even want to come in.

    2. Odors

    Buyers, it's said, buy with their noses. Make sure your home smells fresh and inviting.Odors are a big one, especially kitchen odors. Sellers should not to cook fried food, fish or greasy food while the house is on the market.
    Some pet owners mistakenly believe pet smells to which they've become accustomed help make their abode homey. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    If you're a dog person, you tend to think everyone else is a dog person. But the truth is, 50 percent of the population hates dogs and doesn't want to be near them. Pets in the home? You have to deal with that.

    Sunday, June 3, 2012

    12 Bankruptcy Myths (conclusion)

    It's really not hard to file for bankruptcy
    6. It's really hard to file for bankruptcy. It's really not. You don't even technically need an attorney -- you can do the paperwork without one. However, it's not recommended to go through the procedure without one.
    7. Only deadbeats file for bankruptcy. Most people file for bankruptcy after a life-changing experience, such as a divorce, the loss of a job or a serious illness. They've struggled to pay their bills for months and just keep falling further behind.
    8. I don't want to include certain creditors in my filing because it's important to me to pay them back someday and if the debt is discharged, I can't ever repay them. Bless you for even thinking about such a thing. You're no longer obligated to repay them, but you always have that opportunity. If your conscience won't let you sleep nights because you didn't pay your debts, there's nothing in the bankruptcy code that prevents you from doing that once you're back on your feet. But it is nearly impossible to leave any account with a balance out of your list of creditors. In general, all creditors receive notification of your bankruptcy filing, whether they are listed in the petition or not.
    9. Filing for bankruptcy will improve my credit rating because all those debts will be gone. Filing for bankruptcy is the worst 'negative' you can have on your credit report. Unlike other negatives, which stay on your report for seven years, bankruptcy can be there for 10 years, but you do get to rebuild your credit eventually.
    10. You can't get rid of back taxes through bankruptcy. Generally speaking, this is true. However, there is such a thing as tax bankruptcy.
    11. You can only file for bankruptcy once. The truth is, you can only file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy once every eight years. For Chapter 13 reorganization, you can file more often than that.
    Of course, that doesn't make it a good idea.
    Multiple bankruptcies are really bad. Many people get into the habit of once they've done it, it becomes a way of life. This is not good for your karma. Or your credit rating.
    12. I can max out all my credit cards, file for bankruptcy, and never pay for the things I bought. That's called fraud and bankruptcy judges can get really cranky about it.

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    12 Bankruptcy Myths

    Like most big, bad scary things, bankruptcy has a reputation based on a few tidbits of truth and lots of embellishment. And like most creepy crawlies, it's not nearly as frightening once you know the truth.
    With a mind toward declawing the monster, here are a dozen misconceptions about bankruptcy:
    1. Everyone will know I've filed for bankruptcy. Unless you're a prominent person or a major corporation and the filing is picked up by the media, the chances are very good that the only people who will know about a filing are your creditors. While it's true that bankruptcy is a public legal proceeding, the numbers of people filing are so massive, very few publications have the space, the manpower or the inclination to run all of them, although some local newspapers do print the names of those that have filed in that community.
    2. All debts are wiped out in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You wish. Certain types of debts cannot be discharged, or erased. They include child support and alimony, student loans, restitution for a criminal act and debts incurred as the result of fraud.
    3. I'll lose everything I have. This is the misconception that keeps people who really should file for bankruptcy from doing it. They think the government will sell everything they have and they'll have to start over in a cardboard box.
    While the bankruptcy laws vary from state to state, every state has exemptions that protect certain kinds of assets, such as your house, your car (up to a certain value), money in qualified retirement plans, household goods and clothing.
    For most people, they'll pass through a bankruptcy case and keep everything they have. If you have a mortgage or a car loan, you can keep those as long as you keep making the payments (like the rest of us).
    4. I'll never get credit again. Quite the contrary. It won't be long before you're getting credit card offers again. They'll just be from subprime lenders that will charge very high interest rates. There are innumerable companies that will provide credit to you. I don't advise any of my clients to run out and run up the bills again, but if someone does need an automobile, they can go and will be able to get credit. You don't have to go underground or something to get money.
    5. If you're married, both spouses have to file for bankruptcy. Not necessarily. It's not uncommon for one spouse to have a significant amount of debt in their name only. However, if spouses have debts they want to discharge that they're both liable for, they should file together. Otherwise, the creditor will simply demand payment for the entire amount from the spouse who didn't file.

    Friday, June 1, 2012

    What will your home be worth in 2012?

    When BusinessWeek set out to determine what housing prices would be in the year 2012, they knew that there was no way to know for sure. But in working with the Brookfield, Wis.-based research firm Fiserv, they weighed historical data against current trends to get a bead on which way the markets might jump at one-year increments. By combining data, they were able to get a pretty good idea of what home prices would be in three years' time. Across the board, real-estate prices will continue to drop before rising slightly by the fourth quarter of 2011. Why is that important? Given the wretched state of the real-estate market today, both homeowners and potential buyers might be better able to make an informed decision about when, and whether, they should move. Obviously, we can't guarantee that our data will hold up — although we think it will — but what becomes clear is that even the worst-hit markets will begin to see improvement by 2012.
    Americans have not seen a boring housing market since the last millennium. You know—the average, ordinary kind of market where supply just about matches demand, prices are steady, and real estate ceases to be a topic of daily conversation. Instead, we've had six years of upside craziness followed by three years of downside terror. Now we're in a tug-of-war between those who think we've finally found a bottom and those who are convinced that the overhang of unsold homes is going to push prices considerably lower.
    By 2012 we may finally get back to blissful boredom. With any luck, three years should be long enough for the U.S. economy to recover and for the nation's housing inventory to shrink to more normal levels. At that point, housing will return to its old ways, with prices governed not by national mood swings and global credit crises but by local issues ranging from zoning to immigration to job growth.
    Prices? While they're likely to keep falling a while longer under the weight of foreclosures, the market is definitely closer to the bottom than the top. Expect prices to drop for another year and then stabilize before starting to rise with incomes about 16% this year before regaining ground. Based on the National Association of Realtors national median home price of $180,000 for the fourth quarter of 2008, that would mean a median of $152,000 at the end of 2009 and then a rebound to $179,000 by the end of 2012.